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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Exploiting the Muslim- Jewish divide


From the Los Angeles Times Another wedge issue Exploiting the Muslim- Jewish divide is the wrong way to win votes.
By Salam Al-Marayati and Steven B. Jacobs
June 26, 2008

There's a disturbing trend in this 2008 election. We are witnessing the manipulation and exploitation of Muslim-Jewish differences by political candidates in pursuit of votes. As advocates for our respective communities, we believe it's in America's interest that it stop.
It appears that the political logic of the candidates and their handlers calls for winning Jewish American support at the expense of Muslim American voters. This takes the shape of aggressive outreach to the Jewish community while Muslims go ignored. That strategy may be politically expedient, but it is inherently flawed. Muslims see their exclusion as a betrayal of American values, and many Jews are alarmed by the parallels to their own historical political exclusion.
American Jews are all too familiar with institutionalized bigotry. In the late 1940s and 1950s, Rep. John Rankin opposed the immigration of Holocaust survivors, and he opposed integration. In that McCarthyite, anti-Communist era, politicians clamped down against those who they thought threatened the changing fabric of America -- namely, Jews. Now, Muslims are on the receiving end of similar suspicions, this time in the name of fighting terrorism.

Muslims today are political scapegoats associated with global tragedies including terrorism and war. Against this dismal backdrop, politicians are apparently deeming Muslim voters political pariahs; any endorsement from national Muslim groups is tantamount to a kiss of death.

Just one day after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton dropped out of the Democratic race, Sen. Barack Obama rushed to receive the blessing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Last week, his campaign volunteers rushed to remove Muslim women wearing head scarves from a Detroit rally. Though Obama apologized, Muslims felt stung by a candidate supposedly running on a platform of inclusion and change.

But the snubs aren't limited to Obama. Sen. John McCain recently dismissed a Muslim American businessman from an important campaign committee. In March, McCain visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem but made no similar visit to the adjacent Muslim holy site, the Dome of the Rock. And although both candidates have made frequent stops at churches and synagogues, neither has made a campaign stop at a mosque.

Put on the spot about turning their backs on Muslim voters, politicians may argue that they can't afford to lose Jewish support, implying that the Jewish community would oppose any politician who associates with Muslims.

To be sure, the politicians aren't inventing a division between Muslims and Jews. We acknowledge the tension between our communities created by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And yet it is also clear that Jews and Muslims should be natural allies in countering xenophobia and hysteria. We both suffer from scapegoating as fear works against common sense in our political culture. Whether it is anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, we both know the face of bigotry.
The issue of excluding Muslims to get Jewish votes is not about ensuring domestic security, it is about cowardly politics. It is about playing to fears, not processing facts. It is about the canard that Muslims and Jews have been fighting since ancient times and nothing will change. It is about blaming both for America's problems. We Muslims and Jews, along with all people of faith, represent the spirit of God. There is much that binds us together. It is in the spirit of this shared history, and our common interests, that we must stand against these divisions being created by the candidates.

Abraham Lincoln argued against the politics of fear, holding out hope for the 'better angels of our nature.' Our presidential candidates must display such higher thinking in the coming months. Likewise, we -- American Jews and Muslims -- must do the same.

Salam Al-Marayati is the executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Steven B. Jacobs, a rabbi, is the founder of the Progressive Faith Foundation. Both are members of the Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Americans Tolerant of Religions,


Americans Tolerant of Religions, Poll Says

The following survey (below) filed under Nations News is indeed reflective of the average American, no matter how you pigeon hole him or her. The “survey finds most Americans don't feel their religion is the only way to eternal life — even if their faith tradition teaches otherwise." Indeed, if we can learn to accept and respect every which way people worship the divine, conflicts fade and solutions emerge.

I believe a majority of people are moderates and only a fringe of us, – no more than 1% any group of us; be it Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jew, Buddhist, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Bahai, Wicca, Jain, Wicca or other traditions are extreme fundamentalists and of that 1/10th of them, i.e., 1/10th of 1% of each group are extremists. We need to do serious research on this to prove it.

The extremists are broadly classified as the Neocons* and they are in every faith without any exception; they are driven by an imaginary fear that the world is out to get them and that their existence is at stake. They are passionate about it and have sought and got spots in the national decision making process, their only commitment in their life is to sell the fear of the other extremists and keep the nation is a virtual conflict. They continuously sell and re-sell the idea that they are winning in annihilating the other extremists out. That is not the truth; their actions breed more of their counterparts.

All the extremists want to “preserve” their way of life under the banner of conservatism and dream of imposing their way of life onto others. They are devoid of seeing another point of view. We can compel and subdue other nations with our might, but the oppressed ones will be waiting for a chance to get even. That happens in our spousal, parents/kids and other relationships. We need to win friendship; it is safe for us, safe for them and good for all of us. The policy of terrorizing nations has failed miserably and must be discontinued. We would be much safer if we promote mitigation of conflicts in every layer of the society.

You can visualize this scenario in the day to day life – starting with one class room bully terrorizing the whole class, one member in the Church (any place of worship) can upset what the majority of the people plan on doing, one board member can ruin a good plan in an organization, one bad guy can ruin the whole party of fun. The majority of us do not want to get involved in a “brawl”, it is not, but that is our justification to chicken out.

The tactic used by every one of them extremists is to scream out loud or frighten the crap out of every one, they are the masters in instilling fear into the majority of us and they are good business men, look at all the fear mongers, they are filthy rich, they know how to reach your pocket book. They frighten you and you open the check book.

The problem with the majority of us is that we do not want to get involved in the brawls or conflicts. We are simple folks who want to get along and live and let live. We do not have the passion to hurt others.

There was a movie made for all of us – the life of a bee. It is the story of how a few can harass and rule the majority and how a few of us can stand up and take the initial beating to ward off the extremist to realize that each on of us has to learn to respect each others space.

It is time for the majority of us to stand up and speak up and not let the fears drive our lives. It is time for the goodness of the majority to work for the benefit of all.

*Neocons: http://hatesermons.blogspot.com/
Neocons are people who choose to wear a religious label but act and talk contrary to the very belief they claim to espouse. They believe that theirs is the only way, and that other human beings do not deserve to have a space and must be wiped out from the face of the earth.

They believe God is on their side and want to dominate, control, monopolize and influence the resources that God has created for the benefit of his creation. They want to have it all, and that simply breeds conflict.

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker and a Writer on Pluralism and co-existence. He is president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He is the founding president of World Muslim Congress with a simple theme: Good for Muslims and good for the world. His comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website http://www.mikeghouse.net/.


Americans Tolerant of Religions, Poll Says
Posted: 2008-06-24 06:39:50
Filed Under: Nation News
(June 23) - America remains a nation of believers, but a new survey finds most Americans don't feel their religion is the only way to eternal life — even if their faith tradition teaches otherwise.

The findings, revealed Monday in a survey of 35,000 adults, can either be taken as a positive sign of growing religious tolerance, or disturbing evidence that Americans dismiss or don't know fundamental teachings of their own faiths.

Christian - 78.4%
Protestant - 51.3%, Catholic - 23.9%, Mormon - 1.7%, Jehovah's Witness - 0.7%, Orthodox - 0.6%, Other Christian - 0.3%

Unaffiliated - 16.1% Source: AP, pewforum.org
Hindu - 0.4%
Jewish - 1.7%
Muslim - 0.6%
Buddhist - 0.7%

Among the more startling numbers in the survey, conducted last year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: 57 percent of evangelical church attenders said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life, in conflict with traditional evangelical teaching.

In all, 70 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation shared that view, and 68 percent said there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion.

"The survey shows religion in America is, indeed, 3,000 miles wide and only three inches deep," said D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist of religion.

"There's a growing pluralistic impulse toward tolerance and that is having theological consequences," he said.

Earlier data from the Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, released in February, highlighted how often Americans switch religious affiliation. The newly released material looks at religious belief and practice as well as the impact of religion on society, including how faith shapes political views.

The report argues that while relatively few people — 14 percent — cite religious beliefs as the main influence on their political thinking, religion still plays a powerful indirect role.

The study confirmed some well-known political dynamics, including stark divisions over abortion and gay marriage, with the more religiously committed taking conservative views on the issues.

But it also showed support across religious lines for greater governmental aid for the poor, even if it means more debt and stricter environmental laws and regulations.

By many measures, Americans are strongly religious: 92 percent believe in God, 74 percent believe in life after death and 63 percent say their respective scriptures are the word of God.

But deeper investigation found that more than one in four Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants and Orthodox Christians expressed some doubts about God's existence, as did six in ten Jews.

Another finding almost defies explanation: 21 percent of self-identified atheists said they believe in God or a universal spirit, with 8 percent "absolutely certain" of it.

"Look, this shows the limits of a survey approach to religion," said Peter Berger, a theology and sociology professor at Boston University. "What do people really mean when they say that many religions lead to eternal life? It might mean they don't believe their particular truth at all. Others might be saying, 'We believe a truth but respect other people, and they are not necessarily going to hell.'"

Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, said that more research is planned to answer those kinds of questions, but that earlier, smaller surveys found similar results.

Nearly across the board, the majority of religious Americans believe many religions can lead to eternal life: mainline Protestants (83 percent), members of historic black Protestant churches (59 percent), Roman Catholics (79 percent), Jews (82 percent) and Muslims (56 percent).

By similar margins, people in those faith groups believe in multiple interpretations of their own traditions' teachings. Yet 44 percent of the religiously affiliated also said their religion should preserve its traditional beliefs and practices.

"What most people are saying is, 'Hey, we don't have a hammer-lock on God or salvation, and God's bigger than us and we should respect that and respect other people,'" said the Rev. Tom Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

"Some people are like butterflies that go from flower to flower, going from religion to religion — and frankly they don't get that deep into any of them," he said.

Beliefs about eternal life vary greatly, even within a religious tradition.

Some Christians hold strongly to Jesus' words as described in John 14:6: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Others emphasize the wideness of God's grace.

The Catholic church teaches that the "one church of Christ ... subsists in the Catholic Church" alone and that Protestant churches, while defective, can be "instruments of salvation."

Roger Oldham, a vice president with the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, bristled at using the word "tolerance" in the analysis.

"If by tolerance we mean we're willing to engage or embrace a multitude of ways to salvation, that's no longer evangelical belief," he said. "The word 'evangelical' has been stretched so broadly, it's almost an elastic term."

Others welcomed the findings.

"It shows increased religious security. People are comfortable with other traditions even if they're different," said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance. "It indicates a level of humility about religion that would be of great benefit to everyone."

More than most groups, Catholics break with their church, and not just on issues like abortion and homosexuality. Only six in 10 Catholics described God as "a person with whom people can have a relationship" — which the church teaches — while three in 10 described God as an "impersonal force."

"The statistics show, more than anything else, that many who describe themselves as Catholics do not know or understand the teachings of their church," said Denver Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput. "Being Catholic means believing what the Catholic church teaches. It is a communion of faith, not simply of ancestry and family tradition. It also means that the church ought to work harder at evangelizing its own members."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. All active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Theists Questions to Atheists

My Notes precede the article:

The common approach we take for living our daily life is the existence. Theist and atheist are bent on proving each other wrong or prove that one’s fact is superior to the other. What is the need for it? Better yet, what is the gain?

We exist with our differences and cannot be annihilated because we think differently, we have a choice to co-exist as peacefully as we can or live with varying degrees of peace or misery. Humans crave to co-exist and insecurities in us want to divide us. It is a continuous battle and in the interest of every one, we need to focus on co-existence; it protects every one’s interest.

The difference between theists and atheist is fairly simple, one set believe that God drives our day to day life where as the other does not see the role of God in living our daily life.

First of all, the morality does not hinge on religion, and the internalized values of the societies determine one’s moral conduct – in terms of being truthful, honest and fair in one’s dealings in personal and business matters.

Both have a certain time between the first and the last breath, how is it spent is their choice. The theists look to religious conformity to a given set of guidelines, where as the atheist don’t see it that way.

The author shot in the foot when he said “Jewish, Islamic and even Christian scriptures actively promote violence.” As Atheists are not immoral beings because they don’t believe in God, we cannot conclude that religions promote violence, it is not true. Mistakes are made by individuals and not religions and individuals should be held responsible and not their religion.

There is another question that I am frequently asked to explain, what is the difference between interfaith and Pluralism. Interfaith is about theists coming together, whereas Pluralism is about co-existence of all.

Mike Ghouse

# # #

Most Common Theist Questions Answered in a Nutshell
by Neil Marr

When a theist of any religious persuasion enters into debate with an atheist, it is often with misconceptions. So it’s maybe a good idea get a few basic points cleared up from the start rather than go over old ground in the atheists.com forums themselves.

Below are examples of the kind of questions frequently asked by theists in their first encounter with atheists. Provided are only the bare bones of likely atheist answers in the interest of brevity: even so, I’m afraid this introduction necessarily runs to a good ten minutes of reading – so save it for a coffee break.

Bear in mind that atheists are individuals with no spokesperson qualified to represent them as a group and many fellow atheists might not fully agree with the selection of questions or with the wording of my replies.

Please don’t feel that this simple and hypothetical Q&A session is meant as any more than a very, very basic introduction. Theists are more than welcome to develop the anecdotal questions in forum debate, ask new questions of their own, put forward their own views, and solicit more detailed and profound answers from other members. Just remember the rules of netiquette and everything will be friendly, civil and constructive.

(I use he/him in its neutral sense below for convenience only and it implies no sexist insult).

Q: Is atheism a religion in itself?

A: Atheism is not a religion. Atheism is merely the non-acceptance of the existence of any divine entities and other supernatural influences. It has been said that atheism is to religion what not playing golf is to sport. That pretty well sums it up.

Q: What is the difference between an atheist and an agnostic?

A: An atheist absolutely rejects the notion of deities and supernatural intervention, an agnostic isn’t quite sure of the existence of gods, though empirical evidence suggests non-existence, but will not deny the possibility. There are several schools of atheist philosophy: positive atheist, secular humanist, bright, free-thinker, non-theist. They’re pretty well interchangeable, but fine differences will be explained in the forums during the course of debate.

Q: What does an atheist believe?

A: You would have to ask him, and we hope you will. Each and every atheist, like each and every theist, believes many things. The only thought atheists share in common is an absolute non-belief in gods, afterlife (in the form of heaven, hell or reincarnation) and supernatural intervention in the cosmos and the affairs of man.

Q: What's to stop an atheist running riot if he has no God-given moral code?

A: An atheist is bound by the same moral codes of human decency and social responsibility as a theist. But he does not believe these codes are heaven-sent. In fact, many atheists feel that the theist idea of actions being rewarded or punished by a divine entity casts doubt on inherent morality. An atheist’s motivation is conscience-driven rather than imposed and influenced by ideas of divine reward and punishment. Evolutionary theory, by the way, posits strong reasons for ethically behaviour as a matter of what has become ‘human nature’. And, of course, we follow even the lesser laws of our lands and don’t double-park.

Q: An atheist can't prove there is no God, can he?

A: He does not feel obliged to. The burden of proof is on the claimant. And extraordinary claims require extraordinary support. There is no empirical evidence suggesting the existence of deities. What evidence is offered is ‘circular’ in that it relies upon partisan literature and/or is faith based. Faith is not admissible evidence. Earnestly believing something to be true does not make it so.

Q: Surely religion is about love and peace. What's so wrong with that?

A: Religion has, though the ages, proven to be divisive and destructive and has given rise to many a bloody conflict. Jewish, Islamic and even Christian scriptures actively promote violence. As for love, the concept of eternal torment for temporal human sin seems to contradict the ideals of love and forgiveness. This is such a broad subject that, again, it is wide open for much broader discussion in the forums.

Q: Are atheists so arrogant that they think they're above God?

A: As there are arrogant theists, there are arrogant atheists. However, an atheist does not feel he is above God; because no god exists. He knows mankind to be the pinnacle of currently known earthly evolution and most feel great humility in the face of the majesty of time and space and the richness of all that is a natural part of the world in which he plays his tiny, temporary, but privileged part. Some atheists feel that theists are ultimately arrogant in their belief that a godhead takes a personal interest in their petty affairs.

Q: Why can’t religious people and atheists get along together?

A: We can. And we hope these forums will provide ample evidence that we often do. We do not necessarily accept that religion per se should command respect, any more than non-belief commands respect. But people can command respect. Hopefully atheism or theism doesn’t actually define us. There are many more points on which the atheist and theist would agree than there are those upon which they would disagree. Bearing this in mind, we have a platform here for open discussion of differences and for showing that we all share human decency and love of our fellows, irrespective of gender, race, nationality, colour, social standing … and creed.

Q: Do I risk conversion to atheism by visiting these forums?

A: Atheism is a non-belief, a non-establishment, a non-institution; it is not a club where we head-count membership. The purpose of these boards is not to evangelize but to openly discuss matters of mutual interest. A knowledge-questing theist might well question some of his beliefs after careful consideration of other ideas, or he might – as many admirable theist friends do – stick to his guns and give the atheists food for thought. We’re not on a conversion kick … but we do try to promote common sense and education.

Q: Is the material universe the atheist’s God?

A: The atheist is, like any thinking person, in awe of the cosmos – what is known and what is yet to be discovered. But the universe is not his god. He has no god. The universe is innocent of its own existence, let alone of ours. Such acceptance is the basis of atheistic humility and the reason most atheists support scientific and scholarly quest for answers that will enrich humankind.

Q: Why are atheists so hung up about a dividing line between church and state?

A: All past and present incarnations of theocracy have resulted in untold misery, warfare, poverty of spirit and ignorance. What atheists feel is that – especially in the USA – the west is seeing the thin edge of a worryingly broad wedge that threatens educational, scientific and scholarly progress and discriminates against the non-theist (in some cases even non-Christian) through governmental, commercial and social interference. This is another point that will be discussed more fully in forum.

Q: Science can't account for everything; ergo there must be a God, no?

A: No. Already the disciplines of science and scholarship have answered many complex questions and solved many hitherto insurmountable problems, opening up a magnificent vista of possibility. Science and Scholarship is ever-questing and self-critical. Where there might currently be a gap in scientific knowledge (and they’re working on it), to suggest that the gap be automatically filled by supernatural means is hardly realistic. We feel that, whereas science and scholarship strives to offer answers to questions, religions merely offer answers that must not be questioned.

Q: God created everything; the universe and all that's in it is part of His plan. It says so in the scriptures, doesn't it?

A: This is an example of ‘circular’ argument, where support for a supposition comes from a source that is itself part of that very supposition. The scriptures of all religions are fatally flawed. They are riddled with inaccuracy and contradiction. Creation stories, from the sublime to the ridiculous, abound. None match and none offer the satisfaction and staggering beauty of scientific evidence in support of the beginning and development of the universe and evolution of life on earth.

Q: But evolution, for example, is just a theory, isn’t it?

A: It is important to understand clearly the definition of scientific theory. In this formal usage, the word theory has little in common with its casual everyday use to describe an unproven supposition. Evolution is a tried-and-tested scientific theory just like gravity is a tried-and-tested theory. Please don’t jump out of a window to prove that the theory of gravity is the figment of scientific imagination. Do not French kiss Typhoid Mary to test the germ theory. Much, much more will be available to you on such subjects when you start to take part in the forums. There are scientists and scholars among atheists.com membership with the generosity and patience to share their knowledge.Q: So atheism is based upon the findings of science, evolution and the revelations of scholarly scriptural criticism?A: Not at all. Science and scholarship lend support to the atheist viewpoint, and doubtless, some who held faith have lost it in the face of overwhelming evidence; but an atheist may well know nothing at all about scientific and scholarly matters. Most atheists are natural non-believers because they discover – at whatever stage of life – that belief in deities is irrational and irrelevant.

Q: If there is no afterlife, where does an atheist turn to for purpose?

A: Ask him. Each of us has his own justification for living life as he does. Most atheists – more than content with their tiny spec of existence – try to make the very most of their time on earth and to make their lives productive and useful to those around them. An atheist must fulfil his perceived purpose in the here-and-now, or fail. He yearns for no heaven and fears no hell. There are no second chances through reincarnation. Death and birth bracket an atheist’s existence. He faces this fact and is comfortable with it.

Q: Why do so many atheists research religion when they are so sure there are no gods?

A: Firstly, religion and history are fascinating subjects for academic research to anyone with an enquiring mind. Secondly, even though there is no divine basis to religion, one true reality of religion is its influence upon the world in which we live. We have a vested interest in knowing as much about it as we can. And it often surprises us that so very few of those professing a faith have actually read and study the literature upon which it’s based and know anything about their particular religion’s history and structure. But please don’t think that most atheists are avid students of religion; the vast majority are merely apathetic toward it (apatheists?) and dismiss the entire subject as having no relevance to their lives. Those you will meet here are the exception rather than the rule.

Q: What about Pascal's Wager?

A: The French philosopher Blaise Pascal is popularly quoted by Christian theists when they argue against atheism. In a nutshell, Pascal said: Believe in God and you stand to gain everything. If you’re wrong in that belief, you lose nothing. Heads you win, tails you don’t lose.

There are two problems with this gambit. Firstly, you cannot with honesty choose to believe. You either do or you don’t. Secondly, which god is Pascal talking about? Who’s to say the theist (insert a religion here) has chosen to believe in the real one?

Think on this: If you are a monotheist (say a Jew, a Christian, a Moslem), you believe in one god. You disbelieve in the hundreds and thousands of other gods worshipped in the world today and in the past. The atheist merely believes in one god less.

Another philosopher, Epicurus, writing 300 years before the alleged birth of the Christian's Jesus Christ, composed what is known as the ‘Epicurean Paradox’. It is more likely to be quoted by atheists than the flawed Pascal’s Wager:

Is God all-powerful but unable to stop evil?
Then God is not omnipotent.
Is God all-powerful but not willing to stop evil?
Then God is malevolent.
Is God all-powerful and all-good?
Then whence enter evil?
Is God weak and unable to stop evil?
Then why call him God?

I hope you’ve found this simple Q&A helpful and that you’ll join us here to exchange thoughtful and friendly debate on a subject of mutual and heartfelt interest.
Neil Marr

- Consider the following statements; The Christians, Muslims and Jews believe that there is one God. The Hindus, Shinto’s and pagans believe that there are many gods. Some religions believe that we are all God. The bible says that we are all descended from Adam and Eve. Every other religion has a creation myth that is just as silly as Adam‘s rib, including the story where the Japanese islands were formed from the brine dripping off of a god’s spear. If one of the above viewpoints is true then the others are false. These various beliefs are not compatible. Even if the Christian says to the pagan, “I accept that God may have come to other people in other forms and therefore you are worshiping my God in a different form.” he is really just patronizing him. If one god presents himself in multiple forms, why bother with religion at all? If one ritual is interchangeable with another then why not make up your own? If the pagan says to the Christian, “I accept that the divine has many aspects and therefore you are worshiping my goddess in a different form” then why not just go to church? If every religion contains a seed of divinity then why not just stay at home and be content knowing that the divine exists? If all belief systems are valid then why not an arbitrary one you created by yourself? Consider that scientology is based on the off-hand thoughts of a science fiction writer.

It works like this, if someone tells you he just had a conversation with God, he’s a lunatic. If someone convinces a dozen people that he talks to God then he’s a cult leader. If someone convinces a million people that he talks to God then he’s a prophet. Religions are founded by lunatics who become cult leaders who become prophets. If someone attempts to answer the question of which religion is right by saying that his religion will eventually convert all others and essentially cover the world, we start getting into scary territory. If you believe that those who do not worship as you do are wrong, how can you be sure that you have really chosen the correct religion?

Do you pick your religion solely by what others have told you and then insist that you have exclusive access of divine truth? If a Hindu knows in his heart that his beliefs are true, and a Christian feels the same, how do you judge which experience is more valid? If one religious viewpoint is right and all others are wrong, then how do you distinguish between them? Heaven, Reincarnation and Nirvana are very different concepts. If Heaven is real then the other two concepts are mere bunk. How could anyone in good conscience watch as hundreds of millions of people devote their lives, energy and finances to a religion that is wholly false? On the other hand, what kind of arrogance motivates someone to travel to another country to “save” the ignorant and superstitious of the world? What justification can you have for telling someone that your superstition is superior to his or her own?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Discrimination: Public Prayers

Supreme Court Brief Filed on Behalf of Hindu Americans
The article follows my comments;

The majority of any group of people are inclusive or non-chalant; they go on living their lives with a cavalier attitude towards what others do or not do. They have no problems with how others worship or not worship the divine.
However, there is that 1/10th of 1% in each category of people who claim to be the guardians of the group, they assume that role without approval or support from the majority. It is time for majority to stand up and not let any one act in their behalf and work on creating inclusive societies through education and participation.

Thank God, the founding fathers had the vision to base our constitution on justice, equity and fairness. No one should be excluded because of their faith and belief in the public square or no one should have that privilege on an exclusive basis.

In behalf of the Foundation for Pluralism and World Muslim Congress, I support the case filed by the Hindu American Foundation and hope the Supreme Court decides in favor of opening the hearts and minds of all people to include every faith and tradition in public square.

Prayers are simply an acknowledgment of the creator (we don't have to call it God) of this life that we are a part of, it is appreciation of that myesterious being that manages the universe, gravity, the cosmos and every thing that we can imagine, feel and see.

We have been doing prayers to include every faith in the public square, here is an example; http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/Articles/PLuralism-Prayers-CityofCarrollton-030408.asp

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker, Writer and a Moderator. He is president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing Pluralism, politics, Islam, Religion and civic issues. He is the founding president of World Muslim Congress with a simple theme: Good for Muslims and good for the world. His comments, news analysis, opinions and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website http://www.mikeghouse.net/. Mike is a Dallasite for nearly three decades and Carrollton is his home town. He can be reached at MikeGhouse@aol.com
# # #

New York
Supreme Court Brief Filed
on Behalf of Hindu Americans in Public Prayer Case

Less than a year after becoming the first Hindu American group to file an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief with the United States Supreme Court, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) continued its legal campaign with another brief in support of a petition for writ of certiorari. The case, Simpson v. Chesterfield County, involves legislative prayer. While the HAF’s first brief opposing a Ten Commandments display on public grounds in Texas was already scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court, a writ of certiorari is a request to the Court to review a case. The latest HAF brief was supported by numerous Hindu organizations and co-signed by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Association of American Indian Affairs as well as the Interfaith Alliance.

“References to Hinduism and Hindu Americans, written on behalf of practicing Hindus, finally appeared in the annals of Supreme Court jurisprudence with our brief last year,” said Suhag Shukla, Esq., legal counsel for HAF. “We believe the issues raised in this second brief are of even greater importance to not only Hindu Americans, but all Americans.”

The Board of Supervisors of Chesterfield County, Virginia has been opening its meetings with invocations given by local clergy who volunteer for the task. This practice began after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1980’s that legislative bodies could begin their sessions with non-sectarian prayer without violating the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. Cynthia Simpson, a member of the Wiccan faith who wanted to lead prayer, was told that she could not pray at the meetings because she did not practice a religion "within the Judeo-Christian tradition." The Wiccan faith is based on a belief in unity with the earth and the idea that God is not separate from human.

Ms. Simpson filed suit and the lower court ruled in her favor ordering the County to change the policy to "include all faiths or to stop using the policy altogether." The county appealed and a very conservative panel of judges from the Fourth Circuit Court reversed the lower court holding that such discrimination was permissible under current laws.

“This is perhaps the most blatant affirmation of religious discrimination by any court to date,” stated Nikhil Joshi, Esq., member of the HAF Board of Directors. “If allowed to stand, the Fourth Circuit’s decision will allow Chesterfield County to continue to selectively dole out certain governmental privileges to members of majority religions over others.”

The HAF was represented by the Washington, D.C. law firm of Mayer, Brown, Rowe and Maw, LLP. A team of attorneys working with HAF argued in the brief that the Circuit Court’s ruling contradicts the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution by allowing the government to discriminate among religions. Further, the decision also opens the door to unnecessary entanglement of government and religion by allowing government officials to make theological conclusions about different traditions.

“Governments are extraordinarily poorly suited to be arbiters of theology, and when they arrogate that role, nothing good can come of it,” the HAF brief argues. “Not only are they certain to err, but they cannot help driving wedges between religions and between denominations of the same religion.”

The Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case sometime this fall. Numerous civil rights law experts and advocacy groups are predicting Simpson v. Chesterfield County will definitely be accepted by the Supreme Court and placed on next year’s docket.


The full amicus curiae (friend of the court brief) may be viewed at http://www.hinduamericanfoundation.org/Simpson.pdf .

For further information, please contact Suhag Shukla, Esq., at suhag.shukla@hinduamericanfoundation.org or call 904-424-9886.

HAF is a non-profit, non-partisan organization promoting the Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Imagine no religion


There is a bill board in Denver Colorado that is gaining a lot of attention these days which says “Imagine no religion”. Let’s think about it.

A majority of the people do not wear a neon sign on their sleeves or forehead announcing their faith. Whether you are at work, grocery store, commuting in the bus or in the public square, it is certainly difficult to identify one’s faith in the United States.

There are exceptions where you can easily identify a few; like the Jewish men wearing the yarmulke or the black suit with a big black hat and long beards, a few Muslim men wear a similar beard or a cap, the Hare Krishna’s are easy to spot, the Sikhs are instantly recognized for their turban and the beard. If you watch the history channel you may find it interesting that the ancient Jewish Rabbis wore exactly same head dress as Osama Bin Laden does and the Zoroastrian priests wear the very same turban as some Muslim priests do, even today.

Among women, Muslim and Hindu women stand out with their Burqas and bindis, both are cultural rather than religious. However, many Muslim women also wear the bindi messing one up who is gauging people’s faith. On the way to their place of worship; Some Christian women, Sikh women and Muslim women wear scarf like head covering, they can pass for any faith. If you are a new Desi to town, and if you come to my house or office, you will spend a lot of time trying to figure out my religion.

Although it appears that religion is ubiquitous, in reality it is not. Only a small percentage of people are recognized because of their culture. If every one wore like the main stream community, every one had the same accent, and same skin color, then it would be impossible to identify one’s faith.

Paradoxically, I cannot imagine the world without religion; it has become a part of our psyche and is embedded into our society; one religion or the other. Of course, there are many who do not believe in ritual aspect of religion, but silently subscribe to the essence of it.

To most people, the proselytizing aspect of religion is repulsive as it goes against the instinct of freedom that monitors our actions and reaction, but they silently go along with it as their focus is live and let live and not getting bogged down with circular logic.

To be religious is to be a peacemaker, one who constantly seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence. Each being feels at home and comfortable when lived in peace and harmony with the creation; life and mater. Indeed, that is the purpose of religion, all religions.

In affairs of the world, religion appears to be a source of the problem; it certainly is not. You can always trace the wars, genocides, oppression and other atrocities to evil insecure stupid men. Please remember, the purpose of religion was to fix the evils of humankind and it continues to do so while some men still don’t get it.

Thank God, the world is a better place today because of the Religion and spirituality, without which there would be chaos. Every Religion is on the same side, that of goodness for humankind. Finding the truth is one’s own responsibility. Truth brings relief, salvation, Mukti, Moksha, Nijaat or Nirvana.

If beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, then faith is in the heart of the believer. Let every one find peace his/her own way – Mike Ghouse

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker, Writer and a Moderator. He is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing Pluralism, politics, Islam, Religion, Terrorism, India and civic issues. He is the founder of the World Muslim Congress, a group committed to building bridges and nurturing a world of co-existence. He also heads the foundation for pluralism, an organization committed to studying religious pluralism and pluralistic governance. His personal website is http://www.mikeghouse.net/ and his writings are on the above websites as well as several of the ancillary Blogs listed on the sites.

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Imagine no Religion
Stephen Merino

The Freedom From Religion Foundation currently has this billboard up in Denver, CO, just blocks from the State Capital:Yet, I must say that while I'm sympathetic to the aims of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which have to do mostly with working for separation of church and state, I'm not a fan of this billboard. I have a few problems with it. First, this is not how I interpret the first amendment and our cherished separation of church and state. Maybe "Imagine a religion-free government," or "Imagine a government that does not favor religion over irreligion." But I suppose those wouldn't make very good billboards.

A statement on their website has a couple quotes from supporters in Denver. An attorney working with FFRF says "We want the public to reflect on the billboard's message and imagine a world without the rancor and divisiveness of 2,000 different religions." A local member says "Imagine if the government would be neutral and let individuals reach their own conclusions about religion. Perhaps then, in the words of John Lennon, the world could ‘live as one.’ ”I've blogged before about the problem with blaming religion for all our social ills and historical tragedies.

In a nutshell, I said that it's really hard to disentangle religious influences from other influences since 1) until recently religion was closely bound up with other institutions and 2) religious institutions and religious individuals by necessity have to act in non-religious ways and make non-religious decisions. So, while fully acknowledging the special dangers that are inherent to religion (due to its ability to shape strong, sometimes inflexible worldviews and endow them with divine legitimacy, even when it goes against reason and rational thought), I'm not ready to jump on the blame-religion bandwagon.
My other problem with the billboard is this - how different is it from a billboard that might read "Imagine a world with no atheists!" What's the value in putting up billboards that essentially ask us to imagine what the world would be like if it were missing entire groups of people!? Yeah, that's peace and love for ya.Finally, I'm not a fan of the billboard because that's just not the kind of world I imagine. I'm a strong believer in religious freedom and religious pluralism. And to me this includes freedom from religion, too, for those who choose it. But I think there's something about us that longs for the kind of contemplation, meaning, community, and moral work that religion offers.

Also, I'm more a fan of the ACLU's approach. From their website:
The right to practice religion, or no religion at all, is among the most fundamental of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The ACLU works to ensure that this essential freedom is protected by keeping the government out of religion.

All of this begs the question: Is Unitarian Universalism completely invisible to people that have issues with religion? How could it not be an inviting option for some of these folks? In my last post, I hit on some of these issues, and explained why for a variety of reasons, a lot of people see it as no religion at all (which you'd think it would make it appealing to some of these folks). At any rate, this all illustrates how important it is for UUs and other like-minded individuals to imagine and even work for a world with religion, but that is more inclusive, more just, and more loving.

A side note: I'm assuming that the billboard text is a reference to the famous Lennon song "Imagine," which does mention imagining the prospect of a world with no heaven, hell, or religion. I like the song, and personally interpret it not so much literally, but as a call to challenge those parts of our society that divide and create inequality.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Islam in America's Schools

This article is a fodder to the Neocons extremists who are eager to pounce on a man if some one says that reciting “Allah Akbar” (God is great). As long as there are people out there who consume this, the Stillwell’s will keep writing.

In the interfaith work I have been involved, every now and then we find rare individuals from different faiths get anxious to proselytize others, the same percentage of Muslims seize the opportunity. Every month some one knocks on my door and wants me to surrender to their version of worshipping the God or be ready to hear that I will go to hell. The Stillwell’s’ need to remain above the fray and express the qualified exceptions. Every thing she has attempted to write about Muslims is also done by the others.

The article is propaganda of the extremists Neocons. Neocons believe that their version of America is a political and religious system that must dominate all others, and are using the Bush administration using the military and ideological warfare. They believe that our democracies can be subverted easily and get the administration to act in their behalf and wage wars and become the terminators of those who disagree with them. We the Americans have to guard ourselves from these Neocons. Martin Noemeller’s poem is apt here; first they came for Muslims, we did not do any thing about it, because we are not Muslims, then….

I urge the silent majority of Americans not to be silent any more and speak out against the wrong portrayals such as this article and instead write the facts with the intent of inspiring people to fix the problem and not inject the venom of malice in one American against the other.

On the other hand, I urge Muslims not to jump at every opportunity to proselytize. There is no need for Muslim or Christians to spend their time in converting others, let every one believe what they believe, every belief is divine to the believer as yours is to you. Instead they need to focus on doing good to others without any reward. The noblest among humans are those who care for others and not schemers who are bent on converting others.

Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), need to add to her plan –No hate sermons ought to be preached from any school and any pulpit. http://worldmuslimcongress.blogspot.com/2008/01/hate-sermons-from-pulpit.html It is our duty to keep law and order and faithfully guard the safety of every citizen. Hate is one of the many sources of disrupting the peace in a society and it is our duty to track down the source of such hate and work on mitigating it. We have an obligation to maintain a balance in the society. We lose that balance and that elusive equilibrium if we let hate mongers, hate sermons and hate lectures creep in our societies.

Many of the statements made by Stillwell need to be substantiated, it appears they are designed to create hype and malice towards fellow citizens, a few examples:

•“They are also bringing in outside speakers with Islamist ties or sympathies.” It sounds like mere assemblage of words without any back up.

•“The presentation involved two representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an organization with a record of Islamist statements and terrorism convictions.” It is as true as going around the world and propagating that Bush is impeached, because there is a bill introduced by Dennis Kucinich.

•“Subsequently, ALI was removed from the Seminole County School system's Dividends and Speaker's Bureau.” This is a good item and indeed the school should deny every group from preaching about their version of religion, but orientation about each faith is a must, let the child grow up knowing about every faith in a positive way, so we can create better societies of co-existence. There is a need to create text book about religions that do not portray one in better light than the other.

•“The fact that female subjugation was presented as a benign cultural practice and Islamic religious rituals were promoted with public funds is cause for concern.” Need more inquiry; I am surprised that the presenters presented female subjugation as being Islamic. As a Muslim it is offensive to me, not just the Christians, Jews or people of other faiths or no faith.

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker, Writer and a Moderator. He is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing Pluralism, politics, Islam, Religion, Terrorism, India and civic issues. He is the founder of the World Muslim Congress, a group committed to building bridges and nurturing a world of co-existence. He also heads the foundation for pluralism, an organization committed to studying religious pluralism and pluralistic governance. His personal website is http://www.mikeghouse.net/ and his writings are on the above websites as well as several of the ancillary Blogs listed on the sites.
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Islam in America's public schools: Education or indoctrination?
Cinnamon Stillwell

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

With fatal terrorist attacks on the decline worldwide and al Qaeda apparently in disarray, it would seem a time for optimism in the global war on terrorism. But the war has simply shifted to a different arena. Islamists, or those who believe that Islam is a political and religious system that must dominate all others, are focusing less on the military and more on the ideological. It turns out that Western liberal democracies can be subverted without firing a shot.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the educational realm. Islamists have taken what's come to be known as the "soft jihad" into America's classrooms and children in K-12 are the first casualties. Whether it is textbooks, curriculum, classroom exercises, film screenings, speakers or teacher training, public education in America is under assault.

Capitalizing on the post-9/11 demand for Arabic instruction, some public, charter and voucher-funded private schools are inappropriately using taxpayer dollars to implement a religious curriculum. They are also bringing in outside speakers with Islamist ties or sympathies. As a result, not only are children receiving a biased education, but possible violations of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause abound. Consider the following cases:

Last month, students at Friendswood Junior High in Houston were required to attend an "Islamic Awareness" presentation during class time allotted for physical education. The presentation involved two representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an organization with a record of Islamist statements and terrorism convictions. According to students, they were taught that "there is one God, his name is Allah" and that "Adam, Noah and Jesus are prophets." Students were also taught about the Five Pillars of Islam and how to pray five times a day and wear Islamic religious garb. Parents were not notified about the presentation and it wasn't until a number of complaints arose that school officials responded with an apologetic e-mail.

Earlier this year at Lake Brantley High School in Seminole County, Fla., speakers from the Academy for Learning Islam gave a presentation to students about "cultural diversity" that extended to a detailed discussion of the Quran and Islam. The school neither screened the ALI speakers nor notified parents. After a number of complaints, local media coverage and a subsequent investigation, the school district apologized for the inappropriate presentation, admitting that it violated the law. Subsequently, ALI was removed from the Seminole County school system's Dividends and Speaker's Bureau.

As reported by the Cabinet Press, a school project last year at Amherst Middle School transformed "the quaint colonial town of Amherst, N.H., into a Saudi Arabian Bedouin tent community." Male and female students were segregated, with the girls hosting "hijab and veil stations" and handing out the oppressive head-to-toe black garment known as the abaya to female guests. Meanwhile, the boys hosted food and Arabic dancing stations because, as explained in the article, "the traditions of Saudi Arabia at this time prevent women from participating in these public roles." An "Islamic religion station" offered up a prayer rug, verses from the Quran, prayer items and a compass pointed towards Mecca. The fact that female subjugation was presented as a benign cultural practice and Islamic religious rituals were promoted with public funds is cause for concern.

Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, a charter school in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., came under recent scrutiny after Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten brought to light concerns about public funding for its overtly religious curriculum. The school is housed in the Muslim American Society's (the American branch of the Egyptian Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood) Minnesota building, alongside a mosque, and the daily routine includes prayer, ritual washing, halal food preparation and an after-school "Islamic studies" program. Kersten's columns prompted the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to issue a press release expressing its own reservations about potential First Amendment violations. An investigation initiated by the Minnesota Department of Education verified several of Kersten's allegations and the school has since promised to make the appropriate changes. In a bizarre twist, when a local television news crew tried to report on the findings from school grounds, school officials confronted them and wrestled a camera away from one of its photographers, injuring him in the process.

The controversy surrounding the founding of New York City's Arabic language public school, Khalil Gibran International Academy, last year continues. Former principal Dhabah "Debbie" Almontaser was asked to step down after publicly defending T-shirts produced by Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, an organization with whom she shared office space, emblazoned with "Intifada NYC." But KGIA has other troublesome associations. Its advisory board includes three imams, one of whom, New York University Imam Khalid Latif, sent a threatening letter to the university's president regarding a planned display of the Danish cartoons. Another, Shamsi Ali, runs the Jamaica Muslim Center Quranic Memorization School in Queens, a replica of the type of Pakistani madrassa (or school) counter-terrorism officials have been warning about since 9/11. Accordingly, several parents founded Stop the Madrassa: A Community Coalition to voice their contention that KGIA is an inappropriate candidate for taxpayer funding.

Equally problematic are the textbooks used in American public schools to teach Islam or Islamic history. Organizations such as Southern California's Council on Islamic Education and Arabic World and Islamic Resources are tasked with screening and editing these textbooks for public school districts, but questions have been raised about the groups' scholarship and ideological agenda. The American Textbook Council, an organization that reviews history and social studies textbooks used in American schools, and its director, Gilbert T. Sewall, have produced a series of articles and reports on Islam textbooks and the findings are damning. They include textbooks that are factually inaccurate, misrepresent and in some cases, glorify Islam, or are hostile to other religions. While teaching students about Islam within a religious studies context may be appropriate, the purpose becomes suspect when the texts involved are compromised in this manner.

Such are the complaints about "History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond," a textbook published by the Teachers' Curriculum Institute, to the point where parents in the Scottsdale, Ariz., school district succeeded in having it removed from the curriculum in 2005. TCI is based in Mountain View, and the textbook is now being used in the state's public schools, where similar concerns have arisen. A Marin County mother whose son has been assigned "History Alive!" has been trying to mount an effort to call school officials' attention to the problem. Similarly, a San Luis Obispo mother filed an official complaint several years ago with her son's school authorities over the use of Houghton Mifflin's middle school text, "Across the Centuries," which has been widely criticized for whitewashing Islamic history and glorifying Islam. Its recent approval for use in Montgomery County, Md., public schools is likely to lead to further objections.

But the forces in opposition are powerful and plenty. They include public education bureaucrats and teachers mired in naivete and political correctness, biased textbook publishers, politicized professors and other experts tasked with helping states approve textbooks, and at the top of the heap, billions of dollars in Saudi funding. These funds are pouring into the coffers of various organs that design K-12 curricula. The resultant material, not coincidentally, turns out to be inaccurate, biased and, considering the Wahhabist strain of Islam promulgated by Saudi Arabia, dangerous. And again, taxpayer dollars are involved. National Review Online contributing editor Stanley Kurtz explains :

"The United States government gives money — and a federal seal of approval — to a university Middle East Studies center. That center offers a government-approved K-12 Middle East studies curriculum to America's teachers. But in fact, that curriculum has been bought and paid for by the Saudis, who may even have trained the personnel who operate the university's outreach program. Meanwhile, the American government is asleep at the wheel — paying scant attention to how its federally mandated public outreach programs actually work. So without ever realizing it, America's taxpayers end up subsidizing — and providing official federal approval for — K-12 educational materials on the Middle East that have been created under Saudi auspices. Game, set, match: Saudis."

Along with funding textbooks and curricula, the Saudis are also involved in funding and designing training for public school teachers. The Saudi funded Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University now offers professional development workshops for K-12 teachers. The workshops take place at the hosting institution and provide teachers with classroom material. They are free of charge and ACMCU throws in lunch to boot.

But this generosity likely comes with a catch, for the center is known for producing scholars and material with a decidedly apologist bent, both toward the Saudi Royal Family and Islamic radicalism. It's no accident that ACMCU education consultant Susan Douglass, according to her bio, has been "an affiliated scholar" with the Council on Islamic Education "for over a decade." Douglass also taught social studies at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Fairfax, Va., where her husband still teaches. ISA has come under investigation for Saudi-provided textbooks and curriculum that some have alleged promotes hatred and intolerance towards non-Muslims. That someone with Douglass' problematic associations would be in charge of training public school teachers hardly inspires confidence in the system.

While groups such as People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the ACLU express outrage at any semblance of Christianity in America's public schools, very little clamor has met the emergence of Islam in the same arena. An occasional press release, such as the one put out by the Minnesota chapter of the ACLU regarding TIZA, will surface, but by and large, the arbiters of separation of church and state or in this case, mosque and state, have gone silent. The same can largely be said for the federal government and, in particular, the State Department. No doubt, Saudi dollars and influence are part of the problem.

Probably the single greatest weapon in the arsenal of those trying to fight the misuse of America's public schools is community involvement. As noted previously, a number of parental coalitions have sprung up across the country in an effort to protect their own children from indoctrination. The Stop the Madrassa Coalition has expanded its efforts beyond New York City by working on policy ideas for legislation and meeting privately with members of Congress. Also providing hope are Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), whose 10-point "Wake Up America" agenda includes a call to reform Saudi-provided textbooks, and the bipartisan Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus she co-chairs. Its focus on "jihadist ideology" demonstrates an all-too-rare governmental understanding of the nature of the current conflict.

The power to educate the next generation is an inestimable one and a free society cedes control at its peril. The days of the "silent majority" are no longer tenable in the face of a determined and clever enemy. The battle of ideas must be joined.

Cinnamon Stillwell is a San Francisco writer. She can be reached at cinnamonstillwell@yahoo.com. She also writes for the blog at campus-watch.org.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Spain, Muslims and Pluralism

This another "Foundation for Pluralism" (Fundación Pluralismo y Convivencia) in Spain, there is another one in Romania. This one has the same goals. - Mike Ghouse

Spain’s Relations with the Muslim Communities
By Jose María Ferré de la Peña*

Spain had a very keen interest in nothing nasty happening after the 11-M. It was the biggest terrorist attack Spain had ever suffered and anti-Muslim reactions could have developed. The Spanish society was shocked. It was for the judges to decide. The judges have already pronounced sentence on the the terrorist attack. The intention was never to run after anyone because of his/her faith or culture.

At the same time, a large Muslim community had consolidated in Spain (specially in Madrid, Andalusia, Catalonia and Ceuta and Melilla). This new phenomenon was linked to a big increase in population due to immigration. The Spanish Muslim community has about one million members, 2/3 of them from Moroccan origin. Some of them also come from Asia (specially Pakistan) and the Middle East. Many are still foreigners, but Spanish nationality can be obtained after ten years of legal residence in Spain. All strands are represented (Tabligh, Muslim Brotherhood, converts, foreign influences, sufi…). Relation with country of origin: first generation looks to country of origin; second generation looks to nationals and feels discriminated.

European Muslim diaspora. Our Muslim community is beginning to have an associative framework, but the initiatives are still not important. We think that in the near future Spanish Muslims will give a good and useful contribution to our society and they will be involved in every social activity. We look at what takes place in Europe because we know we can learn from it. We do not have a debate about multiculturalism or citizenship. We work so that everyone has the same rights and duties.

Government policies:

-Alliance of Civilizations. National Plan

-“Fundación Pluralismo y Convivencia” (Foundation Pluralism and Co-existece): It is a public Foundation. Education, culture, staff, register of associations.

-“Casa Árabe-IEAM”: This new institution has begun in 2006 to work hard and is becoming well known abroad. It is funded and directed by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (MAEC), the regional governments of Madrid and Andalusia and the municipalities of Madrid and Córdoba. It has a Diplomatic Council and an Advisory Council. Arab culture, society, persons, life or history are not very well known in Spain. Casa Árabe will help to improve this situation through its activities, with presentations, library, films, Arabic lessons, conferences and involvement in social life. There are different Casas and other institutions that work to implement our National Plan of the AoC. Casa Arabe is also involved in public diplomacy and in investigation (through the IEAM, which means International Institute of Arab and Muslim World Studies).

- Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (MAEC): Muslim questions are taken into account in the work of the Ministry; creation of the position of Ambassador at Large for Relations with Muslim Communities and Organizations Abroad (as has been done in other Western countries); information; relations with EU and Western network; relations with Muslim groups, networks and personalities; Diplomatic School; backing of the role of faiths in international relations; conferences and meetings; setting a national position; we consider violence has nothing to do with Islam.

- Cordoba Conference about Intolerance and Discrimination of Muslims (organised in October 2007 by the Spanish presidency of the OSCE). The first one to be organised in this framework, it wants to be a reference in the fight against islamophobia. The Cordoba Declaration is attached. Cordoba is very symbolic in the Muslim world as see of a Caliphate and because it had a very tolerant and cultivated society. Modern Cordoba is a place were Muslims feel at home.

- After Spain´s transition to democracy back in 1975 and our present Constitution of 1978, the Basic Law on Religious Freedom was adopted in 1980, after which UCIDE and FEERI were formed. UCIDE is the “Unión de Comunidades Islámicas de España” (Union of Islamic Communities of Spain) and FEERI is the “Federación de Entidades Religiosas Islámicas” (Federation of Islamic Religious Entities). In 1992 the Law 26/92 regulating relations between Islam and Spain was passed. The law that was passed at that time giving the Islamic Faith the right to public funding required a unique or sole interlocutor. It was then that the Spanish Islamic Commission (“Comisión Islámica de España” -CIE-), which comprises both UCIDE and FEERI, was created as an attempt to bring together the different Muslim organizations. Being the unified interlocutor is the main role of the CIE, but the important organizations at grass-root level are UCIDE and FEERI. Ther are other agreements on education, chaplaincy (hospitals, army, prisons), tax revenue, some difficulties (cemeteries, mosques), aid for integration. The Spanish authorities maintain a good relationship with the main Muslim federations. There is no control over the Friday sermons. In some cases, security people go to the mosques. There have not been any serious cases of people involved in sermons calling for extremism. There is nothing equivalent to UK’s MINAB.

- Provisions for training imams in Spain. There are some itinerant courses by UCIDE and FEERI. The “Consell Islàmic of Catalonia” (Catalan Muslim Council) is keen to collaborate with the University. “Fundación Pluralismo y Convivencia”, the public foundation I mentioned above, is in contact with the UNED (a public universtity for distance learning equivalent to the Open University) and will begin a training course in the near future. There are some courses at UNED on Islamic culture and another at the Diplomatic School aiming at civil servants dealing with the region.

- Constitutional values: Western values are wide enough to embrace Muslims in Europe. We are beginning to work in these questions with big Muslim communities. Relations are very smooth but we have to prepare the near future. We need much more mutual knowledge. We want to back a European Islam that plays a positive role in the world. Europe is neither “dar-al-islam”, the house of Islam, nor “dar-al-harb”, the house of war; it is “dar-al-sulh”, the house of social contract were Muslims can live in peace as citizens belonging to a religious minority. In Europe there are indigenous Muslims (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Bulgaria, etc), emigrant Muslims and native Muslims (children of emigrants or converts) who have Islam in common, but differ in their experience and expectations. Faiths provide means for peace and well being.

-For many generations Islam has been part of the West. Today about 20 million Muslims live in Europe. Many of them think their contribution is not appreciated enough and are considered suspiciously, some of them contribute to this wrong feeling. Citizenship has to prevail for the well being of all and the continuity of our way of life. A common civilization based on human rights, tolerance and the absolute value of peace is possible.

For additional general information on these issues, please visit the Website of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation: www.maec.es. For information on the Casa Arabe, go to: www.casaarabe-ieam.es. There is the option of switching the page into English by clicking on the upper left corner on “Casa Arabe (EN)”.

* Spanish Ambassador at Large for Relations with the Muslim Communities and Organizations abroad



Friday, June 6, 2008

Hindutva and radical Islam

Article follows my comments;
The fundamentalism is same whether it is in Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism or any faith for that matter. That 1% of the group cannot deal with the changes that a situation necessitates. Their sense of security comes from doing everything to preserve the status quo, they feel safe in the cocoon.
Neocons are people who choose to wear a religious label but act and talk contrary to the very belief they claim to espouse. They believe that theirs is the only way, and that other human beings do not deserve to have a space and must be wiped out from the face of the earth.They believe God is on their side and want to dominate, control, monopolize and influence the resources that God has created for the benefit of his creation. They want to have it all, and that simply breeds conflict. The Neocons are less than one percent of the group they claim to belong to but want to dominate by screaming, speaking out loud and having the media on their side.
Mike Ghouse
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Hindutva and radical Islam: Where the twain do meet

Arun ShouriePosted online: Friday, December 28, 2007 at 0000 hrs Print EmailEvery set of scriptures has in it enough to justify extreme, even violent reaction. The tectonic shift in the Hindu mind, that has been going on for 200 years, is being underestimated

Your Hindutva is no different from Islamic fundamentalism’ — a fashionable statement these days, one that immediately establishes the person’s secular credentials. It is, of course, false, as we shall see in a moment. But there is a grain of potential truth in it — something that does not put Hinduism at par with Islam, but one that should, instead, serve as a warning to all who keep pushing Hindus around. That grain is the fact that every tradition has in it, every set of scriptures has in it enough to justify extreme, even violent reaction. From the very same Gita from which Gandhiji derived non-violence and satyagraha, Lokmanya Tilak constructed the case for ferocious response, not excluding violence. From the very same Gita from which Gandhiji derived his ‘true law’, shatham pratyapi satyam, ‘Truth even to the wicked’, the Lokmanya derived his famous maxim, shatham prati shaathyam, ‘Wickedness to the wicked.’

In the great work, Gita Rahasya, that he wrote in the Mandalay prison, the Lokmanya invokes Sri Samartha, ‘Meet boldness with boldness; impertinence by impertinence must be met; villainy by villainy must be met.’ Large-heartedness towards those who are grasping? Forgiveness towards those who are cruel? ‘Even Prahlada, that highest of devotees of the Blessed Lord,’ the Lokmanya recalls, has said, ‘Therefore, my friend, wise men have everywhere mentioned exceptions to the principle of forgiveness.’ True, the ordinary rule is that one must not cause harm to others by doing such actions as, if done to oneself, would be harmful. But, the Mahabharata, Tilak says, ‘has made it clear that this rule should not be followed in a society, where there do not exist persons who follow the other religious principle, namely, others should not cause harm to us, which is the corollary from this first principle.’ The counsel of ‘equability’ of the Gita, he says, is bound up with two individuals; that is, it implies reciprocity. ‘Therefore, just as the principle of non-violence is not violated by killing an evil-doer, so also the principle of self-identification [of seeing the same, Eternal Self in all] or of non-enmity, which is observed by saints, is in no way affected by giving condign punishment to evil-doers.’ Does the Supreme Being not Himself declare that He takes incarnations from time to time to protect dharma and destroy evil-doers? Indeed, the one who hesitates to take the retaliatory action that is necessary assists the evil to do their work. ‘And the summary of the entire teaching of the Gita is that: even the most horrible warfare which may be carried on in these circumstances, with an equable frame of mind, is righteous and meritorious.’

Tilak invokes the advice of Bhisma, and then of Yudhisthira, ‘Religion and morality consist in behaving towards others in the same way as they behave towards us; one must behave deceitfully towards deceitful persons, and in a saintly way towards saintly persons.’ Of course, act in a saintly way in the first instance, the Lokmanya counsels. Try to dissuade the evil-doer through persuasion. ‘But if the evilness of the evil-doers is not circumvented by such saintly actions, or, if the counsel of peacefulness and propriety is not acceptable to such evil-doers, then according to the principle kantakenaiva kantakam (that is, “take out a thorn by a thorn”), it becomes necessary to take out by a needle, that is by an iron thorn, if not by an ordinary thorn, that thorn which will not come out with poultices, because under any circumstances, punishing evil-doers in the interests of general welfare, as was done by the Blessed Lord, is the first duty of saints from the point of view of Ethics.’ And the responsibility for the suffering that is caused thereby does not lie with the person who puts the evil out; it lies with the evil-doers. The Lord Himself says, Tilak recalls, ‘I give to them reward in the same manner and to the same extent that they worship Me.’ ‘In the same way,’ he says, ‘no one calls the Judge, who directs the execution of a criminal, the enemy of the criminal...’

Could the variance between two interpretations be greater than is the case between the Lokmanya’s Gita Rahasya and Gandhiji’s Anashakti Yoga? Yet both constructions are by great and devout Hindus. Are ordinary Hindus nailed to Gandhiji’s rendering? After all, at the end of the Gita, Arjuna does not go off to sit at one of our non-violent dharnas. He goes into blood-soaked battle.

The comforting mistake

The mistake is to assume that the sterner stance is something that has been fomented by this individual or that —in the case of Hindutva, by, say, Veer Savarkar — or by one organisation, say the RSS or the VHP. That is just a comforting mistake — the inference is that once that individual is calumnised, once that organisation is neutralised, ‘the problem’ will be over. Large numbers do not gravitate to this interpretation rather than that merely because an individual or an organisation has advanced it — after all, the interpretations that are available on the shelf far outnumber even the scriptures. They gravitate to the harsher rendering because events convince them that it alone will save them.

It is this tectonic shift in the Hindu mind, a shift that has been going on for 200 years, which is being underestimated. The thousand years of domination and savage oppression by rulers of other religions; domination and oppression which were exercised in the name of and for the glory of and for establishing the sway of those religions, evinced a variety of responses from the Hindus. Armed resistance for centuries... When at last such resistance became totally impossible, the revival of bhakti by the great poets... When public performance even of bhakti became perilous, sullen withdrawal, preserving the tradition by oneself, almost in secrecy: I remember being told in South Goa how families sustained their devotion by painting images of our gods and goddesses inside the tin trunks in which sheets and clothing were kept. The example of individuals: recall how the utter simplicity and manifest aura of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa negated the efforts of the missionaries, how his devotion to the image of the Goddess at Dakshineshwar restored respectability to the idolatry that the missionaries and others were traducing... The magnetism of Sri Aurobindo and Ramana Maharshi... Gandhiji’s incontestable greatness and the fact that it was so evidently rooted in his devotion to our religion...

Each of these stemmed much. But over the last 200 years the feeling has also swelled that, invaluable as these responses have been, they have not been enough. They did not prevent the country from being taken over. They did not shield the people from the cruelty of alien rulers. They did not prevent the conversion of millions. They did not prevent the tradition from being calumnised and being thrown on the defensive. They did not in the end save the country from being partitioned — from being partitioned in the name of religion...

There is a real vice here. The three great religions that originated in Palestine and Saudi Arabia — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — have been exclusivist — each has insisted that it alone is true — and aggressive. The Indic religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism — have been inclusive, they have been indulgent of the claims of others. But how may the latter sort survive when it is confronted by one that aims at power, acquires it, and then uses it to enlarge its dominion? How is the Indic sort to survive when the other uses the sword as well as other resources — organised missionaries, money, the state — to proselytise and to convert? Nor is this question facing just the Hindus in India today. It is facing the adherents of Indic traditions wherever they are: look at the Hindus in Indonesia and Malaysia; look at the Buddhists in Tibet, now in Thailand too. It is because of this vice, and the realisation born from what had already come to pass that Swami Vivekananda, for instance, while asking the Hindus to retain their Hindu soul, exhorted them to acquire an ‘Islamic body’.

Instigating factors

We can be certain that his counsel will prevail, our secularists notwithstanding,

• The more aggressively the other religions proselytise — look at the fervour with which today the Tablighi Jamaat goes about conversion; look at the organised way in which the missionaries ‘harvest’ our souls;

• The more they use money to increase the harvest — whether it is Saudi money or that of Rome and the American churches;

• The more any of them uses violence to enlarge its sway;

• The more any of them allies itself with and uses the state — whether that of Saudi Arabia or Pakistan — for aggrandisement.

Nor is what others do from outside the only determinant. From within India, three factors in particular will make the acquiring of that Islamic body all the more certain:

• The more biased ‘secularist’ discourse is;

• The more political parties use non-Hindus — Muslims, for instance — as vote banks and the more that non-Hindu group comes to act as one — ‘strategic voting’ and all;

• The more the state of India bends to these exclusivist, aggressive traditions.

It has almost become routine to slight Hindu sentiments — our smart-set do not even notice the slights they administer. Recall the jibe of decades: ‘the Hindu rate of growth’. When, because of those very socialist policies that their kind had swallowed and imposed on the country, our growth was held down to 3-4 per cent, it was dubbed — with much glee — as ‘the Hindu rate of growth’. Today, we are growing at 9 per cent. And, if you are to believe the nonsense in Sachar’s report, the minorities are not growing at all. So, who is responsible for this higher rate of growth? The Hindus! How come no one calls this higher rate of growth ‘the Hindu rate of growth’? Simple: dubbing the low rate as the Hindu one established you to be secular; not acknowledging the higher one as the Hindu rate establishes you to be secular!

Or M.F. Husain. He is a kindly man, and a prodigiously productive artist. There is no warrant at all for disrupting all his exhibitions. I am on the point of sensibilities. His depictions of Hindu goddesses have been in the news: he has painted them in less than skimpy attire. I particularly remember one in which Sita is riding Hanuman’s stiffened tail — of course, she is scarcely clad, but that is the least of it: you need no imagination at all to see what she is rubbing up against that stiffened tail. Well, in the case of an artist, that is just inspiration, say the secularists. OK. The question that arises then is: How come in the seventy-five years Husain has been painting, he has not once felt inspired, not once, to paint the face of the Prophet? It doesn’t have to be in the style in which he has painted the Hindu goddesses. Why not the most beautiful, the most radiant and luminous face that he can imagine? How come he has never felt inspired to paint women revered in Islam, or in his own family, in the same style as the one that propelled his inspiration in regard to Hindu goddesses?

‘In painting the goddesses, he was just honouring them,’ a secular intellectual remarked at a discussion the other day. ‘It was his way of honouring them.’ Fine. It is indeed the case that one of the best ways we can honour someone is to put the one skill we have at the service of the person or deity. But how come that Husain never but never thought of honouring the Prophet by using the same priceless skill, that one ‘talent which is death to hide’?

‘Has Mr Shourie ever visited Khajuraho?,’ a member of the audience asked, the implication being that, as Hindu sculptors had depicted personages naked, what was wrong with Husain depicting the goddesses in the same style. Fine again. But surely, it is no one’s case that the ‘Khajuraho style’ must be confined to Hindu icons. Why has the artist, so skilled in deploying the Khajuraho motifs, never used them for icons of Islam? The reason why an artist desists from depicting the Prophet’s face is none of these convoluted disquisitions on style.

The reason is simplicity itself: he knows he will be thrashed, and his hands smashed.

Exactly the same holds for politics. How come no one objects when for years a Muslim politician keeps publishing maps of constituencies in which Muslims as Muslims can determine the outcome, and exhorting them to do so? When, not just an individual politician but entire political parties — from the Congress to the Left parties — stir Muslims up as a vote bank. When Muslims start behaving like a vote bank, you can be certain that someone will get the idea that Hindus too should be welded into a vote bank, and eventually they will get welded into one. Why is stoking Muslims ‘secular’ and stoking Hindus ‘communal’?

And yet perverted discourse, even the stratagems of political parties, are but preparation: they prepare the ground for capitulation by the state to groups that are aggressive. And in this the real lunacy is about to be launched, and, with that, the real reaction.

Celebrating Volunteerism

Celebrating the spirit of Volunteerism

Sunday, June 29, 2008
4:00 PM to 6:00 PM
Dedicated to Najma Ghouse

The world is a better place today because of the spirit of volunteerism in each one of us. Every one is endowed with the gift of helping others and a majority of us apply that gift and receive boundless joy that comes with serving others.

My father used to say “You did not walk out of your mother’s womb by yourselves, nor can you bury yourselves, from the first breath of life to the last one and every moment in between, you are dependent on others and others on you. Making that dependency easy, un-remunerative and comforting is the beautiful way to live”.

Picking things up for some one who cannot, listening to a grieving friend, taking time to help a stranger and simply doing good to others makes our heart smile, and we can do this every day. Every thing we are enjoying today is due to the spirit of volunteerism in others. When we receive a benefit, we have to give back as well to keep a balanced and a happier life. It is as simple as that.

Come and celebrate the spirit of volunteerism in you. We are pleased to dedicate this evening to one such person; Najma Ghouse.

Program outline:
Sunday, June 29, 2008 – 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM**

- Meet and Greet
- Gratitude
- The spirit of volunteerism
- Multi-faith prayers
- Refreshments

** . If you send the email to: Confirmattendance@Gmail.com after next Tuesday, it will automatically give you the place information. More about Najma at http://www.mikeghouse.net/

Mike Ghouse

Thursday, June 5, 2008

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AUGUST 2009 (12)
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JULY 2009 (9)
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MAY 2009 (5)
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APRIL 2009 (3)
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Are Muslims a part of the American story?
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March 2009 (2)
Muslim Response to Lies about Qur'aan
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February 2009 (7)
Understanding Zionism
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November 2008 (12)
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October 2008 (5)
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September 2008 (7)
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August (8)
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JULY 2008

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Rabbi Rosen on Saudi Led interfaith conference
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Religion and Oneness of God
The Inclusive-Exclusive Factor
Blaming the religion is dumb.
Interfaith in Saudi Arabia
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For the sake of Biblical Prophecies
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JUNE 2008

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Americans Tolerant of Religions,
Theists Questions to Atheists
Discrimination: Public Prayers
Imagine no religion
Islam in America's Schools
Spain, Muslims and Pluralism
Hindutva and radical Islam
Celebrating Volunteerism
Sikhs - Golf digest apologizes
Saudi Arabia Interfaith dialogue

MAY 2008

Dialogue: Jews, Christians & Muslims
Saudi Arabia: Interfaith dialogue
Critiquing Islamism and Maududi
Israel at 60; a Land of Hope
God's Grace for Najma Ghouse

APIL 2008

Pluralism and Volunteerism
Jew & A Muslim on Poverty
Protection for reformist Muslims
The road not taken
Everywhich way Jesus
Freedom to be vulgur?
Moyers: Ridenhour Prize
Church and the State
Ten Commandments monument
The irony of intolerance
American Muslims & the Pope
Praying Passenger Removed
Carter Peace initiatives

MARCH 2008

Jewish Arabs and Arabia
Duttch Sue Fitna Wilders
Dutch Jews on Fitna film
Understanding Biblical Verses
Wilders, Fitna and Quraan
Homosexuality and Islam
Bedevilled World
Laser Barking at Terrorists
Pope Benedict
Democracy a natural state?
Gratz, a pluralistic school
Sri Lanka Pluralistic Gov
Lahore Celebrates 4 festivals
True Religious Dialogue *****
A National Model of Peace
Jefferson, Islam and State
The science of religion
Obama - Politics unusual
Is Happiness Preordained?
Dialogue König and Dupuis
A Church in Saudi Arabia
Obama - A perfect Union
The Atheist delusion
Muslim Jewish Relationship
Was Jesus a Buddhist?
Turkey: survival of fittest
Terrorism is anti-Islamic
Jewish Billionaire
Yes we can - Peace in Gaza
Gender Equality Now
A Christian Apology
Pluralism Prayers
Islam and competing in good
Obama, the shepherd
Religion for Sale


Religion and ethics of War
Executing the Terrorists
Obama the Pluralist
Pluralistic or Secular?
Faith, law and democracy
Apology from Senator McCain?
Path to peace in Mid-east
Undermining Civil Liberties
Gandhi and the Jews
Politics divides religions
Malaysia - Action now
Teaching Pluralism Act
Jewish take up Pope's work
Pluralism in Islam


Muslim response on Qur'aan
Reflections on Holocaust
Dr. Martin Luther King
Concept of oneness of God.
Am I a Hindu?


Happiness for Sale
Zoroastrians big in spirit
Religious conflict in India
Hope for Pakistan
Orissa : Religious conflict
Pluralism – faith, nation




Gujarat Massacre & Justice
Say no to intolerance
Jesus: Islam & Christianity
Ramadan Triangle
Understanding Islam Workshop
Mahatma Gandhi's Message
Stand with Burmese People
Ahmedinejad V Bollinger


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Festivals of September
Does God have a religion?
Karma & the Israel Lobby
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God's Warriors - You Tube
Fighting the fanatics
Appeal to Homeland Security
Muslims Stand with Darfur
Three Movies - 3 Religions
Indian Muslims Visiting Israel
Hindu Temple Executives
Muslims demand an apology
Pluralism & Muslim Congress
Condemn Temple desecration
Anti-Semitism Anti-Israelism

JULY 2007

Good for nothing majority
Sikhism: Everything to know
Unity Day USA - 911 Event
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Lal Masjid, Pakistan by Zehra
Intensity of Religious Identity
Muslims nothing to prove
Hitler, Neocons and Fundies
Understanding Judaism
Hindu Prayers open US Senate
Eboo Patel on Pluralism
The Theocons
Happy 4th from USA Today
Dallas: Holy Land Dialogue

JUNE 2007

Jewish Journal on Pluralism
Indian oversight, let's fix it.
The Evils of Holocaust Denial
Hate Sermons from the Pulpit
Being Hindu is much different
Religion and Public Policy
Bangladeshi Hindus Harassed

MAY 2007

Fears for Democracy in India
Workshop on Bahai Faith
Muslims advocate dialogue
Atheism du Jour
Accumulating Wounds
Balancing the Prophet
Violations towards Children
Dying for religion or Politics?


APRIL 2007

Workshop on Hinduism
Moderate Muslims
Extinguishig Hoaxes
Muslims and Democracy
Atheism isn't the final word
Yom HaShoah & Yom Milaad
Eboo Patel, Interfaith core
Symposium - One Islam?
Law of Cause & Effect
Understanding Religion
Moderates Stepping up

MARCH 2007

Americans Fail in religion
Faith :: The Lost Tomb



Hinduism and Islam
Understanding Jainism
Understanding Jainism
Hinduism 101
Prayers at City Hall
Tolerant Beleivers
Points of Agreement
Interrogating Radicalism
Extremists and radicals
Faith and Politics - Obama
Why God is Winning
Religious dialogue basics