Posts Tagged “syrian civil war”

Better to remain silent, and be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth, and remove all doubt! (proverb) / PsiCop original graphicThe compound train-wreck which is the Apricot Wonder’s presidential administration just keeps piling up more wreckage. White House press secretary Sean Spicer — who already faces a monumental credibility gap, having begun his tenure by angrily (not to mention brazenly) lying about the size of the Groper-in-Chief’s inauguration crowd (WebCite cached article), just outdid himself in asinine stupidity. At today’s press conference, as the New York Times explains, he not only went off the rails, he polevaulted over them and sailed half a mile beyond (cached):

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, set off an intense backlash on Tuesday when he suggested that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was worse than Hitler and said incorrectly that Hitler had not used chemical weapons during World War II or against his own people.

Mr. Spicer was attempting to lend gravity to the actions of Mr. Assad, who United States officials believe used sarin gas, a lethal chemical weapon, in an attack on a rebel-held area of Idlib Province last week that killed dozens.

Hitler oversaw a network of extermination camps where gas chambers were used to kill millions of Jews and others deemed to be harmful to the German state.

“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Mr. Spicer said.…

Asked to clarify his remarks, Mr. Spicer acknowledged that Hitler used chemical agents, but maintained that there was a difference.

CNN offers video of Spicer’s cringeworthy debacle:

I can’t even describe the inanity and idiocy of comparing al-Assad to Hitler. There are just no words. I mean … seriously!? … what the fuck is wrong with Spicer? As a rule, Hitler comparisons are always a bad idea. This one is many times worse, because as it turns out, the Nazis definitely gassed Jews and others in concentration camps — in horrifically large numbers, at that. Spicer’s comparison is pure lunacy! It’s indefensible … period, end of story, full stop.

I expect, though, that Spicer and the rest of the Groper’s minions will continue — in spite of the obvious absurdity of doing so — defending this insane comparison. Moreover, their fanbois will join in the defense, and rail against any members of the media who lambaste Spicer over his buffoonish comparison. They’ll do so largely because of their allegiance to the Groper-in-Chief, whom they think can do no wrong, and because some of the Democrats they so vehemently despise have demanded Spicer’s resignation over the matter (cached). Democrats’ vilification of Spicer means — in the eyes of militant Rightists — that he must be correct.

This is a lesson in my principle (described above) that Third Reich comparisons are usually a bad idea, just by their very nature. I blogged about this, not only because of how tremendously crazy Spicer’s comparison is, but because as a rule, Hitler comparisons are altogether too common. The Right flung them at Barack Obama and the Democrats for the last 8 years, and they’re now being heaved at the Right from the opposite direction. It needs to fucking stop already. Time for everyone to grow up, fercryinoutloud, and put the Nazi comparisons away.

Photo credit: PsiCop original, based on proverb.

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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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Refugee children from Syria at a clinic in Ramtha, northern Jordan (9613477263)Europe is in the throes of a migrant crisis — due to refugees fleeing the intractable morass of Syria’s long civil war — which doesn’t show any signs of letting up. I blogged a couple weeks ago about Slovakia refusing to accept any migrants who aren’t Christian (and updated that post today to note Hungary’s position is the same). But leave it to Pope Francis to lead in the opposite direction. As the New York Times reports, he instructed all the Catholics of Europe to take in the migrants (WebCite cached article):

Pope Francis on Sunday called on every parish, religious community, monastery and sanctuary in Europe to shelter refugees fleeing “death from war and hunger,” adding that the Vatican’s two parishes would lead the way by taking in two families.

In a speech to thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square, the pope said it was not enough to say “have courage, hang in there” to those marching toward what he described as “life’s hope.”

Note that the Pope didn’t just give a blanket instruction to Catholics to embrace the migrants; he said that “every parish, religious community, monastery and sanctuary” should do so. That’s remarkably specific … and remarkably clear. The various arms of the Catholic Church collectively have a tremendous presence in Europe and, I’m sure, could do a lot to assist the migrants. This is a great opportunity for it to put those resources to good use.

Slovakia — as I noted previously — is a majority-Catholic country. I wonder what they’ll make of their own Pope’s orders? Will they follow them? I have no idea.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Slovakia Christian asylum seekers: Syrian refugees wait for a train to take them to the northern city of Thessaloniki, in Athens, Greece, August 20, 2015. / Alkis Konstantinidis, NewsweekI assume most of my readers are aware that Europe is in the throes of a migrant crisis worse than any since World War II. The European Union has been working over the summer on a plan to take some of the pressure off Greece and Italy, which are the main entry-points for Middle Eastern refugees (WebCite cached article). It’s been bandied about by member states, many of which have balked at it and tried to evade having to participate. They’ve raised all sorts of objections, some valid, some not.

Little Slovakia, deep in the heart of eastern-central Europe, decided to take a religious tactic in its effort to avoid having to accept any of the 40,000 refugees who’re covered by the EU plan. As Newsweek explains, based on a Wall Street Journal report, Slovakia will accept only Christian refugees (cached):

Only Christian asylum seekers will be allowed to settle in Slovakia, according to a spokesperson for the country’s Interior Ministry, quoted by the Wall Street Journal, who has said that Muslim asylum seekers would not feel at home in Slovakia due to a lack of mosques.

The central European country is due to receive 200 migrants and asylum seekers who are currently living in temporary camps in Turkey, Italy and Greece under an EU relocation scheme that will eventually see 40,000 asylum seekers settled across Europe, in an effort to ease the burden on Italy and Greece. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that in July this year 50,242 people, mostly fleeing the civil war in Syria, arrived in Greece compared to 43,500 for the whole of last year.

Slovakia’s Interior Ministry spokesman, Ivan Metik, told the BBC: “We could take 800 Muslims but we don’t have any mosques in Slovakia so how can Muslims be integrated if they are not going to like it here?

Metik makes it sound as though there are no Muslims in Slovakia at all. While it’s true that Slovakia is majority Christian by a large margin (with the single largest denomination, Roman Catholic, alone comprising over 60% of the population), it’s not true there are no Muslims there. This Slovak Spectator story, for example, mentions the small but intrepid Muslim minority there (cached). It explains the reason there are no mosques in that country … because they were forbidden to build one by the government. That makes the assertion that Muslims wouldn’t feel “comfortable” in Slovakia due to a lack of mosques, something of a self-fulfilling prophecy; the people using it as an excuse to keep Muslims out, are the very same people responsible for there being no mosques there the first place!

Furthermore, the idea that Middle Eastern Christians will automatically integrate into Slovak society without any problems, ignores the cultural and linguistic differences that will remain. Not to mention that most Middle Eastern Christians belong to denominations that don’t have much, if any, presence already in Slovakia. In other words … the hurdles to societal integration will be nearly as high for Christian migrants as they would be for Muslims.

I understand Slovakia’s reluctance to accept migrants. Other countries have simply refused to take in any migrants at all and have managed to opt out of the EU plan entirely. This religious objection is just Slovakia’s way of limiting its participation in the plan. But the excuse that Muslims wouldn’t feel comfortable in Slovakia due to a lack of mosques, so that only Christian migrants are welcome, smacks of Christianism. It also smacks of nativism, and perhaps a few other “isms” that aren’t very flattering.

Update: It’s not just Slovakia that won’t take in any Muslims. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban also said Muslims aren’t welcome in his country (cached):

Speaking outside the European Union headquarters in Brussels, he said: “I think we have a right to decide we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country,” al-Jazeera reported.

“We can’t guarantee that you will be accepted,” Orban went on to say, while defending the decision to build a fence along its Serbian border.…

“We Hungarians are full of fear,” Orban said.

A large contingent of migrants who’d entered Hungary and who’d been halted in Budapest have, in the last couple days, moved on to Germany and Austria. So they’re now out of Orbal’s hair. But others are sure to stream in.

Hat tip: Rational Wiki.

Photo credit: Alkis Konstantinidis, Newsweek.

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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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The Jupiter temple in DamascusThe Bible is a rather large collection of documents. There’s a lot of material there, and if one cares to do so, one can easily sift out of it things that, on the surface, might appear to have been ancient predictions of subsequent events, or “prophecies.” As I’ve explained before, though, this approach to the Bible is invalid, because it contains a number of predictions that have utterly failed and literally can never come true. Even so, fundamentalist Christians continue acting as though the Bible is full of “prophecy.”

Most recently, as Time reports, fundamentalists are viewing the US’s imminent attack on Syria as yet another example of Biblical prophecy coming true (WebCite cached article):

“See, Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins. Her towns will be deserted forever.”

That’s a prophetic passage from the Biblical book of Isaiah, chapter 17, and now some fundamentalist Christian blogs are buzzing with the belief that the escalating violence in Syria means the ancient text may soon be fulfilled. ”The long prophesied end days are here,” one blog announces [cached]. “With the terrorist groups that operate out of Damascus building up arms caches on the border of Israel in anticipation of another war in the near future, it may not be long before this prophecy from Isaiah 17 becomes history,” another group awaiting Jesus Christ’s return predicts [cached].

Nearly all Biblical scholars, however, argue that such a literalist interpretation of the text is highly problematic. The passage was written more than 2,500 years ago, and it condemns Jerusalem’s enemies around the time of the Assyrian invasion. The prophetic oracles, as that section of Isaiah is called, name not just Syria but numerous ancient nations, including Moab, Babylon, Egypt, and Tyre, that threatened the Jewish people at the time.

Isaiah 17 indeed refers to the apparent destruction of Damascus, and the district or country to which it belonged, Aram. But it also mentions lots of other places and things. For example, Aroer, whose location is unknown but which may have been any of several settlements or cities that have long been ruins. It mentions “Ephraim,” probably meaning the district in which the tribe of Ephraim lived, but they, too, are ancient history. Verse 4 says that “the glory of Jacob will fade,” but that probably means Israel which doesn’t appear to be going anywhere just now. It also mentions “the valley of Rephaim,” which refers to a valley outside ancient Jerusalem, now part of the modern city. I’m not sure what that, in particular, could have to do with an attack on Syria. It mentions humanity forsaking “Asherim,” most likely Asherah poles, but those haven’t been used since classical times. Incense stands, however, are mentioned as being forgotten along with the “Asherim,” but they are still used in Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The bottom line is that, while Isaiah 17 does literally mention the defeat of Damascus, it also mentions other places and things which can no longer be read literally, either because they don’t exist, or because if one does read them literally, there are conflicts (such as the Asherah poles that haven’t been used in centuries and incense which has been). The appearance of a “prophecy” works only if one reads some parts of this section literally and others metaphorically, and willfully mixes ancient and modern places and practices together as though they’re all present at the same moment.

When one does this, the only thing one can produce, is nonsense.

As I said, I’ve explained why all Biblical prophecy — and I do mean ALL of it! — is bullshit. You see, the Bible contains specific, explicit predictions, given by none other than Jesus himself, which have failed to come true and by now cannot ever come true (emphasis mine):

“Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Mt 16:28)

“But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:27)

All of these first century people who were present to hear Jesus say these words, are dead, and have been for nearly 2,000 years. Yet, Jesus never returned during their lifetimes. Thus, Jesus’ prediction failed completely.

Fundamentalist Christians really need to grow up and get over their Bible-worship. Their ideas about the Bible force them to lie about it, which is simply unacceptable. It needs to fucking stop already.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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