How Religion Can Let Loose Humanity’s Most Violent Impulses

Source: AlterNet

Author: Valerie Tarico

Emphasis Mine

The year 2015 has opened to slaughter in the name of gods.  In Paris, two Islamist brothers executed Charlie Hebdo cartoonists “in defense of the Prophet,” while an associate killed shoppers in a kosher grocery.  In Nigeria, Islamist members of Boko Haram massacred a town to cries of Allahu Akbar—Allah is the greatest!  Simultaneously, the United Nations released a report detailing the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in the Central African Republic by Christian militias, sometimes reciting Bible verses. On a more civilized note, Saudi Arabia began inflicting 1000 lashes on a jailed blasphemous blogger—to be doled out over 20 weeks so that he may survive to the end. In media outlets around the world, fierce debate has erupted over who or what is responsible.  Is monotheism inherently violent? Is religion an excuse or cover for other kinds of conflict? Are Western colonialism and warmongering in the root of the problem?  Do blasphemers make themselves targets? Is the very concept of blasphemy a form of coercion or violence that demands resistance?

Is killing in the name of gods a distortion of religion? Alternately, is it the real thing?

Each of these questions is best answered “yes, and” rather than “yes/no.”

With the possible exception of Buddhism, the world’s most powerful religions give wildly contradictory messages about violence.  The Christian Bible is full of exhortations to kindness, compassion, humility, mercy and justice.  It is also full of exhortations to stoning, burning, slavery and slaughter.  If the Bible were law, most people you know would qualify for the death penalty. The same can be said of the Quran.  The same can be said of the Torah. Believers who claim that Islam or Christianity or Judaism is a religion of peace are speaking a half-truth—and a naive falsehood.

The human inclination toward peacemaking or violence exists on a continuumHappy, healthy people who are inherently inclined toward peacemaking focus on sacred texts and spiritual practices that encourage peace.  Those who are bitter, angry, fearful or prone to self-righteousness are attracted to texts that sanction violence and teachers who encourage the same. People along the middle of this continuum can be drawn in either direction by charismatic religious leaders who selectively focus on one or the other.

Each person’s individual violence risk is shaped by a host of factors: genetics, early learning, health, culture, social networks, life circumstances, and acute triggers. To blame any act of violence on religion alone is as silly as blaming an act of violence on guns or alcohol. But to deny that religion plays a role is as silly as denying that alcohol and guns play a role.  It is to pretend that religions are inert, that our deepest values and beliefs about reality and morality have no impact on our behavior.

From a psychological standpoint, religions often put a god’s name on impulses that have subconscious, pre-verbal roots. They elicit peak experiences like mystic euphoria, dominance, submission, love and joy. They claim credit for the moral emotions  (e.g. shame, guilt, disgust and empathy) that incline us toward fair play and altruism, and they direct these emotions toward specific persons or activities. In a similar way, religions elicit and channel protective reactions like anger and fear, the emotions most likely to underlie violence.

A case from my own field, mental health, tells the story. On November 5, 2009, Muslim US army psychiatrist, Nidal Malik Hasan, shot and killed thirteen of his fellow soldiers on the Fort Hood military base, injuring another thirty. His case shows how religion can combine with other ingredients to produce a lethal brew.

What was the role of religion in the Fort Hood shootings? The answer isn’t simple. From the swirl of conjecture and hype emerged the image of a man who was lonely, who couldn’t quite seem to win at love, and who was profoundly troubled by the horror stories brought home by his soldier clients. Do therapists experience vicarious trauma?  Absolutely. Does this trauma put their own mental health at risk?  Absolutely. Many of them deal with this risk by seeking professional consultation, asking for support from loving family and friends, and limiting the number of post-traumatic clients that they see.

It appears that Hasan made at least tentative attempts in several of these directions. But primarily he turned to forms of Islam that only deepened his sense of alienation and anger. In what must have been an anguishing conflict of loyalties, piety helped him to resolve the conflict in favor of co-religionists over compatriots. Ultimately, rage won out—righteous, sanctified rage—which came to matter more than any value he as a healer placed on his own life or the lives of his colleagues and clients.

I would argue that, like alcohol, religion disinhibits violence rather than causing it, and that it does so only when other factors have created conditions favorable toward aggression. I might also argue that under better circumstances religion disinhibits generosity and compassion, increasing giving and helping behaviors. Religion often is centered around authority and text worship (aka “bibliolatry”). Because of this, it has the power to lower the threshold on any behavior sanctioned by either a sacred text or a trusted religious leader and is at its most powerful when one is echoed by the other.

As many have pointed out, thousands of Muslim servicemen in the U.S. military shot no-one on November 5, 2009, nor will they unless they find themselves assigned to combat. Similarly, millions of people consume alcohol without insulting, hitting, kicking, stabbing or shooting anyone. Most of us are peaceful drinkers and peaceful believers. Yet, statistically we know that without alcohol assaults would be less common. So too, we all know that when suicide bombings happen, Islam is likely to be involved. And, I would add, when we hear that an obstetrics doctor has been shot or a gay teen beaten and left to die, or a U.S. president has announced a “crusade”, we know that Christianity was likely a part of the mix.

In general, as the gospel writer said, it is far easier to see the mote in our brother’s eye than the log in our own. American culture is bathed in Christianity, and even for most secular Americans, is easy to see Islam’s role in violence while missing the times when Christianity plays the same role. But the rest of the world doesn’t see us through our own rose colored glasses, and under a bare light bulb, American Christianity retains shadows of the inquisitor’s hood and implements of torture.

In recent years, the European and Australian press repeatedly have called attention to horrors being perpetrated in Africa thanks to American missionary dollars, a story that has been slow to get mainstream American press coverage.  As Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity spread across Nigeria and Congo, thousands of children are being beaten or burned or disfigured with acid after being condemned by Christian ministers as “witches.”   After all, the American missionaries teach that the Bible is the literally perfect word of God, and the Bible says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18).  When children are condemned by pastors and priests, exposed in the name of Jesus by the Holy Spirit himself, parents abandon them and their villages drive them out.  The lucky ones find refuge in shelters.  (For photos click here.)

Meanwhile in Uganda, American Evangelicals have helped to advance prison terms and death penalties for African gays. The Family, an American Christian organization with members in congress helped to convert Uganda’s president to their form of politicized Christianity. American activists attended a conference in Uganda aimed at “wiping out” homosexuality. Within months, a bill had been introduced that would allow the death penalty for gays with AIDS and institute jail time for parents who fail to turn in their homosexual teens. Unrelated? No. But horrors such as these don’t seem to have abated the flow of salvific dollars, Bibles, and earnest missionaries eager for converts any more than suicide bombings have dried up support for madrassas.

Was the Fort Hood murder spree caused by Islam? Are the African murder sprees caused by Christianity?  A yes answer is far too simple. But the fact is that religion around the world continues to disinhibit lethal violence at a horrendous rate. For us to vilify Muslims or Christians or any group of believers collectively is to engage in the familiar act of cowardice we call scapegoating. It means, ever and always, that we end up sacrificing innocents to appease our own fear, anger and thirst for vengeance. But for us to ignore the complicated role of religion in violence is a different kind of cowardice, one that has been indulged by peace-lovers among the faithful for far too long


The Staggeringly High Number of Muslim Countries the U.S. Has Bombed or Invaded Since 1980

Source: AlterNet

Author: Zaid Jilani

Emphasis Mine

As the inevitable two-year campaign for the White House gears up, foreign policy is likely to be a hot topic, particularly within the Republican Party, where hawks like Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) may face off with more restraint-oriented lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul (KY).

Journalist Glenn Greenwald points to a Washington Post op-ed by Andrew Bacevich laying out the case that our foreign relations with the Muslim world are fraught with too much violence – with Syria being the 14th country we’ve bombed or occupied since 1980:

As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extent into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.

Greenwald comments on the statistic by referencing the recent controversies of Sam Harris and Bill Maher attacking Islam as uniquely violent, “Those who sit around in the U.S. or the U.K. endlessly inveighing against the evils of Islam, depicting it as the root of violence and evil (the “ mother lode of bad ideas“), while spending very little time on their own societies’ addictions to violence and aggression, or their own religious and nationalistic drives, have reached the peak of self-blinding tribalism. They really are akin to having a neighbor down the street who constantly murders, steals and pillages, and then spends his spare time flamboyantly denouncing people who live thousands of miles away for their bad acts. Such a person would be regarded as pathologically self-deluded, a term that also describes those political and intellectual factions which replicate that behavior.” Read Greenwald’s full article here. (


Whose Blasphemy? The Atheist Case for ‘Religious Freedom’

From: Religion Dispatches

By: Austin Dacy

“It is hard to imagine a less hateful person than Alexander Aan. Mild and soft-spoken, the 30-year-old Indonesian bureaucrat recently told Al Jazeera, in an interview conducted just outside his jail cell, “As a democracy and part of the global community, because we are not isolated from the outside world, I think we should be more tolerant. Nobody hurts anyone simply because he has different ideas.” And yet Aan is facing up to 11 years in prison for blasphemy and inciting religious hatred because he voiced his skepticism about Islam on Facebook.In the West, the paradigms of blasphemy are fair-haired Danish cartoonists drawing the Prophet and Richard Dawkins badmouthing Yahweh. The public debate is about how to balance freedom of speech with respect for religious belief. But Alexander Aan’s case, playing out in the world’s most populous Muslim country, represents a much different global reality. Here the value at stake is not just freedom of speech, but freedom of conscience. The real contest is not between atheists and believers, but between those who affirm the equality of all persons of conscience and those who deny it.Aan was arrested in a small town in West Sumatra on January 18 after a number of local residents assaulted him at work in an act of self-styled vigilantism. They were reacting to some of his postings on a Facebook page devoted to atheism: a note entitled “the Prophet Muhammad was attracted to his own daughter-in-law”; a comic suggesting the Prophet slept with his wife’s maid; and a status update reading, “If you believe in god, then please show him to me.”Prosecutors have charged Aan under the Electronic Information and Transaction Law, which prohibits inciting hatred or enmity of a religious group, and under the country’s blasphemy provision, Article 156a, which criminalizes “hostility, hatred or contempt” and “disgracing” of a religion. Article 156a also prohibits attempts to persuade others to leave their religion and embrace atheism.Aan’s small, pro bono legal team is not optimistic. The Indonesian legal system is designed for unequal treatment of unbelievers. The constitution officially recognizes the religions of Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, and stipulates that every citizen must believe in a supreme being.

Desecrating Secularism

As the Indonesian activist Karl Karnadi points out, the persecution of Alexander Aan comes in the context of broader trends of “increasing religious intolerance in Indonesia which has victimized minority Ahmadiyya Muslims, Shia, Christians, Buddhists.” Indonesia’s Minister of Religious Affairs has recently called Shia Islam a “heresy” and publicly backed provincial bans on the Ahmadiyya, who consider themselves Muslims but differ from mainstream Islam on the finality of the Prophet.Viewed in this context, atheists’ conversations on the internet should be seen as one end of a continuum of manifestations of conscience, exercises of the capacity to grapple with ultimate questions of meaning, value, and morality. From a moral perspective, there is an important symmetry between the attitude of the believer who reserves special reverence for a deity, saint, or prophet, and the attitude of the secularist who asserts that every person is equally holy. Neither of these beliefs is uniquely deserving of being labeled a spiritual commitment, relegating the other to mere “speech” against that commitment. Alexander Aan has no less moral ground to claim that monotheism insults his sense of what is and what is not sacred. In my book The Future of Blasphemy: Speaking of the Sacred in an Age of Human Rights (Continuum, 2012), I call this The Symmetry Thesis.A government that singles out some citizens’ conceptions of the sacred for official protection is guilty of a gross failure of equal treatment. This principle of equality is supported by recent developments in international human rights law. Last summer the United Nations Human Rights Committee commented that laws restricting blasphemy are inherently discriminatory because they give to traditional believers a legal protection that is not available to the religiously heterodox or secular.The same inequality can be found in the criminalization of “hatred” and “enmity” towards a religion. The problem is not confined to Indonesia but can be found in most of the hate speech statutes throughout secular democratic Europe. Article 226b of the Danish Penal Code, for instance, singles out for protection—among other categories—groups of people who “on account of their faith” are threatened, insult or degraded. It does not single out people—regardless of their affiliation—on account of their convictions of conscience

Know Thy Enmity

The most principled motivation for hate speech laws can be found in the principle of equal respect for citizens. And yet, in the final analysis the principle of equality undermines their legitimacy. What is morally objectionable about hate speech is its attack on the standing of a group of citizens, a denial or denigration of their entitlement to equal concern and respect. Laws against group insult or group defamation, as Jeremy Waldron maintains, are intended to protect vulnerable minorities by exhibiting the state’s commitment to their equal dignity and equal standing in the face of bigots. Surely we all have a duty to work towards a society in which all citizens enjoy equal standing. The difficult question is what the state legitimately may do to promote this end.If the state is to intervene on behalf of the reputation and standing of “Muslims,” or any other faith community, it must first decide on whose behalf it is intervening. It must lend its official approval to some idea of what counts as a “real” or “authentic” member of such groups. Were Aan’s expressions hateful or abusive towards Muslims? That depends on whether we assume that a Muslim is by definition one who believes in the moral perfection of the Prophet. Without this assumption, talk of Muhammad’s sexual indiscretions cannot be construed as inherently insulting to “Muslims.”As the American constitutional scholar Robert Post has argued, the identities of such communities are not scientific facts but social categories that are open to moral contestation and re-negotiation. It would not do to take a poll of all of the self-identified members of the group to determine what they believe. For some will believe it, and others will not.The question now becomes, which of the various understandings of the identity is most genuine, authentic, or warranted. And that question is not subject to a statistical proof. It is a normative question. Typically it is the most vulnerable or marginalized within the community who have the most urgent stake in contesting and re-negotiating the meaning of the identity. In a just society, such questions are not to be decided by the state but are to be left to individuals to work out in the public and cultural space.Clashes over blasphemy and so-called religious hatred are not about free speech versus belief, or atheism versus faith. They are about equal treatment for all persons of conscience. As with attempts to stop blasphemy, a state that attempts to use the force of law to stop defamation or insult of religious groups must select certain identities for protection to the exclusion of other identities. The very same value that underlies the protection of the traditionally religious believer—equal respect for freedom of conscience—also underlies the protection of the secularist and atheist alongside the heterodox, dissident believer. As goes Alexander Aan, so go we all.

Emphasis Mine.


Meet the Right-Wing Hatemongers Who Inspired the Norway Killer

N.B.:More than ever, we need, really need, the First Amendment…

N.B.: It was interesting to watch Fox News scramble on Breivik’s religious and political views.

From Alternet, by Max Blumenthal.

“Few political terrorists in recent history took as much care to articulate their ideological influences and political views as Anders Hans Breivik did. The right-wing Norwegian Islamophobe who murdered 76 children and adults in Oslo and at a government-run youth camp spent months, if not years, preparing his 1,500 page manifesto. Besides its length, one of the most remarkable aspects of the manifesto is the extent to which its European author quoted from the writings of figures from the American conservative movement. Though he referred heavily to his fellow Norwegian, the blogger Fjordman, it was Robert Spencer, the American Islamophobic pseudo-academic, who received the most references from Breivik — 55 in all. Then there was Daniel Pipes, the Muslim-bashing American neoconservative who earned 18 citations from the terrorist. Other American anti-Muslim characters appear prominently in the manifesto, including the extremist blogger Pam Geller, who operates an Islamophobic organization in partnership with Spencer. Breivik may have developed his destructive sensibility in the stark political environment of a European continent riveted by mass immigration from the Muslim world, but his conceptualization of the changes he was witnessing reflect the influence of a cadre of far-right bloggers and activists from across the Atlantic Ocean. He not only mimicked their terminology and emulated their language, he substantially adopted their political worldview. The profound impact of the American right’s Islamophobic subculture on Breivik’s thinking raises a question that has not been adequately explored: Where is the American version of Breivik and why has he not struck yet? Or has he? Many of the American writers who influenced Breivik spent years churning out calls for the mass murder of Muslims, Palestinians and their left-wing Western supporters. But the sort of terrorism these US-based rightists incited for was not the style the Norwegian killer would eventually adopt. Instead of Breivik’s renegade free-booting, they preferred the “shock and awe” brand of state terror perfected by Western armies against the brown hordes threatening to impose Sharia law on the people in Peoria. This kind of violence provides a righteous satisfaction so powerful it can be experienced from thousands of miles away. And so most American Islamophobes simply sit back from the comfort of their homes and cheer as American and Israeli troops — and their remote-controlled aerial drones — leave a trail of charred bodies from Waziristan to Gaza City. Only a select group of able-bodied Islamophobes are willing to suit up in a uniform and rush to the front lines of the clash of civilizations. There, they have discovered that they can mow down Muslim non-combatants without much fear of legal consequences, and that when they return, they will be celebrated as the elite Crusader-warriors of the new Islamophobic right — a few particularly violent figures have been rewarded with seats in Congress. Given the variety of culturally acceptable, officially approved outlets for venting violent anti-Muslim resentment, there is little reason for any American to follow in Breivik’s path of infamy. Before exploring the online subculture that both shaped and mirrored Breivik’s depravity, it is necessary to define state terror, especially the kind refined by its most prolific practitioners. At the dawn of the “war on terror,” the United States and Israel began cultivating a military doctrine called “asymmetrical warfare.” Pioneered by an Israeli philosophy and “practical ethics” professor named Asa Kasher and the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Lt. Gen. Amos Yadlin, and successfully marketed to the Pentagon, the asymmetrical warfare doctrine did away with traditional counterinsurgency tactics which depended on winning the “hearts and minds” of indigenous populations. Under the new rules, the application of disproportionate force against non-combatants who were supposedly intermingled with the “terrorists” was not only  justified but considered necessary. According to Kasher and Yadlin, eliminating the principle of distinction between enemy combatants and civilians was the most efficient means of deterring attacks from non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah while guarding the lives of Israeli soldiers. Asymmetrical warfare has been witnessed in theaters of war across the Muslim world, leaving tens of thousands of civilians dead in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip. The strategy was formalized in the Dahiya district of southern Beirut in 2006, when the Israeli military flattened hundreds of civilian structures and homes to supposedly punish Hezbollah for its capturing of two Israeli soldiers. From the ashes of the Israeli carpet bombing campaign emerged the “Dahiya Doctrine,” a term coined by an Israeli general responsible for directing the war on Lebanon in 2006. “IDF Northern Command Chief Gadi Eisenkot uttered clear words that essentially mean the following,” wrote Israeli journalist Yaron London, who had just interviewed the general. “In the next clash with Hezbollah we won’t bother to hunt for tens of thousands of rocket launchers and we won’t spill our soldiers’ blood in attempts to overtake fortified Hizbullah positions. Rather, we shall destroy Lebanon and won’t be deterred by the protests of the ‘world.'” In a single paragraph, London neatly encapsulated the logic of state terror. While Israel has sought to insulate itself from the legal ramifications of its attacks on civilian life by deploying elaborate propaganda and intellectual sophistry (witness the country’s frantic campaign to discredit the Goldstone Report), and the United States has casually dismissed allegations of war crimes as any swaggering superpower would (after a US airstrike killed scores of Afghan civilians, former US CENTCOM Director David Petraeus baselessly claimed that Afghan parents had deliberately burned their children alive to increase the death toll), the online Islamophobes who inspired Breivik tacitly accept the reality of Israeli and American state terror. And they like it. Indeed, American Islamophobes derive frightening levels of ecstasy from the violence inflicted by the armed forces against Muslim civilians. The Facebook page of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer’s hate group, Stop the Islamicization of America (SOIA), is Exhibit A of the phenomenon. During a visit to SOIA’s Facebook page, which is personally administered by Geller and Spencer, it is possible to read rambling calls for killing “the diaper heads” and for Israel to “rule the whole Middle East.” A cursory glance at the website will also reveal visual propaganda reveling in the prospect of a genocide against Muslims. One image posted on the site depicts American and British troops dropping a nuclear bomb in the midst of thousands of Muslim pilgrims in Mecca. “Who ya gonna call? Shitbusters,” it reads. A second image portraying a nuclear mushroom cloud declares: “DEALING WITH MUSLIMS — RULES OF ENGAGEMENT; Rule #1: Kill the Enemy. Rule #2: There is no rule #2.” Another posted on SOIA’s Facebook page shows the bullet-riddled, bloodsoaked bodies of Muslim civilians splayed out by a roadside. “ARMY MATH,” the caption reads. “4 Tangos + (3 round burst x 4 M 4’s) = 288 virgins.” However pathological these images might seem to outsiders, in the subculture of Geller and Spencer’s online fascisphere, they are understood as legitimate expressions of nationalistic, “pro-Western” pride. Indeed, none seem to celebrate violence against Muslims by anyone except uniformed representatives of Western armies. The anti-Muslim fervor of Geller, Spencer and their allies reached a fever pitch during the controversy they manufactured in 2010 over the construction of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in downtown New York City. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, in North Carolina, a right-wing Republican ex-Marine named Ilario Pantano made opposing the mosque the centerpiece of his campaign for Congress, proclaiming that New York was “forsaking Israel” by allowing the mosque’s construction. During the height of the his campaign, a report relying on documented evidence and confirmed testimonies revealed that while serving in Iraq in 2004, Pantano had executed two unarmed civilians near Fallujah, firing 60 bullets into their bodies with his M16A4 automatic rifle — he even stopped to reload — then decorated their corpses a placard inscribed with the Marine motto: “No better friend, No worse enemy.” The incident did not hinder Pantano’s campaign, however. His Democratic opponent never mentioned it, Pam Geller hailed Pantano as “a war hero,” and he cruised to a resounding victory. Pantano was sworn into Congress alongside another US military veteran closely allied with the Islamophobic right: Republican Representative Allen West. While serving in Iraq, West was discharged from the military and fined $5000 after he brutally beat an Iraqi policeman, then fired his pistol behind the immobilized man’s head. As in Pantano’s case, reports of the disturbing incident only helped propel West to victory. In fact, West boasted about the beating in his campaign speeches, citing it as evidence of how hard he would fight for his constituents if elected. Though Breivik’s hatred for Muslims clearly spurred him to violence, he wound up murdering scores of the non-Muslims. He believed they were enabling an Islamic takeover of Europe, or what he called the creation of “Eurabia,” and that the “traitors” deserved the ultimate punishment. In homing in on liberal elements in Norway, Breivik borrowed from the language of right-wing figures from the United States, labeling his targets as “Cultural Marxists.” Initially introduced by the anti-Semitic right-wing organizer William Lind of the Washington-based Free Congress Foundation, Breivik understood the term as a characterization of liberal advocates of open immigration and sympathizers with the Palestinian cause. “Let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists,” Breivik wrote in his manifesto. The killer also sought to differentiate between good Jews (supporters of Israel) and bad Jews (advocates for Palestinian rights), claiming that “Jews that support multi-culturalism today are as much of a threat to Israel and Zionism as they are to us.” Breivik’s characterizations of the left and of left-wing Jews echoed those familiar to right-wing bloggers and conservative activists in the US, particularly on the issue of Israel-Palestine. The only difference seems to have been that Breivik was willing to personally kill sympathizers with Palestinian rights, while American Islamophobes have prefered to sit back and cheer for the Israeli military to do the job instead. The tendency of the American right was on shocking display this June when the Free Gaza Flotilla attempted to break the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip (during the previous flotilla in 2010, nine activists were killed by what a United Nations report described as execution style shootings by Israeli commandoes). As the debate about the flotilla escalated on Twitter, Joshua Trevino, a US army veteran and who worked as a speechwriter in the administration of George W. Bush, chimed in. “Dear IDF,” Trevino tweeted. “If you end up shooting any Americans on the new Gaza flotilla — well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me.” While Trevino hectored flotilla participants, Kurt Schlicter, a former American army officer and right-wing blogger for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace site, joined the calls for bloodshed. “Sink the flotilla,” Schlicter wrote on Twitter. “Enough screwing around with these psychos.” Neither Schlicter or Trevino saw any reason to apologize for inciting the murder of fellow Americans, nor did Trevino appear to face any consequences at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he serves as Vice President. Instead, Trevino earned a rousing defense from prominent conservative personalities like Erick Erickson, a paid CNN contributor who lauded “the correctness of Josh’s opinion” that Israel should kill American leftists. Indeed, no one from inside the American right’s online media hothouse condemned Trevino, Schlicter or Erickson, or even brooked a slight disagreement. Meanwhile, the incitement against Palestine solidarity activists has continued, with pro-Israel operatives Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid writing this July in the Jerusalem Post that “Flotilla Folk are not like other people.” When the smoke cleared from Breivik’s terrorist rampage across Norway, American Islamophobes went into  intellectual contortions, condemning his acts while carefully avoiding any criticism of his views. While making sure to call Breivik “evil,” the ultra-nationalist commentator and former Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan insisted that “Breivik may be right” about the supposed clash of civilizations between the Muslim East and the Christian West. Pipes, for his part, accused Breivik of a “purposeful” campaign to discredit him by citing him so frequently in his manifesto, while a panicked Geller claimed that Breivik “is a murderer, a mass murderer. Period. He’s not anything else.” The comically revealing reactions by American Islamophobes to Brevik’s killing spree demonstrate the politically catastrophic situation they have gotten themselves into. All of a sudden, their movement was under intense scrutiny from a previously derelict mainstream media. And they were likely to be monitored to an unprecedented degree by federal law enforcement. These same figures who influenced Breivik had been printing open calls for terrorist violence against Muslims and leftists for years — while a few, like Pantano, went a step further. Before Breivik killed 76 innocent people, they had generally gotten away with it. Why were America’s Islamophobes able to avoid accountability for so long? The answer is not that their yearnings for righteous political violence had not been fulfilled until Breivik emerged. The truth is far more uncomfortable than that. America’s Islamophobic right was only able to make so much political headway because a broad sector of the American public had tolerated and even supported the kind of terror that they openly celebrated.”

Max Blumenthal is the author of Republican Gomorrah (Basic/Nation Books, 2009). Contact him at

Emphasis Mine


Good Reasons to Avoid Belief!

“The question is not can we have morality without religion, but rather can we have morality with it!”  (CF Pervo).

To substantiate that observation, AlterNet published this piece:

5 of the Worst ‘Religious’ Organizations

Uncovering the lies, hypocrisy and exploitation of some of the most egregious pseudo-religious groups.

This story first appeared on the Buffalo Beast.

N.B.: We might also observe that – at least in the States – there is widely accepted practice to leave hands off institutions of organized religion.

“A common response to criticisms of religion is that its adherents can sometimes do good things, even if it’s for irrational reasons. That’s fair enough, but at the same time it’s useful to remember that while some good can be mixed in with the bad, sometimes religions create institutions of pure evil. Here are a few of them:

Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

You thought Mormons were sheltered human barnacles desperately clinging to a nostalgic vision of the past which never actually happened? Well, they are, but that’s nothing compared to their even-more-inbred fundamentalist counterparts in the FLDS.

If you’ve ever asked a Mormon about polygamy, you’ve probably heard that the mainstream church discontinued the practice in the early 20th century, following a manifesto by then-Church President and “prophet” Wilford Woodruff. The manifesto is now considered to be prophecy — the word of God translated by the Dear Leader of the Church himself.

Warren Jeffs was the President / Prophet of the FLDS Church, but since 2007 he’s been busy tending to the matter of his 10 years to life sentence for being an accomplice to rape. Church leaders currently won’t tell who is the President, probably because that would be a pretty strong indication of who’s been filling the role of dungeon master / “marriage” arranger since Warren Jeffs has been in prison.

And most recently, this past week a former FLDS member testified in court thatwaterboarding infants to get them to stop crying is “quite common” amongst the community. They call it “breaking in,” which I thought was a term usually applied to boots and horses. Look, I hate babies as much as the next guy, but you can’t torture them. You just can’t. No. STOP IT. But that’s their “family values,” you know.

Sri Ram Sene

Sri Ram Sene translates to “Army of the Lord Ram.” They’re a right-wing Hindu nationalist group in India which was founded by a politician named Bal Thackeray. In the late 1960s, Thackeray started a “Maharashtra is for Maharashtrians” campaign against non-Hindus migrating to Mumbai. And in 2002, he infamously called for Hindu suicide squadsto fight those darned Muslims. See, America’s not the only place where right-wing whackjobs get off on hating Muslims. Here’s a nice quote from him in theAsia Times:


“Trouble-making Muslims should be wiped out from the country … kick out the four crore [40 million] Bangladeshi Muslims and then the country will be secure,” the Shiv Sena leader said. Urging Hindus to start calling India “Hindu rashtra” (Hindu nation), he maintained that only “our religion [Hinduism] is to be honored here” and then “we will look after other religions.”


Sound familiar? Unfortunately, so far Thackeray has failed to take his own advice and start up his own suicide squad.

In August of 2008, Sri Ram Sene sent some vandals to smash up an art exhibitby controversial artist Maqbool Fida Husain. They didn’t like his artwork because it depicted Bharathmata nekkid and depicted other Hindu gods in a way they considered derogatory. So apparently the only thing they could think to do in response was to smash up his art, leaving notes explaining why they did it on the off chance that somebody missed the point. Even Bill Donahue has the decency to limit his anti-art fuckwittery to press releases.

In October of 2008, Sri Ram Sens activists attacked the offices of the democratic socialist Samajwadi Party. Someone at the SP had insulted a police chief the Sena liked, so they ransacked their central offices, damaging cars, furniture, and “hoardings,” according to the Sena’s own national general secretary Binay Kumar Singh.

This last tidbit about the Sena has a happy ending, but it starts out pretty ugly. Like the Saudi religious police (I’ll get to them later), they have a real problem with Valentine’s Day. Pramod Muthalik, the group’s leader, sent out a memo in January 2009 claiming that they would send their goons on patrol on February 14 to forcibly marry any couple who expresses their love in public:

“Our activists will go around with a priest, a turmeric stub and a ‘mangal sutra’ on February 14. If we come across couples being together in public and expressing their love, we will take them to the nearest temple and conduct their marriage,” he said. If the couples resisted the move, the girl would be forced to tie a ‘rakhi’ to the boy.

But instead of that, what actually happened was that outrage over his comments was so widespread that Muthalik and about 140 of his Sena buddies had to betaken into preventative custody on Valentine’s Day, 2009. And the very best part was the international success of a Facebook campaign to send Sena members pink underwear which Indians call Chaddi. Here in the US we call them ‘granny panties.’

Lord’s Resistance Army

For the past few years, journalist Jeff Sharlett has been covering the notorious C Street Family whose shady dealings have, among other things, included ties toUganda’s proposed legislation which would punish homosexuality, including capital punishment in some instances.

The Lord’s Resistance Army wasn’t behind that. The “kill the gays” bill is too mild for them. They just want straight-up theocracy in Uganda, with laws based on a mix apocalyptic Christianity focusing on the Ten Commandments and traditional Acholi spiritualism, and they’re doing pretty much everything they can do in order to make that happen.

The LRA is led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed “spokesperson of God” and “spirit medium.” That means he hears voices in his head and thinks that it’s a deity talking to him. Under his leadership, the LRA has abducted some 30,000 children to use as soldiers, kept women as sex slaves, attacked and raped civilian populations, all of which has caught the attention of INTERPOL and theInternational Criminal Court. In the meantime, children find a new place to sleep every night in order to avoid getting mutilated, forced into sexual slavery or into Kony’s Christian militia.

Army of God

It’s so typical of the American anti-abortion terrorists on the list to be the ones with the least creative name. The Army of God is a group which even the worst doctor murderers will not normally associate with. Usually what happens is that one of them will flip out and shoot or blow up a bunch of people, and the AoG will step in and claim the perpetrator as one of their own.

When Eric Rudolph blew up an abobo clinic and a gay nightclub in 1997, it was the AoG who sent handwritten letters voluntarily claiming responsibility. When Paul Hill murdered the abortion provider John Britton and 2 of his co-workers, the AoG wrote up a statement calling that mass killing “morally justified.”

And some of the anti-abortion terrorists reach out to the AoG on their own. Shelley Shannon who had tried to murder George Tiller in 1993 is one example. She is now serving a sentence for attempted murder and is projected to be released in November 2018. And in 2001, Clayton Waagner sent abortion providers over 500 letters containing white powder in the wake of the Anthrax scare that year. He had previously escaped from jail and robbed a bunch of banks, so he won’t be getting out until around 2046.

Michael Bray is unfortunately not currently in prison, but he also associates himself with the AoG. If you haven’t seen this interview of him, it will sum up what he’s all about.

Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice

The CFPVPV is also known as the Mutaween, also known as هيئة الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر, also known as the Saudi Religious Police. According to author Lawrence Wright, an imam named Turki bin Faisal Al Saud began secretly monitoring CFPVPV members after one of them insulted his sister. He found that most were criminals who were given light sentences because they had memorized the Quran.

The CFPVPV is tasked with the duties of enforcing Sharia law in Saudi Arabia. That means making sure everyone prays at the proper time, keeping men and women separate so Allah doesn’t get cooties, arresting the gays, preventing the corrupt Western practice of selling cats and dogs, and that sort of totally normal thing. And that’s just they’re supposed to be doing. So you might imagine how bad they can get when they go above and beyond the call of duty. If you did, knock it off because I’m going to get to that next.

In May of 2007, a 28 year old man in Riyadh named Ali Al-Huraisi had a run-in with the CFPVPV. Because they believed that he possessed alcohol, they broke into his house, arrested his entire family, handcuffed him, and then beat him to death. Ta-da!

In August of 2008, a member killed his own daughter for converting to Christianity. He burned her to death. Apostasy does have a death penalty associated with it in Saudi Arabia, but as in the case of Ali Al-Huraisi the role of the organization according to Saudi law is to apprehend suspects of religious “crimes” and hand them over to the courts. Besides confiscating things which are banned and detaining people, they aren’t supposed to have the power to actually carry out much punishment on their own.

And the worst of the worst of this organization’s crimes has to be how they responded to a 2002 fire at a girl’s school in Mecca. I’m going to have to quote news sources here because every time I try to start to write about it in my own words I worry that I’ll just end up bashing my head through the keyboard and into my desk in a futile effort to dull the rage and disgust that builds up in the form of a terrible headache and violent twitches. So here’s the BBC:

Saudi Arabia’s religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers…
One witness said he saw three policemen “beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya“…
The school was locked at the time of the fire — a usual practice to ensure full segregation of the sexes.

I have a question: What’s more evil than that? Seriously, even in all of fiction it’s difficult to find a close contender. I was against the US wars in the Middle East before they even began, but even a pinko peacenik like me would have no problem with sending some Special Ops guys over there just to specifically target these people. When you’re an adult ex-con fighting girls and forcing them into a burning building because you’re offended by what they’re wearing, you have to lose any possibility of sympathy from anyone with an ounce of sense in them.”

Josh Bunting is a Beast contributor.
emphasis mine

“Religion Under Examination”

A good sized crowd of about 90 people filled a ballroom at the Crown Plaza South in Cleveland on Saturday 25 Sept 2010 to participate in “Religion Under Examination” – the Center For Inquiry Northeast Ohio’s biannual Conference.
After registration and introductions, the program compromised presentations from John Shook, Ibn Warraq, and, after a lunch break, Robert Price.  A round table Q/A discussion then followed to draw the conference to a close.
“Why Be Skeptical Toward Religion?” was the title of the talk by John Shook, PhD.  He is director of education at the Center for Inquiry and heads the CFI Institute, and is a research associate in philosophy at the University of Buffalo.  He has authored and edited more than a dozen books (including The God Debates , available in bookstores October 1st). Dr. Shook is a co-editor of three philosophy journals, and travels for lectures and debates across the United States and around the world.
How might we have a reasonable, rational discussion with a dogmatic Christian, he asks?  One can use simple, common sense arguments – we don’t need a PhD.
Common notions we might challenge are: why compartmentalize religious beliefs, and why demand exception for religion?   We must reject: mystery; contradiction; circular reasoning; mysterious causes;  arbitrary justifications; and special exceptions.  Explanations must reduce mysteries, and involve cause & effect.
He proposed that scientific hypotheses can be far more counter-intuitive than religious ones; that  religion relies on reasoning failures; and that religion can deliver net benefits – otherwise it would never have survived Evolution, which REQUIRES net benefits.
All current religions are “Intelligently designed religions”, and our primary task is to prove humanism can provide answers, and replace religion.
The next speaker was Ibm Warraq ,  an Islamic scholar and leader in Koranic criticism, who is a Center for Inquiry senior fellow. He is the author of several books on Islam and the Koran, including Why I Am Not a Muslim; The Origins of the Koran ; What the Koran Really Says ; and Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism . His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian, and he has addressed governing bodies throughout the world, including the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Dutch Parliament at The Hague.
Mr. Warraq -a serious scholar –  of Islam, spoke on  “The Current State of Islamic Studies”, and observed that Middle East Scholar Bernard Lewis observes that our current environment of Post Modernity, Political Correctness, multi culturalism, is dangerous because it makes any serious study of Islam difficult”.  Mr. Warraq gave us detailed examples of language problems with Aramaic, and observed that much of what is in the Koran could have not been in a document published in the seventh century.  As an example, one meaning of the “70 Virgins” would be 70 Raisins.  He proposed that not all of the Koran could have originated in the seventh century.
Robert Price spoke on  “Now Accepting Implications: Thorough-Going Skepticism as the Inevitable Result of Biblical Criticism”.  He
is professor of theology and scriptural studies at Johnnie Coleman Theological Seminary, host of the Point of Inquiry podcast, founder and fellow of The Jesus Seminar and The Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, research fellow at the CFI Institute, and host of The Bible Geek webcasts. His books include Beyond Born Again The Reason Driven Life The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man and Inerrant the Wind.

His definition of ‘Apologetics’ is: start with answers, then read scripture – it is a defense of faith.  In interpreting scripture, he suggests using an analogy with present day experience as a truth filter.  E.G.: do we see people arise from the dead, convert water into wine, etc?  He suggested using form criticism to the New Testament  legends (i.e., they follow a similar form).  Dr. Price concluded by observing that those writings could not date from the early first century CE – because of the many anachronisms  – and that the chances of the gospels being accurate are slim.
The roundtable discussion was entertaining and informative, and it was an enlightening and informative day: we learned why we should be skeptical of any religion in general, and of Islam and Christianity in particular.