Religious Persecutors

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I recently watched the film Patriot Days, which tells the story of the Boston Marathon bombings. It details the lives of some of the victims as well as the bombers themselves and the law enforcement officials who apprehended them.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, like many fanatics, used religion to justify the murder and maiming of innocent men, women, and children. His brother Dzhokhar, who seems less ideologically driven, does not come off any better in the film, showing a selfishness and callous disregard for human life. He even ran over his own brother with a car in his haste to save himself. Tamerlan is dead, and Dzhokhar languishes in prison while lawyers appeal his death sentence for the bombings and the shooting death of an MIT campus police officer.

Today is Good Friday, and Christians all over the world commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus Christ at the hands of the Romans but at the behest of religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat to their power. These leaders used trumped up charges of blasphemy to justify handing over an innocent man to be crucified, a cruel and ignominious form of execution.

Although the larger story of Christ’s passion and death points to his resurrection and the salvation of the world, the actions of the chief priests and Pharisees of Jesus’s time are echoed in history’s many instances of people using religion to justify violence.

The world is filled with many faith traditions, each with its own beliefs, rituals, and customs. People of faith may disagree with and even criticize each other. But our religious beliefs should never be the basis for hatred or killing.

As Jesus neared his death, he prayed, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” If Jesus can forgive his tormentors, we too should seek to promote peace and healing, not violence and death.

Hate Has No Ideological Boundaries

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Wednesday’s attack on London’s Westminster Bridge has once again raised the specter of Islamic extremism and no doubt will unleash further animosity against Muslims living in the West. Although British authorities believe the terrorist, who died in the attack, had acted alone, ISIS claimed responsibility for inspiring the terror that killed 4 and seriously injured many others.

Without minimizing the effects of ISIS’s promulgation of hate against the West, I hope cool heads will prevail and leaders will not overreact to this instance of “lone wolf terrorism.” The truth is that hate, while inconsistent with the beliefs of any major religion, is unfortunately a universal emotion that plagues the human heart, and practitioners of religions ranging from Islam to Christianity to Buddhism have used a twisted take on their religious beliefs to justify their hateful and terrorist actions.

How else to explain why an Israeli Jew was just arrested for spreading bomb threats throughout U.S. Jewish centers? An attorney for the unnamed Jewish man is claiming mental instability as a cause for the cyberterrorism that has “sent a chill through the American Jewish community.” (Chicago Tribune, Friday, March 24, 2017)

And one need not go back very far to find instances of right wing Christian terrorism, such as the Planned Parenthood attack by Robert Dear or even the massacre of blacks in South Carolina by KKK admirer Dylann Roof. These individuals espoused extremist Christian ideology that justified attacking abortion providers and those who are not white.

Our great religions have striven over the centuries to inspire, comfort, and guide human beings in their quest for meaning. Many sacrifices and acts of heroism were guided by people’s religious beliefs. For example, numerous Christians acted to save Jews from the holocaust during World War II.

But humans being human, there are those among us who, for whatever reason, allow hate and anger to be the guiding forces of their lives. They also seek meaning in religion, but they must twist it to their violent desires.

At the risk of sounding trivial, the story of the Stars Wars saga puts it well: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side.”

We will not solve the problem of hate crimes and terrorism by unleashing more hate or violence. We can only do that by strengthening the forces of love and community that might help turn some of these marginalized individuals away from violence and help them gain a sense of purpose that comes from healing, not hurting.

Glimmers of Hope

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ct-jewish-cemetery-vandalized-20170222Lisa See’s memoir On Gold Mountain describes the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. After the law passed prohibiting Chinese nationals from obtaining visas to come to America, racist hatred of the Chinese escalated into terrible violence against Chinese immigrants. That history so closely parallels Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban that it is scary. Even before the president instituted a ban against travel from 7 Muslim-majority countries, indeed immediately following his election, verbal and physical attacks against Muslims increased. Trump’s angry rhetoric about non-whites also awoke latent anti-Semitism in this country.

Yet with all these unwelcome developments since November 8, 2016, I see some glimmers of hope. First of all, the courts immediately struck down Trump’s initial ban, and I have hope that they may see his latest attempt as equally unconstitutional. The Administration has hidden behind vague and unspecified threats to American security in order to justify the ban. Perhaps the cooler heads of the judiciary will see through such tactics.

I have also noticed that Americans are standing up to the hateful racism that has become more overt since the November election. For instance,  when an airline passenger asked a Pakistani couple, “That’s not a bomb in your bag, is it?,” nearby passengers alerted the flight attendant and the racist man was booted off the flight. As he and his female companion gathered their belongings, passengers jeered, “This is not Trump’s America!” and “Goodbye, racists!”

Those “up-standers” were not unique. As a white male terrorist shot and killed two men of Middle Eastern descent at a bar, another white man came to their defense, getting shot himself. Thankfully, this up-stander is recovering from the gunshot wound.

Similarly, when the headstones at a Jewish cemetery were desecrated and knocked over, Muslim groups collected funds to repair the damage, and people of many religions and ethnicities gathered to do the work. People have also been taking it upon themselves to remove Nazi and anti-Semitic graffiti from subways and other public spaces. Such actions make me hopeful and remind me that the vast majority of Americans are decent, well-meaning people who will not stand by while others are subject to hatred.

Even in Republican states, lawmakers are showing some reluctance to further the divisive agenda of Donald Trump. Although Trump rescinded the executive order regarding transgender bathroom use in schools, proposed state anti-transgender bills have been facing intense backlash. These states are learning the lesson of North Carolina, which has lost quite a bit of revenue since passing its famous “bathroom bill.” Numerous sports organizations and other groups are refusing to hold events in the state until that bill is revoked. Once you hit them in the pocketbook, even the most conservative Republicans may yield to public opinion.

Finally, I recently read an article about white extremist “recovery” programs such as Life After Hate. Run by former white supremacists, Life After Hate seeks to help extremists leave behind their abhorrent ideology and find belonging with others who had learned to channel their anger into hatred of the “other.”

To be sure, we need to remain vigilant about attempts to undermine civil liberties in our country. We need to keep standing up for those who are attacked because of their race, religion, or gender. We need to remember our history and vow to do better than our predecessors at championing tolerance. Let’s not slide back but move forward proudly and compassionately to show the world that the greatness of America resides, not in our power or military might, but in our hearts and minds.

 

 

Facebook Fast

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As the penitential season of Lent begins, I as usual will give up my beloved sweets of all kinds: coffeecake, cookies, chocolate etc. But I have also decided to follow the lead of some of my friends and abstain from spending time on Facebook.

Facebook has been a blessing and a curse in my life. It has been great to reconnect with old friends, see photos of their families, and even get into some pretty serious conversations. I have learned so much more about many people I know than I ever would have in casual conversation at the supermarket or on the soccer sidelines.

But Facebook has had some drawbacks, and I feel the need to take a break from it. One of the most obvious drawbacks is how much time it can suck out of your day. There are many days when I spend little time on it, but others when I check it compulsively several times a day, adding up to hours spent on the social media platform.

There is apparently some evidence that spending time on Facebook can lead to depression. This does not surprise me. The reason given for this phenomenon is that it can be depressing to compare your life to all the wonderful things your friends are doing, what they are wearing, how cute their children are and the like. None of this particularly bothers me. I am not that competitive with others when it comes to social standing, looks, or just how much fun someone else seems to be having.

What I find depressing on Facebook is mostly the political divide that has become all too evident since the presidential election campaign began in earnest back in 2015. It is discouraging to see so much animosity on both sides and to realize that no matter how many meaty articles one posts or how well-considered one’s argument is, our friends on the other side of that divide are unlikely to come around to our way of thinking. Even the sheer exposure of current events that I see in my news feed every day, with or without commentary, can really get me down.

So I will be spending 40 days in the internet desert. I will still be posting on my blog, which automatically loads to Facebook. But I myself will not be scrolling along to see what’s up in cyber world. It is my hope that this Facebook fast will give me renewed energy, more time, and the chance to focus on my spiritual life, which is the purpose of Lent.

Myths About Muslim Ban

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Here are answers to some of the erroneous beliefs being used to justify President Trump’s ban on Muslims.

1. It’s not a ban on Muslims. It’s a ban on people from certain risky countries. Given that the vast majority of people traveling to and from such countries as Iran and Syria are Muslim, I consider that a specious argument. Trump himself made it clear that this is about religion when he called for Christian refugees to get first priority in coming to America.

2. The ban is necessary to protect us from Islamic terrorists. Since 9/11, none of the few acts of violence linked to Islamic fundamentalism on U.S. soil has been the work of a Muslim who traveled to the United States specifically to commit terrorist acts. Omar Mateen, the Tsarnaev brothers, the San Bernardino couple, and Nidal Hassan, the Ft. Hood shooter, all grew up in the United States. Furthermore, the majority of the 9/11 attackers hailed from Saudi Arabia, a country not on the ban list.

This excuse is a smokescreen to enable the Trump administration to promulgate its xenophobic ideology.

3. The terrorist threat looms large in America. Statistics show that you are more likely to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist. The vast majority of violent actions in the U.S. are perpetrated by ordinary Americans. Maybe we should ban all Americans from America. That might make it safe.

4. President Trump’s ban is like the temporary one President Obama authorized in 2011. Pres. Obama’s order to halt travel from Iraq in 2011 was based on a current, specific, and credible threat of violence. Despite this, legislators regularly and persistently (and rightly, in my view) pressured the president to lift the travel ban. Pres. Trump has talked about his desire to ban Muslims from the country since early in his presidential campaign. His action is based on an ideology, not a specific credible threat.

5. The Left is overreacting. President Trump’s ban is limited and temporary. When a new president appoints as his chief strategist the chairman of a news site favored by white supremacists, any act of discrimination should be looked upon very seriously. In addition to the Muslim ban, candidate Trump had called for a registry of all Muslims living in the United States. If that does not raise your Nazi alert hackles, I don’t know what would.

I’m tired of conservatives implying that liberals are a bunch of alarmist namby pambys. As the saying goes, “Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”

The Muslim ban is a racist, unconstitutional, un-American action. It must not stand.

 

 

Republicans, Your Silence Is Deafening

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President Donald Trump’s executive order banning people in certain Muslim majority nations from entering our country should have been met with swift condemnation on the part of our political leaders. Indeed, that has largely been the case from the Democratic side. But Republicans, many of whom had denounced such a ban when Trump proposed it on the campaign trail, are now either approving of Trump’s xenophobic action or silent, thus giving the ban their tacit acceptance.

I am not going to get hysterical and suggest that the Trump Administration will be building gas chambers next. However, I am appalled that after so many horrible instances of ethnic cleansing and religious persecution in history, as well as our own shameful chapter of interning innocent Japanese citizens, an American president would take such an action.

Many people voted for Trump because he promised them jobs and a vague idea about “making America great again.” Because I know so many good people who voted for Trump, I have to assume they did not believe his campaign rhetoric when it came to calls for discrimination against a religious minority in our country. Frighteningly, Trump continues to prove to be exactly who he appeared to be during the campaign: a vain, narcissistic, authoritarian leader who is threatening our very democracy.

Yesterday, American citizens and green card holders of Middle Eastern descent were detained at airports across the United States. These people had already made it through the thorough and rigorous vetting process that is currently in place when it comes to allowing immigrants and refugees into our country. It is shameful and unacceptable what happened to them yesterday.

It appears that the American people themselves will need to step up and refuse to allow such a bigoted and heinous policy to take root in our country. Yesterday there were mass protests at major airports across the U.S. with people demanding that the detainees be freed. After a federal judge issued a temporary injunction barring the detainment, these people were freed. However, the policy has not been revoked.

I call upon U.S. authorities to refuse to obey such an unconstitutional abridgment of rights. I call upon our elected leaders to pass legislation barring such an executive action. I call upon all of our leaders to denounce Trump’s Muslim ban in no uncertain terms. I call upon every American citizen to stand up for the rights of Muslim Americans and those who seek asylum and safety from the war raging in Syria.

History has shown that terrible abuses occur when people of good will remain silent. We need to forcefully and loudly proclaim to President Trump and our elected leaders, “NEVER AGAIN!”

 

Sexism and Halloween Costumes

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“Sexy Middle Eastern Arab Girl Burka Halloween Costume”

There were protests when the above costume appeared for sale in Halloween costume retail stores. It is the perfect storm of sexism and cultural appropriation.

In the past, I’ve written about the harm of cultural appropriation and the need for whites to be sensitive to non-white cultures when it comes to dressing up for Halloween. While many scoff at the thin skin of those who might be offended by their giant sombrero or war-painted Indian costume, I think it’s important to be respectful of other cultures and religions. (For the record, I don’t think it’s cool to dress up as a nun for Halloween either.)

But this year, one mom’s protest against Party City’s sexualized costumes for girls caught my eye and reminded me that sexism is another problem with a lot of Halloween attire. Both young girls and women have a hard time finding a costume that isn’t either very “girly” or prefaced with the adjective “sexy.” You can be a sexy pirate, inmate, cop, nurse, etc.

I have no problem if a woman wants to dress up in a sexy costume or outfit of any kind. That is her prerogative. But the fact that it’s almost impossible to find women’s costumes of any other type speaks to a problem we have in our culture, and that is the objectification of women. That problem has even infiltrated our presidential election, in which we have heard Donald Trump talking about women’s bodies, faces, and weights, as well as his predilection for grabbing their genitals whenever he pleases.

I do have a problem with costumes targeted for young children and preteens that are sexualized. It’s one thing if your daughter has her heart set on being a princess for Halloween. It’s quite another to market a feminized or sexy version of, say, a police uniform, to a young girl.

Party City apparently took note and listened to that mom’s protest. This year’s website features the following police costumes:

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Sure, you can still be a sexy cop or wear a girlish police dress, but at least there are options for girls and their parents when they go shopping for that all-important Halloween getup.

As for me, I’m going for the female empowerment motif and dressing up as – you guessed it – Hillary Clinton.