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With so many political posts lately I had thought to make this one about religion.  After all, a blog titled Bad Atheist should be discussing religion every now and again.  However, instead, I wrote another political post.   Why?  Because, as the saying goes, shit happens.   And that shit is Trump.

This week Trump started confirming my worst fears about him.  While it is hard to pick and choose which of his executive actions was the worse, since he has provided us with a full, rich smorgasbord  of terrible decisions and actions to choose from, I am going to talk about his latest one.  The one where he stopped and banned all migrants and refugees from seven countries from entering the United States, even those who hold permanent resident status.   These countries were supposedly picked due to their failed nature, terrorist activity, and violence.

This sudden and drastic action reeks of so many things – fear, hatred, ignorance.   This action, and Trump’s and his supporters justification for it make it seem as if there is no vetting of these travelers, as if we just say “yep, come on in” without doing any sort of check.   Trump and crew seem to believe that we have avoided a terrorist attack from the citizens of these countries due solely to the grace of God.

The reality is that we do check them, each and every one.   Some more than others.  But none are given a free pass to just come and go without any scrutiny.  And you know what?  It seems to work.

Consider this fact – a true fact and not an alternate one that Trump and his followers are so fond of – none of the attacks carried out in the United States were done by a citizen of these seven countries.  Not one.

Consider this fact too, none of the attacks carried out in the United States were done by Syrian refugees.

Finally, consider this fact, and it is one that Trump’s defenders are making a big to do about; all of these seven countries were identified by the Obama administration as posing special risks for visa status.  In other words, the situation within those countries are dire and rife with terrorism and violence.

And yet, with just the procedures we have now, none of its citizens who have traveled here, go to school here, work here, and live here have committed any attacks against the hnan_and_lian_fadi_kassar_5758bdbd2e3fc99559b93f42d7bf4d69-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000United States here.    Despite being from high risk countries.

Seems like pretty good evidence that we are doing something right.  And that sudden, drastic measures such as those Trump engaged in, are not necessary or needed.  Examining those procedures and tweaking them, possibly so.  Full out stop – no.

An analogy from my own background might be useful here.  If I have a productive piece of equipment that, although not giving me zero defects, does do well and whose defects are well below our goals, I am not going to shut it down to examine it in order to find ways to improve it.  Instead I will let it run while I look at improvements, or even replacement.

Now, if the same machine were to malfunction and we had more defects than good product, or, even worse, someone were injured or killed, then yes, shut it down and fix it.

Our immigration system from these seven countries was working well, as evidenced by the fact that we had no terrorist attacks from anyone from these countries on our soil.  Agreed, some from those countries have engaged in terrorist acts in Europe, but Europe is not the United States and the dynamics and situations are different.  The situation in Europe is a cause to examine our system by using what is happening in Europe to see how it could be improved.  However, it is not cause to shut it all down to do so.  As I said, our immigration system for these seven countries so far has had zero defects.

Moving on, let me point out one other fact of interest.  Refugees are going to come from high risk countries with high levels of violence and terrorists.  If it were all nice and peaceful they would not have uprooted themselves from home and family and fled their country.  What this means it that in using the criteria of not allowing people in from high risk countries Trump effectively blocks entry to this country to those who need its safety the most.

So, what does this tell us about Trump and his administration?

That they are, tactfully speaking, not deep thinkers.   In fact, they are not thinkers at all – they do not analyze and try to understand the situation and system before making changes.  Instead, they are reactors.  They react and then try to justify, often with alternative facts and denial of actual facts.  Think of them as being the proverbial bull in a china shop, only with the ability to speak.

Next, they don’t care.  They do not care about the hardship that this imposes on people and families – on their livelihood, on their jobs, on their goals and plans.  They  don’t care that many of these people are in productive jobs in the United Sates and that their absence impacts American businesses. They don’t care that some of these people are engaging in important research that could have a potential impact on our medicines and healthcare.  They don’t care that their actions may even cost people their lives.  They don’t care.  They x_lon_syriaboy_170129-nbcnews-ux-1080-600reacted and damn , that felt good.  The rest – they don’t care.

Moving down the list of things we learned from Trump and his administration.  They don’t like to communicate. Nor do they like to coordinate.  A small group wrote this up without input from anyone.  The normal vetting of this executive order to ensure it does not violate laws and the Constitution, that it does what they want it to without unwanted complications and consequences, was not done.  But of course, Trump knows it all anyway and so doesn’t need to worry about that.  Which, come to think of it, is why he so often seems to live in a fantasy world.

This last trait, not vetting it (and isn’t that rather ironic), along with not communicating it in advance and planning on how to best implement it with those who are charged with actually implementing it contributed greatly to the chaos and uncertainty that followed.  That with, of course, the fact that this was a bad, very bad, hugely and bigly bad executive order.

A bad executive order done badly .    Trump and friends managed to get nothing right about this.

All for what?  National security?  To make out country safer?

This does not do that.  Not even a little bit.  In fact, it does the opposite.  It provides evidence for the radicals claim that the US is waging war on Islam and Muslims.  That our words about freedom of religion are nothing more than hollow hypocrisy.  Trump and company’s actions have the potential to increase the effectiveness of the terrorist’s recruitments efforts.

I know, I know.  Many of those supporters of Trump would pooh pooh my claims that Trump’s actions here actually help the terrorists and radicals rather than hurt them.  This despite the fact that the reasoning is sound and is supported by actual events.

There are currently several  Jihadist groups who are hailing Trump’s piece of ant-terrorist action.  One even said that Trump was “the best caller to Islam”. Why?  Because it shows that what the terrorists and radicals have been saying about the United States, that it is at war with Islam and has no true freedom of religion, are true.  It turns what had been their lies into truth.

Or consider the citizens in Iraq.  We, the United States, are working with them to defeat ISIS.  But we won’t let them in?  What message does that send – hello, we think you make fine cannon fodder but don’t really want to have anything else to do with you. Other than help you become good cannon fodder.

Even worse, the message this executive order sends to the American Muslim community is that the United States does not care about the ideals of religious freedom.  That Muslims are second class at best.  Especially when they consider that now Christians will get preferential treatment over all other refugees.

Which brings us to another question being asked – is this a ban on Muslims?  Trump did call for such a ban during his campaign.  Add to that former New York City mayor Giuliani stating during a Fox interview on Saturday that Trump had tasked him with finding some legal way to make a ban on Muslims happen.  Then add to the pot Trump’s order giving Christians priority.

While this is not conclusive, there is enough here to cause extremely justified suspicion that it is indeed a ban based on religious belief.  A ban on Muslims disguised… rather like how laws to discourage black voting back in the good old days were disguised as literacy tests.  And if somehow it is not, then it gives every appearance of being such with all the accompanying issues and problems that such a ban would create.  Including providing aid and comfort to the terrorists.

Not good

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Moving to another one of the interesting questions being asked – why these seven countries?  Yes, President Obama had them on a list.  But, it was not for the sort of actions Trump is engaging in.   Since Trump is busily doing everything he can to undo what President Obama has done, then why not add countries who have actually had some of their citizens attack us on our own soil?   Why not add Egypt and Saudi Arabia to the list?  Or Turkey?

Hmmm, let’s see.  Trump has significant business interests in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey.  He has none in Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

While not conclusive, it is suspicious.  Add to that the fact that he continues to refuse to release his tax returns and divest himself of his business holdings, or even put them in a blind trust, and I think we have a grand cause to investigate.  Is Trump trying to benefit, or at the very least, trying to protect, his business interests through the office of the Presidency without consideration on whether that is good for the United States or not.

Finally, despite all of this, the facts and the reasons, the protests and the pain it is causing to good people, I see many of his supporters still trying to justify this order and support these actions.  In reading some of the articles and in my discussions with them, some do it out of hatred of Muslims and Islam.  To those people I can only say go to hell cause we are not going to let you create one here in the United States.

Others though are doing so out of fear and ignorance.  To them I say, heal yourselves.  While your intentions may be good, ignorance and fear turn even the best of intentions into terrible actions.  They are the bricks used to line that road to hell.

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Republican presidential candidate Gingrich speaks at a meet and greet at the Willow Ridge Golf Course in Fort Dodge,

“We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in sharia they should be deported

…………

“Look, the first step is you have to ask them the questions. The second step is you have to monitor what they’re doing on the internet. The third step is — let me be very clear — you have to monitor the mosques. I mean, if you’re not prepared to monitor the mosques, this whole thing is a joke.” Gingrich on Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

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“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” campaign press release

 

“Do you think we might need to register Muslims in some type of database, or note their religion on their ID?” Yahoo Reporter

“We’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.” Donald Trump response

……….

“Should there be a database or system that tracks Muslims in this country?”  MSNBC reporter

“There should be a lot of systems. Beyond databases. I mean, we should have a lot of systems.”  Donald Trump response.

 

And with these statements both Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump have stabbed with intent to kill that which both have professed to love and protect – the Constitution

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 “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States..” Article 6  United States Constitution

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”  First Amendment, United States Constitution

 

An integral part of being an American is being able to live your life in accordance with the dictates of your conscience and religion.

For those Jews so inclined there are rabbinical courts.  For those Catholics so inclined there are diocesan tribunals.   For other religious groups both Christian and not, there are organizations that, for  those so inclined, will resolve marital issues, individual disputes, business disputes, rule on inheritances, and more – all based on the precepts of that religion.

All of this is allowed by the free exercise clause as long  as they meet the following standards:

  • Participation is voluntary on the part of everyone.
  • What is decided does not violate US laws.
  • What is decided does not violate the US Constitution.

This is part of what being free to live in accordance with your conscience and religion means.  It applies not to just a few, not just to some, not just to most, but it applies to all Americans.

But Gingrich, Trump, and too many others wish to deny this Constitutional right to our Muslim citizens.  They would say to these Americans,

“No, you cannot follow your religious laws under the same guidelines as others follow theirs.  In fact, you are not allowed to follow them at all.  And yes, we are instituting a religious test on who is considered a full and good citizen of the United States.

And yes, although we may deny it, in doing so we are destroying that  which we profess to love and swore to protect.

And yes, by doing so we show that our true love is to the United States as a nation first and its ideals only a distant second.  And preferably a nation of Christians with a few Jews tossed in.”

 

Oh, what joy this must give our enemies who have charged us with hypocrisy, to have their once lies now made true.

Oh, what pain it gives seeing too many of our leaders recommending suicide as a way to protect our nation.

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I know that I am weighing in late to an issue that has been ongoing for awhile now (as time is measured in the public eye); that of the numerous Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) being proposed in many states, including my home state of Texas that would allow religious discrimination against gays. However, since this looks to continue to be an issue – better late than never.

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My first thought is to ask a rather basic questions – why do people create and run a business? The answer – to make enough money providing goods or services to live on. The primary purpose of their business then is to sell something.

With the rise of gay rights and the increasing likelihood of gay marriage becoming the law of the land, fundamentalist Christian caterers, florists, cake makers, and such (oh my!) do not want to provide their services for a gay couple’s wedding. The reason – they believe providing a service for something that violates their religious beliefs means that they are lending their approval of something they do not approve of.

However, I would say that there is some confusion on their part on what providing a service means, namely, that providing a service to a customer implies that they also approve of that person’s beliefs or lifestyle. However, the truth of the matter is – it does not.

Selling a good or service is not an endorsement.

11077923_821390421272134_5250065451992852373_nConsider the fact that those with religious objections have probably already catered to weddings of people they would not approve of, whose lifestyles and beliefs would conflict with their religious beliefs: divorced persons remarrying, people of different religions marrying (unequally yoked), people who may believe in an open marriage or who may be cheating on each other, etc. Or perhaps even marrying people of another faith altogether – catering to a Muslim, Jewish, Atheist or Wiccan marriage –and thereby participating in worship to a different and false God.

In none of those cases though are they implying approval of that wedding or of the beliefs and lifestyles of those being married. They are providing a service, which is what their business is about. If you cannot provide a service to a diverse population, to those you disagree with – sometimes strongly – then you should not be in business to begin with.

Again, selling a service or product to a customer is NOT the same as endorsing that person’s beliefs, actions, or lifestyle. If it were then these businesses should probably start screening all of their customers because I can almost guarantee you that they have served at least as many if not more people that believe or live in a way they would find objectionable as those whose beliefs they find compatible.. I can’t wait to see them start to do background checks on everyone who comes through their door before providing their service.

These Christians have created a business, and businesses are concerned with making money not endorsing lifestyles and beliefs.

Refusing a product vs refusing a group

A common counter argument against this is illustrated by the question of should a Jewish baker be forced to bake a cake with a Swastika for a Nazi. However, there is a difference. You can refuse to provide a certain product, but still provide a service to that person. In this case, you can refuse to bake a swastika cake, but still provide a different cake to the Nazi.

In other words, you can refuse to provide a particular product, but cannot refuse to serve a group of people. I would think this a rather obvious as well as important distinction.

Religious Rights and Business

Let me also say that in addition to some confusion on what providing a service means, there is also considerable confusion on the part of the religious right on when their rights are being violated as an owner of a business.

If you are asked to marry another person of the same gender and being forced to do so – then your rights are being violated. If you are asked to provide a service that you are in business to do with the general public – then no, your rights are not being violated. To insist that they are, and to single out a group of people that you refuse to provide that service for, is discrimination and forcing others to live by your religious beliefs.

If you are so concerned that you are providing approval for things that violate your religious beliefs then you should not be providing a service as a public business. Or, in order to show consistency when it comes to trial, you should start requiring all of your customers to pass background checks before providing that service. And then refusing those that engage in acts you find religiously objectionable.

A person’s religious beliefs do have a place in their business. However, it is in how they run their business – the benefits given to employees, store hours and days off, how they treat their employees, how they decorate their store, treat their customers, etc.

Their religion does not have a place in who they chose to serve though. They are a public business and so serve the whole public in all of its diversity. Otherwise their actions are nothing more than religiously disguised discrimination.

These Christian business owners would do well to look more closely at the example of their example – Jesus. Despite beingjesus-ate-with-sinners criticized for it Jesus routinely took meals with and visited the worst of sinners. He did so even though the pure and religious of his day accused him of endorsing these sinners. These business owners should follow Jesus’ example – and who knows, perhaps if they do it well they will wind up attracting more to follow Jesus. At the very least they will no longer be harming others through their discriminatory practices.
Addendum: It has been pointed out that there are Muslim caterers who also wish to discriminate against gay couples. That too is wrong and I condemn it just as strongly as I do the Christian ones. However, the difference is that in the United States it is the conservative Christian businesses and groups that are taking the lead in creating laws that would allow them to do this, not the Muslim ones. In the United States it is the conservative Christian groups that have the greatest power and pose the greatest threat to human rights, not the Muslim groups. To ignore this is to become focused on the gnat buzzing your head and ignoring the tiger pounding your way.

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Today there is a news story about a man who cold bloodedly shot and killed three Muslims students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. A possible motive of the killer is that he is an atheist and hates religion. Regardless of the accuracy of this I find it interesting how many atheist blogs are saying that atheism has nothing to do with promoting violence and that this violence cannot be pinned on atheist beliefs as they can with theistic beliefs.

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A typical example of this line of reasoning is from a blog by Joshua Kelly titled Atheism Did Not Kill Three Young Muslims in Chapel Hill:

“I’m not entirely convinced that any motive that might be stated could criminalize the idea of atheism or the atheist community’s aims and goals, even if he were to outright comment something as blatant as: “I killed them for atheism.”
This sounds immediately like a hypocritical statement. But, while it is true that faiths like Islam have inked within their primary tenets of morality mandates to slaughter those who leave the religion or those who outright oppose it, as do Christianity and Judaism with equally horrific language, we must absolutely remember that atheism does not have a series of standard social doctrines. We do not have a Bible. We do not have a Koran. The atheist mentality is stemmed from the simple truth that there are no gods, and thus the individual acts on philosophical bases on his own choosing. This contemptible man, whether over a parking spot or because of an innate psychopathy or any other reason, cannot be said to have killed anyone because his non-god told him to do it. “

I have several problems with this sort of reasoning.

First, it seems to me he is arguing that beliefs do not effect behavior, or have consequences in our behavior. Or at least atheistic ones do not.

Yes, not believing in God does not in and of itself create or hinder a disposition to violence. However, neither does a belief in God. What does determine that is what else is attached to this belief or non-belief. And just as with theism, what is attached can be conducive to violence, it can be against violence, or it can be neutral.

And that is the other thing that bothers me about this reasoning. It treats religion and all religious belief as if they were all the same. But they are not. They are varied in their exact beliefs, in how they practice and manifest their beliefs and how they interact with society. And yes, there are violent passages and exhortations within most sacred works that atheism does not have. But then, there is also much inked into their sacred works promoting social justice, equality, love, and charity. Something atheism also lacks. How these contradictory strains within religion become reconciled and acted upon depends on a great many factors beyond just believing in a God.

Although atheism does not have a sacred work, the same process is at work.

To take just one example, as an atheist do you value rationality above all else and feel that irrationality is at the root of all evil? Combine that belief with the belief that religion is the height of irrationality and has done nothing but evil, and then combine that with a belief that all Muslims are terrorists and responsible for acts such as 9/11, and viola …you have the makings of a killer. A killer looking for a trigger. Or possibly a killer just looking for an excuse. But then many of the deaths attributed to religion are really nothing more than killers looking for an excuse.

And least you think this is all theoretical, I would say that something very like this has already played out in the real world, and not just once. The Soviet Union with its promotion of atheism and its discouragement of religion as an evil. Or Albania under the Soviet Union. Or Communist China. All of these regimes have jailed, tortured, and killed believers just because they were believers. For that matter, you can look at the French Revolution as another example of this.

Neither the belief in God or the non-belief in God by themselves promote or hinder anything. It is what is attached to these beliefs as it interacts with the personal situation of the individual that determines that. And to me, to dismiss Christians or Muslims or other theist’s explanations for why violence committed by their practitioners is not really their fault but then to do the same as they when the killer is an atheist is indeed hypocritical.

Which brings me to my final objection to this line of reasoning. It divorces atheism from being human. Humans are capable of both great and good deeds and also terrible and evil ones. This means that human beliefs are brought in to serve in both human capacities. To say that this cannot happen with atheism seems to me to push atheism out of the realm of human belief and into….I know not where. However, wherever it winds up it winds up then not having any relevance to our existence.

Science can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by science. Philosophy can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by philosophy. Medicine can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by philosophy. Religion can be used for good and evil and that good and evil justified by religion. All of human thought and experience can be used for good and evil and that good and evil thereby justified by those thoughts and experiences. Except for atheism apparently.

Sorry, not buying it. Not believing in God is a human thought, a human belief, and like all of humanity’s creations it can be linked up with other ideas to do both good and evil. To pretend otherwise is to delude and blind ourselves to reality.

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A bit over two years ago I posted “Gimme That Old Banned Religion”, about a t-shirt with the words “I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God the salvation of everyone who believes. Romans 1:16” on the front. On the back it stated, “This shirt is illegal in 51 countries.”

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Obviously I checked out the accuracy of this back statement and then used this to discuss the interesting fact that many Christians in America claim that they are persecuted, not only in other countries but also here in the United States.

This blog has gotten some interesting responses, including two that I did not allow due to their abuse of language. A few days ago I received in comment that made me want to briefly revisit the topic of the “persecution” of Christians in America. Before I do though, I realize that many if not most Christians in the United States do not believe they are persecuted. In fact, I received a couple of thoughtful comments from Christians to this effect.

However, while acknowledging the truth of this, it is still also true that a sizable number of Christians do believe they are persecuted in the United States. Now, I am not going to deal with all the problems in claiming that Christians are persecuted in the United States. Much of it stems from the fact that “They wish to elevate the loss of their religious privileges – which are forbidden by the United States Constitution – to the loss of their religious rights – which is very much protected by the Constitution.”

What I want to focus on instead is the claim of a commenter that “Christians are the MOST persecuted in the world”. Really?

Consider the following:

  • In every country in which Christianity is outlawed and expressing Christian beliefs illegal, so too are other religious beliefs, including atheists. Does the Most Persecuted Religion trophy go to the group with the most individuals being persecuted? If so, then Christianity has an unfair advantage in that they are the largest religious group in the world. A better measurement would be a proportional one in which you look at laws outlawing and restricting a religion. By this measure, Christianity is not the most persecuted religion in the world. At best, it is tied with many others.
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  • In Iraq  today a religious group is in danger of being totally wiped out by ISIS. Those who follow the Yazidi faith are being hunted and killed for their faith. Just because they are not as numerous as Christians does that mean that their persecution doesn’t count? Or perhaps it counts, but just not as much. How do you compare their persecution with their smaller numbers with that of Christians? After all, they are in grave danger of giving their all, just as the widow did in Mark 12: 41- 44

    41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

    It seems to me that even though the Christians today might be persecuted out of their abundance, those who in their poverty of numbers are in danger of being wiped out are being the more persecuted.
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  • Does it count as persecution when those persecuting you are also a Christian, just of a different variety? For example, the Catholic persecution of Protestants, the Protestant persecution of Catholics, the persecution of Quakers by both, etc. It seems to me that this should not count towards the count for most persecuted religion. Instead, this should be reserved for persecution by those of a totally different religious belief.

jews-arriving-auschwitz-PSo, who do I think is the most persecuted religion? The Jews. They have been persecuted for far longer than Christians have, have suffered more deaths and restrictions than Christians have. What is of interest here is that the Jews have suffered deaths and restrictions frequently at the hands of Christians. In fact, this makes me wonder, does the fact that Christians persecuted other religions mean that they should be deducted points for most persecuted religion? This question is especially important in light of the fact that the religion that has engaged in the greatest amount of persecution of the Jews is Christianity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYes, Islam has done so too. Both have anti-Semitic elements within their respective sacred books. However, for most of history,einsatzkids Islamic countries have been a safer place for Jews to live than Christian European ones. That is not to say that Jews were considered the equals of Muslims, nor that they did not suffer persecutions and extra taxations . They did. However, what the Jews experienced in Christian Europe was worse, on average, than what they experienced in the Middle East. Just consider, the greatest number of Jews being killed for being Jewish occurred during the First Crusade and in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. Both of these were Christian countries and these actions carried out by Christians.

So, how does the fact that Christians have engaged in severe persecution fit into these Christians calculations for being the most persecuted religion?

A more basic question, though, is why do so many Christians seem to feel this is important. They seem to believe that if a religion can survive such persecution then that is evidence that that religion contains the truth and is the one correct religion. However, is this true?

Not really. Although my tone may have, at times, been slightly sarcastic in my questions and points above, the questions and points are all valid. Christians have been and in many countries are still being persecuted – along with atheists, Jews, and other religious groups.

Christians have also often been the persecutors.

And it is Judaism, not Christianity, which has suffered the greatest amount of persecution throughout history.

Yet this belief that being persecuted validates Christianity still permeates the thinking of many Christians. It is why they so often try so hard to twist and distort the reality of Christianity within the United States so as to claim that they are persecuted too. It validates, in some strange way, their belief in the ultimate and exclusive truthfulness of their religion. Never mind the reality.

And the reality is? Persecution is no measure of how true a religion is. It is the result of many other factors instead – politics and economics, geography, social norms and values, and the interactions with other religions. If persecution were the measure of a religion’s validity then Judaism would be the winner. Of course, the atheist would rank fairly high too. Not to mention the Yazidi. Or the many other religious groups.

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Instead of contemplating with joy how persecuted Christians are, even within the United States, these Christians should instead be working to protect all of those persecuted regardless of religious belief – atheist, Jew, Yazidi… all. They should be working to rid the world of persecution and discrimination for any reason whether it be for religion or race or gender or sexual orientation. They should, instead, be working to create a culture, a society, a world in which each is free to follow their conscience and to live their lives as they best see fit. That is a much more laudable goal than watching all their trials and tribulations sinking in a gentle pool of wine.

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I get several newsletters from organizations that I normally disagree with.  I do so in order to make sure  that I have not missed anything in regards to evidence or reasonings that would change my mind.   Most of the time they don’t, but they do provide interesting, entertaining, frustrating, and annoying readings at times – often at the same time.   Not to mention the feeling of smug superiority that I often in reading their material (plan to work on that little fault of mine someday) 

This particular one that I am about to go over was sent to me by the Middle East Forum – a conservative American think tank founded by Daniel Pipes that “promotes American interests in the Middle East and protects Western values from Middle Eastern threats”.

A week ago they sent me an article by Raymond Ibrahim that was published in FrontPageMagazine.com titled “The Pentagon’s Bow to Islamic Extremism’.   In reading it I saw plenty of red flags that this article may not be totally reliable.  It presented only a few facts that were then skewered for all they were worth.   And instead of my usual sigh of annoyance and resignation I, instead, thought – Wow, what a wonderful exercise in skeptical thought this would make.

And so here it is, an exercise in skeptical thought.   I will be posting the complete article as it was sent to me, with breaks in it for me to comment on specific passages.

The Pentagon’s Bow to Islamic Extremism

by Raymond Ibrahim
FrontPageMagazine.com
February 12, 2014

“Caving to pressure from Muslim groups, the Pentagon has relaxed uniform rules to allow Islamic beards, turbans and hijabs. It’s a major win for political correctness and a big loss for military unit cohesion,” said a recent report.

———————————————————————————————————————–

First paragraph and already so many issues.  The first one that struck me was the sentence – “Islamic beards, turbans, and hijabs”.  

Religions that require men to have beards – Many varieties of Orthodox Judaism, Sikhism, Rastafarians.   So, it is not just Muslims who will benefit from this, although you would not know it from the wording.  

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muslims3Turbans – Sikhs also are required to wear turbans.  Many Rastafarians do too.  For that matter, many Muslims do not wear turbans; just look at photos of Palestinians, Egyptians, Afghans, and so forth.   But, again, from the wording you would think that only the Muslims wear turbans and that all of them wear this headgear. 

Hijabs – this is the one item that is correct, and it is feminine attire.  However, what was overlooked here is how many Muslim women do not wear the hijab.  

Of course, I was now interested in actually reading the Pentagon report on this topic.   And I thought it was good of them to provide a link to it.   However, that link was not to a report but to another article in the Investors.com about this same topic that also decried McDonald’s changing standards in caving to Shariah Law too.   Not sure how a site meant for investments can be considered a reliable or authoritative source – but it sure does look good having a link in nice colored letters spelling out “recent report”.   Makes it look all think tanky and such. 

First two learnings from this:

1)      Beware of articles that overly generalize and yet at the same time focus on only part of the story.

2)      Beware of articles with links that look good, but only look good.  

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Of course, now I was interested in what the Pentagon had actually done and said.  So, I looked into it and quickly found these two articles from Military Times – a much more relevant source than an investment site – “Wide Variety of Faiths Led to New Policy to Accommodate Them” and “Religious Exemptions for Troops Easier to Request Under New Rules”.  

Some interesting facts here that are not mentioned in the article; 

news singhFirst, this change was brought about because of a Sikh request to be allowed to wear his turban.  Not a Muslim, a Sikh. 

Second, until now, there was no military wide policy for determing exemptions to uniform and grooming regulations due to religious reasons.  This has now set one. 

Third, religious exemptions are not automatic.  They are considered on a case by case basis and, if they run counter to that service’s regulations, have to be approved by that service’s three star personnel chief.  If they do not run counter to established regulations then they can be approved by unit commanders. Further, a soldier’s exemption is not for always.  Anytime a soldier moves to a different job or deploys, they have to re-apply for the exemption.  

Fourth, several factors are considered in making a decision to allow a religious exemption or not.   I think the “Wide Variety…” article stated it nicely. 

“The new policy states that military departments will accommodate religious requests of service members unless they have an adverse effect on military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline,” says Navy Lt. Cdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman.

Rules can be bent, but they can’t be broken. The bottom line, Christensen said, is that accomplishing the mission at hand comes first. Always.

That means a shave if facial hair prevents the proper fit of a gas mask, leaving behind a religious garment interferes with a flak jacket, or delaying prayer when a patrol must be run.”

So, one paragraph in and already this article is totally discredited.   The change was not prompted by “pressure from Muslim groups” but from a wide variety of different religious groups and people, with the proximate cause being a request from a Sikh.  

Also, from the first paragraph, and indeed the rest of the article, you would not know that this is an exemption process and one that is not automatically given.  Nor would you know that the unit mission takes priority.  In fact, from this paragraph, and the rest of the words that follow in this article, you would think the exact opposite.  I am guessing that they realized this since they provided a worthless link instead of one leading to a site providing good specific information on what had changed and why.  This was no accidental error. islamophobia1

So, since this article has already been discredited as being based on incomplete, misleading, and very biased information, then why read the rest of it?  For myself, it is interesting to see where they go with it; which is, as you might already have expected, in a totally Islam bashing and basically Islamophobic direction.  

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This new relaxation of rules for Muslims comes at a time when the FBI is tracking more than 100 suspected jihadi-infiltrators of the U.S. military. Just last month, Craig Benedict Baxam, a former Army soldier and convert to Islam, was sentenced to seven years in prison due to his al-Qaeda/jihadi activities. Also last month, Mozaffar Khazaee, an Iranian-American working for the Defense Department, was arrested for sending secret documents to America’s enemy, Iran.

———————————————————————————————————————–It would be nice if they would cite sources for their claims.  However, I did find a NPR report on this. 

The reason the FBI is investigating is due the Fort Hood murders by Major Hasan that took the military by surprise even though there were warning signs.  Now, of these 100 suspects, only about 12 are serious enough to continue investigating.   Something this article neglects to mention. 

It also fails to mention is that these investigations involve not just military members but their family and also military contractors.   You are talking about a huge number of people being investigated in which only 12 warrant more serious follow ups.   A problem, yes.  But not an out of control and huge one.  

Further, the FBI also investigates for white supremacist and neo-nazi groups links.   Yet I see nothing here about the dangers of these groups despite the fact that most of the incidents of American domestic terrorism have been by militias and other such groups. They mention Braxton’s military service, although his crime was committed after leaving the military.  From the wording you would think he had “infiltrated” the military and was working from inside.  He was not.  

In order to continue avoiding providing a proper context for this story, they also do not mention the military members who join domestic militia groups that have been known to engage in domestic terrorism.  Nor do they mention the anarchist group in Georgia with not only ex members of the military but active duty soldiers.  Here is a CBS newstory about this.  

(AP) LUDOWICI, Ga.- Four Army soldiers based in southeast Georgia killed a former comrade and his girlfriend to protect an anarchist militia group they formed that stockpiled assault weapons and plotted a range of anti-government attacks, prosecutors told a judge Monday.

Prosecutors in rural Long County, near the sprawling Army post Fort Stewart, said the militia group composed of active duty and former U.S. military members spent at least $87,000 buying guns and bomb components and was serious enough to kill two people – former soldier Michael Roark and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tiffany York – by shooting them in the woods last December in order to keep its plans secret.

“This domestic terrorist organization did not simply plan and talk,” prosecutor Isabel Pauley told a Superior Court judge. “Prior to the murders in this case, the group took action. Evidence shows the group possessed the knowledge, means and motive to carry out their plans.”

In other words, this article is being very selective in what information it presents.   It does not give you all the information nor the context needed for an honest understanding of what is happening.  

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According to a Pentagon spokesperson, the new religious accommodations—to allow Islamic beards, turbans, and hijabs—which took effect very recently, would “reduce both the instances and perception of discrimination among those whose religious expressions are less familiar to the command.”

The report concludes that, “Making special accommodations for Islam will only attract more Muslims into the military at a time when two recent terror cases highlight the ongoing danger of Muslims in uniform.”

But it’s worse than that; for not only will it attract “more Muslims,” it will attract precisely the wrong kinds of Muslims, AKA, “Islamists,” “radicals,” etc.

This is easily demonstrated by connecting the dots and understanding that Muslims who adhere to visible, non-problematic aspects of Islam—growing beards and donning hijabs—often indicate their adherence to non-visible, problematic aspects of Islam.

Consider it this way: Why do some Muslim men wear the prescribed beard and why do some Muslim women wear the prescribed hijab? Most Muslims would say they do so because Islam’s prophet Muhammad commanded them to (whether via the Koran or Hadith).

Regarding the Muslim beard, Muhammad wanted his followers to look different from “infidels,” namely Christians and Jews, so he ordered his followers to “trim closely the moustache and grow the beard.” Accordingly, all Sunni schools of law maintain that it is forbidden—a “major sin“—for men to shave their beards (unless, of course, it is part of a stratagem against the infidel, in which case it is permissible).

The question begs itself: If such Muslims meticulously follow the minor, “outer” things of Islam simply because their prophet made some utterances concerning them in the Hadith, logically speaking, does that not indicate that they also follow, or at the very least accept as legitimate, the major, “inner” themes Muhammad constantly emphasized in both the Koran and Hadith—such as enmity for and deceit of the infidel, and, when capable, perpetual jihad?

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My, such concerns for allowing Muslims to serve in their military (they are American citizens and thus it is their military, just as it is mine and any other American’s).   And for not allowing the wrong sort of Muslim into the Military, as if judging by their beards or lack of them is a way to figuring this out. 

To show the grave flaws in this sort of thinking consider the following.  Major Nidal Hasan.  No beard.   The Boston bombers, neither of them had a beard.     In fact, if you look at the 2013 FBI Most Wanted Terrorists List, of the nine men listed, three did not have beards. None of them are wearing turbans.   

 In fact, none of them are American, which means that they would be very unlikely to be able to enlist in the military.    

Looking at Wikipedia for the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list gives a longer one, a listing of 22, of which most are not wearing turbans and nine have no beards.  There is only one American on this list, making the 21 others unlikely to be able to enlist in the US military.  

I mentioned earlier that the FBI also investigates for ties to white supremacist groups and neo-nazi groups.  The FBI has discovered and stopped many more attacks on Americans by these groups than by Muslim citizens.   Does this mean that we should now be concerned about attracting whites to the military?   Perhaps we need to go to an all black, Hispanic, and Asian military.

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domestic terroist 1I thought it might be interesting to look at the FBI’s list of Most Wanted dt2Domestic Terrorists.   None of them were Muslim.  All of their terrorist acts were done in the name or anarchy or ecology.  Seems that most of the terrorist acts committed by Muslims were committed by non-Americans.  Muslims who are American citizens, by the evidence, are not very likely to engage in terrorist acts.     Which means dt3that this whole article is doing them a grave disservice, insulting their dt4patriotism, their honor, their morals.  

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As for the verses and themes emphasized in the Koran and Hadith, since they did not provide any specific verses or references for this, let me just say that these are often taken out of context and ignores other verses within those works.   Here is a blog I did on this “Response to a Faulty Document About Islam” – my apologies for some formatting issues on this blog, I was having some issues with wordpress that day and decided what I had was readable enough (by the way, I am much better at this now – thank goodness!).

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Even in the Islamic world this connection between visible indicators of Islamic piety and jihadi tendencies are well known. Back in 2011, when Islamists were dominating Egypt’s politics, secularist talk show host Amr Adib of Cairo Today mocked the then calls for a “million man beard” march with his trademark sarcasm: “This is a great endeavor! After all, a man with a beard can never be a thug, can never rape a woman in the street, can never set a church on fire, can never fight and quarrel, can never steal, and can never be dishonest!”

His sarcasm was not missed on his Egyptian viewership which knew quite well that it is precisely those Muslims who most closely follow the minutia of Muhammad—for example, by growing a beard—that are most prone to violence, deceit, and anti-infidel sentiments, all of which were also advocated by Islam’s prophet.

Speaking more seriously, Adib had added that this issue is not about growing a beard, but rather, “once you grow your beard, you give proof of your commitment and fealty to everything in Islam.”

Similarly, after Egypt’s June 30 Revolution ousted the Muslim Brotherhood, “overt signs of piety [beards and hijabs] have become all it takes to attract suspicion from security forces at Cairo checkpoints and vigilantes looking to attack Islamists.” Clubs and restaurants banned entrance to those wearing precisely these two “overt signs of piety.”

While Egyptians instinctively understand how fealty to the Muslim beard evinces fealty, or at least acceptance, to all those other problematic things Muhammad commanded, even in fuzzy Western op-eds, the connection sometimes peeks out. Consider the following excerpt from a New York Times piece titled “Behold the Mighty Beard, a Badge of Piety and Religious Belonging”:

[A]ll over the Muslim world, the full beard has come to connote piety and spiritual fervor…. Of course, the beard is only a sign of righteousness. It is no guarantor, as Mr. Zulfiqar [a Muslim interviewee] reminds us: “I recall one gentleman who came back from a trip to Pakistan and remarked to me, ‘I learned one thing: the longer the beard, the bigger the crook.’ His anticipation was people with big beards would be really honest, but he kept meeting people lying to him.”

The italicized portion speaks for itself. Whereas the Muslim beard ostensibly represents religious piety, some people, mostly Westerners, are shocked to find that those who wear it are often “crooks” and “liars.”

In Islam, however, outer signs of religiosity on the one hand, and corruption and deceit on the other, are quite compatible. After all, the same source—Islam’s prophet Muhammad, as recorded in the Hadith—that tells Muslims to grow a beard also advocates deception, the plundering of infidels, the keeping of sex slaves, adult “breast feeding,” and all sorts of other practices antithetical to Western notions of piety if not decency.

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There are so many over generalizations and falsehoods about Islam and Muslims within this article that, since my main focus is the Pentagon policy, I am not taking the time to show them all wrong.   But, as a representative example, lets just do one – the adult breast feeding.   This article claims that “Muhammad, as recorded in the Hadith” tells Muslims breast feed adults.   The link provided goes to another article by the same author as this one.  Amazingly though, this article actually provided a link to a BBC article on this subject. 

Yes, there was one cleric who issued a fatwa saying women should breastfeed men- as a way of breaking down the segregation of the sexes.   However, his fatwa was immediate denounced by most other Muslims and clerics and he later retracted it as an error in judgment and reasoning on his part.   I wonder, if this author and this think tank take the proclamations of the Westboro Church pastor as being definitive for all of Christianity.  

The other statements and claims made about Islam are similarly flawed.   They are the product of a mind more concerned with casting Muslims and Islam in the worst light possible, even if misleading statements and lies have to be used to do so. 

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Incidentally, it’s the same with the hijab, or cloak that some Muslim women wear, also on Muhammad’s command. One reformed Islamic jihadi from Egypt accurately observes that “the proliferation of the hijab is strongly correlated with increased terrorism…. Terrorism became much more frequent in such societies as Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, and the U.K. after the hijab became prevalent among Muslim women living in those communities.”

And so, at a time when the U.S. should at the very least be wary of those who openly wear their Islamic radicalism around their face and head—beards for males, hijabs for females—the U.S. Pentagon (of all places) is embracing them in “celebration of multiculturalism.” Wear loyalty to the U.S. is most needed, the Pentagon embraces those who show that their loyalty is elsewhere (among other things, the beard and hijab are meant to separate “pure believers” from “impure infidels”).

Of course, none of this is surprising considering that the Pentagon also considers Evangelical Christians and Catholics as “extremists” on a par with al-Qaeda.

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This skeptical exercise has gone on long enough and that last claim is deserving of a blog in and of itself – one which I have no plans for doing currently.  

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Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (Regnery, April, 2013) is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum

 

So, what does my skeptical analysis of this piece show?  As I wrote earlier – this article is nothing but a smear on the morals and patriotism of Americans who are Muslim.  It is a smear and attack on good Muslims of all nationalities.  It is slanted, bigoted, and biased.  It seemingly deliberately ignores many facts about what the Pentagon is doing, about Islam, about terrorism, and about Muslims.  In addition, it presents what few accurate facts it has in a biased and prejudiced way, an alarmist way that creates unnecessary and immoral turmoil and division.  It is nothing more than a bigoted hate piece. It is a dangerous shame that it has cloaked itself with the reputation of a “Think Tank” status so as to wear a respectability it does not in any way deserve.   And that is why skeptical thinking is so valuable – it is not the obvious hate groups that are the main problem, but rather, those who wear a disguise.

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The other day I was talking to another student in the Masters of Liberal Arts program who was taking a course titled “Islam and Politics in the Middle East”.  Since I had taken that same course last year, he was asking me questions about how the professor graded (good professor with a lousy system for providing timely feedback on assignments).

During this discussion he mentioned that he had asked the same question to this professor several times and had never gotten a straight answer, but that he intended to keep asking until he did get one.  His question was “Why don’t Muslims in the Middle East stand up to terrorists?”     I told him that, if he wanted me to, I could answer that question.  Since this is a question that I have heard many, many times I thought I would share my answer here.

They do stand up to terrorists.

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One such person has been much in the news lately and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize – Malala.   She is a prime example of a Muslim standing up to terrorists.  As is her family who supported her and have also spoken out.  As are her classmates who, despite the terrifyingly real danger, still go to school.   As are the parents of these classmates who support their daughters and continue to keep them in school.   As are the girls who go to school anywhere that extremists are present, and their families who support them.

They are the women politicians in Iraq, Pakistan, and other countries that have an active extremist presence.   They are the women who work outside the home in those same countries.

Saudi Women DrivingThe women who drive in Saudi Arabia are another group who are standing up to terrorists and the thinking that supports them.

Muslims stood up to terrorists and the thinking that supports them in Egypt recently with the massive protests that caused the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood from their government.

The demonstrators in Libya who came out to support the US, apologize for the killing of ambassador Stevens, and against the terrorists.  This was followed by an attack by hundreds of Libyans on the compound of an Islamist militant group thought to be one of the ones behind the attack on the US embassy, in which these protestors evicted the militiamen and set fire to the building.

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They are the thousands of Egyptian Muslims who surrounded the Christian Coptic Churches  during their Christmas Eve Mass services to protect them against the terrorists.

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They are the many thousands of Muslims in Afghanistan who protested against their government’s plans reconcile with the Taliban, saying that any such plan would be a “betrayal of the Afghan people’s long fight against extremism”.

More examples could be mentioned, but let us also not overlook the values and work of the Muslims who teach their children that the Qur’an does not condone terrorism and the killing of the innocent;  the Muslims who work hard and help others, regardless of their faith or backgrounds;  whose daily life models values at odds to those of the terrorists.   They are the Muslims who live peacefully and who encourage others to do the same.

As for those Muslims who do nothing in areas that the Taliban or the other radical extremist groups control, consider how outspoken and bold you might be knowing that it is not just your life that is in jeopardy but that of  your parents, your spouse, your children.   That not only might you be tortured and killed, but those you love too.   The wonder is not that there are so few Muslims standing up against these people, but that there are so many.

Those of us living safely so far away have no right to criticize so easily and unthinkingly what we have not tried to understand first.  Nor do we have a right to be so vocal while also being so ignorant of what so many Muslims are doing to stand up to terrorists.

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