Tag: Islam

The Religion Century: Challenged By European Atheists? No.

In my post in September 2006, The Religion Century, I argue that now that the world is no longer bi-polar, the only pole left is the US, and in place of a conflict between nation-states, we have clashing cultures and ideologies.  Religious fervor, among Muslims, Christians and Jews, not to mention European paganism and the ancient religions of the East are increasing.  The Religion Century post was important for this blog, predicting a groundswell in spirituality, setting a tone and establishing my position as pro-religion, favoring religion as a positive force for community building, fulfillment, artistic expression and connecting to something larger than yourself.
But what’s that, my thesis about The Religion Century is being challenged?  People think this will be the non-religious century because Europeans are rapidly going atheist?
BBC News reports:

A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set for extinction, say researchers.

The study found a steady rise in those claiming no religious affiliation.

The team’s mathematical model attempts to account for the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives behind being one.

The result, reported at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.

The team took census data stretching back as far as a century from countries in which the census queried religious affiliation: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

BBC News – Religion may become extinct in nine nations, study says

Wait, not so fast, nothing here means “The Religion Century” won’t happen.

First, this study is flawed, basing itself on the concept of “utility,” that there was more self-interested utility in belonging to a religious community in the 19th century and their model shows that utility dropping more and more in the future.  The model fails because religion isn’t always (and should never be) about self-interest, rather about something larger than the self and self-interest.  But if social services across Europe collapse as predicted, that utility model turns upside down as the lower and middle classes suddenly have great self-interest in joining a helping religious community.

Secondly, yes, atheism is on the rise across European Christendom, but these countries also have low birth rates (see List of countries by birth rate, European states are at the bottom). This means that religious communities with really high birth rates (Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Mormons, other sects) within and without Europe will more than replace them, ultimately resulting in a big jump in religious populations.

Lastly, just because “traditional Christendom” as we’ve known it in Europe for the past 1,000 years will shockingly shrink doesn’t mean that other faiths won’t move in.  Nature abhors a vacuum, y’see, and religions are no different.  In Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland, you’ll see people turning to Islam, or Mormonism, or nonsense like Scientology, or New Age paganism or old-school paganism (with Europe going full-circle back to druidism and Norse beliefs) or something worse, who knows, but it’ll definitely be something. Human beings are hard-wired to seek out and connect with spirituality.

Though I understand the fear of Christianity waning in Europe, because when Europeans have let even a sliver of their leaders put weird Norse beliefs ahead of Christianity in the past, it has ended up like THIS, the worst thing ever.

The Religion Century, an upswing in religiosity as support structures we’ve relied on (especially government) are failing and changing more and more, will most definitely have its downsides, too, with intolerance and violence.  But just because religion has gone bad many, many times doesn’t mean it can’t be great. Just because an ice pick can kill, doesn’t mean it can’t create beautiful ice sculptures.

The Arab Spring, the revolutionary wave rippling across North Africa and the Middle East has, from its outset in Tunisia, been driven by Islamic arguments about dignity for all and about how proper Muslim rulers should try to measure up to the “righteously guided Caliphs” and respect human rights as seen in Islam. Though many have forgotten this, the first actions of the Egyptian uprising were about solidarity with Egyptian Christians following the brutal Alexandria church bombing that rocked Egypt seconds into New Year’s Day, and, famously on January 6th (Coptic Christmas) groups of demonstrators formed lines of “human shields” for churches during Christmas mass. Amid reports of the Mubarak regime‘s consistent discrimination against Christians and indifference to violence against them, revolutionary demands quickly grew. The rationale behind the Arab Spring is that the brutal dictators in the Arab world have broken Islamic law and should be removed. This is a dimension of The Religion Century that is amazingly positive.

The assertion often made by scholars and social scientists that religion wanes as affluence in a society increases is false–you only really see that correlation in the Western world. In Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, China, and many others, they have built more and more spiritual interest, congregations, houses of worship and religious learning institutions as their exponential increase in standard of living and disposable income has allowed it. More income among religious populations has meant more mosques and temples built, more clergy trained, more religious texts produced. In China (most striking because the PRC has enforced atheism until recently) the newly affluent are funding an explosion of Christianity, Buddhism, even traditional Chinese Taoism. Check out this fascinating NYT story China’s Taoism Revival.

I know that I open myself up to potential ridicule by posting such unabashed pro-religion views.  But I see people across the world living in despair, and more disconnected from each other in daily life than ever before. Americans work more and more hours than any other people on earth, go home alone, veg out on fake corporate food and culture, rinse and repeat. In this rat race culture, devoid of much meaning and largely disconnected from religious traditions, spirituality couldn’t be more important, and religion is key as an organizing force that I hope will foster more human connection, community building, artistic expression (see Religious Art} and fulfillment to a bleak, materialistic world.  We need it now more than ever.


Religious Literacy and Understanding, For Our Own Sake

You can’t really form productive relationships with many every day folk in the U.S. (nor Mexico, South America and Africa) if you’re completely ignorant of Christianity, and, increasingly, its more charismatic groups, which are seeing explosive growth. Unless you can *get* where people are “coming from,” you won’t understand them, and the spiritual is a huge part of that. The spiritual will always become more a focus when material things fail, and they are failing on a massive scale unseen since the ’30s.

As the U.S. falls, others prosper. You can’t understand what is going on in China right now (their return to their once-familiar role as #1 global superpower) if you have no clue what Confucianism is, and the role it is playing in Chinese policy and politics.

You can’t understand how cultures across the globe are responding to the rapid changes happening, a revolution in technology and society and the economy unprecedented since the Industrial Revolution, without religious literacy.

The Islamic world and the dizzying variety of cultures within it (peoples from North Africa to the Arabian peninsula to the Indian subcontinent to China and Indonesia, each very different from the rest) are in transition too, and you can’t hope to understand what is emerging without educating yourself about Islam, its beauty and its diversity and its role in people’s lives.

a rudimentary map of the countries with significant Muslim populations
a rudimentary map of the countries with significant Muslim populations. This is what I mean by "the Islamic world."
photo by Saif Dahlah/AFP via Getty Images
PHOTO CREDIT: Saif Dahlah/AFP via Getty Images. Click the picture to go to the source, the NYT Lens blog's Pictures of the Day, August 20, 2010

Can anyone look at this photo of this Muslim girl praying to the ONE GOD, and not grasp in some way how beautiful Islam can be? There is no reason to think this girl is part of radicalism or terrorism. Only those who have closed their minds, part of the “Angry White Male” anti-tolerance, fearful, anti-intellectual fervor that’s re-emerging in force in America, would post negative comments about this beautiful photo. During times of economic anxiety, rejection of the foreign and retreat to the familiar is easy, and it spreads.

When I see deep religious ignorance, like foaming opposition to an Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan because so many people can’t distinguish between the peaceful Sufis behind the Park51 project and the radical Wahabbis who support terrorism, I know we need to refocus on religious literacy and understanding.
We’ve got right-wing protesters waving signs based on fear and ignorance about Islam and rich liberals who are just as clueless about Islam as they are about Christianity; the woman that cleans their house more likely to know what Pentecostalism is than her “educated” bosses. And then there are countless hipsters and hippies with their “all religions are the same, different paths up the same mountain” crap, which ignores very meaningful differences and conflicts, and makes real religious literacy harder. All this should change.

Learn! Sufis are known for the whirling dervishes, not terror. To my knowledge, there’s never been a Sufi terrorist! It’s the splinter groups, usually radical elements of the Wahhabbi sect that want war with the West.

Wahhabism is the ultra-conservative revivalist brand of Islam that sprung up in the 18th century, rejecting traditional Sunni scholars and interpretation in favor of a new, extreme, purist form of Sunni Islam. Wahhabism brings us radical interpretations of Jihad, a focus on destruction of infidels, everybody but them seen as infidels, etc., ideas which were not widespread within Islam prior to Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab starting the Wahabbi movement, which has provided the foundation for radicalism (though it’s important to note that radical interpretations can be–and are–challenged on a textual basis, even within the movement). The radical splinter side of Wahhabism is the ideology of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida, the Taliban, Hamas. Regular Wahabbism is the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia (in fact, Wahabbism is inseparable from Saudi history, from the first Saudi state (which came into being because of an alliance with al-Wahhab) onward… Note: today, most in this movement prefer the term Salafi/Salafism. The spread of radical Wahabbism hijacking Islam, a great and beautiful Abrahamic faith (some parts of the Koran are downright pacifist!), and how oil wealth has funded radical madrassahs that have caused problems from Yemen to Afghanistan to the Indian subcontinent, is a really serious problem and should not be minimized.

But, my point is, media so often paints ALL Islam as crazed Wahhabi radicals likes al-Qaida, when, in reality, Islam reflects the incredible diversity of 1.5 BILLION people (read here about the many divisions in Islam). Americans can understand the nuanced and many differences within Christianity: Protestants and Catholics, Mormons and Baptists and Episcopalians, but most of us don’t understand the difference between Sunni Wahabbis and Sufis, or between Sunni Wahabbis and Shias.
Historians can easily argue that Wahhabism formed as a simpler, puritan alternative to the heavily mystical Sufism. Wahabbism is a fundamentalist response, like the “Restorationists” that sprung up from the “Second Great Awakening” in U.S. Christianity. Wahabbism is certainly (in style and content) in stark contrast to Sufism. A Wahabbi would look at the Sufi tradition of whirling dervishes and see pointlessness at best and heretical “innovation” at worst, because whirling like that isn’t in the Koran. Wahhabism rejects traditional scholars and leaders and hierarchy (akin to “the priesthood of all believers” in Protestant thought) because that may lead to “innovations” incongruous with their ultra-purist beliefs.
In diametric opposition, Shia Islam tends to emphasize scholarship, a hierarchy of Mullahs with a Grand Ayatollah (roughly analogous to the Pope) at the top, veneration of Saints, going to shrines, etc. Shia Islam is so different than Sunni, like Puritans vs. Catholics, it’s easy to understand why they’ve been in conflict for so many centuries. And Sufi mysticism is so different, you can see why Sufis are a persecuted minority in both the Sunni and Shia worlds (here is a spot-on op-ed about the precarious position of Sufis in today’s world: Muslims in the Middle). Islam isn’t a united force, and never was; it’s at war with itself in countless ways.
The diversity in Islam is real, and meaningful to understand anything going on in the world right now. But so often, media portrays Islam as one MONOLITHIC enemy. This is false, and pushes us to support stupid and disastrous decisions (like bombing and invading majority-Shia Iraq because we’re mad at al-Qaida, a Wahabbi Sunni splinter group).

Most worrying: the attitude I’m constantly hearing is ETERNAL WAR with all Islam, even super-peaceful Sufis. Too many blame ALL Islam for 9/11, somehow even Sufis are seen as connected to 9/11 even if they have been against Wahabbi interpretations of Islam since before America was founded; they can never escape! It really scares me when demagogues paint all 1.5 BILLION Muslims as enemies. Not only is that unjustified morally, it means more wars, it means we can forget our counterinsurgency strategy (which hinges on convincing Muslims we have no beef with their religion and winning hearts and minds), it means more hate; we’ll need to bring back the draft if we want war with over a billion people!

An economic and technological revolution is happening. The globalization train has left the station. Our success (hell, because of all our countless mistakes, OUR VERY SURVIVAL) as an independent nation-state will hinge on nation-building at home, which requires 1) unprecedented investment in infrastructure, education and R&D which requires 2) the absence of budget-crippling overseas conflicts which requires religious literacy and understanding and 3) welcoming the best and the brightest immigrants to our shores which requires religious literacy and understanding and 4) groundbreaking levels of diplomatic and economic cooperation with foreign powers, which requires religious literacy and understanding! 1-4 will determine whether America sinks or swims and each of these need a lack of cultural/religious animosity that keeps us divided and off-task, which, once again, requires religious literacy and understanding.

We have to have religious literacy and understanding to help us with the heavy lift ahead of us to rebuild our country. Religious literacy and understanding, FOR OUR OWN SAKE.

Every high school and college should be make mandatory reading Stephen Prothero‘s Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn’t and
God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter
for a basic overview of the religions shaping our world. Or at least read some of the links in this post.

But, America needs more (much more) religious literacy and understanding. For our own sake.

Video Blog: Islamic Center on Park Place: Guy in Neighborhood Responds

I’m that guy in the neighborhood. Believe it or not, we live in an apartment only 6-8 blocks or so north of the disputed Park51 site, so this is about MY NEIGHBORHOOD and I feel I’m a direct stakeholder in this controversy, so I should weigh in.

Knowledge of the neighborhood, and of the culture and dynamics of New York City itself, is badly missing from this “debate.” Most of the opposition never frequents these parts of Lower Manhattan; they come from other places, often hundreds of miles away or farther, to protest.

I know that New Yorkers do view the 16 acre (65,000 m2) superblock where the World Trade Center buildings stood as hallowed ground. New Yorkers have been very offended by the petty squabbles between The Port Authority, WTC lease-holder Larry Silverstein and various insurers that delayed any work on rebuilding until April 27, 2006. The planned permanent memorial and visitor center isn’t completed despite promises it would be. The September 11 Families’ Association has often decried the crass commercial activity surrounding the site, with illegal vendors yelling to sell tourists tacky Chinese-made 9/11 memorabilia like Twin Towers snowglobes and bad commemorative booklets with inaccurate Engrish text and pirated photographs, for absurdly high prices. See Hawking History and Cutting Corners for details about the situation.
The fact that the site has shameless vendors hawking tasteless souvenirs but not the promised memorial is a festering wound for a lot of New Yorkers. THAT offends us living in Lower Manhattan, not an Islamic YMCA that might be built two full blocks north (conservatives respond: you’re not offended by this in your neighborhood! we’ll be offended x1000 FOR YOU!)
Insensitive out-of-towners asking everybody on the bus “how do I get to Ground Zero?!” like it’s just another tourist attraction and go to buy those tacky knickknacks is pretty offensive though, and many of us connect those clueless tourists with the clueless out-of-towners (who often take after the willful ignorance satirized here in The Onion) pouring into the city to protest in a neighborhood they’ve never frequented and don’t remotely understand. A recent Marist poll confirms what I’m saying, only 31% of Manhattan residents say the Cordoba House offends them, whereas opposition goes up the further away from the area they poll (53% against if you count all five boroughs, 68% if you ask people in all 50 states). Misunderstanding the situation and hating this is “roughly proportional to distance” from it (from a great Hendrik Hertzberg op-ed).

Yes, the actual World Trade Center site (can we stop calling it Ground Zero, a misused term from douchebag news anchors, please???) is hallowed ground, but the surrounding area? Those surrounding blocks are no different than the rest of this Lower Manhattan neighborhood. It’s a place constantly changing, lots of run down buildings waiting for redevelopment beside gleaming corporate towers, Wall Street titans, tons of office space, churches, mosques, old stores, tacky souvenirs, “adult entertainment,” and more, as market forces (self-interest, competition and supply and demand: AKA the invisible hand of the market) continually puts businesses and other facilities in the city, and because it’s NYC, everything is right next to everything (placed to serve the concentrated demand in such a tight, concentrated space of real estate). That’s right, the blocks surrounding the WTC have STRIP CLUBS, Burger Kings, everything–NOT “hallowed ground.”

from The Village Voice
What is already here
Topless dancers catering to rich Wall Street guys
This is closer to the World Trade Center site than the Park51 project

Shady gambling place also on Park Place
Very much non-hallowed ground, an Off-Track Betting joint also on Park Place, even closer to the World Trade Center site than the Park51 project

Photo credit: History Eraser Button blog, Tumblr editorial director TopherChris and the Village Voice. I recommend everybody read the Village Voice’s take on this, which I think represents the feelings of most of us in Lower Manhattan pretty well: we’re tired of the lies and manufactured outrage and want to be LEFT ALONE.

I heard a host on NPR asking an outspoken opponent of Park51 what about the (actually a mosque) mosques also near the WTC, and he said “well, that preexisted 9/11 so they’re grandfathered in” but there should be no FURTHER mosques constructed in the area. When told that the Park51 project is modeled after the 92nd St Y, and is, by no definition (in Islam nor in the dictionary) “a mosque,” this guy brushed it off, disbelieving. What would he have said if told of the strippers, gambling and other low-brow establishments even closer to the WTC site? “How dare you say strip clubs aren’t sacred ground!!!”?? It’s like the opponents of this REALLY BELIEVE that this project (construction not slated to begin until 2015 or later) will be some huge domed mosque with minarets towering over “Ground Zero” and the muezzin’s call to prayer echoing off rubble and skeleton fragments as Taliban wield rifle butts to corral women in burqas. Nothing but fiction!!! It seems NOTHING can penetrate this fictitious narrative that the Right clings to, NOTHING. The machine (political/media machines) must have an enemy. The beast must be fed red meat to survive. The age-old bread and circus to distract the masses. The machine is all that matters–founding principles, the Constitution, even the physical safety of a religious minority BE DAMNED!

And it’s primarily fueled by lies and distortions ginned up by the shameless, ratings whores in cable news.

Fox News
Is this crap driven by the media? Yes, yes! A thousand times yes!

Violence is escalating now. A Bangladeshi cab driver was asked if he was Muslim and then brutally stabbed in midtown. Five teens were arrested in Waterport, upstate NY for firing at a mosque and disrupting a religious service. This has grown and grown beyond just a media distraction to threaten the peace and stability of our country, as well as our Constitutional principles and national soul.

Is religious freedom and the right of private property trumped by angry mobs ginned up by hate and fear? Are we at war with Islam itself and reject anything related to Islam on U.S. soil? (anti-Islam forces are battling Muslims trying to build on their own private property in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, California…and arsonists attacked the construction in Tennessee.) Are we already at war with 1.5 BILLION believers? if so, time for a draft. What are we at war with? How can we win over Iraq and Afghanistan, which hinges on “hearts and minds,” if we paint all Muslims as terrorists hell-bent on destruction? IT’S DECISION TIME!

Amid all this turmoil, the mainstream media wall-to-wall hate speech, countrymen set against each other, friends de-friending each other on facebook, what should those of us who want a teaching moment about religious liberty, private property and anti-violence DO?

I made the video blog below, my response to the right-wing talking heads on your TVs and internets about this project, really a Y to be built in a disused Burlington Coat Factory IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD! SuperAleja edited in captions for the Nick impaired.

My main points: the Burlington Coat Factory isn’t hallowed ground. Park51 is not a mosque and it is not at “Ground Zero,” and Islam is not evil.

Warning: the clips of right-wing talking heads spewing hate speech I use may be offensive and difficult to watch. Dick Morris paints all Muslims as radical enemies and says “all the other (mosques)” are “command centers for terrorism,” Newt Gingrich calls the people behind the Park51 project “radical Islamists” and compares the building to “a Nazi sign in front of the Holocaust museum” and self-described Christian conservatives are shown burning the Koran. I cringe seeing these clips, but we must recognize the bigotry in this country in order to squelch it and lower the heat of this issue.

Transcript of the video blog:

Hello, this is Nick Dupree for nickscrusade.org. And because I live only 4 or 5 blocks from this proposed Islamic community Center that has consumed all of American politics, I thought I should comment.

[O’Reilly clip]

All the arguments against this thing rely on the idea that Islam is somehow related to 9/11. And it would be like putting a statue of Hitler next to a Holocaust memorial; it would be like building a Robert Oppenheim school of nuclear science at Hiroshima. All these arguments are pure crap. Islam has nothing to do with 9/11, any more than Christianity has to do with the KKK. By the same logic, we couldn’t build a church near Atlanta’s Millennium Park because of the Christian extremists who bombed it. Or they say, it’s “hallowed ground”.

Oh no, you must not build on this hallowed ground! Okay, come on. It’s two blocks, two full city blocks, away from the World Trade Center. City blocks in New York City are huge, and there’s an entire culture in each city block different from the other ones. The city blocks around the World Trade Center already have everything–there’s already mosques, there are churches, there are strip clubs, there’s adult bookstores, there’s everything already in the surrounding blocks. And the place that they want to put this thing, is in a disused Burlington Coat Factory, for pete’s sake.

[Burlington Coat Factory commercial]
[NYC landmark commission unanimously ruling that there’s no reason to make the old Burlington Coat Factory an untouchable city landmark]

Come on! Stop telling me that the Burlington freaking Coat Factory is hallowed ground! It’s not on the site of the World Trade Center, and, it’s not a mosque, it’s an old Burlington Coat Factory. It’s going to be a community center like a YMCA, you know, with a gym, and a swimming pool, a culinary school, a food court, classrooms….. only a tiny part of it is going to be for prayer. And what’s so wrong about prayer? Don’t we have freedom of prayer, freedom of religion, and our very Constitution?

It’s not a mosque, there’s no minarets towering over the city. There’s no muezzin calling for prayer. It’s a crap argument. It shouldn’t even be a story, it’s a YMCA, for all intents and purposes. And they have the freedom to build what they want on their own property. It’s property rights, and a municipal land-use issue. It should be decided by those in the neighborhood, like myself.
Not the worst bigots in the country from a crazy church that wants to burn the Koran. [local Jacksonville news clip about this church’s “Burn A Koran” day]
Pat Robertson [clip of Robertson talking about “Cordoba mosque” (sic) on the 700 Club]
Dick Morris, [clip of O’Reilly interviewing Morris]
Newt Gingrich, [clip of Gingrich spewing hate speech on the Fox News morning show]
should these bigots decide what goes in my neighborhood, or should I decide it? Really it’s a no-brainer. Angry bigots, thousands of miles away, should not be deciding this. I, and the rest of the neighborhood, should decide it. There’s nothing dangerous, there’s nothing sinister, about the people that are behind this project, who are moderates. And they’re being painted, along with the entire religion of Islam, as evil. If we’re going to paint an entire religion of a billion and a half people with the same brush, then why would they make peace with us, why would anything change? So, the hate that we’re hearing all over the media… friends de-friending each other on Facebook over this, it really needs to stop. It’s a YMCA. Please, let the neighborhood decide this.

Please spread this blog post and video. Truth, justice and the American way will only exist to the extent we make it exist.


This is the 1337th post on nickscrusade.org. 1337!!!

U.S. Foreign Policy In Deep Shi’ite

U.S. Foreign Policy In Deep Shi’ite

An in-depth analysis

In 2007, the dominant news story will be the ongoing bloodshed in Iraq. War is also the dominant spiritual and moral issue of my generation. It’s impossible for me not to blog about this.

The president has ordered a “surge,” or increase of 21,500 troops, which brings us to roughly 2004-troop-levels. This didn’t work in 2004, so it is unlikely to change things.

His saber-rattling regarding Iran and Syria is also unsettling. I liked that movie better the first time, when it was called Nixon Illegally Orders Crossborder Raids Into Laos and Cambodia Without Authorization.

But let’s cut past all the obvious problems, cut through the spin, and get behind the headlines to the underpinning issues.

Let’s talk about Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq.

Where is the Prime Minister coming from?
Nouri al-Maliki is from the
Dawa Party, the stringently Shi’ite political party.

The Dawa Party has been singularly running the Iraqi government since May.

Who founded the Dawa Party? Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr.

The fact that the father-in-law of militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr founded the ruling party in Iraq, tells you A LOT about what is behind the current upheaval.

What this means is, the Iraqi government is closely linked to the Sadrist movement at best, and, at worst, is its wholly-owned subsidiary.

When the Shi’ites lynched Saddam, they chanted “Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr! Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr!”

So we’ve had Sadrists running Iraq. They’ve ruthlessly cracked down on Sunnis. All but the entirety of the Sunni upper and middle class (an estimated 1-2 million Iraqis) have relocated to Amman, Jordan, transforming the makeup of Iraq and the makeup of Jordan. I see no indication those Sunnis will ever re-enter Iraq en masse.

We will continue to see that is Iraq is now a profoundly Shi’ite nation, unrecognizable compared to Hussien’s reign, with the Sadrists currently holding the power center. During Saddam, Shias were a majority, but now that they’ve disbanded his secular Ba’ath Party, lynched him and
1-2 million Sunnis have relocated, the Shi’ites are a super-majority in Iraq. With the U.S military keeping a lid on the Sunni insurgency, there’s no succeeding countervailing influence to total Shi’ite dominance. I’ve been following the news closely, and in recent years the Shias have remade Baghdad in their own image. It is now a Shia capital of a new Shia nation. It will continue to be profoundly Shia. And in these desperate times, moderate voices are a minority with no sway to speak of. I’m not saying that only militants and fundamentalists are left in Iraq. I’m saying that Shias, with their own strict brand of Iranian-bred Islam are now a super-majority in Iraq, and we are now dealing with an Iraqi nation that is more Shia-dominated, more fundamentalist, and more fractured and violent than ever expected . Jeffersonian democracy just ain’t in the cards.

Currently, the Dawa Party government (in short, Sadrists) are running the show, though they are fighting a nasty civil war against the Sunni tribesmen on their west and the Iranian-backed Badr Brigades on their east (Shias murdering huge amounts of fellow Shias) among many other groups that spring up or shift every week.

In medieval Europe, feudal lords raised militias (see Knights of the Round Table, The) to protect their territory and interests. Following Saddam, Iraqi sheiks, Ayatollahs, nutjobs and politicians have been raising militias to protect their territory or people or ideology, minus the chivalry, and adding in huge doses of terrorism and kamikazi warfare.

I studied the scholarly journals when I took a course on foreign policy in college two years ago, and learned all I could about Iraqi Shi’ites. Back then there were lots of articles arguing that Iraqi Shias are fiercely nationalistic, and because they are a culture, language and physical appearance that is drastically different from their Persian co-religionists (Iranian Shias) and had no qualms about slaughtering Iranians en masse in the Iran-Iraq war, we should not worry about Iraq’s Shias opening the door to Iranian hegemony in the region. Now the word from foreign policy journals is that Arab Shias have strong ties with their Persian neighbors, with Iranian seminaries underpinning the Iraqi theological class (I wonder how they navigate the huge language barrier?) and that there is serious danger of uncorked Shia dominance and Iranian influence spurring a region-wide Shia vs. Sunni civil war. Will Iraqi Shias join Iran in a new religious Persian Empire? I still lean toward the first theory, that Iraqis will kill Iranians more than collaborate with them. But my G-d, even the most scholarly among us don’t know where the loyalties of most Iraqis lie! And THAT is perhaps the best argument against this war that I have.

Iran will certainly TRY to become a new hegemon in the region, but, in all likelihood, I think they’ll continue to be killed by the Dawa / Sadr guys. Meanwhile, militia groups have splintered off and grown until Iraq’s become this diffuse, hallucinogenic whirlwind of chaos and violence reminiscant of that gruesome Vietnam book we read in college. The horrors continue to trickle in, stories too ugly to print here, as Iraq sets new lows in the grim history of human depravity.

Meanwhile, we are fighting to prop up a government that is of, by and for the Sadrists. Sadr himself is returning to Iraq’s government.

Can our U.S. troops make a difference? In the latest Newsweek poll, 53 percent of Americans don’t believe the “surge” will reduce the violence in Baghdad and 67 percent think it is either “very” or “somewhat” likely to lead to more U.S. deaths in Iraq without getting the U.S. closer to our goals there.

On the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer last week, President Bush said, “Look, I had a choice to make, Jim, and that is – one – do what we’re doing. And one could define that maybe a slow failure. Secondly, withdraw out of Baghdad and hope for the best. I would think that would be expedited failure. And thirdly is to help this Iraqi government with additional forces – help them do what they need to do, which is to provide security in Baghdad.

Helping prop up the Dawa Party?

When U.S. troops pull out of Iraq after too many more deaths, will the Sadrists still control things?

It is past time to vigorously question the “we cannot afford the consequences of withdrawal” line everyone is repeating like zombies. Hell, I’ve even parroted this.

Why not skip the unnecessary decade of bloodshed, declare victory we deposed Saddam, pull the F out, and let the Sadrists have it? What I was trying to establish is, the Sadrists already have it, and pulling out likely won’t change that.

I think Bush isn’t really scared of a new Persian Empire, but won’t pull out because it would leave Iraq to Muqtada al-Sadr, and he can’t bear the thought of 3,000 U.S. servicemen dying to lead to a brutal Shi’ite theocracy being installed. And I don’t blame him there; it’d be a terrible outcome. Brutal theocracy is what Sadr is all about. We would all turn on the TV to find Grand Ayatollah Muqtada al-Sadr presiding over women being beaten for not wearing hijab, women’s driver’s licenses being revoked, and anyone caught with a musical instrument getting summarily executed. But all these things are already happening! The Iraqi symphony orchestra already fled a few years ago after facing beatings and intimidation for practicing their music. We may have to take the bitter pill that a theocracy is what the remaining Iraqis want (most of the anti-theocracy people are now in Jordan).

And isn’t Iraqi self-determination better than continuing this absurdist charade of “IRAQ WILL BE FREE WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT! FREEDOM IS ON THE MARCH! YOU HAVE NO CHOICE! YOU WILL BE FREE!”

Isn’t it a way better option to just bypass the next 15-20 years of wasted blood and treasure?

What are the moral and spiritual consequences of continuing to play with this fire?

Thanks for reading my lengthy ramblings. This is a fascinating discussion. Iraq is the wildfire sucking the oxygen away from every presidential contender and every domestic problem, and, again, is the dominant spiritual and moral issue of our time.
I look forward to your comments.


Islam On The Rise In America: More Latinas Becoming Muslims

In An Unexpected Trend, Hispanics Becoming More Islamic

As I wrote about previously, this is the religion century. Those who don’t offer clear, strong answers to life’s big questions will continue lose out to hardcore groups in churches, synagouges, and, increasingly, mosques.

Today I saw even more evidence my hypothesis is true, with this fascinating NPR report, “Latinas Choosing Islam over Catholicism.” It says Islam has 40,000 Latino converts in its ranks today, with a large percentage of them women.

The Americas will be a much, much more diverse place religiously in 50 years.

A question NPR doesn’t ask is this: will Islamicization lead to more stability, or more instability in society?


Filed Under: Torah Insights and Religion

The Pope Calls Religious Violence Unreasonable, Triggering Religious Violence

Reaction Way Worse Than Comment

The Pope gave an academic lecture on “Faith and Reason” in which he says violence in the name of G-d is unreasonable, and he touched on a Byzantine Emperor’s quote blasting the idea of Jihad. Incredibly, this has spurred a massive round of protests and violent reprisals.

If you read him in context, what the Pope is saying is laudable, that violence in the name of G-d is always unacceptable.

In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion”. According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.

You can read the full text of the speech here at the Vatican web site.

That the Pope trying to argue against forced conversion and for rationality and peace gets such an irrational backlash from the Muslim world just makes me angry at the Muslim world.

Those seeking to inflame the Arab street pulled “Islam is evil and inhuman” from the speech, totally out of context. And just awful reactions have happened.

Italian nun slain in Somalia, Pope link speculation

Five Palestinian area churches attacked

Isn’t religious and intellectual freedom of expression without fear of getting murdered, a very important thing?

Where are the moderate voices within Islam? Do they exist?

There’s no way for me to relate to this.

Like the protest of the Mohammed cartoons:

Yeah, “behead those who say Islam is violent!” kinda proves the accusations that you’re violent.

Dear Islamic world: Rioting and killing whenever anyone criticizes you is way, way worse defamation of Muslims than any cartoon or speech could ever be.

Just stop it.



Filed Under: Torah Insights and Religion