Friday, December 17, 2004

C'mon, lighten up, say some preachers!

I hope you have missed me as much as I have missed blogging this past week! I do have good news: I was accepted for the Scoville Peace Fellowship but still have to decide which organization I want to work for 6 to 9 months in Washington DC – I have narrowed it down to five: Citizens for Global Solutions, The National Security Archive, The National Security News Service, Physicians for Social Responsibility and The Henry L. Stimson Center. If you have any suggestions, bring them on! I will make my decision by next week Inshallah (If God Wills) and will let you all know. I really enjoyed my 2 days in DC – it’s a really exciting city and a very refreshing change from Minnesotan suburbs. I got to see the White House briefly at a distance while going to my hotel and the Pentagon while my plane was taking off. The transportation system is great and it’s funny because none of the people I met were from DC! If you’re a political junkie & want to work in the field like me, DC is the place to be! The only annoying thing was the lack of local coffee shops – there was a Starbucks at every corner!

Before I start pounding you with the latest news, I want to share the site
Coming Out Swinging – my friend’s blog where he shares info from Muslim circles and his own personal woes, which make a very interesting read, so check it out!

For all you Muslims out there wondering what to buy your Christian friends and colleagues, try these:
· Roman Catholics and Shia Muslims - Prayer, Passion & Politics" by James Bill & John Alden Williams, USA 2002
· Catholics and Shia in Dialogue - Studies in Theology and Spirituality" edited by Anthony O'Mahoney, William Peterburs and Mohammed Ali Shomali, UK 2004
· Jesus (Peace be upon him) Through Shi'ite Narrations” translated by Muhamad Legenhousen, Iran 2003

How many of you thing the religious sermons you attend are too boring? It doesn’t matter what religion you belong to. Me too. So I was pleasantly surprised to read this article from
The Christian Science Monitor: “From here to Hollywood, somber services where smiles are frowned upon have in many churches gone the way of sky-high pulpits and knuckle-rapping ushers. In its place is an effort to tap the nation's culture of humor to promote spiritual gain: In Texas and southern California, church outreach ministries now include Christian comedy shows that draw upwards of 300 people. A forthcoming book on "The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching" (Zondervan, 2005) dedicates an entire chapter to humor as a homiletic device. Preachers in congregations large and small are building laughter into their worship plans…observers say what's happened has been a shift to speak the laugh-getting language of a casual culture that values entertainment. Some do voice concerns about a loss of reverence, but many see the lighter side as a vital tactic for touching souls. "It is going to be impossible to preach without using humor," says Joseph Webb, author of "Comedy and Preaching" (Chalice Press, 1998) and dean of the communications program at Palm Beach Atlantic University. "You will not be able to stand up and hold the people if you cannot work the stage."… While the goal is to connect to today's flock, the trend draws on tradition. Seminary students are mining the sermons of yesteryear's preachers who had a flair for making the faithful chuckle. And some pastors regard the Bible itself as seasoned with more than a few funny stories. Others see a theological dimension involving the demand for redemption…Leaders seem to agree on this rule of thumb: Poke fun at yourself or at universal human foibles, but never mock God, holy things or particular people. Prayer and sacraments are no times to laugh.”

From an e-mail I received from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, “almost half of respondents polled nationally said they believe the U.S. government should -- in some way -- curtail civil liberties for Muslim Americans, according to a new survey released today (Dec. 17) by Cornell University. About 27 percent of respondents said that all Muslim Americans should be required to register their location with the federal government, and 26 percent said they think that mosques should be closely monitored by U.S. law enforcement agencies. Twenty-nine percent agreed that undercover law enforcement agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations, in order to keep tabs on their activities and fund raising. About 22 percent said the federal government should profile citizens as potential threats based on the fact that they are Muslim or have Middle Eastern heritage. In all, about 44 percent said they believe that some curtailment of civil liberties is necessary for Muslim Americans. Conversely, 48 percent of respondents nationally said they do not believe that civil liberties for Muslim Americans should be restricted…Sixty-five percent of self-described highly religious people queried said they view Islam as encouraging violence more than other religions do; in comparison, 42 percent of the respondents who said they were not highly religious saw Islam as encouraging violence. In addition, highly religious respondents also were more likely to describe Islamic countries as violent (64 percent), fanatical (61 percent) and dangerous (64 percent)… The survey also showed a correlation between television news-viewing habits, a respondent's fear level and attitudes toward restrictions on civil liberties for all Americans. Respondents who paid a lot of attention to television news were more likely to favor restrictions on civil liberties, such as greater power for the government to monitor the Internet. Respondents who paid less attention to television news were less likely to support such measures. "The more attention paid to television news, the more you fear terrorism, and you are more likely to favor restrictions on civil liberties.” This shows the failure of Muslim communities to aggressively reach out to their neighbors and other communities to bridge the gap and dispel misconceptions about Islam and Muslims.

Remember Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner? From Informed Comment: “the Iranian dissident who is the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, “is being prevented from publishing her memoirs in the United States because of regulations that prohibit ‘trading with the enemy’." Her book is an effort to "help correct Western stereotypes of Islam, especially the image of Muslim women as docile, forlorn creatures." … Shirin Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for her life-long campaign to protect vulnerable and persecuted groups within Iranian society.” And it quotes the citation from the Norwegian Nobel Committee: “As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer and activist, she has spoken out clearly and strongly in her country, Iran and far beyond.” … The State Department then reminds us that in 2000 Ms. Ebadi “was arrested and accused of distributing a videotape that implicated prominent hard-line leaders of instigating attacks against advocates of reform. She received a suspended sentence and a professional ban. She was then detained after attending a conference in Berlin on the Iranian reform movement.” It says she also provided legal representation for “highly politicized and sensitive cases” such as the students killed during the 1999 Tehran University protests by vigilante groups operating under the influence of hard-line clerics, and two prominent political activists who were stabbed to death in 1998 by “rogue” elements within the Intelligence Ministry…But can she overcome US government bureaucracy? The problem with publishing her book in the US, Ms. Goodman writes, is a 1917 law that “allows the president to bar transactions during times of war or national emergency.” The law has been amended to exempt publishers, but the Treasury Department has ruled it illegal “to enhance the value of anything created in Iran without permission” -- including books. Moreover, as Ms. Goodman points out, if Ms. Ebadi's literary agent were to help prepare the manuscript for an American audience, she too would be subject to punishment -- 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for an individual or $1 million for a publishing house…Publication of the Ebadi book in the US would be perfectly OK with Treasury if the book were already published in Iran. But the Catch-22 here is that the ayatollahs have already foreclosed this option…When Ms. Ebadi received her Nobel Prize, Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, said, “The Nobel Committee has sent a powerful message to the Iranian Government that serious human rights violations must end. We hope they hear that message." We hope the US government hears it first.”

Although I doubt any of my readers are Bush supporters, if you are, do you feel safer with the billions of tax dollars going into defense mechanism? Well, the latest news may disappoint you. From the NY Times: “An important test of the United States' fledgling missile defense system ended in failure early Wednesday as an interceptor rocket failed to launch on cue from the Marshall Islands, the Pentagon said. After a rocket carrying a mock warhead as a target was launched from Kodiak, Alaska, the interceptor, which was intended to go aloft 16 minutes later and home in on the target 100 miles over the earth, automatically shut down because of "an unknown anomaly," according to the Missile Defense Agency of the Defense Department.” An editorial stated that “The failure, at the cost of a mere $85 million, was the latest evidence that the missile shield, a complex grafting of various unproven technologies, remains firmly in the dream stage. Yet the administration is going ahead with hollow defense plans to soon "activate" the first missile silos along the Pacific coast in a ludicrous pretense called "evolutionary acquisition." This means spend and strut now, and worry about whether it will actually work later…Bush vowed to have the shield in place this year. But informed critics, including a group of 49 retired generals and admirals, wisely urged him to shelve the fake startup and divert more money into low-tech antiterror defenses at the nation's vulnerable ports, borders and nuclear weapons depots. With rogue nations like North Korea working on nuclear missiles, a credible shield may someday be needed, but only after its efficacy has been proved.”

Is Turkey going to be accepted as an EU member? Let’s hold our horses because there are several stipulations put forward by the EU for talks to even begin. According to the Christian Science Monitor, “The greatest unresolved issue was the EU's requirement that Turkey sign a customs-union accord with 10 new member states including Cyprus. The EU claims this would not be an official recognition of Cyprus as a state, but admits that it would in effect mean "de facto recognition of Cyprus," something Turkey said it would not do at this time, reports the BBC…At present Turkey, and only Turkey, recognizes the "self-styled state of Turkish northern Cyprus," says the BBC. Turkey has 35,000 troops stationed there. The island has been divided since an attempted coup by a Greek Cypriot officer in 1974…The EU left open the possibility it might set a quota for Turkish workers migrating to Europe, something no other EU member faces. Initially, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan stated such a condition would unacceptable because it would relegate Turkey to less than equal status…But a compromise position did mention the possibility of such a temporary measures from the EU treaty "spelling out that this was not the same as permanent restrictions on freedom of movement," says Reuters…Turkey's entry talks - which could take more than 10 year - are now guaranteed like other new members at the first stage. All 25 EU leaders agreed to open accession negotiations with Turkey. Previously, some EU leaders would not agree to guarantee open-ended talks leading to membership. Turkish officials viewed that stipulation as a national insult…Germany is home to the biggest Turkish population in Europe. Some 2.8 million Turks, many of them descendants of immigrant guest-workers who moved to Germany in the 1960s…Yet, "a sizeable portion of the German population as well as the conservative opposition parties has deep-seated reservations about Turkey's membership," reports The Turkish Press…And this is despite the fact that Germany is Turkey's biggest trading partner. But "with 10 percent unemployment, countries such as Germany are apprehensive about young, cheap Turkish workers who will be very keen," to work for any wage…Opponents to Turkey's admittance, reports the Times of London, feel that it is Too big, too populous, too poor, and too culturally different to integrate into the EU, and the EU risks 'enlarging itself to death' by extending its borders to Iran, Iraq and Syria. Those who support Turkey's entrance say bringing the vast, mainly agrarian country bridges Europe and the Middle East, and that it would foster stability and security, says the Times.”

If you want to ctach up on Iraq, there is plenty on Informed Comment, and check out this interesting NY Times editoral, Politics and War Crimes in Iraq.