The Ethics of Being a Theologian


The Ethics of Being a Theologian

By K.L. Noll

“Do you find, as an atheist, that you have difficulty defending religious beliefs to your students?” The question came from a professor of metaphysics whose views of reality, I had just confessed to him, strike me as self-evidently false. Perhaps I should have been more tactful. Nevertheless, his question took me by surprise.

This intelligent man had just made two false assumptions. Without sufficient evidence, he assumed that I am an atheist (for the record, I am theistic off the job and professionally agnostic) and that a professor of religion is an apologist for religious beliefs.

“We study religion, we don’t practice it,” I told him. This is what I usually say. Sometimes I try to be more gentle: “The study of religion is the study of people, and the gods are interesting to us only insofar as they shed light on the people who conceptualize them.”

My encounter with that professor reflects a problem endemic to academe. Most people do not understand what religious study really is. Professors of religion are often confused with, or assumed to be allies of, professors of theology. The reason for the confusion is no secret. All too often, even at public universities, the religion department is peopled by theologians, and many of those theologians refuse to make the distinction that I am about to make.

In my view, the purpose of academe is to advance knowledge, or an understanding of how things are in the real world. I do not accept the trendy postmodern notion that we are incapable of achieving that kind of knowledge. Our colleagues in the natural sciences have an advantage over us, in that they are able to wrestle with reality using research tools unavailable to the humanities or social sciences. Nevertheless, when unencumbered by overtly ideological agendas, even those of us in the humanities and social sciences can advance knowledge.

(HH here: I only differ with him in believing that at this time in Human history we actually can start to blend the two into a field of Valid Theology based int he real world)

Religious study attempts to advance knowledge by advancing our understanding about why and how humans are religious, what religion actually does, and how religion has evolved historically. (The latter is my subdiscipline.) Of course, each religion provides its own explanation about why and how the religion exists, but their answers to these questions depend on truth-claims advanced by the religion itself.

Our research is necessary because religion does not do what apologists for religion usually say it does. It does not reveal a god to us or enable us to achieve something referred to vaguely as enlightenment. One does not need to be an atheist to realize that each claim of divine revelation exists for some purpose not stated (or, in some cases, not even known) by the one who claims the revelation. A religious truth-claim can be advanced for any number of reasons. It might be a cynical political ploy or a sincere interpretation of genuine experiences that neurobiologists can help us to understand. Likewise, one need not affirm atheism to understand that sacred traditions, like any combination of cultural artifacts and human ideas, survive and replicate for reasons that have little to do with the truth-claims associated with those traditions.

Theology also views itself as an academic discipline, but it does not attempt to advance knowledge. Rather, theologians practice and defend religion. Theology is a set of words about a god; therefore, while theology is one of many objects of investigation for a religion researcher, it is the substance of the scholarship produced by a theologian.

(HH: It is interesting that you also encounter political theologians!! Determined to defend their orthodoxy in spite of reality.)

There is nothing wrong with the practice and defense of religion, but it is not the study of religion. The best theologians are scholars who have immersed themselves in many of the same academic disciplines favored by religion researchers. Like good religion research, good theology is generated by the application of sound reasoning to empirical evidence. But there is a crucial difference. The religion researcher evaluates that evidence from within a tradition of secular, academic “wisdom.” The theologian evaluates the same evidence from within a tradition of sacred, esoteric “wisdom.” The distinction is not trivial and ought to be recognized and honored by religion researchers and theologians alike.

(HH: Today reality has become esoteric enough to support a “Rational Theology”. See Quantum God for one take on the possibilities.)

Since rituals do not accomplish what the religion says they do, the researcher evaluates them on the basis of what they actually accomplish, even when the doctrines do not acknowledge those accomplishments. At the most simple level of evaluation, rituals create a sense of community, maintain identity boundaries, and defeat inclinations to pursue heterodox behaviors. Experts in the study of ritual have developed more-complex theories, but from the viewpoint of a theologian, all such observations, no matter how well defended by data and argument, are dismissed as reductionistic. For theologians, the ritual’s raison d’être is defined by its associated doctrines, or the alleged revelation or foundational myth upon which it appears to rest. In many cases, the ritual is defended as behavior that accomplishes genuine changes in the participant.

In other words, the theologian maintains that there exists an irreducible element in religious ritual that we religion researchers cannot hope to comprehend. (HH: but they all have different ones and claim the other’s have invalid ones.) I expect every theologian to believe this and will never argue with theologians about it. It is not my place to tell religious people how to be religious, and theologians are within their rights to insist on their ideas about their own religions. However, our disagreement clarifies the difference between theology and religious study. Whereas the theologian advances ideas about the religious value of ritual, religious study attempts to advance knowledge about ritual. Moreover, research suggests that most religious participants either do not know or do not care about the theologian’s ideas concerning the ritual’s significance. They are content to construct their own ideas about ritual, which reveals an irony many theologians fail to comprehend: Not only are the theologian’s ideas about ritual irrelevant to the religion researcher, they are irrelevant to most religious people.

In sum, the religion researcher is related to the theologian as the biologist is related to the frog in her lab. Theologians try to invigorate their own religion, perpetuate it, expound it, defend it, or explain its relationship to other religions. Religion researchers select sample religions, slice them open, and poke around inside, which tends to “kill” the religion, or at least to kill the romantic or magical aspects of the religion and focus instead on how that religion actually works.

Little wonder that many academics—and Richard Dawkins is merely the most vocal among them—dismiss the discipline of theology as “talk about nothing.” A number of theologians have taken issue with Dawkins, but all of them seem to miss his central point, which is that talk about a god is, necessarily, talk that never advances knowledge. Regardless of one’s opinion of him, Dawkins has done academe a great service by providing a quick way to identify a theologian in our midst. If you are uncertain with whom you are speaking, just inject the name of Richard Dawkins into the conversation. The theologian will be dismissive of him; the religion researcher will not.

The distinction that I have drawn between theology and religious study is not merely academic but ethical. In my view, the presence of a discipline within academe that does not attempt to advance knowledge but tries to defend a set of truth-claims for which empirical data are, by definition, unavailable requires of theologians greater ethical responsibility than most of us in academe already acknowledge. Academic theologians’ pronouncements give the public a false sense that theology represents an advance in human knowledge. Recent embarrassments, like the rising influence of intelligent-design “science,” demonstrate that claims made by theologians have consequences. Theologians must take a hard look in the mirror and ask if they can live with those consequences.

Theologians’ failure to meet their ethical obligations is particularly significant with respect to the Bible and other sacred writings. The field of biblical studies includes a great many religion researchers but remains dominated by theologians whose pronouncements about the Bible routinely lead the less informed astray. Not infrequently, theological concepts are packaged as the conclusions of historical research. The problem is not merely that biblical characters like Moses or Jesus are presented to the public as figures of history on the slimmest of evidence, but, more insidiously, that biblical claims about human obligation to a god are presented as though they are supported by some kind of evidence.

… The god of the Bible is the sum total of the words in the text and has no independent existence. It would be reasonable to begin every theological discussion with the disclaimer “the god described in this sacred text is fictional, and any resemblance to an actual god is purely coincidental.” This is not an outsider’s dismissive opinion, but the reality, and theologians have an ethical obligation to teach that truth even if they also want to believe and teach, as is their right, that a god exists.

I now realize how I should have answered the philosopher who asked whether I had trouble defending religion to my students: “I explain complex religious doctrines to undergraduates every time I enter a classroom, and I’ve never had difficulty doing so. But I tell my students that my role is to explain and evaluate, never defend, religious belief and practice.”

K.L. Noll is an associate professor of religion and chair of the religion department at Brandon University, in Manitoba. He is the author of a popular textbook for undergraduates, Canaan and Israel in Antiquity: An Introduction (Sheffield Academic Press, 2001).

(HH here: …how the theologians as the author defines them react so violently against his utterly sensible ideas.
My own quest as a theologian has not however been to defend any particular dogma. Instead I have always sought to A) find out what Deity is unlikely to be B) what Deity could be and C) what shape should a “valid in the REAL world” religion take?
Why is it some folks don’t see that if God is “Real” then “He” exists in the “real world” not just in a fantasy in our heads and look for God in the world, not their egos and imaginations?
I take the term Theology literally. As the author says, I try to extend VALID knowledge of Deity instead of apologizing for some past fantasy about what God is SUPPOSED to be.)

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Robert Spencer is NOT the last word on Islam.


(HH:The following is a transcript of a tv interview on Saudi television. IT is clips like this that make me upset at the totally partisan way so many, like Robert Spencer, handle the Muslim issue. They act as though there can be no reasonable voices unless they come from total apostates from Islam. There ARE true reformers and they need to be supported!!!!)

Iraqi MP Iyad Jamal Al-Din: Hizbullah Uses the “Sacred Slogan” of Palestine for Its Political Agenda

Following are excerpts from an interview with Iraqi MP Iyad Jamal Al-Din, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on June 26, 2009:

Interviewer: Are you a secular person in Islamic clothing, or are you a Muslim employing secular discourse?

[…]

Iyad Jamal Al-Din: First of all, I am neither Islamic nor secular.

Interviewer: You are not an Islamic person?

Iyad Jamal Al-Din: No, I’m not. First of all, secularization cannot be used to characterize a person. It characterizes a political regime. A person cannot be characterized as secular or non-secular.

[…]

I have read the Koran, and I have not found the adjective “Islamic” there. The Koran contains the words “Muslim,” “believer,” “polytheist,” and “hypocrite,” but “Islamic” is not to be found anywhere in the Koran.

[…]

There is no clear distinction between the terms “Islamic” and “Muslim.” I call myself a Muslim – I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger.

Interviewer: You mean this is the term found in the Koran, not “Islamic.”

Iyad Jamal Al-Din: Those who use this new term – “Islamic” – did not define its meaning. What distinguishes it from the word “Muslim”? Many people feel insulted when they are called non-Islamic – as if it’s a curse – but I am proud not to be Islamic, because I don’t know what it means. I know what “Muslim” means – it is someone who recites the two shahadas.

Interviewer: Did the term “Islamic” appear along with the political Islamic movements?

Iyad Jamal Al-Din: Yes. This term appeared following World War II to refer to political Islamic movements. These are political movements that use religion as a ladder to rise to power, just as some political parties use money, the media, weapons, or militias as a ladder to rise to power.

[…]

We are people who aspire to power. We agree upon a political platform and we convince the voters by saying: “If you vote for us, we will do this and that.” Either we will say the truth, or we will lie. But saying: “Vote for us, so we can teach you how to pray,” or “vote for us, so we can show how to flagellate yourself properly over the death of Hussein” – this is inconceivable nonsense. It makes a mockery of the people.

[…]

In our view, sectarian quotas run counter to human rights, and constitute a disgrace to humanity. Do you consider yourself a Shiite more than an Iraqi, or vice versa? I consider myself, first and foremost, a human being and a citizen. In my view, Iraqi citizens come first, not Iraq, because Iraqis are more valuable than Iraq.

Interviewer: Yes, people are more valuable than land.

Iyad Jamal Al-Din: People are more important than time and place. People’s primitive instincts, their instinct of fear, is aroused when one says: “As a Shiite, you are oppressed,” “As a Sunni, you are in danger,” “As a Kurd, you are deprived of your rights”… This makes a mockery of the people.

Interviewer: Especially since everybody is doing this – the Shiites, the Kurds, and the Sunnis.

Iyad Jamal Al-Din: Exactly. We talk about the rights of Iraqi citizens. There is no difference between the poor – whether Kurdish, Sunni, Shiite, or Christian. As for the issue of minorities… When you classify people as Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkmen, and so on, you are destroying [the notion] of an Iraqi person.

Interviewer: Why?

Iyad Jamal Al-Din: Because then you start calling for the rights of imaginary groups, not individuals. You are not calling for the rights of Shiite individuals, but of the Shiite nation.

[…]

Interviewer: From 2003 – perhaps for the first time in 1,400 years – Iraq is ruled by the religious. How would you sum up this return to power?

Iyad Jamal Al-Din: It has been a miserable and bleak experience. We have seen nothing but growing poverty, despite the abundance of money. Services are in a bad way, even though Iraq has opened up to the whole world. The public coffers are being plundered like never before in history.

[…]

Will Hizbullah make do with confronting Israel and liberating the land, or does it have another agenda – that of a vast, religious, Islamic state? That is the question. There are sacred slogans, such as the liberation of Palestine and of Jerusalem, and the Palestinian cause. For a long time the tyrants have been living in the shadow of these slogans, and the Arab peoples have been suffering oppression, as a result of the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian cause is the pretext for the lack of political and economic development. When liberties are denied – it is because of Palestine. When Saddam Hussein oppresses the Iraqi people for 35 years – it is in the name of Palestine, because “no voice is louder than the sound of battle.” Hizbullah is using the same exact “sacred” slogan as well. It uses the Palestinian cause just like any other political power.

Interviewer: Using it?

Iyad Jamal Al-Din: Yes, because only Allah knows one’s true intentions. Saddam attacked Israel with missiles – 38 missiles, I think. Gamal Abd Al-Nasser fought [Israel], for 50 years, Qadhafi has been shouting in the name of Palestine, and all the Arab rulers speak in the name of Palestine. But look at the state the Arabs are in. Look at the state of the Arabs in Palestine – the Arabs living within the 1948 Green Line…

Interviewer: Does Hizbullah bear responsibility for the problem of development in the Arab world?

Iyad Jamal Al-Din: Others share this responsibility. It is not the only one that fought for Palestine. Hizbullah was founded in 1982, and Palestine was lost in 1948. From 1948 to Judgment Day – I don’t know how long this conflict will last. There are people who raise the banner of Palestine, yet oppress their people in the name of Palestine. People like Saddam say they will liberate Palestine, but lose their own homes. He said he would liberate Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and then he lost Iraq in its entirety. The slogan of Palestine is an enticing but deceiving slogan. It is enticing because any thief, smuggler, or liar can claim to be liberating Palestine, and history will sing his praises.

[…]

Interviewer: Do you think that Hizbullah is using the slogan of Palestine as a cover for its political agenda?

Iyad Jamal Al-Din: Undoubtedly, in my opinion. As I said, anyone can use the Palestinian cause. Show me one Shiite Lebanese – although I don’t have the right to intervene in Lebanese affairs, because the people in that country are free… But is there any voice among the Shiites in Lebanon other than the voice of Hizbullah and its ilk? Aren’t there any intellectuals? Why is someone like Ali Al-Amin oppressed – and he is just one person, with no political party, militia, newspaper, radio, or TV station behind him? He does not constitute a threat. He just has an opinion. They burned down his house and his office. Isn’t that a disgrace?

CLICK ON THE TITLE TO VIEW CLIP.

Sueing your way out of Supermax Prison


By DEBRA BURLINGAME

On June 17, at the Administrative Maximum (ADX) penitentiary in Florence, Colo., one …inmate number 24079-038, began his day with a whole new range of possibilities. Eight days earlier, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Denver filed notice in federal court that the Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) which applied to that prisoner—Richard C. Reid, a.k.a. the “Shoe Bomber”—were being allowed to expire. SAMs are security directives, renewable yearly, issued by the attorney general when “there is a substantial risk that a prisoner’s communications, correspondence or contacts with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury” to others.

Reid was arrested in 2001 for attempting to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami with 197 passengers and crew on board. Why had Attorney General Eric Holder decided not to renew his security measures, kept in place since 2002?

According to court documents filed in a 2007 civil lawsuit against the government, Reid claimed that SAMs violated his First Amendment right of free speech and free exercise of religion. In a hand-written complaint, he asserted that he was being illegally prevented from performing daily “group prayers in a manner prescribed by my religion.” Yet the list of Reid’s potential fellow congregants at ADX Florence reads like a Who’s Who of al Qaeda’s most dangerous members: Ramzi Yousef and his three co-conspirators in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui; “Millennium bomber” Ahmed Ressam; “Dirty bomber” Jose Padilla; Wadih el-Hage, Osama Bin Laden’s personal secretary, convicted in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing that killed 247 people.

In December 2008, the Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss Reid’s lawsuit. It cited the example of ADX inmate Ahmed Ajaj as an illustration of “the dangers inherent in permitting a group of inmates, of like mind in their opposition to the United States, to congregate for a prayer service conducted in a language not understood by most correctional officers.”

While imprisoned for passport fraud in 1992, Ajaj assisted in the plans to destroy the World Trade Center on Feb. 26, 1993, making phone calls to Ramzi Yousef and speaking in code to elude law enforcement monitoring. Ajaj tried to get his “training kit” to Yousef, which included videotapes and notes he had taken on bomb-making while attending a terrorist camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Reid’s own SAMs on correspondence had been tightened in 2006 after the shocking discovery that three of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers at ADX, not subject to security directives, had sent 90 letters to overseas terrorist networks, including those associated with the Madrid train bombing. The letters, exhorting jihad and praising Osama bin Laden as “my hero of this generation,” were printed in Arabic newspapers and brandished like trophies to recruit new members.

When setting restrictions on inmate religious practice, the Bureau of Prisons need only meet a reasonableness standard, a very low bar in the case of Muslim terrorists. … nevertheless it dropped the security measures on Reid after he missed 58 meals in a hunger strike that required medical intervention and forced feeding in April.

On July 6, Justice Department lawyers informed the court that Reid will be given a “new placement” in a “post-SAMs setting.” Whether that entails stepped down security in a different unit or transfer to a less secure facility, the Bureau of Prisons won’t say, and Justice refuses to comment.

Mr. Obama likes to observe that “no one has escaped from supermax,” but if Reid is moved from ADX Florence, he will be the first convicted terrorist to use the First Amendment to sue his way out.

What drove the Obama administration’s decision to cave in to Reid’s demands? The president after all has repeatedly pitched supermax and the federal prison system as a secure alternative to Guantanamo, citing the fact that it handles “all manner of violent and dangerous criminals.” Yet the last thing he needs, as his administration engages in its hasty effort to shut Gitmo down by a fast-approaching deadline, is for lawyers and human-rights activists to use a hunger-striking, near-death prisoner to launch a propaganda campaign fashioned right out of the Gitmo detainees’ playbook. Lawyers who shamelessly compared Gitmo to Nazi concentration camps would think nothing of casting supermax as the next “symbol of America’s shame” and a “rallying cry for our enemies.”

… Though his executive order shutting Guantanamo closely followed the blueprint provided by Human Rights First, leaders of key organizations were stunned when he revealed in an awkward, off-the-record meeting the day before his public announcement at the National Archives that he planned to continue President George W. Bush’s policy of preventive detention.

In January, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado issued a statement saying that conditions at supermax are “simply another form of torture” worse than Gitmo which “make a mockery of ‘innocent until proven guilty.’” Last month, the ACLU filed a civil lawsuit mirroring Reid’s religious rights claim on behalf of two terrorism inmates held at the Communications Management Unit inside a medium security prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly suggested that the security challenge of bringing more than 100 trained and dangerous terrorists onto U.S. soil can be solved by simply installing them in an impenetrable fortress. This view is either disingenuous or naïve. The militant Islamists at Guantanamo too dangerous to release believe that their resistance behind the wire is a continuation of holy war. There is every reason to believe they will continue their jihad once they have been transported to U.S. soil where certain federal judges have signaled a willingness to confer upon them even more rights.

The position of civil rights activists with regard to these prisoners is plain. “If they cannot be convicted,” says ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer, “then you release them.”

Meanwhile, in order to appease political constituencies both here and abroad, the Obama administration is moving full steam ahead, operating on the false premise that giving more civil liberties to religious fanatics bent on destroying Western civilization will make a difference in the Muslim world. In a letter sent to his father as he began his hunger strike, Reid provided a preview of how he will exercise his newly enlarged free speech rights, calling Mr. Obama a “hypocrite” who is “no better than George Bush.” His lawsuit remains active while the Department of Justice works out a settlement that satisfies the man who declared, “I am at war with America.”

Ms. Burlingame, a former attorney and a director of the National September 11 Memorial Foundation, is the sister of Charles F. “Chic” Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

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Wither Jerusalem? From Frontpage Mag


Whither Jerusalem?
By: Richard L. Cravatts
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The stridency of the Obama administration’s attitude about Israeli settlements in the West Bank has stunned some observers, not the least of whom is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself. … What is stunning about this latest U.S. policy is that the project in question is in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, in an Eastern Jerusalem neighborhood that, if the Palestinians have their way, ostensibly will be the capital of their putative state; more disturbing is the fact that U.S. diplomats have now decreed that Israeli construction in Jerusalem itself constitutes the forbidden settlement activity.

Speaking to the Jerusalem Post in July, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly was clear that the U.S. considers building projects in East Jerusalem to be in violation of the settlement “freeze” that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been calling for; Kelly said very pointedly that “We’re talking about all settlement activity, yes, in the area across the line,” meaning that, henceforth, any territory beyond the 1949 Green Line is to be off limits to Jews. Mr. Netanyahu did not hesitate to immediately reject the U.S.’s suggestion to facilitate the redivision of the Jewish state’s sacred capital, tersely but directly asserting that Israel “cannot accept such a ruling on East Jerusalem.”
In characterizing East Jerusalem—or any part of Jerusalem, for that matter—as territory that Israel “occupies” but over which it enjoys no sovereignty, the Obama administration is misreading, once again, the content and purpose of 1967’s U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 that suggested an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” it acquired in the Six Day War. Critics of Israeli policy who either willfully misread or deliberately obscure the resolution’s purpose say that the Jewish State is in violation of 242 by continuing to occupy the West Bank and Jerusalem, including what is mistakenly now referred to as “Arab” East Jerusalem. But the drafters of Resolution 242 were very precise in creating the statute’s language, and never considered Jerusalem to have been “occupied” by Israel after the Six Day War. Former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Arthur Goldberg, one of the resolution’s authors, made this very clear when he wrote some years later that “Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate . . . At no time in [my] many speeches [before the UN] did I refer to East Jerusalem as occupied territory.”

Along with their unwavering and various demands, including a “right of return” of all refugees and sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the Palestinians now insist that Jerusalem must be divided to give them a capital in its eastern portion as the location of their new state. But these have always been points for future negotiations, at least before the State Department gave public expression to its new view that East Jerusalem—a patchwork community where some 200,000 Jews and 270,000 Arabs currently live―has already been assumed to be the Palestinian capital, and that Jews should no longer build or live there. That view is troubling, and not just because of the settlement issue, Israeli security concerns, and the fate of the Shepherd Hotel project; it is troubling because it reveals a pattern in which Arabs endow Jerusalem with intense significance to serve purposes of political expediency. In fact, observed scholar of Islam and Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes, “An historical survey shows that the stature of the city, and the emotions surrounding it, inevitably rises for Muslims when Jerusalem has political significance. Conversely, when the utility of Jerusalem expires, so does its status and the passions about it.” When Jordan illegally annexed the West Bank and purged Jerusalem of its Jews from 1949 to 1967, for example, Jerusalem’s stature declined. But Israel’s recapture of the territory in 1967 changed the political landscape, including an Arab desire for Jerusalem, suggesting to Dr. Pipes that “the Muslim interest lies not so much in controlling Jerusalem as it does in denying control over the city to anyone else.”

Ever since the Camp David meetings in 2000 when Ehud Barak opened the door to a divided Jerusalem in his negotiations with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinians have been relentless in creating a false impression of how important Jerusalem is to them, while, at the same time, they have de-Judaized Jerusalem and tried to obscure the Jewish relationship with and continuing presence in the holy city, something Middle East scholar Martin Kramer has called their desire to effect “a reversal of history.”

Writing in al-Hayat al-Jadida, in March of 2009, for instance, Dr. Tayseer Al-Tamimi, PA Chief Justice of religious court and Chairman of Supreme Council of Islamic Law, absurdly claimed that “Jerusalem is the religious, political and spiritual capital of Palestine,” meaning a Palestinian Palestine, and that “the Jews have no rights to it.” But the true danger of the Palestinian thinking about Jerusalem—and, indeed, about all of the Palestine that they covet, including Israel itself—was crystallized in Yasser Arafat’s own view that he expressed in a July 2000 edition of al-Hayat al-Jadida. “I will not agree to any sovereign presence in Jerusalem,” he wrote, referring to the thorny issue of who, Israel or the Palestinians, would have sovereignty of the Holy Basin, “neither in the Armenian quarter, nor in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, neither in Via De La Rosa, nor in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They can occupy us by force, because we are weaker now, but in two years, ten years, or one hundred years, there will be someone who will liberate Jerusalem [from them].”

“Liberating” Jerusalem, of course, does not mean transforming it into a pluralistic, open city where members of three major faiths can live freely and practice their religions openly. Liberating Jerusalem for the Palestinians would be more in keeping with the type of liberation that Transjordan’s Arab League effected when they burned and looted the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem in 1948, expelled and killed its hapless Jewish population, destroyed some 58 synagogues, many hundreds of years old, unearthed gravestones from the history-laden Jewish cemetery on the Mount Olives and used them for latrine pavers, and barred any Jew from praying at the Western Wall or entering the Temple Mount. That same predilection to destroy religious property was on display again shortly after Camp David when a crazed Palestinian mob took sledgehammers to Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish holy site, and completely obliterated it as Palestinian policemen stood idly by and watched.

But false irredentist claims, Islamic supremacism which compels Jews and Christians to live in dhimmitude under Muslim control, and an evident cultural and theological disregard for other faiths— while troubling in the battle over sovereignty in Jerusalem—are not, according to Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, the most dangerous aspects of a diplomatic capitulation which would allow the Palestinians to claim a shared Jerusalem. … “In the world of apocalyptic speculation, Jerusalem has many other associations—it is the place where the messianic Mahdi [the redeemer of Islam] is to establish his capital. For that reason, some argue that it also should become the seat of the new caliphate that most Islamic groups—from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda—seek to establish.”

When Arafat gave expression to the eventual “liberation” of Jerusalem as a sacred and unending ambition for the Palestinian cause, he defined it as a recapture of what had been, and should be, in his view, Muslim land, just as the eventual extirpation of Israel and the reclamation of all of Palestine would accomplish. The establishment of the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem is the first important step in the long-term strategy to rid the Levant of Jews and reestablish the House of Islam in Palestine. “Jerusalem’s recapture is seen by some as one of the signs that ‘the Hour’ and the end of times are about to occur,” Gold suggested. “And most importantly, because of these associations, it is the launching pad for a new global jihad powered by the conviction that this time the war will unfold according to a pre-planned religious script, and hence must succeed.”

So far from creating a political situation in which both parties—Israelis and the Palestinians—feel they have sought and received equal benefits, such negotiations and final agreements would have precisely the opposite effect: destabilizing the region and creating, not the oft-hoped for Israel and Palestine “living side by side in peace,” but a incendiary cauldron about to explode into an annihilatory, jihadist rage. Those in the West who are urging Israel “to redivide Jerusalem by relinquishing its holy sites,” Dore cautioned, “may well believe that they are lowering the flames of radical Islamic rage, but in fact they will only be turning up those flames to heights that have not been seen before.” If the State Department and other Western diplomats are intent on mollifying the Arab street by pressuring Israel to divide Jerusalem as a peace offering to the Palestinians, it may well be setting into motion the exact opposite result: …

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Richard L. Cravatts, PhD, director of Boston University’s Program in Book and Magazine Publishing at the Center for Professional Education, writes frequently on higher education, politics, culture, law, marketing, and housing.

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From the eyes of a Muslimah; what a real patriarchy looks like


(HH here: It seems that it is not the leers and stares of Western men that Muslim women are hiding from in their veils. It is from MUSLIM men that they hide. This is a very interesting look through the eyes of a Muslim woman at the inequities of her society. Take note how she holds the West up as the sin qua non of RESPECTFUL behaviour toward women.)

by Hamida Ghafour

Hey, woman, wash my clothes!”

“How much do you cost?”

When I heard men shout these insults on two separate occasions as I walked down the street in Kabul and Abu Dhabi, respectively, I was stung.

Being stared or yelled at is just part of the experience of working and living in this region. But I never get used to it. Indeed women all over Asia and the Middle East are harassed constantly.

” The Abu Dhabi beach was quickly divided into two sections last year after women expressed their discomfort at gangs of laborers roaming about and leering. “Western women are targets, but so are our Arab, Indian, Nepali, Bangladeshi and Pakistani sisters. We are stared at, called names and sometimes assaulted by men. Which is why part of me cheered when al-Bawadi Mall in al-Ain announced earlier this week that laborers had been banned on weekday evenings and weekends following a litany of complaints about harassment.

The Emirates is the most female-friendly country in the Middle East. The Government’s efforts to encourage women to use public spaces is admirable. The Abu Dhabi beach was quickly divided into two sections last year after women expressed their discomfort at gangs of laborers roaming about and leering. Emirati men are courteous. They never stare.
By contrast, sexual harassment levels in Egypt are endemic. In the Punjab and Karachi, images of women on billboards are defaced or just banned.

(HH here: remember, in Egypt something like 70% of all adult women have been “circumcised”.)

When I lived in Kabul, cars with men at the wheel occasionally raced in my direction and swerved out of the way just before hitting me. A British-Asian friend of mine was once pushed into a ditch of raw sewage on her way home from a press conference in the Afghan capital. The Taliban used to say a woman’s place was in the home or the graveyard.

Across the region this message is given in many variations, but the gist is aggressive and clear: respectable women do not belong in the public sphere. And those who venture outside the home are objects of scorn or fascination. There is certainly an element of racism and snobbery in al-Bawadi Mall’s decision. The laborers are poor South Asians and Arabs. Although it may be offensive to westerners, in some Asian cultures staring is normal behavior. It is a popular pastime in India and Pakistan, where people stare at others to see what they are buying or wearing.

Many of the laborers in the Emirates have also had little exposure to the outside world because they are from small towns. When they move here, it is often their first contact with the rich and developed world. They have a natural curiosity about the way westerners live because they have snatched glimpses of it in films. European and North American expatriates have a lifestyle laborers can never hope to attain, and wandering around a mall on a hot Friday afternoon is an opportunity to experience that which embodies all the wealth, glamour and power of the West: the mobile phones, the high-definition televisions, men in clean, pressed suits, women in skimpy clothes.

I can’t blame them for that

(HH here: It is interesting how Middle Easterners often fail to see that the point of the West is not skimpy clothing but being free to wear what we want, skimpy or conservative without the intervention of controlling neighbors or thought police.)

” Men who have no shame at leering at women make clear distinctions between those who deserve respect and those who do not. “But the way many of them look at women is not the glance stolen by the man sitting across from you on the train in London, New York or Rome. In the West a stony look is enough to put an end to that. Instead it is a penetrating gaze that goes right to your core, combining lecherousness, intense curiosity or just hatred. It is sometimes accompanied by clicking noises meant to get a woman’s attention. It is humiliating.

(HH again: Note that it is not the gaze of the lecherous kafir that hurts and offends. It is the intense, over the top Muslim man who causes his sister pain.)

The images of the riches of the developed world beamed from satellite TV also send a second message: western women are easy. This is the fault of Hollywood films featuring bimbos and the proliferation of pornography on the internet. Yet western women are also fascinating because they are considered a third gender. They look like females but have the independence of men. Men who have no shame at leering at women make clear distinctions between those who deserve respect and those who do not.

(HH: Men who leer at women in this way are adept at blaming the women for their lack of control and politeness.)

This view reveals itself in small ways. When I wear long, loose tunics and trousers it is much easier to flag a taxi in Abu Dhabi. Drivers will invariably stop for women in abayas or, even better, the niqab, because they are perceived as modest and good. But the drivers sometimes breeze past a woman in a dress with spaghetti straps because they assume she has no self-respect.

(HH: I feel sure that is what the taxi drivers SAY, but knowing men as well as I do I would say that it has more to do with “good” being equal to “submissive and easy to dominate” and “she has no self respect” translating as “she had the nerve to not allow me to take advantage of her or disrespect her. Plus she looked me right in the eye!!!”.)

I have two wardrobes: one I wear in places like Egypt, Afghanistan and India; the other I reserve for parts of Dubai and Europe.

Many women wear a hijab to prevent unwanted attention but it doesn’t always work. In Egypt, harassment is part of daily life. In 2006, women in Cairo organized a demonstration with the slogan “the street is ours” to protest about the groping and taunting. In the 1990s, Moroccan women went on strike for the same reason.

Afghan women wear a burqa for safety: it is a barrier between them and the abuse. (HH: this means that unless a woman is in a burkha she is harassed and taunted and even offered violence until she “Chooses” to “embrace the freedom” of the mobile tent.) I sometimes wished I had one to slip over my head.
The concept of respect and the presence of a woman in public are linked. In most parts of South and West Asia and the Middle East, there are few opportunities for women to work outside the home, and education is partly to blame.

In Afghanistan, when I stopped at villages to talk to people, word would get out that a single woman was on the street and I soon found myself being followed by dozens of men pointing and whispering. They would often point at my pen: the image of a lone woman writing in an illiterate society was alluring.

If they are allowed an education, in many Muslim societies children are segregated from an early age. Girls are covered from head to toe and they are taught that any interaction between the sexes before marriage is forbidden. Marriages are arranged in their late teens and there are no opportunities for the sexes to mix.

As they grow older, boys fetishise the female body so even a glimpse of an ankle or a wrist is tantalizing. As adults, living in labor camps in the Emirates, they have no contact with wives back home, but there are plenty of Bollywood films for distraction with scenes of pouting girls in clinging wet saris dancing in the rain to heighten the excitement. By the time they encounter a blonde woman in jeans buying chicken at Carrefour … well, it all becomes too much.

In Kuwait, women have been trying to resist efforts at segregating men and women in schools to prevent this fetishisation. It would be easy to blame the lechery on the rise of political Islam, which emphasizes a traditional role for women and the need to protect women’s honor by limiting their mobility and access to the public sphere. But a colleague in Cairo once told me that she enjoyed going to Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations because the crowds of men always respectfully parted to allow her through. (HH: here we have the obligatory white wash of any responsibility belonging to Islam. I notice though that the author does not say how her friend dresses at these meetings. Can she walk through in jeans and a blouse? Or only in hajib or niqab?)

Most of the men here who leer at women know it is wrong. They are from cultures where they are taught to avert their eyes when they see a girl, out of respect for her father and brothers.

I recently moved house and hired a moving company, staffed by Indian and Bangladeshi workers. The foreman in charge was more interested in watching my movements than doing his own job. I finally snapped.

“Why don’t you get on with your work? What if someone stared at your sister like that?”

When it becomes too much I create a mental buffer zone to tune out the calls and stares. If that doesn’t work I try the shoe trick. When the offender shouts an insult, I stop, point at his shoes and laugh.

It subtly shifts the balance of power. And I won’t get arrested.

(HH: This woman has a game attitude but ultimately it is the attitude of a slave or prisoner. All the power is in hands other than hers and subtle ridicule is her only weapon.)

*Published by the UAE-based the NATIONAL on July 11.

From the: You GOTTA Love it! File


(HH here: This is the kind of thing that give me hope about China. There is a definite sense of “we are all in this together”. A sense that is vital to evolving a healthy society after the inevitable, I think, collapse of the Communist government. It may not be soon but I can’t see it not happening.
When Russia stopped being Soviet I kept waiting for this kind of reaction to the growing crime but it never happened. The Russian mindset had people flocking to be under the protection of this bully or that instead of bandng together to fight back the way people did throughout the American and Australian frontier periods.
The old men knew that their age gave them more leeway in action and the younger folks supported them. It is that spirit that will make China a true nation when their masters finally lose their grip.)

A retired teacher has become an unlikely Internet hit in China for throwing bricks at cars whose drivers were ignoring red lights at a dangerous crossing, state media reported Monday.

The furious 74-year-old last week took up position on an intersection in Lanzhou, the capital of northwest Gansu province, and damaged more than 30 cars before he was stopped by police, the China Daily reported.

Brick thrower”I just wanted to catch people’s attention and tell the drivers to think of pedestrians,” the man said, according to the report.

The unnamed man’s attacks drew wide support in Chinese cyberspace, with nearly 80 percent of 400,000 respondents to an online poll backing him, the English-language paper said.

The ex-teacher became a campaigner for road safety after a pedestrian was killed near where he lived.

He successfully lobbied for traffic lights at the intersection, but drivers continued to ignore them, the report said, citing the Lanzhou Morning Post.

So on Thursday last, he started lobbing bricks at transgressors, and was joined by two other elderly men, while other people found them more bricks and brought water.

He had planned to keep up his vigilante attack for a week but was stopped by police after one day. He was interviewed and released without charge, the paper said.

Book review: Why does God hate women?


Reviewed by Johann Hari – 02 July 2009
After all the arguments for subordinating women have been shown to be self-serving lies, what are misogynists left with? They have only one feeble argument that is still deferred to and shown undeserving respect across the world, even by people who should know better: “God told me to. I have to treat women as lesser beings, because it is inscribed in my Holy Book.”

Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom are the editors of Butterflies and Wheels, the best atheist site on the web. In Does God Hate Women? they forensically dismantle the last respectable misogyny. They argue: “What would otherwise look like stark bullying is very often made respectable and holy by a putative religious law or aphorism or scriptural quotation . . . They worship a God who is a male who gangs up with other males against women. They worship a thug.”

Every major religion’s texts were written at a time when women were regarded as little better than talking cattle. Their words and commands reflect this, plainly and bluntly. This book starts with a panoramic sweep across the world, showing – with archetypal cases – how every religion has groups today thumping women down with its Holy Book.

In Zamfara State in northern Nigeria, a pregnant 13-year-old girl called Bariya Ibrahim received 180 lashes of the cane in 2001 after being pimped by her father. The state’s attorney general said: “It is the law of Allah, so we don’t have anything to worry about.” In Jerusalem, ultra-Orthodox Jews have set up “modesty police” who terrorise young women who talk to men or show ordinary parts of their bodies. They break into their homes if they are seen with men; they force them to sit at the back of the bus, away from the men; and they even, in one recent instance, sprayed acid in the face of a 14-year-old girl.

In the areas of India still dominated by orthodox Hinduism, a widow is still expected to commit suicide when her husband dies, or go into isolation in an ashram. One – a septuagenarian woman named Radha Rani Biswas – fled and now begs on the streets of Vrindavan. She said: “My son tells me: ‘You have grown old. Now who is going to feed you? Go away.’ What do I do? My pain has no limit.” And on the directory of divine misogyny goes, running through Catholicism, Mormonism and more. Benson and Stangroom note: “Religion doesn’t necessarily originate ideas about female subordination, but it lends them a penumbra of righteousness, and it makes them ‘sacred’ and thus a matter for outrage if anyone disputes them.”

Methodically, they go through the excuses offered for these raw abuses of human rights by the religious, and their apologists.

The first – especially beloved of the Vatican and Islamists – is that women are not being treated worse, just “differently”. They claim that it accords a woman special “dignity” to trap her in the home. But this is an abuse of language. As the authors note: “Permanent consignment to a limited and lesser role in the world is not what ‘dignity’ is generally understood to mean . . . The smallness and intimacy and relatedness of home are fine things, but not if one is confined to them permanently.”

The religio-misogynists then claim that it is “racist” or “imperialist” to oppose such abuses. This merrily ignores how women within these cultures protest against their treatment – very loudly. They aren’t objecting to being imprisoned in their homes, or having their genitalia cut, or being stoned for having sex, because a white person told them to. Benson and Stangroom put it well: “Multiculturalism by definition makes a fetish of cultures, and it is almost impossible to do that without treating them as monolithic. As soon as you admit that all cultures have internal dissent and nonconformity, the whole idea of protecting or deferring to particular cultures breaks down into incoherence.”

Then the gentler, nicer apologists for religion arrive. They say that misogynists are simply misinterpreting the holy texts, which are in fact about love and compassion and kindness. But the authors point out this is certainly not the God of the texts who orders his followers to commit mass murder, including of women and children, and explicitly says women are inferior beings.

So, in order to defend their God, the apologists often have to lie about what He and His Prophets “say” in the texts. Cherie Blair, for example, claimed in a lecture: “It is not laid down in the Quran that women can be beaten by their husbands.” But it quite plainly is. The Quran says: “If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them [of the teachings of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them.”

Karen Armstrong – one of the most egregious defenders of superstition – repeatedly claims that Muhammad was an emancipator of women. Yet it is explained in the Hadith (the sayings and traditions of the Prophet) that he married a prepubescent child, and that when he was given two slave girls he gave the ugly one away to a friend and kept the beautiful one, Maryam, to use sexually. It is a strange model of female emancipation, to sleep with children and slaves.

There are people in all religions who have – through theological contortions – managed to leave behind literal readings of the text and invent a less foul God to believe in. It is not for atheists to say that one group of believers is right and the other is wrong, as we think they’re all wrong. We can note that the less literalist a believer is, the easier he is to live beside, but we will only discredit literalism and force reform if we are honest about the words of the texts, rather than trying to soft-soap believers.

By the end of this book-length blast, Benson and Stangroom have left religious hatred of women in rubble. Anybody not addled by superstition will have to conclude that such bigotry deserves neither respect nor deference. It does not deserve the taboos that today surround it. It deserves the opposite: contempt – and relentless, unyielding opposition.

Does God Hate Women?
Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom
Continuum, 208pp, £14.99

Hamas MP and cleric lays it on the line

(HH here: This is from Memritv.org a website that takes tv programs from the Middle East and gives them subtitles. It is quite revealing what supposedly moderate Muslims have to say when they are speaking to their own people and not Westerners. I highly recommend registering with Memri and browsing their library.)

Following are excerpts from an address by Hamas MP and cleric Yunis Al-Astal, which aired on Al-Aqsa TV on May 15, 2009

Yunis Al-Astal: It is well known that the Jews are bent on spreading abomination, depravity, and all types of corruption on the face of the Earth. Given that the diseases inflicted by God upon us constitute divine punishment for abomination, crime, and great sins – it is the Jews who are behind most of the abominations. They are the ones who spread obscenity and depravity, as well as brothels, nightclubs, discotheques, cinemas, chalets, casinos, and other devilish dens of temptation. Therefore, people who are afraid of the bestial swine flu should be even more afraid of the measures taken by the Zionist devils, which are more lethal to humanity than pigs.

[…]

Undoubtedly, the great majority of the Jews deserve to be tormented, because they incurred divine wrath, and Allah cursed them many times in the Koran. Therefore, my advice is that we should be more wary of the schemes and conspiracies of the Jews.

[…]

The fact that some countries slaughtered their pigs constitutes a modest measure in confronting this danger, as long as those countries maintain intimate, strong ties with the Zionists, whom Allah has decreed to be the brothers of apes and pigs.