What would Jesus think about the Assault on Christianity?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 24th, 2011

Who would Jesus Vote For?

One thing I learned about demons and vampires from watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that they lay low on Halloween.  Except for the few that like to bother the Scooby Gang, that is.  But for the most part, the evil beings don’t like Halloween.  It’s just a bit silly for them.  So the evil and undead stand down on this day.  When the non-evil dress up and pretend to be evil.  A bit of professional demon/vampire courtesy.  They let the people play their scary games.  Then resume their bloodlust the following day.

You’d think those on the Left would extend the same courtesy to Christians on Easter Sunday, the most holy day on the Christian calendar.  Let up on their Christian disdain for this one day.  So Christians can worship this special day in peace.  But no.  Someone has to invoke Jesus Christ in the budget debate (see The Democrats’ secret budget weapon: Jesus by Brad Martin posted 4/24/2011 on Salon).

There are signs that the 2010s could be a fertile ground for using Christian ideals to pursue goals of social justice…

If the moral test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable, the emergence of What Would Jesus Cut? may be the flashlight leading us out of the dark cave of budgetary wrangling. But it should also provide progressives with a model for marrying religion to politics in a way that reinvigorates their agenda, rather than simply leaving the field wide open to often intolerant evangelicals and social conservatives.

Why, this is a fascinating concept.  And practical.  Especially at Easter.  The day of the Resurrection.  When Christ rose from the grave He was sent to after dying for our sins.  Yes, what a fine day it is to politicize Jesus Christ.  But I’m game.  Hmmm.  Let me think. 

What would Jesus cut?  The defense budget?  Well, if we did that we couldn’t stop the genocide Muammar Gaddafi is perpetrating against the Libyan people.  That’s bad.  So bad that liberals who champion social justice sent our military to Libya to stop that genocide.  Cutting defense spending will leave us little more than an observer of these crimes against humanity.  Much like the rest of the world that isn’t a superpower.  So I don’t know if Jesus would cut defense spending.  Not when we’re using it for humanitarian reasons.  So, could there be something else to cut?

Would He cut programs like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?  These programs are very kind to those who can’t afford to buy a house.  By putting them into a house that they can’t afford.  Hmm.  That didn’t end too well in 2008, what with the subprime mortgage crisis and all.  No, putting people into houses they can’t afford turned out to be a bad thing.  It gave us the worst recession since the Great Depression.  And this hit art and charitable foundations especially hard.  With record unemployment, no one has any money to donate to the needy.  So, yes, I think Jesus would cut programs like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Anything else?

Oh, here’s a no brainer.  Planned Parenthood.  Because I’m pretty sure Jesus Christ would oppose anything remotely connected to abortion.

How could no one on the Left see this coming?  What would Jesus cut?  Number one on the hit parade would be abortion.  And any public spending that could provide ‘aid and comfort’ to the abortion providers.  This is Jesus we’re talking about.  And I just don’t see Him being pro-choice.  Sure, Planned Parenthood’s abortion unit is only a small part of their business (3%).  But government funding pays the overhead where they provide their real services.  Breast exams.  Pap smears.  Pelvic exams.  AIDS screening.  Birth control.  Etc.  That’s why they don’t have stand alone abortion clinics.  Doing so few abortions makes the unit cost per abortion too high to recover the overhead.  But if the overhead is already being paid by Uncle Sam, why, then that’s a different story.

The Left should stop talking about Jesus.  For they’re going to hurt themselves with the political contortions necessary to make their case.  Besides, if you asked who would Jesus vote for, I’m guessing he or she would have an ‘r’ after their name.  The bitter God-clingers they are.  So why even bother?  They should just take a lesson from the evil/undead and show a little magnanimity on this day.  If they had it in them.  Like the evil/undead do at Halloween.

Syria and Egypt, Similar yet Different

Egypt and Syria are very similar countries.  Both are in the Middle East.  Both are secular nations with Christian minorities.  And both outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood.  The main difference between the two is that one is an ally of the United States.  The other is an enemy.  Another difference is U.S. foreign policy.  They abandoned the ally.  And showed patience with the enemy.

Some are urging caution in Syria.  Worried about what may replace the current regime should it fall.  The Israelis for one.  And possibly the Obama administration.  For now, at least.  Interesting, because they had no such reservations with our ally.  And how are things in Egypt?  Suffice it to say there is cause for concern (see Crowds protest Christian governor in south Egypt by Maggie Michael, Associated Press, posted 4/22/2011 on MSNBC).

Since President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February after an 18-day popular uprising, ultraconservative Islamist groups have been flexing their muscles and vowing to take a more active political role as Egypt charts its transition to democracy…

Coptic Christians make up an estimated 10 percent of Egypt’s population of nearly 80 million and complain of discrimination. Relations between the two faiths plunged to new lows after a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a Coptic church in Alexandria on Jan. 1, killing 21 people and injuring 100 others.

Salafis, who seek to emulate the lifestyle of Islam’s early days in the seventh century, have for the past year played a key role in fueling sectarian tensions, spearheading protests against the Orthodox Christian church.

Salafis?  One of their Islamic theologians was Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.  As in Wahhabi.  As in Saudi Arabia.  As in al Qaeda.  As in Osama bin Laden.  Yes, bin Laden is a Wahhabi.  This is old school Islam.  The way it was mean to be.  In Salafi eyes.  As the Taliban thought, too, the world should be.

The only upside to this is that the Salafis are Sunnis.  Who don’t much care for the Shiites.  Which is what the Iranians are.  So, to recap, the Salafis are not Shiites.  Which may place them out of the Iranian orbit.  Which is good.  The bad news is this.  It was the Wahhabi that attacked us on 9/11.

So maybe we should have encouraged more reform in Egypt and less ‘Mubarak has to go’.  Perhaps we learned our lesson.  Perhaps that’s why we’re not pushing our enemy in Syria (see For Syrian Christians, protests are cause for fear by The Washington Post posted 4/23/2011 on The Washington Post).

For decades, the government of President Bashar al-Assad has protected Christian interests by enforcing its strictly secular program and by curbing the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. In recent years, Assad has visited the town of Maaloula and other Christian communities to pray and pass on messages of goodwill. At Christmas, he addresses Syria’s Christians, carrying similar tidings. Assad is himself from the minority Alawite sect, a branch of Shia Islam, and many Christians feel they can relate to him…

Many Christians interviewed said their biggest fear was the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Syria. About half as many worshipers as usual attended Good Friday church services this year because people are afraid to leave their homes.

Maybe these ruthless despots know something we don’t.  Maybe their tyrannical and oppressive rule is the only way to keep things secular in the Middle East.  And peaceful.  At least, under them, the few Christians in their countries could live in relative peace.  Whereas it’s looking a bit harder these days.

Happy Easter

So on this Easter Day, we can reflect on Jesus Christ and His message.  Such as judge not lest ye be judged.  Pity we rushed to pass judgment on Hosni Mubarak.  Perhaps that wasn’t the Christian thing to do.  But we did.  And now Christians in Egypt are getting worried.  And Christians are nervously sitting out the protests in Syria.  Afraid of what their future may hold.  But instead of showing genuine concern for the oppressed (and possibly the soon to be oppressed), some instead think of politicizing Jesus Christ to advance a political agenda.

I wonder what Jesus would think about that.

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Can Feminism Survive in the Islamic Middle East?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 19th, 2011

The Iranian Revolution and Feminism

The Shah of Iran modernized Iran.  And advanced women’s rights.  Did away with child marriage.  And outlawed having multiple wives.  Women may not have been fully equal but they were more equal than they had ever been before.  Or since.  And they had access to education.  In fact, they were so well educated that when they came out of college some could find no jobs.  At least none that called for such a higher education.  So there was a lot of unemployment during the 1970s.  A lot of highly educated people without jobs.  Both men and women.  And they protested.  Both men and women.  They overthrew the Shah.  Both men and women.  And how did that go?  Well, better for the men than it did for the women.

The Iranian Revolution in 1979 kind of came out of nowhere.  Stunned most of the world.  But many quickly welcomed this ‘democratic’ revolution.  Some people even welcomed that kindly, moderate, old man returning from exile.  Ayatollah Khomeini.  Even The New York Times said at last we will see a humane government in a third world country.  Of course, that didn’t happen.  The ‘democratic’ revolution soon became a theocratic revolution.  Khomeini ushered in Sharia law.  And a rather oppressive interpretation at that.  Everything the women gained under the Shah was gone.  Women were property again.  Second class citizens.  Not the kind of hope and change they were protesting about.  In fact, a lot of their daughters say today, “Thanks, Mom.”  And, “What were you thinking about!?!”  Under their breath, of course.

The Iranian Revolution started out as a democratic movement upset about rampant unemployment and abject poverty.  And they were angry at the Shah’s oppressive regime that exercised dictatorial power.  That shut down all opposition voices.  A lot like in Egypt.  But underneath this there was another element lurking in the background.  An Islamic element.  Angry at the Shah’s Westernization of Iran.  And eager to restore the old, Islamic ways.  And while the first revolutionaries talked about democratic reform, these other revolutionaries planned their theocracy.  Then they installed it.  And the rest is history.  A sad one for those women who had achieved so much under the Shah’s rule.

As in Iran, Men and Women Stood side by side during the Egyptian Revolution.  Will they after the Revolution?

So another revolution comes and goes in the Arab world.  It took only 18 days.  Things were pretty good in Egypt for women before the revolution.  But what will life be like after the revolution (see Egypt women stand for equality in the square by Kathy Lally posted 2/18/2011 on The Washington Post)?

Women are far better off in Egypt than some parts of the Arab world. There are no religious police enforcing dress codes as in Iran, or prohibitions against driving as in Saudi Arabia. But Egyptian women are greatly underrepresented in public life and inferior to men before the law. They hold cabinet posts, but no judgeships. They are members of parliament, but have few seats. They occupy many professions, but not all.

Divorces are difficult to obtain and favor men, as do property rights. Women are encouraged to marry and have children early: The legal age of marriage was only recently raised from 16 to 18.

And, every day as they walk down the street, they are reminded of their low status – until Tahrir Square. Egyptian women are sexually harassed to an astonishing degree, groped, ogled, followed by catcalls, behavior that no law forbids. In a 2008 survey, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights in Cairo found that 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women had been harassed at some point.

And this in a ‘far better off’ country in the Arab world.  Makes one wonder what happened in the not so better off countries.  The question is, will this be the high water mark for feminism in Egypt?  Will they now retreat on the advancements made in women’s rights?

“We were equal partners in this revolution,” she said, “and we are respected as such. Now we have to use the moment effectively, to make sure women participate in daily political life, to make sure they are involved in the development of political parties and labor movements.”

That’s kind of what the women said in Iran.  Of course, once that theocracy took hold, all hopes for women being involved in political parties and movements were over.  Will this be Egypt’s fate?  Or the Middle East’s?  A common enemy can unite a people.  Even the sexes.  But what about tradition and culture?  And religion?  How heavily will they weigh on the new governments borne of revolution?

Tunisia and Egypt – Oppressors of the People but Defenders of Feminism

What do Tunisia and Egypt have in common?  They both just disposed hated dictators.  And they were both bastions of women’s rights (see Are the Mideast revolutions bad for women’s rights? by Isobel Coleman posted 2/20/2011 on The Washington Post).

Tunisia, in particular, has been a bastion of women’s rights in a region known for the opposite. Shortly after independence in 1956, President Habib Bourguiba, the country’s secular authoritarian leader, pushed through a Personal Status Code which was remarkably liberal for its time. It granted women equal divorce rights to men, abolished polygamy, set minimum marriage ages, allowed access to birth control and even some access to abortion. Bourguiba modeled himself on Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founder who force-marched his country into the modern age through a painful process of secularization – “for the people, despite the people,” as he once quipped.

The result is that Tunisian women today enjoy relatively high literacy and have achieved broad gains in law, medicine, business, academia and media.

But things got bad.  And the Tunisians protested about the same things the Iranians and the Egyptians did.  And the big question is this.  Now that there is a power vacuum, who will fill it?  A modern, democratic power?  Or an old school, theocratic power?  Like, say, the Muslim Brotherhood?

In Egypt, democracy will also create important openings for Islamist groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. In a 2007 Gallup survey, 64 percent of Egyptians polled said that sharia should be the only source of law in the country; an additional 24 percent said it should be a source of legislation. (There was little variation by gender.)

Still, Egyptians’ desire for sharia is balanced by a strong demand for modernization and a distaste for theocracy. Women’s rights will be a litmus test for the new government – a sign of where the country is headed. The Muslim Brotherhood unleashed a sea of controversy in 2007 when it released its party platform excluding women (and non-Muslims) from the presidency, and calling for a group of Islamic scholars to review and veto legislation that does not conform to religious rules. These conservative positions confirmed critics’ worst fears of the Brotherhood, and led to some soul-searching within the organization itself, especially among younger members who disagreed with the hard-line positions of their elders.

Those younger members should read a page from the Iranian Revolution history.  The young in Iran today are not all happy with their parent’s revolution.  Especially the women.  And the girls.

The rise of Salafism, a particularly conservative form of the faith propagated by Saudi Arabia, should worry Egyptian women’s groups. In recent years, tensions between secularists and Salafis have been rising, with Salafis calling for full veiling of women and gender segregation in universities. The Salafis’ following is evident in the rising number of Egyptian women wearing the niqab, the face-covering veil, long black abayas and even gloves on their hands to avoid physical contact with men.

Wearing the veil has become popular in Tunisia and Egypt for a variety of reasons, including as an expression of religious identity, conforming to social pressures and as a statement against the secular authoritarianism of the government. (The irony is that Egypt is the birthplace of Arab feminism, which in the first half of the 20th century put much energy into unveiling women.)

With Hosni Mubarak gone, activists will now have to contend with hard-core politics in a way that has been missing from Egypt’s Potemkin parliament. Controversial legislation, like the equal right to divorce that was passed in 2000, will come under pressure from Islamist lawmakers who fiercely opposed the bill. (Tunisia is the only other Arab country that grants women the right.) Women’s groups can no longer fall back upon a sympathetic Mubarak regime, which often sided with their cause.

Ah, yes, the hated Hosni Mubarak.  Champion of feminism.  Who they ran out of the country.  Much like the Shah of Iran.  One can only hope that the women of Egypt don’t end up like the women of Iran.

Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan – Still not Bastions of Women’s Rights

Of course, being a woman in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan was no picnic.  Under their law, the sentence for many offences was death.  Even for not wearing the proper traditional garb.  But that was then.  We toppled the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.  And the Saudi’s are a stalwart ally.  So how are things there now (see Why American troops in Afghanistan shouldn’t have to wear headscarves by Martha McSally posted 2/18/2011 in The Washington Post)?

In 2001, I was an Air Force lieutenant colonel and A-10 fighter pilot stationed in Saudi Arabia, in charge of rescue operations for no-fly enforcement in Iraq and then in Afghanistan. Every time I went off base, I had to follow orders and put on a black Muslim abaya and head scarf. Military officials said this would show “cultural sensitivity” toward conservative Saudi leaders and guarantee “force protection” – this in a nation where women couldn’t drive, vote or dress as they pleased…

In Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, the world saw the hallmark of Taliban oppression – women who failed to cover up risked death. Now, nine years after the fall of the Taliban government, Afghan women are still required to cover themselves and have hardly moved toward the equal rights and liberties we envisioned. In conjunction, U.S. military women are simply submitting to Muslim practices that symbolize the plight of Afghan women when they put on the scarf themselves.

American servicewomen will continue to be viewed as second-class warriors if leaders push them to take up the customs of countries where women are second-class citizens.

It’s pretty bad when they make your liberators adopt the custom of the previously oppressed women.  There’s a mixed message here.  Rise up and enjoy your freedom.  But be obedient.  They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  And as tradition, culture and religion go, they don’t come much older.  Talk about democratic movements all you want.  But there is a heavy undertow of Islamic Fundamentalism in the Middle East.  And it’s going to take an extraordinary effort to resist it.  

Will the women make it to shore and enjoy democracy?  Or will they be dragged back and disappear beneath the surface of theocracy?  Like in that democratic revolution in Iran?  Let’s pray that feminism wins the day.  For if theocracy does, it won’t be only the women in the Middle East that suffer.  We all will.

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