Archive for the “World Politics” Category

World-wide politics

The End is Not NearI recently blogged about how fundamentalist Christians are leaping for joy and rubbing their hands over the possibility that the US might attack Syria, as the so-called “Biblical prophecy” in Isaiah 17 coming true — a development that, they further think, will trigger “Armaggedon” and Jesus’ return. They are, as I explained then, absolutely fucking wrong about that: First, because any chance there had ever been of all of Isaiah 17 ever coming true, has already gone by, long ago; and because all Biblical prophecy is bullshit in the first place.

This hasn’t stopped the Religious Right from stomping around, declaring that the “prediction” of Isaiah 17 is about to come true — even though the proposed attack on Syria may not even materialize. They just can’t seem to let go of it. In fact, as the Raw Story explains, Neil Cavuto, of Fox News and Fox Business Channel has weighed in and is shilling for this bogus proposition (locally-cached article):

Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto on Monday devoted an entire segment to the possibility that a United States attack on Syria could be a sign of the End Times, a period in which Christians believe that Jesus Christ will return to face the emergence of the Antichrist.

“This Syria stuff is way old,” Cavuto explained. “I mean Old Testament old. That’s how old I’m talking about. Don’t laugh. Some biblical scholars say it’s all there in black and white.”

The Fox News host invited author Joel Rosenberg to weigh in on the link between the Syrian conflict and the Bible passages, which he said were “uncanny” and “kind of scary.”

“These are prophecies more than 2,700 years old, some of them, but they have not actually been fulfilled,” Rosenberg said. “But this prophecy, as you just pointed out, talks about the complete and utter destruction of Damascus. That’s an End Times or eschatological prophecy.”

“It’s a very sobering thought to think that a judgment of a city or a country could happen in which an entire city could be wiped out, but that is, in fact, what the Bible is predicting,” he added. “I think it’s wrong for people who teach Bible prophecies to guess — I mean, in a sense try to say for certain it’s going to happen now.”

The Raw Story helpfully provides video of this little exchange:

I’d have thought someone like Cavuto would have better things to do … like scream and rant and whine and cry that Barack Obama and the other Democrats dare remain in office, insolently thwarting corporations’ efforts to disband the government, eliminate taxes on businesses and the wealthy, and relegate most of the country to indentured servitude … but like most of the rest of the folks on the Right, he seems committed to this erroneous “End Times” theology. Sigh.

Hat tip: Michael Shermer, via Twitter.

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These Qurans were found after the arrest of the Rev. Terry Jones. / Polk Cty Sheriff's Office, via Tampa TribuneOnce again I have to blog about that crankish Neocrusading Christofascist, Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, FL. He’s still as angry as ever that there are actually Muslims in the world, and he just can’t seem to control his juvenile fury over that fact. While on his way to burn a few thousand Qur’ans, the Tampa Tribune reports, Jones was arrested (locally-cached article):

It wasn’t a jihadist or suicide bomber who stopped the Rev. Terry Jones from torching nearly 3,000 Qurans on the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It was the long arm of the law.

Jones had planned to burn 2,998 copies of the Muslim holy book — one for each victim of the Sept. 11 attacks — in Loyce E. Harpe Park, just north of Mulberry at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Supporters gathered, but Jones never arrived.

That’s because at 4:58 p.m., the 61-year-old pastor was pulled over by sheriff’s deputies a couple of miles away. He was a passenger in a pickup truck driven by Marvin Wayne Sapp, 44, an associate pastor in Jones’ Dove World Outreach Center.

The truck towed a large, smoker-style grill that Jones was going to use as an incinerator. In the smoker were the condemned Qurans.

Some of the books were soaked in kerosene, said Fran Ingram, spokeswoman for the church. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested Jones on felony charges of unlawful conveyance of fuel and open display of a firearm.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said deputies saw Jones at a McDonalds in Mulberry and watched as he doused the books with kerosene on his way to the park.

Now, I have no idea why Jones first doused the Qur’ans in kerosene and then drove with them. I would never want to drive around with a whole bunch of anything doused in kerosene, much less Qur’ans. I mean, seriously … you’ve got to be fucking insane to think that’s a good idea!

Jones went into this with his usual self-righteous, childish belligerence:

As soon as he announced the event, problems began to arise.

To stage such an event, he needed a permit from the county, but he never applied for one.

“We have tried to file for permits,” Jones said in an interview last week, “but we feel that a permit is just an excuse to turn us down.”

Like many other religiofascists, Jones doesn’t think the rules the rest of us have to live by — such as, registering trailers we may be towing around — apply to him. He’s special, you see, because he’s angry about Islam, you see, and this, you see, means he gets to do whatever he wants, you see, whenever he wants.

I’m sure the Religious Right will rage and fume about Jones’s arrest, saying the Polk County sheriff had no right to arrest him just because he intended to burn Qur’ans, but I’m not sympathetic. What he did … i.e. carrying around a load of kerosene-soaked Qur’ans … is neither safe nor smart. There’s no reason he couldn’t have doused them at his destination, but he didn’t. In fact, he doused them in sight of sheriff’s deputies and then drove off like that. I seriously wonder if he hadn’t intentionally goaded them into arresting him, knowing they’d object. I expect the R.R. will view him as a martyr; after all, they’re devout Christians and love martyrs. Like all of them, Jones wants to feel persecuted, because that desire is part of the underlying psychopathology of his religion. He can’t help but want to feel persecuted. And now, he can … even though he has no one but himself to blame for his arrest.

Photo credit: Polk Cty (FL) Sheriff’s Office, via Tampa Tribune.

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Pat Robertson / Daniel Oines, via FlickrI’ve blogged a number of times about televangelist Marion “Pat” Robertson. Most of the time I’ve discussed his idiotic crankish notions. But the reality of the man is that he’s far worse than just some hyperreligious wingnut spewing foolish, irrational ideas, or for being a pitch man for diet shakes. And he’s worse than an advocate for a Christofascist America in which non-Christians have no place and in which even Christians who happen not to be evangelical Protestants would be treated like second-class citizens.

No, the reality of the man is that he’s a greedy, lying manipulator who’s been deeply involved in crooked and malevolent African regimes, and taken advantage of donors, solely in order to amass money, and that he’s lied about his “ministry” on that continent for decades.

This is something I’ve known for a while, and so have lots of others. But as the (UK) Guardian reports, a new documentary offers an exposé into his machinations and lies, to a new audience (cached article):

One of the stranger sights of the refugee crisis that followed the 1994 Rwandan genocide was of stretcher-bearers rushing the dying to medical tents, with men running alongside reciting Bible verses to the withering patients.

The bulk of the thousands of doctors and nurses struggling to save lives – as about 40,000 people died of cholera – were volunteers for the international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The Bible readers were hired by the American televangelist and former religious right presidential candidate, Pat Robertson, and his aid organisation, Operation Blessing International.

But on Robertson’s US television station, the Christian Broadcasting Network, that reality was reversed, as he raised millions of dollars from loyal followers by claiming Operation Blessing was at the forefront of the international response to the biggest refugee crisis of the decade. It’s a claim he continues to make, even though an official investigation into Robertson’s operation in Virginia accused him of “fraudulent and deceptive” claims when he was running an almost non-existent aid operation.

Robertson’s so-called “ministry” was little more than a front for his diamond-mining operation and for bogus farming projects:

Mission Congo, by David Turner and Lara Zizic, opens at the Toronto film festival on Friday. It describes how claims about the scale of aid to Rwandan refugees were among a number of exaggerated or false assertions about the activities of Operation Blessing which pulls in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in donations, much of it through Robertson’s televangelism. They include characterising a failed large-scale farming project as a huge success, and claims about providing schools and other infrastructure.

But some of the most damaging criticism of Robertson comes from former aid workers at Operation Blessing, who describe how mercy flights to save refugees were diverted hundreds of miles from the crisis to deliver equipment to a diamond mining concession run by the televangelist.

Throughout the Rwandan refugee crisis, when more than 1 million people fled into neighbouring Zaire and started dying en masse of cholera, Robertson told his viewers that Operation Blessing was at the forefront of saving lives.

Among the lies Robertson engineered was donation-appeal video footage of doctors he’d claimed his Operation Blessing had brought there … but in fact they were with MSF (aka Doctors Without Borders) and didn’t work for his ministry at all. Schools and farms he’d claimed Operation Blessing built and are still thriving, had failed.

Now, as I said before, most of this is really old news, as the Guardian explains:

Robertson’s activities in Congo were initially exposed by a Virginia newspaper, the Virginian Pilot, in the 1990s. The investigation by Bill Sizemore prompted the attorney general in Virginia, where Operation Blessing is registered, to order a probe by the state’s office of consumer affairs.

Its report concluded that Robertson made “fraudulent and deceptive” statements with claims to be ferrying doctors and medical aid to Goma when he was delivering diamond-mining equipment. It accused Operation Blessing of “misrepresenting” what its flights were doing, and of saying that the airstrip at Kamonia was part of the aid operation when it was “for the benefit of ADC’s mining operation”.

Not surprisingly, Robertson’s friends in the Virginia government chose not to prosecute him for fraud. As I’ve said so many times before … when one of their own comes under fire, other Christians circle the wagons to protect them, even when they’ve done wrong, because after all, they’re fellow Christians, right?

Update: There’s been a little news about this story, since I posted this a few hours ago. Right Wing Watch reports Marion “Pat” Robertson’s network, CBN, is threatening to sue the documentary’s makers over it. Wow. Looks like they’ve touched a nerve!

Hat tip: Rational Wiki.

Photo credit: Daniel Oines, via Flickr.

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Twelve Tribes Wedding 001By now this must seem like an old story: Devout Christians abusing kids for Jesus. Perhaps the most common version of this kind of story is clerical child abuse. That’s something I’ve blogged about numerous times over the years I’ve been at this. But there are other examples of it, such as parents letting their sick kids die because they refuse to take a chance on mortally offending their loving, merciful Jesus by getting them the medical care they need. And there are still other examples, such as the FLDS commune where young girls were married off to old men at too young an age.

But the most recent example of this deals with corporal punishment. The Guardian reports that German officials raided the compound of a Christian sect and removed its children (WebCite cached article):

Forty children have been taken from a Christian sect in Bavaria, southern Germany, following police raids at a monastery and a farm after accusations of child abuse.

The children, aged between seven months and 17 years old, are members of the Twelve Tribes sect, which has its roots in the US. They have been placed with foster families while the group is being investigated.

The group, whose teachings are based on the Old and New Testament, is known to believe in corporal punishment. It had been under observation by authorities for some time, particularly for its refusal to send its children to school.

The article explains the nature of their corporal punishment:

By their own admission, parents of the Twelve Tribes, which has around 100 members in two locations in Bavaria where it has had a base for 15 years, are instructed to beat their children “with a small reed-like rod which only inflicts pain and no damage”.

On its website, the group declares itself to be an “open and transparent community that does not tolerate any form of child abuse. Our children grow up in a loving environment and are educated in the spirit of charity.”

But Helmut Beyschlag, head of Noldingen district court, said: “We suspect that parents were exercising abuse.”

According to initial reports, the disciplinary rods used were soaked in oil to make them more pliable during a beating, when children were allegedly struck on their bare feet, arms and backs, inside the former Cistercian monastery.

Let’s be clear: The idea that you can hit children with something so as to cause only pain and never “damage” them, is a fiction. Any time you strike a child with something, you run a very real risk of “damaging” his/her body … with a bruise, or worse. (And yes, I consider a bruise to be “damage.” Bruises only appear when blood vessels are broken, and blood-vessel breakage is certainly a form of “damage.”)

The sect in question is reclusive, and originated in the US in the 1970s. While I’d heard of it before, I thought it had died out sometime in the 1990s. Instead, it seeped into Europe around that time. They’re considered a “cult” in most places they’ve ventured to. In Europe, because they refuse to send their children to school, they’ve run afoul of education laws — and in this case, that’s what put them in the sights of German authorities in the first place.

The Twelve Tribes sect’s reclusiveness stems, it seems, from their belief that they’re recreating the “original” Church as described in Acts of the Apostles. The problem with this is that Acts is not considered wholly reliable. It likely was composed in the late 1st century CE or early 2nd as something of a propaganda piece, sort of a “golden age” retrospective of the Church’s first generation, by its third or fourth. There are very real historical and critical reasons to conclude this, among them being that Acts conflicts, at points, with Paul’s genuine epistles, which were written right in the middle of the 1st century, during the Church’s first generation.

At any rate, along with their probably-invalid interpretation of Acts, the Twelve Tribes sect seems also to have an unhealthy obsession with the Old Testament, in particular the famous “spare the rod” verse:

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. (Proverbs 13:24)

Over the years a lot of ink has been spilt over this verse, explaining how it doesn’t advocate child abuse; e.g. the “rod” mentioned is merely a pointing-stick that shepherds used to guide their sheep where they want them to go, and not a bludgeon to pound kids with; as well as other rationales. But I don’t buy any of these creative reinterpretations. It’s true that ancient fathers used rods to beat discipline into their children … which is why this verse and a few others like it (Prov 19:18 & 22:15, etc.) are present in the Bible … but we no longer do that, nor should we. In the 21st century, we understand that “discipline” means much more than just causing physical pain when a child breaks the rules s/he is supposed to abide by. And we understand that beatings don’t necessarily instill “discipline” in them. We realize there’s a big difference between “discipline” and “abuse”; while the former is just fine (and expected), the latter is unacceptable.

Hat tip: Peter at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Albigensian Crusade 01I’ve been told that Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska, failed vice-presidential candidate, and princess of the GOP and of the teabaggers who infest it, isn’t nearly as stupid or insane as she seems to be. “Crazy like a fox” is the expression I’ve heard.

Even so, I can’t help but wonder if Ms Palin is aware she recently spoke in a manner befitting a medieval Crusade leader. My guess is, she doesn’t know it, because like most Americans, especially of the Religious Right sort, she has no education in medieval history. No, I think she spewed some of her own insane lunacy, and it only just happens to sound that way. Politico reports she made remarks about President Obama’s plan to attack Syria sometime over the next few weeks (WebCite cached article):

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is condemning potential American military action in Syria, charging it would be President Obama “saving political face” and saying, “Let Allah sort it out.”

She did this in a Facebook posting, complete with a picture of her standing with members of the military (cached). How patriotic of her!

I immediately recalled my own medieval studies: “Let Allah sort it out” is Ms Palin’s own version of a common paraphrase of an order reportedly delivered in the field by a Papal legate leading a Crusader army in southern France.

The occasion was the attack on Béziers in 1209. The army of legate Arnaud Amalric was concerned about how to tell the loyal Catholics in the town from the heretic Cathars. What he reportedly told them, was “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius,” or in English, “Kill them all. The Lord knows who are his own.” Whether or not he actually said this, is a matter of some conjecture. What is more certain, is that by the legate’s admission, his own men killed Catholics and Cathars indiscriminately. So even if he hadn’t given such an order, he might as well have, because that’s how his men behaved.

The other question I have about Ms Palin’s criticism of the impending attack on Syria, is that I seriously wonder if she’d be condemning it, had either John McCain or Mitt Romney been in office and made the same decision. Her running-mate, McCain, in particular has been scrapping for a war in Syria for quite some time now (cached). I’m not sure she’d be so outspoken against such a move, if a Republican president had proposed it.

In any event, I’m not sure a bone-chilling pronouncement of doom on people, some of whom she has to know would be innocent, is the best way for Ms Palin to talk about the Syrian civil war and the manner in which the US should deal with it. I’m also pretty sure that some propagandists in the Islamic world will pick up on her medieval-Crusade-style language and use that as evidence that the US is engaged in a modern-day “Crusade” to wipe out Islam as a religion and kill all Muslims. (Not that this is possible for us to do, obviously, but that won’t stop them from saying so.) We just don’t fucking need people spewing this kind of rank bullshit.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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'Help! I'm being oppressed!' / sublate, via FlickrFor many years now I’ve talked about how “persecuted” a lot of occidental Christians feel. The rationales they cook up for feeling this way, are as numerous as they are absurd. I just blogged about a Christian family that felt so oppressed that they foolishly took off across the Pacific Ocean in their own boat, only to have to be rescued. For as many years I’ve also talked about how childish devout religionists are, and how a lot of the things they say and do are motivated by their immaturity.

Well, the (UK) Telegraph reports that no less an authority on Christendom than the former head of the Anglican Church, Rowan Williams, has made similar remarks about his fellow Christians (WebCite cached article):

Lord Williams, who stood down from his role as Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of 2012 and is now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, said his perspective had been drawn from meeting believers from all faiths suffering around the world.

“When you have any contact with real persecuted minorities you learn to use the word persecuted very chastely,” he said.

“Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable.

“I am always very uneasy when people sometimes in this country or the United States talk about persecution of Christians or rather believers.

“I think we are made to feel uncomfortable at times. We’re made to feel as if we’re idiots — perish the thought!

“But that kind of level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of; I mean for goodness sake, grow up.

“You have to earn respect if you want to be taken seriously in society.

“But don’t confuse it with the systematic brutality and often murderous hostility which means that every morning you get up wondering if you and your children are going to make it through the day.

“That is different, it’s real. It’s not quite what we’re facing in Western society.”

The problem with a lot of believers, especially in the Religious Right here in the ‘States, is that they absolutely refuse to “earn” respect. No. They demand it … loudly. And when they aren’t given it, automatically and reflexively, merely because they demanded it, they become furious. They truly do think that the fact that they have certain metaphysical beliefs, all by itself entitles them to run the planet however they see fit and to be obeyed in every way possible without question … and anyone insolent enough to dare refuse to grant them this power, is an enemy whom they cannot tolerate for even a second.

As I’ve said before and will say again, of course there are Christians in the world who are persecuted for their faith. It’s absolutely happening, and it’s not acceptable. But … it’s not happening here in the West. Christians in the US are not persecuted because they follow Jesus. It never happens here. Period. End of discussion.

Hat tip: Peter at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: sublate, via Flickr.

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Marte Deborah Dalelv (24) ble kastet i fengsel i Dubai etter å ha anmeldt en voldtekt. Privat / NRKNote: There’s a “good news” update to this entry; please see below.

This story is, understandably, big news in Norway. Even so, it’s not entirely surprising, given how vehemently the Islamic world despises women. A Norwegian woman who worked in Qatar, was raped during a business trip to Dubai … and as CNN reports, ended up being arrested and convicted of crimes there, because she dared report the rape (WebCite cached article):

Norwegian interior designer Marte Deborah Dalelv has spoken out after being handed a 16-month prison sentence in Dubai — after she went to police to report she had been raped by a colleague.

The 24-year-old was convicted and sentenced on charges of having unlawful sex, making a false statement and illegal consumption of alcohol.…

She said she had been out at a bar with her colleagues and friends, and asked a male colleague to walk her to her room when they returned at 3 a.m. to the hotel. She’d asked him to escort her because the hotel was large and confusing, and she didn’t want to be wandering on her own, knowing she’d been drinking, she said.

When they reached a room, she realized it wasn’t hers — but the man then pulled her inside despite her vocal objections, according to Dalelv.

“He dragged me by my purse in, so I thought, ‘OK, I just need to calm the situation down. I will finish my bottle of water, I will sit here and then I will excuse myself and say I feel fine,'” she said.

That was pretty much the last thing she said she remembers before the alleged sexual assault. “I woke up with my clothes off, sleeping on my belly, and he was raping me. I tried to get off, I tried to get him off, but he pushed me back down.”

After someone knocked — the hotel wake-up call — she managed to get dressed and make it downstairs to the hotel reception, Dalelv said. “I called the police. That is what you do. We are trained on that from when we are very young,” she said.

Some 10 or 12 male police officers arrived, but no female police officers were present, she said. Statements were taken from both Dalelv and the alleged rapist.

She was then taken to Bur Dubai police station, she said.

And that’s when the real nightmare began for Ms Dalelv. She ended up being convicted of drinking alcohol and of lying to police. The former charge is clearly bogus, because Dubai is known for having a lot of bars, yet their patrons are rarely, if ever, arrested. The latter charge is more debatable; it happened because — like a lot of folks in situations like hers, and at her employer’s suggestion — Ms Dalelv changed her story believing the whole thing would go away. But it didn’t. Even so, she was held for several days in prison before having changed her story … so that charge doesn’t explain why she was treated so terribly in the first place by the United Arab Emirates.

CNN’s video story is available right here:

I get that Muslims really don’t think very much of women, and they’ve codified their misogyny into law. That said, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the occidental world is all that much better. Christianity has its own misognyistic streak, as I’ve blogged any number of times before. And Orthodox Jews aren’t friends of women, either. Tons of American Christians have truly hateful ideas about women and about rape, themselves, so as far as I’m concerned, they’re not ones to point the finger of self-righteousness at the UAE and condemn them for this.

The main lesson here is not that Islam is an “evil religion” (as, for instance, the Neocrusaders would claim). It is that thralldom to any fierce religionistic ideas that half of humanity somehow has less metaphysical value than the other half, is quite simply not acceptable, and it must end. I get that many Muslims … as well as lots of Christians, and lots of Jews, and more … won’t like that message. But too fucking bad for them. This isn’t something that can be opened for discussion. They need to grow up for once and get over their hangups, fercryinoutloud.

Update: Good news! Ms Dalalv has been pardoned and is free to leave the UAE (cached)! Of course, this is likely the result of international pressure that was applied by the government of Norway, not due to some spontaneous change of heart by UAE authorities.

Photo credit: NRK.

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