Archive for the “World Politics” Category

World-wide politics

Patriarch Kirill, pictured with Russian President Vladimir Putin, claimed he was not surprised that 'honest' Muslims are flocking to Isis' quasi-religious state / Getty Images, via The IndependentRussia — once the majority component of a superpower that collapsed under its own weight — has become a backward country in more ways than one. In particular, the Russian government under Vlad “the Impaler” Putin has become repressive in several ways, and has been particularly harsh toward gays. Russia faces many issues, which are hard for Putin and his buddies to solve, so instead of doing that, he’s going after dissidents, critics, and LGBT folks, as if they’re the architects of Russia’s misery. (To be clear, they’re not.)

Now that Russia has inserted itself in the Syrian Civil War, it’s facing an enemy it hadn’t had to deal with before, i.e. ISIS/ISIL/IS/whatever-the-fuck-you-want-to-call-that-savage-brood. That’s put them on the radar of Russian society.

It’s no wonder, then, that one of Vlad’s friends, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and head of the Russian Orthodox Church, decided to toss some of Russia’s bogeymen into the same basket with ISIS/IS/ISIL/whatever. As the (UK) Independent reports, the Patriarch blamed the rise of ISIS, and its ability to recruit, on gays and “godless civlilization” (WebCite cached article):

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has partially blamed an increased acceptance of homosexuality for the rise of Isis.

Patriarch Kirill claimed he was not surprised that some Muslims are flocking to Isis’ quasi-religious state as a way of escaping the “godless civilization” that celebrates events such as Gay Pride.

In an interview published on the Church’s official website [cached], Kirill said: “[Isis] is creating a civilization that is new by comparison to the established one that is godless, secular and even radical in its secularism.”…

Kiril [sic] said because the “godless civilization is reaching maturity”, it should come as no surprise that those who are opposed to liberal, secular ideas end up joining terror organisations.

Kirill’s description of the dangers posed by “secularism” are very similar to what one often hears from the Religious Right, here in the US:

“If you call non-traditional relationships a sin, as the Bible teaches and you are a priest or pastor, then you risk not only your ability to serve but you may be sent to prison,” he said.

There is no such effort underway anywhere I know of — especially in Russia — but as with the American R.R., that reality didn’t prevent Kirill from saying it exists.

Also, the Patriarch characterized ISIS recruits as “honest” and “truly religious.” I’m not sure how well that will go over with the majority of the Muslim world, which opposes ISIS.

In general, I love when puritanical people open their mouths. Almost universally they can’t keep their rotten, stinking, scum-coated feet out of them.

Photo credit: Getty Images, via The Independent.

Hat tip: Religion Dispatches.

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Shams ud-Din Tabriz 1502-1504 BNF ParisI bet you had no idea the game of chess … you know, the ancient game played with special pieces on a checkerboard … was profane in the eyes of the Almighty. Yeah, I know, it was news to me too. It took an Islamic scholar to figure that out. As the New York Times explains, that scholar is no less than Saudi Arabia’s highest-ranking cleric (WebCite cached article):

Saudi Arabia’s top cleric has declared the playing of chess “forbidden,” calling it a waste of time and money that creates hatred between players.

In a fatwa, or religious decree, issued in response to a question from a caller to a Saudi television show, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh said that the game was “the work of Satan,” like alcohol and gambling, despite its long history in the Middle East. Chess is played across the Arab world.…

In his statement on the show, the grand mufti equated chess with gambling, which is forbidden in Islam.

“It makes the rich man poor, and makes the poor man rich,” he said. “It causes hostility and wastes time where it should not be spent.”

I suppose people can bet on chess matches, but as a game, chess doesn’t involve any gambling. So I’m not sure what Al-Shiekh’s beef is really about. It seems nonsensical.

Ironically, it was Arabs’ embrace of chess — which had originated in India, then moved on into Persia — which carried the game to the western world. As the Times reports, it remains popular in the Arab world, and this fatwa isn’t likely to accomplish much of anything, since people will continue playing chess in spite of it.

The lesson here is that religionism leads to all sorts of adsurdity. It grants undeserved authority and influence to dolts and clowns with the power to promulgate rulings and doctrines based on ignorance and idiocy.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Rational Wiki.

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Smoke rises as Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Protesters upset over the execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia set fires to the Saudi embassy in Tehran. (Mohammadreza Nadimi/ISNA via AP) / via Washington PostChristianity’s history is dotted with controversies, rifts and schisms. They range in severity from differences over heresy (with each side calling the other “heretical”) in which different Christian congregations existed side-by-side for a time, such as the Donatist schism, to conflicts over doctrines and dogma that occasionally erupted in violence (either in the short term, e.g. the Nestorian heresy, or longer term, e.g. as the Iconoclast controversies), as well as schisms that ended up creating entirely-separate churches (e.g. the Great Eastern Schism or the Reformation).

The result of this long history is that Christianity isn’t a single entity, but rather, a collection of many different institutions whose only point in common is that they revere the figure known as Jesus Christ and ostensibly follow his putative teachings. (As it turns out, going all the way back to its origins, Christianity has always been a collection of varied movements. At no point in its history was it ever a single group following a single set of doctrines.) When Westerners think of religious schisms and conflicts, this history is what they tend to think of.

Even so, Christianity isn’t unique in this regard. All major religions have had their rifts, conflicts, “heresies,” and variant teachings.

Perhaps the most famous of these outside of Christianity is the Islamic schism; dividing that religion into Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims (with around 85% of the world’s Muslims belonging to the former sect).

This schism has its origins with the aftermath of the prophet Mohammad’s death in 632 CE. The two men who were his most likely successors as leaders of Islam were his first male convert, Abu Bakr, and his son-in-law Ali. Abu Bakr ended up being chosen, over the protests of Ali and his followers (the Shi’atu Ali or “partisans of Ali,” hence the name of their sect). The degree to which Ali himself conceded this choice isn’t entirely clear; aside from hard feelings over it, not much happened during Abu Bakr’s rule (which only lasted a couple of years), and Ali acted as an advisor to Abu Bakr’s successor Umar, so there was some comity at that point, although resentments undoubtedly lingered. Ali finally was named caliph, or leader of Islam, only in 656 (almost 25 years after Mohammad’s death) during the chaos that erupted after Umar’s successor Uthman was killed by rioters.

That Ali wouldn’t order the execution of those rioters caused the low simmering resentments between Uthman’s and Ali’s supporters to break out in the open, launching a civil war within Islam now called “the First Fitna.” Ali was assassinated and his son succeeded him, but within months abdicated in favor of Muawiyah, a leader of Uthman’s faction, thus ending the Fitna.

The conflict erupted anew in 680 when Muawiyah died and Husayn, another son of Ali, refused to accept Yazid, Muawiyah’s son, as the next caliph. Husayn was killed during the Battle of Karbala that very year.

This turned out to be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back; at several points during the preceding decades, both sects had at least tried to get along, and the one war that had broken out in full fury had been settled; but Husayn’s death at Karbala proved to be too much for the Shi’ites to take. There would never again be any meaningful attempted accord. What’s more, there were rifts within each side; Ali’s assassin had belonged to a group within his own faction who’d rebelled against Ali’s efforts to negotiate an end to the First Fitna. And Yazid and his immediate successors ended up dealing with rebels that broke away from their original faction, as well.

In other words, the whole thing ended up being one monstrous clusterfuck.

The tensions and differences opened up by these 7th century conflicts — which at that time could have been ameliorated, had cooler heads prevailed back in 680 — still reverberate today. An example of this was made evident this weekend in Teheran, where — as the Washington Post reports — the Sunni state of Saudi Arabia’s execution of a famous Shi’ite triggered massive protests (WebCite cached article):

Iran’s Supreme Leader warned on Sunday that there would be divine retribution for Saudi Arabia’s rulers after the execution of a renowned Shiite cleric, sustaining the soaring regional tensions that erupted in the wake of the killing.

The warning came hours after crowds of protesters stormed and torched the Saudi embassy in Tehran to vent their anger at the execution of Nimr Baqr al-Nimr, who was among 47 people put to death in the kingdom on Saturday.

In a posting on his website, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that the execution “will cause serious troubles for the politicians of this [Saudi] regime in a very short time….The hands of divine vengeance will surely snatch — by their necks — those cruel individuals who took his life.”

The execution of Nimr, an outspoken critic of the Saudi royal family, has ignited sectarian tensions across the already inflamed region and jeopardized U.S. diplomacy aimed at tamping down conflicts in the Middle East.…

The Saudi consulate in the Iranian city of Mashad was also set on fire during the protests that erupted after Nimr’s execution was announced.

As WaPo explains, the Saudi executions were hardly some kind of Shi’ite purge:

Most of the 47 executed on Saturday were Sunnis accused of participating in Al Qaeda attacks.

As a side note, it looks as though Iranians have some kind of obsession with attacking embassies.

This outburst of violence isn’t actually the worst of the Sunni-vs-Shia conflict going on in the world. The Syrian Civil War has been, among other things, a proxy war between the (Sunni) Saudis and the (Shi’ite) Iranians, both making use of their own partisans in the region (such as Hezbollah, which is patronized by Teheran). Compared to the carnage there, setting an embassy ablaze might seem like small potatoes. But such are the tensions between Islam’s two main sects that violence can break out over virtually anything at all, almost anywhere there are Muslims.

And the worst part of it is, there’s no stopping it. No Sunni-Shia accord is on the horizon and there’s no chance of any reconciliation. It’s not going to happen. Just goes to show what can result from people obsessing over metaphysics — i.e. nothing good.

Photo credit: Mohammadreza Nadimi/ISNA, via AP, via Washington Post.

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Farkhunda's half-finished grave outside Kabul. / Lynsey Addario for The New York TimesBack in March I blogged about a woman from Kabul (about as cosmopolitan a city as one can find in Afghanistan) who was killed by a mob after having been accused of burning a Qur’an that she never actually burned. I predicted, at the time — in spite of condemnations by the Afghan government — that justice almost certainly would not be done for this woman. Yes, many people were arrested and prosecuted for this crime, but as the New York Times reports, pretty much everyone involved is going to get away with it nonetheless (WebCite cached article):

At first, the trial and convictions that followed seemed a victory in the long struggle to give Afghan women their due in a court of law. But a deeper look suggests otherwise. The fortuneteller who several investigators believe set the events in motion was found not guilty on appeal. The shrine’s custodian, who concocted the false charge of Quran burning and incited the mob, had his death sentence commuted. Police officers who failed to send help and others who stood by received slaps on the wrist, at most. Some attackers identifiable in the videos avoided capture altogether.

The Times explains the twists and turns this case took, the trials, appeals, etc. Strangely, a lot of the trials and appeals hinged mainly on the issue of who struck the first blow against Farkhunda, rather than delving into what was, essentially, a conspiracy to arrange her murder, and holding those who orchestrated it accountable for their participation. Given his public’s general approval of Farkhunda’s murder, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has essentially caved in on the matter. And Farkhunda’s family has had to flee the country.

Back when I blogged about this senseless and unjust slaughter, I said:

Yes, I’m sure a condemnation by Afghanistan’s new president Ashraf Ghani is certain to bring this practice to an end. No doubt!

And if you believe that, I have some beachfront property in Arizona to sell you.

Yup, looks like I called this one … sad to say. The Afghan government and people managed to live down to all my expectations of them … and then some. I’m sure they’re very proud of their backwardness, stupidity, childishness, and cowardice. Well done, Afghans! I’m also sure your al-Lah is proud of you, too!

Photo credit: Lynsey Addario / The New York Times.

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A Charlie Brown Christmas TreeIn a remarkable contrast to all the Religious Right’s bellicose whining about how Christmas is somehow being outlawed, alongside their ongoing effort to force every American to worship it with them, Pope Francis made some comments recently about that holiday which are very different. As Agence France-Presse reports via Yahoo News, he said that Christmas celebrations will seem hollow this year (WebCite cached article):

Christmas festivities will seem empty in a world which has chosen “war and hate”, Pope Francis said Thursday.

“Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes … it’s all a charade. The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path,” he said in a sermon.

“There are wars today everywhere, and hate,” he said after the worst terror attack in French history, the bombing of a Russian airliner, a double suicide bombing in Lebanon, and a series of other deadly strikes.

“We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognise the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it,” the Argentine pontiff said, adding: “God weeps, Jesus weeps”.

The sermon threw a shadow over the start of the festive season at the Vatican, where a giant Christmas tree was unveiled.

As seems to be usual for him, Pope Francis once again bucks a lot of Catholic, if not overall Christian, trends … using the observance of a Christmas tree’s unveiling to make somber comments of this sort.

I hope all the “Christmas warriors” out there … led as they are by the (yes, Catholic!) Bill O’Reilly … will take note of what Pope Francis said. Maybe their caterwauling and whining about Starbuck’s coffee cups won’t seem so sanctimoniously important.

Photo credit: Mark K, via Flickr.

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Husité - Jenský kodexThe Paris attacks a week ago have brought out the raging Neocrusader which lurks deep inside most Rightists here in the US. GOP presidential contenders have tripped over each other — not to mention themselves — trying to exhibit their Neocrusading credentials. They particularly have their knickers in knots over plans to bring around 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US (WebCite cached article).

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush has said the US should admit only Syrians who can demonstrate they’re Christian (cached). He hasn’t explained how they’re supposed to provide this proof. Plus, wouldn’t a committed Islamist terrorist be able to “fake” being a Christian in order to get into the US, assuming there’s a meaningful way to do so? (And no, don’t assume Islamists would never pass themselves off as belonging to some other religion; there are no safe assumptions one can make about them.)

Then there’s the Christofascist Ted Cruz, Senator from Texas, who likewise called for admitting only Christians from among the Syrian refugees vying for entry (cached). As with the Jebster, Teddie assumes it’s “safe” to admit any Syrian who says s/he’s a Christian, and he doesn’t account for any means to verify such a claim in any serious way.

But neither of these misguided Christianist notions holds a candle to what real estate mogul and leading GOP contender Donald Trump came up with. He’s declared that he wants Muslims in the US to carry special identification and/or be tracked in a special database (cached). Yes, that’s right, he’s proposing we treat Muslims in ways the Third Reich had treated Jews (cached).

Likewise embracing Nazi tactics is Rhode Island state senator Elaine Morgan, who wants Syrian refugees who end up in her state to be placed in special camps (cached). Gee, those sound like concentration camps or internment camps to me.

None of this should be construed as dismissing any possible danger from Syrian refugees. Of course it exists and is real, especially since at least one of the Paris attackers — all of whom were actually European nationals — had returned to Europe posing as a refugee and may have planted a fake or stolen Syrian passport he’d used to come into Greece posing as a refugee (cached). It’s undeniable that a terrorist might try to enter the US as a refugee. But the process of getting to the US is time-consuming — upwards of 18 months, and usually around 2 years (cached). While the vetting process is far from perfect, as administration officials admit (cached) — and Rightists love to use these admissions to justify their Neocrusading impulses — this scenario nevertheless forces enraged Islamist terrorists bent on massacring innocents to sit around and do nothing, somewhere in Europe, for around 2 years before they can reach America. This alone makes it an unlikely tactic for them to use. A much more efficient tactic would be for them to recruit terrorists from among people already in the US or Canada … which has actually been done (cached).

I very much understand the fear these Neocrusaders exploit. It has a basis in reality … but the measures being promised are far too draconian, and won’t guarantee Americans’ safety in any event. What’s needed is better intelligence, and better action on that intelligence, to better pinpoint who the terrorists are, where they are, what they’re up to, and whom they’re in contact with. Broad policies, such as blocking Syrian immigration altogether or applying a specious religious test to it, really aren’t going to be much help, if we’re not willing to apply the intelligence we already have available (which, as Edward Snowden revealed, is extensive).

Not to mention, the average American is much more likely to become a victim of domestic Rightist terror rather than Islamist terror. But that’s another story entirely … !

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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'Je Suis Charlie' / Bild (DE)Ten months ago, Islamist terrorists attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, killing a dozen, then went on a rampage in the Paris region. They did this, reportedly, to avenge their prophet Muhammad, who apparently had been harmed by some cartoons, thus forcing some of his followers to kill the blasphemers who’d insolently dared draw them. Or something like that. I’m still not clear as to how a long-dead man could have been harmed by mere cartoons, but then, I’m just a cynical, cold-hearted godless agnostic heathen and couldn’t possibly be expected to understand such important sacred notions, could I?

Well, by now most of my readers have already heard the news that the Islamists have done it again. This past Friday they launched a savage series of attacks on Paris. The details of this multiple-site massacre are still being collected, but France’s president Francois Hollande has said this was “an act of war” by ISIS/ISIL/IS/whatever-the-fuck-you-want-to-call-that-savage-brood, and they’ve claimed responsibility for it.

Clearly, the “Religion of Peace” has shown its true colors … again! … even if, by now, no sane person actually needs such an illustration. Predictably, Muslim leaders and organizations around the world have condemned the attacks on Paris, but let’s be honest: Those condemnations will accomplish nothing whatsoever. ISIS/ISIL/IS/whatever-the-fuck and all its ilk will continue their barbaric terror campaigns, and they’ll keep attracting Muslim recruits from around the world. It’s not going to stop just because some scholars of Islam mouth recriminations against Islamist terror. The Islmists already don’t give a flying fuck what anyone else thinks, and they’re not going to, ever. Mere words don’t matter, and have no discernible effect on them.

The sooner the world’s Muslims begin actively (rather than just verbally) dealing with the festering sore deep within their religion, which these violent barbarians believe grants divine sanction to their savage terror campaign, the sooner something can actually be done about it. But sadly, I just don’t see that happening. Not enough of them have the courage to do so.

Photo credit: Bild (DE).

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