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The Church’s Genocidal “Requerimiento” May 8, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Religion, First Nations, History, Genocide, Imperialism.
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conquest-of-inca-empire

conquistador

Roger’s note: I am no great fan of the Roman Catholic Church, past, present, and  (presumably) future, albeit I acknowledge that there have been and are some notable exceptions to the murderous conservative institutional church: the Maryknolls, Bishop Romero, worker priests, etc.  Nonetheless, the genocidal crimes of the church, particularly in the third world, are as impossible to reconcile with the philosophy of the biblical Jesus as they are to forgive.

I first became aware of the notorious Requerimiento reading James Michner’s novel on the history of Texas, where it was used against the southwest indigenous tribes.  As a marriage of hypocrisy with homicide the concept knows no equal.  If genuine decent Roman Catholic members can reconcile these acts with their faith, so be it.  As for me, we have enough contemporary examples of the Church’s ethical putrefaction — from the tacit support of Hitler’s Nazis to the thousands of women condemned to botched abortions — there remains ample evidence of its moral decadence.

The following is from Eduardo Galeano’s notes on Haiti:

Three years after the discovery, Columbus personally directed the military campaign against the natives of Haiti, which he called Española.

A handful of cavalry, 200 foot soldiers, and a few specially trained dogs decimated the Indians. More than 500, shipped to Spain, were sold as slaves in Seville and died miserably. Some theologians protested and the enslavement of Indians was formally banned at the beginning of the 16th century.

Actually it was not banned but blessed: before each military action the captains of the conquest were required to read to the Indians, without an interpreter but before a notary public, a long and rhetorical Requerimiento exhorting them to adopt the holy Catholic faith: “If you do not, or if you maliciously delay in so doing, I certify that with God’s help I will advance powerfully against you and make war on you wherever and however I am able, and will subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their majesties and take your women and children to be slaves, and as such I will sell and dispose of them as their majesties may order, and I will take your possessions and do you all the harm and damage that I can.”

Pasolini’s ‘St. Paul:’ a Prophecy of Our Times? January 19, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Capitalism, History, Religion.
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Roger’s note: I was deeply impressed when many many years ago I saw the great Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s classic “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” where he employed a cast of Italian peasants as his actors and depicted a socialist revolutionary Christ utilizing only the text of the Gospel for his script.

This article will not be everyone’s cup of tea.  With a year of theological seminary under my belt (a lifetime ago) and being a born-again Marxist Humanist, I can appreciate the confluence of a liberation theology brand of Christianity with a revolutionary socialist perspective.

 

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http://www.counterpunch.org, Weekend Edition January 16-18, 2015

Signals for Persecution

by LUCIANA BOHNE

The opposite of religion is not communism. The opposite of religion is capitalism (ruthless, cruel, cynical, purely materialistic), the cause of human beings’ exploitation of human beings, cradle of the worship of power, horrendous den of racism.

— Pier Paolo Pasolini

Supposedly an atheist, Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) said he was religious because he blasphemed.  He intended to “blaspheme” in a film about St. Paul.  His film would be religious, he said, because “in ancient sacred rites, as in all the peasant religions, every blessing amounts to a curse.” The script, which he composed between 1968 and 1974, was never filmed, partially because the Vatican, which had awarded him a prize for The Gospel according to St Matthew (1964), attacked his 1967 film, Teorema, the story of a god who descends on a conventional bourgeois family, near Milan. He physically seduces the members—father, mother, daughter, son, and the maid– and leaves them. The consequences of the seduction and abandonment are dire: suicide, promiscuity, madness, and a life-endangering miracle—the levitation of the maid off a high balcony.  Radical ontological transformations. Set on killing himself, the father, naked, climbs a little hill, which the Milanese call “la montagnetta” (the “little mountain”). Covered in greenery now, the hill consists of rubble accumulated from the Allied bombing of Milan in WW II.

The Vatican was not amused. It wrote in its organ, L’osservatore romano, that in Teorema, the devil had visited the family and, therefore, beware of visiting Pasolini at the cinema. In fact, in his characterization of disrupting convention and loosening the passions, the divine had been a Dionysian god, in an apocalyptic manifestation—that is, revelation. You couldn’t blaspheme more unforgivably than to deliver the message of revelation through a pagan god. So, Pasolini’s St. Paul became a casualty of Teorema and was never brought to the screen.

teorema

Still from Pasolini’s “Teorema.”

But we have the screenplay.  Translated magisterially with an excellent introduction by Elizabeth A. Castelli, published by Verso with a preface by Alain Badiou, Pasolini’s St. Paul: A Screenplay, is in Badiou’s words, “a literary work of the first magnitude.” The question at the heart of the work is this: can any revolutionary idea survive institutionalization? As Badiou aptly observes,

This scenario should be read not as the unfinished work that it was, but as the sacrificial manifesto of what constitutes, here as elsewhere, the real of any Idea: the seeming impossibility of its effectuation.

In a sort of spiritual testament, published posthumously, Pasolini wrote:

Every formal religion, in the sense that the institution becomes official, is not only unnecessary for improving the world, but it also worsens it [my translation].

For Pasolini, Christianity in its original context had been a positive social force, opposing slavery and challenging the Roman Empire, but, as the screenplay makes clear, it was a brief revolutionary moment between two laws, the old imperial law of Rome and the new imperial law of the Christian church.  In the interregnum when “the old cannot die and the new cannot yet be born” (Antonio Gramsci) it is possible for a communitarian society of popular democracy to breathe.

It took forty years for the polemical idea of a subversive Christianity to emerge backed by scholarly authority. It is a pity that Pasolini never filmed his St Paul because his treatment of early Christianity undermining Roman domination is central to a revolutionary understanding of pre-institutional Christianity.

Today, Pasolini’s thesis of an anti-colonial Christianity, rising from its eastern dominions (Antioch was the third most important city of the Roman Empire) would have fit in among new perspectives on traditional Pauline studies. Over the last thirty years, researchers and theorists in postcolonial, feminist, and political-anthropology studies have insisted on the importance of context in reading Paul’s letters.  Already in Pasolini’s time, the revision was brewing.  In 1962, a Pauline scholar in Sweden, Per Boskow, had published a study, Rex Gloriae: The Kingship of Christ in the Early Church (Stockolm: Almquist and Wiksell, 1962), which suggested that hidden modes of resistance were to be found in early Christian worship and ritual. A Paul covertly involved in the politics of Empire ran contrary to the Protestant tradition, which saw Paul as the apotheosis of homo religiosus, the “man of faith,” ever since Martin Luther had found in Paul’s Letters to the Romans his own “justification by faith” for breaking from the Church of Rome.

The emerging interest in Paul in the post-war, however, could not be divorced from the question arising about the responsibility of Christianity in the horrors of the genocide of European Jews—the Holocaust.  In the Protestant tradition stpaulparticularly, Paul’s conversion had been constructed in antithesis to Judaism. Definitionally in Christianity, a Christian was not a Jew; therefore, Paul’s origin in Judaism had to be obscured in favor of highlighting a compelling individual quest for salvation in Christ. Did this Manichean version of Paul’s dual identity—and, by extension, of Christianity’s dual identity– contribute to the Holocaust?

The impetus for reading Paul against Pauline tradition had thus become a moral imperative and a historical task. Exegetic studies uncovering resistance in the New Testament took off in earnest and bore fruit in the 1980s. Starting with Simon R. F. Price’s groundbreaking work, Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor, on the Roman imperial cult in the cities through which Paul travelled and preached and continuing through the work of political-anthropologist, James C. Scott, Erik Heen, et al., Pasolini’s idea of presenting Christianity as a political actor in the drama between the empire and its eastern, Greek-world subjects would have been validated. No doubt, catching up with the revolution in Pauline studies weighed in on the decision to translate and publish for the first time in English this decades-old text.

We cannot be sure that Pasolini was influenced by the theological turmoil simmering just beneath the surface of Pauline studies in the Protestant world, but we do know that for the years he worked on his St. Paul (1968-1974), he met and regularly corresponded with a sympathetic theologian in the Vatican, who must have been informed of such momentous moral crossroads traversing Christian theology as a result of the Holocaust.  Question about the Vatican’s role in the tolerance to Nazism abounded, after all.

Throughout his mature writings, Pasolini faulted the Church for becoming, as recently as the 19th century, the toy of the religiously apathetic bourgeoisie, the instrument of its legitimacy—in a survival effort, perhaps, to continue to function as a viable institution by accommodating the values of the liberal democracies ushered in by the social struggles of the French Revolution. In Pasolini’s view, the Church’s compromise with a cynical, secular, acquisitive and counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie had taken the soul out of its body. Abandoning the side of the oppressed, the Church had become irrelevant. In fact, more than irrelevant: it had become criminally repressive. But was this compromise with the ruling class singular or constitutive of the evolution of Christianity? Was the worm that turned to eat the heart out of the Church there from its beginnings?

It is, of course, extremely risky to “close the text” on Pasolini’s volatile, self-deconstructing, deliberately unstable works. In an echo of Marx, they scream out, “question everything,” including, and especially, the author. The script appears to be tossing in a furious dialectical vortex of contradictions. No sooner does one think one has grasped Pasolini’s intention than that certainty evaporates. Suffering Paul, for example, tormented and debilitated by a mysterious malady, seems to be representative of the suffering body of humanity, constituting his religious side. His self-assurance in organizing the Christian communities, resulting from his high social class, his education, his professional (and rhetorical) training represents his active, energetic, worldly side.  Who will rescue me from my split subjectivity? (St Paul, Rom. 7:14-25), Paul himself pleads, referring to his bodily needs and the duty to God.  The mental and emotional turmoil the text creates with these contradictions (at least in this reader) derives from the purest and most provocative of Brechtian “alienation effects.”  The film would have intensified this effect, placing the word and the image in a conflict of meaning on the screen.

Nevertheless, I will risk an answer: yes, the screenplay strives to confirm that the worm was there from the beginning.  The account in Acts/ Luke-Acts of the founding of Christianity mystifies history. Pasolini chooses an example: the meeting of the evangelical leadership at an event known as “the incident at Antioch.”  Not only had Paul earned the mortal enmity of the fanatic Pharisees for evangelizing the new religion but also the opposition of Peter and his adherents for converting the Gentiles without “judeiazing” them (that is transmitting the Law of Moses). During the “incident at Antioch,” the script depicts Peter and Paul in a face-off close-up nearly coming to blows over the issue of “judeizing” the Gentiles. Luke, the author of the Acts, a history of the founding of the Church, stands apart, patrician, ironic, amused as the cacophony of the mutinous meeting turns into sullen silence.

Later in his luxurious study, Luke, dispassionate, methodical, writes down, in his “elegant handwriting,” a sanitized version, a précis of an amicable resolution to this world-consequential dispute over the relationship between Christianity and Judaism, at the end of which he rises from his chair and gives a satisfied belch. Judaism lost. Luke is depicted as the consummate propagandist; Pasolini describes him as incarnated by Satan.  To Satan, invisible, Luke will demure, “The Church is only a necessity” (the stress on “only” is Pasolini’s).

To further illustrate Luke’s unreliability, Pasolini gives him an accomplice: Satan.  When the Church is all but founded, with the impending accession of Timothy to the bishopric of Ephesus, Luke and Satan (seen from the back only) toast to “their church” with a bottle of champagne:

They drink and get drunk, evoking all the crimes of the Church: a huge, long list of criminal popes, of compromises by the Church with power, of bullying, violence, repressions, ignorance, dogmas.  At the end, the two are completely drunk and they laugh thinking of Paul who is still there, travelling around the world, preaching and organizing.

In a tone reminiscent of Christopher Marlowe’s iconoclastic, poetically splendid “blasphemies” in Doctor Faustus, Pasolini narrates Satan’s thoughts:

The Church is founded. The rest is nothing but a long appendix, an agony. The destiny of Paul doesn’t interest Satan: Let him be saved and go to Paradise anyway. Satan and his hired assassin [Paul’s eventual assassin, a fascist thug who despises Paul’s “anti-Israelite” ideology] laugh sarcastically, satisfied.

Not only the course of the official church but also Paul’s fate is sealed—there will be no more need for evangelizing; the church will assume  “pastoral care” and manage its faithful from the pulpits of its now proliferating churches.

One of these is in Ephesus, which Pasolini resets in contemporary Naples. While in voice-over we continue to hear Paul’s voice composing his long letter to Timothy, bidding purity, modesty, prudence, continence, gravity, piety — all the virtues of humility that restrain pride — the camera is directed to showing us a scandal of pride, luxury, class-power, and excess:
In a grand pomp, there is Timothy, dressed literally in gold, crushed under the mitre, almost unrecognizable. And all around the multicoloured and magnificently carnivalesque chorus of other priests… A group of authorities:  high officials, puffed up like turkeys in their grand uniforms; political men, in their black, double-breasted suits, with vulgar and hypocritical old faces; the throng of their bejeweled ladies and their servants, etc., etc.  The altar encrusted in gold — a true and real golden calf — full of baroque affectations and neoclassical flourishes, work of total unbelief, official, threatening, hypocritically mystical and glorifying, clerical, of the master.

Ite, missa est. It is finished, except for disposing of Paul whose evangelical zeal seems to be unstoppable and institutionally embarrassing.  St Paul, as noted, is set in the 20th century. The places are, therefore, altered: Jerusalem becomes Paris, mostly during the Nazi occupation (the Nazis stand for the Romans; the Pharisees are the collaborating Petainists and French reactionaries, of whom Paul is one); Damascus becomes Barcelona, in the aftermath of the fascist victory in Spain; Antioch is “rational” Geneva; Athens becomes modern, intellectually shallow, “dolce-vita” Rome; and Imperial Rome is relocated in New York, the belly of the new imperial beast.

After Paul’s conversion to the Word (analogously, to the anti-fascist Resistance), which almost coincides with the end of WW II, his evangelical travels take him throughout Europe, now reveling in post-war consumerism. His travels acquire a picaresque quality. In some of the most satirically comic scenes, he preaches to absurdly inappropriate audiences: in Bonn, he preaches to industrialists, causing a Neo-Nazi riot; in Geneva, he upsets the stolid Christian sympathizers and potential donors with his excessive emphasis on sexual continence; in Rome he bores his idle nouveau-riche hosts with his antique rhetoric of a Christian faith, whereas they anticipated hearing a pop-celebrity mystic, similar to Krishnamurti; in New York’s Greenwich Village, he preaches obedience to authority to an assorted group of black rebels, youngsters high on pot, anti-war activists, feminists, and desperate young refugees from suburban, middle-class emotional and mental entropy. Here, too, he causes a riot, in which the police intervene and arrest him.

So, in the end, if only for reasons of provoking the authorities and causing bad publicity, he has to be got rid of.  Pasolini has him shot (by Satan’s assassin, the fundamentalist pro-Israelite fascist thug) like Martin Luther King—on the balcony of a shabby hotel on the West Side of Manhattan, the exact replica of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  His blood trickles down to the pavement below to form a “rosy puddle.” The events in the life of this cinematic Paul have stretched from the Nazi-fascist era to 1968, “the era of a false liberalization, actually desired by the new reformist and permissive power, which is also the most fascist power in history” (Quoted in “Afterword” by Ward Blanton; my emphasis).  In other words, to the time of our own postmodernist liberal fascism (Pasolini actually used the term “liberal fascism” in the 1970s).

But what in the end does it matter to us—this ancient crime of the institutional Church? Even the death of suffering, zealous Paul—what does it all matter? For an intellectual like Pasolini and his generation of Italian anti-fascists, wasn’t there an alternative “faith” in scientific materialism—in Marxism? There are passages in the script that expose what Pasolini called the “hypocrisy of [institutional] Marxism,” a theme he had elaborated in Le ceneri di Gramsci (Gramsci’s Ashes) in 1957. For example, he complains that the Italian Communist Party’s culturally bourgeois intellectuals (of whom he was one), are generally divorced from the masses and from Pasolini’s beloved innocent rogues of the young petty criminals of the sub-proletariat (they don’t plunder the Treasury, after all, as do the respectable senators and politicians), from the peasants and laborers, who, unlike the bourgeoisie, still managed to live by the ministrations of human solidarity—by communism, religious or scientific.  In fact, the critique of institutional Marxism, the “party,” etc., runs parallel and is analogous to the critique of the Church—both failed to nurture a proletarian, popular culture to oppose to the hedonistic, individualistic, consumeristic, and finally anti-human ideological perversions of neo-capitalist (his word) bourgeois culture.

And here, I must bring up Gramsci, one of the major and lifelong influences on Pasolini (one of the first was Rimbaud). Figuratively facing Gramsci’s grave he implores his tutor in Gramsci’s Ashes: “Will you ask me, you unadorned dead/ to abandon this despairing/ passion for being in the world?” (Mi chiederai tu, morto disadorno,/d’abbandonare questa disperata/passione di essere nel mondo?) Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), Marxist intellectual, political theorist, sociologist of culture, was a founding member of the Italian Communist Party and died in Mussolini’s prison.  He is best known for his theory of cultural hegemony (from the Greek, meaning “leadership”), which explains how the class in power maintains its status quo and reproduces it through its cultural institutions.  Lenin had used the term. It was an elaboration of Marx/Engels’ claim that “the ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class,” though the German Ideology, written in 1846-47, was not published until 1932 (and that in the USSR).  If Gramsci’s claim was valid, how was a proletarian revolution ever to occur if the consciousness of the proletariat was shaped exclusively by the education of bourgeois institutions? Or, how, even, could a peasant or labor society sustain the onslaught of the market’s mind-numbing consumerism that was to lead, in his view, to an irreversible “anthropological cataclysm,” which would transform people into things, at once exploiters and exploited, victims and victimizers?  The advent in the mid-50s of the “economic boom” in Italy, the affordability of goods, especially of television, caused the instant imborghesimento (metamorphosis into bourgeois) of Italian everyday life, chronicled satirically in Federico Fellini’s film La Dolce vita, Italo Calvino’s novel, La specolazione edilizia, in Alberto Moravia’s La noia (Boredom), and Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura.

Written in the hedonistic years of the 60s and in the “years of lead” of the 70s, the campaign of terrorism carried out by the Italian secret services—“the parallel state”– in collaboration with the CIA to roll back popular democracy, Pasolini’s St Paul today reads like a prophecy.  Eerily, as though seeing us in the mirror of a not-so-distant future, Pasolini describes a Paris gripped by the terror of Nazi “anti-terrorism.”  Stephen, a young partisan in the budding resistance, hardly of the age of conscription (like Pasolini’s younger brother, Guido, partisan, killed at nineteen in an ambush in 1945) is executed by the Nazis. Paul, at this stage a zealous official, in fact, an uncritical collaborator with the Nazi occupation forces, witnesses the execution of young Stephen.  He is distressed, haunted even, but does not withdraw his collaborating zeal from the Nazi occupiers.  They are the law, and he’s a lawyer.  His duty is to serve the law. “In the face of Paul,” the screenplay reads,

We see something worse than evil: we see cheapness, ferocity, the decision to be abject, hypocrisy that motivates everything in the name of the Law, of Tradition—or of God. All this cannot but render that face desperate, too.

What follows the discovery of Resistance activity and the execution of Stephen is an orgy of cruelty, stretching to the genocidal limits and beyond. Starting with a quotation,  “There was as though a signal for persecution” (Acts 6:1-8:3), Pasolini describes how the obscenity of Nazi repression is to be represented:

New archival documentary material

But this time it must be found from among the most terrible, almost unbearable to watch: arrests, raids, shootings, hangings, mass deportations, mass executions, shootings in the streets and the plazas, corpses abandoned on sidewalks, under monuments, dangling from lampposts, hanged, hooked.  Departures of the Jews for concentration camps; freight cars filled with corpses.

Add head chopping, bombs and poisonous bombs, bombed hospitals and schools. Killer drones. Bombed air-raid shelters.  Medieval-style sieges, (called sanctions) exacting the lives of 500,000 children (on record). Two, three, many Abu Ghraibs: men turned into dogs, obscene sadism of the greatest democracy in the world. Add all this and more, and we see in the archival images of the fascist era the image of our own times.

Can anyone doubt that Pasolini’s St Paul was, indeed, a prophecy?

Luciana Bohne is co-founder of Film Criticism, a journal of cinema studies, and teaches at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. She can be reached at: lbohne@edinboro.edu

 

Saudi’s Perfidy: Ten Years In Prison and 1,000 Lashes In Public For Seeking to “Respect the Differences Among Us” January 15, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Religion, Saudi Arabia.
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Roger’s note: Where is the outcry?  Where are the headlines?  Where is the righteous indignation?  Oh, I forgot.  Saudi Arabia is an American ally, its barbarism doesn’t count.

 
The same day the Saudi Arabian Ambassador marched in Paris against the attack on Charlie Hebdo and free speech, his country – the one that regularly persecutes and jails writers, artists, activists and intellectuals for expressing their views, that seeks to try women drivers as terrorists, and that just declared a fatwa against snowmen – dragged blogger Raif Badawi shackled from his jail cell and flogged him 50 times in the public square at Jeddah’s al-Jafali mosque for “insulting Islam” through his website, Saudi Arabian Liberals, which offered social and political debate. It was the first of 20 such scheduled “severe” floggings, to total 1,000 lashes over 20 weeks. Badawi’s sentence last May also called for ten years in prison, a ten-year travel ban, a hefty fine and a lifetime ban from media outlets. His lawyer was also sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The sentence and lashings have prompted international outrage, a sustained campaign by Amnesty International, #‎FreeRaif‬ and #‎RaifBadawi‬ campaigns online, a tepid response from a U.S. State Department that is “greatly concerned” and a likewise mild response from Canada – where Badawi’s wife and children have settled in Montreal after receiving political asylum – which says it has “raised his case…as part of an ongoing, respectful dialogue” with the Saudis. Today, supporters held a vigil in Montreal, where they and Badawi’s family demanded he be freed. Yesterday, he marked his 31st birthday in jail. On Friday, presumably, he will once more be dragged from his cell and publicly, severely whipped 50 times. His wife worries he will not survive many more. In one of his last blog posts, insisting that “as part of humanity” we all have the same duties and the same rights, he urged, “Let us all live under the roof of human civilization.” Help him to live, period, here.

Badawi’s wife Ensaf Haidar

 

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“Flogging for Blogging” Official Saudi Policy

On January 9, two days after the massive Paris march condemning the brutal attack on freedom of the press, a young Saudi prisoner named Raif Badawi was removed from his cell in shackles and taken to a public square in Jeddah. There he was flogged 50 times before hundreds of spectators who had just finished midday prayers. The 50 lashes—labeled by Amnesty International a “vicious act of cruelty”—was the first installment on his sentence of 1,000 floggings, as well as ten years in prison and a fine of $266,000. Badawi’s crime? Blogging.

The father of three young children, Badawi hosted the website known as Free Saudi Liberals, a forum intended to promote a lively exchange of ideas among Saudis. Badawi wrote about the advantages of separating religion and state, asserting that secularism was “the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world.” He accused Saudi clerics and the government of distorting Islam to promote authoritarianism. Unlike the Saudi rulers, Badawi cheered the Egyptian uprising against Hosni Mubarak, calling it a decisive turning point not only for Egypt but “everywhere that is governed by the Arab mentality of dictatorship.”

In mid-2012, Badawi was arrested for his blogs, including an article in which he was accused of ridiculing the kingdom’s religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. He was also charged for failing to remove “offensive posts” written by others. The prosecution originally called for him to be tried for “apostasy”, or abandoning his religion, which carries the death penalty.

If nothing changes, Raif Badawi will be flogged every Friday for the next 19 weeks. And he will not see his wife or children for ten years, who were forced to flee to Canada to avoid public harassment at home.

Badawi’s case is not unique. In 2014, Reporters Without Borders describes the government as “relentless in its censorship of the Saudi media and the Internet”, and ranked Saudi Arabia 164th out of 180 countries for freedom of the press.

Last year, four members of the group Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, an organization documenting human rights abuses and calling for democratic reform, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 4 to 10 years. The fourth member sentenced was Omar al-Saeed, who was handed four years in prison and 300 lashes because he called for a constitutional monarchy.

Or look at the case of another human rights lawyer, Walid Abu al-Khair, in prison since 2012. Just this week, on January 13, a Saudi court increased his prison term from 10 to 15 years after he refused to show remorse or recognize the court that handed down his original 10-year term for sedition. Al-Khair, founder of Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA) and legal counsel for blogger Badawi, was convicted on charges of disrespecting King Abdullah and the Saudi authorities.

Saudi Arabia also remains the only country in the world to maintain a ban on women drivers. According to this law, women are strictly restricted to the passenger seat of vehicles. This ban is so harshly imposed that two women, 25-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul and 33-year-old Maysa al-Amoudi, were not only arrested for driving to the United Arab Emirates, but they were also referred to be tried by a terrorism court. In the past, punishments for women drivers have included loss of jobs, passport revocation, and even floggings.

The US government’s response to these egregious and inhumane punishments from its ally usually takes the form of a US State Department spokesperson expressing “concern.” But there is no major public condemnation. No threats of cutting arms sales. No sanctions against government officials. The US government basically turns a blind eye to the medieval forms of torture the Saudis still mete out.

One major reason is oil. Since before World War II, the United States has viewed Saudi Arabia as a strategic source of petroleum. In 1933, the Arab American Company (ARAMCO) was established as a joint venture by both countries. Currently, Saudi Arabia is the second largest supplier of petroleum to the United States.

With the money it receives from oil, the Saudi government purchases vast amounts of weaponry from the United States. In 2010, the US government announced it has concluded a deal to sell $60 billion of military aircraft to Saudi Arabia—the largest US arms sale deal in history. One use of US tanks was seen in Bahrain, where the Saudis intervened to crush a democratic uprising against the Bahraini monarchy.

There’s now Congressional legislation being introduced to declassify a 28-page section of the 9/11 Senate report which allegedly exposes the direct role of the Saudi government in the Twin Tower attacks on 9/11. After all, Saudi Arabia supplied 15 out of the 19 9/11 hijackers and was the home of Osama bin Laden. Saudi Arabia exports the radical version of Islam, Wahhabism, that fuels extremism throughout the Middle East. Saudi Arabia treats its women as second-class citizens. Saudi Arabia is the capital of beheadings, with the government carrying out 87 public beheadings in 2013 and nine already this year.

Being the world’s top oil provider does not give a country the right to dehumanize its own people. The US is certainly no model for respecting freedom of expression – as we saw in the streets of Ferguson where peaceful protesters were teargassed and beaten – but it shouldn’t overlook the human rights abuses carried out by a country that imprisons, tortures and executes its citizens simply for speaking their minds. This Friday, when Raif will once again be subjected to 50 lashes, take a moment to call the Saudi Embassy in Washington DC (202-342-3800, then press “3” for the Public Affairs office and tell them: “Free speech is not, and should never be, a punishable crime. Je suis Raif!”

 

To Be or Not To Be … Charlie January 15, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Europe, France, ISIS/ISIL, Media, Racism, Religion, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: when I heard the news of the bombing in Paris my first reaction was to want every journal in the world the print the offending cartoons, show the terrorists that their unspeakable murderous action was counterproductive, that it provoked the publication by the millions of the the very images they seek to restrain (and to a large degree this has happened, albeit not universal).  But that reaction, of course, implies a rationality on the part of the perpetrators.  It was purely emotional.   None the less, I was “Je suis Charlie” all the way.

Then I noticed something.  Marching in Paris under the banner of “Je suis Charlie” and press freedom are some of the world’s most notorious war criminals, led by none the less than Benjamin Netanyahu, a man with enough blood on his hands to supply the Red Cross for years to come.  And next I read a few articles under the theme of “hey, wait, I may not exactly be Charlie,” that is, Charlie of “Charlie Hebdo,” an often (so I read) racist, sexist, homophobic, misanthropic publication.  Does freedom of speech, I thought to myself, trump bigotry?

I haven’t reached a conclusion yet, but it has become clear to me that it is definitely not a simple question of the values of Western Civilization versus Muslim extremism.  Today it is reported that a former Republican congressman wants the next ISIS beheading to be of those media outlets that didn’t print the current Charlie cover.  A strange freedom of speech and “Je suis Charlie” bedfellow to go along with Netanyahu, Merkel, Hollande, and the rest of the Western world’s murderous leadership.

Something else has just popped into my mind, the famous Barry Goldwater quote from the 1964 election: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  So, I guess we in the West can boast that we got to extremism well before the Muslims.

Here are some views on the issue.

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Monsters of Our Own Creation

by JOHN WIGHT

The huge march and rally in Paris that took place in the wake of the horrific events that took place in the French capital was a festival of nauseating hypocrisy.

Watching the leaders of governments which, between them, have been responsible for carnage and mayhem on a grand scale – the likes of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for example – leading a march against terrorism and extremism qualified not so much as the theatre of the absurd but as the theatre of the grotesque; impostors at an event that millions of people allowed themselves to hope would mark a step-change in a world scarred by war, barbarism, and injustice.

Sadly, they will be disappointed, as the circular relationship that exists between Western extremism and Islamic extremism will not be broken anytime soon. Indeed, if at all, it will be strengthened after the massacre in Paris, as the congenital condition of Western exceptionalism reasserts itself.

When Frantz Fanon wrote, “Violence is man re-creating himself,” he could have been describing the Kouachi brothers striding up and down the street outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo, assault weapons in hand, prior to and after murdering the French-Algerian police officer lying on the pavement with the ease of men for whom all restraint had been abandoned.

The irony of men acting in the name of Islam callously taking the life of a fellow Muslim should not have come as a surprise, however. The vast majority of victims of Islamic extremism, after all, are Muslims, just as they comprise the vast majority of victims of Western extremism. The point is that at this point the Kouachis at that point appeared euphoric, filled with a sense of their own power and strength, having broken through the final barrier that exists between the agony of powerlessness and liberation from it. They had been transformed by the ‘deed’.

“What is good?” Nietzsche asks, before answering, “All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.”

Behind them the brothers had left a scene of carnage. For us it was an act of sheer evil, for them justice and power. Within them had taken root a more powerful idea than the one they had been inculcated with growing up with in the heart of Europe. It willed them to seek meaning not in life but in death – that of others and their own.

When confronted by such total rejection of the moral foundations upon which our cultural, social, and human consciousness rests, we dismiss it automatically and unthinkingly, ascribing it to evil, madness, and insanity. Our coping mechanism dare not deviate for a second in this regard. But what if such deeds are acts of rebellion against the evil, madness, and insanity of the status quo, matching evil with evil, madness with madness, and insanity with insanity? What if that?

It is far too simplistic, if understandable, to dismiss such individuals as evil. It allows us to negate their humanity and anything we may recognise in ourselves. They aren’t human beings, such people, they are monsters, beyond the pale and therefore beyond any serious consideration. Ritual condemnation and calumniation is all that society accepts when it comes to those who perpetrate such horrific acts.

Yes, the act of mass murder carried by the Kouachis and Amedy Coulibaly in Paris was monstrous. But was it any more monstrous than the carnage that has been unleashed over many years by men who claim to act in our name? Wasn’t the brutality and barbarism we witnessed on our TV screens, crashing into our collective consciousness, merely a microcosm of the brutality and barbarism that goes by the name Western civilisation? For just as the Enlightenment provided the basis for modern liberal democracy, producing huge advances in science, medicine, and philosophy, it also provided justification for centuries of slavery, colonialism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and super exploitation.

Je suis Charlie (‘I am Charlie’) describes the delimitation of our solidarity with all victims of extremism and barbarism. It allows us to avoid confronting the ugly truth of our culpability in the fate of those victims. When Aime Cesaire warned that “a civilization which justifies colonization—and therefore force—is already a sick civilization, a civilization which is morally diseased, which irresistibly, progressing from one consequence to another, one denial to another, calls for its Hitler, I mean its punishment,” he was talking to us.

The Kouachis and Coulibaly were not products of radical Islam. They, like it, were the products of Western civilization. They were and are monsters of our own creation.

John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1

 

The Spectacular Media Failure on Charlie Hebdo

by SHAMUS COOKE

A core tenet of journalism is answering the question “why.” It’s the media’s duty to explain “why” an event happened so that readers will actually understand what they’re reading.  Leave out the “why” and then assumptions and stereotypes fill in the blank, always readily supplied by politicians whose ridiculous answers are left unquestioned by the corporate media.

Because the real “why” was unexplained in the Charlie Hebdo massacre, an obviously false culprit was created, leading to a moronic national discussion in the U.S. media about whether Islam was “inherently” violent.

For the media to even pose this question either betrays a blinding ignorance about the Middle East and Islam, or a conscious willingness to manipulate public sentiment by only interviewing so-called experts who believe such nonsense.

Media outlets should know that until the 1980’s Islamic fundamentalism was virtually inaudible in the Middle East — outside of the U.S.-supported dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, whose ruling monarchy survives thanks to U.S. support. The official religion of Saudi Arabia is a uniquely fundamentalist version of Islam, which along with the royal family are the two anchors of Saudi government power.

Before the 1980’s, the dominant ideology in the Middle East was pan-Arab socialism, a secular ideology that viewed Islamic fundamentalism as socially and economically regressive. Islamic fundamentalists engaged in terrorist attacks against the “pan-Arab socialist” governments of Egypt, Syria, Libya, Iraq and other governments that aligned themselves with this ideology at various times.

Islamic fundamentalism was virtually extinguished from 1950-1980, with Saudi Arabia and later Qatar being the last bastion and protective base of fundamentalists who were exiled from the secular countries. This dynamic was accentuated during the cold war, where the U.S. aligned itself with Islamic fundamentalism — Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states — while the Soviet Union became allies with the secular nations that identified as “socialist.”

When the 1978 Saur revolution in Afghanistan resulted in yet another socialist-inspired government, the United States responded by working with Saudi Arabia to give tons of weapons, training, and cash to the jihadists of the then-fledgling fundamentalist movement, helping to transform it into a regional social force that soon became the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The U.S.-backed Afghan jihad was the birth of the modern Islamic fundamentalist movement. The jihad attracted and helped organize fundamentalists across the region, as U.S. allies in the Gulf state dictatorships used the state religion to promote it.  Fighters who traveled to fight in Afghanistan returned to their home countries with weapon training and hero status that inspired others to join the movement.

The U.S. later aided the fundamentalists by invading Afghanistan and Iraq, destroying Libya and waging a ruthless proxy war in Syria.  Fundamentalists used these invasions and the consequent destruction of these once-proud nations to show that the West was at war with Islam.

Islamic fundamentalism grew steadily during this period, until it took another giant leap forward, starting with the U.S.-backed proxy war against the Syrian government, essentially the Afghan jihad on steroids.

Once again the U.S. government aligned itself with Islamic fundamentalists, who have been the principal groups fighting the Syrian government since 2012. To gain thousands of needed foreign fighters, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states promoted jihad with their state-sponsored media, religious figures, and oil-rich donors.

While the Syria jihad movement was blossoming in Syria, the U.S. media and politicians were silent, even as groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS were growing exponentially with their huge sums of Gulf state supplied weapons and cash. They were virtually ignored by the Obama administration until the ISIS invasion of Iraq reached the U.S.-sponsored Kurdish region in 2014.

In short, the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria have destroyed four civilizations within Muslim-majority nations. Once proud people have been crushed by war — either killed, injured, made refugees, or smothered by mass unemployment and scarcity. These are the ideal conditions for the Saudi-style Islamic fundamentalism to flourish, where promises of dignity and power resonate with those robbed of both.

Another U.S. media failure over Charlie Hebdo is how “satire” is discussed, where Hebdo’s actions were triumphed as the highest principle of the freedom of the media and speech.

It’s important to know what political satire is, and what it isn’t. Although the definition isn’t strict, political satire is commonly understood to be directed towards governments or powerful individuals. It is a very powerful form of political critique and analysis and deserves the strictest protection under freedom of speech.

However, when this same comedic power is directed against oppressed minorities, as Muslims are in France, the term satire ceases to apply, as it becomes a tool of oppression, discrimination, and racism.

The discrimination that French Muslims face has increased dramatically over the years, as Muslims have been subject to discrimination in politics and the media, most notoriously the 2010 ban on “face covering” in France, directed at the veil used by Muslim women.

This discrimination has increased as the French working class is put under the strain of austerity. Since the global 2008 recession this dynamic has accelerated, and consequently politicians are increasingly relying on scapegoating Muslims, Africans, or anyone who might be perceived as an immigrant.

It’s in this context that the cartoons aimed at offending Muslims by ridiculing their prophet Muhammad — a uniquely and especially offensive act under Islam — is especially insulting, and should be viewed as an incitement of racist hatred in France, where Arabs and North Africans are especially targeted in the right-wing attacks on immigrants.

It’s a sign of how far France has politically fallen that people are claiming solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, which has produced some of the most racist and inflammatory cartoons directed at Muslims, Arabs, and people of North Africans, which contributes to the culture of hatred that resulted in physical attacks against Muslims after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. This is the exact same political dynamic that led to Hitler’s racist scapegoating of the Jews.

Racism in France may have surpassed racism in the United States, since it’s unimaginable that, if the Ku Klux Klan were attacked in the United States for anti-Mexican hate speech, that the U.S. public would announce “I am the KKK.”

Hebdo is of course not a far-right publication. But the consistent attacks on Muslims and Africans show how far Charlie had been incorporated into the French political establishment, which now relies increasingly on scapegoating minorities to remain in power, in order to prevent the big corporations and wealthy from being blamed by the depreciating state of the French working class. Better to blame unions and minorities for the sorry state of the corporate-dominated French economy.

The only way to combat political scapegoating is to focus on the social forces responsible for the economic crisis and have them pay for the solutions that they are demanding the working class to pay through austerity measures and lower wages.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

 

 

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.

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…)

Christian Zionism: The Heresy that Undermines Middle East Peace August 4, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Religion, Right Wing.
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Christian Zionism is the largest, most controversial and most destructive lobby within Christianity. It bears primary responsibility for perpetuating tensions in the Middle East, justifying Israel’s apartheid colonialist agenda and for undermining the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

By Rev Dr Stephen Sizer

At least one in four American Christians surveyed recently by Christianity Today magazine said that they believe it is their biblical responsibility to support the nation of Israel. This view is known as Christian Zionism. The Pew Research Center put the figure at 63 per cent among white evangelicals. Christian Zionism is pervasive within mainline American evangelical, charismatic and independent denominations including the Assemblies of God, Pentecostals and Southern Baptists, as well as many of the independent mega-churches. It is less prevalent within the historic denominations, which show a greater respect for the work of the United Nations, support for human rights, the rule of international law and empathy with the Palestinians.The origins of the movement can be traced to the early 19th century when a group of eccentric British Christian leaders began to lobby for Jewish restoration to Palestine as a necessary precondition for the return of Christ. The movement gained traction from the middle of the 19th century when Palestine became strategic to British, French and German colonial interests in the Middle East. Proto-Christian Zionism therefore preceded Jewish Zionism by more than 50 years. Some of Theodore Herzl’s strongest advocates were Christian clergy.

Christian Zionism as a modern theological and political movement embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism. It has become deeply detrimental to a just peace between Palestine and Israel. It propagates a worldview in which the Christian message is reduced to an ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today.

Followers of Christian Zionism are convinced that the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 and the capture of Jerusalem in 1967 were the miraculous fulfillment of God’s promises made to Abraham that he would establish Israel as a Jewish nation forever in Palestine.

Tim LaHaye’s infamous Left Behind novels, together with other End Times speculations written by authors such as Hal Lindsey, John Hagee and Pat Robertson, have sold well over 100 million copies. These are supplemented by children’s books, videos and event violent computer games.

Burgeoning Christian Zionist organizations such as the International Christian Embassy (ICEJ), Christian Friends of Israel (CFI) and Christians United for Israel (CUFI) wield considerable influence on Capitol Hill, claiming a support base in excess of 50 million true believers. This means there are now at least ten times as many Christian Zionists as Jewish Zionists. And their European cousins are no less active in the Zionist Hasbarafia, lobbying for Israel, attacking its critics and thwarting the peace process. The United States and Israel are often portrayed as Siamese twins, joined at the heart, sharing common historic, religious and political values.

Pastor John Hagee is one of the leaders of the Christian Zionist movement. He is the Founder and Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church, a 19,000-member evangelical church in San Antonio, Texas. His weekly programmes are broadcast on 160 TV stations, 50 radio stations and eight networks into an estimated 99 million homes in 200 countries. In 2006 he founded Christians United for Israel admitting,

“For 25 almost 26 years now, I have been pounding the evangelical community over television. The Bible is a very pro-Israel book. If a Christian admits ‘I believe the Bible,’ I can make him a pro-Israel supporter or they will have to denounce their faith. So I have the Christians over a barrel, you might say.”

In March 2007, Hagee spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. He began by saying:

“The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened. There are 50 million Christians standing up and applauding the State of Israel…”

As the Jerusalem Post pointed out, his speech did not lack clarity. He went on to warn:

“It is 1938. Iran is Germany, and Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler. We must stop Iran’s nuclear threat and stand boldly with Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East… Think of our potential future together: 50 million evangelicals joining in common cause with 5 million Jewish people in America on behalf of Israel is a match made in heaven.”

Christian Zionists have shown varying degrees of enthusiasm for implementing six basic political convictions that arise from their ultra-literal and fundamentalist theology:

  1. The belief that the Jews remain God’s chosen people leads Christian Zionists to seek to bless Israel in material ways. However, this also invariably results in the uncritical endorsement of and justification for Israel’s racist and apartheid policies, in the media, among politicians and through solidarity tours to Israel.

  2. As God’s chosen people, the final restoration of the Jews to Israel is therefore actively encouraged, funded and facilitated through partnerships with the Jewish Agency.

  3. Eretz Israel, as delineated in scripture, from the Nile to the Euphrates, belongs exclusively to the Jewish people, therefore the land must be annexed, Palestinians driven from their homes and the illegal Jewish settlements expanded and consolidated.

  4. Jerusalem is regarded as the eternal and exclusive capital of the Jews, and cannot be shared with the Palestinians. Therefore, strategically, Christian Zionists have lobbied the US Administration to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem and thereby ensure that Jerusalem is recognised as the capital of Israel.

  5. Christian Zionists offer varying degrees of support for organisations such as the Jewish Temple Mount Faithful who are committed to destroying the Dome of the Rock and rebuilding the Jewish Temple on the Haram Al-Sharif (Noble sanctuary of Al-Aqsa).

  6. Christian Zionists invariably have a pessimistic view of the future, convinced that there will be an apocalyptic war of Armageddon in the imminent future. They are deeply sceptical of the possibility of a lasting peace between Jews and Arabs and therefore oppose the peace process. Indeed, to advocate an Israeli compromise of “land for peace” with the Palestinians is seen as a rejection of God’s promises to Israel and therefore to support her enemies.

Within the Christian Zionist worldview, Palestinians are regarded as alien residents in Israel. Many Christian Zionists are reluctant even to acknowledge Palestinians exist as a distinct people, claiming that they emigrated to Israel from surrounding Arab nations for economic reasons after Israel had become prosperous. A fear and deep-seated hatred of Islam also pervades their dualistic Manichean theology. Christian Zionists have little or no interest in the existence of indigenous Arab Christians despite their continuity with the early church.

In 2006, I drafted what became known as the Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism signed by four of the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem: His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch, Jerusalem; Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem; Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East; and Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. In it they insisted:

“We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as a false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organisations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine. This inevitably leads to unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of world.

We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations!

We call upon Christians in Churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism. These discriminative actions are turning Palestine into impoverished ghettos surrounded by exclusive Israeli settlements. The establishment of the illegal settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on confiscated Palestinian land undermines the viability of a Palestinian state and peace and security in the entire region.”

The patriarchs concluded:

“God demands that justice be done. No enduring peace, security or reconciliation is possible without the foundation of justice. The demands of justice will not disappear. The struggle for justice must be pursued diligently and persistently but non-violently.” The prophet Micah asks, “What does the Lord require of you, to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).

It is my contention after more than 10 years of postgraduate research that Christian Zionism is the largest, most controversial and most destructive lobby within Christianity. It bears primary responsibility for perpetuating tensions in the Middle East, justifying Israel’s apartheid colonialist agenda and for undermining the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

The closing chapter of the New Testament takes us back to the imagery of the Garden of Eden and the removal of the curse arising from the Fall: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb… On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2) Surely this is what Jesus had in mind when he instructed his followers to act as Ambassadors of peace and reconciliation, to work and pray that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.

The Revd Dr Stephen Sizer is the Vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water and the author of Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? (InterVarsity Press, 2004); Zion’s Christian Soldiers? (2007) and In the Footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles (Eagle, 2004). For more information see www.stephensizer.com

Source: Middle East Monitor

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Sculpture of Jesus the Homeless rejected by two prominent churches April 13, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Housing/Homelessness, Religion, Toronto.
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Ontario sculptor struggled to find a home for his haunting sculpture of Jesus sleeping on a bench.

Sculptor Timothy Schmalz has created a bronze sculpture called Jesus the Homeless outside Regis College, the Jesuit college at U of T.

Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star

Sculptor Timothy Schmalz has created a bronze sculpture called Jesus the Homeless outside Regis College, the Jesuit college at U of T.

Jesus has been depicted in art as triumphant, gentle or suffering. Now, in a controversial new sculpture in downtown Toronto, he is shown as homeless — an outcast sleeping on a bench.

It takes a moment to see that the slight figure shrouded by a blanket, hauntingly similar to the real homeless who lie on grates and in doorways, is Jesus. It’s the gaping wounds in the feet that reveal the subject, whose face is draped and barely visible, as Jesus the Homeless.

Despite message of the sculpture — Jesus identifying with the poorest among us — it was rejected by two prominent Catholic churches, St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

“Homeless Jesus had no home,” says the artist, Timothy Schmalz, who specializes in religious sculpture. “How ironic.”

Rectors of both cathedrals were enthusiastic about the bronze piece and showed Schmalz possible locations, but higher-ups in the New York and Toronto archdiocese turned it down, he says.

“It was very upsetting because the rectors liked it, but when it got to the administration, people thought it might be too controversial or vague,” he says. He was told “it was not an appropriate image.”

The Toronto archdiocese tried to help him find an alternative location, including St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough. But Schmalz, who describes his work as a visual prayer, wanted to reach a wider, secular audience. “I wanted not only the converted to see it, but also the marginalized. I almost gave up trying to find a place.”

Now the sculpture stands near Wellesley St. W., outside Regis College at the University of Toronto. It’s a Jesuit school of theology, where priests and lay people are trained, with an emphasis on social justice.

Bill Steinburg, communications manager for the Toronto archdiocese, says the decision not to accept the sculpture at St. Michael’s may have had to do with renovations at the cathedral and “partly to do with someone’s view of the art.”

To some who have seen it, it speaks the message of the Gospels. When theologian Thomas Reynolds came upon it he felt “the shock of recognition.” He quoted the biblical passage: “ … the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

“I’m so used to seeing images of Jesus that are palatable,” says Reynolds.

But recent depictions of Jesus in political and social contexts have spurred controversy.

At Emmanuel College, the educational arm of the United Church where Reynolds teaches, there is a graceful sculpture showing Jesus’ suffering in a crucified woman. Schmaltz says he intended that his Jesus the Homeless can be interpreted as either male or female.

At Regis College, there is a small crucifix of Jesus as a landmine victim, missing a leg; another at the college shows Jesus as an Aztec.

A sculpture in a church in Uckfield, England, shows a euphoric Jesus wearing jeans and a collared shirt.

In 2011, British sculptor David Mach, created an agonized, shouting Jesus out of 3,000 straightened coat hangers that emerge like barbs from the body.

Jesus the Homeless is provocative, says Reynolds, because it ‘punctures the illusion of normalcy.

“In certain ways, Christian communities have been privileged and considered themselves the norm in society and that has made Christians comfortable in our complacency.”

Schmalz, 43, roots the sculpture in his experiences in Toronto, where he trained at the former Ontario College of Art. “I was totally used to stepping over people. You’re not aware they are human beings. They become obstacles in the urban environment and you lose a spiritual connection to them. They become inert, an inconvenience.”

He now lives with his wife and family in St. Jacobs, Ont. When he returns to Toronto, he sees the city differently.

“A lot of people who don’t live in Toronto or a big urban place are shocked to see human forms under blanket on too many street corners.”

The Regis sculpture shows Jesus as a wanderer who depended on the hospitality of others, says Reynolds. “The counternarrative in Christianity is Jesus the outsider.”

Not all embrace this interpretation, as Bryan Stallings and his wife Amy discovered. They run a mission in Branson, Mo., called Jesus Was Homeless, where they serve about 1,000 people a week, many of whom live in the woods and extended-stay motels. They’ve been criticized for the mission’s name.

“People who have issue with it are usually the staunch religious people,” says Stallings, “especially those who follow prosperity teaching and doctrine that says if you are homeless or poor you don’t have enough faith.”

Critics tell him that Jesus wasn’t homeless. “Then we reference Scripture and it sparks tons of conversation.”

The Toronto sculpture, funded by Kitchener real estate developer Peter Benninger, is situated near the front entrance to Regis College. “It’s one of the most inviting and authentic representations of Jesus,” says Rev. Gordon Rixon, dean of the college. “There’s the suggestion there is the king and he is answering our culture with his poverty, vulnerability and weakness.”

Though the slender figure occupies most of the two-metre bench, Schmalz purposely left space at the end for someone to sit close to the slumbering figure, “as uncomfortably as possible.”

Regis College is holding a panel discussion on homelessness in Toronto on Wednesday. For more information email: inquiries@RegisCollege.ca

Creation Science vs. Evolution February 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Science and Technology.
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