Bible and Holy Land


larycia

by Daniel Martin Varisco, MENA Tidningen

As an undergraduate I attended Wheaton College in Illinois, an interdenominational evangelical Protestant enclave, from which I obtained a quality education. Although not a “Bible School”, there was a pledge which promoted the conservative values and rules that evangelicals are known for. Wheaton is in the news now for censuring a tenured professor of Political Science, who chose to wear a hijab as a sign of solidarity with Muslims, whose faith is under attack in the Islamophobic rhetoric of the Republican presidential circus.

Her name is Larycia Hawkins, one of the very few African-American professors at this conservative college. The college administration claims that she has not been placed on administrative leave because she wore a hijab, but rather because of the “significant questions regarding the theological implications” of her reason for doing so. Her reason was one of solidarity with Muslims who are being targeted because of their faith, noting that Muslims are “People of the Book.” It is obviously that it was her use of an Islamic phrase that upset the rule mongers in the administration. But then does this mean that Jews do not worship the same God? What about Catholics or Orthodox or Mormons? The problem that the extreme edges of evangelical theology needs to overcome is the idea that only the “Bible Believers” are true Christians. Wheaton used to be better than that.
(more…)

Do bodies count or do we just count bodies? The tally of victims over the past week continues at a fierce pace. The dead in Yemen are not even being counted as many corpses now are rotting where they fall. UNICEF says only 74 Yemeni children have been killed since the bombing by the Saudi Coalition began, but that is surely an understatement. Hundreds of civilians have died and numerous soldiers and militia on both sides. A few days ago Somali Shabab ruthlessly murdered almost 150 students at Garissa University in Kenya, separating the Christians out from the Muslims. Add this to the killing by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Now in Tikrit mass graves are being found that tell the story of 1700 Iraqi soldiers executed. And ISIS has now taken over most of the Yarmouk Palestinian Camp in Damascus with more dead bodies and many more to come.

We are witnessing a killing frenzy, but the daily reports might as well be a Hollywood film or a shoot-em-up video game. How many bodies must there be before the killing stops? Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen is turning out not to be decisive but divisive, creating chaos in Saudi Arabia’s poor neighbor to the south. The shock-and-awe strategy is no doubt appealing to the arms dealers worldwide; their champagne glasses must be tinkling with every bomb that is dropped. The massive arsenal raining down destruction on Yemen can easily be replaced, but not the bodies of the victims. The killing continues on the ground as well in Yemen, a political nightmare engineered by former President Ali Abdullah Salih to regain power. But what would he regain power over? A country devastated beyond the current economic collapse, a land where his unchecked gluttony left Yemen the poorest country in the region, a people pitted against each other with the encouragement of foreign powers? A pile of corpses as high as a mountain, a mountain of utter despair? (more…)

There is an excellent analysis of ISIS as a cult recently posted on War on the Rocks.

Here is the start, but click here for the full article…

Why Cults Work: The Power Games of the Islamic State and the Lord’s Resistance Army
by Eleanor Beevor

Graeme Wood’s article “What does ISIS really want?” has become the most discussed foreign policy article of the year. Yet the piece’s power lies not in the title question, but in Wood’s blunt assessment of a paradox that leaves Western leaders flummoxed: How does one explain the traction of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), while also denying its religious legitimacy, in order to combat anti-Muslim bigotry? Wood didn’t mince words in refuting this hesitancy:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic… the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

What follows is a fascinating piece of research, and a frustrating read. Despite addressing all the right aspects of ISIL’s ideological content to understand its power, Wood’s argument is guided by the wrong question: “How Islamic is ISIL?” For him, denial of ISIL’s Islamic nature is why we fail to understand it. The analytical pitfalls of quantifying “Islamic-ness” should be self-explanatory. Are some of Islam’s 1.6 billion practitioners less Muslim than others if they are less violent? How do we explain the religious devotion of politically “quietest” Salafism, compared to the British ISIL fighters who purchased Islam for Dummies pre-departure? This is not to say that religion is irrelevant in the analysis of ISIL. ISIL uses Islam as an existential anchor, so its actions have to be influenced by it in order to work. It also freely capitalizes on global Islamist sentiment. But to say the whole structure is uniquely, potently Islamic is not just a logical fallacy, but part of the very illusion that sustains loyalty to it. Actually, the features that Wood claims represent ISIL’s Islamic orthodoxy – its obsession with “purity” and the apocalyptic prophecy it stakes its claim on – have “been done,” and not just by Islamists. This is revealed by comparing ISIL with another notoriously violent army, led by another self-styled holy man.

ISIL and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) represent grabs for power, but power of a cosmic kind, beyond what human society can grant them. In examining both, I suggest a word substitution. The ways in which ISIL works, to extraordinary success, are not uniquely Islamic. They are uniquely “cultic.” And to examine ISIL as a cult is to see chinks in its armor. ISIL’s territory may be shrinking, but that alone won’t kill the loyalties of its cadres, nor slow the spread of its bloody sectarian ideology. In ISIL, as in the LRA, knowledge is power. If we can challenge the leaders’ tight hold on that power, ISIL’s ideological grip on its fighters might just begin to crumble…

The Republican Party, inebriated with tea partisanship, seems to shoot itself in its elephantine trunk in attracting presidential candidates. This certainly worked to Romney’s favor last time around, as he certainly looked far more presidential than “what-was-the-third-one” Rick Perry, Call 999 and pay your taxes Mr. Cain, Sarah “I can see Alaska from my bedroom” Palin, Ron “I will run even when I am in my grave” Paul and the other circus acts that paraded through the primaries in 2012. Once again we are seeing a run (at the mouth some times) of former Governor and Fox News celebrity Mike Huckabee. He is apparently willing to overlook the fact that having two presidents from the state of Arkansas within only a couple of decades is going against Las Vegas odds. But here he is again, hitting the mash potato and Bible verse quoting circuit and about as Iowa bound as a candidate can get.

The latest bit of Huckabeeswax has a nasty sting to it. Echoing the Gold Meir canard that there are no “Palestinians” on his most recent Bible Land tour (I suspect that Huckabee is guilty of not reading Twain’s Innocents Abroad), the Arkansas traveler said that there aint no such thing (well he is reported to have said “is” no such thing but who knows what the meaning of “is” really is) as a Palestinian. “The idea that they have a long history, dating back hundreds or thousands of years, is not true,” Huckabee said.

So if there are no “Palestinians” but only “Arabs” who made up the term to spite Israel and drive them into the sea, who exactly was living in Eretz Israel before 1948. Here are some scenarios. (more…)


Let’s hope that in another decade we will be back to this ISIS (Isis depicted with outstretched wings (wall painting, c. 1360 BCE) and be thankful the carnage of the current ISIS is past

In the media, cyberspace, Facebook, Twitter and just about everywhere punditry is pandered to we are hearing experts expound on what ISIS really is and really wants. One of the latest broadsides is an article in the Atlantic by the journalist Graeme Wood, who pieces together quotes from scholars with comments of a couple of ISIS supporters he talked with in London and Melbourne. Here is how the Atlantic keyworded the article:

The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.

And if one reads further on, the following claim is made:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Let’s start with the obvious. If you really want to know what makes ISIS tick, avoid anything a journalist who seems to know little or nothing of the history of Islam says, even if he goes to the experts. Also, what somebody willing to talk to the journalist and not smash in his head with a rock (a point raised in the article as part of ISIS strategy in Western countries) says ISIS is or wants is probably not going to help you understand what the people who claim to be ISIS are actually doing, nor the variety of their views.

I am not interested in rehearsing the subjective misreadings of the article, which others have already done. But there comes a point when the bombast propagated in the media frenzy to cover this made-in-Hollywood real-life action thriller is enough already. So here are four points I want to make about the way in which the story of ISIS is being framed by many outlets in the media and why we need to move on. (more…)

Faux News expanded its crusade against President Obama (who is reduced to POTUS in their pseudo-news hocus pocus) and Islam (which is only newsworthy when it is called extreme) with a line right out of Monty Python. At the White House Prayer Breakfast (which Fox seems to think only included “evangelicals”) the president made a simple moral point that we should get off our “high horse” and remember that atrocious acts have been committed in the past by Christians in the Crusades and Inquisition. He might have added that “witches” were routinely burned at the stake in Christian Europe. The response from the right was that the president must hate Christianity if he compares the horrific acts of ISIS to marauding Crusaders and Torquemada. Some have such vitriol for Obama that they claimed the Crusaders were acting in self-defense.

I do not have the stomach to watch Faux News (and mercifully I choose not to have a cable connection in Qatar), but the tidbits that float through Facebook and Youtube cannot be easily avoided. (more…)

By Amir Hussain, UCObserver

So, what do you think about ISIS?” The question was posed at the end of September by an agnostic colleague at the Jesuit university in Los Angeles. The query was directed at me, no doubt, because I’m the lone Muslim theology professor on staff. And I’m not sure how to respond or what else I can say except that members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are horrific. I also can’t imagine my colleague asking me a comparable question — “What do you think about the Nazis?” or “What do you think of clergy who sexually abuse children?” — and expecting any kind of nuanced answer. I put his question aside.

A couple of weeks later, I was driving home from visiting friends in Santa Barbara when I heard that Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent had been deliberately run over and killed in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. Two days after that, while I was in an airline lounge in Chicago, word flashed across the TV monitors that Cpl. Nathan Cirillo had been shot dead while he guarded the National War Memorial in Ottawa and that the assailant was killed in a hail of gunfire in the corridors of the Parliament Buildings. It turned out that both murderers were self-radicalized converts to Islam. I was horrified.

The October attacks brought back to mind my colleague’s question about ISIS. Perhaps, when he asked, he wasn’t looking for nuance but context. Perhaps he wanted to better understand what motivates and inspires their evil, where the movement came from, how they are able to export their ideologies to troubled young men and women around the world, and how worried we North Americans should be about their threat to us.

My response is the same now as it was before. As shocking and frightening as incidents of “homegrown terrorism” may be, we must keep one fact in mind: the primary targets of Muslim fanatics are much more likely to be other Muslims than non-Muslims. Their main purpose is to force their own skewed version of Islam onto other Muslims. In the same way that Ebola is a serious threat to West Africans, not to North Americans, ISIS is a serious threat in Iraq and Syria, not here in North America. Personally, I’m much more concerned about Islamic fundamentalism in general than I am about ISIS specifically. (more…)

December eyes are fixed on Bethlehem, which has been an inspiration for artists over many years and indeed centuries. On this Christmas day, take a look at Bethlehem as it might have looked more than a century ago.


Left hand element of a stereoscopic photograph of the Bethlehem region circa 1900. Courtesy of Glenn Bowman.


Approaching Bethlehem. Source: Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee.

The following two illustrations of Bethlehem can be found on the website (Jerusalem in 19th Century Art) put up by James E. Lancaster.


Bethlehem Tinted lithograph printed by Day & Son, after David Roberts, published about 1855.

(more…)

Next Page »