Guest opinion by John F. Owen: The recent assassination of seven CIA operatives raises questions about our national inability to identify the practice of dissimulation in these dangerous times.

The recent assassination of seven CIA operatives raises questions about our national inability to identify the practice of dissimulation in these dangerous times. In the words of the religious scholar James Wasserman, since ancient times Shiite agents have practiced a survival skill known as "taquiyya." It "involves dissimulation, concealment, or precaution," that enables such agents to "lie about their true agenda without the risk of divine disfavor."

Understanding the practice of "taquiyya" may make it easier to explain how a double agent could fool his Jordanian handlers as well as our seasoned CIA operatives, or how a radical Muslim cleric could preach benign cooperation publicly while privately encouraging acts of terror. However, it poses a conundrum, for this kind of disingenuous behavior in the name of self-righteousness or survival is not limited to al-Qaeda and its affiliates, nor are the ramifications of its practice.

Consider the government of Israel. It publicly professes a desire for peace with the Palestinians, even as it continues — under little or no pretext — its developments in the West Bank in violation of the international agreement and principles on which its country is founded.

Here in our own country, we are not immune to this practice of "taquiyya" in all its various guises. How else can we explain for example:

€¢ Republicans who believe it is more righteous to defeat a Democratic administration than to serve the higher interests of their country, who — for party expediency — would vote for a health plan in their state but vote against a similar plan in Congress?

€¢ Democrats who refuse to enact health legislation they consider imperfect, though it would benefit the majority of Americans, if taking such a position might jeopardize their re-election?

€¢ Supreme Court justices who sell out American citizens, equating corporations to individuals under the guise of the First Amendment to the Constitution, while arrogantly demonstrating their true allegiance to the corporate hegemony of power over the republic?

€¢ Wall Street bankers who accept a taxpayer bailout then turn their banks on their benefactors, using the money to defeat corrective regulations and to pursue the same, excessive risk-taking that initially caused their fall and the nation's resultant economic debacle, all the while defending their actions and their bonuses with the justification they are "doing God's work?"

€¢ U.S. citizens who believe the anti-government mantra of the self-righteous pundits and power brokers, even when it runs counter to their self-interests as well as the interests of our nation?

The practice of "taquiyya" makes victims of us all. But in fact, we are all practitioners whenever we promote our agendas with self-righteous conviction that the end justifies the means regardless of how far from the truth we equivocate. In this age of duplicity, we would all benefit from more of the candor President Obama demonstrated in his State of the Union address. Let us hope he will continue to use his "bully pulpit" to shine a bright light on this game of equivocation that holds the entire world hostage to hypocrisy. And let us all commit to raising our own voices in defense of the truth.

John F. Owen is a 10-year resident of Ashland.