Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Uneasy Feelings Moving In
Muslim Sect's Proposal for Extensive Center Unsettles Small Frederick County Town

Philip Rucker, The Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Walkersville is a town of corn farmers and high school football, where American flags hang over front porches guarded by scarecrows and dotted with pumpkins.
Nestled near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains on the rural outskirts of Frederick, it has so many churches that some residents call it "God's Country," and many of them are praying that this hamlet of 5,500 will be able to stop a proposed development.
Some say they worry the Islamic visitors would be intolerant of the Christian faith that runs through the tree-lined streets of Walkersville.

"My problem is with the way they view the Christian faith," said David Stull, 50, a woodcutter and produce salesman who has lived in Walkersville since Lyndon Johnson was president. "They dislike Christians; they dislike our fundamental beliefs," he continued. "I do believe it's going to cause a big problem here because of their hatred toward our views." [Note: They practice a different religion and disagree with Mr. Stull...Without speaking to the Ahmadiyya community, how Stull knows that they 'hate' his views is a mystery. Someone should ask him what he thinks of Islam and if he knows the fundamental differences between what one can loosely term "Orthodox" Sunni Islam, which is admittedly overly general, and the Ahmadiyya sects of Pakistan...I'm guessing that he doesn't know.)

Intisar Abbasi, 60, who lives in Frederick and commutes to Silver Spring to worship at the Ahmadiyya mosque, said he hopes his fellow Muslims will become a part of Walkersville. "I love the community, and the people are wonderful," Abbasi said. "I'm not surprised there are people who are angry, but, you know, that's part of the process."

TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE, SEE: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/22/AR2007102202357.html?hpid=sec-religion

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is Christianity the Problem? A Debate

Noted essayist, author, and editorialist Christopher Hitchens, whose books include God isn't Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (see: http://www.slate.com/id/2165033/entry/2165035/) and The Trial of Henry Kissinger, debates conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza, author of the new book What's So Great About Christianity and The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 in which he blames the American "cultural left" for causing the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (see: http://www.dineshdsouza.com/books/enemy-intro.html). The debate is held at The King's College, a Christian college in New York City.

Despite bringing up some valid points later in this debate, particularly in regard to the secular Tamil Tiger's of Sri Lanka and the idea that none of the new militant atheist intellectuals (Hitchens, Sam Harris, Prof. Richard Dawkins) can prove the nonexistence of of a divine being, ultimately falls flat when he attempts to "prove" the validity of a particular religion, his own (generally speaking), Christianity. He makes absurd claims such as that the heart of morality came into the world thanks to Christianity. This is a frequent falsehood which believers assert when on the contrary, morality is not tied to religion let alone a specific one as D'Souza laughably asserts. In fact, two of the most ethical and principled persons which I am privileged to know are atheists. Are they any less moral than my religious friends? No. Despite the anectodal nature of this example, I feel that it is instructive.

In the end, Hitchens, as is often the case, gets the better of a lesser debating opponent. D'Souza, though more formidable than many of Hitchen's sparring partners, ultimately helps his (D'Souza's) own defeat.

D'Souza also brings up the words of Jesus in the Christian Bible, the so-called "New Testament", as "proof" of his claims, ignoring the inconvenient existence of the Revelation to St. John, which is much less tolerant. This is the same pitfall which apologists and defenders (there is a difference) of Judaism and Islam fall into. Arguably a more useful counter-point would be that religious texts should be evaluated according to their historical contexts, this is what religious "fundamentalists" and militants do not want to do.

D'Souza in Part 9 claims that many Hindus converted to Christianity because it did not have a "4-tiered" caste system. Although this is partly true, D'Souza conveniently neglects to mention that a similar phenomenon predates the coming of European colonialists and missionaries when many Hindus converted to Islam, which lacks a caste system within its theology and preaches spiritual equality, in principle, as well. D'Souza is also incorrect when he refers to a 4-level caste system with the "Untouchables" at the bottom. The Hindu caste system, loosely speaking, is made up of, depending on how one looks at it, either 4 levels (Brahims; Kashatriyas; Vaisyas; Sudras) and a fifth "outcast" level (the "Untouchables") or in reality five levels.D'Souza also relies on the argument of "you can't disprove it, so it must be true." A more useful manner of thinking might be, "I believe it, you don't, and I'm fine with that." It makes for a much easier, happier existence.

A long struggle ensued during the 19th century in Europe and the United States in the academe before a segment of believing Christian and to a lesser extent Jewish scholars accepted textual criticism as a valid and even essential aspect of secular, academic study of religion as a cultural, societal, and historical phenomenon. From personal interaction and experience a growing number of believing Muslim academics are attempting to do the same thing and is facing a similar negative reaction from large segments of their own communities who resist such an attempt.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

On The Line: Film on Palestinian/Israeli Peace by Participants in a Canadian Peace Dialogue Camp

Made by: Pirouz Nemati, Alaa Abu Dawoud, Ragheb Askari, Yana Galfrin
Description: A short documentary about real friendship between two teenagers, one Israeli and one Palestinian who met in peace camp in Canada. Later in a fictional scene, they meet at a checkpoint, one is an Israeli soldier, the other a Palestinian trying to pass.

These films are the result of a two-and-a-half-week program called Peace it Together 2006 organized in partnership with the Creative Peace Network Society. During the course of the program, 10 Israeli, 10 Palestinian and 9 Canadian teen-agers heard each others' stories, gained new communication and conflict resolution skills, and struggled to come to terms with the violence that impacts their lives. In small culturally mixed groups they were tasked to create films that addressed how the conflict impacts their lives.

The Creative Peace Network Society and Peace it Together participants will continue to engage in dialogue and collaboration and promote their films through reunions and follow-up activities in the Middle East and in Canada. The Creative Peace Network Society will also use the films as educational tools to inspire dialogue and collaboration around the world.

This program has been made possible by the hard work of many volunteers, and the financial contribution by individuals and private foundations. The success of this and future programs is contingent on increased financial support. To ensure that this and future programs be sustainable, please make a tax-deductible contribution for Peace it Together 2006/2007.

We spend Billions of dollars preparing for the possibility of war and virtually nothing preparing for the possibility of peace.

[Text taken from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gfvbi0rFQfw]

Donate via www.creativepeacenetwork.ca

Check or money order
Donations should be made out to Creative Peace Network and mailed to:

Creative Peace Network
Suite 412-411 Dunsmuir St.
Vancouver, BC V6B 1X4

Thursday, October 25, 2007

God's Warriors: Inside Monotheistic Religious Radicalism

Messianic Jewish Israeli Settlers

Waiting for the Rapture: Evangelical Christianity

Fighting in the Path of God: Radicalism in Islam

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Giuliani Foreign Policy Aide, Pipes, Supports Foreign Terrorist Organization

Daniel Pipes, founder and director of the right-wing Philadelphia-based think-tank the Middle East Forum, is one of Republican Presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani's main foreign policy advisors alongside Neoconservative godfather Norman Podhoretz and right-wing Israeli academic Martin Kramer. Pipes also publicly supports the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a large Marxist-leaning Iranian exile organization which has been involved in a decades-long insurgency of sorts against the Iranian Revolutionary government since the early 1980s.
The Mujahedin, who supported the overthrow of Iran's last monarch, Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, have carried out hundreds of attacks on Iranian government targets with blatant disregard for civilian casualties. Government members have been assassinated and embassies and official buildings have been bombed. In the 1970s when the Mujahedin, who originally coalesced around Iranian leftist intellectuals as an anti-monarchy movement, killed U.S. military advisors and civilian contractors in Iran and in 1979 they supported the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by Iranian university students.
Pipes neglected to mention this in his July 10 article in the right-wing newspaper The New York Sun, "Unleash the Iranian Opposition (the Mujahedin-e Khalq)," (http://www.danielpipes.org/article/4747) in which he claimed, "But the MEK poses no danger to Americans or Europeans, and has not for decades." Pipes also failed to mention that the Mujahedin were allowed to operate in Iraq by Saddam Husayn and in fact helped the Iraqi Ba'thist dictator by serving as an internal security mechanism. He weakly attempts to explain away the fact that the group is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State and Pipes' claims that it all can be blamed on former President Bill Clinton ignore the fact that despite President George W. Bush serving his seventh year as president, the group remains on this list. Americans are thus forbidden to work with or be engaged with the group.
Quick looks at the Council on Foreign Relations' terrorism web site, http://www.cfr.org/publication/9158/mujahadeenekhalq_iranian_rebels.html?breadcrumb=%2Fissue%2Fpublication_list%3Fid%3D456%26page%3D3, and GlobalSecurity.org, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/mek.htm, portray the organization in a more truthful light than Pipes' selective puff piece on an organization which at its core uses violence to achieve political ends.
Pipes' crowing about the Mujahedin's popularity in Iran is wildly overstated it would seem since the organization has failed to launch any successful rebellion against the current Iranian government and is based largely outside of the country.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Meeting Resistance: A New Documentary about the Iraqi Insurgency from its Members' Own Perspectives

Meeting Resistance, a documentary by Steve Connors & Molly Bingham


What would you do if your country was invaded? MEETING RESISTANCE raises the veil of anonymity surrounding the Iraqi insurgency by meeting face to face with individuals who are passionately engaged in the struggle, and documenting for the very first time, the sentiments experienced and actions taken by a nation's citizens when their homeland is occupied. Voices that have previously not been heard, male and female, speak candidly about their motivations, hopes and goals, revealing a kaleidoscope of human perspectives. Featuring reflective, yet fervent conversations with active insurgents, MEETING RESISTANCE is the missing puzzle piece in understanding the Iraq war. Directed by Steve Connors and Molly Bingham, this daring, eye-opening film provides unique insight into the personal narratives of people involved in the resistance, exploding myth after myth about the war in Iraq and the Iraqis who participate. Through its unprecedented access to these clandestine groups, MEETING RESISTANCE focuses the spotlight on the "other side," leaving the viewer with clarity as to why the violence in Iraq continues to this day. [From the web site]


Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Mind of a Neocon: Richard Perle

An episode of the PBS series America at a Crossroads, "Case for War: In Defense of Freedom," in which Richard Perle, one of the original members of the leading Neoconservative organization the Project for the New American Century and an arch-hawk, faces some of his most ardent critics and tries to whitewash and resurrect his reputation. Perle, one of the leading advocates for the Second Iraq War and the idea that Iraq would be a cake-walk, has attempted to reinvent himself, distancing himself or denying some of his past statements. I won't pretend that I am neutral when it comes to this man or the movement which he represents, however I feel that it is valuable and in fact essential to listen to what other people with opposing views think.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Christopher Hitchens Debates Oxford Professor Alister McGrath on Religion in Human Societies

Debate between Alister E. McGrath, Oxford University Professor of Historical Theology, and noted essayist and intellectual Christopher Hitchens in a Georgetown University-sponsored debate on religion in human societies.

See their web sites:




Monday, October 15, 2007

Vatican Set to Release Archival Materials on the Order of the Temple, the Knights Templar

Vatican archive yields Templar secrets
By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

The Knights Templar, a military order of the Roman Catholic Church, are back in the news again, almost 700 years after they were suppressed by papal edict. They were originally formed to protect Christians in the Holy Land during the early Crusades. The Templars are the stuff of legend, and their exploits have provided the plots for many films and popular novels.

The Knights, who wore a distinctive white mantle decorated with a red cross, became very wealthy, owned property all over Europe and the Middle East, and started up a primitive international banking system. They caused deep controversy, even in their own time. They helped to finance wars waged by several European monarchs.

Some believe the Templars were the custodians of the fabled Holy Grail. Disentangling fact and fiction about them is difficult. In France, a Grand Master of the Order and other knights were burned alive by order of King Philip IV, after the Order was accused of heresy, blasphemy and sexual misconduct. Now the Vatican has decided to shed some new light on this often obscure period of late medieval history. To the delight not only of scholars but also of Templar buffs around the world, who have been captivated by Dan Brown's stories, they are publishing facsimile reproductions of the original account in Latin of the investigation and trial into the alleged misdeeds of the Knights Templar. It took place in Rome between 1307 and 1312.

The document, known as the Chinon parchment, shows that Pope Clement V found the Templars not guilty of heresy, but guilty of other lesser infractions of Church law. Nonetheless he ordered the disbandment of the order.

To Read the rest go here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7044741.stm

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Today's Music: Matisyahu, "Jerusalem"

The latest song that I found catchy despite its political message which, if I'm interpreting it correctly, I do not agree with.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Around the World: 'Eid al-Fitr

Tens of thousands of Muslims gather to pray at the Saudi Arabian holy city of Mecca's Grand Mosque to mark the end of Ramadan and the start of the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr.
Millions of Afghans began Eid celebrations with prayers, and will visit relatives and friends to offer sweets and enjoy specially prepared meals.

In Indonesia, which has the world's largest population of Muslims, Eid is known as Hari Raya Idul Fitri - the Great Day of Celebration.

As the three-day festival began, Muslims gathered for early morning prayers, like this group in the Philippines.

Muslims celebrate not only the end of fasting, but also thank God for the strength they believe he gave them during Ramadan to help them practise self-control.

[Source: BBC Interactive]

Ron Paul: News Hour Interview


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bernard Lewis Rebuts the Armenian Genocide Claim

The U.S. House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee passed a non-binding resolution supporting Armenian claims that the Ottoman Turks carried out "genocide" against them from 1915-1923; the vote passed 27 to 21.

While it certainly is true that tens of thousands of Armenians were killed and tens of thousands of others were forcibly removed from much of central and eastern Anatolia. However, the Turkish and Armenian governments continue to disagree over the exact numbers of people who were killed; Turkey says 300,000 and Armenia 1.5 million. In reality, evidence supporting the 1.5 million claim is sketchy at best and arguably isn't even available.

Armenians also prefer to leave out the fact that a massive and violent insurrection by Armenians in Turkey preceded the Ottoman response. Although of anectdotal value, a friend and colleague of mine who is a Turkish Kurd had family members who were massacred and beheaded by Armenian "insurgents."

Here Bernard Lewis, the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus at Princeton University and someone whom I agree with on basically little else, convincingly rebuts claims that the Ottoman suppression of their revolt was "genocide."


Monday, October 08, 2007

Challenging the 'Wahhabi' Monolith: Contesting the Saudi State (Madawi al-Rasheed)

Contesting the Saudi State
Islamic Voices from a New Generation

Series: Cambridge University Press(No. 25)
Madawi Al-Rasheed, University of London

The terms Wahhabi or Salafi are seen as interchangeable and frequently misunderstood by outsiders. However, as Madawi al-Rasheed explains in a fascinating exploration of Saudi Arabia in the twenty-first century, even Saudis do not agree on their meaning. Under the influence of mass education, printing, new communication technology, and global media, they are forming their own conclusions and debating religion and politics in traditional and novel venues, often violating official taboos and the conservative values of the Saudi society.
Drawing on classical religious sources, contemporary readings and interviews, Al-Rasheed presents an ethnography of consent and contest, exploring the fluidity of the boundaries between the religious and political. Bridging the gap between text and context, the author also examines how states and citizens manipulate religious discourse for purely political ends, and how this manipulation generates unpredictable reactions whose control escapes those who initiated them.

• A groundbreaking analysis of religious and political debate in Saudi Arabia after 9/11
• Explains the rise of a radical Islamist movement in Saudi Arabia
• Considers Bin Laden’s legacy and Saudi attitudes towards its ‘favourite son’

Glossary; Maps; Introduction; 1. Consenting subjects: official Wahhabi religio-political discourse; 2. Re-enchanting politics: Sahwis from contestation to co-optation; 3. Struggling for the way of God abroad: from localism to transnationalism; 4. Struggling for the way of God at home: the politics and poetics of jihad; 5. Debating Salafis: Lewis Atiyat Allah and the jihad obligation; 6. Searching for the unmediated word of God; Conclusion; Notes; Bibliography; Index.
‘This is an extraordinarily interesting and highly nuanced book, a welcome relief from the conventional journalistic banalities about 'Islam' and 'Saudi Arabia' which substitute for proper analysis in the media, or even on some of the lower foothills of academia.’ Peter Sluglett, Professor of Middle Eastern History, University of Utah, Salt Lake City

Friday, October 05, 2007

Hope Flowers for West Bank School

By Raffi Berg BBC News, al-Khadr, West Bank

The school holds interfaith classes to promote religious understandingFor the Palestinian children of Hope Flowers School, violence and conflict is a part of everyday life.
Just six km (four miles) from Jerusalem, their village has seen repeated Israeli incursions, shootings and demolitions by the army.

It is fertile breeding ground for militancy, but, at the hilltop school - a unique project in the West Bank and Gaza - concepts of hatred and retribution are shunned. "Unfortunately we're in a time when hate has escalated between the two sides," says Ghada Ghabboun, the school's co-director. "For many Palestinians, Israelis are the enemy, and vice-versa, but here we work hard against this kind of stereotyping."
"We are all human beings, and it's important to see even your enemy in this way," says Ibrahim Issa, Co-director of Hope Flowers.

Founded as a kindergarten in 1984, the institution places peace and democracy at the heart of its syllabus and extra-curricula activities, promoting non-violence and dialogue as means for conflict resolution.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Life Inside the Hermit Kingdom: The Cult of 'the Leader' in North Korea

A portrait of the late North Korean leader Kim Il-sung is seen at a festival coinciding with the two Koreas summit in Pyongyang. [BBC Interactive]