Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

A brief guide to the ideological roots of Islamic terrorism

Posted by sanityinjection on August 21, 2017

It is hard for most Westerners to understand how Islamic terrorism fits into the spectrum of Muslim theology. We are told, accurately, that terrorist fasadis like ISIS and al-Qaeda represent a fringe extremist view that most Muslims disavow. But where does this view come from, and what has caused it to become more popular and prominent over the last few decades?

First, let’s recall that most of the Muslim world is divided between the two major dominations, Sunni and Shi’a. (There are other minority sects that don’t fall into either category, but their influence on politics is minimal.) The Shi’ites are fewer in number and their political power is mostly restricted to Iraq and Iran. Most Muslim countries, both in the Middle East and elsewhere, are predominantly Sunni.

Within Sunni Islam, there is also quite a bit of variation in views on both religious and political matters. The particular strain of thought that today’s terrorist groups generally arise from is called Salafism, and it began as a reform movement over two centuries ago. Salafism is essentially a form of Islamic fundamentalism, which holds that the oldest forms of Islam practiced by Muhammad and his immediate successors are the most pure, and any modifications that have occurred within Islam since that time are errors that should be corrected.

It should be noted that there is nothing inherent in Salafism that requires political involvement or necessarily endorses violence. The first Salafists were mostly concerned with stamping out what they saw as idolatrous veneration of Islamic saints and places of worship. (ISIS’ habit of destroying historic monuments is an extreme manifestation of this viewpoint.) There are many Salafis who advocate staying out of politics, and many politically activist Salafis who do not condone violence. But this is the larger ideological context that most violent Sunni groups fit into.

Salafism as a political force first came into its own in Arabia, when the founder of a sect called Wahhabism made an alliance with the tribe of ibn Saud. The Wahhabis agreed to support the Saudis politically, and the Saudis agreed to promote Wahhabism as the correct form of Islam. The Saudis kept that bargain, and when they became masters of most of Arabia after World War I, including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and subsequently became rich from Arabia’s oil, they began to have a major influence on the Islamic world. Saudi oil money paid for mosques, Islamic schools and charities, all of which dutifully spread the Wahhabi version of Salafism. Conservative even among the fundamentalist world of Salafism, Wahhabism is responsible for the many cultural restrictions on dress, music, and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, and the fact that slavery wasn’t abolished there until the 1960s. The terrorist groups’ adoption of these cultural restrictions can be traced directly to the Saudi-funded schools and mosques where they were educated.

However, the real shift occurred with the victory of Islamic groups over the Soviets in Afghanistan in 1989. This effort was heavily backed by Saudi money and many of the jihadis who fought there espoused Wahhabi beliefs. The lesson was that violent jihad against the enemies of Islam was not only appropriate, but could be successful. The prestige of Wahhabism, previously viewed among the Muslim world as more of an Arabian oddity, increased dramatically.

A final group that must be mentioned is the Muslim Brotherhood. Based in Egypt, the Brotherhood is an international coalition of political Islamists, generally Sunnis but not tied to any particular orientation, instead stressing the need for Muslim unity. The Muslim Brotherhood is devoted to the goal of establishing Islamic government and sharia law, by democratic means if possible. However, they have at times engaged in violence. (The US continues to debate whether to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, as Russia and Saudi Arabia have done; many experts argue this would be neither accurate nor helpful.) The Muslim Brotherhood has specifically disavowed any support for ISIS or al-Qaeda, but it was a Brotherhood leader, Sayyid Qutb, whose anti-secular, anti-Semitic, anti-democratic writings influenced the founders of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Saudi Arabia was once a supporter of the Brotherhood, but they fell out as a result of the Gulf War and now are confirmed enemies. However, both the Saudis and the Brotherhood now find themselves unhappily dealing with the fallout of these terrorist groups they helped to inspire. (Ironically, within the past year the Saudi monarchy has been moving to liberalize Wahhabi cultural restrictions, both to improve the country’s image and to try to curb the power of Wahhabi clerics and reduce potential support for jihadi groups within the Kingdom.)

To sum up: Today’s terrorist groups were birthed in the 1990s amid a soup of Saudi-financed Wahhabi fundamentalism and Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Islamist politics, and inspired by the success of violent jihad in Afghanistan.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Who does the word “Allah” belong to?

Posted by sanityinjection on January 8, 2010

That is the question at the heart of the current controversy in the majority Muslim nation of Malaysia, which also has significant religious minorities including Christians. The issue flared up recently when the Malaysian government confiscated loads and loads of Bibles written in the Malay language brought in by local Christian groups. The government claimed that the Bibles illegally used the word “Allah” to refer to the Christian God and that the word properly applies only to the God of Islam. (Never mind that any half-trained theologian can tell you that the two faiths worship the same Supreme Being – the God of Abraham, though they view Him quite differently.)

The Christians had earlier filed suit against the government for outlawing their use of “Allah” in their religious newspaper, pointing out that “Allah” is an Arabic word that means “God” and that is used routinely by Arab Christians and Arabs of other faiths. The government responded that the use of the word was intended to confuse Muslims and trick them into converting to Christianity. (If that seems reminiscent of anti-Semitism, it should.) The government claimed that the Christians’ use of the word could lead to violent unrest.

On December 31, the Malaysian High Court ruled in favor of the Christians. Of course the government promptly appealed. It only took about a week after that before Christian churches started being firebombed. Now the government is in the awkward position of having to defend itself against charges that they incited the riots they had earlier predicted. While I doubt that there was any official involvement, I have no doubt that the pillars of society who threw those firebombs were incited and egged on by the imams of their mosques to strike a blow against the infidels.

The irony of all this is that Malaysia is generally considered one of the more secular, democratic, and largely free Muslim nations. And yet the difference in basic values between Malaysia and any Western democracy couldn’t be more clear. The very notion that our government could give a religion the exclusive right to use a foreign loanword is simply incomprehensible. (Heck, even Western Christians would never dream of trying to demand exclusive rights to the name “Jesus”.) What is most telling about the whole issue is not the ultimate outcome of the case, but the fact that the issue even arose in the first place.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

And so it begins: If you’re Christian, you must be psychologically disturbed

Posted by sanityinjection on December 17, 2009

I have commented in this space previously about the ongoing war against religious faith generally, and Christian faith in particular, being waged by the Left in this country. Sadly, one of the chief battlegrounds has been our public schools, where the slightest mention or display by a student of anything like a Christian symbol or belief can be labeled “intolerance of diversity” and constitute grounds for discipline.

Worse news, though, is that the next phase of anti-Christianity has now begun. Unsatisfied with labeling Christians as bigots, the new logic goes like this: Belief in Jesus is irrational and therefore evidence of a psychological problem, which should of course be treated with therapy and drugs until the person becomes a happy, well-adjusted atheist.

If you think this is a wild exaggeration, consider the recent case of an 8-year old boy in Taunton, Massachusetts. In response to an instruction by his teacher to draw something that reminded him of the holiday season, the boy drew a stick figure of Christ on the cross. The teacher and the school administration decided that the appropriate reaction to this outrage was to send the child home from school immediately and force him to undergo a psychological evaluation  – which he passed – before allowing him to return.

The teacher apparently became upset because he or she felt the image was violent, being especially disturbed by the child’s drawing Xs where Jesus’ eyes would be (a common way of representing closed eyes.) The teacher claims the boy said he had drawn himself on the cross. You can judge for yourself how alarming and violent the image is here.

Even taking the teacher’s explanation at face value, I fail to see how a rational person would judge this 8 year old  boy to be a danger to himself or his classmates based on this drawing. If the teacher had concerns about the boy’s home situation, surely that did not require such immediate and drastic action. Needless to say, the poor kid does not understand what he did wrong and has been rather traumatized by the whole business. He will be transferring to another school at the request of his parents.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is the teacher rather than the student who should be undergoing a mandatory psychological evaluation. But don’t hold your breath.

Posted in Domestic News, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Italy can’t make 2 plus 2 equal 5

Posted by sanityinjection on November 5, 2009

I have often blogged in support of religious expression against what I perceive as excessive repression in the name of secularism. However, it does happen that sometimes the secularists are in the right. So it is with a recent case in the European Court in which the Italian government lost its attempt to defend the widespread practice of displaying a crucifix in public school classrooms.

Italy, of course is a traditionally Catholic nation, and the crucifix is a familiar symbol in every city and village there. But Italy is also a country that claims to adhere to the European Union’s standards of freedom of religion. So when a parent complained about the presence of a crucifix in her child’s public school classroom and sought unsuccessfully to have it removed, she appealed all the way to the European Court.

Italy argued unsuccessfully that the crucifix was a traditional symbol of Italian culture. In fact, there is nothing about crucifixes in Italy that makes them unique to Italy or any different than those found in Spain, France, or any other Catholic area. Italy also insisted – rather ridiculously – that the crucifix is a symbol of unity, tolerance, and secularism. Secularism??

This would certainly come as news to anyone familiar with the Inquisition or the Jewish ghettoes. Yes, modern Italy is a relatively secular and tolerant country, but the crucifix is hardly a symbol of that modernity.

Ironically, courtrooms in Italy also display crucifixes. The Euro court’s ruling would seem to open up the ability to challenge that practice as well.

The point is not that Italy is deliberately trying to foist Catholicism on its citizens. Rather, it’s that the prominent display of the symbol of a very specific religious domination is inherently discriminatory and exclusionary to those who practice a different faith or none at all.

There is a separate argument to be made here about whether an international court should have the right to tell a sovereign state such as Italy what it can and cannot do – but that is something Italy should have considered as part of its membership in the European Union.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sharia law codes aren’t Islamic, just medieval

Posted by sanityinjection on August 19, 2009

Hardly a week goes by these days without a news story about someone in a Muslim country  – usually a woman – being punished for an Islamic religious offense under what is called “sharia” law.  Sharia is supposed to be the incarnation of the rules found in the Koran in a system of law. In some countries, sharia only applies to Muslim citizens, while in others no separate civil law code exists and sharia applies to everybody. Punishments under sharia can often be harsh including canings, amputations and death by stoning.

For example I recently wrote about a Sudanese woman who is facing 40 lashes for the offense of wearing trousers. In that case, there is a compelling argument that wearing trousers may not, in fact, be a violation of Koranic law.

But consider something a bit more concrete: the case of Malaysian model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, who has been sentenced to caning for drinking alcohol. It’s pretty hard to argue that consuming alcohol is not a violation of Islamic law. But the question is, is this a reasonable punishment? And further, why is it necessary to enforce such a violation at all?

Islam is certainly not the only faith to have dietary restrictions. Mormons are not supposed to consume alcohol or caffeine. Devout Jews, like Muslims, abstain from pork and observe other dietary restrictions. Other faiths abjure the eating of meat.

And yet, somehow none of these other creeds feel the need to have civil courts set up to punish people who disobey these religious laws. Why then, does Islam? And only in some countries – Muslims in the US are no less observant because they do not cane people for drinking.

If a Muslim drinks alcohol, is that an offense against the community or an offense against God? If the latter, then surely God is perfectly capable of imposing consequences on the offender. You could argue that public drinking has a negative impact on the morals of others who are exposed to it, but then why does Malaysia allow alcohol to be sold at all? Who ultimately was harmed by Ms. Shukarno drinking a beer, other than Ms. Shukarno herself?

The only rationale I can think of for making drinking a crime against the community is the old tribal notion that the Muslim community as a whole will be punished by God for the sins of the individual. In other words, the community has a vested interest in enforcing individual spiritual morality because the community will suffer the consequences if it doesn’t.

But even if we accept this notion, why then are there not canings for Muslims who fail to pray five times a day, or who fail to give to the poor? These requirements are far more fundamental in Islam than the prohibition against alcohol.

The inevitable answer is that sharia law codes are at least as representative of medieval cultural traditions as they are of Islamic law. That also explains why the details of sharia law – especially with regard to women – differ greatly from one country to the next. This is significant because freedom of religion is considered a basic civil right, and anything that can be brought under that umbrella is hard for Westerners to combat. But last time I checked, medieval cultural traditions are not a basic civil right that should trump other rights such as freedom of expression. We in the West are so concerned to avoid attacking the Islamic faith that we have allowed this masquerade to go on too long.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

The new face of women’s rights: Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein

Posted by sanityinjection on August 3, 2009

I want to introduce you to this brave Sudanese lady who is currently at the frontline of the battle for women’s rights. Ms. Hussein was arrested at a restaurant in the Sudanese capital city of Khartoum. Her crime? Wearing trousers – considered “indecent clothing” under a Sudanese law called Article 152. The punishment involves a fine and a number of lashes with a whip on the clothed body.

Such arrests are not unusual in the northern half of the country where the population is predominantly Muslim and sharia law governs. However, enforcement is haphazard. I’m betting that the authorities are already wishing that they hadn’t chosen Ms. Hussein to arrest that night. Unlike many Sudanese women who lack formal education and would be afraid to challenge authority, Ms. Hussein is a journalist who works for the United Nations. Instead of plea bargaining for a reduced sentence as other women who were arrested for the same crime have done, Ms. Hussein is appealing her sentence of 40 lashes, claiming that Article 152 is not only unconstitutional but un-Islamic as well:

“If some people refer to the sharia to justify flagellating women because of what they wear, then let them show me which Koranic verses or hadith say so. I haven’t found them.”

Ms. Hussein made a point of wearing the same outfit to her first court hearing that she was wearing when she was arrested, so that everyone present could judge for themselves whether her clothing was indecent. Here is a photo:

 (Photo credit: Agence France-Presse)

Even by Middle Eastern cultural standards regarding the exposure of flesh, it’s hard to argue this outfit is indecent. Ms. Hussein plans to appeal her case all the way to the top, and says she is prepared to take 40 or even 40,000 lashes if necessary.

The authorities, trying to avoid publicity, tried to see if Ms. Hussein’s position with the UN qualified her for diplomatic immunity, so they could make the whole thing go away without having the law challenged. However, Ms. Hussein threatened to quit her job if they did that and waived any right to immunity, as she wants to challenge the law once and for all.

What’s especially nice about this case is that it can’t be dismissed as a bunch of do-gooder human rights NGOs trying to impose Western values on a Muslim country. Ms. Hussein is clearly calling her own shots on this one, though she may be getting financial assistance. Rather than the challenge coming from outside, this is a Sudanese woman standing up for the rights of her countrywomen. I can only imagine how inspirational she must be for other Sudanese women – if they are even allowed to know about the case at all.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Atheists demand a God-free Capitol visitors center

Posted by sanityinjection on July 23, 2009

I was thinking about posting on this but The Future American beat me to it:

It’s amusing when we must rely on our Canadian friends like this blogger for some perspective on separation of church and state in America. But as she seems to understand, America was founded on the principle of freedom *of* religion, not freedom *from* religion. On the other hand, it does not strike me as an injustice if the Capitol visitors’ center doesn’t happen to mention God, either. Both sides are playing games here. If the Capitol architect is really clever, he’ll sell McDonald’s the right to cover the place with advertising and welcome visitors to the “McCapitol Visitor’s Center”. Both sides will be so outraged that they’ll forget all about the God issue 🙂

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , | 11 Comments »

I think I agree with the Muslims on this one: Part II

Posted by sanityinjection on July 8, 2009

Twice in less than a year’s time  that I find myself on common ground with Muslim religious values! And of course it took the ultimate evil to do it: “reality” television.

I have to admit, at least this time the idea was creative.  A Turkish TV station came up with the idea of a competition between a Muslim imam, a Christian priest, a Jewish rabbi and a Buddhist monk to try to convert 10 atheists to their respective faiths. The show is supposed to air this fall.

However, the Muslim authorities in Turkey are not amused and are refusing to allow any of their imams to participate: “Doing something like this for the sake of ratings is disrespectful to all religions.” And I have to say I agree. Faith should not be a popularity contest, and religious truth should not be judged by who has the most followers – or offers the most tempting blandishments to converts.

The TV network’s response was disturbing: “We don’t approve of anyone being an atheist. God is great and it doesn’t matter which religion you believe in. The important thing is to believe.”  In other words, freedom of religion in Turkey, but not for atheists. Of course those who go on the show would be willing participants, but if I were an atheist I would worry about how I might be treated based on how my fellow nonbelievers are portrayed on the show. If it were handled by a typical American reality show production company, which deliberately instigates conflicts and uses creative editing to portray people as negatively as possible in order to boost ratings, one might imagine the “contestants” being portrayed as speaking or acting disrespectfully toward one faith or another, which could lead to unpleasant consequences. I personally find atheism distasteful, but I think the right to refuse to believe is just as important as the right to choose what to believe.

I’m also puzzled by the inclusion of Judaism, because it is fundamentally not a proselytizing religion. In fact, rabbis are known to try to talk people out of converting to Judaism. While I could see a rabbi being willing to do the show as a way of spreading understanding of the Jewish faith in a predominantly Muslim country, I can’t imagine that rabbi having much success in actually converting anyone to Judaism.

Then again, we are told that the Lord works in mysterious ways…

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Is the new film “Angels and Demons” anti-Catholic?

Posted by sanityinjection on May 1, 2009

I hesitated a lot about whether to even write about this. I have not seen the new film (coming out in a couple of weeks), nor have I read the book it’s based on, though I’m familiar with the plot. I did read “The DaVinci Code”, and while it was entertaining enough, it was also a virulent anti-Catholic polemic which deliberately (and falsely) blurred the line between fact and fiction. I resolved at that point to make sure author Dan Brown never got any of my money, not because I am a Catholic, but because I prefer not to fund those who spread hatred through misinformation.

“Angels and Demons” was actually written before “Da Vinci Code”. Its plot summary can easily be found on any number of websites and focuses on a secret conspiracy masterminded by Vatican leaders. Like “Da Vinci Code”, it has now been made into a movie.

Fortunately, while struggling with exactly what tack (if any) to take on this subject, I ran across this column by Andrew Leigh, which I think nicely encapsulates my thoughts:

If you can’t decide whether a movie like this is unfair to Catholics, I suggest you apply a simple test: Mentally replace all the Catholics with Jews and all the priests with rabbis. If the result seems like it could have been the Film of the Month in Hitler’s Germany, then you’ve pretty much got your answer.

Of course there is nothing wrong with having an individual Catholic or Jew as a fictional villain. But when an author seems to go out of his way, repeatedly, to smear one of the world’s major faiths, and distorts facts in order to do so, you have to start to question whether entertainment or something far more unpleasant is really the main goal.

So I will not being seeing “Angels and Demons”. You won’t find me protesting in front of the theaters, because that would just create more publicity. And I don’t believe in censorship. But I would encourage readers to consider this issue before deciding whether or not to see the film.

Posted in Current Events, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Notre Dame controversy is a tempest in a teapot

Posted by sanityinjection on April 6, 2009

The invitation by America’s most prominent Catholic university, Notre Dame, to President Barack Obama to speak at the school’s graduation, has caused quite a stir. Among some students, but mostly among the school’s alumni and financial supporters. The reason? Obama is solidly pro-choice, a stance which the Catholic Church believes to be immoral. Even Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, the highest ranking American Cardinal, has called the invitation “an extreme embarrassment.” (Thank goodness the Church leadership doesn’t have any other embarrassments to worry about, like Holocaust-denying bishops or priests diddling little kids.)

Quite frankly, I think the whole commotion is absurd. President Obama’s presence on the Notre Dame campus is not going to lead to even one additional abortion. I very much doubt he would even mention abortion in his speech. Whether you like him or not, the President is the most sought-after speaker in the world, and having him as the graduation speaker should be viewed as an honor by the university. I didn’t vote for Obama and I disagree with his views on many issues, but I would be quite pleased if he were to speak at my alma mater.

With this in mind, I hope that those students who oppose the invitation will nevertheless show proper respect for the President when he speaks. To disrupt the speech or turn their backs on the speaker, as some students did when President Bush spoke at graduations, is simply rude and childish behavior that does nothing to advance debate. Even if you do not have any respect for the man, the office of President of the United States deserves more respect than that.

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »