Pot, Meet Kettle: Islam in Politics

Headline in the LA Times: Majority of Muslims want Islam in Politics

As usual, the comments on these posts are the predictable Islam-bashing. However from my perspective watching American politics as a non-Muslim, non-Christian, over most of my last 50 years, is that most Christian Americans want some form of Christianity in politics. Certainly they’ve been trying to legislate Christian morality, be it laws governing abortion, laws governing same-sex marriage, laws governing alcohol sales or what is open on Sunday, or statements about the US being founded as a Christian nation (I’m sure a lot of folks making this latter statement don’t realize how troublesome it is to those who aren’t Christian). Certainly it is reflected by the fact that not a single president in the entire history of this country hasn’t been Christian in some form (and Deists are a form of Christian) — and no statements about President Obama not being Christian, because that statement is bunk.

So, when someone tells you about this article today, ask them if they think that Christian values should influence American politics in any way, shape, or form. If they think so, point out their hypocracy.

By the way, it isn’t just Christians. Although with respect to the US, Jewish values are often subsumed into Christian values, I’m reasonably sure that most Jews would want Jewish values and aspects of Jewish law to be predominant in Israel, although I’m sure that most progressive/Reform Jews would not want Orthodoxy to be dictating things as they are today.

As for what the article actually says: First, it is worth remembering that a majority of the world’s Muslims live outside of the US. The survey showed that majorities in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan and Nigeria would favor changing current laws to allow stoning as a punishment for adultery, hand amputation for theft and death for those who convert from Islam to another religion. About 85% of Pakistani Muslims said they would support a law segregating men and women in the workplace. 75% of muslims in Indonesia, Egypt, Nigeria and Jordan reported positive views of Islam’s influence in politics; that number was 50%. Most sided with modernists in the struggle between modernism and fundamentalism. In Lebanon and Turkey, the numbers were as high as 84% and 74%, respectively, in favor of the modernistic approach; on the other hand, 59% in Egypt and 58% in Nigeria leaned to the fundamentalist side. Militant religious organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah enjoyed strong support in Jordan; Muslim countries that do not share strong cultural, historical and political ties to the Palestinian cause, such as Pakistan and Turkey, tended to view Hezbollah and Hamas negatively. Al Qaeda was rejected by strong majorities in every Muslim country except Nigeria, which gave the group a 49% approval rating. Note that the survey was not conducted in America.


What Does America Mean To You?

If someone was to ask me what America means in one word, I would say, “Freedom”. Freedom to say what you want to say. Freedom to believe what you want to believe. This is why America is the envy of other nations, and why extremist religious groups—of all ilks—hate us with a burning passion. This freedom that we have was hard fought, and we must continually fight to preserve it.

Perhaps this is why all the flak over the Islamic cultural center in New York bothers me. This Islamophobia has gotten so bad that Islamic groups are cancelling annual celebrations just because the calendar this year makes them happen on 9/11. That’s plain wrong. No religion should have to censor itself in this country; when that happens, that means our freedoms have been curtailed.

Back in the 1920s, there were intense phobias against the Jews. Men like Father Coughlin and, yes, Henry Ford, were virulently antisemetic. But Judaism, perhaps because it was understandable to mainstream Christianity (having come before it), got a pass. But ignorance seems to be celebrated in this country, and the ignorant fear what they do not know. The ignorant think all Islamics are terrorists, without understanding that Islam is just the next step in the progression of Judaism and Christianity. We haven’t yet had an accessible Islamic leader that can make Islam understood by the American people.

This fear is leading to idiotic arguments; arguments that would not occur if we were talking about any other religion. If zoning permitted a Christian cultural center near ground zero, it would be embraced. There would be no uproar about a Buddhist or Hindu cultural center in the area. If a Christian group wanted to have a carnival the weekend of 9/11, there would be no protests (remember, 9/11 is not a national day of observance yet). If there was a Shinto gathering that day, no one would care. So why are we upset when Islam wants to observe their religion. What makes the US special is simply that: they have the freedom to observe, without the government dictating anything.

Why can’t the Conservatives see that if we give in on that, we’re doing just what the terrorists who attacked the tower would want us to do: curtail our freedoms in response to their attack. We can’t do that. We must proudly celebrate our Religious freedom, as well as our feedom of speech. We must insist on the Islamic Cultural Center in that area just to demonstrate how important freedom of religion is to us; while we’re at it, let’s have centers for other religions (and a non-sectarian center) as well.

Our Bill of Rights is what makes America special. No right is greater than the other. As much as the 2nd amendment is cherished, and the 1st amendment is abused through the commenting mechanism on news websites, we must vigorously define our right to worship in a multitude of ways.

P.S.: Of course, if what you said America meant to you was “Baseball”, not “Freedom”, then you might want to read this article on the Lancaster Jethawks. Baseball as it was meant to be. I can attest to that, having been to a Jethawks game, and having found it immensely more enjoyable than any Dodger game.


Disney and Hijabs

The LA Times today has a story about a young woman who is having a dispute with Disney: she’s a restaurant hostess at Storyteller’s Cafe, and wants to wear her hijab (head scarf) as part of her costume. Disney has indicated the request is being reviewed by corporate, and until they make a decision, she was offered a position backstage where she was free to wear the hijab. Disney indicated that all positions that work with guests directly have specific costume rules (and those who know Disney know they take this very seriously).

Now, I happen to agree with both sides to some extent with this. Disney has the right to dictate the costumes and dress codes for their guest-interacting positions: they are a private company, and they are not firing her or lowering her salary based on her religion. But I also agree that she should have the right to wear her religious attire. Even more so, however, I see her as a pawn: pushed into this by supporters pushing an agenda, which lead to the inability to find a creative solution.

However, what bothers me more about this situation are the comments to the article: “Muslims back to their own land and their own miserable lives.” “Let’s just say no 2 Islam.”, and others of that ilk. This relates to the anti-Islam fervor best illustrated by the controversy over the Islamic Cultural Center in New York. My feeling: if zoning laws would permit an equivalent Christian institution at that location, the Islamic center should be permitted.

As a Jew, I think it is our responsibility to speak up for our Islamic bretheren. If it were antisemitism rearing its ugly head, we’d be seeing the same lines and actions against Jews. Why is it acceptable when it is against Muslims? The answer is that it isn’t. What makes America a special place—and is a reason many in other countries are so offended by our presence—is our freedom to practice whatever religions we want free of government pressure. The religious extremists of all ilks want to impose their religion on us, and we must fight that by proudly demonstrating for religious freedom, whether or not we like the religion. Just as Freedom of Speech means that sometimes you must face uncomfortable or insulting speech, Freedom of Religion applies to all religions, whether a particular person likes them or not.


What’s In A Name?

Today’s a busy day, and I haven’t had time for much lunchtime reading, but I absolutely must comment on one article: “Getting the devil off the mountain: A devout Christian wants to change the name of Mt. Diablo. Who’s in favor of Mt. Reagan?”

No, I’m not joking. A devout Christian, Arthur Mijares, has filed the federal paperwork to change the name of Contra Costa County’s most famous landmark from Mt. Diablo to Mt. Reagan because he feels that naming a peak of such beauty and importance after the devil — even in Spanish — is “derogatory, pejorative, offensive, obscene, blasphemous and profane.” What’s next, renaming our “Santa Ana Winds”, a/k/a “Santana Winds”, for the same reason?

The Contra Costa Board of Supes is voting on this Tuesday, and luckily, opinion is runing 9-to-1 against the idea. A Facebook group, “People AGAINST Re-naming Mt. Diablo to Mt. Reagan!!”, has been created—in a month, 80,000 people have joined it.

I’m not going to go into the comments that the LA Times article discusses. Rather, I’ll comment on the notion that we need to cleanse our society of non-Christian ideas, or ideas that Christianity views as evil. What’s next: Attempting to ban mentions of non-Christian religion. Perhaps Mr. Mijares needs to understand the devil better: as the S.C.J FAQ notes when discussing the Jewish concept of ha-satan, the evil inclination or temptation is important, for without it, you cannot consciously make the choice to do the right thing.


A Few Interesting Articles: Theatre, Cyberwar, and Unintended Consequences

I’m tired, and it’s really windy here in Northridge, so here are a few interesting articles from the NY Times. No clever departments this time:


Understanding Religion

Two recent stories in the news have gotten me thinking about religion. We’re all aware of the same-sex marriage debate here in California: to my eyes, that is a case of a group with a particular religious view feeling they need to impose that view upon all society. We also have the recent shooting of Dr. Tiller, which is yet again a case of a group with a particular religious view feeling they need to impose that view upon all society.

Now, I think we must first recognize that these are religious views. The constitution says nothing about same-sex marriages; the bible does. As for abortion, we have a definition from the courts with respect to when something is murder; other definitions are impositions of religious views. Given that these are religious views, it might be understandable if same-sex marriage or abortion was banned in a nation that had an official religion. Much as I find that distasteful, nations can have religious laws. I just wouldn’t want to live there. [As an aside, I’ve been watching The Tudors of late, and being Jewish, well, you can complete the thought… Perhaps that is why I am uncomfortable going to Ren Faire sometimes, just as I’m uncomfortable watching Anastasia.]

In any case, we live in America, where there is no official religion (at least constitutionally, although custom seems to have a Judeo-Christian basis). Therefore, I think the government should not be saying anything about who can marry who, or whether abortion is legal (it is reasonable to have laws about murder on the books, and I believe it is reasonable to define murder as when an entity can live on its own).

Now, to the point of this post. Perhaps I don’t understand Christianity, or perhaps I don’t understand just certain groups within Christianity, and why they feel the need to impose their view of religious morals upon me. Everyone has their own belief system (and being secular is just as much a belief system), their own personal morals. We also have the canon of criminal and civil law, which should capture the lowest common denominator. So why must someone else’s belief system be imposed upon me?


Chum chum-un-ey, Chum chum-un-ey, Chum chum chum-ee!

As we come closer to the wire for the conference, I’m getting crazier and crazier. Thank goodness for lunch time and being able to read the news. That will keep me calm, right?

  • From the “Sneaking It In Under The Wire” Department: The Bush administration is planning some last minute regulation changes that will provide for a broader ability of doctors and other medical personnel to refuse to do things based on their conscience. This broad new “right of conscience” rule would permit medical facilities, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare workers to refuse to participate in any procedure they find morally objectionable, including abortion and possibly even artificial insemination and birth control. In addition to permitting the refusal of abortions, it would go further by making clear that healthcare workers also may refuse to provide information or advice to patients who might want an abortion. (Given the controversy with Prop. 8, I could also see providers refusing to help same-sex couples on moral grounds–a bad thing). HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said he intends to issue the rule as a final regulation before the Obama administration takes office, to protect the moral conscience of persons in the healthcare industry. If the regulation is issued before Dec. 20, it will be final when the new administration takes office, HHS officials say. Overturning it would require publishing a proposed new rule for public comment and then waiting months to accept comments before drafting a final rule.
  • From the “Goodnight Irene” Department: The legendary folk singer Odetta has died at 77. I hope this isn’t the start of another trifecta; Mary Travers has been sick for a long time. Anyway Odetta was one of the top folk singers of the 1950/1960 folk revival. I’m one of those revivalists: I was much less into rock in the 1970s and 1980s — I was listening to Peter, Paul, and Mary, the Kingston Trio, and soft folk like John Denver or Gordon Lightfood. Even today I listen to albums by The Weavers, The Gateway Singers, Tom Paxton, and of course PP&M and the Kingston Trio. Odetta was central in the folk music community, and it is sad to see her voice stilled.
  • From the “Son, Go To College” Department: According to the New York Times, higher education may be unaffordable for most in a few years. California fares better than most, but still the costs of a UC or CSU education are rising, and high school students are fighting over a smaller financial pie, with loans less available. I’m not looking forward to facing this myself in 2012. Basically, a recent report shows that published college tuition and fees increased 439% from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose 147%. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.
  • From the “Wilma, Stop This Crazy Thing!” Department: Next on the musical bandwagon: “The Flintstones”. Yup, Bedrock’s favorite familiy is being prepped for the stage by none other than Marco Pennette (Book), with music and lyrics by Jeff “Avenue Q” Marx and Jake Anthony. The plot of The Flintstones, according to Variety, will focus on contemporary issues: “Wilma, for example, mulls leaving Fred because he still acts too much like a caveman and hasn’t adapted to more modern ways. Barney and Betty tackle fertility issues before deciding to adopt. Musical will also tackle global warming — but in this case, as The Flintstones takes place before the ice age, the characters will confront ‘global cooling.'”

Gay Marriage: A View from a Respected Religious Leader

[Yes, I’m just getting my lunch break. Long day.]

Last week, I wrote about the wonderful sermon that Rabbi Brown give regarding Proposition 8, which would constitutionally define marriage as being between a man and a woman. The sermon is now online, and I urge all of you to read it and share it. It is one of the most cogent arguments I’ve seen as to why someone should vote “No on 8”.