Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Burn a Koran" event spurs violent Muslim protest



“Burn a Koran” event spurs violent Muslim protest

Posted: 07 Sep 2010 04:55 PM PDT

Days before the planned “Burn a Koran Day” at Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, news of the tiny church’s event has spurred hate-filled protests in Afghanistan and Indonesia.

Afghanis burn Terry Jones in effigy. Image: AP/Musadeq Sadeq

Chanting “Death to America”, hundreds of protestors streamed through Kabul’s war-ravaged streets on Monday, burning an American flag and effigy of DWO Pastor Terry Jones. In spite of the US Embassy in Kabul issuing a statement condemning the DWO event, several protestors told an AP reporter that they believed that Jones was operating with US President Barack Obama’s blessing.

General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, expressed concern that Jones’s stunt will result in the deaths of American soldiers. “It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort. It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.”

A similar protest on Saturday took place in Indonesia, with 3,000 Muslims marching to the US Embassy in Jakarta, and additional rallies in five other cities.

Asked in an interview on National Public Radio about his responsibility for such actions, Jones asserted that he is responsible for his own actions . . . not those of others. If others choose to respond violently to his book-burning, that is their choice, not his. He went on to say that if someone were burning Bibles, he wouldn’t like it, but wouldn’t threaten to kill people over it.

In a statement to the Associated Press, Jones stressed the same belief that he should bear no blame for the result of his incitements. “We think it’s time to turn the tables, and instead of possibly blaming us for what could happen, we put the blame where it belongs — on the people who would do it. And maybe instead of addressing us, we should address radical Islam and send a very clear warning that they are not to retaliate in any form.”

Even Christian evangelicals, many of whom may well quietly agree with Jones’s assessment of Islam as a false doctrine, are bringing pragmatism to the fore and coming out against Jones’s event:

In a show of interfaith solidarity, a group of Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders gathered at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to denounce the Quran-burning as well as the recent controversy over a proposed Islamic center near the former World Trade Center site.

Richard Cizik, founder of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, warned Jones and others like him to “watch out, for if you so casually trample on the religious rights of others, your own children may someday see their religious liberties deprived.”

“As an evangelical, I say … you bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ,” Cizik said.

While Jones claims that Islam is of the Devil, as printed on his church’s t-shirts, his motivation in this event may be questioned. Is his action only to destroy Korans? Surely, Jones knows that any books destroyed will be replaced by publishers. His statements instead betray what may be a more sinister purpose — to knowingly incite a violent reaction and demonstrate to the world that the “religion of peace” is anything but; to encourage terrorist attacks on the US; and to provoke greater military violence against Muslims.

Is that his purpose, to bring about an all-out war on Islam? Or does he genuinely believe, as he has said before, that he will bring people to Jesus by burning books?

Related articles:

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Gender, religion, and volunteering

Posted: 07 Sep 2010 03:21 PM PDT

Here’s a quick one on a study of volunteering among older people. It’s well known that religious people do more formal voluntary work, on average, than the non-religious. What’s less well understood is why that should be.

Well, one other thing that’s notable about religion in the USA is that it’s more popular with women. And women also tend to volunteer more (well, both those ‘facts’ are more or less true depending on which study you look at).

In this new study, Lydia Manning of Miami University, analysed data from the Health and Retirement Study which, since 1992, has been tracking a group of over 12,000 retired people across the USA.Manning’s analysis looked at the original 1992 survey, focusing on the 6,000-odd people who reported doing over 100 hours of voluntary work a year.

What she found was that women were much more likely to be volunteers – 15 times more likely, in fact. Once she took this into account, however, there was no relationship between religiosity and volunteering.

Now, there are a few deficiencies in this study – most notably that religion was only measured as affiliation (are you a Catholic, Protestant or whatever). Previous studies have shown that religious service attendance is, unsurprisingly, a better predictor of volunteering.

But Manning’s study does reinforce a general point about these sorts of correctional studies. Religious and non-religious people are different for all sorts of reasons. You have to be very careful before assuming that religion is the cause of any differences you see.

ResearchBlogging.orgManning LK (2010). Gender and religious differences associated with volunteering in later life. Journal of women & aging, 22 (2), 125-35 PMID: 20408033

Creative Commons LicenseThis article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

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Secularism and religious tolerance (in the 16th – 18th centuries)

Posted: 07 Sep 2010 12:53 PM PDT

Secularism holds that a person’s religious belief or lack of same is no business of the government. Separation of religion and state is secularism in action. Secularism is an outgrowth of the struggle for religious tolerance: both religious and anti-religious groups have opposed secularism.

Religious governments tried to impose their beliefs and practices on the entire community. Anti-religious governments have tried to promote atheism and totalitarian governments, whether religious or non-religious, have authorised official churches. The Marxist governments opposed secularism as they wished to wipe out or control religion.

Michael Servetus

One step towards tolerance was the outrage at Michael Servetus’ burning at the stake for heresy on October 27, 1553 in John Calvin’s Geneva. Servetus was condemned by the government after a two-month trial. Most of the leading European religious figures of the day, both Protestant and Catholic, supported the execution.

However, Castellio, who disagreed with Servetus’ ideas, led the protests. He published in 1554 Concerning Heretics: Whether they are to be persecuted and how they are to be treated. It was the first major treatise in early modern Europe arguing for religious toleration. Divided by Faith by Kaplan described the situation, and much in this essay is taken from that book.

Calvin defended Servetus’ trial by attacking its critics:

Those who would spare heretics and blasphemers are themselves blasphemers. Here we follow not the authority of men but we hear God speaking as in no obscure terms He commands His church forever. Not in vain does He extinguish all those affections by which our hearts are softened: the love of parents, brothers, neighbours and friends. He calls the wedded from their marriage bed and practically denudes men of their nature lest any obstacle impede their holy zeal. Why is such implacable severity demanded unless … devotion to God’s honour should be preferred to all human concerns and as often as His glory is at stake we should expunge from memory our mutual humanity.

Theodore Beza’s refutation of Castellio appeared later in 1554. Beza pointed out that Castellio, in selecting from the writings of Protestant reformers, had drawn solely from the authors’ early works. The same reformers had often adopted far less tolerant stances in their later, more mature works, from which Beza offered counter quotations. Concerning the status of dogma he wrote:

There is one way that leads to God, namely, Christ; and one way that leads to Christ, namely, faith; and this faith includes all those dogmas which you reject as unnecessary. … If Christ is not true God, coeternal and consubstantial with the Father, how is He our Saviour? How is He our sanctifier? How is He victor over sin, death, and the devil? Unless He is true man, save for sin, how is He our mediator?

Castellio’s arguments to the contrary, said Beza, were themselves blasphemous and heretical. In making them, he had betrayed the cause of the Reformation. The license he demanded was worse than “papal tyranny”. When a heretic committed blasphemy and impiety, scorning God’s Word and resisting all attempts at correction, the death penalty was fully justified. Indeed, it was required, so as to stop heresy from “infecting” other people and destroying the church from within. Magistrates are “guardians and protectors not only of the second table of the [Mosaic] law,” that is, the moral code embodied in the second half of the Ten Commandments, “but also, indeed principally, of the pure religion, in matters concerning external discipline”. Those who protested against Servetus’s trial were “servants of Satan,” Beza declared, “mortal enemies of the Christian religion”.

Castellio had an eloquent rebuttal, “To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man.”

In The Right to Heresy: Castellio Against Calvin Stefan Zweig, described Calvin’s Geneva:

Policing the Flock

From the days when so universal a control of private life was instituted, private life could hardly be said to exist any longer in Geneva. With one leap Calvin outdistanced the Catholic Inquisition, which had always waited for reports of informers or denunciations from other sources before sending out its familiars and its spies. In Geneva, however, in accordance with Calvin’s religious philosophy, every human being was primarily and perpetually inclined to evil rather than to good, was a priori suspect as a sinner, so everyone must put up with supervision. After Calvin’s return to Geneva, it was as if the doors of the houses had suddenly been thrown open and as if the walls had been transformed into glass. From moment to moment, by day and by night, there might come a knocking at the entry, and a number of the “spiritual police” announce a “visitation” without the concerned citizen’s being able to offer resistance.

Monthly Examinations

Once a month rich and poor, the powerful and the weak, had to submit to the questioning of these professional “police des maeurs”. For hours (since the ordinances declared that such examination must be done in leisurely fashion), white-haired, respectable, tried, and hitherto trusted men must be examined like schoolboys as to whether they knew the prayers by heart, or as to why they had failed to attend one of Master Calvin’s sermons. But with such catechising and moralising the visitation was by no means at an end. The members of this moral Cheka thrust fingers into every pie. They felt the women’s dresses to see whether their skirts were not too long or too short, whether these garments had superfluous frills or dangerous slits. The police carefully inspected the coiffure, to see that it did not tower too high; they counted the rings on the victim’s fingers, and looked to see how many pairs of shoes there were in the cupboard. From the bedroom they passed on to the kitchen table, to ascertain whether the prescribed diet was not being exceeded by a soup or a course of meat, or whether sweets and jams were hidden away somewhere. Then the pious policeman would continue his examination of the rest of the house. He pried into bookshelves, on the chance of there being a book devoid of the Consistory’s imprimatur; he looked into drawers on the chance of finding the image of one of the saints, or a rosary. The servants were asked about the behaviour of their masters, and the children were cross-questioned as to the doings of their parents.

Diabolic Vice of Cheerfulness

As he walked along the street, this minion of the Calvinist dictatorship would keep his ears pricked to ascertain whether anyone was singing a secular song, or was making music, or was addicted to the diabolic vice of cheerfulness. For henceforward in Geneva the authorities were always on the hunt for anything that smacked of pleasure, for any “paillardise”; and woe unto a burgher caught visiting a tavern when the day’s work was over to refresh himself with a glass of wine, or unto another who was so depraved as to find pleasure in dice or cards. Day after day the hunt went on, nor could the overworked spies enjoy rest on the Sabbath. Once more they would make a house-to-house visitation where some slothful wretch was lying in bed instead of seeking edification from Master Calvin’s sermon. In the church another informer was on the watch, ready to denounce anyone who should enter the house of God too late or leave it too early.

One would think it would not be possible to defend the execution of Servetus in today’s world. Yet here is a website which extenuates John Calvin.

Loraine Boettner, an American theologian, is the author.

He opens with, “We must now consider an event in the life of Calvin which to a certain extent has cast a shadow over his fair name and which has exposed him to the charge of intolerance and persecution”.

He defended Calvin by the following:

1. A civil court condemned Servetus. (This neglects the fact that religion determined the finding of the civil court.)
2. Calvin favoured running a sword through Servetus rather than burning him to death.
3. Calvin was supported by the religious figures of his time. (Boettner does not mention Castellio.)
4. Calvin expressed the intolerance of his age and had an understandable reaction to the intolerance of the Catholic Church.
5. Servetus was a despicable human being.

Boettner describes Servetus:

Servetus was a Spaniard and opposed Christianity, whether in its Roman Catholic or Protestant form. Schaff refers to him as “a restless fanatic, a pantheistic pseudo-reformer, and the most audacious and even blasphemous heretic of the sixteenth century. (2) And in another instance Schaff declares that Servetus was “proud, defiant, quarrelsome, revengeful, irreverent in the use of language, deceitful, and mendacious”; and adds that he abused popery and the Reformers alike with unreasonable language. (3) Bullinger declares that if Satan himself should come out of hell, he could use no more blasphemous language against the Trinity than this Spaniard. The Roman Catholic Bolsec, in his work on Calvin, calls Servetus “a very arrogant and insolent man,” “a monstrous heretic,” who deserved to be exterminated.

Michael Servetus, (1511-1553) was actually a Renaissance man. He was a theologian, physician, cartographer, and humanist. He was the first European to describe the function of pulmonary circulation. His interests included many sciences: mathematics, astronomy and meteorology, geography, human anatomy, medicine and pharmacology, as well as jurisprudence, and the scholarly study of the Bible in its original languages. He is renowned in the history of several of these fields, particularly medicine and theology. He participated in the Protestant Reformation, and later developed a nontrinitarian Christology. His murder was not only an outrage to justice and tolerance but also a setback to emerging science.

The Catholics, in turn, burned Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) at the stake for heresy. Bruno, was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer, who postulated the infinity of the universe. He went beyond the Copernican model in identifying the sun as just one of an infinite number of independently moving heavenly bodies. He is the first man to postulate that the stars are identical in nature to the Sun. Bruno also wrote extensive works on the art of memory.

In Europe Christians were killing each other, and the few Jews sequestered in ghettoes were subject to massacre and expulsion. Christians in continental western and central Europe, aside from some minor sects, were divided into Catholics, Lutherans and Calvinists. The worst massacre of the sixteenth century was the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572. The Catholic French king ordered targeted assassinations against the Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants), during the French Wars of Religion.

The Thirty Years’ War, (1618-1648), was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history. Initially the war was fought largely as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire. Most of the European powers eventually participated. The war devastated the German states, Bohemia, the Low Countries and Italy, while bankrupting most of the combatant powers.

Christianity demonised its enemies, especially those within the fold, from the beginning. Originally that enemy was the Jew, but by the late second century it was the heretic. Heretics were not mere erring humans but evil incarnate. The churches of early modern Europe saw the battle against heresy as a great cosmic struggle pitting God against Satan. Catholics considered it obvious that Luther had been inspired by the devil. Huguenot ministers called the Catholic Church “Satan’s synagogue”. According to another Lutheran official, the Calvinists “pretend to be bright, white angels of light, even though they are actually ugly black disciples of the prince of darkness”. Oliver Cromwell, who ruled England as Lord Protector from 1653 to 1658, called Quakers and the other new sects of his day “diabolical”, “the height of Satan’s wickedness”.

There were many murders and atrocities committed by the followers of the “Prince of Peace”. The independent and brilliant thinkers, Servetus and Bruno, were not alone in their suffering.

However, the heretic existed and some way of coexisting had to be devised. One way was that the ruler had the right to impose his faith (Catholic or Lutheran) on his subjects. His subjects could only accept or leave.

Another way was to have town councillors represent the followers of the various religious doctrines in proportion. As the demographic patterns changed conflicts resulted as some followers of doctrines felt they were no longer represented.

All solutions to religious conflict that were tried failed to some degree. However, a bold solution was tried in the 18th century. Boettner writes:

During the eighteenth century the reign of intolerance was gradually undermined. Protestant England and Holland took the lead in extending civil and religious liberty, and the Constitution of the United States completed the theory by putting all Christian denominations on a parity before the law and guaranteeing them the full enjoyment of equal rights.

The solution was not merely putting all Christian denominations on a parity before the law. It was separation of religion and state.

Related articles:

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Mosquema Madness

Posted: 07 Sep 2010 12:34 PM PDT

Today there is a raging debate about whether Muslims should build an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, where terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. Everyone participating in this debate claims to recognize that Muslims have the right to build the center. However, its opponents argue that it is not morally right for them to do so. Opponents have complained that to build the center so close to Ground Zero would be insensitive, as though all Muslims are terrorists, as if all Muslims embrace Osama bin Laden, and as if no Muslims died in the terrorist attack.

Objections to the Islamic center began with right-wing anti-Islamic bloggers. However, many pundits and the mainstream media have chimed in with their opinions on the issue. On August 13, 2010, Charles Krauthammer wrote a column that appeared in The Buffalo News under the title “Sacrilege at ground zero.” Krauthammer and others have argued that just as opponents of a proposed commercial tower at Gettysburg and opponents of a proposed convent at Auschwitz were right to successfully oppose those plans, opponents of the proposed Islamic center, too, have the moral high ground. He further stated that the establishment of the center would be like the Japanese establishing a building at Pearl Harbor. (Similarly, Newt Gingrich said that building a mosque near the site “would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust museum.”) There is a major problem with these analogies. Muslims are not attempting to build a mosque at ground zero or on it, or next door to it. They merely want to build one near it.

This is the root of the problem. Many people are so offended by the Islamic faith and its adherents that they do not want mosques erected anywhere near them or the areas they deem sacred. Indeed, throughout the United States and Europe, Islamophobes are opposing the construction of mosques. Muslims are planning to build or expand mosques in Brooklyn, New York, Nashville, Tennessee, Riverside, California and other cities in the United States. The animosity toward Muslims in these other cities has thus far been much more virulent than the opposition to the proposed mosque near ground Zero. Yet in these other cases, the sites are nowhere near any supposedly “sacred” sites of non-Muslims.

In the case of the misnamed “Ground Zero Mosque,” many have said that it is too close to Ground Zero. That raises the question: How far away should a mosque be from Ground Zero? One mosque opponent believes that 10 blocks from the hallowed ground would be just fine. However, there is already a mosque four blocks from the site. Should that mosque be moved and/or destroyed? (Incidentally, Muslims have held prayer services at the proposed site for some time, with no opposition from Islamophobes.)

Opposition to the mosque near Ground Zero is clearly rooted in many Americans’ deep resentment against Islam. In 2005, a poll released by the Pew Research Center revealed that only 41 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of Islam. In August, 2010, however, a similar Pew poll found that only 30 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Islam.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) stands opposed to the construction of the proposed center. However, the Jewish rights group acknowledged “an intensified level of anti-Muslim bigotry” in recent months, according to an article in the August 27, 2010 issue of USA TODAY. The ADL found instances of harassment, hate speech, and violence, including the explosion of a pipe bomb at an Islamic center in Florida in May, and arson at an Islamic center in Georgia.

“The mood in the country, in general, is one of lack of civility and anger and rage,” said Abraham Fox, director of the ADL. “When you raise the rhetoric on hate, there is always potential for violence.”

Islamophobia has become integral to conservative politics. Many conservatives consider all Muslims to be enemies of Christianity and the West. In many cases, Islamophobia meshes neatly with anti-Black bigotry. For example, it should not be surprising that a recent poll from the Pew Research Center found that 18 percent of Americans—most of them White Republicans—believe that President Obama—a proud Christian—is a Muslim (which has long been a buzz word among conservatives for “terrorist.”) In March, 2009, “only” 11 percent believed so. Many in the Tea Party “accuse” Obama of being a Muslim, and compare him to Hitler. Though Obama claims that the Tea Party has no racist streak, some of its members have used the N-word and racist images to get their message across.

In New York State, gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino is a leading opponent of the proposed center. Indeed, he has threatened to invoke state powers of eminent domain to stop its construction, despite the fact that many conservatives have long frowned upon such government intervention, and despite the fact such an action would seem to go against the original intent of this state power.

Paladino and his supporters make predictable denunciations of so-called political correctness. Yet Paladino has sent racist and pornographic emails to his friends. In August, he came up with a proposal to reopen prisons for voluntary programs that would include training welfare recipients in “personal hygiene.” African American officeholders responded angrily with a demand that he apologize for the proposal.

“His…suggestion that they need lessons on personal hygiene is appalling and plays into harmful stereotypes,” they claimed in a signed statement. Paladino simply portrays himself as courageous and open.

Opposition to the proposed center—and the Islamophobia it incites—should not be viewed as an isolated incident. It is just one part of a conservative agenda. White conservatives are constantly grumbling about taking “our country back.” From whom do they want to take it back? They obviously believe that a Black president is making life hell for them. However, many of them also hated Bill Clinton, yet never seemed to believe the country was not theirs while Clinton and other White presidents were in office.

Many conservatives are worried about what they see as “the browning of America,” hence their concern about immigration, legal and illegal. According to many demographers, non-Whites will be in the majority in the United States in a matter of decades. Indeed, according to another article in the August 27, 2010 of USA TODAY, “The kindergarten class of 2010-11 is less white, less black, more Asian and much more Hispanic than in 2000, reflecting the nation’s rapid racial and ethnic transformation.” A government survey found that about 25% of five-year-olds are Hispanic, an increase from 19% in 2000. Moreover, the percentage of White five-year-olds decreased to 53% from 59% in 2000. Take back “our” country, indeed!

Why do so many people believe that construction of a mosque near Ground Zero is a bad idea? Why could it not be viewed as a victory over Muslim terrorists by Muslim moderates and true believers in cultural pluralism and religious liberty? Pat Buchanan has stated that because Saudi Arabia does not permit churches, Americans should have no problem opposing the construction of mosques in the United States. He might have some understanding of what Saudi Arabia is about, but he obviously did not get the memo about the importance of the First Amendment.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the head of the project to build the proposed center, has a long record of interfaith work. He is a Sufi Muslim, a sect that militant Muslims despise because of their openness to various cultures. Rauf is now working with Obama to promote peace and understanding throughout the world, but he has also worked with the Bush administration. The Islamic center would be like the YMCA—open to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Perhaps opponents should visit the Islamic center in Amherst, New York, known as the “Tent of Abraham,” that is open to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, or members of the Abrahamic religions. Since 2006, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have gathered together to worship at the center. In 2009, they held a “Walk of Abraham,” a five-mile walk at which members of different faiths were able to meet before going to the mosque. Terrorists need not apply.

Imam Rauf’s critics have complained that he asserted that the United States’ policies “were an accessory to” the attacks on 9/11. Moreover, he has stated that the issue of terrorism is complicated. Yet, anti-American terrorists routinely state that United States’ policies influence their actions. On the other point, the issue of terrorism is complicated. That’s why, though conservatives called death squads in Latin America “freedom fighters”, their victims called them terrorists. It is certainly true that “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.”

Many people try to paint Islam with a broad brush. They argue for the notion of collective guilt—that every member of a group must be punished for the crimes of a few. However, that is not what true justice is about. Only those responsible for a crime should be punished for its commission. For example, why should all Americans be held accountable for the Vietnam War, even though many of us protested against it—some of us risking our lives? Collective guilt is a dangerous idea that promotes stereotypes and even genocide. It needs to be swept into the dustbin of history.

When the Oklahoma City Federal Building was bombed in the 1995, Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols and others claimed that their Christian faith inspired them to blow it up. However, it would be hard to imagine anyone arguing that it would be offensive for Christians to build a church near the scene of the crime. It is just as absurd to blame all Muslims for the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Just because some people are offended by the idea of a mosque near Ground Zero, does not mean that they should feel offended, or that any offense is intended. It seems that peaceful Muslims just so happened to find a great place to build a center. Why read any more into it than that? (Incidentally, a coalition of the center’s supporters known as New York Neighbors for American Values includes families of 9/11 victims.)

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker noted that, just as Westerners rightfully insist upon the right to blaspheme the Prophet Muhammad or anyone or anything else, they must recognize Muslims’ right to build a mosque wherever they wish. However, the reverse is also true: if Muslims recognize their right to religious liberty, they should also recognize the right to blaspheme. The willingness to be offended is the price we all must pay for genuine liberty.

The bottom line is that too many people still believe in democracy only as far as the defense of their rights. Those that truly believe in liberty, however, must be concerned with everyone’s rights. Otherwise, true democracy will never be realized.

Norm R. Allen, Jr. is secretary of the executive board of the Institute for Science and Human Values and former executive director of African Americans for Humanism.

Related articles:

1.       Use of Government Property to Relocate NYC Mosque Raises Serious Legal Questions, Says Americans United

2.      FFRF: Islamic Center not a state/church violation, we’re not suing over it

3.      What Sam Harris got wrong about the mosque


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