Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “Islam”

Iconoclasm and the Reformation

A very interesting post by my blogging friend Terry Cowan, on the real meaning of iconoclasm in the Protestant Reformation and in Islam:

Notes from a Common-place Book: Philip Jenkins on the Reformation, both Protestant and Islamic:

For anyone living at the time, including educated elites, the iconoclasm was not just an incidental breakdown of law and order, it was the core of the whole movement, the necessary other side of the coin to the growth of literacy. Those visual and symbolic representations of the Christian story had to decrease, in order for the world of the published Bible to increase. In terms of the lived experience of people at the time, the image-breaking is the key component of the Reformation. In the rioting and mayhem, a millennium-old religious order was visibly and comprehensively smashed….in effect removing popular access to the understanding of faith and the Christian story.

It’s worth reading, as is the article it refers to and quotes from.

Recent news and trending topics

Here’s a concise summary of what has absorbed the news and the blogosphere recently.


Hat-tip to BANAR DESIGNS.

The Burning Times

Burning things (and people) you don’t like seems to be a popular way of getting rid of them. It’s also a great way of getting publicity for a cause. And as people in show business know, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

One of the examples that always springs to my mind is the group of anti-war protesters in California who publicly burnt a dog.

It was during the Vietnam War, and they burnt the dog in protest against the war. The public outrage was enormous, and newspapers editorialised about how they were harming their cause, and their action was counter-productive because it made people who might be sympathetic to their cause more likely to be hostile towards it.

But in fact the negative reaction, the outrage itself, was the whole point. They demonstrated that American society was far more concerned and far more outraged about a dog being burnt in California than it was about hundreds of human children being burnt in Vietnam by American napalm bombs.

And the latest in a long line of such protests is that of Terry Jones, minister of a small church in the backwoods of Florida, USA, who threatened to burn copies of the Qur’an. It caused tweets of outrage to flow through Twitter, and huge protests throughout the world. It certainly put his church on the map.

Terry Jones won’t be the last Qur’an burning publicity hound | Richard Adams | World news | guardian.co.uk:

Jones’s threats will be subject to the law of diminishing returns. Next time he threatens to do burn a Qur’an – and I fear there will be a next time – he’ll be handled with much more caution by the US media, which has made itself look ridiculous in being outfoxed by the crackpot pastor of a miniscule [sic] church in the swamps of Florida.

US President Barack Obama, in a memorable soundbite, said that it would be a recruiting bonanza for Al-Qaeda.

President Obama was probably right, but he has done little to stop the even more powerful recruiting bonanzas for Al-Qaeda caused by burning children in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Those outraged by the burning of the Qu’ran may demonstrate in the streets, wave a few placards, burn an American flag or two, and go home feeling self-righteous, just like the Revd Terry Jones.

It is the ones whose cousins and brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts who were killed when the US forces bombed wedding celebrations, or went on their killing sprees in places like Fallujah who are more likely to join Al-Qaeda.

In the 1960s there was also the phenomenon of the self-immolation of Buddhist monks in protest against the Vietnam War. Instead of burning other people or things, they burnt themselves.

This had a spin-off in South Africa, when staff and students at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg were protesting against some government atrocity — I think it was the banning of student leader Ian Robertson.

I was overseas at the time, but a friend wrote to me in a letter about the protest, which took the form of a torchlight procession into the centre of the town. As they were crossing the bridge over the Umsinduzi River the procession was attacked by National Party-supporters. One of the protesters was an English lecturer and atheist, Cake Manson (who was thought by the English Department to be the greatest playwright since Shakespeare). He retaliated by sticking his lighted torch in the faces of the attackers, shouting the war-cry, “Burn you Buddhist bastard, burn!”

And that takes us back to California.

Burn, Baby! Burn!:

When rioters in Watts, California, began shouting ‘Burn, Baby! BURN!’ in the turmoil of 1965, they were echoing the most popular cry on rhythm-and-blues radio: The trademark of Magnificent Montague, the most exciting R&B disc jockey ever to stroll through Soulsville.

In Los Angeles on KGFJ, and earlier in New York on WWRL, Montague yelled ‘Burn!’ whenever he was playing a record that moved him. His listeners followed suit, calling Montague and shouting ‘Burn!’ on the air. The emotion in that exchange reverberated with as much excitement as the music of Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.

There’s something about the Burning Times…

The Terrorism Quiz

How much do you know about terrorism and terrorists?

Since 1967 at least, when the Terrorism Act was passed by the South African parliament, I’ve known that at least nine times out of every ten times the word is used it is used for disinformation rather than information, so whenever I’ve seen it in print since then it has made my bullshit detectors very twitchy.

But I was still surprised to discover how little I knew about it and how much disinformation I had absorbed, in spite of being on by guard against it. Take the Terrorism Quiz to check your own knowledge.

Hat-tip to Clarissa, who posted this excerpt Clarissa’s Blog: The Terrorism Quiz:

1. Who made the following statement? “To watch the courageous Afghan freedom fighters battle modern arsenals with simple hand-held weapons is an inspiration to those who love freedom.”

5. How many suicide bombings had Iraq experienced before the 2003 US invasion?

13. True or False: The majority of terrorists come from the lower classes.

17. True or False: The religion of Islam is an important cause of terrorism.

One thing that I did know, though, or rather guessed, is that in the majority of cases the primary motive for terrorism is revenge, at least in the case of individuals. The majority of individuals who opt for terrorist methods do so because they have a close friend or relative who has suffered violence or injustice at someone else’s hands, and they take revenge.

Swiss minaret ban has consequences

Religious intolerance breeds more religious intolerance. Terry Cowan blogs about one of the consequences of the recent Swiss referendum where it weas decided to ban construction of new minarets. Notes from a Common-place Book:

It seems a group of Muslims confronted the priest at a Syriac Orthodox Church in Diyarbakir, in eastern Turkey. The three men threatened the priest with death unless the church’s bell tower was demolished within the week, this in retaliation for the Swiss action. The priest, Fr. Yusuf, did notify the authorities, but added ‘It is my job to protect the church, so I will stand here and leave it in God’s hands.”

Swiss ban mosque minarets

Swiss ban mosque minarets in surprise vote:

Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on minarets on Sunday, barring construction of the iconic mosque towers in a surprise vote that put Switzerland at the forefront of a European backlash against a growing Muslim population.

Muslim groups in Switzerland and abroad condemned the vote as biased and anti-Islamic. Business groups said the decision hurt Switzerland’s international standing and could damage relations with Muslim nations and wealthy investors who bank, travel and shop there.

When I read the first paragraph I thought it was rather sad that the Swiss should be seen to be suppressing religious freedom like that.

But when I read the second paragraph I was even more saddened by the hypocrisy of it all.

Perhaps the Muslim groups who objected should have a look at the restrictions on building and repairing Christian churches in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia and do something about those before complaining about the restrictions of others.

Sauce, goose, gander and all that.

As for the response of the business groups, well, it reminded me of Tom Lehrer’s saying, “Christmas, with its spirit of giving, reminds us of what we all most deeply and sincerely believe in. I refer, of course, to money.”

A Christian Ramadan?

It seemss that a number of evangelical Christians have “rediscovered” fasting by observing the Muslim fast of Ramadan, Notes from a Common-place Book: A Christian Ramadan?:

I find it interesting that these evangelicals are fasting not as a Christian discipline, but rather to show respect and solidarity with Islam. I have several Muslim friends. Were I to announce I would be participating in Ramadan with them, they would see it as the obvious gimmick that it is. Others seem to agree.

I noticed something similar back in the 1980s, when it became fashionable in some Christian circles to hold Christian Passover meals. I did so myself on a couple of occasions, when I was an Angl;ican, and even invited some Jewish friends to join us at one of them. It was in a small town where there was no Jewish community and the Jews who came were generally non-observant, and seemed to appreciate both the invitation and the meal itself, though perhaps they were too polite to say what they thought of the Christianised bits (If he had sent the prophets, but had not become man for us, we would have thought it enough; if he had become man for us and not performed miracles of healing, we would have thought it enough, etc). But my observant Jewish friends were rather horrified when I told them about it, and clearly saw it as the obvious gimmick that it was.

In some ways it was a useful educational exercise, to learn something of the Jewish roots of Christian worship. But it also became clear that it didn’t fit.

In our Anglican parish we discussed when we should have it. Some said Maundy Thursday, on the assumption that the last supper was a passover meal. We did that one year, but it didn’t feel right to eat meat in Holy Week. So the next time we did it, we did it on Easter Monday. And looking back on it, I can see that St John Chrysostom’s criticisms of Judaising Christians were right on the money. The “Christian Passover meal” was a chimera.

And then this year, having just completed the Dormition Fast, I read various blogs where people were urging Christians to observe the fast of Ramadan. I suspect that most of them had never even heard of the Dormition Fast. Though they were Christians, they were more familiar with Muslim traditions than with Christian ones.

So I recommend the whole article Notes from a Common-place Book: A Christian Ramadan?, and the comments are worth reading too. Another thing I discovered a couple of years ago was that some evangelicals were beginning to realise that there was quite a lot in the Bible about fasting, but they were suspicious of the practice because they associated it with asceticism, which they regarded as a Bad Thing. For such people I wrote Christian asceticism: Khanya.

There’s also another interesting take on this at The Ochlophobist: ramadan and closet lesbian evangelical zionist dancers; usual ochlophobic topics…

Forced conversion to Islam in the UK?

It seems as though the Westminster City Council in the UK is forcing Christian children to be brought up with Muslim families.

St. Mark’s London:

We, the Coptic Community in the UK, petition the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the Rt. Hon. Ed Balls, MP to consider the placement of 3 Coptic Christian children , by Westminster City Council, with a Muslim foster family. Section 22 of the Children’s Act 1989, sub-section(5) states that the local authority, in making any decision, has a general duty to give due consideration to the child’s religious persuasion, racial origin and linguistic background. The placement of those 3 children has failed to support their racial, cultural, linguistic and religious identity. There is evidence that it is seriously undermining their religious beliefs and we are gravely concerned about the confusion of identity of those looked after children.

It sounds a bit strange to me. Is this really happening? Or is it actually all part of an Anglo-American plot to eradicate Christianity in the Near/Middle East, and in people of Near/Middle Eastern descent (the Christian population of Iraq has halved since the US-led invasion in 2003).

Forced conversion to Islam in the UK?

It seems as though the Westminster City Council in the UK is forcing Christian children to be brought up with Muslim families.

St. Mark’s London:

We, the Coptic Community in the UK, petition the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, the Rt. Hon. Ed Balls, MP to consider the placement of 3 Coptic Christian children , by Westminster City Council, with a Muslim foster family. Section 22 of the Children’s Act 1989, sub-section(5) states that the local authority, in making any decision, has a general duty to give due consideration to the child’s religious persuasion, racial origin and linguistic background. The placement of those 3 children has failed to support their racial, cultural, linguistic and religious identity. There is evidence that it is seriously undermining their religious beliefs and we are gravely concerned about the confusion of identity of those looked after children.

It sounds a bit strange to me. Is this really happening? Or is it actually all part of an Anglo-American plot to eradicate Christianity in the Near/Middle East, and in people of Near/Middle Eastern descent (the Christian population of Iraq has halved since the US-led invasion in 2003).

Peace is kosher and halaal — but is it nistisimou?

The Times – Peace is kosher and halaal:

“Muslim and Jewish students got together yesterday to cook up a storm at the University of Johannesburg.

The Centre for Islamic Studies and the SA Union of Jewish Students joined forces to promote peace by cooking a meal together.

Caylee Talpert, chairman of the Jewish organisation, said: “This event is meant to mend bridges and to make us all realise that we are all the same. This will ensure that we develop friendships based on knowing each other.”

The cafeteria kitchen at the university was filled with eager students in aprons and chef’s hats.

While I’m pretty certain some Lenten fare (nistisimou) is decidedly not kosher, like shellfish, the vegan style of Lenten fasting food is probably both kosher and halaal as well.

And while some food products are marked Kosher, and some are marked Halaal, I’ve never seen any marked as Nistisimou. I’ve been to conferences and meetings where Kosher and Halaal food has been offered and served, but never Lenten fare.

Even in Greese, I’ve found it difficult to find fasting food. The exception, ironically enough, was MacDonalds, which offered a “McLent” special (MacSarakosti): a veggie burger or six spring rolls. One hopes that the chips weren’t flavoured with beef (a Hindu sued them in the USA over that), and that the potatoes weren’t genetically modified with genes derived from rat fat.

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