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Archive for January 2012



72% of Egypt’s parliament is Islamist

Islamists Win 70% of Seats in the Egyptian Parliament:

Egyptian authorities confirmed Saturday that a political coalition dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, the 84-year-old group that virtually invented political Islam, had won about 47 percent of the seats in the first Parliament elected since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. An alliance of ultraconservative Islamists won the next largest share of seats, about 25 percent.

The tally, with the two groups of Islamists together winning about 70 percent of the seats, indicates the deep cultural conservatism of the Egyptian public, which is expressing its will through free and fair elections for the first time in more than six decades.

But the two groups have described very different visions and appear to be rivals rather than collaborators. The Brotherhood has said it intends to respect personal liberties and will focus on economic and social issues, gradually nudging the culture toward its conservative values. By contrast, the ultraconservatives, known as Salafis, put a higher priority on legislation on Islamic moral issues, like the consumption of alcohol, women’s dress and the contents of popular culture.

The data was there for us to infer that this would be the outcome. Nevertheless I do recall back in the heady days of the Arab Spring some commenters infected by revolutionary fervor would scoff at the purported Islamist sympathies of the people. What this goes to show is that enthusiasm and hope does not translate into reality. If secular liberals in Egypt bow before the principle of popularity, then they accept that it is right and proper that they present their throats to their new overlords. I don’t view this as an apocalypse. It is what it is. But it was predictable.



Everyone is a racist and an anti-Semite

It looks like the Left-leaning Center for American Progress is under fire for “anti-Semitism.” The issue at hand is the use of rhetoric such as “Israel-Firster.” CAP’s problem is that it fancies itself a mainstream organization which endeavors to effect policy. That means an honest and candid assessment of America’s peculiar relationship with Israel, and the rather lopsided center of gravity of the American political landscape in relation this issue, is not politic. Over at Salon Glenn Greenwald outlines exactly how CAP and its junior staffers were subjected to a organized campaign by AIPAC and its fellow travelers. He relates the following:





The S-Word

In the in-tray today an apocalyptic, adjective-crammed appeal to support the Gingrich campaign. It began as follows:

Dear Conservative:

In 1964, Ronald Reagan told conservatives that this was a time for choosing. Faced with a radical, progressive President who would weaken America abroad and at home, they could either fight to preserve America as the last, best hope on earth, or consign their children to a thousand years of darkness.

This year is another such time for choosing. We can either nominate a timid Massachusetts moderate Republican to take on a secular socialist who threatens to turn us into a nation like the decrepit Republics of Western Europe, or we can nominate a bold Reagan conservative who will take the fight to Barack Obama in the Fall. Will you join me?

Uh, no (there are others who will pose a more effective challenge to the Democrats), but it’s entertaining to see “secular” up there with the other scare-words.

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Vatican Math

Via El Pais:

The Spanish Catholic Church is also concerned about homosexuality. During his Boxing Day sermon, the Bishop of Córdoba, Demetrio Fernández, said there was a conspiracy by the United Nations. “The Minister for Family of the Papal Government, Cardinal Antonelli, told me a few days ago in Zaragoza that UNESCO has a program for the next 20 years to make half the world population homosexual. To do this they have distinct programs, and will continue to implant the ideology that is already present in our schools.”

H/t:Andrew Sullivan

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Rick Santorum & Opus Dei

I touched the other day on the fact that Rick Santorum had included Opus Dei in the list of organizations he chose to praise for the “new evangelization” (he also included Regnum Christi, a group of which I had never previously heard, of which I’ll write something in a later post), and I drew some criticism from one reader from saying that Opus Dei rang a “somewhat sinister” bell. His suspicion, quite clearly, was that I had been influenced by Dan Brown’s distinctly dodgy narratives. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Opus Dei certainly has some fine people in its ranks, but, as this recent post from the Daily Telegraph’s Damian Thompson (a former editor of the Catholic Herald) demonstrates, there is something about this organization that does not feel, well, quite right:

With all this phone hacking around, I think it’s time electronic eavesdroppers had their own patron saint, don’t you? As it happens, I have the perfect candidate: St Josemaria Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, who died as recently as 1975 and was canonised by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

A few years ago, I interviewed a distinguished priest who, as a young man, had been a member of Opus Dei and close associate of Escrivá. My jaw dropped when, half way through our conversation, he mentioned casually that “The Father” had installed bugs in Opus’s Rome headquarters in order to tape-record the conversations of visitors waiting to see him. I asked him how he knew.
“Because I helped him do it,” came the reply.

The Vatican refused to hear this priest’s testimony when Escrivá was being assessed for sainthood; conveniently, the role of Devil’s Advocate had been abolished. Of course, all saints had flaws. It’s just that you don’t expect them to share the same ones as Richard Nixon (a far more sympathetic character than Escrivá, in my book).

Anyway, the reason I’m bringing up Opus Dei is that this controversial organisation – comically misrepresented in The Da Vinci Code but still secretive and slippery – is planning to open two independent secondary schools in south-east England.
Or, to adopt the official party line, a group of parents, some of whom happen to belong to Opus Dei, are opening schools “inspired by the teachings” of St Josemaria. Hmm. Don’t get me wrong, Escrivá was undoubtedly holy, but he was also vain, a snob and a spiritual control freak. While some of his followers are exemplary Christians, the saturnine ethos of Opus bothers many Catholics, including some outstanding clergy.

A priest I know used to hear the confessions of primary school children at an Opus Dei school. “It was disturbing,” he told me. “I’d hear seven-year-olds riddled with adult scruples, worried that their disposition towards the sacrament wasn’t sufficiently pure and their sin wouldn’t be forgiven.”

He added that a teacher at an Opus school had boasted to him that she’d persuaded a little boy to give up his teddy bear for Lent. “How on earth is that going to help the child – to take away something so comforting and normal as part of his so-called spiritual development?”

Indeed. And one might also ask: how are Opus Dei “numeraries” (full members) supposed to develop healthy relationships with the opposite sex when men and women are forbidden to travel in the same car? Even if the man is a priest? One Opus centre has installed two sets of sliding doors between the kitchen and the dining room. This allows serving women to leave food in the small space between the rooms so male diners aren’t “distracted” by female flesh.

Opus Dei in England has taken advantage of the bumbling of the Catholic bishops. (Think L/Cpl Jones in a mitre.) Its fingerprints are all over a new PR outfit called “Catholic Voices”, it has a growing presence in a certain seminary, and before the papal visit it even managed to appoint a thickly accented Spaniard as spokesman for the beatification of John Henry Newman.

Opus always hits back when it’s criticised, so no doubt there will be the usual carefully worded and disingenuous denial of everything I’ve just told you. Meanwhile, its recruiters will keep gatecrashing smart Catholic parties, scanning the crowd for attractive young professionals who can be invited to “informal” drinks and then plugged into E-meters. No, sorry, that’s the Scientologists. But it’s an easy mistake to make.

And Rick Santorum’s support for Opus Dei is more than a matter than one line in a problematic article. If, for example, we turn to a 2002 report from the National Catholic Reporter we find this:

The extent of the power and prestige of Opus Dei in today’s Catholic church was on full display during a high profile Jan. 7-11 congress here marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of founder Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer.

The event drew 1,200 people from 57 countries, with an impressive number of church and state VIPs on hand, and was streamed live on the Internet. It occurred less than a month after Pope John Paul II recognized a miracle that clears the way for Escriva to become a saint.

One point that became clear during the Congress was how Opus Dei-inspired politicians tend to apply Escriva’s emphasis on finding holiness in work. A key theme of the gathering was the need for “coherence” between faith and politics, which in practical terms means taking one’s cues from the Catholic church on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and cloning.

American VIPs included Archbishop John Myers of Newark, N.J., a member of Opus Dei’s Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, and U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, Republican of Pennsylvania. Santorum told NCR he is not a member of Opus Dei, but an admirer of Escriva…

Santorum is, of course, fully entitled to those views, but the electorate is fully entitled to ask how they would affect his behavior as president. Writing in the 2007 article I cited in a previous post, Santorum argued as follows:

[Romney] also said that “a person should not be rejected . . . because of his faith.” His supporters say it is akin to rejecting Barack Obama because he is black. But Obama was born black; Romney is a Mormon because he accepts the beliefs of the Mormon faith. This permits us, therefore, to make inferences about his judgment and character, good or bad.

Fair enough, and the same can be said about Santorum’s admiration for Opus Dei.

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Rick Santorum on Romney & Religion

Here’s Rick Santorum writing on Romney and religion back in 2007. The whole piece is worth a look, both for what it does say and what it does not.

In the following extract Santorum makes the (reasonable) point that a candidate’s religious affiliation is something that should not necessarily be off-limits:

[Romney] also said that “a person should not be rejected . . . because of his faith.” His supporters say it is akin to rejecting Barack Obama because he is black. But Obama was born black; Romney is a Mormon because he accepts the beliefs of the Mormon faith. This permits us, therefore, to make inferences about his judgment and character, good or bad.

He tried to address the questions by discussing Jesus, suggesting that the specific theological tenets of Mormonism are not in any important respect different from those of traditional Christianity. I disagree. However, voters should use extreme caution in factoring theological tenets into their assessment of a candidate’s qualifications, because theological tenets, as opposed to moral tenets of a religion, transcend reason – consider, for example, the virgin birth.

But, it is fair to look at a candidate’s faith from the standpoint of its moral teachings or, as Catholics say, its “social teaching.”

Romney hit on the correct voter question: “Does [the candidate] share these American values: the equality of humankind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?” He said “yes,” and provided some examples to bolster his answer. It was Romney’s best argument to Christian conservatives – we may not see God the same way, but we see our obligation to God’s people the same way.

It could have been even better had he acknowledged a fact that can’t help be true for a person of real faith – that the moral teachings of an individual’s faith will do more than shape his character, they will influence his decisions.

I came to not entirely dissimilar conclusions in a post on the Corner in October:

On the wider topic of whether a presidential candidate’s religious affiliations should be something that should be immune from comment and criticism, the answer is no. If a candidate insists that his or her God is central to who they are and what they believe, that’s a fair enough thing to say, but, under those circumstances, it’s no less fair for voters (or political rivals) to ask what that might mean for how that candidate might act as president, and, if they don’t like the answer, to say so or vote so.

But note Santorum’s comment about how “specific theological tenets of Mormonism” do differ in important respects from traditional Christianity. That’s clearly true, but then read what he goes on to say:

Would the potential attraction to Mormonism by simply having a Mormon in the White House threaten traditional Christianity by leading more Americans to a church that some Christians believe misleadingly calls itself Christian, is an active missionary church, and a dangerous cult?

How does a candidate possibly address such concerns?

Assume for the sake of argument that there are valid considerations. Shouldn’t we look at everything about the candidate, including positions on the issues that could have even a more dramatic impact on Christianity than his personal faith? What about the candidate’s willingness to confront the threat of radical Islam’s war against Christianity, or the current efforts to undermine our Judeo-Christian culture and even our religious freedom? Like most voters, my faith matters more than politics, but we are electing someone to the most important political position in the world. I’m more concerned about losing our children to jihadis or a materialistic culture than losing them to Mormonism.

Nothing notably surprising there, but even on a fairly simple parsing of this (together with what preceded it), it’s easy enough to think that Santorum (who must surely view himself as a “traditional Christian”) has difficulties in seeing Mormonism as Christian.

That’s not a view I would share. As I wrote on SR last October:

For my part, I don’t much care one way or the other, but I don’t think there can be a great deal of doubt about it. In the course of two thousand years Christianity has long since come to mean much more than those texts that some of its early leaders chose to regard as definitive. Naturally, there are many outgrowths of this now wildly varied religion that some Christians will find wanting. And they are perfectly entitled to do so. Those, however, are issues best left to the sectarians. To an outsider, at least, Mormonism is clearly a part of the greater Christian family.

Nevertheless, I don’t find it particularly shocking that many Christians might disagree, particularly those (such as Santorum) who appear to regard themselves as custodians of some sort of orthodoxy.

So the question is whether Santorum does or does not see Mormons as Christians. Again, his answer wouldn’t worry me either way, but this is an election year and Mormon voters might be interested to hear what Santorum has to say on this topic.

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Foot, Mouth, Gingrich

Most politicians talk themselves poor in the course of an election campaign, but it needs a little more subtlety than Newt Gingrich appears to be able to muster.

Mother Jones (yup) reports:

When Gingrich was campaigning in Laconia on Wednesday, a fellow came up to the former House speaker and asked, “Won’t you buy a home in the Lakes Region if elected president?” This was a reference to Mitt Romney’s house in New Hampshire.
Gingrich replied, “No, I can’t afford things like that. I’m not rich.”

And his wife Callista quickly added, “We have one home.”

Not rich? This past summer, Gingrich had to file the financial-disclosure form required of presidential candidates. It revealedthat he has a net worth of at least $6.7 million and that his income was at least $2.6 million in 2010. That’s about 65 times the income of the average family of four in the United States. That puts him well into the top 1 percent (about $520,000 a year or more) and close to the top 0.1 percent. He, of course, had that $500,000-plus tab at Tiffany’s, and weeks ago was boasting that he pulled in $60,000 a speech. These are the sort of actions that tend to be associated with richness.

Well, he’s no Pelosi, but even so….




Reading Lessons

To say that Muslims tend to have an exalted view of the Koran is, to say the least, an understatement. As the Economist explains:

But when it comes to parsing holy writ, there is one big difference between Islam and most other text-based faiths. Barring a brief interlude in the ninth and tenth centuries, and a few modern liberals, Muslims have mostly believed that the Koran is distinct from every other communication. As God’s final revelation to man, it belongs not to earthly, created things but to an eternal realm. That is a bigger claim than other faiths usually make for their holy writings.

The Koran may be interpreted but from a believer’s viewpoint, nothing in it can be set aside.

As an invitation to intellectual rigidity that is hard to beat, but at least in the West, some scholars are taking a different tack:

At least in the calm, superficially courteous world of Western academia, debating the precise text of the Koran is increasingly common—as at a conference hosted by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London, in November. Most [participants]were non-Muslims who study the text as they would any other written material—as prose whose evolution can be traced by comparing versions. New techniques, such as the use of digital photography, help compare variations and solve puzzles. All participants implicitly accepted the idea that methods used to analyse Homer, say, or German myths might elucidate the Koran.

In much of the Islamic world, even the agenda of such a meeting would be controversial. What can be debated in most Muslim countries differs hugely from what is discussed in the West. Staff at a London-based Islamic research body, the Institute for Ismaili Studies, have ranged from radicals like Mohammed Arkoun, a leader of the French deconstructionist school, to traditional Sunni or Sufi scholars. They follow the trail of al-Suyuti, a 15th-century Egyptian who accepted the existence of slightly different versions of the Koran.

Such diversity under a single roof would be impossible now in Karachi or in Cairo, the bastion of Islamic scholarship. There, the interpretation of Islam and its history is strictly a task for believers. Non-Muslim offerings would be called “orientalism”, based on colonial arrogance. Muslims in such places who take a different view face not only academic ostracism but physical danger. Egypt’s leading advocate of a liberal reading of the Koran—Nasr Abu Zayd, who died in 2010—was denounced as an apostate, forcibly divorced from his wife and had to spend his later life abroad. The rise of Islamism in Egypt offers no prospect of a friendlier climate.

Meanwhile, scholars in Europe, stimulated by the manuscripts in great European libraries, are working hard to find out how and when the Koran’s written form was standardized…

A burst of new Koranic scholarship erupted at SOAS in the 1980s. These days, it is one of several British campuses where scholars say they find it hard to get funding for work that threatens orthodoxy—a change they ascribe to the influence of conservative Saudi donors.

Saudi Arabia, always Saudi Arabia:Iran with money – and patience.

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The New York Times reports on a confrontational interaction between Rick Santorum and people who support same-sex marriage:

“If you’re not happy unless you’re married to five other people, is that O.K.?” he asked.

That angered the audience, which booed his answer.

“I’m happy to engage in a discussion,” he continued, saying that he wanted to “give people a chance to answer, but we’re going to have a civil discussion.”

The woman who had asked the first question then persisted, saying that the question about bigamy was “irrelevant.”

“In my personal opinion, go for it,” she said. “But when two men want to marry … ”

Mr. Santorum interrupted, “What about three men?”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” the woman said to Mr. Santorum, who spent close to an hour and a half before the crowd.

The session ended with many of the students booing Mr. Santorum as he left for his next event.

There are several issues here.




God, Secretive Pundit

Also via the Huffington Post:

Christian conservative leader Pat Robertson says he has a secret straight from God: He knows who the next president of the United States will be.

“I think He showed me about the next president, but I’m not supposed to talk about that so I’ll leave you in the dark — probably just as well — but I think I know who it’s gonna be,” Robertson said Tuesday on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “700 Club.”

Robertson then went on to recite the message he claimed to have been told by God. According to Robertson, God doesn’t support President Barack Obama’s agenda and says that only “overwhelming prayer” can bring a new leader who will stop the country from “disintegrating”:

Okey Dokey.

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