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The Chilling Reason Our Government Wants to Erase These Americans from History July 28, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Racism, Religion, War on Terror.
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Most of those held in Communications Management Units, which imprison people linked to terrorist activity, are Muslims.

July 24, 2014, Molly Crabapple, http://www.alternet.org

Andy Stepanianis one of the kindest humans I have ever met.

An activist publicist, Andy draws attention to Americans imprisoned for their beliefs. He is straitlaced and gentle, and the only time he ever declined to buy me dinner was when I offended his veganism by eating chicken fingers. But Andy is also a felon. As one of the SHAC7, he spent three years locked in a cage for urging people to employ militant protest techniques against the animal-testing corporation Huntingdon Life Sciences. He spent his last six months in prison in a Communications Management Unit (CMU).

CMUs exist to cut off prisoners from the outside world. The prisoners’ every word is recorded. They are strip-searched before and after each visit from loved ones (in case they write messages on their body). Letters are severely restricted; phone calls are limited to two 15-minute calls a week. CMU prisoners may spend decades without hugging their wives or children.

Like Guantanamo Bay, the CMU is a child of the war on terror. In 2006 and 2008, respectively, the Bureau of Prisons, under the directorship of Harley Lappin, created two secret units: one in Terre Haute, IN, and the other in Marion, IL. The bureau’s stated purpose was “Limited Communication for Terrorist Inmates.” But as at Guantanamo, Muslims were the real targets. Muslims make up roughly 70 percent of the prisoners in CMUs but only 6 percent of the federal prison population. The CMUs are part of a philosophy that makes Muslim synonymous with terrorist, that views “terrorists” as both contagious and superhuman—so dangerous that they must be subject to ultimate control.

Andy was the rare white CMU prisoner. Guards told him he was there as a “balancer.” CMUs are another reflection of the double standard to which the United States holds Muslims. Acts of speech, travel or association that would be A-OK for a Christian are enough to get a Muslim branded a terrorist.

Shifa Sadequee, 2014.
Photo Credit: 
Molly Crabapple
Click to enlarge.

CMU prisoner Shifa Sadequee was kidnapped by U.S. forces in Bangladesh at the age of 19, allegedly tortured and rendered to the United States. He spent three years in solitary awaiting his trial for terrorism. His crimes? He played paintball and took video footage of U.S. monuments. The former activity was labeled “paramilitary training”; the latter, “casing videos” for an attack. The judge sentenced him to 17 years.

Pharmacist Tarek Mehanna should be called a dissident—but that’s not a label America allows Muslims. A scathing critic of U.S. foreign policy, Mehanna believed Muslims under attack in their own countries had the right to armed self-defense. He translated and subtitled some jihadi materials and briefly traveled to Yemen. Nothing he did would have been looked at askance if he were a Tea Party member speaking about fellow gun enthusiasts. But as a Muslim Mehanna was convicted of material support for terrorism. His sentence? Seventeen years.

At his sentencing, Mehanna delivered a chilling, eloquent statement about resisting oppression: “In your eyes, I’m a terrorist, I’m the only one standing here in an orange jumpsuit and it’s perfectly reasonable that I be standing here in an orange jumpsuit. But one day, America will change and people will recognize this day for what it is. They will look at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and maimed by the U.S. military in foreign countries, yet somehow I’m the one going to prison for ‘conspiring to kill and maim’ in those countries…

“The government says that I was obsessed with violence, obsessed with ‘killing Americans.’ But, as a Muslim living in these times, I can think of a lie no more ironic.”

Tarek Mehanna, 2014.
Photo Credit: 
Molly Crabapple
Click to enlarge.

Mehanna is in a CMU for speech. Few American free speech defenders noticed.

While most Americans were rightly nauseated by the NSA programs revealed by Edward Snowden, they gave less thought to the brutal surveillance that Muslim communities have suffered since 9/11. Mosques, student associations and even restaurants were monitored throughout the country. Informants tried to rope the naive or the mentally ill into expressing support for jihad. If an agent was able to pressure an unstable young man into driving a car or buying some backpacks, he could arrest him for assisting terrorism. The agent would receive professional accolades for making the arrest; the young man, decades in jail. For the untold cash it poured into spying on Muslims, the FBI seldom discovered a plot that it did not concoct itself.

Shahawar Siraj, 2014.
Photo Credit: 
Molly Crabapple
Click to enlarge.

CMU prisoner Shahawar Matin Siraj had no explosives or concrete plan of attack, but that did not prevent a judge from sentencing him to 30 years for plotting to bomb New York’s Herald Square. The informant who befriended him, and then goaded him into the plan, was paid $100,000 by the NYPD.

Imprisonment is erasure. The state locks a person in a cage—without context, without community, without love. He becomes not human but a widget passing through a system of absolute control. The CMU enacts a double erasure: it represents the ultimate scission of the prisoner from his non-prison self. You are in a box. You are no one. You belong to us.

Andy is working on a documentary about CMUs. He asked me to draw pictures of some prisoners. Drawing is slow, deliberate. It is an antidote to forgetting men the state wants the world to forget.

One night I worked on a portrait of Ghassan Elashi. A former vice president of an internet company, Elashi was sentenced to 65 years in prison for running the Holy Land Foundation, which was the largest Muslim charity in the United States until the Bush administration shut it down in December 2001. Through charitable organizations in Gaza, Holy Land allegedly funneled money to Hamas, which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization.

Ghassan Elashi, 2014.
Photo Credit: 
Molly Crabapple
Click to enlarge.

Andy invited Elashi’s daughter, Noor, to my studio. She brought a photograph of her father. I was unable to draw him from life, as the USP Marion is not easy to visit. The three of us stayed up late into the night, me rendering Noor’s father’s eyes in careful watercolor, Andy filming us as she watched me draw.

Noor is a stylishly dressed young writer who sidelines as a baker of gluten-free cupcakes. But when she talks about her father, her voice grows cold with pain. She remembers how FBI agents threw him to the floor when they raided their home. She remembers prison guards screaming at her young brother, who has Down syndrome, when he tried to hug his dad (she and her brother were subsequently denied visits for months). She remembers how her father was barred from making phone calls for writing his name on a yoga mat.

She does not believe for a moment that her father deliberately funneled funds to Hamas.

Noor’s situation shows how CMUs rip apart not only prisoners’ lives but also the lives of their families and community. Noor is still fighting for her dad.

In “Counterpunch,” Noor wrote, “My father is my pillar, whose high spirits transcend all barbed-wire-topped fences, whose time in prison did not stifle his passion for human rights.”

Noor’s words point to one of the war on terror’s most insidious legacies. The war on terror flattened Muslims into bogeymen. They could no longer be troubled young men. Nor could they be political dissidents, heads of charities or defenders of human rights. Dissent was equated with terrorism.

In making a fetish of the word “freedom,” America revoked the freedom of so many within her borders. Civil liberties defenders must remember that Muslims are not a separate class of people. Attacks on Muslims’ rights are attacks on human rights.

Pope Francis Co-operated with the Military Junta in Argentina May 31, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Human Rights, Latin America, Religion, Right Wing.
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Roger’s note: The Catholic Church. from the parish priests up to the bishops, cardinals and Popes, has a long history of supporting brutal dictatorship, not only in Latin America, but around the globe.  The two most glaring examples of the 20th century were in Franco’s Spain and Hitler’s Germany, where the Church was at best voluntary blind to atrocity and at worst complicit.  There is not reason to believe that this was not true with respect to the current Pope Francis during his tenure as leader of the Church during the period of Argentina’s vicious dictatorship.

By (about the author)

OpEdNews Op Eds 5/31/2014 at 11:09:08

It is claimed by two priests that Pope Francis handed them and other leftists to the military death squads, and did not attempt to protect lay people who then became part of the 30,000 ‘disappeared’ in Argentina.

A letter is one of several documents that de la Cuadra and other human-rights activists say shows that Bergoglio (i.e. Pope Francis), as head of the Jesuits, may have turned a blind eye to some atrocities, then later denied knowing about those atrocities despite his own testimony to the contrary and that ultimately as head of the catholic church in Argentina, he did little to open the church’s archives to reveal the truth about its complicity.

The testimony of Argentine war criminals in tribunals showed that Catholic priests and chaplains played a central role in the torture and murder of dissidents by blessing torture chambers and absolving troops of their sins after they had thrown dozens of bound and drugged dissidents from a plane into the 50-mile-wide Rio de la Plata.

The accusations have been around for years, but no official court has accused Bergoglio of wrongdoing. He has argued that he lobbied the junta to free the kidnapped priests and quietly worked to hide or protect many other suspected dissidents.

But Bergoglio has had to make that case amid a stream of revelations about other Catholic leaders’ collaborations with the junta. In a jailhouse interview the former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, who is serving a life sentence for human-rights abuses, confirmed that some top church officials were aware of the dictatorship’s kidnappings and killings of dissidents.

There were also allegations that Father Bergoglio knew where two of his Jesuit priests were held and tortured for five months by the junta, but did little to help them.

Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi rejected those charges, calling them “slander,” and saying that instead “there have been many declarations of how much he did for many people to protect them from the military dictatorship.”

The main chronicler of the priests’ kidnap case is investigative journalist Horacio Verbitsky, a former member of a ’70s-era leftist guerrilla group who tends to favour the policies of Kirchner’s populist government. It was Verbitsky’s past and political slant that allowed a Vatican spokesman, shortly after Francis’ election, to dismiss the complaints against the new pope as a campaign by “left-wing, anti-clerical elements.”

But Verbitsky is also highly regarded for shedding light on some of the worst abuses of the dictatorship. He famously established that security forces drugged dissidents and dropped them from aeroplanes and helicopters into the Rio de la Plata.

Pope Francis has never been implicated directly in any actions, but many in Argentina who support him, including 1980 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel, said that “he was not complicit in the dictatorship but he lacked courage to accompany us in our struggle.”

The International Tribunal into Crimes of Church and State was formed of survivors of church and state terror in Dublin, Ireland. The event was initiated by Nobel Prize Nominee Reverend Kevin Annett of Canada and members of Irish survivors’ groups and has since charged Pope Francis with child abuse. Via citizens courts by 2013, this group successfully prosecuted and convicted former Pope Benedict, Joseph Ratzinger, for Crimes against Humanity in Canada. Pope Benedict subsequently resigned, the first Pope to do so in 600 years.

Reports of any of these accusations in the mainstream media as might be expected are infrequent.

With the knowledge of the United States, Latin American dictators used terrorism to wage their war on terrorism.

Pope Francis’ Junta Past: Argentine Journalist on New Pontiff’s Ties to Abduction of Jesuit Priests

Satanic 9th circle murder evidence links Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury

http://ahaadotme.wordpress.com/

Cully Downer is Irish and the author of ‘Ahaanews’ a UK based blog activist site. He has been a mental health advocate and freelance author both in the UK and North America. He works independently and now lives in the south coast of England.

 

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‘Worst of All Worlds’ as Neoliberal BJP Wins India Elections in Landslide May 17, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in India, Religion, Right Wing.
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Roger’s note: I had no sooner posted an article about neo-Nazism in Europe, where I commented that the phenomenon is world wide, than I came across this analysis of the results of the Indian election.  Apart from virulent and racist Hinduism represented by the BJP, there is the lesson of what elections really stand for in capitalist democracy.  Indian voters had the choice between the endemically corrupt Nehru/Ghandi Congress Party dynasty versus the racist BJP, both parties sold out to the corporate elite.  Makes one think about Democrats and Republicans, doesn’t it?

Critics say victory of Hindu nationalist party and asendancy of Narendra Modi put nation on perilous course

- Jon Queally, staff writer

The BJP’s Narendra Modi will be India’s next Prime Minister which critics say puts India on a perilous path of neoliberal economics and nationalist politics. (Photo: Hindustan Times)In national elections in India, the rightwing Hindu nationalist party, called the Bharatiya Janata Party (or BJP), has won a landslide victory for the country’s parliament and their leader, businessman Narendra Modi from Gujurat, is now set to become the nation’s next Prime Minister.

According to Reuters:

With more than six times the seats of its closest rival, Modi’s is the most decisive mandate for any leader since the 1984 assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi propelled her son to office. Since 1989, India has been governed by coalitions.

The BJP was winning in 278 seats of the 543-seat parliament, counting trends showed. An alliance led by the party was ahead in 337 seats, TV channel NDTV said.

Though many are framing the BJP’s victory as the result of widespread disgust with the current government, led by the Congress Party, and a win for those calling for an end to systematic corruption in the world’s most populous democratic state—critics of the neoliberal BJP say its ascendency puts India on a perilous path.

For progressive-minded Indians, says Vijay Prashad, a historian and professor at American University of Beirut, the BJP victory “is the worst of all worlds.”

In statements ahead of the elections, activist and author Arundhati Roy said that India’s election were not about serving the interests of the nation’s poor and disenfranchised, but about “which corporation would come to power.”

Referring directly to the now victorious Modi, Roy stated, “This time, [the elections were] corporate war and he is a corporate candidate.” She indicated that all the major parties continue to ignore the pervasive poverty, including mass malnutrition which plague vast sections of the country.  Despite India having the third-fastest growing economy in the world, Roy said, its democracy is being steadily destroyed by “unequally distributed wealth” and a political elite that pays only lip service to the nation’s farmers, marginalized youth, and  underclass.

To de-mystify Modi’s victory and put his party in context, Prashad explains:

“BJP never ran against the roots of inequality or deprivation, but only what it deemed to be its symptom – corruption. This was a clever strategy. It both rode the anti-Congress wave, which had been produced by anger at the inequalities in the country, and it mollified the corporate community, which would not have been interested in any criticism of the policies of neoliberalism.”The BJP’s record in governance is not any different from that of the Congress – with inequality and corruption being the order of the day in its bastion of Gujarat, for instance. To take one indicator as illustrative, in Gujarat the mal-nutrition rate is so low that it is worse than the average level of malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa (where the rates of mal-nutrition remain very disturbing). Gujarat’s ‘development model’ also favored the privileged businessmen of the ruling party, the BJP, and its chief minister, Narendra Modi. Family firms such as the Adani group earned substantial gifts from the BJP government, which enhanced their profits, and helped Gujarat increase its own profile as “open for business.”

Modi was able to dodge questions of the “Gujarat Model.” He was quickly anointed by the BJP as its Prime Ministerial candidate and hastily favored by the media with far more coverage than any other politician. Modi ran as the development candidate with a carefully calibrated argument – he suggested that it was not neo-liberalism that created inequality, but its symptom, namely corruption, which the BJP tied to the mast of the Congress. In other words, the BJP never ran against the roots of inequality or deprivation, but only what it deemed to be its symptom – corruption. This was a clever strategy. It both rode the anti-Congress wave, which had been produced by anger at the inequalities in the country, and it mollified the corporate community, which would not have been interested in any criticism of the policies of neoliberalism.

Writing in the Guardian on Friday, Indian author and writer Pankaj Mishra argues that with Modi at the helm, India is facing “its most sinister period since independence.” Providing context for both Modi’s rise within the BJP and the rightwing fanaticism of the party now set to control India, Mishra writes:

Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation inspired by the fascist movements of Europe, whose founder’s belief that Nazi Germany had manifested “race pride at its highest” by purging the Jews is by no means unexceptional among the votaries of Hindutva, or “Hinduness”. In 1948, a former member of the RSS murdered Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims. The outfit, traditionally dominated by upper-caste Hindus, has led many vicious assaults on minorities. A notorious executioner of dozens of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 crowed that he had slashed open with his sword the womb of a heavily pregnant woman and extracted her foetus. Modi himself described the relief camps housing tens of thousands of displaced Muslims as “child-breeding centres”.

“Modi is never less convincing than when he presents himself as a humble tea-vendor, the son-of-the-soil challenger to the Congress’s haughty dynasts. His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country’s biggest corporations. His closest allies – India’s biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.”.

Such rhetoric has helped Modi sweep one election after another in Gujarat. A senior American diplomat described him, in cables disclosed by WikiLeaks, as an “insular, distrustful person” who “reigns by fear and intimidation”; his neo-Hindu devotees on Facebook and Twitter continue to render the air mephitic with hate and malice, populating the paranoid world of both have-nots and haves with fresh enemies – “terrorists”, “jihadis”, “Pakistani agents”, “pseudo-secularists”, “sickulars”, “socialists” and “commies”. Modi’s own electoral strategy as prime ministerial candidate, however, has been more polished, despite his appeals, both dog-whistled and overt, to Hindu solidarity against menacing aliens and outsiders, such as the Italian-born leader of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, Bangladeshi “infiltrators” and those who eat the holy cow.

Modi exhorts his largely young supporters – more than two-thirds of India’s population is under the age of 35 – to join a revolution that will destroy the corrupt old political order and uproot its moral and ideological foundations while buttressing the essential framework, the market economy, of a glorious New India. In an apparently ungovernable country, where many revere the author of Mein Kampf for his tremendous will to power and organisation, he has shrewdly deployed the idioms of management, national security and civilisational glory.

Boasting of his 56-inch chest, Modi has replaced Mahatma Gandhi, the icon of non-violence, with Vivekananda, the 19th-century Hindu revivalist who was obsessed with making Indians a “manly” nation. Vivekananda’s garlanded statue or portrait is as ubiquitous in Modi’s public appearances as his dandyish pastel waistcoats. But Modi is never less convincing than when he presents himself as a humble tea-vendor, the son-of-the-soil challenger to the Congress’s haughty dynasts. His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country’s biggest corporations. His closest allies – India’s biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.

____________________________________

K-Street Lobbyist Threatens a Mass Boycott of the NFL Team That Drafts Michael Sam May 10, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT, Religion, Right Wing, Sports.
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Roger’s note: it is astounding, almost surreal, the amount of time energy and money invested by right wing bigots in the name of Christianity on a campaign of pure hatred against people who love.

“Children of a future age

Reading this indignant page

Know that in a former time 

Love, sweet love, was thought a crime.” 

William Blake

It is indeed an upside-down world we live in.  It would almost be worth it to be a believer and to witness these troglodytes meeting their Maker, who has a big smile on Her face and is sporting a rainbow colored pink triangle.

 

By Kyle Mantyla

imageshuffingtonpost.com
Jack Burkman, a K-Street insider, is also seeking to ban gays from the NFL.
The NFL Draft will take place this weekend and there has been  a lot of speculation about which team, if any, will draft gay defensive end Michael Sam.

If Sam does get drafted, the team that picks him will get to look forward to dealing with Washington, DC lobbyist Jack Burkman who, as part of  his campaign to pass legislation that would ban openly gay players from playing in the NFL, is vowing to unleash a “relentness” boycott against the team that drafts him.

Burkman says that he has a “coalition of Evangelical Christian leaders from across the nation” ready to go as soon as Sam is drafted who will teach the NFL that “when you trample the Christian community and Christian values, there will be a terrible financial price to pay”:

Jack Burkman, head of the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm J.M. Burkman & Assoc. who is seeking to ban gays from the NFL, says he intends to build a national coalition to boycott any football franchise that picks openly gay football player Michael Sam in the NFL Draft, which starts Thursday at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

In a release issued Thursday, Burkman said he would “leverage his political clout” to ensure that the franchise that selects the 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end from Missouri would get “roughed up financially.”

“We shall exercise our First Amendment rights and shall not stop until the drafting NFL franchise cannot sell a single ticket, jersey or autographed football,” said Burkman. “In short, we shall be relentless.”

Burkman claims in the release that he is currently mobilizing “powerful grassroots organizations in 27 of the 50 states,” as well as a “coalition of Evangelical Christian leaders from across the nation to take part in a protest if Sam is drafted.”

“The NFL, like most of the rest of American business, is about to learn that when you trample the Christian community and Christian values there will be a terrible financial price to pay,” said Burkman.

Republished with permission of Right Wing Watch.

It’s Not Just Uganda: Behind the Christian Right’s Onslaught in Africa April 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Human Rights, Kenya, LGBT, Nigeria, Religion, Right Wing, Zimbabwe.
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For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation all over Africa.

As their influence has waned at home, antigay evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa. (Photo: Travis Lupick / Flickr)

In Uganda, being gay can now earn you a lifetime in prison.

Last month, the East African country was again thrust into the international spotlight after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a draconian bill that criminalized homosexuality. The high profile, on-and-off battle over the so-called “kill the gays” bill has drawn headlines for years as the most extreme example in a wave of antigay legislation on the continent. But homophobia in Africa is not merely an African problem.

As the gay rights movement has gained traction in the United States, the more virulently homophobic ideologies of the religious right have been pushed further out of the mainstream and into fringe territory. But as their influence has waned at home, right-wing evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa.

For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been injecting themselves into African politics, speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation on the continent. The influence of these groups has been well documented in Uganda. The now-defunct Exodus International, for example, sent Don Schmierer, a board member, to Uganda in 2009 to speak at a conference alongside Scott Lively, a pastor who was later sued by a Ugandan gay rights group for his role in promoting human rights violations against LGBTQ people. The two participated in a disturbing anti-gay conference, where speakers blamed homosexuals for the rise of Nazism and the Rwandan genocide, among other abhorrent acts. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a hard-right Christian group that is active in U.S. politics as well, similarly supported anti-gay laws in Uganda. At the peak of controversy over the “kill the gays” bill, Perkins praised the Ugandan president for “leading his nation to repentance.”

But such groups aren’t just active in Uganda. They have promoted antigay legislation in Kenya, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, just to name a few other places. The support ranges from popular agitation and sideline cheerleading to outright intervention.

In 2010, for example, when Zimbabwe began the process of drafting a new constitution, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ)—a Christian law firm founded by evangelist Pat Robertson—launched a Zimbabwean counterpart called the African Centre for Law and Justice. The outpost trained lawyers for the express purpose of putting a Christian stamp on the draft of the new constitution.

The African Centre joined forces with the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), an indigenous organization, to promote constitutional language affirming that Zimbabwe is a Christian nation and ensuring that homosexuality remained illegal. These and other hardline views are outlined in a pamphlet distributed by the EFZ and ACLJ. Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of ACLJ, announced that his organization would lobby for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in political and religious circles in the event of any controversy over the provisions, despite the fact that the Zimbabwean president has been sanctioned by the United States and the European Union for violating human rights. Last year, Zimbabwe’s new constitution, which includes a ban on gay marriage, was approved by an overwhelming popular vote.

ACLJ’s Kenyan-based offshoot, the East African Center for Law and Justice (EACLJ), made an effort to lobby against Kenya’s progressive new constitution as well. In April 2010, a report on the group’s website called homosexuality “unacceptable” and “foreign” and called for the Kenyan constitution to clearly define marriage as between a man and a woman, thus closing the door on future laws that could attempt to legalize same-sex marriage. In this case the ECLJ was unsuccessful, and the new constitution was approved without any language regarding same-sex marriage.

Pat Robertson’s entanglements in Africa go well beyond Zimbabwe and Kenya.

In 1960, Robertson created The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which broadcasts through cable and satellite to over 200 countries. Robertson is a co-host on the 700 Club, arguably CBN’s most popular show. From his perch on the show, Roberts has made a seemingly endless variety of inflammatory remarks about LGBTQ people and just about everyone else that does not fall in line with his own religious thinking.

In the United States, Robertson’s vitriol can be brushed aside as the antiquated ravings of a fringe figure. Not so in much of Africa. A survey conducted in 2010 found that 74 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, had watched at least one CBN show in the previous year. That’s a remarkable reach considering Nigeria is home to over 80 million Christians.

Robertson’s influence plays into an increasingly hostile political climate for gays in the country. Last January, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which provides punishments of up to 14 years imprisonment for a gay marriage and up to 10 years for membership in or encouragement of gay clubs and organizations. The enactment of the law was followed by a wave of arrests of gay men—and widespread denouncement from the international community.

The religious right, however, doesn’t see Nigerian laws regarding homosexuality as a gross violation of human rights, but rather as protection of “traditional marriage.” In 2011, on the heels of the Nigerian Senate passing an earlier version of the anti-gay law, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would officially promote LGBTQ rights abroad as part of its development framework. In response, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute denounced the administration’s directive for putting “U.S. foreign policy on a collision course with religious freedom.”

MassResistance, a Massachusetts-based organization that bills itself as a “pro-family” activist group, praised Nigeria when the Nigerian House passed an earlier version of the bill that President Jonathan signed into law on January 7. In a statement, the group said that African nations are “feeling the brunt” of the gay rights movement, claiming that the “huge spread of AIDS” and the “breakdown in society caused by the homosexual movement seems to bring more general social destruction in African cultures than in the West.” Anti-gay laws in Nigeria have enjoyed unequivocal support from some hardline evangelical groups in the United States, with some going so far as to travel to Nigeria to spread anti-gay sentiment.

One such group is Family Watch International (FWI), another U.S.-based “pro-family” advocacy group. Formed in 1999 and headed by Sharon Slater, FWI boasts members and supporters from over 170 countries. In 2011, Slater was the keynote speaker at a meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association, where she touted her beliefs on homosexuality, telling delegates that they would no longer have religious freedom and homosexuals would prey on their children if they supported “fictitious sexual rights.” To Slater and her ilk, the rights of LGBTQ persons are imaginary.

FWI even wields influence within the United Nations. In early 2011, FWI co-hosted a “Global Family Policy Forum” in Phoenix, Arizona. Over the two-day event, FWI coached 26 UN staffers from 23 different countries in attendance on how to resist UN initiatives on gay rights. An FWI newsletter claimed that conference attendees were finally hearing scientific and clinical “evidence” that homosexuality was not genetically determined and could be cured by therapy.

To some, the belief that homosexuality is a disease that needs to be cured may seem too ridiculous to even entertain. But if the devout can’t win at home, they’ll take their message abroad. It’s up to the international community and African activists dedicated to human rights to put an end to this export of hate.

U.N. Panel Questions Vatican Officials on Child Sex Abuse January 16, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Children, Criminal Justice, Religion.
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Roger’s note: This paragraph knocked me off my seat:

“Written answers from the Vatican emphasized the distinction between the Holy See and the Catholic Church and said that although it encouraged adherence to the principles of the convention globally, it was responsible only for implementing the convention in the territory of the Vatican City State.”

The Vatican, whose long vindictive arm reaches to the farthest corner of the glove to punish a priest or theologian who dares to advocate, for example, the ordination of women priests, this poor powerless Vatican, perhaps the most centralized authoritarian institution on the face of earth, this poor impotent Vatican finds that its hands are tied when it comes to enforcing the law that protects children from its abusive priests.  Five stars for chutzpah and hypocrisy.  But kudos to the Pope and his Cardinals for “encouraging” their priests to keep their hands (or worse) off children.  Not to mention protecting all those children running around the halls of the Vatican.

NICK CUMMING-BRUCEJAN. 16, 2014, New York Times

GENEVA — In an unusual appearance before a United Nations committee, Vatican officials faced questions on Thursday about the Holy See’s handling of sexual abuse of children by the clergy.

The officials, including Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, who served as the Vatican’s chief sex crimes prosecutor for a decade up to 2012, are appearing before the Committee on the Rights of the Child to show how the Vatican is implementing a legally binding convention promoting child rights, which it signed in 1990.

Human rights organizations and groups representing victims of clerical abuse welcomed the hearing as the first occasion the Vatican has had to publicly defend its record.

“It’s a moment that has given hope and encouragement to victims across the globe,” Barbara Blaine, president of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in Geneva ahead of the hearing.

Amid the shake-up launched by Pope Francis in the 10 months since he took office, rights groups also saw Thursday’s hearing as an occasion that could shed light on the pontiff’s approach to dealing with the clerical abuse scandal.

Pope Francis announced last month the creation of a new committee to tackle clerical abuse but has so far said little on the scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church around the world.

In questions posed by the U.N. committee before the hearing, the Vatican was asked to provide details of cases of sexual abuse committed by clergy that were brought to its attention, to detail measures for ensuring clergy accused of sexual abuse did not remain in contact with children, and to explain what explicit instructions it had given to ensure compulsory reporting of sexual abuse to the competent national authorities together with the cases where instructions had been given not to report abuse.

Written answers from the Vatican emphasized the distinction between the Holy See and the Catholic Church and said that although it encouraged adherence to the principles of the convention globally, it was responsible only for implementing the convention in the territory of the Vatican City State.

“It was quite shocking. It was a pretty direct, pretty blunt effort to sidestep the questions,” Pam Spees, an attorney with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which is seeking to hold Vatican officials responsible for sexual abuse crimes, said in an interview.

 

Trayvon Martin Nativity Display At Claremont United Methodist Church Urges Us Not To Forget Gun Violence Victims December 28, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Gun Control/Violence, Racism, Religion.
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Roger’s note: I am not that big on organized Christianity or the nativity myth, but there are some few who call themselves Christian who actually do reflect the ethic of love and peace.  And I am big on remembering Trayvon Martin and the institutionalized racism and gun industry that were responsible for his murder as much as the fool Zimmerman.

 

Posted: 12/27/2013 1:41 pm EST  |  Updated: 12/27/2013 6:02 pm EST Huff Post

Trayvon Martin hasn’t been forgotten at Claremont United Methodist Church in Claremont, Cali.– in fact, he appears front and center in their Nativity display. He serves as a bloody and tragic reminder of the dangers of gun violence and racial privilege in today’s America, reports David Allen of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

Amongst the traditional holy family, Martin sits hunched over in his iconic black hoodie, blood pouring from his chest and pooling at his feet, reports Patch.com. The title of the scene, “A Child is Born, a Son is Given,” is outlined within the blood and evokes themes of both Christmas and Easter, according to artist John Zachary, who has been creating thought-provoking displays since 2007.

tm

Zachary told Allen in an interview that the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot the unarmed teenager in 2012, “struck him as a worthy subject for Christmas comment.”

“There is no better time to reflect on gun violence than advent, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus,” says a sign at the church.. “Jesus was born into a state of total vulnerability as an innocent, unarmed child during a time of great violence much like Trayvon Martin.”

As families gather together at Christmas to celebrate, Zachary hopes to get them to think long and hard about their own blessings and privileges. He told Allen that many Christmas traditions of gifts reflect “privilege, and there’s a lot of people who don’t have that privilege. Maybe I should do something that’s provocative, that’s more in keeping with the teachings of Jesus.”

trayvon
Artist John Zachary

This isn’t the first time that the church has used the Nativity as an opportunity to remind people about issues of social justice and inequality, which probably would have been of great concern to Jesus himself. Past displays have included Jesus and Mary as a homeless couple struggling to feed their newborn child, as Iraqi refugees next to U.S. soldiers, as immigrants from Mexico stopped by the wall at the border, among others. In 2011, Zachary’s Nativity display was of the outlines of three couples, two of them same-sex, gathering under the banner “Christ Is Born.”

Sharon Rhodes-Wickett, lead pastor at the church, told Allen that she finds this year’s scene difficult to look at, due to its violence. “It’s hard to look at a young man who’s shot and bleeding to death,” she said. “But even though I’m uncomfortable, that’s the point. We have to take a look at the violence.”

Response to the display has been surprisingly muted. “I thought this would be more controversial, but I come to find out people don’t really like people getting shot,” Zachary told Allen. “They may not agree what to do about it, but they agree it’s a bad thing.”

Rhodes-Wickett said that her congregation is progressive, and that “Most people like something that makes us think and makes us search our hearts.”

sign

Also on HuffPost:

Pope Francis Takes Aim At Ideologically Obsessed Christians, Says They Have Illness (VIDEO) October 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Right Wing.
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Roger’s note: There is definitely something strange going on in the universe when I find the Pope’s remarks relevant (although I will not forget that as Bishop he at best kept quiet during the era of atrocities under the military dictatorship in Argentina). What he says about the church and ideology also applies to the world of Marxism, where the continent of thought created by Marx’s brilliant mind and his political activity has been ossified into a materialist and economic ideology by many who call themselves Marxist rather than a living and dynamic philosophy of human liberation that needs to be re-worked out for each generation.

 

Based on past statements, Pope Francis’ remarks were aimed mostly at the Christian Right.

While Pope Francis did not specifically mention Christian right-wing ideology during the Mass, his past remarks suggest he was talking about that ideology most of all.

In September, Pope Francis attacked “savage capitalism” and took up the plight of the unemployed against a system that worships money. Earlier that month, the Pope also criticized conservative Catholics for focusing so much on abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception. And in July, Pope Francis put the brakes on hating gay people, saying that we shouldn’t judge or marginalize them.

Clearly, Pope Francis isn’t fond of the extreme ideals of the Christian Right. He supports helping the poor. He believes in economic fairness. He denounces hatred of gay people. He thinks the war against abortion and birth control has gone too far. Considering all of these things, it’s pretty obvious that Pope Francis was mostly talking to right-wing Christians on Thursday. Their ideological fanaticism has damaged religion. They have abandoned the true teachings of Jesus to pursue an extremist agenda. And Pope Francis just called them out for it. Cue right-wing rage in 3, 2, 1…

 

“In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

Drive, She Said: Saudi Women Drive In Rolling Protest, Ovaries Fail to Explode October 17, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Religion, Women.
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Roger’s note: I remember, growing up in New Jersey back in the 1950s, that when another car did something untoward or reckless on the road, the reflex reaction was to shout “woman driver!”  So the Muslim clerics take this sentiment to the extreme.  The opinion reported below is so hilariously absurd as to put a five star comedy writer to shame.  But the reality of patriarchal oppression of women under fundamentalist Islamic regimes is not laughing matter.

 

by Abby Zimet

Gearing up for an Oct. 26 protest against their country’s de facto ban on female drivers – there exists no explicit law or Islam ban against it – Saudi women have posted scores of videos of themselves driving, often taken by a female Saudi filmmaker who helped organize the protest and was then briefly detained. In taking the wheel, women are thus defying a conservative cleric who claimed that driving would have “negative physiological impacts (as) medical studies show that it affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards,” resulting in children “with clinical problems of varying degrees.” Despite these grave if wholly unfounded warnings, over 15,000 people signed an Oct26Driving petition before the website was shut down. Here’s one driving video in which, as expected, no lightning descends from on high, no lady parts disintegrate, and nothing happens – except, charmingly, some drivers in other cars give them thumbs-up.

A Secular Humanist Jew’s Thoughts on Yom Kippur: On Atheism and Theism, and on Religion and Organized Religion October 15, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Right Wing.
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Roger’s note: Here is a thoughtful article on Judaism and organized religion in general.  We live in an age of superstition and no-nothingism, and this is most frightening.  Fanatic  fundamentalist anti-intellectual and arrogant theism has reached to the highest levels of power and authority in the U.S. Republican Party, and in India and much of the Islamic world Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism also has become ubiquitous in places of great political, social, cultural and economic power.  Overcoming this institutionalized irrationality with Fascistic overtones is one of the great challenges of our time.

 

By (about the author)

OpEdNews Op Eds 10/14/2013 at 16:13:26

Being some reflections on the Jewish High Holy Day and its meaning that I wrote down after attending the Kol Nidre service at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London this past month.  The lead sermon was given by the congregation’s retired Chief Rabbi, David Goldberg.  Two years ago I heard him give a sermon at Kol Nidre service which he began with his modification of a famous quote taken from the English historian A.J. Toynbee: “I don’t believe in God; but I miss him.”

For Secular Humanist Jews like myself Yom Kippur is not a day of atonement, as it is for theist Jews.  We may well have done wrong things in the past year, but we do not regard them as “sins.” “Sin” is a religious concept requiring the existence of an unknown, unknowable, and unprovable, yet somehow all-powerful super-natural being which at some level has control over our lives or parts of them.   For us, Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish calendar, is a day of renewal and rededication. We reflect, we restore, we renew — we look ahead, not behind.

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/11278061@N05/7925325910/: Humanists Celebrate Reality, without prejudice (except when told what religious views to hold, by law)
Humanists Celebrate Reality, without prejudice (except when told what religious views to hold, by law) by Napolean_70

Before getting on to what I resolved to renew my efforts in dealing with, let me say that as a humanist, an atheist, for my whole life, I am used to be looked down upon (or worse) by theists.   Imagine my surprise, then, when I read of what the new Pope, Francis, had to say about atheists, of which I am surely one, in a lengthy response to a journalist’s questions (click here): ” “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying — and this is the fundamental thing — that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.   Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience [emphasis added].”

Even in a column like this one, I have to say “Wow, that is quite a statement,” especially coming from the Pope.   (One can hardly imagine it coming from any of the lay or clerical leaders of the Republican Religious Right in the United States.)   It did make me return to consider a line of reasoning about religious persons, as contrasted with organized religion, that I have held for quite some time.   The Pope made it clear that he does not have a problem with atheists, per se.    And so, I would like to make it clear that I do not have a problem with theists, per se.   Yes, I do understand and agree with all of the arguments against the existence of an unknown, unknowable and unprovable “God” or “Gods” (think Hinduism, of which there are about 1 billion adherents).   But I do think that it is a waste of time to argue against the concept, and worse to make fun of it, that majority of the world’s population who are theists of one sort or another hold to.

The problem, for atheists/humanists and, at many times in history theists of one sort confronting theists of another sort as well, is Organized Religion, like the Catholic Church, like the Republican Religious Right (political by definition), like political Islam, like indeed political Orthodox Judaism in modern Israel.   Our argument is not, or should not be, with belief and the believers.  The struggle of humanists and believers alike who are devoted to the fundamental interests of humanity must be focused not on each other but on our common enemy: those who use religion to advance their own political and economic interests to arrogate to themselves and their patrons resources and the product of economic activity that neither benefit humanity as a whole nor have anything to do with religion, those otherwise known variously as “corporatism,” the “global economy [privately held],” and capitalism.

Further, it must be understood by all that over the centuries of human civilization, more of our brethren have been killed in religious wars, or wars waged for “religious” reasons, or in wars in which organized religions have been an ally of one or more of the warring states, than for all of the other causes put together.   In the Second World War, hardly a religious war in the sense that the crusades or Catholic/Protestant wars of 16th and 17th century Europe were, nevertheless, on the belt buckle of every German Wehrmacht soldier was the slogan (originated by the Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in the 1880s) “Gott mit Uns.” The traditional Japanese religion of ancestor worship, Shinto, was mobilized by the fascist leadership to help them mobilize the whole population behind the war effort.   The Catholic Church was closely allied with both Benito Mussolini’s (Italian) and Francisco Franco’s (Spanish) fascist states.   In the United States, it was not like that, but there were the frequent imprecations to God for support in battle and even a popular song that I remember well from my youth during that conflict: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”

Presently, The US Republican Party runs in major part on the issues that are central to the Fundamentalist Christians and Jews who are central to the Republican base: homophobia, religious determinism in policy governing the outcome of pregnancy, the introduction of organized religious activity into the public schools, and in general the steady erosion of the Constitutional boundaries separating church and state.   In political Islam, “Islamism” is very clear that its goal is to take full political power so that it may rule under the provisions of “Sharia Law.”   (Funnily enough, many of the provisions of Sharia Law, against which the Islamophobes of the Republican Religious Right just love to rail, are strikingly similar to the law that the latter would like to impose across the United States.   The central feature of both is that “religious law” [as they interpret it of course] should stand above any civil constitution.   Don’t believe me?   Just ask Rick Santorum, the Dominionist Mike Huckabee, Antonin Scalia, and etc.)   For many Israelis on the Right, the whole policy that has been followed by their Right-wing governments over the years, the gradual erosion and (the hoped for) eventual expulsion (voluntary or involuntary) of the Arab population in the Occupied Territories is based on the Biblical concept of the “Land of Israel.”

Through my writing I have been fighting the forces of the Republican Religious Right for some years.   The original of my current book The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A Futuristic Novel ( http://www.puntopress.com/jonas-the-15-solution-hits-main-distribution/ ) was published in 1996.   And so, what is my renewal for this, the Jewish New Year?   To rededicate myself to that struggle, but to feature the line of reasoning that I have outlined above.   Our struggle is not with religion, per se, nor with its adherents, as individuals.   Our struggle is most correctly with Organized Religion and how it is used to further the interests of Reaction by every government around the world that does use it in one way or another, which in modern times means capitalism and all of its present and future negative outcomes for all of mankind, whether theist or humanist.   That is our challenge, and for the preservation of our species and indeed many others, that is the challenge we have to meet.

 

 

http://thepoliticaljunkies.org/

 

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS, is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at the School of Medicine, Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books on health policy, health and wellness, and sports and regular exercise. In (more…)
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