Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Reform rabbis and orthodox mosques

While there are several absurd conspiracy theories about president Obama or members of his administration, and despite my utter disbelief in these theories, one can’t help but concede to the lingering feeling that this administration indeed has some unexplained biases. Biases which often expose themselves in the preoccupation with futile euphemisms regarding “religious extremism”, persistence in pursuing nuclear deals with a criminal terrorism-sponsoring theocratic regime, a State Department that believes ISIS fighters need economic opportunities, an ever deteriorating relationship with Israel or an adamant defense of Islam as a belief system.

The first example of this pattern of unexplained behavior is discrepancy in approaching different faith communities in the U.S. Early this year President Obama and a veiled first lady made their first mosque visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore; an Orthodox gender segregated mosque which one of its prominent former imams is a radical orthodox preacher with direct ties to the Muslim Brotherhood abroad as well as ties to individuals who turned into Al Qaeda affiliate operatives. Obama spent 45 minutes defending the Muslim faith, American Muslims and condemning the rise of Islamophobia.

Not too long prior to the infamous mosque visit, the white house held a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony which invited reform female Rabbi Susan Talve to light up the candles. Rabbi Talve is the founding rabbi of a St. Louis very liberal reform congregation which has been performing same gender marriages since 1981. Her congregation prides itself of fostering liberties for the LGBTQ communities, Jews of color and a wide array of liberal issues like black lives matter, gun control, affordable healthcare and combating Islamophobia. In the white house ceremony she prayed for “Justice for the Palestinians” and an enthusiastic “Inshallah, Inshallah, Inshallah.” In the 2014 the white house Hanukkah ceremony invited the reform female Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, an Asian American Jewish convert, and the poster child of Jewish patrilineal descent. In both instances, on the liberal scale both rabbis are extremely so.

The difference between the ways the white house chose to honor the two minorities is quite substantial. Why is it that when honoring the Jewish community the president chose to align himself with most liberal Reform Judaism but when honoring Muslims the president chose to align himself with suspicious, misogynist and homophobic orthodoxy?! There are many Muslim women in this country who are fighting for equal access to mosques, gay Muslims fighting for recognition, dissident ones fighting for moderation and Islamic reform movements fighting for their voice to be heard. Aren’t these peaceful moderate Muslims more worthy and in need of support than a mosque that compel little girls to stay in the dark gym room while boys are praying?! “As a Muslim American I’m just insulted, this is disgraceful that this is one of the mosques — or the mosque — that he’s chosen to visit,” Zuhdi Jasser, of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy commented on the visit.

Another very unsettling question is the association with CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relation. An accurate description of CAIR is that of Sam Harris “an Islamist public relations firm posing as a civil-rights lobby”. For some reason CAIR has a special relationship with the administration and some of its leaders were even invited to congress for the last state of the union speech. They are invited and do attend several meetings with president Obama to discuss issues regarding Muslims mainly on the issues of combating “religious discrimination” against Muslims. CAIR has direct Muslim Brotherhood ties, receives foreign funding, was listed by the Justice Department as an un-indicted co-conspirator in a plot to fund the terrorist group Hamas and is listed in other Muslim countries as a terrorist organization along with ISIS and Al Qaeda. Even inside the U.S the organization had been associated with a very troubling number of convicted terrorists as well as suspected terrorists. Yet, they still enjoy an alarming access to the policy makers. It is notable to say that other moderate reform Islamic groups such as the Muslim Reform Movements are not invited to white house events.

The list can go on and on counting incidences of unexplained behavior. Starting from the issue of Muslim refugees when Obama scolded the politicians who made anti-refugee remarks making fun of them being scared of “widows and three years old children” -the same refugees John Kerry said they are posing an existential threat to Europe just this last month– to the peculiar refusal of labeling whipping out of Christians in the Middle East as genocide. One should also wonder if the “unintentional” favoring of permitting Muslim Syrian refugees over Christian refugees is so unintentional after all. (State Department figures released in November showed that the system overwhelmingly favors Muslim refugees. Of that 2,184 Syrian refugees admitted only 53 were Christian.)

We may never have definitive answers to the questions of why the white house behaves the way it does, or why is it willing to associate itself with radical Islamists with suspicious ties. But we can’t deny the existence of the clear discrepancies obvious to our eyes. While the common wisdom does suggest that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Sometimes it can be just a deep arrogant stupidity that is responsible for quite a bit of our foolish behaviors.

Monday, May 11, 2015

How radical Islam could be an actual threat to Western civilization after all

The current fevered debate about free speech is probably the first one we’ve had in a long while. It is a given that it’s healthy to engage society in a public debate, what concerns me is the subject of that debate. It is too hot of a debate to the extent that the very two poles of this debate can’t even agree on the actual subject of the debate. For some it is about free speech, for others it’s about racism. And here I would like to share some ideas on the subject.

The first group involved in this debate are those who believe that it is a battle for free speech and for the soul of western civilization. They are convinced that Islamists are trying to steal our rights to criticize and offend religion anyway we desire. This group, though made primarily of right wing conservatives, does include a big number of non-mainstream liberals as well as many unpleasant southern Baptists, evangelicals, security hawks and other cuckoos. The second group is the main-stream liberal circle made of people who believe that they are defending a minority against a dangerous racism in a country with a scary racial heritage. They believe that it’s a battle for tolerance, multiculturalism and minority rights. This group is made mainly from liberals and they are joined by Muslims themselves. Looking from their perspective, the efforts to defend Islam are extremely reasonable and accepted if not necessary. It is defending a race against any stigmas or misconceptions that it’s genuinely a bad race in anyway. The U.S has a very negative experience with racism and it is important to take precautions in order to protect an ethnic minority. From this perspective we can as well see the logic of integrating the Muslim narrative into the struggle of the races of color and the third world against the industrialized white man. All of this would have been true if it was not for one major fact; Islam is not race nor is it an ethnicity.

Many think of Islam in racial and ethnic terms. This defective and ill conceived idea of what Islam is and what is the Muslim community is not, is evidence of a great egocentrism, known in other words as a restriction on perception caused by the simple fact that they can only see the world from their own American perspective. Islamists adopted this point of view in order to enforce Muslim sentiments of victimhood and to stifle any criticism against Islam. In our times Islam became the only religion and ideology in the world which enjoys to be immune, unapproachable and invincible to criticism. No fascist totalitarian ideology ever achieved this amount of immunity both in east and west; if you criticize Islam in the east you will be executed but if you criticize in the west you will be murdered then shamed in the media for being a racist.

The Muslim world, in the US and in Muslim lands, does not share most of the western race and religion definitions: for Muslims, Islam is not a race, not an nationality and not an ethnicity. For them Islam is a religion, a belief and a practice. Contrary to western ideas of race, Muslims do not consider that terms like: Jew, Christian, Yazidi..etc describe any national, racial or ethnic element, they see them as purely religious. A live example of the difference are the Yazidis. To the west, the Yazidis are an ancient middle eastern ethnic group, a piece of history that we need to conserve. For Muslim extremists, the Yazidis are pagans who need to either become Muslims or die. Which ISIS did be converting hundreds of Yazidis to Islam and welcoming them to the arms of the Caliphate. If Muslims themselves, do not consider themselves a race but rather devout ideologists, why aren’t we willing to do the same? Why do we label criticism to Muslim ideology or to Muslim faith to be racist? It is not true and it is not fair to other religions. Islam is offered and endorsed by Muslims themselves as a faith and a way of living, not a race, therefore, it is our right to criticize it the way we see fit. Charges of Islamophobia are there to protect Islam from criticism not Muslims. If Islam is allowed to claim that it is the solution and salvation of all the world why am I not able to examine it and criticize it?

Any religion claims to be beautiful, peaceful and above all perfect. Any criticism to religion is deemed to be straight forward heresy. Free speech is out there is order to protect that heresy, else what is the point?! The very reason we invented free speech is not that I can praise you all day and give every one of you a trophy. The reason we have laws to protect speech is that so I can criticize Muslims, Jews, Jesus, Communists, Socialists, Allah and anything I want to criticize. The reason we have freedom of speech is so I can say things which you don’t like without you being able to block me. The very definition of caricature is “a picture, description, or imitation of a person or thing in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.” What do you want cartoons of Muslims to have if not religion, beating women, homophobia, anti-Semitism, sexual obsessions, extreme violence and terrorism?! Do you rather have it depict their outstanding falafel and delicious dates?! Wouldn’t a caricature about Catholics most likely depict Catholic priests as pedophiles? and they actually do.

The dead cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo did not just offend Muhammed, they also made cartoons of almost all holy figures of all religions. Could it be that we are not condemning them from drawing the pope because no Catholics, yet, have carried AK47s to kill those who insult the Holy See? I certainly do believe so. Not all of those against offensive cartoons are doing it for the sheer love of Muslims. Many of them are doing it out of fear and intimidation which means one thing; terrorists have succeeded. Many are afraid because the threat is real and violence comes with it is real and we have a good count of dead bodies to prove it, yet we have people who accuse cartoonists of “brining it on themselves.” How do we expect to convince others with our values when we are the first to abandon them?! Cowardness does not set a good example. There is a shameful record of western incidents where people, intimidated by religious fascism, decided to side with the devil. This record stretches from calls in the UK to turn in Salman Rushdi to Iran, the white house request to take down a video from youtube and even to condemnations of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. Those shameful and coward acts serve nothing but the morale of fascist totalitarian Muslims. Giving up our values of liberty and freedom is not an acceptable solution and it is not up to our political institutions or media outlets to decide.

Yes, this is a battle for free speech and it’s not just individual terrorists shooting journalists. It is no secret that Islam as a religion and a culture is aggressively hostile to free speech. Almost all of Muslim countries do criminalize criticism of religion. There are 13 countries in the world where you can get death penalty for apostasy, all of them are Muslim majority countries. The Organization of Islamic Co-operation, a 57-member bloc of countries, has often proposed a UN resolution criminalizing the defamation of religion. The OIC has previously pushed blasphemy legislation that would be agreed by legally binding treaty or international convention. That legislation would have made it illegal for you and me to criticize Islam even in non-Muslim countries. In March 2012 the UNHRC passed a resolution titled “Combating defamation of religions” which is basically a blasphemy law with 20 members voting in favor; 17 members voting against; 8 abstaining; the Muslim world is trying to internationally criminalize any criticism of religion even in our own non-Muslim western homes. Even those whom we label “Moderate Muslims” are attacking our way of life, though not with bombs, with every intention to destroy it.

The CNN has blurred images of cartoons so not to provoke Muslim hostility. The white house officially requested from google to remove a Muhammad parody video content. Several people are publically are asking to ban anti-Muslim cartoons and anti-Islamic activists from entering the U.S. Fear and intimidation are taking over our most reputable academic institutions and the threat of violence is successfully blocking free inquiry. Radical Islam is actually threatening western civilization to uproot its core values.

My words are not intended to get you paranoid, I’m actually confident in our ability to resist this invasion coming from the middle ages through the time machine called religion. But I want to make it clear that your and my values are indeed under attack and there are those among us who are more than willing to concede in exchange of political gains. We need to hold to those values even stronger. Even if we do find some of the cartoons distasteful and actually not funny at all, we need to remember that the cartoonist is in real danger of being slain because of his work. We all need to remember that “I’m offended” is not a valid argument against free speech. The point of free speech is to let you be offended. If we can’t stand by our values when they are under attack of barbarity, then how much value do these so called values actually carry?