Friends at odds with ideology?

At Quora, I play, “Ask the expert”. Hundreds of my Quora answers are linked at top-right on this page. Today, I was asked “Would you stop being friends with someone—if you discovered that they are against gay marriage?”. This is my answer…


Would I stop being friends? Of course not. But I must qualify this answer…

If their position on abortion or marriage is driven by blind, rabid, religious ideology, then I probably wouldn’t have considered them a friend in the first place. In my circles, one’s personal faith should be a guide for moral behavior in a pluralist world. It should never be a substitute for science, common sense, or tolerance. So, for the purpose of this question, I will assume that they are not a right-wing religious conservative.

So, would I stop being friends? Not at all; as long as I can relate to them—intellectually or emotionally. Perhaps not on this matter, but at least on other issues that matter to both of us. My friends have a diverse matrix of opinions, and these often don’t coincide with my own.

Let me offer an example:

I live in America. I am Never Trumper. That is, I believe that our new president has a mental illness and that his election to high office has the potential for disaster (or at least significant ridicule and ‘missed opportunity’ among nations).  Among my extended circle of several hundred medium-close business and personal contacts, I know of only two individuals who supported Trump in the election. And now, 2 months into his presidency, they still support his policies and even his unstable, irrational temperament.

Do I still like these individuals; talk with them; and friend them on social media? Of course! A friend is a friend until they betray you—or until your perspectives are so far apart that you cannot reasonably communicate nor even relate to each other on all the other matters that count.

As I observe one of these two friends continue to support our president in light of behavior that I cannot accept, I begin to realize that he and I interpret events quite differently. We certainly don’t see eye-to-eye on a leader who—for me—is so clearly sophomoric, aberrant and dangerous. Sometimes, I wonder if I can call him a “friend”. But then I reflect on the tangential facts. They matter:

  • I think about all the reasons that we became friends, and the things that he has done for me
  • I think about his qualities, his family, and his work ethic
  • I think about all the people who view the world as he does

After all, Trump won the election and at least 40% of the popular vote. Since less than 1% of my friends voted for him, I may be in the majority—but I have probably lived in a bubble regarding domestic politics. My understanding and appreciation for the political landscape has been challenged.

Here is a second scenario (much more brief): I attended university in a state where smoking and drinking were legal, even for students. Yet, in college, I never used cigarettes or marijuana, and I had not yet started to drink wine or beer. I associated these activities with a derelict upbringing—and so I refused to room with, study with or become friends anyone who drank or smoked. I even refused to socialize with acquaintances who had a friend who drank or smoked.

In those days, I was referred to as being “square”—a term that means rigid, authoritarian, unbending and unrealistic. As you can imagine, I did not have many friends, until I lightened up a bit!

In summary, the question begs anyone who has firmly held beliefs to ask themselves if their beliefs should dictate their associations. Friendships are built on trust and shared experience—not just ideology or even important issues of the moment. In businesses, alliances are built on a common interest. But in life, friendships have more to do with nurturing, respect, selflessness and other personal qualities. Opinions on specific issues matter, but they are far down on the list of human qualities.


I originally ended my answer here. But, in consideration of all the above, I must point out that the ideology-friendship debate has limits. For example, I could not remain friends with someone who believed that the world was created in the past 6,000 years, that LGBT should be marched into concentration camps, that global warming is a hoax, that we must live under Sharia Law, or that woman should not be accorded personal freedoms and basic human rights. (I am not referring to abortion—that’s a bit more complex. I refer to FGM, the right to an education, to drive a car, or to not be covered in a burka). These are all issues of profound ignorance or intolerance. They represent two special classes of hate.

I didn’t mention my abhorrence and intolerance for these things, because of the way in which the original question is structured. It is highly unlikely that I am already friends with anyone so ignorant or intolerant.

Can Saudis say “Je Suis Charlie”?

Update: This article was written 2 weeks before the death of the Saudi leader

On Jan 23, (Friday morning, local time), Saudi King, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, died. His half brother, Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, ascended to the throne as expected. He promptly assured the international community that policies, alliances and contracts would continue as before.

Je Suis CharlieThe Saudi government is publicly standing with France in condemning the slaughter of editors and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, a satire magazine. They were gunned down in the name of defending the prophet’s honor.

Of course, the governments of Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Iraq are waging war against extremist group Islamic State with expanding air and ground support from a US-led international coalition. Yet, I am sickened by the irony of their “outrage”.

saudi-arabia-domestic-violence-sThe Saudis have no compunctions in savagely beating Raif Badawi for the crime of promoting free speech and debate. They have no problem beating women who drive a car or who travel without a male relative. We must take stock of our affiliations. It’s time to run with those who share our ideals and who appreciate a common humanity. The Saudi royals are neither just, moral or humane.

The fact that so many in the west consider the Saudi kingdom to be moderate or “a friend” is both ironic and a travesty. These are barbarians with starkly warped ideals. Saudi Delegate at UNThey are as backward and ruthless as those who slaughtered the journalists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Both groups respond to free thought and debate with righteous violence.

It’s time for western governments and NGOs to recognize that the Saudis are no more evolved than the Ayatollahs in Iran or the Imams and Muftis who promote and export Sharia Law the word over.

Consider the relationship of China with the US and Canada. The Chinese are a major trading partner, but few would suggest that this partnership indicates a shared kinship of political ideology or compatible individual freedoms. China’s government may change some day, but for now, modernization is limited to their economy and with a slightly heightened awareness of environmental issues. Democratic process and Personal freedoms be damned.

Saudi FlagLike China, the Saudis are our temporary trading partner. We must not confuse trade or even military cooperation with friendship and we must constantly reevaluate the limits of our business and financial arrangements. Unlike China, Saudi Arabia bankrolls extremism and exports intolerant ideology that destabilizes the global community. They are no better than ISIL, Boka Haram or the most radical of Sharia-inspired zealots. The Saudi government is barely shy of being an enemy to every free democracy. I am not against constructive engagement. But we should also understand an ideological adversary and maintain a comfortable distance.

Suggested Reading:

French air strikes in Mali: Noble effort to stem a cancer

Summer vacation? Scratch Mali and Timbuktu

Summer vacation? Scratch Mali and Timbuktu

When I was young, my parents occasionally invited Aunt Millie to stay at our home and babysit, while they traipsed off to exotic places like Tahiti, Bora Bora, Bali and Fiji. That was back in the 60s and 70s. With an arctic blast sweeping across North America this week, some of you may be planning your own summer getaways to warmer climates. If you are fortunate to be part of the economic recovery, then you might be thinking about a tropical paradise like your folks visited back in the day.

Mali and Timbuktu were never a match for Bali or Fiji. But for many Europeans of my generation, they attracted independent travelers seeking adventure. They were safe, fun and the locals were very friendly. These sunny places are no longer hospitable to anyone–at least not anyone who fails to cover up women and face Mecca every few hours. Lately, they look more like Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Eight months ago,a region of Mali that is larger than all of France or Texas was overrun by Qaeda rebels. In an effort to ratchet up fear and control, they force Sharia Law by amputating limbs from anyone who fails to live by their twisted principles. By any reasonable measure, these are Barbarians… positively sick bastards.

Lift it in praise or lose it

Lift it in praise or lose it

For the past 3 months, citizens have been rounded up for public amputations (either as witness or participant). The crime? Nothing terrible. Gaze at an unrelated girl, fail to praise Allah after a sneeze, or dare to suggest that woman should be allowed an education, and you will lose both a hand and a foot—Instantly.

Justice is swift under Sharia law. Don’t expect a trial, a defense, an appeal or a delay. Reprieves don’t exist, praise Allah! Want to sneak a kiss with your honey? You had best not have a honey. Young brides are bought from parents. Just the act of holding hands is a risk you dare not attempt. For this and anything else that strikes the Mujahidin as unholy, you will pay with your limbs and perhaps your nose too!

The Mali government represents the majority of its citizens, but they are helpless against the hordes of Qaeda allied Muslims sweeping across their territory. They outnumber and out gun the army and are driven by visions of 18 willing virgins in the hereafter. I don’t know about you, but virgins in a swimming pool next to Allah’s throne probably trumps civility, cash or fear of justice in this life.

Bibi Aisha's father sold her to a Taliban fighter who hacked off her nose and ears.

Bibi Aisha’s father sold her to a Taliban fighter who hacked off her nose and ears.

The zealots’ latest scheme is to compile a mandatory registry of unwed mothers. You can imagine what comes next. Don’t bother to justify a woman without a husband (many husbands were killed by the very same thugs). ‘Islamic justice’ is an oxymoron. In their view, a woman with child should be the property of a man. By this logic, any woman in the catalog is guilty of a crime. Sister, if you are on this list, be very scared.

Should the west become isolationists in order to avoid the financial burden of war? We certainly don’t want more nation building (including cash for rebuilding), propping up governments, arbitrating another Middle East dispute. But what to do when we learn about brutality like the pirates in Somalia or the sick, brutal behavior in Mali. Can humanity opt for isolationism when presented with such abominations?

Last week, upon receiving an urgent appeal for military intervention, France came to the aid of her former colony. They launched blistering and superbly targeted air strikes against the holy rollers in Mali. This is no small task. It will be terribly expensive to sustain. It could turn into another Afghanistan or even a new Viet Nam.

The French seek to liberate northern Mali with air strikes targeted at operational bases, religious enforcement offices, training camps, and centers of  logistics and supply.

French Mirage Fighter Jet is fueld in mid flight

En route to strike fundamentalist rebels in Mali, a French Mirage fighter gets mid-air refueling

What is truly amazing is that the targets are spread across a region larger than France itself! According to reports from liberated citizens, the strikes from bombers & missile-firing helicopters target foreign extremists with remarkable precision and avoid civilians for the most part. But the precision cannot be perfect. Ten children jumped into a pond and drowned, in an effort to escape from bombs that they thought would hit them.

As terrorists and extremists regroup, I suspect that they will be more difficult to target without civilian casualties. Now that they are facing a powerful outside enemy, they will begin to distribute their activities throughout the population. Their movement of supplies and communications will become very difficult to distinguish from peaceful economic activities.

Regarding French intervention, they are getting US help, including advisors, logistics, mid-air refueling, and probably access to satellite images and US air bases. But so far, the US has not placed any troops into the operational theater. At least for now, the Yanks are not at risk. Despite this help (which I support, because the adversary is so evil and malignant), Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into another western war or even a long term sink for money or manpower. At least, we hope that evil can be contained—and if possible, killed off—without creating martyrs, righteous murderers and elevated dogma.

stopradicalislam.org: Tactics Undermine Noble Purpose

Check out the video clip below. It’s also in Meira Svirsky’s inflammatory piece at Stop Radical Islam (www.stopradicalislam.org). US Assistant Attorney General, Tom Perez, is apparently unwilling to respond to what Rep Trent Frank of Arizona claims is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question: Will he categorically rule out entertaining legislation that erodes free speech, even if it is against a religion (read: against Islam). Representative Frank repeatedly demands a simple Yes/No answer, even though “the defendant” attempts to explain that the answer is not quite as simple as demanded.

Just answer the question: “Yes” or “No”. Is this a hearing or a witch-trial inquisition?

The question and Mr. Frank’s demand for a 1-word answer–without any clarification–degrades the US House of Representatives by turning the Grand Jury session into a inquisition reminiscent of 17th Salem witchcraft trials. Unfortunately, a lot of congressional hearings slip into this mode, because US Senators and members of Congress can confer upon themselves Grand Jury status at will. It’s a slick, legal construct that means the visitor/guest is compelled to appear, has no right to an attorney, no right to cross examine, no right to abstain, and cannot even invoke the 5th amendment to the US constitution—the right to refrain from self incrimination. This wholesale withdrawal of constitutional protection is justified by the fact that the proceeding is part of evidence gathering and that no formal charges, court session or legal action has commenced. Life and liberty are not at stake and so protections be damned.

We’ll save a discussion of Grand Jury ethics for another day.[1] What disappoints me about this particular hearing is that it was posted to stopradicalislam.org as an example of a government official who is soft on the erosion of constitutional freedoms and either soft or blind to the gradual Islamification of western democracies.

The attack by Representative Trent Frank on Assistant AG, Tom Perez, and the implication of reporting it in this way is unwarranted and misleading. It undermines the important mission of radicalislam.org.

First about street cred: I am not in favor of abridging free speech, especially against a growing threat to western democracies, even if disguised as a religion or a different cultural perspective.

I strongly support stopradicalislam.org. The public service watchdog sounds alarms and shines a bright light on a bona fide threat to western civilization. Although the scope of the threat is debated,[2] significant numbers of individuals and a growing body of Islamic organizations are proactively and purposely undermining basic freedoms, including freedom of speech.

I once thought that Islamification was the inflammatory fantasy-fear of rednecks and others who don’t–themselves–embrace a tolerant, inclusive society. But I have grown to understand that these Islamic groups are antithetical to inclusion. They seek to bend every society that offers them sanctuary to their ridged, intolerant views.

Now, about Tom Perez and his refusal to simply say “Yes”: Give the guy a break! The Yes/No demand posed by Trent Frank in the video clip above was not only belligerent; it is intentionally presented in a way that could not be answered with “Yes”. Four times, Assistant AG Perez attempted to explain that the very act of opening a communication and presenting it to his committee could be construed as “entertaining a legislative proposal”. Therefore, he could not rule out “entertaining a bill that would restrict free speech against a religion”. (The question was inflammatory and insincere! It certainly doesn’t mean that the Assistant DA is Communist or that he seeks to overturn the cornerstone of constitutional freedom). Had he been allowed to answer the question without constant bullying, it seems likely that he would have reaffirmed his mandate to uphold the US constitution, including—especially—our right to free speech.

I still identify with the laudable objectives of stopradicalislam.org, and even the alarmist tone to most of their bulletins. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify with any organization that buttresses its argument with bullying and misdirection. C’mon guys…Your battle is too important to water down with unethical or intentionally misleading citations.

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[1] Pssst! Express Yourself: Are the unchecked discretionary powers of a Grand Jury a reasonable tool in a democracy? Ellery has not arrived at an informed opinion. We invite a guest OpEd from an attorney with courtroom experience, clear writing style, and an opinion that can be supported with eloquence.

[2] For many westerners, the mention of Arabic Islam brings to mind images of terrorists, the suppression of basic freedoms, burqas, honor killings, clitoridectomies, the exclusion of girls from schools & driving, and hacking off fingers for minor infractions against narrow and extreme religious ideology (so called, Sharia Law).

What fraction of those identifying with Arabic Islam match this western impression?

Wild Ducks might debate the fraction of Islamists that exhibit religious zealotry, cultural intolerance and a penchant for violence & martyrdom (suicide during cowardly acts of terrorism). But few dispute the growing threat of a significant fraction and their front facing proxies. The institutions are just as extreme as the most radical individuals: anti-women, anti-western, anti-pluralism, and culturally intolerant. Propaganda and subterfuge is disseminated by feel-good shills, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other innocent sounding NGOs. For most westerners, the message is falling on deaf ears, because actions and television pictures speak louder than words. Acts like 911, Bangalore, Madrid, and London followed by jubilant dancing in the streets and a silence by Islamic spokespeople suggest that extremism and intolerance are either in the majority–or at least a very significant minority.

» Ellery Davies is a frequent contributor to Yahoo, CNet, ABCNews
» and The Wall Street Journal. He is also editor of AWildDuck.com.