The Bible-Belt Preachers Standing Up to Trump’s Xenophobia

Far too few examples:

America’s political polarization is a pervasive fact of 21st-century life, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is taking it lying down—including, stunningly, in the heartland of the conservative Christian right.

American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel, now playing in theaters, is a documentary about a handful of Oklahoma preachers who are taking a stand against what they see as the radicalization of their faith. That open-minded priests, and congregations, exist in the U.S.—championing more liberal interpretations of the gospel, and conceptions of the Almighty—is not breaking news. Yet Jeanine Isabel Butler’s film remains an eye-opening look at iconoclastic men and women who are going back to the biblical source in order to reclaim Christianity from extreme Evangelicals, who they argue have found, in President Trump, an ideal figurehead for their warped religious views.

The senior minister of Oklahoma City’s Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ, which is dedicated to preaching the Bible’s foundational lessons of compassion and charity, Reverend Robin R. Meyers suggests early on in American Heretics that Donald Trump is beloved by Evangelicals because he embodies their idea of an Old Testament-style God who’s angry, unforgiving and vengeful. Moreover, Meyers maintains that the commander-in-chief’s popularity is wrapped up in white Christians’ belief that their time as a popular American majority is coming to a close—a notion that, coupled with their traditionalist cultural values, has pushed Christianity into ever-more-radical terrain. Especially when it comes to politics.

Meyers and his colleague Lori Walke contend that they’re not interested in promoting politics from the pulpit, insofar as that means directly advocating for Democratic or Republican platforms. Instead, per American Heretics’ subtitle, they’re all about preaching the politics of the gospel—i.e. returning to the Good Book and adopting what it says about how to treat one’s fellow man, and how to live a just and moral life. As Meyers avows, he has no interest in becoming a mouthpiece for a particular party ideology. He does, though, think it’s vital for preachers to use the Bible as a vehicle for investigating the pressing problems facing Americans today—a process that, by its very nature, is inherently political.

Located deep in the Bible Belt—Oklahoma didn’t have a single county go for President Obama during either of his two presidential campaigns, whereas all of its counties went for Trump in 2016—Mayflower is a liberal outpost behind enemy lines. Valuing people’s literal actions more than their convictions, it opposed the Iraq War back in the early-2000s, and began issuing gay marriage licenses (and performing ceremonies) before it was legal to do so. In its later passages, Butler’s film depicts a vote conducted by Meyers and Walke to determine whether Mayflower should become a sanctuary church for undocumented immigrants. By a 2-to-1 majority, its parishioners ratify that measure, deciding that the Bible’s principles command them to protect those in need (and suffering from persecution), no matter the potential legal ramifications.

Given that its purview is broader than this single topic, American Heretics isn’t capable of addressing the complications of the immigration debate. Consequently, its snapshot of a single mother struggling to care for her ill child while facing the threat of deportation—and Meyers and Walke’s efforts to help her—comes across as a cursory footnote. Nonetheless, Myers and Walke’s stance on this issue is emblematic of their forward-thinking approach to Christianity, which bucks the movement established by Jerry Falwell and Oral Roberts in the ‘60s and ‘70s that’s now spawned our present mega-church-dominated Evangelical environment.

The rise of the radical white Christian right is a concurrent focus of American Heretics, which alongside its concentration on Meyers and Walke’s philosophy, also spends considerable energy—via talking heads, and the usual collection of archival material—detailing the evolution of Southern religious dogma during the 20th century. That historical recap proves a handy, if somewhat hasty, primer designed to provide context for today, and the forces that Mayflower opposes. And it’s also complemented by commentary from Bernard Brandon Scott, a longstanding Darbeth Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Oklahoma’s Phillips Theological Seminary, who discusses the ancient origins of the Bible and how they run contrary to current Christian-right opinions—including with regards to immigration, which Scott says is supported by the Bible because Jesus, Joseph and Mary snuck into Egypt, and thus were illegal immigrants themselves.

American Heretics’ most fascinating figure turns out to be Carlton Pearson, who rose to Evangelical prominence during the ‘80s and ‘90s as an acolyte of, and chosen successor to, Oral Roberts. In old TV clips, Pearson is seen preaching the gospel with an intensity that’s infectious, commanding the stage in front of thousands. Now at 66 years old, however, Pearson is the affiliate minister of Tulsa’s All Souls Unitarian Church, where he counsels a far different congregation—one whose membership, per the sign on the door, includes “everyone.” That shift was the result of Pearson’s realization, in the mid-‘90s, that he didn’t agree with Christianity’s conception of a God that wanted to punish non-believers by dooming them to eternal torment in Hell. When, through research, he opted instead for a doctrine of inclusion, he was dubbed a heretic and ostracized from his flock—thus opening a new door on a more empathetic faith.

Pearson’s story is compelling proof of genuine religious transformation, and that by hewing closer to the Bible, fundamentalists can become more tolerant (and, dare one say, liberal). American Heretics, unfortunately, skimps a bit on Pearson’s journey, which is all the more frustrating in light of its final scenes regarding All Souls Unitarian Church, which play as runtime-padding filler. Even those minor missteps, though, can’t neuter the film’s inspiring advocacy for a devout Christianity that’s in tune with both scripture and modern attitudes about equality and kindness. For Meyers and company, the politics of fear—against any number of “others”—are in direct opposition to the teachings of Christ. And embracing His values, even in the center of red-state America, is not only possible but necessary if one covets a truly righteous future.

Why the federal election might not happen on Oct. 21

One of the challenges in a country as diverse as Canada, is ensuring that election dates do not fall on any religious holiday or otherwise significant date.

Will be interest to see how a judge rules. Does only 17 hours of voting time compared to 60 for most voters present an unreasonable accommodation or not?

Chani Aryeh-Bain had just four days to soak in her victory before the trouble began. On April 14, 2019, the 51-year-old mother of five handily clinched the nomination to run for Parliament under the Conservative banner in her lifelong riding of Eglinton–Lawrence in midtown Toronto. She was so excited, she didn’t take a good look at the election calendar until days later. Nobody on her team did.

“We did not clue into the extent of the disadvantage immediately,” says Ira Walfish, a community activist who volunteered for Aryeh-Bain. Four days after she secured the nomination, Aryeh-Bain crafted a worried email to Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, Stéphane Perrault, requesting he change the date of the federal election. They hoped for the best, but Walfish remembers the team’s mindset at the time: “This is not gonna go well.”

The solution could have been simple: move Canada’s federal election date to Oct. 28. The problem? The date is currently set for Oct. 21, which is also, in 2019, a somewhat obscure but important Jewish holiday called Shemini Atzeret.

Most non-Jews haven’t heard of Shemini Atzeret. (Many non-religious Jews haven’t, either; even the etymological origins of the Hebrew word “atzeret” are vague.) It is nonetheless a high holy day, following a flurry of the most sacred holidays in Judaism, which together block off huge swaths of September and October in any observant Jew’s calendar.

“Shemini Atzeret is the vacation to recover from the holiday,” writes Carla Naumburg in an article titled “In Which I Finally Figure Out What Shemini Atzeret Is”, published in Kveller, a magazine for Jewish mothers. “To just chill and take it all in, to stop, pause, hold back, and keep in.”

Aryeh-Bain and many of her team members and volunteers, including Walfish, are modern Orthodox Jews—not black-hat Hasidic, but they strictly keep kosher and observe Shabbat and other holidays. Despite Shemini Atzeret’s comical ambiguity, observant Jews are strictly forbidden from working or travelling on the day, and are instead encouraged to reflect and pray. They definitely can’t canvas constituents to vote. Indeed, they can’t even vote.

The holiday’s loose definition is perhaps why Perrault, upon seeing Aryeh-Bain’s email, did not respond with any urgency for three weeks. When he finally did, according to court documents, Perrault called the timing “unfortunate,” but noted Elections Canada did not choose the date and the election was too soon to alter.

That didn’t satisfy Aryeh-Bain, and the broader Jewish community slowly awoke to the problem at hand. Over subsequent months, Jewish leaders, activists and several Liberal MPs—including Aryeh-Bain’s incumbent opponent, Marco Mendicino—all wrote to Perrault, urging him to move the date. Failing that, community organizations hoped for some kind of compromise. Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, wrote in an op-ed in the Toronto Star that they asked Perrault to add another polling day convenient for observant Jews. “Elections Canada has never explained why it did not pursue this least-disruptive course of action,” he wrote.

The only option, after so many letters, was a legal battle. Aryeh-Bain and Walfish mounted a lawsuit against Elections Canada in June, scheduled to be heard in Toronto’s Federal Court this week, on July 16. Elections Canada is not responding to queries about it, but in March, a spokesperson told The Canadian Jewish News that voters can always use advanced polls or apply for special ballots before Oct. 15. Critics argue those measures are insufficient—data suggest 75 per cent of those Canadians who actually vote do so on election day, while three per cent choose convoluted special ballots—while even advanced polls are obscured by the minefield of autumnal Jewish holidays and weekly Shabbat services. While most Canadians will enjoy 60 hours’ worth of voting opportunities this year, observant Jews are limited to just 17.

In their application, Walfish cites a community of 75,000 observant Jews who will be directly affected by the conflicting date, while their evidence includes more than 140 concerned letters written to Elections Canada. Modern Orthodoxy is the second-most prominent sect among self-identified Jewish Canadians after Conservatism, according to a recent report by the Environics Institute; with approximately 350,000 Jews across the country, the impact of the decision could be significant.

“It’s a major problem,” Walfish emphasizes. “This keeps happening. It’s like, hello? Get out a calendar. It’s in the [Canada Elections] Act. Just move the stupid election…. They can move it if they want to. I can’t change the religion.”

Walfish points to the precedents supporting their case. In 2007, Ontario’s provincial election also coincided with Shemini Atzeret—and the government agreed to change that date. Conversely, in Oct. 2018, Elections Quebec declined to compromise after learning that, once again, it coincided with the same holiday.

“The turnout was dramatically affected,” recalls David Tordjman, a modern Orthodox candidate running this year for the Conservative Party in Mount Royal, Que. Tordjman might have even more to lose than Aryeh-Bain: last October, voter turnout in neighbouring D’Arcy-McGee, Quebec’s most densely Jewish riding, plummeted from 72 per cent to 44 per cent, due to overcrowding and hours-long lineups at poorly managed advance polling stations. This year, Tordjman sees the same frustration across social media.

“The issue, at the end of the day, is accessibility,” he says. “All we want is the same capacity and the same amount of time to vote.”

Both Tordjman’s and Aryeh-Bain’s ridings are home to more than 20,000 Jews, according to the 2011 National Household Survey, and both are potentially crumbling Liberal strongholds. Liberal Joe Volpe ran Eglinton–Lawrence for 20 years until Stephen Harper’s future finance minister, Joe Oliver, ousted him in 2011; in 2015, Mendicino narrowly won it back by fewer than 3,500 votes. Mount Royal, once Pierre Trudeau’s stalwart base, was run by legendary Jewish MP Irwin Cotler for 16 years until he resigned, passing the mantle to Liberal Anthony Housefather in 2015.

In 2019, under a simmering froth of negative sentiment toward Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and newly elected right-leaning provincial governments, both are potentially battleground ridings—especially Eglinton–Lawrence. As it stands, Aryeh-Bain “will be precluded from getting out the vote on the most important day of the election,” the court application states. “In short, she must fight the election with one hand tied behind her back.”

There is a very real chance, if the date remains unchanged, that Shemini Atzeret could decide the riding. If it does, this won’t be the last court battle mounted against the government—if not this election cycle, then perhaps next time an election falls on Shemini Atzeret, which can’t be too far away.

Source: Why the federal election might not happen on Oct. 21

HASSAN: UN should press Islamic nations for more inclusive societies

Valid critique of many members of the OIC:

Last year, the United Nations Council on Human Rights passed a resolution acknowledging defamation of religion as a human rights violation. Pakistan led the delegation representing the 56-nation Organization of Islamic Conference and proclaimed that “Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.” Pakistan asserted that nations must “deny impunity” to those showing intolerance and ensure respect for religion.

But which religion, how and by whom?

Last Tuesday, the editor of a moderate Islamic website criticized the UN measure, citing freedom of speech issues. More important, he accused Muslim nations of expressing most of this so-called defamation of religion. He said reports from Muslim countries, such as Pakistan, not only tell horrific tales of local misogyny and terror but also reveal ways the rights of non-Muslim minorities are constantly violated. He cited many examples of this, including the publication of jihadi literature and laws that marginalize religious minorities and discriminate against women. In Pakistan, for example, Hindu girls continue to be forcibly converted to Islam and sold into marriage. This is the worst kind of intolerance based on faith.

New Age Islam editor Sultan Shaheen has tried hard in the past decade to salvage Islam from its darker manifestations and to encourage a more humane version of the faith. Like other South Asian moderates, such as Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, he has offered newer interpretations of religious precepts in an attempt to rid Islam of bigotry, violence and fundamentalism.

In drawing attention to these heinous practices in the Muslim world, Shaheen has identified the valid reasons for the bad reputation Islamic countries have earned. In a letter to the UN, he stated that, while this resolution seeks to protect Islam from defamation through any association with terrorism, other religions are routinely defamed in Muslim countries by radical Muslims. For example, propaganda is often published justifying violence against non-Muslim civilians. He cited a long essay in the Taliban mouthpiece Nawa-e-Afghan Jihad entitled Circumstances in which the Killing of Innocent People among Infidels is Justified.

Shaheen’s novelty is to interpret intolerance by Muslim extremists as defaming not only other religions but primarily distorting the essence of Islam itself. He urges the Council to “ask the Muslim countries to treat intolerance of minorities and jihadi literature too as defaming the religion of Islam.”

Shaheen quoted some jihadi literature in his letter, such as by radical Islamic scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al Abeeri, who has openly justified destroying American cities and killing enemy civilians. Shaheen characterized such literature as a tirade against Islam. He also highlighted the anti-Semitism of many of these radical scholars.

Sultan Shaheen has rightly identified the main reason for the negative image of Islam. It is the actions of radical Muslims more than anything else, coupled with the fact that moderates do not actively challenge them or distance themselves from their parochial ideas, that defame Islam the most.

The UN Council on Human Rights must look beyond its own naive resolution and urge Islamic nations to enact laws that enable freer and more inclusive societies. Instead of Pakistan urging consequences for those who supposedly defame its state religion, it should seek real consequences for those who openly and aggressively promote violence against women and non-Muslims.

Source: HASSAN: UN should press Islamic nations for more inclusive societies

The anti-Semitic theology behind the Christian Zionist lobby

Of note:

This week, the largest Israel lobby group in the United States, Christians United for Israel, will hold a two-day “summit” in Washington, D.C., featuring high-profile speakers such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Many of the event’s attendees and featured guests will profess their abiding love and support for Israel and Jewish people.

In reality, right-wing Christian supporters of Israel like CUFI pose a grave danger to the safety and well-being of both Jews and Palestinians, as well as to hopes for a true and lasting peace in the Holy Land. Anyone who actually listens to CUFI’s leader, the Rev. John Hagee, will be horrified at the meeting’s toxic blend of anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and sexism.

Hagee and his more than 5 million followers believe that the establishment of Israel in 1948 and its subsequent military occupation and colonization of Palestinian and other Arab lands are the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and the necessary precursors to the return of Jesus Christ and the coming of the apocalypse.

Source: The anti-Semitic theology behind the Christian Zionist lobby

India: Economic Survey Quotes Hinduism, Islam, Christianity to Deter Tax Evasion

Of interest:

The Economic Survey, tabled in Parliament on Thursday, suggests invoking the doctrine of “pious obligation” as well as blend principles of behavioural economics with spiritual norm to tackle tax evasion and wilful defaults.

Bringing in a sense of novelty into the Economic Survey, that provides a detailed picture of the economy in 2018-19 and the way ahead, tenets of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity have been cited extensively to tackle debt woes and tax evasion.

Such suggestions find a place the chapter titled ‘Policy for Homo Sapiens, Not 02 Homo Economicus: Leveraging the Behavioural Economics of “Nudge”‘.

The Economic Survey said that decisions made by real people often deviate from the impractical robots theorised in classical economics.

Drawing on the psychology of human behaviour, it said that behavioural economics provides insights to nudge people towards desirable behaviour.

The “doctrine of pious obligations” could be invoked to encourage people to clear their debts and also pay taxes, the survey, prepared by a team led by Chief Economic Adviser KV Subramanian said.

“Given the importance of religion in Indian culture, the principles of behavioural economics need to be combined with this spiritual / religious norm to reduce tax evasion and wilful default in the country,” it noted.

In Hinduism, non-payment of debts is a sin and also a crime. The scriptures ordain that if a person’s debts are not paid and he dies in a state of indebtedness, his soul may have to face evil consequences, according to the survey.

Therefore, it is the duty of his children to save him from such evil consequences. This duty or obligation of a child to repay the debts of the deceased parent is rested upon a special doctrine, known as the doctrine of pious obligation, it said.

In Islam, Prophet Muhammad advocated, “Allaahummainnia’oodhibika min al-ma’thamwa’lmaghram (O Allaah, I seek refuge with you from sin and heavy debt)”. A person cannot enter paradise unless his/her debt was paid off, as per the survey.

All of his/her wealth could be used to pay the debt and if it is insufficient then one or more heirs of the deceased could voluntarily pay for him, it stated.

Quoting Bible, the survey said, “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another – Romans 13:8” and “The wicked borrows and does not repay, but the righteous shows mercy and gives – Psalm 37:21”.

The Economic Survey notes that in India, where social and religious norms play such a dominant role in influencing behaviour, behavioural economics can therefore provide a valuable instrument for change.

“So, beneficial social norms can be furthered by drawing attention to positive influencers, especially friends/neighbours that represent role models with which people can identify,” it said.

Also, as people are given to tremendous inertia when making a choice, they prefer sticking to the default option. By the nearly costless act of changing the default to overcome this inertia, desired behaviour can be encouraged without affecting people’s choices.

Further, as people find it difficult to sustain good habits, repeated reinforcements and reminders of successful past actions can help sustain changed behaviour, the survey said.

According to the survey, insights from behavioural economics can be strategically utilised to create an aspirational agenda for social change — from BBBP (Beti Bachao Beti Padhao) to BADLAV (Beti Aapki Dhan Lakshmi Aur Vijay Lakshmi); from Swachh Bharat to Sundar Bharat; from “Give It Up” for the LPG subsidy to “Think about the Subsidy” and from tax evasion to tax compliance.

The survey has used ‘MARD‘ as an acronym for ‘Men Against Rape and Discrimination’ and suggested a campaign underlining the sacrifice of the male ego in a patriarchal society for the larger good of gender equality.

Mard is a Hindi word for man.

Source: Economic Survey Quotes Hinduism, Islam, Christianity to Deter Tax Evasion

‘Shame and humiliation’: Aceh’s Islamic law violates human rights

The part of Indonesia which belies its otherwise more moderate Islam:

Hendra, an academic in Indonesia’s semi-autonomous region of Aceh, vaguely remembers the first time he saw a public caning take place in his 20s. It was years ago and it didn’t faze him much.

The 35-year-old cannot even remember what the people were accused of – just that they were taken to a public square at a local mosque and flogged with a rattan cane in front of a crowd of onlookers.

But in recent years, Hendra, a lecturer in communications at Ar-Raniry University in Banda Aceh, has started to feel differently.

Now he avoids public canings. “I always think, ‘Imagine if that was a member of my family’,” he told Al Jazeera. “Do these people really deserve this?”

Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra, is one of Indonesia’s most religiously conservative areas, and is the only part of the archipelago to impose penalties on its residents under Islamic law.

Once one of the most powerful Islamic sultanates in Southeast Asia, the area had long used an informal kind of Islamic law mixed with local laws, known as “hukum adat”. But the legislation was enhanced when Aceh’s long-running separatist conflict ended in 2005. The laws have been gradually expanded to more offences, most recently in 2014.

Advising Brunei

“Sharia police monitor public behaviour and enforce the rules, including in relation to the clothing women choose to wear,” Usman Hamid, the executive director of Amnesty Indonesia, told Al Jazeera.

“People can be subjected to public canings for a range of offences, including gay sex, which carries a penalty of up to 100 lashes, sex before or outside marriage, gambling and the sale and consumption of alcohol.”

The practice had already caused shock among the international community, and after Brunei attracted global condemnation over its plan to step up punishments under Islamic law, attention also turned to Aceh.

Officials from Brunei had travelled to the area for advice on implementing the punishments. Initially, the plan was to impose the death penalty for gay sex, but Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Brunei’s absolute monarch, then announced that a moratorium on capital punishment would be extended.

Those who had picketed the sultan’s luxury hotels and called for a boycott of the country claimed the decision as a victory.

“Sharia law in Aceh is Aceh’s Islamic Criminal Code or the usage of corporal punishment upholding Islamic views in Aceh,” Amnesty’s Usman told Al Jazeera. “But in actuality, the many provisions of the law [are] a breach of international human rights law and standards that create serious barriers for women and girls to report rape or other forms of sexual violence.”

In 2016, the first full year when Islamic laws were implemented in Aceh, 339 people, including 39 women, were caned, according to Human Rights Watch.

‘Not my concern’

No one who had been whipped was prepared to talk about what had happened to him, even anonymously. Many choose to move elsewhere after the punishment – to a new village or town where they can start afresh – due to stigma.

Hamid says caning in public violates international law prohibiting torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment to which Indonesia is a state party.

He adds the punishment is severer than a “light tapping with a cane” as it is often described by its supporters.

Hendra, the academic, says that while there are people who oppose Islamic law punishments, few are willing to discuss the issue publicly.

“People are scared of speaking out to say they don’t support public canings,” he said. “They take the attitude that they see them, but that they don’t know anything about the cases or the law. ‘It’s not my concern’ is how many people view it.”

Sense of shame

Aryos Nivada, an activist and researcher based in Banda Aceh, said shame and humiliation was the main force behind Islamic law.

The shame factor is why the punishments take place in public, usually in front of a local mosque, where those watching take photos and videos of the event. Some are then uploaded to the internet.

“With the rise of social media,” Hendra added, “people can see your face within five minutes [of the punishment being carried out].”

Last year, the then Governor Irwandi Yusuf stopped the practice of public caning. But after he was arrested for corruption last July, the punishments resumed and the issue barely rated a mention in this year’s regional elections.

Yusuf became Aceh’s second governor to be convicted with economy and corruption topping people’s concerns.

Aryos said there was no chance punishments under Islamic law would be abandoned given the close links with traditional Acehnese culture. “Ten years in the future, Aceh will still have Sharia law,” he told Al Jazeera. “It’s part of the character of Aceh.”

Source: ‘Shame and humiliation’: Aceh’s Islamic law violates human rights

Raymond de Souza: Canada’s anti-racism strategy needs to redefine Islamophobia

While I don’t read the anti-racism strategy in the same way as de Souza, all religions face similar challenges with respect to the extremists within their ranks and considering what forms of criticism may cross the line between criticizing particular practices and their impact on people, and more general anti-Christian, anti-Islam, anti-Sikhism or anti-Judaism attitudes:

Some time back I was booking a flight and had an option to fly EgyptAir, with a connection in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The times were convenient and the price right. I declined and found another option.

Why? Because I would not want, even as a mere stopover, to be in Saudi Arabia without prior guarantees from the government that I would not be subject to imprisonment or worse because I am a Christian.

If I were made of sterner stuff, I suppose I might welcome the chance to minister as a fellow prisoner to those Filipino and Indian “guest” workers caught praying and thrown into an extra-judicial jail, perhaps never to be heard of again. But I am not, and so opted to give Jeddah a pass.

I opted to give Jeddah a pass

Now is that Islamophobic? I suppose yes, in that I would be afraid for life and liberty because in Saudi Arabia a certain form of Islam is practiced and given sanction by the state. To put it another way, I would be happy to connect in Johannesburg but not Jeddah, and the reason is related to the latter being in an Islamic country.

Yet, I would also be happy to connect in Jakarta, in the world’s most populous Muslim country, so maybe I am not Islamophobic after all. And I would be happy to visit India, where there are more Muslims than in Saudi Arabia.

Is it Islamophobic for a Catholic priest not to stop over in Saudi Arabia? What if there were mechanical problems and we were required to leave the airport to stay overnight in a hotel? In a country where carrying a bible or a rosary can get you thrown into religious jail? Where Catholic priests have to minister incognito, like the worst days of Elizabethan England? Whoops, did I just reveal a latent Anglicanophobia? I might be a simmering cauldron of bigotry.

Of course it’s not Islamophobic. Christians are quite right to be circumspect of Wahhabi Islam as it is practiced in Saudi Arabia and exported to the world in various murderous guises.

All of which is brought to mind by the federal government’s new “anti-racism” strategy. The program grew out of a controversy some years ago over M-103, an anti-Islamophobia motion in Parliament. So the strategy includes an Islam component, perhaps not pro-Islam but at least anti-anti-Islam. It’s aimed at protecting Canadian Muslims from harassment and discrimination.

It’s tiresome to point out that Islam is not a race, despite the government’s determination to treat it like one. It would be possible to harbour prejudice against Arabs and be fiercely pro-Muslim, as the majority of Muslims live east of the Persian Gulf and in parts of Africa, outside the Arab world. But leave the confusion of race and religion for another day.

Islam is a many-differentiated thing. Saudi Wahhabis and Ahmadiyya Muslims in Toronto are not the same

It’s a mistake to treat Islam itself as if it were a monolithic thing, an undifferentiated block approaching two billion people. Islam is a many-differentiated thing. Saudi Wahhabis and Ahmadiyya Muslims in Toronto are not the same.

That’s the problem with the definition of Islamophobia adopted by the anti-racism strategy. It includes “racism, stereotypes, prejudice, fear or acts of hostility directed towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general. In addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling, Islamophobia can lead to viewing and treating Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systemic and societal level.”

Is it anti-Muslim prejudice to say that all Muslims constitute a security threat? Yes. Is it discrimination to direct acts of hostility toward followers of Islam in general? Yes.

The government’s strategy takes a dim view of any critical look at Islam

But the house of Islam has many rooms, and not all of them are filled with sun-dappled butterflies. The same would be true of Christianity. But it is not bigotry to consider that. For example, while Toronto is proud to host the Aga Khan Museum, it would be rather a different matter to build the Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Museum in Canada.

All religions need critical engagement. In this moment of history, that need is pressing in the world of Islam. Muslims, after all, pay the most lethal price for jihadist violence. Yet the government’s strategy takes a dim view of any critical look at Islam, which would actually put a great number of important Muslim voices offside.

I have profited over the years from many fruitful encounters with Muslims, both in Canada and overseas. Given the type of Muslims who are typically willing to engage in Christian-Muslim encounters, it is quite common to hear complaints about Islamist extremism from them, long before any non-Muslim raises the matter.

It is quite likely that, like many federal strategies, nothing much will be accomplished by this anti-racism strategy. But if it is effective, it should not prevent a critical engagement, theological and otherwise, with the world of Islam, both lights and shadows.

Source: Raymond de Souza: Canada’s anti-racism strategy needs to redefine Islamophobia

Canada adopts universal definition of anti-Semitism

Another pre-election announcement. The sensitive part of the non-legally binding working definition concerns criticism of Israel.

Comparable issues arise in any definition of Islamophobia or anti-Muslim hate between the relatively easy definitions of discriminatory behaviour or hate against Muslims and criticism of Islam itself:

Canada’s government announced on Tuesday that it will formally adopt the widely accepted definition of anti-Semitism by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as part of the country’s anti-racism initiative.

“To help address resurgent anti-Semitism in Canada, we’re adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism as part of our strategy,” said Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism.

Canada joined the IHRA is 2009 and is one of 32 member states.

The IHRA definition says: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Jewish groups applauded Rodriguez’s announcement.

“Peddlers of anti-Semitism must be held accountable, but this can only happen if authorities can clearly and consistently identify acts of Jew-hatred,” said Joel Reitman, co-chair of the board of directors at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

“This is why CIJA has been calling on all three levels of government to use the (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism,” he continued. “The IHRA definition, which has been adopted by dozens of democratic countries, is a vital tool in countering the global rise in anti-Semitism.”

“Canada adopting IHRA’s definition of antisemitism is an important symbolic and declaratory move,” said NGO Monitor founder and president Gerald Steinberg. “We hope that the next steps will pertain to its implementation within Canadian policy, including regarding Canadian international aid and support of NGOs.”

B’nai Brith Canada labeled the IHRA standard “the most universally accepted and expertly driven definition of anti-Semitism available today,” and one that “enjoys unprecedented consensus.”

Some 392,000 Jews reside in Canada, or 1 percent of the overall population.

Overall, 2,041 anti-Semitic incidents in Canada were reported in 2018—a 16.5 percent increase from the previous year, according to B’nai Brith Canada.

Incidents of vandalism decreased from 327 to 221, as violent anti-Semitic attacks also dropped, from 16 in 2017 to 11 in 2018.

Source: Canada adopts universal definition of anti-Semitism

US envoy decries lack of foreign response to China’s attack on Islam

Valid critique (and understatement of their human rights record):

The US envoy on religious liberty has said he is “disappointed” at the response of governments in the Islamic world to China’s mass incarceration of Uighur Muslims, suggesting they had been threatened by Beijing.

Sam Brownback, ambassador at large for international religious freedom, said some majority-Muslim states did not want to draw attention to their own human rights record. He was hopeful that the more Muslim populations around the world heard about the imprisonment of an estimated more than 1 million Uighurs, the more they will put pressure on their governments to speak out.

The Trump administration has severely criticised Beijing for its campaign against Islam in Xinjiang province, western China, where more than two dozen mosques and Islamic shrines have been razed since 2016. But Washington, in the midst of a tense trade dispute with China, has yet to impose sanctions, and Brownback said he could not say whether any punitive measures were pending.

Meanwhile, Washington’s closest allies in the Islamic world – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt – have been silent in the face of the mass incarceration of Muslims in Xinjiang.

At the beginning of March, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation passed a resolution which praised China for “providing care to its Muslim citizens”.

The Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has also defended China’s “right to carry out anti-terrorism and counter extremism work for its national security”.

In an interview with the Guardian, Brownback said that the US has been “in discussion” with Riyadh about its response to China, but did not single out the Saudis for criticism, arguing it was an issue for the whole Islamic world.

He applauded Turkey for taking a outspoken approach, and “a number of western countries that have spoken out aggressively on this”.

But Brownback, a former Kansas governor, added: “I have been disappointed that more Islamic countries have not spoken out. I know the Chinese have been threatening them and but you don’t back down to somebody that does that. That just encourages more actions.

“If China is not stopped from doing this they’re going to replicate and push this system out in their own country and to other authoritarian regimes,” he said.

Brownback did not specify what kind of threats China is alleged to have made, but after the Turkish foreign ministry called the incarceration of Uighurs a “great shame for humanity”, China scaled down diplomatic ties and warned of damaged economic relations.

Brownback suggested another reason for reticence of some governments in the Islamic world was they felt vulnerable on their own record on religious rights.

“I think a number of who are concerned about their own human rights record and then they’re saying look: we don’t want people criticizing us [so] we’re not going to criticize somebody else,” he said.

But Brownback said he was hopeful that governments would increasingly come under pressure from their own people to take a stand on the abuses in China.

“I think as more information gets out and particularly as it gets out to the population in some of these places that you’ll see more of their governments act and react,” he said.

Source: US envoy decries lack of foreign response to China’s attack on Islam

Are Sweden, Norway and New Zealand really the most Islamic countries?

Hadn’t heard of this before. Like all indices, depends on the indicators and their weighting, an OIC index or a Salafist one would have a different ranking:

Each year the Islamicity Foundation, a U.S.-based non-profit organisation, publishes an index of which countries comply most with Islamic teaching.

Each year countries such as Sweden, Norway and New Zealand top the Islamicity Index, but many Muslim countries do not do so well. The overall ranking is made up of scores in four areas according to the principles of the Quran; economic, legal and governance, human and political rights and international relations.

But is it correct to define these standards as being Islamic? The same standards are also endorsed by other belief systems such as socialism, Christianity and Buddhism. Values such as integrity, justice, honesty and peace are not the monopoly of a specific religion or ideology. Given that, it is also possible to declare countries like Norway or New Zealand as the most socialist or Buddhist countries in the world.

The countries that top the Islamicity Index also do well in the United Nations’ Human Development Index.

The Islamicity index also reads the Quran selectively. For example, it is not clear how the index weighs aspects of Islamic law in matters such as gender equality, the freedom to change religion and Islamic punishment. Thus it is not clear how countries like Norway and New Zealand are seen as the most Islamic when they recognise gay marriage for example.

New Zealand, rated by the Islamicity Index as the Islamic country, has a prime minister who gave birth out of wedlock while in office. I do not think there is any recognised interpretation of Islam that would concede that a woman has the right to have baby out of wedlock, let alone remain in the highest office while doing so.

While the Islamicity Index defines Islamic values in terms such as justice and rights, in the Muslim world it is more often defined by adherence to ritual. Being Islamic in the Muslim world is firstly about praying five times a day and performing other forms of worships. Today no mainstream interpretation of Islam endorses a religiosity based on morality without an emphasis on ritual. There is almost no Islamic approach that is ready to label a person as religious or pious only by judging their morality independent of whether they perform prayers five times a day. Islamic orthodoxy is clear today: If you are not performing five times prayer, you are not religious. Contemporary Islam has almost been transformed into a religion of ritual and worship rather than morality.

That is the value of the Islamicity Index – to remind Muslims that Islam is firstly about moral values rather than ritual.

Source: Are Sweden, Norway and New Zealand really the most Islamic countries?