Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Aug/14

24

Saudi Arabia, a Reminder

Execution by beheading in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1985Writing in the New York Times, Ed Husain:

Let’s be clear: Al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram, the Shabab and others are all violent Sunni Salafi groupings. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has been the official sponsor of Sunni Salafism across the globe….

Unlike a majority of Sunnis, Salafis are evangelicals who wish to convert Muslims and others to their “purer” form of Islam — unpolluted, as they see it, by modernity. In this effort, they have been lavishly supported by the Saudi government, which has appointed emissaries to its embassies in Muslim countries who proselytize for Salafism. The kingdom also grants compliant imams V.I.P. access for the annual hajj, and bankrolls ultraconservative Islamic organizations like the Muslim World League and World Assembly of Muslim Youth.

After 9/11, under American pressure, much of this global financial support dried up, but the bastion of Salafism remains strong in the kingdom, enforcing the hard-line application of outdated Shariah punishments long abandoned by a majority of Muslims. Just since Aug. 4, 19 people have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia, nearly half for nonviolent crimes.

We are rightly outraged at the beheading of James Foley by Islamist militants, and by ISIS’ other atrocities, but we overlook the public executions by beheading permitted by Saudi Arabia. By licensing such barbarity, the kingdom normalizes and indirectly encourages such punishments elsewhere. When the country that does so is the birthplace of Islam, that message resonates…

Salafi intolerance has led to the destruction of Islamic heritage in Mecca and Medina. If ISIS is detonating shrines, it learned to do so from the precedent set in 1925 by the House of Saud with the Wahhabi-inspired demolition of 1,400-year-old tombs in the Jannat Al Baqi cemetery in Medina. In the last two years, violent Salafis have carried out similar sectarian vandalism, blowing up shrines from Libya to Pakistan, from Mali to Iraq. Fighters from Hezbollah have even entered Syria to protect holy sites.

Textbooks in Saudi Arabia’s schools and universities teach this brand of Islam. The University of Medina recruits students from around the world, trains them in the bigotry of Salafism and sends them to Muslim communities in places like the Balkans, Africa, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Egypt, where these Saudi-trained hard-liners work to eradicate the local, harmonious forms of Islam.

What is religious extremism but this aim to apply Shariah as state law? This is exactly what ISIS (Islamic State) is attempting do with its caliphate…

Saudi Arabia an ally? No.

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Aug/14

24

Bacon: “Offensive” Apparently

baconFrom WPTZ, Vermont:

WINOOSKI, Vt. —A sign on a lamp post at the bottom of the Winooski Circle displayed the words “Yield Sneakers Bacon” until Friday morning. The bistro owners took it down.

A city program put it in place to keep its flower beds beautiful. If businesses do some gardening they can post an advertisement where they do it, but the word “bacon” on the Sneakers Bistro sign started a discussion about diversity on the Winooski Front Porch Forum.

It started with a post from one woman who wrote that the sign was insensitive to those who do not consume pork. She said as a Muslim she is personally offended by it.

The owners of Sneakers spoke to WPTZ. They say they’ve reached out to the individual who made the post and proactively took the sign down. They also say they regret any harm caused by the sign, and that their goal was never to cause stress or bad feelings.

“It’s nice that they were respectful enough to take it down,” said Caleb Wiley an area resident, “but I also think they shouldn’t have, or had to at any right.”

Other Winooski residents joined the conversation, and online too. One post reads the word “bacon” is not offensive. It’s something that describes food.

Winooski’s city manager spoke on behalf of the city. She said:

“The cool part of living in a diverse community is that it’s not always comfortable. It’s a fascinating place with lots of opportunities for conversation. The City has to pay attention to a lot of factors while acting within what we can regulate,” said Katherine “Deac” Decarreau.

Others recognize it’s a complicated issue, too.

“I respect her religion and her right to believe what she wants but I’m pretty sure the first amendment extends to bacon and the selling of it.”

Sneakers’ owners say their goal is to provide a joyful place for the entire community.

The Winooski Islamic Community Center was not available for comment.

There is so much that’s sad about this squalid little story. There’s the importance that the Muslim woman puts on not being “personally” offended (a hypersensitivity that may be as American as it is genuinely Islamic). There is the cringing desperation to please on the part of Sneakers (“they regret any harm caused by the sign, and that their goal was never to cause stress or bad feelings”) and the refusal to treat this complaint with the contempt that it deserved.

And then there is the simpering PC babble from the city manager (“The cool part of living in a diverse community is that it’s not always comfortable. It’s a fascinating place with lots of opportunities for conversation”) complete with the absence of any recognition that this was not a “conversation” that anyone outside a madhouse should have been having, an absence of recognition shared with those at WPTZ who believe that this is a “complicated” issue.

“Complicated”? Uh, no.

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Aug/14

17

The Pope and the Sandinista

castron-n-desctoFox News from 2009:

UNITED NATIONS – The outspoken U.N. General Assembly president on Tuesday accused the United States of demonizing Iran’s president and criticized the International Criminal Court for issuing an arrest warrant for Sudan’s leader on war crimes charges in Darfur.

Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann… also reiterated that the more he thinks about the conditions that Israel imposes on the Palestinians, the more he tends “to think about apartheid.”

During a wide-ranging press conference, d’Escoto insisted he wasn’t being divisive or promoting his own agenda — but was just fulfilling his duty as president of the 192-member General Assembly to uphold the U.N. Charter and promote peace and nonviolence. Briefing reporters on his recent three-week trip that included a stop in Tehran, d’Escoto said he was struck by the great support and respect for Iran from its neighbors at a summit meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organization — a regional body founded in 1985 by Iran, Turkey and Pakistan — especially for helping “to alleviate the plight” of Afghan refugees in Iran.

“That was a very wonderful experience to see that, in contrast to the attitude that we find, sadly, here where we are,” d’Escoto said.

“I don’t think anyone can doubt that in our part of the world … (President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad has been demonized…”

The Huffington Post:

D’Escoto served as the Republic of Nicaragua’s Minister for Foreign Affairs for more than a decade and currently acts as Senior Adviser on Foreign Affairs to President Daniel Ortega Saavedra. He is still a member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)…

America magazine(with an extract from a 1985 interview with D’Escoto):

Nicaragua will always have freedom of conscience, freedom of religion. Nicaragua is truly committed, not hypocritically committed, like Mr. Reagan, to democracy. We fought to overthrow a regime that was sponsored by the United States, because we could never have democracy under that regime. We are building our democracy. But even the most important of all human rights, which is the right to life, can have exceptions. Catholic morality accepts the principle that one can kill in self-defense, and talks about “just war.” The U.S. Government throws its arms up to the skies in horror because of the limitation of rights in Nicaragua. But this is done precisely to defend our most basic right, which is to sovereignty and the life of our people. We will not allow the use of liberties that never existed in Nicaragua before, but that now exist because of the revolution, to reverse the revolutionary process-in the way, for example, that freedom of the press in Chile was used in EI Mercurio to do in President Allende…

From the press kit issued at the time of D’Escoto’s presidency of the UN’s General Assembly:

Father d’Escoto is the recipient of numerous awards, such as: the Order of Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo (2007), the highest honour awarded by the Catholic University Redemptoris Mater (UNICA), for his work for peace; the Thomas Merton Award (1987), for his commitment to world peace; the Order of Carlos Fonseca Amador (1986), the FSLN’s highest honour, for his contributions to international law; the International Lenin Peace Prize (1985/86) awarded by the Soviet Union…..

Father D’Escoto?

Ah yes.

BBC:

The Vatican says Pope Francis has reinstated a Nicaraguan priest who was suspended thirty years ago for taking up office in Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista government. Father Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann had been banned from celebrating mass by Pope John Paul II for defying a church ban on priests holding government jobs.

Fr D’Escoto served as Nicaragua’s foreign minister from 1979-1990. He welcomed the news and said his punishment had been unfair. Fr D’Escoto, 81, had written to Pope Francis asking to be allowed to celebrate mass before he dies.

On Monday, the Vatican announced that the Pope had agreed to the request and asked Fr D’Escoto’s superior in the missionary Maryknoll order to help reintroduce him into the priestly ministry….

Draw your own conclusions

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Aug/14

16

Gideons, Trumped

gideon-bibleWell, this is a piece of stupidity. The Daily Mail (of course!) has the details (my emphasis added):

One of Britain’s biggest hotel chains has removed Bibles from its rooms to avoid upsetting non-Christians. The decision by Travelodge has been condemned as ‘tragic and bizarre’ by the Church of England, which says Bibles in hotel rooms are important to provide hope, comfort and inspiration to travellers. But the chain, which runs 500 hotels, said the country was becoming increasingly multicultural and it had taken the action for ‘diversity reasons’.

It said the policy was implemented ‘in order not to discriminate against any religion’ – despite having had no complaints from guests. Bibles were taken away at the same time as a refurbishment of its rooms, removing drawers where they were kept. The Bibles, which were provided free by the Gideon Society, have been retained and are stored behind reception for guests to borrow on request, the company says.

A Church of England spokesman said: ‘It seems both tragic and bizarre that hotels would remove the word of God for the sake of ergonomic design, economic incentive or a spurious definition of the word “diversity”.’

It seems not all Travelodges even have Bibles available on request. At the branch in Battersea, south London, there was no Bible in the room or behind reception.

When requested, the receptionist could not find a copy and said no one had ever asked him for one in his four months of working there.Instead, he suggested using the hotel’s free wifi to ‘Google it and read it online’.

When pushed for a hard copy, he rang his manager who told him they used to have them in rooms, but hadn’t had any at the hotel since refurbishment last year….

Oh good grief.

Travelodge is a private company, it has the right to put whatever books it wants within its guests’ rooms, but the decision it has taken shows the barrenness at the heart of so much of modern multiculturalism. Lest anyone take ‘offense’, more must mean less. So out goes the Gideon Bible, another small scrap of what makes up Britain’s common culture torn away leaving, well, what behind.

The irony of this is that, by taking this step, Travelodge is sacralizing the Bible. To those of different faiths or none, the Bible is just another book, its presence neither offensive nor inconvenient or, usually, even noticed.

And yet Travelodge has chosen to make an idol of it. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

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Green churchFrom Climate Progress:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Speaking to three administrators for the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, David Kepley, an elder and deacon at the Providence Presbyterian Church, quoted Leviticus.

“God said ‘the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants,’” he said. “‘Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.’”

To be wasteful of the land’s bounty … is not just unproductive, but is an affront to God.

The verses, Kepley said, allude to several themes. For one, God has encouraged us not just to draw sustenance from the land, but to replenish it — to act as stewards of Creation. For another, the verses compare humans to “renters” in God’s house, meaning we can’t just trash God’s house with unmitigated pollution.

“To me this means that to be wasteful of the land’s bounty or to despoil it with substances that are harmful to people or other life forms is not just unproductive, but is an affront to God,” Kepley said. “In my view, the EPA has identified one of those areas where we humans have ignored our role as good stewards of the Creation.”

Kepley was just one of at least 28 religious leaders who urged the EPA at two D.C. hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday not to weaken — and at times to strengthen — its proposed regulations on carbon emissions from coal plants. The proposed rule represents the Obama Administration’s most ambitious move yet to combat one of the main drivers behind climate change.

…On Tuesday and Wednesday, leaders from Presbyterian, Episcopal, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Quaker, and Baptist congregations spoke out in strong support of the rule, with most speakers calling it a moral obligation to God. Leaders from Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Baha’i groups also testified in support of the rule.

Arguing for such rules on a scientific basis is fine, but this, well….

Taxpayers will, of course, have funded this set of sermons ‘hearing’: Quite why escapes me.

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Aug/14

2

‘Novorossiya’: A suburb of the Third Rome?

Igor-DruzBBC:

A senior adviser to rebels in eastern Ukraine has confirmed that extrajudicial killings have been carried out “to prevent chaos”. Igor Druz told the BBC such “executions” sent an important signal to the rest of the rebel forces. He also said Ukraine’s government was a “terrorist” organisation, committing war crimes against civilians….

Igor Druz is advisor to the rebels’ military commander Igor Strelkov, and a senior spokesman for the rebel-held territories of Donetsk region. He is in charge of the ideology of the eastern Ukrainian rebel movement. In an interview with the BBC in Donetsk he outlined his vision of the so-called ‘state of Novorossia’ they hope to build here.

He says heis a strong supporter of Orthodox Christian morality and family values, and opposed to homosexuality. He hopes to legalise death penalty for the most serious crimes and he is sure that most rebels will support him in this initiative.

… Mr Druz said the rebels wanted to establish a socially responsible state that would protect Christian values.

The use of the term “rebels” to describe these men, a good number of whom are simply invaders who have crossed over the border from Russia, can, to put it mildly, be questioned. And the ideology being described by Druz is quite clearly an echo of that which has been adopted by Putin (to the applause, regrettably, of some on the American right), an ideology descended from the nineteenth century idea of “Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationality”.

And that “Nationality” is not Ukrainian.

The picture behind Druz in the photo that comes with this story says plenty too. Lenin, it seems, has been replaced by another icon.

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Jul/14

27

The ‘Return’ of the Religious Left?

Pope FrancisWriting in Salon, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig;

If the Reason-Rupe and PRRI reports are right, millennials just might be opting out of the partisan approach to politics altogether, which means the partisan leash on religious constituencies might just be fraying. This makes coalitions like the faith and family left — which has commitments all across the political spectrum, founded in faith rather than political expediency — seem a lot more viable in the long run. In short, the weaker the partisan system becomes, the more nuanced the religious story about politics can become. And this means prime time for the Christian left to re-enter the political stage.

The idea that the Christian left ever left the political stage is ludicrous. What it destested, however, was sharing that stage with the religious right.It says quite a bit about Ms Bruenig–and how far her notions of intellectual diversity stretch–that she appears to equate being made to share a stage with having no presence on it.

Anyway, back to the celebration, complete with the inevitable praise for the (more or less) Peronist in the Vatican:

And what a smashing re-entry we’re set for, with figures like Pope Francis casually backhanding capitalism and corporate greed in graceful continuity with his praise of family life, solidarity and a culture of life. At this very moment, different factions of the religious left are duking it out over Obama’s proposed executive order banning discrimination against LGBT workers on behalf of federal contractors, and though the diversity of the religious left might concern some, the big picture is that the religious left is a growing force for political influence. As time passes and the mantle of political participation passes from prior partisan generations down to millennials, we might see that influence continue to grow, re-invigorating some of the finest features of the Christian tradition: to resist categorization, pull hard for the oppressed and downtrodden and insist upon hope while coping with the realities of power.

Oh joy.

Jul/14

26

Star Turn

The BBCA.Duerer, Der Astrologe - Duerer / The Astrologer / -:

A Conservative MP has spoken of his belief in astrology and his desire to incorporate it into medicine. David Tredinnick said he had spent 20 years studying astrology and healthcare and was convinced it could work….Explaining his beliefs to BBC News, Mr Tredinnick said he had been right about herbal remedies and healing, which he said were now becoming accepted in parts of the NHS [National Health Service], and he now wanted to promote astrology, which was not just predicting the future but gaining an insight into personal problems.

He stopped short of suggesting astrological readings on the NHS, but said he wanted to raise awareness of it as an alternative among patients and clinicians.

“I think it’s something that people should be aware of as an option they have if they are confused about themselves.”

He said he had compiled astrological charts for his fellow MPs – he declined to reveal names – adding: “If you look at the charts I have done for people I have certainly made their lives easier.”

Oh yes, there’s this:

The MP for Bosworth [is] a member of the [House of Commons] health committee and… science and technology committee

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Jul/14

22

Superstitions Old and New

Library of CongressRaw Story:

Televangelist Pat Robertson advised a mother on Monday that she could cure her son’s stomach pains by finding someone to cast out demons that were possibly caused by an ancestor who practiced witchcraft. In an email, a viewer named Dianne told the TV preacher that her son had “painful shock-waves thru his body” that originated in his stomach while she was praying for him and calling on “the name of JESUS.”

“My son said it felt like something hit him very hard in the stomach,” the mother wrote. “I know this is not of God. He is a Christian. Can Christians be attacked by demons?”

Instead of recommending that the mother seek medical attention, Robertson said that the boy could be “oppressed or possessed by demons.”

“You need to get somebody with you who understands the spiritual dimension and doing spiritual warfare,” he continued. “If I were you, I would look back in your family. What in your family — do you have anybody involved in the occult, somebody in witchcraft or tarot cards or psychic things?”

“Has there something been there that you don’t know about. Some grandparent, great grandparent or something. Look into the family tree, and then get some people in there and cast this stuff out. But that does not sound like normal.

Laura Helmuth, writing in Slate:

Most paranoid, grandiose, relentless conspiracy theorists can’t call a meeting with a U.S. senator. Then there’s Robert F. Kennedy Jr. A profile of Kennedy in this weekend’s Washington Post Magazine shows that Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Bernie Sanders listened politely while Kennedy told them that a vaccine preservative causes autism.

It doesn’t. It just doesn’t. Every major scientific and medical organization in the country has evaluated the evidence and concluded that the preservative thimerosal is safe. The question is settled scientifically. Thimerosal, out of an abundance of caution, was removed from childhood vaccines 13 years ago, although it is used in some flu vaccines. And yet Kennedy, perhaps more than any other anti-vaccine zealot, has confused parents into worrying that vaccines, which have saved more lives than almost any other public health practice in history, could harm their children.

Mikulski and Sanders, to their credit, both politely blew Kennedy off.

That’s a sign of great progress: Not that many years ago, Rep. Dan Burton held congressional hearings on the entirely made-up dangers of vaccines. I’m especially proud of Sanders, who represents Vermont, a state with one of the highest rates of vaccine denial and misinformation.

But the more people dismiss Kennedy, unfortunately, the more obsessive and slanderous he becomes. Keith Kloor describes some of Kennedy’s recent outrageous claims in the Post profile:

The more Kennedy talked on the subject, the more his rhetoric became hyperbolic. During one 2011 segment on his Air America radio show, he accused government scientists of being “involved in a massive fraud.” He said they skewed studies to demonstrate the safety of thimerosal. “I can see that this fraud is doing extraordinary damage to the brains of American children,” he said.

Last year, he gave the keynote speech at an anti-vaccine gathering in Chicago. There, he said of a scientist who is a vocal proponent of vaccines and already the object of much hate mail from anti-vaccine activists that this scientist and others like him, “should be in jail, and the key should be thrown away.”

I got a taste of Kennedy’s delusions last year. After Slate’s Bad Astronomy blogger, Phil Plait, criticized Kennedy for speaking at an anti-vaccine conference, Kennedy called me to complain, and I wrote about our very one-sided conversation. He told me scientists and government agencies are conspiring with the vaccine industry to cover up the evidence that thimerosal is “the most potent brain killer imaginable,” and journalists are dupes who are afraid to question authority. He claimed that several specific scientists had admitted to him that he was right. I called these scientists up. Here’s one representative answer, from a researcher who preferred I not use his name because he gets death threats from anti-vaccine activists: “Kennedy completely misrepresented everything I said.”

To recap: Kennedy accuses scientists of fraud, which is pretty much the worst thing you can say about a scientist. He distorts their statements. He says they should be thrown in jail. He uses his powerful name to besmirch theirs. That name, the reason he has power and fame, is inherited from a family dedicated to public service. He now uses the Kennedy name to accuse employees of government agencies charged with protecting human health—some of the best public servants this country has—of engaging in a massive conspiracy to cause brain damage in children.

And this nonsense has consequences:

The number of measles cases in the United States tripled last year—an entirely preventable disease whose resurgence has been made possible in part by Kennedy’s tireless efforts

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Jul/14

19

Balkanization Watch

kirpanIt’s difficult not to despair sometimes when confronting some of the excesses of the zero tolerance crowd in the nation’s schools: the toddler sent home for pointing in a way that made his fingers look like a gun, and all the rest.

Nevertheless, the news contained in this report produced by the Becket Fund, a group named, tellingly enough after a defender of priestly legal privilege, ought to give to rise to a degree of concern:

Amandeep Singh, a ninth-grade honor student in New York, was reprimanded and suspended indefinitely for wearing a kirpan—a ceremonial religious item worn by members of the Sikh faith—to school.

Amandeep became a baptized Sikh at age eight, requiring him, like 20 million other Sikhs worldwide, to follow the five Sikh articles of faith. The best known of these is the requirement to wear hair uncut in a turban. Another requirement is the kirpan, an item shaped like a sword that reminds Sikhs of their duty to speak out against injustice and stand up for the defenseless. In deference to school security concerns, school-age children like Amandeep typically wear a very small, blunt kirpan that cannot be used to harm anyone.

For over seven years, Amandeep attended local public schools and continuously observed all five articles of his faith, including the wearing of the kirpan, without any incident. Many of his teachers were aware of his kirpan and specifically commended him for his dedication to his faith. None ever told him that his kirpan–which was duller than a butter knife and secured underneath his clothes–posed any sort of danger.

Without explanation, school officials suddenly reversed course in February 2005 and declared Amandeep’s kirpan to be a prohibited “weapon.” Moreover, they refused to allow him to set foot on school grounds unless he abandoned his article of faith. At that point, Amandeep retained The Becket Fund to protect his religious freedom.

The Becket Fund intervened on Amandeep’s behalf, meeting with school district officials to explain the kirpan’s religious significance and Amandeep’s rights under the First Amendment. The district quickly changed course, agreeing to allow Amandeep to continue his education without compromising his faith.

This was a victory not only for Amandeep and other Sikhs, but also for free religious exercise in public schools. The district’s actions were “evidence of religious discrimination,” Jared Leland, media and legal counsel for Becket, told the Journal News . “He was really being forced to choose between attending a public school and practicing his faith, and that’s something that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”

Now, I have no problem with the idea allowing a Sikh child—or any other child—to wear a safe, very small, very blunted and entirely symbolic sword under their clothes at school. The school’s security policy should never have been so narrow as to ban it. But to permit this exception purely on the grounds of religious belief is more troubling, not particularly in itself (Amandeep’s kirpan seems completely harmless), but for the precedent it may set. What other school rules or procedures could children be exempted from in future purely because compliance with those rules or procedures contravened a possibly less benign aspect of one or another creed?

A generous and broad assertion of the principle of freedom of religion is something that makes America America, and rightly so, but so too is the notion of equality before the law, and, for that matter, something else too. How to put it? Well, this will do: E pluribus unum.

There has to be unum as well, so to speak, as pluribus

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