4. Religious News

Oct-26-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A fairly wide topic, but the pieces are fascinating. Shalom Rav looks at the fallout over 15 Protestant leaders not supporting aid to Israel; a prominent Catholic theologian calls for a revolt against Roman Catholicism’s hierarchical structure, and there’s interesting evidence that human beings are born believing in an afterlife. And, in an effort to leave no feather unruffled (the bird doesn’t like this metaphor) Robert Fulford speaks out in praise of blasphemy. (There’s a fine old relevant Wiccan saying, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Just remember, no one likes an asshole.”)

* More Fallout from the Protestant Leaders’ Letter on Aid to Israel by Rabbi Brant Rosen

The first comes from the Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan:

It seems to me that aid of all kinds should have basic human rights strings attached to it. I would have suspended all aid to Israel when it refused to stop its settlement policy on the West Bank, but that’s a little like being in favor of an immediate space station on Mars, given the Greater Israel lobby’s grip on Congress.

So let me just reiterate something that has no chance of ever happening, but I might as well put on the record: we should treat Israel as any other recipient of US aid. If a country is occupying and settling land conquered through war, if it’s treating a minority population with inhumanity, the US should stand up for Western values. It should not single Israel out; but we have to stop treating Israel as the exception to every other US foreign policy rule.

Rev. Jim C. Wall (Contributing Editor of the “Christian Century”) in an unflinchingly honest blog post:

To begin with, the 15 church leaders are heavyweights, top officials for their denominations. They include the leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker agency) and the Mennonite Central Committee. Two Catholic leaders also signed, not including the Catholic Council of Bishops.

These are not just leaders of a few religious groups, which a Protestant version of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs could corral into an interfaith dialogue meeting. These are the major-domos of American Protestantism, which raises the question of what exactly gives the JCPA and its scattered letter signers, these “outraged Jewish groups” as the Times calls them,  the right to claim religious standing in this conversation. Many of these Jewish groups are secular and function as part of the Israel Lobby, a collection of lobbying organizations that have Israel, not Judaism as their primary client…

* Catholic Theologian Preaches Revolution To End Church’s ‘Authoritarian’ Rule  The Guardian

One of the world’s most prominent Catholic theologians has called for a revolution from below to unseat the pope and force radical reform at the Vatican. Hans Küng is appealing to priests and churchgoers to confront the Catholic hierarchy, which he says is corrupt, lacking credibility and apathetic to the real concerns of the church’s members….

“The only way for reform is from the bottom up,” said Küng, 84, who is a priest. “The priests and others in positions of responsibility need to stop being so subservient, to organize themselves and say that there are certain things that they simply will not put up with anymore.”

* Believe in an Afterlife Comes Hardwired in Humans The Atlantic

In a significant study the psychologists Jesse Bering, of the University of Arkansas, and David Bjorklund, of Florida Atlantic University, told young children a story about an alligator and a mouse, complete with a series of pictures, that ended in tragedy: “Uh oh! Mr. Alligator sees Brown Mouse and is coming to get him!” [The children were shown a picture of the alligator eating the mouse.] “Well, it looks like Brown Mouse got eaten by Mr. Alligator. Brown Mouse is not alive anymore.”

The experimenters asked the children a set of questions about the mouse’s biological functioning—such as “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, will he ever need to go to the bathroom? Do his ears still work? Does his brain still work?”—and about the mouse’s mental functioning, such as “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, is he still hungry? Is he thinking about the alligator? Does he still want to go home?”

As predicted, when asked about biological properties, the children appreciated the effects of death: no need for bathroom breaks; the ears don’t work, and neither does the brain. The mouse’s body is gone. But when asked about the psychological properties, more than half the children said that these would continue: the dead mouse can feel hunger, think thoughts, and have desires. The soul survives. Andchildren believe this more than adults do, suggesting that although we have to learn which specific afterlife people in our culture believe in (heaven, reincarnation, a spirit world, and so on), the notion that life after death is possible is not learned at all. It is a by-product of how we naturally think about the world.

* In Praise of Blasphemy Robert Fulford National Post

…We should be praising blasphemy, in fact proclaiming its many virtues, rather than sheepishly apologizing for it as a necessary evil we must reluctantly tolerate because of our belief in the freedom of speech.

Bernard Shaw may have been overstating the case when he gave to one of his characters the pronouncement that “All great truths begin as blasphemies.” But not by much.

Blasphemy, the challenge of official doctrine, helped create freedom over the centuries — and still needs to create it in many countries, such as Pakistan and Indonesia. Blasphemy is a corollary to freedom of religion. It expresses the right to have no religion, in fact the right to disdain all religions.

The creators of Protestant Christianity were all denounced for blasphemy; so were generations of scholars in a dozen countries who campaigned for the critical examination of the Bible. Without the courage of those who were called blasphemers there would be only one acceptable religion in every country today. Certainly that’s how the royal and church authorities of the 18th century saw the future. As late as 1766, as the Enlightenment was proceeding, a freethinking 20-year-old Frenchman, Jean-François de la Barre, was tortured for blasphemy. He had his tongue cut out before he was burned to death, his copy of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary thrown on the fire with him. Today there’s a statue of him in Montmartre, as the last person executed for blasphemy in France.



5. About “The Innocence of Muslims”

Sep-21-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Who would have guessed that Neil Gaiman would have the lead story about the bigoted film? But he knew the actress who wrote to him, and he ran her letter, and so the story came out. Al Jazeera sums up the story, and Stephen Walt points out that just how much the extremists on one side depend on the extremists on the other.

* A Letter from a Scared Actress Neil Gaiman’s Journal

Something very bad happened. I desperately need everyone’s help right now.

I don’t know how to start writing this letter. It’s crazy, the world is.. life.. I’m so shattered right now, I don’t know.. I feel very dead inside. 

Last summer I auditioned for an indie low budget feature movie and I landed a supporting role. The movie was about a comet falling into a desert and ancient tribes fighting over it for they thought that the comet had some magical powers.

A year later, the movie was dubbed (without the actors’ permission), the lines were changed drastically and the movie was morphed into an Anti-Islam film. Even the names of the characters were changed. And the character I had scenes with GEORGE became MUHAMMAD. 

I really need your advice right now? How can I have my voice shown to the world so that I can tell them the real story.

* The Attacks In Libya And Beyond  Al Jazeera (Thanks Gabe!)

The lack of humanity has been evident clear across the world this week, from the con-man in California who produced a bigoted anti-Muslim film, to some crackpot, cracker of a preacher who promoted it, to a bunch of zealots in Libya who murdered innocents, people performing public service whose only crime was to be from the country from which the film hailed.

Then there was the American presidential candidate – Mitt Romney - who grinned like the Cheshire cat as he politicized the death of innocent Americans, including our ambassador to Libya. All of this occurred, mind you, within 24 hours of 9/11, when an act of unspeakable inhumanity led to mass death and suffering in the United States. Not a good few days for the human species, I’d venture to say.

What does this all tell us? Mostly, it reminds us of some sad realities with which we’re already all too acquainted. That while religion and ideology can lead to spirituality and righteous passion (think the civil rights movement), they can also lead to the suppression of women’s rights, the justification of economic subjugation, and when it comes right down to it, hatred for one’s fellow man (and woman) for no other reason than they are “different”.

* Lessons of Benghazi (and beyond)   Stephen M. Walt

Extremists on both sides are engaged in a dangerous duet: They depend on each other for sustenance and reinforcement. The extremist views and radical violence of groups like Al Qaeda create a mirror image here, in the form of paranoid Islamophobes, whose harsh rhetoric and support for endless war against the entire Muslim world in turn gives Islamic extremists potent arguments to use in their battle to win hearts and minds. Matt Duss has a great rundown on this whole problem here. My point is that if you want to make Islamic extremism stronger, you should write a check to your favourite Islamophobe. 



4. Challenging Islamic Stereotypes

Apr-07-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: The bird often casts its beady eye on the way the world of Islam is portrayed in local media. Here are some stories that show a more nuanced world than you might have heard about.

* Islamic Scholars Conclude Homosexuality Is Natural And Created By God, Thus Permissible Jakarta Post

Homosexuals and homosexuality are natural and created by God, thus permissible within Islam, a discussion concluded here Thursday. Moderate Muslim scholars said there were no reasons to reject homosexuals under Islam, and that the condemnation of homosexuals and homosexuality by mainstream ulema and many other Muslims was based on narrow-minded interpretations of Islamic teachings.

Siti Musdah Mulia of the Indonesia Conference of Religions and Peace cited the Koran’s al-Hujurat (49:3) that one of the blessings for human beings was that all men and women are equal, regardless of ethnicity, wealth, social positions or even sexual orientation.

“There is no difference between lesbians and nonlesbians. In the eyes of God, people are valued based on their piety,” she told the discussion organized by nongovernmental organization Arus Pelangi. “And talking about piety is God’s prerogative to judge,” she added. “The essence of the religion (Islam) is to humanize humans, respect and dignify them.” 

* Iranians respond to Israeli Facebook initiative: Israel, we <3 you too Haaretz

The ‘Israel loves Iran’ Facebook campaign has begun to receive numerous responses from Iranians, who stared responding to the Israeli initiative that calls on people to announce their love for the Iranians by posting pictures on Facebook.

Up to Saturday night, graphic artists Ronny Edry and his wife, Michal Tamir, who began the campaign, were still trying to persuade Iranians to respond to the dozens of Israelis that put up posters of themselves with the words, “Iranians, we will never bomb your country, we [heart] you.” (TL:DR? See the toon here.)

* Despite shootings, extremist Islam waning in France Pauline Froissart AFP

Muslims in French suburbs remain vulnerable to extremist indoctrination but those lured into radicalism are an “ultra-minority” and the spread of jihadism is declining, experts say.

Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old suspected Al-Qaeda militant of Algerian descent was killed Thursday following a shootout with police, after being linked to seven murders in southwestern France in the last eight days. The former resident of a Toulouse suburb is believed to have been drawn into radicalism after joining a group of Salafists — an ultra-conservative brand of Islam — and travelling to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“For several years, we have seen a decline in jihadism because of the strong pressure of the French and European security services.”

* The True Role of Muslim Women Romana Khan

Non-conformity to the western ideals of womanhood, was ensued by propaganda to project an image of helpless Muslim women to defame Islam. The West has always adopted a paternalistic attitude to justify the imposition of their own moral paradigm considered to be universal and applicable to all, without any due regard for cultural or religious diversity.

Moreover, the frame of reference used by the West to refer to the rights of Muslim women only focuses upon the veil, equating it with ignorance and subservience. She is judged by what she wears, not what she has to say or what she is capable of achieving. It seems ironic that the West seems to assume the role of a spokesperson for a Muslim woman, yet becomes deaf to what she has to say.

* Strengthening Muslim-Jewish Ties In The Face Of Evil   JTA – Jewish & Israel News

Amid the wall-to-wall media coverage of the attacks and their aftermath, one piece of the story has received less attention: the inspiring manner in which Muslims and Jews in France have stood side by side in denouncing these heinous acts.

Thousands of Muslims and Jews reacted to the savage killings of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the earlier murders of three French soldiers, including two Muslims, by joining together in solidarity marches in communities throughout Paris.



12. Quote of the Week

Mar-23-2012 | Comments (3)

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Rumi 




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