Archive for the “Islam” Category

Muslims and their religion

Police are investigating a firebomb attack against the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation building and three other sites in Queens, New York. (CBS 2)Note: See the update below for an important update to this blog post!

I’ve blogged a number of times about a movement I call “the Neocrusade” — a modern effort by “Christian nationers” to eliminate Islam within the U.S. It’s mostly found in the same parts of the country as Religious Rightism, i.e. in the Bobble Bayelt (er, Bible Belt), but it can be found elsewhere too, including the New York City metropolis. As CBS News reports, there’s a chance that Neocrusading vigilantes might once again be active in the Big Apple (WebCite cached article):

Authorities are investigating four fire attacks in New York City, including one at an Islamic center and one at a house used for Hindu worship.

Police say three attacks Sunday night involved molotov cocktails. There were no injuries. Police are investigating the attacks as bias crimes.

The fact that non-Islam-related targets were hit, certainly suggests these attacks weren’t Neocrusade-motivated. But then again, Neocrusaders have been known to lash out at the wrong targets, so it can’t be ruled out quite yet.

If this is, in fact, the work of militant Christian Neocrusaders, the irony of Christianists resorting to terror and violence in their campaign against a religion they consider violent and terror-promoting, is precious.

Update: It turns out this may have not been Neocrusaders’ work, after all. The New York Times reports a suspect has been arrested, police say the fires he set all resulted from specific, personal grudges, not out of religious fervor (cached).

Photo credit: WCBS via CBS News.

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Young Saudi Arabian woman in Abha, by Walter CallensIt seems I leaped to conclusions about Saudi Arabia entering the 21st century. That country remains mired in medieval thinking, as exemplified in this ABC News report about a Saudi woman who was beheaded for having engaged in “witchcraft” and “sorcery” (WebCite cached article):

A Saudi woman was beheaded after being convicted of practicing “witchcraft and sorcery,” according to the Saudi Interior Ministry, at least the second such execution for sorcery this year.

The woman, Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar, was executed in the northern Saudi province of al-Jawf on Monday.

The “evidence” against her?

A source close to the Saudi religious police told Arab newspaper al Hayat that authorities who searched Nassar’s home found a book about witchcraft, 35 veils and glass bottles full of “an unknown liquid used for sorcery” among her possessions. According to reports, authorities said Nassar claimed to be a healer and would sell a veil and three bottles for 1500 riyals, or about $400.

This execution received a stamp of approval from the entire Saudi court system:

According to the ministry, Nassar’s death sentence was upheld by an appeals court and the Saudi Supreme Judicial Council.

Are we quite clear, now, on how barbaric it is to kill people over mere metaphysics?

Note: Any Christians out there who are thinking how superior their religion is to Islam, in this regard, had best be careful: I’ve already blogged about Christians in Africa who’ve gone after supposed “witches.” Christians would do well to keep in mind how much harm their own religion has inflicted on people in the name of eliminating witchcraft. Christianity certainly does not have clean hands in this matter — even now.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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US-FBI-ShadedSealI’ve complained before about pseudohistory in many venues. Most of the time it’s merely annoying, and rarely does it have any serious, direct consequences. But recently, Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog revealed that there’s more than a little pseudohistory lurking deep in the heart of the FBI’s counter-terrorism training program: (WebCite cached article):

The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that “main stream” [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a “funding mechanism for combat.”

Note that all three of these notions are typical “talking points” which comprise part of the continuous mantra of the Religious Right’s Neocrusade against Islam. More specifically, though:

At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent.” Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.”

These are, of course, completely unlike all those fundamentalist Christians here in the US who claim their Bible is the “unalterable word” of their own Christian God. Got it. Personally I don’t see any real difference between the two, but there must be one, because the FBI’s counter-terrorism trainer, William Gawthrop, says it, so it simply must be the case! Somehow. Some way.

Wired snagged a printed copy of some Powerpoint slides that purport to show that, from their birth to the present, both Christianity and Judaism have become steadily more peaceful and less militant, while Islam has never been peaceful and remains nearly as militant as it was in its first decades (cached). The whole thing contains a number of historical lies, nearly all of which are evident in this one slide:

Printed copy of slide 10 from Powerpoint presentation 'Militancy Considerations' / FBI training materials via Wired

Printed copy of slide 10 from Powerpoint presentation 'Militancy Considerations' / FBI training materials via Wired

Here are a few of the historical untruths contained in this slide:
  1. The Torah was not written in 1,400 BCE. Its sources were written during the period of the two kingdoms, and it was compiled into something near its present form, sometime around the middle of the last millennium BCE.
  2. The Christian Bible was not written in 3 BCE. Its Old Testament already existed, to be sure, but the earliest New Testament books — the 7 “genuine” Pauline epistles — weren’t written until the middle of the first century CE. The rest of the NT books weren’t written until decades later, starting with Mark in the early 70s CE.
  3. Neither Judaism nor Christianity began in states of “maximum militancy & violence.” In particular, the very first Christians were decidedly non-violent; violence didn’t really creep into that faith — as far as we know — until Christological conflicts arose in the late 2nd century.
  4. Neither Judaism nor Christianity went steadily from maximum militancy to non-militancy. Their levels of violence and extremism rose and fell along with their environments and as they progressed.
  5. The Christian graph line should instead look like a very large wave, with a long plateau at maximum violence, stretching from the late 11th century through the 16th.
  6. The Islam graph line should also be different; Islam did experience some periods of lower violence; it has not remained steadily violent as this graph suggests.

Lastly, I’ll point out something I’ve said before. Within all religious traditions — Judaism and Christianity included! — it is always the case that the militant extremists at the fringes of a faith are accommodated, to one degree or another, by more “mainstream” and less violent adherents. Militant adherents generally find it easy to intimidate and bully their co-believers. The reasons for this are myriad. Sometimes it’s because the militants will go after anyone who opposes them and “mainstreamers” are, basically, afraid of them. Other times it’s because the “mainstream” adherents have some sympathy for the extremists. Still other times it’s because even the “mainstreamers” would secretly like to see the extremists succeed. To assume this is only true of Islam and not of Judaism or Christianity, is foolish in the extreme. The political successes of the Christian Right in the US and ultraconservative Orthodox Jews in Israel, clearly demonstrate this is so.

At any rate, there are a number of demonstrable factual errors in this Powerpoint presentation, and there’s no reason the FBI should be relying on it. Yet apparently — to the country’s detriment — they are.

Hat tip: Unreasonable Faith.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Ruth Eglash, Jerusalem PostAt a time when the Religious Right in the US has decided to go to war against women, the misogynist kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken an opposite tack. Reuters reports that Saudi King Abdullah will grant women in his realm the right to vote and to stand for election (WebCite cached article):

Saudi Arabia will allow women to stand for election and vote, the king announced on Sunday, in a significant policy shift in the conservative Islamic kingdowm.

In a five-minute speech, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud said women will also take part in the next session of the unelected, advisory Shura Council, which vets legislation but has no binding powers. …

“Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote.”

To be sure, Saudi women are still severely restricted, even with this concession, as the Reuters article explains:

The king did not address the issue of women being allowed to drive. Although there is no written law against women driving, they are not issued licences, effectively banning the practice.

Women in Saudi Arabia must also have written approval from a male guardian — a father, husband, brother or son — to leave the country, work or even undergo certain medical operations.

Despite this, women’s suffrage in Saudi Arabia is unprecedented, and is a large step forward. There are lots of misogynist Christofascists here in the US who could learn a thing or two from this.

Photo credit: Jerusalem Post / Ruth Eglash.

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September 11 Photo MontageToday is the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks that killed thousands in New York City, the Pentagon, and in a field in Shanksville, PA. The mass media are running story after story about the commemorations and remembrances and lots of other aspects of this milestone. For me, this event provides an object lesson in human nature and demonstrates conclusively where we go wrong.

First, all the 9/11 conspiratorialism demonstrates that any event that involves enough details is ripe to be plucked by sanctimoniously-outraged paranoiacs of every possible stripe. Rick Green of the Hartford Courant ran a column the other day about one particular crank named Wayne Coste who stands on Hartford’s streets, railing and wailing like a street-preacher about how “9/11 was an inside job” (WebCite cached article). He uses the fact that he was an engineer as a kind of credential that — supposedly — “proves” his insane jabbering must be correct. But it doesn’t. That he has an engineering credential (in electrical engineering, not in mechanical or civil engineering or in architecture) does not automatically grant his conclusions any veracity. Lots of engineers and scientists have looked at the same evidence he has, but arrived at very different conclusions from it.

Perhaps the seminal explanation of how the World Trade Center came down — researched and written by engineers and scientists with the same kinds of credentials as Coste — was done by the venerable magazine Popular Mechanics. It’s well worth reading for anyone with any interest in this matter. Another source of information is the “9/11 conspiracies” entry at the Skeptic’s Dictionary; it lays out many of the screwy scenarios that have been proposed and picks them off one by one. Yet, in spite of these and many other such “takedowns” of all the lunatic scenarios, the wacky 9/11 conspiratorialism (aka the “Truther” movement) is alive and well and populated by all sorts of animated wingnuts like Coste.

What’s really happening with “truthers” is that their laughable “theories” grant them what they perceive as a moral license to indulge their juvenile impulses and paranoiac brain patterns. Telling them they’re wrong only enrages them more than they already are, causes the person telling them so to be viewed as a willing and integral part of the “wicked conspiracy,” and they just dig their heels in harder and cling even tighter to their insane fantasies. As R.T. Carroll of the Skeptic’s Dictionary puts it in the subtitle of his article on the matter, the “truther” movement is, indeed, very much a “war on critical thinking.”

A second lesson shown by Americans’ reaction to 9/11/2001 is their insular, even selfish reasoning. Too many people in the US view this country as the sole target of Islamofascist terror. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Among the other large-scale terror attacks that have taken place elsewhere in the world since then:

Note, this is only a partial list. There were many more Islamofascist terror attacks in the last ten years. The point is that none of these took place in the US, and Americans were not the targets. Other people in other countries were. The Islamofascist terrorists aren’t killing people in places all over the planet just because they hate the US and our “freedom” — or whatever. They’re doing it simply because they’re murderously religiofascist; quite frankly they don’t give a crap about anything else.

The third chief lesson of the September 11, 2001 attacks, more obviously, is that militant religiofascism can become deadly, and it must be stopped. In every one of its forms. Everywhere it occurs. All the time, every time, without letup, and without granting it any excuses. It’s one thing to have metaphysical beliefs. It’s another to believe that everyone else on the planet must adopt them. And it’s another beyond that to believe one is entitled to kill in order to make that happen. This is rather obvious; we certainly didn’t need 9/11/2001 to tell us so … but apparently there are lots of folks who genuinely were unaware of this fact — and sadly, they remain so, in spite of 9/11/2001.

A proper response to such events is for believers to concede that other people are not theirs to order around or kill because of their beliefs, and just leave them alone. What’s not acceptable is to respond to murderous Islamofascism by becoming militantly Christofascist in return and then launch a Neocrusade to eliminate Islam. This Neocrusade is merely the same sort of religiofascist impulse, just manifest within a different religion and in a different country. Of course, to the Neocrusaders, 9/11/2001 itself is the reason they think they’re entitled to destroy Islam … but this belief, while widespread, is just “two wrongs make a right” thinking and is both fallacious and immoral.

In sum, let’s all stop using events like 9/11/2001 to justify insular thinking, American exceptionalism, and “getting back at Islam” because we feel entitled to. It’s time for us all to grow up, stop “reacting” emotionally every time something bad happens, and start living like the mature adults we all ought to be. And by all means, let’s stop giving in to the idea that militant Christianism is an appropriate response to militant Islamism. It’s not. They’re really just the same thing, only packaged in different wrappers.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Egypt sectarian violence / Christian, Muslim youths clash in Cairo / A dozen people have been killed in the clashes that occurred in the Cairo district of Imbaba (Aljazeera)Hosni Mubarak may be out of power, but all is not well in the Land of the Nile. Religious violence has become an increasing problem in Egypt and its new government is having difficulty dealing with it. Al Jazeera reports on a renewed eruption of religious strife in Cairo, in the wake of a woman’s conversion from Christianity to Islam (WebCite cached article):

Egyptian troops are out in force in central Cairo after weekend riots left 12 people dead and more than 200 injured.

Clashes between Muslims and Copts have raised fears that more sectarian strife could erupt in the country which remains under military rule three months after former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power. …

The bloodshed began on Saturday evening when word spread around the Imbaba neighborhood that a Christian woman who had converted to Islam had been abducted and was being kept in the Virgin Mary Church against her will.

About 500 ultraconservative Salafi Muslims gathered at the church, calling on Christians to hand over the woman.

Both sides traded gunfire, firebombs and stones, witnesses said.

Soldiers and police fired shots in the air and used tear gas to separate the sides but stone-throwing went on into the night.

Al Jazeera offers an excellent video report, but for some reason there’s no option to embed it, so I can’t do so here.

The idea that religious conversions must be met with violence is, quite obviously, absurd. No one is required to be happy about a conversion, but to hold her in a church and then exchange gunfire and Molotovs over it, is beyond rationality. It just goes to show that Egypt has a long way to go before it matures sufficiently. That’s ironic, since her civilization is among the oldest on the planet, meaning its people have no excuse for not having grown up enough to deal with things like this.

Note that the uptick in Muslim/Christian violence predates the revolution that toppled Mubarak. On January 1 of this year, a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria was bombed, killing 21 people.

Photo credit: Snapshot from Al Jazeera video.

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In Times Square, hundreds gathered to celebrate and watch the news flash across the big screens. Credit: Michael Appleton for The New York TimesWe’re finally getting more information about the death of Osama bin-Laden. First, it turns out he wasn’t in the wilderness between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Rather, he’d been living in style, deep in the heart of Pakistan, not far from Pakistani military installations, as the New York Times reports (WebCite cached article):

When the end came for Bin Laden, he was found not in the remote tribal areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border where he has long been presumed to be sheltered*, but in a massive compound about an hour’s drive north from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. He was hiding in the medium-sized city of Abbottabad, home to a large Pakistani military base and a military academy of the Pakistani Army.

This raises a lot of questions, not the least of which is how bin-Laden could have been right under the collective nose of the Pakistani government for quite some time. They are — supposedly — our allies. It’s clear they aren’t quite as “allied” to us as they might like us to think.

Pakistan is a deeply troubled country with a large number of Islamofascists … such as the crowds who gave “rock star” treatment to the man accused of killing the Punjab provincial governor because he criticized that nation’s blasphemy law.

While it’s great news that Osama bin-Laden is dead, clearly we face a continued struggle around the world, not just against the kind of Islamofascism that bin-Laden and his supporters promoted, but against all forms of religiofascism, everywhere. It will remain a problem for many years to come.

I close with this video of President Barack Obama announcing bin-Laden’s death to the United States and the world, courtesy of CNN:

* Yes, I admit it, I was one of those who believed this.

Photo credit: Michael Appleton / New York Times.

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