Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Extreme Views of Islamists Unfair, Inaccurate

No sooner than the slaughter of innocents in Oslo, Norway was dismissed as was the accused assailant than on of the Sentinel’s contributing columnists slipped right back into a litany of anti-Islamic generalizations I’ve read before. Aug. 6: “We need perspective on Norway’s terror attack.”

The noun/adjective, Islamist, has any number of usages, not all related to some form of “fundamentalism.” One can use the term to denote “a scholar who is knowledgeable in Islamic studies; a learned person especially in the humanities; someone who by long study has gained mastery in one or more disciplines.” Or, it can mean ” … an orthodox Muslim.”

The Sentinel columnist said that “Many Norwegians resent immigration of so many Muslims,” as well as multiculturalism, increased crime rates, rapes of girls as young as 12 throughout Scandinavia and the cost of providing welfare to these newcomers. There is resentment and outrage that citizens “know that the criminals will be protected by multicultural laws from being identified,” They denounce multiculturalism, as if Europe was some homogeneous entity. These are old canards often used against “others.”

The culprit responsible for the slaughter of people in a mass shooting spree and a bombing was shrugged off, and all Islamists could once more be the whipping dogs.

A contributor to Religion Dispatches notes that the assassin’s “atrocious acts, in fact, were a veritable 21st century media strategy.” Cold War-era communist terrorist groups too, “produced extensive texts to communicate their revolutionary theories; their authors wanted to be — and indeed were — intelligible to a wider public that either was not or was not yet radicalized …” The Norway assassin, Anders Behring Breivik, appeals not only to a slim network of extremists, but to those who claim that the “Islamization of Europe” is a matter of life and death for European and Western civilization.

Breivik admiringly and extensively quotes another writer: “In more and more cities across the continent, non-Muslims are being harassed, robbed, mugged, raped, stabbed and even killed by Muslims. Native Europeans are slowly becoming second-rate citizens in their own countries.” Screeds like this are repeated over and over again in different forums, he points out.

He claimed to be acting on behalf of Christendom, but his claims could just as easily be used as a strategy that can adhere to nationalism, to race, to anything that makes people identifiably “different.” He believed that Europe is homogeneous — religiously, ethnically, and culturally, though it is fraught with a history of centuries of migrations, cultural, ethnic and racial mingling.

There are among the Islamists many thinkers who do embrace representative government, accept equal rights for women and non-Muslims. The ideas of justice and development are embraced as part of a strategy of moderation.

Raymond William Baker in “Islam without Fear: Egypt and the New Islamists” points out that “Often there are two extreme views represented by the secularists and the fundamentalists.” The New Islamists, he says, “belong to neither.” Their emphasis is on “constructive social action with an emphasis on educational reforms.” Theirs is a “preference for culture to politics.”

Ad hominems that treat Islamists as if they are all the same without distinction are unfair because they’re inaccurate. There is, in the West, the Islamist too often, and too quickly associated with radicalism and violence. But there is too, the scholar, the learned persons, who by long study have gained mastery in one or more disciplines — and they exist right in our own community of Santa Cruz. Perhaps not in great numbers, but certainly up in the university on the hill. And I’ve listened, and noted how these young people are feeling the brunt of anti-Islamic rhetoric, and they are stressed about it.

Humanity, like this world we occupy, is developing and evolving, constantly. The only real issue is whether we can learn to develop or evolve cooperatively, or are we destined always to compete in any violent manner we think will get us “on top?”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Puns for Educated Minds

1. The fattest knight at King Arthur’s Round Table was Sir Cumfrence. He acquired his size from too much pi.

2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian

3. She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.

4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class because it was a weapon of math destruction.

5. No matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery.

6. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.

7. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.

8. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

9. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

11. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

12. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: ‘You stay here; I’ll go on a head.’

13. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.

14. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: ‘Keep off the Grass.’

15. The midget fortune-teller who escaped from prison was a small medium at large.

16. The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.

17. . A backward poet writes inverse.

18. In a democracy it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism it’s your count that votes.

19. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.

20. If you jumped off the bridge in Paris, you’d be in Seine.

21. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, ‘I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.’

22. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says ‘Dam!’

23. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.

24. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, ‘I’ve lost my electron.’ The other says, ‘Are you sure?’ The first replies, ‘Yes, I’m positive.’

25. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hate Speech

Although ostensibly directed at a select group – in this latest case, Jews – hate speech hurts us all. Those who perpetrate it are usually anonymous, not surprisingly, as it is a crime. They hide their identity because they know they are wrong before they even begin. And, because they are cowards, they strike in the darkness and without warning, like terrorists, and like terrorists, their aim is to inspire fear and confusion.

But only in their chosen group.

The rest of us hear of these atrocities and breathe a sigh of relief. This time, it wasn’t OUR group. And next time it might not be, either. We’re safe – so far. And we hunker down just a little bit lower, so that none of our enemies might notice us and get the same idea.

This is what really hurts us – the desire to distance ourselves from the victims. The rest of us could be thinking, “If the terrorists will only concentrate on the Jews (or the gays, or the Catholics) our group might go unnoticed.” These are crazy people, we know, and who knows what religion they might get it into their heads to attack next.

It’s like having a shooter in the building. Perhaps the shooter hates jocks. We can thank our lucky stars we were never jocks, and sneak out the back door. Or maybe he’s going for his History teacher – and whoever is in History class at that moment. Good thing we were in the chem lab!

But if we hunker down and keep a low profile, we might not be attacked, but neither can we be of help to those who have been attacked. And our silence gives nerve and power to the enemy. If nobody stands up to him, he’ll just do it again – sooner. The way to stop bullies is to stand up to them.

Some of you may be familiar with the famous quote from German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller at the time when the Nazi Secret Police were rounding up all the dissidents in Germany.

“First they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

We might add to that:

“Then they came for the Buddhists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Buddhist.

Then they came for the American Indian Lodge,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an American Indian.

Then they came for the Asian Baptists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t an Asian Baptist….”

Let us remember the Second Great Commandment as Jesus spoke it, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” and let us speak out against any harm towards our neighbors, the Jews.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The University Is Changing

By Pamela Urfer
“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.” 
Galadriel, Lord of the Rings
Most people don’t like change. It can be extremely uncomfortable. But there’s very little one can do about it, except grumble. Change comes to us all, especially now, as the change from Modernism to Post-modernism is at last making itself felt in everyday life. The death knell of Modernism was sounded a hundred years ago with Albert Einstein’s Relativity Theory of 1907 and Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle of 1920. But it has taken all these years since for the consequences of their discoveries to trickle down to you and me.

Theories of cosmic “uncertainty” and “relativity” may be unsettling, or they may be freeing, depending on how we look at them. Those who look for certainty and absolutes will find few in Post-modernism. But those attributes of Modernism – certainty and absolutism – which we had come to take for granted, and think of as “normal,” had certain disadvantages we might be happy to shed.

One is the need to prove certain views, and certain persons, “wrong,” so that we can know, and make others know, what is “right.” Once that is done, we believe we can relax and stop our restless search for certainty, happy in the knowledge that we have found it. Post-modernism insists that the search for this elusive treasure is ultimately self-defeating. There is no person, no human, whose judgment on those matters is wholly untainted by their personal prejudgments or bias. The best we can achieve in this area is the courage of our own convictions.

This is especially true in religion. What to one person is religious superstition and backwardness is, to another, enlightenment and knowledge of God. The historical Enlightenment, the clearest form of modernism, made that dichotomy clear. To the “Enlightened” mind, truth lies in reason and it sees the traditions and “superstitions” of religion as an obstacle to true knowledge. This is the position the secular University has held for some time.

And with some justification. Religious practitioners had retained, and even cherished, misconceptions about the cosmos and human nature that needed correction. Many of these ideas were not among the core beliefs of any faith, but rather were hopeful attempts to mandate morality or to provide justification for claims of the inevitability of capitulation to one god or another. Some sort of compromise between science and faith had to be reached, and in many instances that realization was the price of a secular university education.

But like all true believers, the proponents of the superiority of universal, autonomous reason had their blind spots, their prejudices and biases. The fictions of perpetual progress towards peace and plenty, the neutrality of reason in the recognition of truth, and the need to subsume everything, including the creation of humanity, under the rubric of “science” eventually led to its downfall. The secular evils of World Wars I and II, Stalin’s atrocities, and the Holocaust, eroded faith in the ultimate goodness of reason alone. The failure of Communism sealed the deal.

Post-modernism can be understood as the loss of confidence in the rational as sole guarantor and deliverer of truth, coupled with a deep suspicion of science’s answers . This paved the way to a revaluing of myth, a reorienting of attitudes towards faith, and a provision of new spaces for religious discourse.

Fortunately, the secular University, which has valued the insights of post-modernism for many years, is beginning to act upon those insights. Religion is now being given a voice in the public square, and many of its benefits – compassion, mercy, community, the ability to talk about the unseen world and debate values – are being recognized as a necessary part of the process of education. At least, as far as the administration goes. It may take longer for the faculty to be convinced.

UCSC provides an interesting example of how these changes came about. In 2003, the then-Dean of Students ordered all religious groups off-campus, citing as her rationale the principle of the “separation of church and state.” There was to be no use of government facilities, no rental of rooms on campus, no advertizing at bus stops. The stunned members of the Interfaith Council eventually went to the Chancellor, Denise Denton, to ask for her help. She agreed to do what she could, replying that she knew very well what it was like to be marginalized.

We’ll never know what Denton may or may not have done, for in four months she was dead. But something was happening, for that summer the UIC was asked to take part in the Memorial Services and grief counseling that was planned to the students’ return in September. Since then, the UIC has been given a home under the auspices of Student Affairs, a mail-drop, e-mail privileges, the right to reserve rooms, and the blessing of the university. 9/11 may also have been a factor in these decisions, as all of America began to recognize the power of religion for both good and evil and to realize the need for better understanding and communication. God was not dead, at least not as dead as people had hoped, and they found that the cost of excluding religious groups from discussion is often higher than letting them in.

Still, the closet doors were opening, and believing students, staff and even faculty are now able to publically acknowledge their faith without penalty. And nothing says acceptance more than the Secular Students’ Alliance application for membership in the Interfaith Council.