Vridar

2013/06/27

Two New Books: On Suicide Bombing & Muslim Secular Democracy

Filed under: Islamophobia,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 9:52 pm
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Two new books arrived in my mail this morning. One I had purchased, the other was a gift.

Having skimmed a few pages of each I am already well pleased with my new acquisitions. Stephanie Fisher once commented on one of these, Muslim Secular Democracy, edited by Lily Zubaidah Rahim, and that has only just been released:

It seems to me, from the interview, your summary and the blurb on Amazon, that what she claims is beyond refute. It’s historically demonstratable and what I once thought was commonly understood. I do wish those who dismiss Islam with assumptions about a ‘heart’ etc, would honestly read a bit of history. The more I dwell on it the more convinced I am that this book, combined with Espositos must be read for the sake of a future – for god’s sake world, read them and understand….:

Stephanie’s remarks about reading and knowing a little history turn out to be a most pertinent message of both my new books.

Another commenter recently asserted, in effect, that the failure of Muslim populations of the Middle East to change their governments demonstrated that they loved oppressive and dark religious authoritarian rule more than freedom and an open society. I wish such readers could have a look over my shoulder as I read the first page of the introduction to Muslim Secular Societies:

In the wake of the political sandstorms unleashed by the “Arab Uprisings,” almost every Arab state faces serious political challenges and pressures to reform. Authoritarian governance, both Islamic and secular, has been resoundingly rejected by the Muslim masses. Also resoundingly rejected by the Muslim masses are the violent methods of militant Islamists. (p. 1)

Turn the page and we read this: (more…)

2013/06/23

Terrorism Facts #4: Personal Motives of Palestinian Suicide Bombers

Filed under: Hafez: Manufacturing Human Bombs,Israel-Palestine,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 11:32 am
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manufacturing-human-bombsPalestinian suicide bombing operations are now (hopefully) history. The last one was five years ago. It is still good (even if painful) to understand them, however. (I have certainly found much of the reading preparation for this post to be painful; sometimes I could not bring myself to repeat certain details of what I learned.)

Having said that, let me say now that I am vain enough to think that Vridar readers are in some respects like me and share an interest in learning facts about terrorism and suicide bombings (along with any related role of Islam) from investigative journalists and in particular from scholarly researchers who specialize in the relevant fields: anthropology, sociology, political science, Islamist studies among them. To this end my reading list to date consists of Amin Saikal, Ghassan Hage, Jason Burke, Robert Pape, John Esposito, Riaz Hassan, Greg Barton, Scott Atran, Mohammed Hafez, Zaki Chehab, Lily Zubaidah Rahim, Amin Saikal, Tariq Ali and Tom Holland.

I am interested in studying the data these researchers gather in support of their conclusions. That’s what these posts have been attempting to do ever since November 2006: to present some sound and verifiable research data and tried and tested explanatory models of human behaviour to counter the pop polemics from public figures (think Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne) who clearly have no more specialist understanding or knowledge of this area than a twelve year old madrassah pupil has about evolutionary biology or neurology.

It is also disturbing to learn through some of the rhetoric of critics of these posts (and the writings of Harris, Dawkins and Coyne) how very little they know about the “facts on the ground” and the history of the Middle East. I am dismayed that one such figure, Sam Harris, even publicly ridicules and blatantly misrepresents the findings of one of the most prominent and politically influential anthropologists who has risked his life to learn first-hand, in field research, how terrorists think.

In what other area would a public intellectual think to ridicule his intellectual peers while at the same time promoting the popular prejudices and CNN sound-bytes and Fox News stories as reliable and responsible datasets and founts of wisdom?

So far I have posted thoughts and research from publications by

  • Ghassan Hage — anthropologist with interesting insights, though some of his views relating to suicide terrorist motivations have been superseded by subsequent researchers
  • Robert Pape — political scientist responsible for a landmark study of all suicide terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2003.
  • John Esposito — professor of religion and Islamist studies; draws upon Gallup polling
  • Riaz Hassan — sociologist drawing upon a Flinders University Database 0f terrorist actions as well as other polling studies
  • Scott Atran — anthropologist who has been advisor and confidante to many governments and government bodies. (Have also posted on another book of his on the evolutionary basis of religion, “In Gods We Trust”.)
  • Mohammed Hafez — political scientist specializing in studies of Muslim societies in Middle East
  • Tom Holland — historian who has raised controversial questions about the origins of Islam

Also by

And yes, I’ve also read Sam Harris (two books), Chris Hitchens (four books), Richard Dawkins (six or seven books plus interviews), Daniel Dennett (one book) and even Jerry Coyne (one book and lots of blog posts) and what they have had to pontificate against their perceptions of Islam.

For the benefit of newer readers who have been upset by my posts on this theme, note that these posts began in the first month of the creation of this blog. This is not some new-found interest of mine. The by-line of this blog from the beginning has been, Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science. Only this year have some readers seen fit to complain that they do not think that these posts meet Vridar standards of presenting reliable scholarly research and sound argument.

Mohammed M. Hafez

Mohammed M. Hafez

I have since had an opportunity to read two more books by Mohammed Hafez: one exploring the phenomenon of suicide attacks in Iraq (up to 2006) and the other Palestinian suicide bombers from 1993 to 2005.

I was prompted to obtain a copy of Hafez’s study of the terrorist attacks in Iraq after hearing of yet one more horrific spate of bombings that once again killed dozens of Iraqis. (Why are they targeting fellow Muslims? Especially now that the U.S. has left? It turns out that there is a strong motivation among a good number of people to maintain Iraq as a failed state.)

This post primarily addresses Hafez’s findings about the motives of individual Palestinian suicide bombers. I conclude with a few related explanations from Scott Atran. (Sorry, that was my intention when I began this post, but the post turned out way much longer than I anticipated. More on Scott Atran’s views later.)

Religious Fanaticism

A popular Western view is that the Muslim world has a fatal enchantment with martyrdom. Religious fanaticism is one of the most common explanations of why individuals volunteer to become human bombs. (Suicide Bombers in Iraq, p. 218)

In his earlier book, Manufacturing Human Bombs, Hafez singled out several problems with this explanation: (more…)

2013/06/14

Talking with a jihadi terrorist

talkingtoenemyAnyone interested in learning how terrorists, in particular suicide terrorists and jihadis, think, will find a wealth of interviews with terrorists themselves, their families and friends, as well as studies of courtroom interrogations and police records, in anthropologist Scot Atran’s Talking to the Enemy. (Sam Harris has scoffed at Atran’s views, dismissing them as lunacy. Are terrorist really driven by a desire to enter Paradise? Do they really take up murder simply because they are the most sincere and devout of Muslims and simply because believe jihad is commanded by Allah? Does Atran really blame male bonding in soccer matches for terrorism! Perhaps this post will help shed a little light on where Atran is coming from.)

Here I outline the career, thoughts and feelings of one such interviewee as I came to understand him through the detailed interview and description of time spent with him by Atran. Most of the material is based on chapter 8, titled “Farhin’s Way”. Farhin is the Indonesian terrorist interviewee.

Of course this post can only be my own understandings based on my own reading of Atran’s book. To best grasp the character of Farhin it is best to read the book for oneself. One thing should emerge by the time one has finished this chapter (or even this post) — Farhin is driven by more complex motivations than the Islamic faith that millions follow today. Harris has even suggested it is the ecstatic hope of Paradise that drives suicide bombers. There is no place for such a simplistic (and fictional) view in Farhin’s mind. And the Farhin case study is found in many ways repeated many times over among the other terrorists whose lives we learn about in this book.

The chapter opens with a description of three Bali bombers who were executed by firing squad.

Their last social act while alive was to shout the words, “Allahu Akbar” (Got is Greatest), at their executioners, who then shot them each dead through the heart. (p. 119) (more…)

2013/06/11

Dawkins’s Delusion: The Slavish Mind

godDelusionWell I really blew it in the eyes of some readers when I posted on Scott Atran’s response to Sam Harris’s public statements about Islam and its relationship to terrorism. Let’s see if I can learn anything and do better with my presentation of Atran’s response to similar claims by Richard Dawkins.

Maybe if I begin by quoting the following words of Scott Atran I will be off to a better start:

I certainly don’t criticize [Harris and Dawkins] and other scientifically minded new atheists for wanting to rid the world of dogmatically held beliefs that are vapid, barbarous, anachronistic, and wrong. I object to their manner of combat, which is often shrill, scientifically baseless, psychologically uninformed, politically naïve, and counterproductive for goals we share. (Talking to the Enemy, p. 427, my bolded emphasis as throughout)

Now I really have liked and gained so much from Richard Dawkins’ writings. Some of his ideas I have had reservations about, and a few I cannot agree with at all given my other studies and experiences on the topics. But I like his efforts to promote rationality in public discourse. And I especially like his educational works on evolution. For all of that, though it is a hard to accept, the cruel fact is that not many of us are perfect in every way.

Sometimes a prominent public figure speaks about a field that is outside his or her area of expertise. Those who pull this off the most successfully are comedians. The light-heartedness of their grasp of issues pays off. No-one studies their jokes in order to educate themselves about the fundamental realities of how the world really works. (I know, many jokes are “funny because they’re true” but we don’t learn what’s true from them.)

But when a public figure whom I admire in many ways says something publicly, as if it were fact, that I know is contradicted by the publicly available research data itself, and that is even dangerous because it can fan a wider ignorance and lend support to mischief and harmful actions, then it hurts. What’s more, because there are a few areas where I do have more knowledge, being more widely read in the relevant areas, I do feel some sense of responsibility to try to speak up in some way when I hear a prominent person influencing others with misinformation. What I would like to achieve if at all possible is that a few others might for themselves explore the works, the information, the research, that belies many of the claims of Dawkins and Harris about the link between Islam and terrorism.

The first of the “new atheist” publications about religion that I read was Dan Dennett’s Breaking the Spell. It was quite different in approach from Harris’s, Hitchens’ and Dawkins’s contributions, so I was interested to see that Atran likewise does not have the same criticism of Dan Dennett as he has of Harris’s and Dawkins’s books:

Dan Dennett treats the science of religion in a serious way. Dan believes that universal education should include instruction in the history of religion and a survey of contemporary religious beliefs. Once out in the open for everyone to examine, science can better beat religion in open competition. My own guess is that it won’t work out that way, any more than logic winning out over passion or perfume in the competition for a mate. (p. 525)

So I hope no-one thinks I’m “Dawkins bashing”. It is possible to have a high regard for someone yet disagree with them profoundly on particular viewpoints and endeavour to appeal to verifiable facts to make one’s point rather than accusing others of dishonesty.

Here is a passage from Dawkins’ The God Delusion that Atran finds problematic — he actually describes it as “fantasy”. So let’s read Dawkins’ words and then calmly and rationally consider Atran’s disagreement with them:

Suicide bombers do what they do because they really believe what they were taught in their religious schools; that duty to God exceeds all other priorities, and that martyrdom in his service will be rewarded in the gardens of Paradise. And they were taught that lesson not necessarily by extremist fanatics but by decent, gentle, mainstream religious instructors, who lined them up in their madrasahs, sitting in rows, rhythmically nodding their innocent little heads up and down while they learned every word of the holy book like demented parrots. (more…)

2013/06/04

What is Happenning in Istanbul?

Filed under: Turkey — Neil Godfrey @ 8:51 am

2013/06/01

Terrorism Facts #3: Is Occupation or Religion the Better Predictor?

Filed under: Pape: Dying to Win,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 3:52 pm

What does the data tell us?

English: (Robert Pape owns all rights to this ...

Robert Pape (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2005 Robert Pape (Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism) published figures that enable us to see whether al-Qaeda terrorists were influenced primarily by their religious beliefs or the foreign occupation forces in their countries.

(I earlier posted other findings of Pape’s identifying terrorist goals and targets: see Terrorist Facts, #2. The figures in this post identify the affiliations and origins of al-Qaeda terrorists.)

“Islamic fundamentalism” — an expression commonly referring to any Muslim movement that seeks to establish an Islamic state — is generally portrayed as “militant”. The fact, however, is that such movements are widely varied (with different movements not accepting each other as true Islamists) and “only a tiny fraction of those who subscribe to these movements have engaged in acts of violence.”

The Muslim world is broadly divided between Sunnis and Shias. The Shias are concentrated mostly in Iran and Iraq and no Al-Qaeda consisted of Muslims (it’s as good as dead now in 2013) who practiced a Sunni form of Islamic fundamentalism known as Salafism.

Apparently oblivious to the varied nature of Salafism (many Salafis oppose and condemn violence) a number of “important scholars and policy makers have . . . come to the conclusion that the ideology of Salafism is a principle cause of al-Qaeda terrorism.” (p. 107)

The following data is based upon the 71 al-Qaeda suicide terrorists who blew themselves up between 1995 and 2003. All but one of 67 whose nationality we know came from a Sunni Muslim country. The exception was from Lebanon and his religion is not known for certain.

An examination of the 66 al-Qaeda suicide terrorists who were known citizens of Sunni-majority countries shows that American military presence is a stronger factor than Salafi fundamentalism in predicting who dies for al-Qaeda’s cause. (p. 109)

Country Muslims Salafi Influenced Al-Qaeda Suicide

Terrorists
Somalia 10 5
Algeria 31 19
Tunisia 10 5 1
Egypt 62 23 2
Sudan 21 21
Nigeria 68 37
Afghanistan 25 10 3
Pakistan 149 43 2
Bangladesh 114 14
Indonesia 185 26 3
Yemen 18 8 3
Saudi Arabia 21 18 34
Jordan 6 2
Oman 2 2
Total 722 233 48

i.e. . . .

1 Al-Qaeda terrorist per 5 million Salafi

1 Al-Qaeda terrorist per 15 million Muslims

Country Muslims Salafi Influenced Al-Qaeda Suicide

Terrorists
Morocco 28 12
Mauritania 3
Senegal 9
Mali 10
Guinea 5
Sierra Leone 3
Chad 4
Burkina Faso 6
Mauritania 3
Malaysia 13
Uzbekistan 21
Turkmenistan 5
Kyrgzstan 3
Turkey 67 4
UAE 2 2
Kuwait 2
Syria 15
Albania 2
Niger 7
Total 212 18

i.e. . . .

1 Al-Qaeda terrorist per 12 million Muslims

Comparing the relative frequency of al-Qaeda suicide terrorists in these two groups of countries, al-Qaeda suicide terrorists are twice as likely to come from Salafi-influenced populations as from Sunni Muslims in other countries.

However, when we examine the effect of the absolute number of the Salafi-influenced population on the absolute number or terrorists from any country, the effect is not statistically significant . . . . Pakistan produced far fewer terrorists and Saudi Arabia and Morocco far more than would be consistent with a direct relationship between Salafism and suicide terrorism. . .

This means that . . . the odds that someone from a Salafi-influenced country will become an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist are not significantly better than chance. (pp. 110-112)

Contrast the data that relates al-Qaeda suicide terrorists with American combat operations. But first, what is meant by “Occupation”?

How can any fair-minded person think the U.S. is an occupying power? (more…)

2013/05/27

Someone get Scott Atran to tell us which soccer club these guys belonged to. — Tweet from Sam Harris

The title was a tweet by Sam Harris: https://twitter.com/samharrisorg/status/337313832814919680 in response to the horrific terrorist murder of Lee Rigby in London. I told someone in a recent comment that I would do a post explaining my perspective on what lies behind Harris’s response. (In that same comment thread one can see a video in which Sott Atran goes some way to explaining what a soccer club has to do with terrorism.)

Firstly, who is Scott Atran? From Wikipedia:

Scott Atran (born 1952) is an American and French anthropologist who is a

  • Director of Research in Anthropology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris,
  • Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University in England,
  • Presidential Scholar at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York,
  • and also holds offices at the University of Michigan.

He has studied and written about terrorism, violence and religion, and has done fieldwork with terrorists and Islamic fundamentalists, as well as political leaders. . . .

. . . he received his PhD in anthropology from Columbia University. . . .

Atran has experimented on the ways scientists and ordinary people categorize and reason about nature, on the cognitive and evolutionary psychology of religion, and on the limits of rational choice in political and cultural conflict. His work has been widely published internationally in the popular press, and in scientific journals in a variety of disciplines. He has briefed members of the U.S. Congress and the National Security Council staff at the White House on the The Devoted Actor versus the Rational Actor in Managing World Conflict, on the Comparative Anatomy and Evolution of Global Network Terrorism, and on Pathways to and from Violent Extremism. He was an early critic of U.S. intervention in Iraq and of deepening involvement in Afghanistan, and he has been engaged in conflict negotiations in the Middle East. . . .

Atran’s debates with “new atheists” Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins and others during the Beyond Belief symposium on the limits of reason and the role of religion in modern society highlight the differences between “new atheists” who see religion as fundamentally false and politically and socially repressive, or worse, and those like Atran who see unfalsifiable but semantically absurd religious beliefs as historically critical to the formation of large-scale societies and current motivators for both conflict and cooperation.

Atran has taught at

  • Cambridge University,
  • Hebrew University in Jerusalem,
  • and the École des Hautes Études in Paris.

He is currently

  • a research director in anthropology at the French National Centre for Scientific Research
  • and member of the Jean Nicod Institute at the École Normale Supérieure.
  • He is also visiting professor of psychology and public policy at the University of Michigan,
  • presidential scholar in sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City,
  • senior research fellow at Harris Manchester College, Oxford University,
  • and cofounder of ARTIS Research and Risk Modeling.

I am belatedly catching up with two of his books, In Gods We Trust and Talking to the Enemy, after having read a few of his scholarly journal and online writings.

I mentioned Atran’s video presentation — there is also follow up to that and Atran’s exchanges with Sam Harris at The Reality Club, Beyond Belief webpage (note on that page there are several in depth comments by Atran). Of his exchange with Sam Harris he writes: (more…)

2013/05/11

Latest News from the Middle East — PEACE just for the recognition of International Law

Filed under: Israel-Palestine — Neil Godfrey @ 4:27 pm
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The caption that originally displayed beneath the Vridar title of this blog was

Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science

Unfortunately I was unable to salvage that detail when I moved to the current WordPress theme. Nonetheless, it encapsulates the original intent of this blog. Even I need the odd breather from posts relating to biblical studies.

I don’t know how many Westerners were exposed to the latest news from the Middle East but, since the overwhelming majority of this blog’s readers are in affluent Western nations, I would like to bring to the notice of any reader with an interest in Israeli affairs the following news item that has emerged within the past 24 hours. It’s the sort of news item that tends to pop up at least once a year and then gets buried before anyone has time to notice it. Just as well. Otherwise the myths about Arab intransigence over the Israel-Palestine situation would be seriously threatened by an eroding of general public credibility.

Missing from the Arab Peace Plan: an Israeli Partner

Yep, once again, the Arab states are offering Israel a peace agreement. You never heard of any such thing before? Read on, and watch the video at the end. (I know, the Arabs really should lift their game and hire Western Public Relations firms to assist them with how they come across to the public. But I know Vridar readers are smart enough to read the core and dismiss the fluff.)

For reasons best left for another post (though addressed in previous comments here), most Westerners have been exposed to a constant barrage of “news” that depicts the Israeli government as bending over backwards, giving up land and all sorts of concessions, all for the sake of peace — yet in vain! The Arabs and Palestinians, our news media and official channels regularly inform us, are hate-filled war-mongers who want nothing but the complete eradication of Israel from the map.

This week, however, has seen the repeat of an annual event that this time has come with an added punch.

Every year since 2002 the Arab states have re-endorsed their offer to Israel for complete and full recognition of the State of Israel, an end to all hostilities and affirmation of peace, if Israel agrees to accept the borders still legally binding by the United Nations — the borders that existed before the Israeli attack on Arab states in June 1967.

A quick aside here. A few people old enough still cling to the propaganda that was fed to the Western media at the outbreak of the June 1967 attack by Israel on its neighbours and quaintly think David-Israel itself was being threatened with annihilation by Goliath-Arabs at the time and was thus fighting for its very survival. For the benefit of any Westerner still enamoured with that illusion, I present the following:

Israel Air Force Commander General Ezer Weitzman: Israel “faced no threat of destruction” but the attack on her Arab neighbours was justified so that Israel could “exist according the scale, spirit, and quality she now embodies.”

Menahem Begin: “In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s Chief of Staff: “I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to The Sinai would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive war. He knew it and we knew it.”

New York Times, 1997: “Moshe Dayan, the celebrated commander who, as Defense Minister in 1967, gave the order to conquer the Golan . . . [said] many of the firefights with the Syrians were deliberately provoked by Israel, and the kibbutz residents who pressed the Government to take the Golan Heights did so less for security than for the farmland . . . [Dayan stated] ‘They didn’t even try to hide their greed for the land . . . We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot.

And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was . . . The Syrians, on the fourth day of the war, were not a threat to us.’”

At the time of the 1967 war, or at least in its immediate aftermath, the Israeli government declared that the territories that it had conquered in June 1967 were “a bargaining chip”. That is, at the time of their conquest, the Israeli state knew that it lacked any legitimacy to hold on to its conquered territories. It hoped to gain further concessions in the wake of the 1967 war of aggression through the territories it had conquered.

But this year, 2013, the Arab states have gone a step further. They have allowed Israelis living in the West Bank’ densest settlements to remain there!!!!!

And there’s a video presentation on The Real News network presenting the same recent event within a deeper historical context: (more…)

2013/05/02

Islamophobia, the word’s origin and meaning

Filed under: Islamophobia — Neil Godfrey @ 6:10 pm
Tags:

I’m no longer desirous of defending myself, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or other public atheists against the charge of “Islamophobia.” It’s been widespread on the Internet these past two weeks, but I’ve ignored it. In the end, I’ve concluded that those charges come from borderline racists themselves: people who think that bad ideas, threats of violence, or religious oppression should be ignored, but only when they come from people with brown or yellow skin. Jerry Coyne fantasizing over what he wishes the source of the ‘Islamophobia’ charge to be. A little effort and he could have learned the facts but, like anything associated with Muslims, he appears much more comfortable rolling around in one-sided media bytes and ignorance.

This post explains the real origins — and meaning — of the word. Scholarly authority on Islam, John Esposito, almost gets it right with the following passage in The Future of Islam (the same source that was the basis of my previous post; formatting and bolding emphasis are mine):

summary“Islamophobia” is a new term for a now widespread phenomenon. We are all very familiar with “anti-Semitism” or “racism,” but there was no comparable term to describe the hostility, prejudice, and discrimination directed toward Islam and the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.

In 1997, an independent think tank on ethnicity and cultural diversity, the Runnymede Trust, coined the term “Islamophobia” to describe what they saw as a prejudice rooted in the “different” physical appearance of Muslims as well as an intolerance of their religious and cultural beliefs.

Origin of the word

Before I comment on the above (as I said, John Esposito only “almost gets it right”), let’s continue with another prominent user of the term and ask how well Jerry Coyne’s fantasy coincides with reality:

Like other forms of group prejudice, it thrives on ignorance and fear of the unknown, which is spreading throughout much of the non-Muslim world. At a 2004 UN conference, “Confronting Islamophobia: Education for Tolerance and Understanding,” Kofi Annan addressed the international scope of the problem:

annanWhen the world is compelled to coin a new term to take account of increasingly widespread bigotry — that is a sad and troubling development. Such is the case with “Islamophobia.” . . . There is a need to unlearn stereotypes that have become so entrenched in so many minds and so much of the media. Islam is often seen as a monolith . . . [and] Muslims as opposed to the West. . . . The pressures of living together with people of different cultures and different beliefs from one’s own are real. . . . But that cannot justify demonization, or the deliberate use of fear for political purposes. That only deepens the spiral of suspicion and alienation.

The literature of the Runnymede Trust itself is not so willing to claim originality for the term, however. In the 1997 report to which Esposito refers, there is a Foreword by Chair of the Commission, Professor Gordon Conway. There Conway explains: (more…)

2013/05/01

Why Haven’t Muslims Condemned Terrorism?

Filed under: Islam,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 10:13 pm
Tags: ,

And it’s not just a handful of extremists, either: it’s the legions of “moderate” enablers who, through either intimidation or cowardice, refuse to decry their co-religionists. No surprise given that the penalty for apostasy is death . . . . (Jerry Coyne accusing Muslims of not speaking out against acts of terrorism)

esposito

John Esposito

Coyne is advertizing his ignorance and fanning the same among his readers. The following comes from The Future of Islam by John Esposito, an authority on Islam. Pages 29-33 —

Muslim Denial

The level of disbelief [that Muslims were responsible for 9/11] among Muslims was and is astonishing — families of the hijackers in Saudi Arabia reportedly stating that their children were in fact still alive and Arabs insisting that no Arab could learn how to fly planes into the Twin Towers.

Many Muslims and Arabs have remained in a state of denial over this: the U.S. government failed to provide hard evidence that Muslims were involved; Israeli intelligence were behind the attacks; there was a cover-up of some sort.

Media Distortions

What sells are stories of confrontation and conflict, crises and tragedy.

A small but vocal minority that celebrated the attacks [of 9/11] as “payback time” for failed American foreign policies in the Middle East enjoyed widespread media coverage. Some Palestinians celebrating in the streets were featured over and over again on major stations.

Overshadowed were the shock and concern of many mainstream Muslims.

book_argue_200-300

Deborah Tannen demonstrates that the principle followed by news media is “no fight, no story”. The media’s goal is not balanced coverage but to focus on conflict and tragedy. (Image links to Tannen’s site)

In fact the Gallup Poll found that 91% of Muslims interviewed believed the attacks were morally unjustified.

Few media outlets, then as now, covered the statements of Muslim leaders and organizations that did speak out, quickly issuing public statements, denouncing the terrorist attacks and expressing their condolences. Why were these voices not heard?

Muslims condemning violence and Islamic extremists simply don’t make it into the news headlines. This is why much of the public simply assumes that Muslims have not condemned terrorism.

Thus the actions of a dangerous minority of Muslim extremists and terrorists become the distorting prism through which all Muslims and their religion are seen and understood. . . The media’s failure to provide balanced coverage, thus compounding the problem . . . .

Even New York Times current affairs columnist Thomas Friedman declared the day after the London bombings that “no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden.” Yet in fact, the New York Times itself on October 17, 2001, published a full-page ad from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty proclaiming:

Osama bin Laden hijacked four airplanes and a religion

along with published statements from some of the world’s most prominent Muslim leaders condemning the attacks, including:

  • The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and chairman of the Senior Ulama (Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Shaik
  • Principal of the Muslim College in London (Zaki Badawi)
  • Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai of Pakistan
  • King Abdulla II of Jordan
  • The Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

Earlier, September 14, 2001, the BBC reported condemnations of the 9/11 attacks as acts of terrorism by a significant, influential and diverse group of religious leaders ranging from

  • Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the Grand Sheikh of Cairo’s al-Azhar University and Grand Imam of the al-Azhar Mosque (viewed by many as one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam)

to

  • Ayatollah Kashani in Iran.

Others also strident in their condemnations:

  • Mustafa Mashhur (General Guide, Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt)
  • Qazi Hussain Ahmed (Ameer, Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, Pakistan)
  • Muti Rahman Nizami (Ameer, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, Bangladesh)
  • Sheikh Ahmad Yassin (founder, Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas], Palestine)
  • Rashid Ghannoushi (president, Nahda Renaissance Movement, Tunisia)
  • Fazil Nour (president, PAS — Parti Islam SeMalaysia, Malaysia)
  • forty other Muslim scholars and politicians

All the above signed their names to the following:

The undersigned, leaders of Islamic movements, are horrified by the events of Tuesday 11 September 2001 in the United States which resulted in massive killing, destruction and attack on innocent lives. We express our deepest sympathies and sorrow. We condemn, in the strongest terms, the incidents, which are against all human and Islamic norms. This is grounded in the Noble Laws of Islam which forbid all forms of attacks on innocents. God Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an: “No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another” (Surah al-Isra 17:15).

Fatwa against Osama bin Laden (more…)

2013/04/30

The Awesome Power of Self-Selection

Filed under: Noam Chomsky,Politics & Society,Scholarly Consent — Tim Widowfield @ 11:04 am

Why I never became a journalist

In my first two years of college, I wandered from major to major — theatre, undecided, political science. One muggy day in the summer of 1979, I realized I was going nowhere. I was working in Columbus, Ohio, for a guy whose business model had something to do with selling frozen meat door to door. My meals consisted mainly of bread, peanut butter, and orange soda (or “pop”).

I was flat broke, with no options. So I decided to join the U.S. Air Force, following in my dad’s footsteps. To make a long story short, my language aptitude scores landed me in Russian language school at Monterey, then on to an overseas assignment. The job was interesting, and living in Berlin was a great experience, but I knew from the outset I was going to stay in only for the minimum four-years stint, and then head back to school.

lardner-typewriter

Ring Lardner

This time I knew exactly which I degree I wanted to pursue: a bachelor of arts in journalism. At the University of Maryland, I bided my time, waiting for seats in the first upper-level journalism class to open up. In the intervening period, I took lots of history courses as electives.

At last I found myself on the first day of my first journalism class. The professor greeted us all and then asked us to go around the room, give a short introduction, and say which kind of journalism we were focused on. Everybody except me and one other guy said, “Radio and Television.” We, the two dinosaurs, had indicated we were interested only in print journalism.

At that very moment, I knew I couldn’t stay. Journalism was now a job for the shallow, pretty people. The beat reporter stabbing away at his typewriter with his index fingers trying to meet a deadline was a figment of my imagination, the ghost of a bygone era.

The power of self-selection

I selected myself out of my chosen field of study. I dropped my classes, switched to history, and never looked back. Since that time, mainstream journalism has gotten much, much worse. Had I stayed, I alone couldn’t have changed anything. But together, the large numbers of people who took themselves out of the mix — who decided not to stick it out and try to stem the tide — might have. Or perhaps not.

The power of self-selection often goes unnoticed. It’s a kind of opportunity cost. What would have happened if such-and-such had not happened? Who gives up? What sorts of people remain? Do they represent a broad section of society, or have the pressures of the system ensured that only certain people who think “the right way” have a voice?

(more…)

2013/04/27

Flawed and Dangerous: The Popular Notion of “Religious Terrorism”

Filed under: Islamophobia,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 8:32 am
Tags:
otago029995

Richard Jackson is currently Deputy Director at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS).

Available online is a Political Studies Review 2009 article “The Study of Terrorism after 11 September 2001: Problems, Challenges and Future Developments” by Richard Jackson “of Aberystwyth University”. (Professor Richard Jackson has since moved to the University of Otago so is not to be confused with the current Richard Jackson at Aberystwyth University who is Professor of Accounting and Finance.)

I am copying an extract from that article here, having changed some of its formatting and added highlighting for easier reading. This section is a damning indictment on the popular notion of “religious terrorism” so I should first quote the far more optimistic abstract of the entire article.

Terrorism studies is one of the fastest-growing areas of social scientific research in the English-speaking world. This article examines some of the main challenges, problems and future developments facing the wider terrorism studies field through a review of seven recently published books. It argues that while a great deal of the current research is characterised by a persistent set of weaknesses, an increasing number of theoretically rigorous and critically oriented studies that challenge established views suggest genuine reasons for optimism about the future of terrorism research.

So there is hope beyond the travesty addressed in the following extract. (I have copied the details of the cited works at the end.)

The Rise of ‘Islamic Terrorism’ Studies

Predicated on the popular notion of ‘religious terrorism’ first articulated by David Rapoport (1984) and galvanised by the identities of the 11 September 2001 attackers and the massive media coverage given to al-Qa’eda, an extremely large literature on ‘Islamic terrorism’ has developed in the past six years (Jackson, 2007a). Silke’s analysis of articles published in the leading terrorism studies journals demonstrates that studies on al-Qa’eda and affiliated groups grew significantly after 1995 and now make up a significant proportion of all terrorism studies published in the core journals (Silke, 2004b).

With a few notable exceptions (see Gerges, 2005; Gunning,2007b; Halliday, 2002), the vast majority of this literature can be criticised for

  • its orientalist outlook,
  • its political biases
  • and its descriptive over-generalisations,
  • misconceptions
  • and lack of empirically grounded knowledge (see Jackson, 2007a).

Rooted in an uncritical and simple-minded acceptance of the notion of a ‘new’ kind of ‘religious terrorism’, this literature

  • typically adopts an undifferentiated and highly exaggerated view of the threat posed by ‘Islamism’,
  • traces a causal link between Islamic doctrine and terrorist violence,
  • attributes religious as opposed to political motives to ‘Islamic terrorists’,
  • fails to differentiate between local political struggles and a global anti-Western movement
  • and assumes that the religious motivations of ‘Islamic terrorism’ rule out all possibilities for dialogue and diplomacy
  • – among others.

Shmuel Bar’s (2006) Warrant for Terror is in many ways emblematic of this popular literature. Based on an analysis of a large number of recent fatwas, or the legal opinions of Islamic jurists that deal with the permissibility or prohibition of actions (Bar, 2006, p. x), Bar’s aim is to explore the role fatwas play in ‘Islam-motivated terrorism’ (p. xiii). (more…)

2013/04/26

Terrorism Facts, #2: Motivations and Goals,1980 to 2001 . . .

Filed under: Pape: Dying to Win,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 8:15 am
Robert Pape

Robert Pape

What were terrorists doing before they discovered the USA, UK, Europe, Bali?

These tables are for a particular type of terrorist attack, the suicide bombing, from 1980 to 2001, from Robert Pape’s article, “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”, American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 3, 2003 (pp. 343-361). The same tables no doubt appear in his book Dying to Win but I don’t have my copy of that with me. Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 11.08.45 AM

(more…)

2013/04/25

Terrorism Facts, #1: How Radical Islamists Justify Killing Civilians, even Muslims

Filed under: Islam,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 12:24 am

Ironically people who identify Islamic terrorists with the “true beliefs of Islam” are (unknowingly) serving as mouthpieces for those terrorists. The fact is Islamic terrorists believe they alone represent true Islam and that the vast majority of those who profess to be Muslims deserve to die. Those terrorists would love nothing more than to hear everyone say it is they who demonstrate what true Islam is really all about! (All other Muslims, far from being “enablers of extremism” or “potential killers themselves” are really on their way to Hell, they say.)

Mohammed M. Hafez

Mohammed M. Hafez

This post shares some of the main findings of an article published in the peer-reviewed Asian Journal of Social Science 38 (2010) 364-378, “The Alchemy of Martyrdom: Jihadi Salafism and Debates over Suicide Bombings in the Muslim World”, by Mohammed M. Hafez.

(The terms ‘radical Islamists’, ‘jihadists‘ and ‘Jihadi Salafists‘ are used interchangeably. The terms exclude other Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood movements and Islamic nationalists such as Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah.)

This post covers three ways radical Islamists justify the killing of Muslims in their attacks —

  • their redefinition of Islamic piety, apostasy and heresy,
  • how they come to define their acts as martyrdom rather than suicide,
  • and how they unearth various texts of medieval scholars to justify the killing of civilians.

I trust readers will acknowledge the parameters of this discussion and not impute more into it than is concluded and for which evidence is advanced. There is far too much ignorant lunacy and dangerous fear-mongering being spread across the internet — not least from public intellectuals (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, and co.) who ought to know better — and this series of posts on Vridar is the first of several that will attempt to shed some light on the actual facts, that is, the findings of scholarly research as published in reputable scholarly media.

The need for justification

We all need to justify what we consciously decide to do. Many of us even know of experiments that indicate we are unaware of the real reasons we decide to do X or Y and that the reasons we express, with conviction, can be demonstrated to be after-the-fact rationalizations. So human behaviour is not always a simple matter. That’s why so many different perspectives can add to the complexity of our understanding of ourselves — sociologists, anthropologists, historians, psychologists, economists, biologists . . .

.

The debate among radical Muslims

M. M. Hafez begins his article by noting that jihadists have, since the 1970s, become increasingly cruel and indiscriminate towards even fell0w (radical) Muslims, and have accordingly had to defend themselves against accusations unjustifiable killing. This has produced a rather bizarre debate among the most radical Islamists themselves!

At the heart of these debates is a central paradox.

  • On the one hand, radical Islamists must anchor their violence in classical Islamic texts and traditions in order to uphold their image as bearers of authentic Islam and as followers of divine commandments.
  • On the other hand, the classical Islamic tradition imposes constraints on many aspects of their violent activism. (pp. 364-5, my formatting)

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Classical Islam’s constraints

Against suicide

Quran 4:29-30: ‘Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves: For verily Allah hath been to you Most Merciful! If any do that in rancor and injustice, — soon shall We cast them out into the Fire: And easy it is for Allah.’

A Prophetic tradition cited in Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari: ‘And whoever commits suicide with a piece of iron will be punished with the same piece of iron in the Hell Fire.’

.

Against killing fellow Muslims

Quran 4:93: ‘If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (For ever). And the wrath and curse of Allah are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.’

.

Against killing non-combatants

Quran 2:190: ‘Fight in the path of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for God does not love transgressors.’

Also in a Prophetic tradition quoted in Sahih Muslim: ‘It is narrated on the authority of ‘Abdullah that a woman was found killed in one of the battles fought by the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him). He disapproved of the killing of women and children.’

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The intellectual father of Jihadism and his three arguments

Muhammad al-Maqdisi

Muhammad al-Maqdisi

Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the infamous mentor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the name behind many suicide terrorism attacks in Iraq before he was killed by the U.S. air-force in 2006, is linked to several tracts on suicide attacks that are published on the Tawhid wal Jihad website. M. M. Hafez has distilled this diverse literature to three fundamental rationales that have become “the basis for Jihadi Salafist violence in the Muslim world”:

  1. their redefinition of Islamic piety, apostasy and heresy, to allocate most Muslims to the categories of “tyrants, apostates, heretics and infidels”;
  2. their defining of their terror acts to mean “martyrdom” instead of “suicide”;
  3. and how they unearth various texts of medieval scholars to justify the killing of civilians, including Muslims.

1. The meaning of Piety and Apostasy in Islam (more…)

2013/04/22

Orientalism, Us, and Islam

Filed under: Islam,Islamophobia,Said: Orientalism — Neil Godfrey @ 8:47 am
Tags: , ,
Orientalism (book)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most influential publications of the twentieth century was Orientalism [link is to the Wikipedia article on the book] by Palestinian born American scholar Edward Said. The book has been translated into 36 languages and said to have revolutionized Middle Eastern studies in the U.S. Naturally, as with any major revolutionary work that challenges conventional ways of thinking, it has had its critics. I single out here some of Said’s commentary on Western attitudes towards Islam that I believe stand as valid today as they were when first published in 1978 and expanded in 1994. My own comments are in blue italics.

The principle dogmas of Orientalism:

  1. The absolute and systematic difference between the West, which is rational, developed, humane, superior, and the Orient, which is aberrant, underdeveloped, inferior.
  2. Abstractions about the Orient, particularly those based on texts representing a “classical” Oriental civilization, are always preferable to direct evidence drawn from modern Oriental realities.
  3. The Orient is eternal, uniform, and incapable of defining itself, therefore it is assumed that a highly generalized and systematic vocabulary for describing the Orient from a Western standpoint is inevitable and even scientifically “objective.”
  4. The Orient is at bottom something either to be feared (the Yellow Peril, the Mongol hordes, the brown dominion) or to be controlled (by pacification, research and development, outright occupation whenever possible).

Every one of those dogmas has come through loud and clear in the the writings of Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne and others, as well, of course, in many recent comments on this blog. We do not have to get to know or learn about Muslims from their own writings or history; we only need to pick up the Koran to see our suspicions and fears confirmed.

Islamic Orientalism accordingly believes there are still things such as “an Islamic society, an Arab mind, an Oriental psyche.”

It makes no difference whether we are talking about a situation in Bangladesh or events in Egypt, Palestine, Afghanistan or Bedford. The world is facing a threat from a singular religious belief system that threatens Western civilization.

Every facet of societies in the modern Islamic world is anachronistically interpreted through texts like the Koran. (more…)

2013/04/13

Damned Lies, Statistics, and Muslims

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Recently a commenter posted a raft of figures supposedly establishing as fact that large segments of followers of the Muslim faith are supporters of terrorist violence. The commenter took the figures from an anti-Islamic hate website. The figures themselves are compiled on Muslim Opinion Polls: A Tiny Minority of Extremists?

muslimOpinPolls

I quote here the figures used to support some dire claims about Muslims along with the results of my own cross-checking of the sources for these figures.

Claim

Almost half of Muslims polled in 2006 supported Osama bin Laden (49.9%).

Fact

This claim is a loaded one. We will see that polling indicates that most Muslims in the Middle East refused to believe that bin Laden was responsible for 9/11. That surely is a significant factor that is important for Westerners to understand. More on this later. Meanwhile . . . .

The poll is no longer available online so we cannot check the source and evaluate the figure against the questions asked and how they were framed and what audiences were targeted. But it does appear that the poll was an online one. That is, people check a tick box online. We don’t know if internet users were able to click multiple times from the one computer. Online polls are inevitably problematic in that we have little way to knowing how representative of wider society the respondents are. (more…)

2013/04/10

Jerry Coyne’s reply, Bangladeshi Muslim Demonstrators, and Atheist Bloggers

Filed under: Islam,Islamophobia — Neil Godfrey @ 10:24 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I was disappointed, and for some reason even a little surprised, to read Jerry Coyne’s response, Islamophobia again, to my recent post and see that he chose not to deal with the key points I raised. In fact, he merely repeated his own arguments as if my own rebuttal of them was nowhere on record. What was most disappointing was his upfront declaration that he had no interest in engaging with contrary views, even referring readers to a Christopher Hitchens quotation expressing a disdain for any opinions but his own and inviting anyone who wishes to challenge those opinions to kiss his arse.

So there is clearly no interest on Jerry’s side to seriously debate the issue. His mind is made up and has no room for anything new when it comes to the question of Islam.

Much of his post is elaborating on the recent events in Bangladesh. At least a hundred thousand demonstrators (estimates vary between 100,000 and 500,000 in the news sources) have come out into the streets calling for the deaths of atheist bloggers. That is how the news has been filtered into the Western media and that’s all there is to the story as far as Jerry and others are concerned. Presumably anyone who has any further information that might change that view of theirs will be invited to kiss Jerry’s arse.

This blog is all about sharing information and inviting readers to look deeper behind what is most commonly presented to the public. Concerning what is going on in Bangladesh, I really did expect intelligent and thoughtful sceptics to be a little more astute and diligent with checking sources before swallowing what they see on mainstream TV news.

So at the end of this post I will present a few facts — facts easily obtainable by anyone with unfettered access to the internet — that Jerry and others presumably do not think are relevant.

Jerry writes:

Can you imagine Catholics, for example, rallying by the hundreds of thousands to call for the death of anti-Catholic bloggers? Or murdering them?

Not in this day and age, no. But I do know of some ugly moments in history . . . And that’s Jerry’s problem here. He has assumed a situation in Bangladesh needs absolutely no reference to history there, or to the different religious groups and political roles they have played in recent decades and months, is validly comparable to a Catholic area in the United States. This is the danger of people not knowing or understanding, or not even being interested in understanding, another people on their own terms. Now Jerry has quickly added that what is happening in Bangladesh has nothing to do with colonialism or politics because the demonstrators are clearly saying “Death to the atheist bloggers” in the name of Islam.

That’s it. End of story. Kiss his arse if you want to actually understand some context and background to what has brought those demonstrators out to the streets with those cries, or suggest that this is worth a serious comparison with how Catholics in twenty-first century America behave.

Jerry completely avoids my argument when he repeats this nonsense:

I still can’t quite understand why it’s sort of okay for atheists to level strong criticisms at other religions (Sam, after all, wrote Letter to a Christian Nation, and I spent an entire week on this site documenting the immorality of the Catholic Church [e.g., here and here]), so long as that religion is not Islam. We’re not accused of Catholicphobia or Baptistphobia, but only Islamophobia. I think this reflects a double standard, for such accusations hold Muslims to lower standards

Rubbish. I have criticized Islam. (Not often, I admit, because my experience is mostly with Christianity.) I have no problems with anyone, not even Muslims, criticizing Islam. There is a lot to criticize, especially given that they have not had the history of Reformations (plural) and Enlightenment challenges that Christianity has experienced. They have a lot of catching up to do.

From time to time since starting this blog I have had a few Muslims (not all!) take great offence at some of my comments or posts. Jerry did not notice or understand my explicit comparison of the sorts of criticisms that are leveled against other religions and those that are lately leveled against Muslims by our leading lights of new Atheism.

He then reprises the accusations he says he regularly hears against new Atheism and its association with Islamophobia. I don’t know if he really hears all of these arguments, because his first point, “it’s racism”, fails to grasp what is actually being said about Islamophobia. Islamophobia is not racism in the normal sense of the word, but it does take negative racist stereotypes and imputes them into a whole religion, and inevitably that implies all adherents of that religion. That’s a neat way of enabling one to claim the odd Muslim (or Jew or black man) that one knows really is a nice person without detracting from the general collective demonization or dehumanization.

Is this dehumanization?

When anyone imputes to other groups the potential to act in a way that is not normally ‘human’ — e.g. on the mere say-so of an authority, and for no other reason or unusual conditioning, go out and kill others; or believe that parents en masse threatened to kill their children in order to gain entrance into a first world country (we once had a Prime Minister here who had much/most of the nation believing just this about some Muslim refugees!) — then one is dehumanizing them.

Jerry also says his critics argue that Islam is no worse than any other religion. I don’t know what others say, but there is no doubt Islam has some major problems that are not faced by Christianity today, and that has to do with history as mentioned above. But let’s stop using abstractions for people. Let’s talk about adherents of religions. That’s where the conflict and any future solution lies. It’s the adherents who define the religion in real terms. And critics of Islam need to know a lot more about Islamic populations than they glean from mainstream media soundbytes.

And Jerry misses the point completely about the question of “not all Muslims being violent”. Jerry is not listening — he tells people to take a ticket and go and . . . . — so he keeps repeating the same old the same old the same old. I don’t know how I could have made the point any clearer in my previous post but (or therefore?) he ignores the real argument completely.

POWER_OF_LIGHT

2013 Shahbag protesters opposing Jamaat-e-Islami — Wikipedia photo

Bangladeshi Demonstrators Calling for the Deaths of Atheist Bloggers

No doubt anyone with his or her mind made up will only find in what follows validation for their Islamophobia. But for others . . . .

An Agence France Presse release:

There has been vociferous debate between staunch atheists and fundamentalists in Bangladesh’s social media for years, but it took a deadly turn in February when an anti-Islam blogger was murdered. (more…)

2013/04/06

Islamophobia and (some?) New Atheists

Disclaimer: this post expresses my own view entirely. Others who also have posted on this blog may or may not think quite differently.

.

Time to get dirty hands and write about something important. Something unhealthy has been happening in the name of criticizing “tenets of religious belief . . . bad ideas and behaviors.” Prominent public intellectuals, in the name criticizing harmful religious beliefs, have become mouthpieces for ignorance and intolerance.

Just as it is incumbent upon Muslims to marginalise their own violent extremists, mainstream atheists must work to disavow those such as Harris who would tarnish their movement by associating it with a virulently racist, violent and exploitative worldview.Murtaza Hussain

Jerry Coyne, who has written probably one of the best books for generalists arguing the case for evolution, and whose blog I check from time to time for updates in the sciences, also from time to time posts disturbingly ignorant articles about Islam or Palestinians. Richard Dawkins, whom I respect and love as much as anyone does for his publications explaining evolution, was not very long ago interviewed by a Muslim on Al Jazeera and unashamedly threw off all his scientific training by relying entirely on anecdotal and media portrayals of Muslims. I have previously criticized Sam Harris for doing worse. Chris Hitchens, as much as I admire his works on Kissinger and Mother Teresa and his all-round wit, was guilty, too.

Over the last few days Jerry Coyne has been posting his disapproval of anyone suggesting his views on Islam (shared by the other names above) are Islamophobic. See Nasty atheist-bashing in Salon, Playing the Islamophobic Card and New Attacks on New Atheists (and one defense). He accuses such critics of quoting the likes of Harris out of context, of not defining what they mean by Islamophobia, of fallaciously accusing them of guilt by association with neo-fascists, and worst of all, of failing to address any of their actual criticisms of the Muslim religion.

After reading the several articles and related links to which Coyne and Harris have been responding (Scientific racism, militarism, and the new atheists; Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens: New Atheists flirt with Islamophobia) I believe that Coyne’s rebuttals do not stand. Coyne, Harris and Dawkins, for all their intellectual magnificence in other fields, are fanning social attitudes that facilitate bigotry and popular support for war.

Why are their criticisms of the Muslim religion wrong?

I am an atheist. I have experienced some of the best and worst of religion. I wish for a world where humanity has discovered that religion is long past its “use by” date. I believe that the Abrahamic religions in particular are responsible for immeasurable sufferings and torments among societies and individuals. I have no time for their belief systems. The sooner we all outgrow our awe of our holy books the better. (None of this means I believe in attacking individuals for their beliefs. There is a difference between criticizing belief systems and targeting individuals over their personal faith.)

I have compared different varieties of Christianity today with the various drugs on the market. Vapid Anglicanism is a mild aspirin. Happy Pentecostals are the happy marijuanas. I know of a few cults that are the deadly heroins. (They really do reduce addicts to ill health, poverty, anti-social life-styles and death, literally. Suicides, untreated illness, ignorance within and without the cults.)

I would not be surprised if I ever learned that I could do the same with the faiths of Judaism and Islam. (more…)

2012/07/13

The Fanboy Defense — An Excuse for Doing Nothing While the World Burns

Filed under: Atheism,Evolution, Science,Politics & Society,Religion — Tim Widowfield @ 12:03 pm

I smoke because Picasso smoked. And because Hitler didn’t.

— Albert Finney

Pablo Picasso 1962

Pablo Picasso 1962 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re all for evolution, but . . .

Robert Wright, a senior editor at The Atlantic, in his recent piece called “Creationists vs. Evolutionists: An American Story,” explains why the U.S. has seen a recent uptick in the number of people who believe in Young-Earth Creationism (YEC). Is it because of the endless hammering by the holy hucksters on TV? Is it because of the 24-hour, nonstop Right-wing noise machine? Is it because of politicians who pander to ignorance and supernatural mumbo-jumbo?  Of course not. It’s because of those mean old “new atheists.”

Jerry Coyne’s response over at Why Evolution Is True effectively debunks Wright’s distressingly poor thesis, especially the part where we were supposed to have been in the middle of a truce between science and superstition until extremely rude people like Richard Dawkins forced people to choose. I can add very little to Coyne’s remarks.

What intrigues me is this idea that people would choose to support or not support a given scientific theory based on the people associated with it. Over at the HuffPo, Michael Zimmerman, the founder of the Clergy Project, asks: “Who’s Responsible for the Evolution/Creation Controversy?” You know the kind of article it’s going to be from the start when he adds, “It’s Not As Simple as Some Would Have You Believe.” Ah yes, the old “plenty-of-blame-to-go-around” piece, as predictable as earwigs after a hard rain. But catch what he says about men (and women, we suppose) of the cloth and their role in the debate:

(more…)

2012/05/17

If Human Rights Aren’t Your Highest Priority, What Does That Say about You?

Filed under: Politics & Society — Tim Widowfield @ 12:39 am

The Bush Junior years — 2000 to 2008 — were interesting times, politically, here in the U.S. When Dubya’s positive polling percentage hit 29%, some of my conservative friends came out of the closet, so to speak. “Tim,” they told me, “I’m really more of a libertarian than a conservative or a Republican.”

“Don’t lump me in with those Neocons.”

Of course the realization that they no longer identified with the national G.O.P. (Grand Old Party) had more to do with the disenchantment with the Neocons than anything else. Specifically, it had become apparent that the Iraq War had been a tragic mistake — what kind of mistake exactly depends on whom you ask. Was it ill-conceived from the beginning and based on fabricated intelligence, or was it simply poorly executed? Either way, lots of weary Republicans all over the country were distancing themselves from a very unpopular president.

So now when I read news stories about the ballot initiative against gay marriage in North Carolina last week, or yesterday’s disgusting vote in the Virginia House of Delegates, I wonder what all those self-styled libertarians think. I know many libertarian-leaning people are appalled by government intrusion into citizens’ personal lives, and I wouldn’t doubt most Republicans I have known (the ones with university degrees and most of their teeth) aren’t homophobic. Will they distance themselves from this madness, too? (more…)

2012/04/04

The Ehrman Debacle and Our “Post-Truth” World

Alternate history, alternate reality

aChrist before Pontius Pilate, Mihály Munkácsy,...

"What is Truth?" -- Christ before Pontius Pilate, Mihály Munkácsy, 1881 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)s

Several years ago, I was listening to the Thom Hartmann Program, a liberal talk radio show that runs in the United States. Naturally, I was listening to a podcast, since here in the Midwest only conservative talk radio is permitted on the public airwaves. At any rate, it was before the last presidential election, and Thom was musing about candidates and their public image. He said Democrats needed to be careful not to do something silly like Clinton did — namely, getting a haircut on the tarmac aboard Air Force One, delaying air traffic around the country until he was ready to go.

Hartmann’s heart was in the right place. Dee Dee Myers recalls that the high-priced haircut that stopped traffic was a blow to Clinton’s image. The story, which dominated the news cycle for at least three days, “became a metaphor for a populist president who had gotten drunk with the perks of his own power and was sort of not sensitive to what people wanted.”

Except the story isn’t true. Oh, he did get a haircut on Air Force One, but it didn’t stop traffic. Somebody had to call Thom over the commercial break and remind him. Of course, Thom remembered then that the story was false, but here’s the power of perception in a post-truth world: Reality has become nothing but a shared media experience, and whoever controls that media creates reality.

Media Truth: Bart Ehrman has disproved mythicism

Here in the U.S., there’s a cottage industry that employs a handful authors dedicated to debunking the lies, half-truths, and misrepresentations spewed out by hate radio hosts and right-wing media pundits. In the vacant space created by a delinquent press (sometimes indifferent, often complicit), these authors plug away and dutifully point out each error in an effort to set the record straight.

But it doesn’t do any good. By that I mean the conventional narrative doesn’t change. The record never gets set straight. Whoever tells the story first and loudest gets first dibs on constructing reality. It helps, of course, if the new bit of information confirms peoples’ biases. It’s even better if the details are titillating and salacious.

This is why so many people, even educated people who should know better, think that climate change is a hoax, that Gore said he “invented the Internet,” or that Obama is an atheist-Muslim-Marxist. They’re plugged into media outlets that tell them what they want to hear, and even if they should accidentally flip the channel, mainstream media is too busy telling stories about murders, mayhem, and missing persons to do its job.

Similarly, Dr. Richard Carrier, Acharya S, Earl Doherty, and my buddy Neil have been diligently cataloging the errors in Bart’s Myth-bashing opus. I’m glad. We need to try to set the record straight. However, I don’t expect it to do much good — at least in the popular media — and certainly not within the guild. We won’t be able to change the media narrative that Dr. Ehrman has “dispelled the myth of mythicism.(more…)

2012/03/05

Three Votes Away

Filed under: Iran,Politics & Society,Terrorism — Tim Widowfield @ 1:25 pm
Tags: ,

The parable of the burning trees

English: Park County, CO, June 27, 2008 -- Saw...

Image via Wikipedia

Once there was a man who lived in the woods. His cabin was surrounded by 51 trees, one of them, a large oak so close that its spreading branches shaded the roof. He lived there happily for many years. Eventually, there came a season so hot and so dry that when the sparks from a nearby campfire flew in and touched them, the trees practically exploded into flames. The man watched in horror from his kitchen window as the trees were consumed, one by one. Finally, the firemen arrived and put out the conflagration, but not until 48 trees had been destroyed.

Relieved, the man wiped his forehead and vowed to take preventive measures immediately. So the next morning he called his insurance agent. “I need to protect myself and my property,” he said. “How much will it cost for full flood insurance?”

Religious privilege over personal rights

This past week the U.S. Senate barely voted down an amendment to a highway bill that would have allowed employers to opt out of paying for their workers’ insurance for any medical service they believe is “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer or other entity offering the plan.” (For those who aren’t familiar with the crazy American system, the most common way we get health coverage here is as a benefit from our employers. The recently passed Affordable Health Care act mandates coverage, which has brought the issue to the forefront.) In the media, it was mostly framed as a debate about birth control, with the right wing calling it a freedom-of-religion issue.

But the truth is the law was so vaguely worded that it would have permitted an employer to deny funding for any procedure, any drug, anything at all if he or she has religious qualms. If your boss is a Jehovah’s Witness, he might opt not to pay for your husband’s blood transfusion. If he’s a Christian Scientist, he might not want to help pay for your children’s vaccinations. Does he have moral objections about your upcoming heart transplant? Then maybe you should pay for it out of pocket. His “conscience” trumps your health.

The meaning of the parable

The 51 trees represent the smallest majority vote possible in the Senate. The 48 burned trees are the Senators (3 Democrats and 45 Republicans) who voted to privilege religious beliefs over personal human rights. The cabin is our secular republic. So who is the man in the cabin? That would be Dr. Robert M. Price, aka The Bible Geek.

(more…)

2012/02/22

Latest on Syria’s Complexities

Filed under: Syria — Neil Godfrey @ 7:34 pm
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syria

The news on Syria is drenched with unconfirmed and unsourced reports, print, video and audio. I learned long ago that the mainstream media is driven too much by economics to be a reliable source — if the government or the corporation or any other interest group gives you a free press release then don’t waste time checking it out, just broadcast it!

Over some years now I have come to respect Middle East journalist Robert Fisk. Some on the rabid right loathe him, but I have found his analysis to be the most spot on in the end whether it’s about Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Israel-Gaza/West Bank, or Syria. He knows his stuff.

Here is his interview with Kerry O’Brien (a prominent Australian interviewer) on what is going on in Syria right now and what appears to be around the corner. Click on the 13 minutes of video here: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2012/02/16/3432592.htm (more…)

2012/02/05

Syria: Report of the Arab League Observer Mission

Filed under: Syria — Neil Godfrey @ 8:12 am
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Coat of arms of Syria -- the "Hawk of Qur...

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As a follow up to my earlier post Syria: what we are not being told here is an English translation of the report of the Arab League Observer Mission to Syria. Of particular interest are the statements made in it about the way the media have treated the mission and misreported certain statements by some of its members. Of special note, too, is the report of the existence of “an armed entity that is not mentioned in the protocol.” And of most importance is the report’s findings on the will of the Syrian people themselves.

Report_of_Arab_League_Observer_Mission (pdf file)

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2012/01/08

Palestine 1896 (beautiful)

Filed under: Israel-Palestine — Neil Godfrey @ 4:55 am
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From Gilad Atzmon.

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2012/01/05

Syria: What we are not being told

Filed under: Syria — Neil Godfrey @ 5:27 pm
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Map of Syria, showing its adjacent location we...

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Asia Times has a thoroughly documented article, A Mistaken Case for Syrian Regime Change, by Beirut based Aisling Byrne, a Projects Co-ordinator with Conflicts Forum. It is depressingly predictable reading.

In the last some weeks or more I have been only half-listening to any news of Syria I hear on the mainstream media for the simple reason that I have grown tired of hearing vague reports, unsubstantiated and contradictory reports, especially noticeable after I ever chanced to hear interviews in documentary type radio news programs, even on Al Jazeera, that all I have been sure of is that we are not being informed about what is happening there.

And Aisling Byrne’s article shows us why the news has been so unclear and incoherent. Except for the headlines that continually bombard us with the singular theme of genocidal tyrannical regime massacring its own people. I try to listen beyond the headlines and pick up some sourced facts and that’s where the headlines begin to turn into knotted strings beyond hope of unravelling. That leaves me suspicious that the headlines are a smokescreen for something. I eventually gave up listening because the detail was never there or never confirmed.

Read Aisling Byrne. It’s the same story as we experienced with the massaging of the Western publics to support the invasion of Iraq and then the humanitarian bombing of Libya. (Aisling has a little to say about that, too.)

Our mainstream Western media has for too many years now been the main cheerleaders for warmongering ventures of our governments acting on behalf of “our national interests”. (Translation of “national interest”: those specific interests within a nation that have the money and the power.)

Bush did it all wrong. He provoked ten million protestors to come out into the streets worldwide to try to stop a war. Ten million protestors don’t represent “national interests” so it would not do to make that mistake again. Libya showed a better way that became possible through exploitation of the Arab uprisings. Select target states (Libya and Syria) quickly found their peaceful civilian demonstrator replaced by armed gangs soliciting western military support. Curiously the same did not happen in states where popular protests threatened Western interests (e.g. Bahrain). Coincidence, of course.

Aisling Byrne’s article begins with the evidence that what is happening in Syria is the first chapter of a war on Iran, or at least regime change in Iran. This is confirmed by Under Secretary of State for the Near East Jeffrey Feltman and other sources.

What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime “more compatible” with US interests in the region.

Remember that infamous Project for a New American Century? Well some of the same people behind that have been busy with a new document, Which Path to Persia? This is the “blueprint” for regime change in Iran produced by the neo-con Brookings Institute. A more recent appendix to this book is Towards a Post-Assad Syria produced by two neo-con think-tanks. It illustrates

how developments in Syria have been shaped according to the step-by-step approach detailed in the “Paths to Persia” report with the same objective: regime change. (more…)

2011/12/31

Lest we forget never know: The Nakba

Filed under: Israel-Palestine — Neil Godfrey @ 5:31 pm
Tags: ,

From http://zochrot.org/en

A Public hearing at Zochrot, a testimony given by Amnon Neauman, a 1948 Palmach soldier describing the occupation of the Negev villages.

Initiated and organized by Amir Hallel. The testimony was video-recorded by Lia Tarachansky. Miri Barak prepared the transcription. Eitan Bronstein edited, summarized, and added footnotes. Translated to English by Asaf Kedar. Video editing by Zohar Kfir.

 

Transcript

Amnon Neumann: I was in the Second, Eighth, and Ninth Battalions of the Palmach from February 1948 until my discharge in October 1949. I was there for this whole period, except for a few months after I had been wounded and after my father had passed away.

The most significant period for me in terms of the Nakba was April-May 1948, when the battles or clashes with the locals took place, until the Egyptian Army arrived. At first we escorted convoys traveling on the road from ‘Iraq Suwaydan , from Rehovot, [through] ‘Iraq Suwaydan, Kawkaba and Burayr, to Nir-‘Am where our company headquarters were located. Then an armed group of Arabs situated itself in Burayr and didn’t let us through, so we took a different route, from near Ashdod where Isdud was located, through Majdal, Barbara, Bayt Jirja, to Yad Mordechai. From there we drove to Nir-‘Am. Those were the two routes [we used] until the Egyptian army arrived. When the Egyptian army arrived, it was a completely different situation.

The Egyptian army arrived when we had wiped out all Arab resistance, which wasn’t that strong. It would be an exaggeration to say we fought against the Palestinians… in fact there were no battles, almost no battles. In Burayr there was a battle, there were battles here and there, further up north. But there were no big battles; why? Because they had no military capabilities, there weren’t organized. The big battles started with the entry of the Egyptian army, and those were very difficult problems, especially from May 15th, when we were still an organized army—the Palmach—semi-military. But their soldiers were organized by British methods, they fought like the British. But they had no leadership and they had no motivation. So when they attacked, it was very lousy, they hardly knew how to attack, but they did know how to defend themselves. They knew they were fighting for their lives. But as far as all the rest, it was a fifth-rate army. They had terrible cannons that killed us like hell. They had all kinds of tanks of different types, and they were a problem for us. We didn’t have anything, we had armored vehicles, those fluttering ones that were impossible to fight with, not against tanks and not even against a halftrack, right? But we more or less managed with them.

The villagers’ flight, and I understand this is the main issue here, happened gradually. I only know about what happened from the ‘Iraq Suwaydan road, [through] Majdal, to ‘Iraq al-Manshiyya . We were to the south of this area, and to its north there was the Givati Brigade. The day the Egyptians entered the war, the Negev was cut off and that was mostly our fault, my platoon’s fault… I’ll say more about it later. But that wasn’t significant. The Egyptians’ attacks were significant. They beat the hell out of us and killed us mercilessly.

The villagers’ flight started when we began cleaning these convoy escort routes. It was then that we started to expel the villagers… and in the end they fled by themselves. There were no special events worth mentioning. No atrocities and no nothing. No civilians can live while there’s a war going on. They didn’t think they were running away for a long period of time, they didn’t think they wouldn’t return. Nor did anyone imagine that a whole people won’t return. (more…)

2011/11/30

Noam Chomsky Interview with Phillip Adams (and others)

Filed under: Politics & Society — Neil Godfrey @ 4:19 pm
Tags: , ,

Thank God for Podcasts. They mean I don’t have to miss out on a thoroughly enjoyable and interesting interview with “the most important intellectual alive,” Noam Chomsky of course.

What was especially interesting this time — and different from other interviews — was the extent to which he opens up about his personal life from childhood on and how he came to be where he is today.

I copy here a few of the comments from the Late Night Live webpage with the audio links, and some other videocasts:

Chomsky’s speech on receiving the Sydney Peace Prize and other (more political) interviews at the Sydney Opera House are also linked.

(more…)

2011/10/16

Wonderful news, hopeful news (but would a story help?)

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It’s growing. It’s on the way to becoming what I wished it would become. I had thought that the tail-ending catch-up game in New York was a symptom of the accelerating irrelevance of the U.S. But it’s catapulted into the 15th October movement or the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Not just a demonstration but the beginnings of a movement? Hoping still.

The first sign of hope with the new century was in 2001 with the World Social Forum. That spawned many regional social forums and I was involved in the Brisbane one for a few years. The momentum diminished but networks were being formed and organizational and educative ideas were being shared.

About the same time, only months apart, the International Solidarity Movement was born with the specific agenda of direct action support for the Palestinians and this had a remarkable history since — attracting two Nobel Peace Prize nominations.

2003 saw one of the most remarkable events in the history of democracy as grass-roots movements around the world coordinated to bring out millions in an effort to prevent a war from starting. It was clear to millions that leaders were lying and mainstream media was misinforming them about the threat posed by Iraq. The leaders and their communications channels were no longer able to “manufacture consent” for war as they had been so used to doing before. The powerless masses were capable of organizing globally and showing their strength by the millions. People who had never dreamt they would ever be a part of a street protest came out to be counted, seen and heard.

They failed to stop the war. But this was something totally new in history. Millions around the world coming out to attempt to stop a war before it started. It was a turning point. What the people were capable of doing and willing to do was now clear. What was needed was a catalyst, a cause to inspire with hope, a target or program that will sustain an ongoing will to change something significant.

What often sparks movements is a change in circumstances for the worse. Enter the GFC, the Global Financial Crisis. Add a little dose of being shown up by the more active and courageous peoples in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen fighting for liberties the west took for granted . . . then Greece, Spain, France. . . . — realizing they had to fight to avoid losing sight forever of realities and hopes they once had.

This is the legacy of networks and activist sharing of organizational and communication tactics and methods initiated with the World Social Forum then demonstrated and revitalized with the anti-war protests of 2003. Being an activist for social justice causes often feels like one is part of a lost cause, trying to keep a candle burning with only a few other like-minds in a world of suffocating hopelessness. But that’s what it’s always been like for the last two hundred years. It’s mostly a matter of preparing, never giving up, continuing to keep the flickering alive, until the next “right moment” comes that will fan it into an expanding flame.

If the Wall Street demonstrations really do grow into a movement it will be because clear, simple and concrete, very specific, communicable programs will rise to the top. The World Social Forum brought together dozens of grass-roots agendas. That was its strength and weakness. The 2003 event was so huge in part because of the singularity of its goal.

But another vital factor seems to be crystallizing out of the current movements. What is also needed is a new story, a new myth, to capture imaginations. A story is needed to explain the current situations or crises facing the world. (It’s not just a financial crisis. We also need to have a habitable planet. And other little issues like space-control and multiple means of mass destruction are not healthy assets, either.) The stories that served the late eighteenth, nineteenth centuries and early twentieth centuries are obsolete. They don’t work anymore. But some think they only need revitalizing and adapting. Something clear, sensible and dramatic needs to be found that can unite us in a common understanding of where we are, where we have been and the simple options before us.

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2011/09/28

Lights turning on in the U.S. again?

Filed under: Politics & Society — Neil Godfrey @ 7:54 am
Tags: ,

It’s great to read good news from the U.S.A. again. All the inspiring stuff has been coming out of south-east Asia, the Middle East, north Africa, Latin America, southern Europe. And now in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street and its sister movements I read of Elizabeth Warren, a voice of reason amid the madness, saying the obvious in a way that it needs to be communicated. Australia’s richest man, now dead, boasted that the one dollar he paid as tax was quite justified because it was he who was the one giving everyone else their jobs and incomes! Few at the time were able to reach the public media with the obvious retort that that blind arrogance deserved and that Elizabeth Warren is now saying according to the linked Al Jazeera opinion piece:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear:

You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

I read one sarcastic piece about the Wall Street demonstrators but many conservative minded people fail to understand what even small protest actions can often do. They don’t bring the targets they are opposing down to their knees. But they do often spark the publicity, the attention, and initiate the public-discussion and awareness that does eventually mount the pressure to effect the change.

It’s great to see activism and clearly understood outspokenness in the U.S. once again. The U.S. has been under a very dark shadow for too many years now and all the wonderful lights have been burning elsewhere all this time. I find it very encouraging to see some flickering sparks once again from a region has had very little good news for so long now.

 

 

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2011/09/06

The Wandering Who?

Filed under: Ethics & human nature,Israel-Palestine — Neil Godfrey @ 4:36 pm
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Following is a review of Gilad Atzmon’s book. One part of what interests me about this sort of discussion is the inevitable comparison with any other similar experiences of losing one’s old identity and finding a new one. My own experience was in losing my identity as a Christian and becoming what many would call a secular humanist. I went through more than one iteration of Christianity (fundamentalist, liberal) but failed to appreciate the extent to which one’s identity can be entombed in such a belief at any level, until I left the “other-world” idea behind entirely. (One is constantly reminded that even “liberal Christians”, for example, can sometimes be just as arrogant in their humility, just as intolerant and hostile of other views, as the fundamentalist variety. The only difference for so many is that they change their targets or their levels of self-deception. But we are all where we are at and each of us has our own journey to follow.)

The original is at Gilad Atzmon’s blog here or on the VT site here.

Gilad struggled with the conflict between his early experiences as an Israeli Zionist and his awakening as a humanist

The Wandering WHO? navigates between thought-provoking personal experiences, historical and philosophical issues

by Paul J Balles

Gilad Atzmon, scholar, prolific writer and leading jazz saxophonist has authored the book The Wandering WHO? In it he astutely explores the identity crisis he himself experienced and one faced by many Jews.

Gilad struggled with the conflict between his early experiences as an Israeli Zionist and his awakening as a humanist.

His book reveals an innate ability to switch between the qualities of a down-to-earth artist (the successful sax player and word-smith) and the knowledgeable philosopher.

Without doubt, The Wandering WHO? will awaken many readers– pleasing some and disturbing others.

The pleased will include those who have experienced similar awakenings or resolved identity crises by continuously asking questions.

The book will also find welcome readers among those who have sought honest answers to the many contentious issues involving Jewish identity, Jewish politics and Israel.

The disturbed will include those Gilad might refer to as “separatist Jews…kind of a bizarre mixture of an SS commander and a Biblical Moses.”

Gilad will also face threats and complaints from those he calls “pro-war Zionist Islamophobes.”

He will undoubtedly find rejection from those who want “to stop proud, self-hating Jews (like Atzmon) from blowing the whistle.”

The Wandering WHO? navigates between thought-provoking personal experiences, historical and philosophical issues.

In the forward, Gilad tells the most remarkable story of his Jewish upbringing and the challenging questions raised by his early experiences as an Israeli Zionist.

In the chapters that follow, Gilad remarks that “Israel is the Jewish state and Jewishness is an ethno-centric ideology driven by exclusiveness, exceptionalism, racial supremacy and a deep inherent inclination toward segregation.”

Atzmon draws a distinction between Jews as: (more…)

2011/07/23

For Ottawa readers with an interest in Palestine

Filed under: Israel-Palestine — Neil Godfrey @ 8:34 am
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Hanan Aschrawi Hanan Ashrawi was awarded with ...

Hanan Aschrawi: Image via Wikipedia

This was forwarded to me by Mozer Zimmo (the alcanaanite blog).

Friends,

I received the below invitation from the Palestinian General Delegation in Ottawa announcing a “Briefing Session by Dr. Hanan Ashrawi” who is visiting Canada as special envoy of President Mahmoud Abbas. I believe you all know Dr. Ashrawi; a world renowned spokesperson for the Palestinian cause. If there is one person you would want to hear articulating the case for the Palestinian people in a highly sophisticated and civilized manner, it would be Hanan Ashrawi. Her briefing is not an event you would not want to miss. (more…)

2011/06/26

Turning Blooms to Desert

Filed under: Israel-Palestine — Neil Godfrey @ 11:25 pm

Now it’s all gone —

It’s not making headlines here but it should.

http://electronicintifada.net/content/now-its-all-gone-women-cope-siege-jordan-valley/10105

“Now it’s all gone”: Women cope with siege in Jordan Valley

Nora Barrows-Friedman

The Electronic Intifada

24 June 2011

 Israeli military forces have demolished 27 houses in the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank over the last two weeks. More than 140 Palestinians have been rendered homeless by the demolitions, while Israeli settlement expansion continues to threaten more land and restrict water access — affecting the vitality of dozens of Palestinian villages in the area. (more…)

2011/04/28

Israel-Palestine: A Totally Unique Conflict in Human History

Filed under: Israel-Palestine — Neil Godfrey @ 9:52 am

The following post by Gilad Atzmon is copied from his blog with his permission.

GILAD ATZMON: TIME IS RIPE FOR A PARADIGM SHIFT

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 27, 2011 AT 11:45AM GILAD ATZMON

It is slightly embarrassing for me to admit that sometime  Zionists are actually well ahead of our favourite  intellectuals in understanding the depth of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It is not that they are more clever, they are just free to explore the conflict without being subject to the tyranny of ‘political correctness’, also being proud  nationalist Jews- they do not need  the approval of the Jewish left thought police.

I have recently come across a short Haaretz article by Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua*.

Yehoshua is a proud Zionist, He believes in the right of his people to dwell on Palestinian land.  He is also convinced that the Jewish state is the true meaning of contemporary Jewish life. I guess that Yehoshua loves himself almost as much as I despise everything he stands for and yet, I have to confess, he seems to grasp the depth of the Israeli Palestinian conflict’s parameters  slightly better than most  solidarity activists I can think of. (more…)

2011/04/10

Gaddafi: the millennia old Messiah figure is still with us

Filed under: Libya,Messianism — Neil Godfrey @ 9:45 am
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Cover of "The Messiah Myth: The Near East...

Cover via Amazon

The messiah myth, millennia old across north Africa and the Middle East, is still alive in Libya today. Words recently spoken by Gaddafi were scripted long ago by the Pharaohs of Egypt and the Kings of Mesopotamia, and are found in the Psalms of David and in the proclamations of Jesus Christ. I repeat a few of them here, then place Gaddafi’s perception of his messianic role beside them.

Interesting also is the motif of family relationships Gaddafi ascribes between himself and Nasser of Egypt and even the U.S. President Obama. All this is, one might truly say, “so iron age”. It is the stuff one reads on monuments of ancient kings.

More extracts are found in my earlier post, Jesus A Saviour Like the Kings and Gods of Egypt and Babylon, which are in turn extracted from Thomas L. Thompson’s book The Messiah Myth. This work demonstrates that biblical motifs attached to David and Jesus were part and parcel of the expected “messianic” salvation functions of kings and gods embedded in ancient Egyptian and Babylonian culture. (more…)

2011/02/22

Tripoli

Filed under: Libya — Neil Godfrey @ 6:35 am
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How irrelevant is all this shite about Paul and the gospels. (more…)

2011/02/14

Hope for a real beacon of democracy for the Middle East and beyond

Filed under: Egypt — Neil Godfrey @ 11:43 am
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Still on a euphoric roll over the incredible news from the people of Egypt.

Remember that time when a U.S. president promised to make Iraq “a beacon of democracy across the Middle East”? Some of us protested then that the humane way to do this was to support  resistance movements within Iraq.

Now it’s the Egyptian people who are the ones set on course for becoming that beacon instead.

A thousand ironies lie in there somewhere. Stereotypes and myths have been shattered.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood is failing to conform to western expectations now one of their “pillars of stability” has crumbled:

The people of Egypt. The obscene criminal destruction of Iraq. What a contrast.

Will be breathing secular prayers that the people of Egypt will not suffer betrayal in the coming months.

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2011/02/03

Secret violence good, public violence bad

Filed under: Egypt — Neil Godfrey @ 9:03 pm

It’s nice to see that the US State Department perceives the United States’ national interests coincide with a public call for the Egyptian presidency (specifically the vice-president) to hold accountable those responsible for the violence pro-Mubarak persons inflicted upon the demonstrators.

It is a pity that it was not apparently deemed to be in U.S. national interests to make similar calls during the past thirty years of Mubarak’s tortures, exiles and executions of dissidents, or his participation in torturing of others in secret rendition progams.

2011/01/25

The Great Betrayal of the Palestinians

Continuing my posts on the history of the Palestinians (from a Palestinian scholar’s historical research) seems superfluous now, given the in-your-face evidence of how the Palestinian Authority and PLO leadership has betrayed their people. The betrayal began with Arafat. He was the first to agree to be paid off to act as Israel’s policeman, with “foreign aid” in the form of police handcuffs from the U.S.

The principled Palestinian leaders, or would-be leaders, have long since been kidnapped (they were democratically elected in UN monitored free and fair elections, by the way) and incarcerated in Israeli prisons. But that crime is not nearly so well known, and the names of the victims are too numerous (and Arabic!) for anyone to recall, compared with the case of that solitary Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. (There’s a double irony in that last sentence that I hope is picked up — and more importantly followed up.)

One can only weep.

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2011/01/14

The not so great Islamist menace

Filed under: Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 6:48 am
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The following is from Alcanaanite’s Blog (Monzer Zimmo has kindly allowed me to re-post it here)

Dan Gardner: The not so great Islamist menace

Posted on 2011/01/06 by Alcanaanite

Two millennia ago, there was a Jewish Palestinian from Nazareth by the name of Jesus who once said: “The truth will set you free.”  Sooner or later, the truth will reach people, and those who know it will be free; free from fear, free from hate, and free from vengeance.

Yesterday, January 5, 2011, Dan Gardner wrote a revealing article in the Ottawa Citizen, in which he introduces the truth to his readers about terrorism in Europe.  There is nothing more compelling than the truth; facts, numbers, comparisons, and putting things in perspective.  Gardner does it eloquently in his easy to read article.

Excerpt:
“The European Union’s Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2010 says that in 2009 there were “294 failed, foiled, or successfully executed attacks” in six European countries. This was down almost a third from 2008 and down by almost half from 2007.  So, in most of Europe, there was no terrorism.  And where there was terrorism, the trend line pointed down.  As for who’s responsible, forget Islamists.  The overwhelming majority of the attacks – 237 of 294 – were carried out by separatist groups, such as the Basque ETA.  A further 40 terrorist schemes were pinned on leftist and/or anarchist terrorists.  Rightists were responsible for four attacks.  Single-issue groups were behind two attacks, while responsibility for a further 10 was not clear.  Islamists?  They were behind a grand total of one attack.  Yes, one.  Out of 294 attacks.  In a population of half a billion people.  To put that in perspective, the same number of attacks was committed by the Comite d’Action Viticole, a French group that wants to stop the importation of foreign wine.”

For the full article, click on the following link:
http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/great+Islamist+menace/4060885/story.html (more…)

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