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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Towards a kind and just society

Towards a kind and just society

The Creator wills for humanity to strive for a balance; social, spiritual, biological, physical, moral and environmental. When this elusive equilibrium is achieved, where no one is afraid of the other, oppression becomes a story, exploitation fades away, and goodwill becomes the norm of the society, then Religion has achieved its goal; indeed, God is all about peace and equilibrium

If we can learn to respect the othernes of other and accept the genetic uniqueness (the word genetic is a replacement of the phrase God given) of each one of the 6.5 billion of us, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge. I believe knowledge leads to understanding and understanding to an appreciation of a different point of view.

To be religious is to be a peace maker, one who mitigates conflicts and nurtures goodwill. That is all God wants, for his creation to live in harmony.

Mike Ghouse
# # #

This was published in a Thai newspaper.

Interfaith dialogue and understanding of the human spirit can serve as powerful tools to remedy social injustice

A woman was arrested on a charge of stealing baby powder milk from a supermarket. According to the law, she had to be sent to jail to serve for her petty crime.

Yet, justice has not been served, according to Fr Vichai Phoktavi, Jesuit priest and founder of Santiwana retreat centre in Bangkok. "Justice is not an issue of law. It is intrinsically a spiritual issue of human heart and living," said Vichai, who has been working with human rights issues for hill-tribe people in the north of Thailand.

"The key question we need to ask in this case, for instance, is why the woman has no milk to feed her baby whereas there is plenty of milk on the market shelves," he raised, "Is this fair and just?
"Touch the issue with your heart, you will find the answers. When we start doing something to really solve the problem, then it is the dawn of justice in society," he said in the recent seminar on "Religions and Restoring Social Justice", organised by the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB).

The seminar was a prologue to the upcoming event "Engaged Buddhist Festival of Peace and Social Transformation", to be held in Chiang Mai (see sidebar). The event is deemed to promote social engagement among religious practitioners and the public.

"Religious practices are not about individual salvation. The spirit of loving kindness, compassion and non-harm is emphasized in all religions. These principles guide us towards creating a peaceful, loving and just society in this world and beyond," said Tianchai Wongchaisuwan, columnist and globalisation critic under the pseudonym Yook Sri Ariya.

Buddhist's precepts, for instance, are guidelines towards non-harming and harmonious co existing.

"Social justice is the core virtue of religions. All of us yearn for justice. It is one of our basic needs," he pointed out.

But the spirits that cherish a loving and just society have been robbed. Our world today evolves around money, Tianchai commented. Consumerism and materialism have taken over religious and spiritual virtues.

He mentioned reports of the assets of multibillionaires that exceed the total GDP of 40 third world countries combined; or cases of health-care services and medicines that are in the hands of profit-making multinational corporatists; and global underground networks of human trafficking, drugs and arms.

"Social injustice and violence have become more severe and subtle than what mankind has experienced in the past," commented Tianchai. "For money, we sold our spirit and sacrificed our environment and peaceful livelihood," he said.

There have been polls that show many urban middle class youngsters and adults think orruption and cheating are acceptable if you are efficient and work smart. Some respondents even confessed that they might be part of this corrupted circle as "anyone is in".

"Human consciousness is weakened and impoverished; as a result, injustice proliferates on a wider and deeper scale," said Vichai.

The antidote to social injustice, therefore, is not law or force, but work on the human spirit. "Every problem in society stems from the root cause, which is the human spirit. If we don't heal this - human consciousness - how can we hope for justice and a better society? Religious practices should be brought back to and in our life. We need to bring justice back into human hearts. Only a just mind can bring justice to society."

For years, if not centuries, religions and spiritual traditions have been separated from the profane world, commented historian Tianchai. The role of religions is restricted to temples and certain rituals.

Histories of religions, such as Buddhism, are interpreted to be the story of extraordinary individuals, who were born specifically for a noble cause, commented Tianchai.

Yet, religions are never about individuals. Nor can they be detached from society. "When we study religions, we cannot separate our Great Teachers and Prophets from the historical contexts they were born into and lived in."

Prince Siddhartha, for instance, was born in a Brahmanism-dominated society. His teachings challenged the strict social caste system of his time, and helped the untouchables and women attain not only spiritual but also social liberation.

Also, in his time, there were instances when the Buddha called for kingdoms to cease wars. "Who says that religion should not be involved in politics?" he raised. "Politics must be guided by dharma. Politics without dharma is disastrous."

The histories of Islam and Christianity are concerned with social justice and collective salvation, added Sarawuth Sriwanyot, chairman of the Council of Muslim Organisations of Thailand.

"In times of social chaos, messiahs would be sent into the world to save people's souls and spirits. Their messages influenced people for the betterment of this world and the world beyond," said Sarawuth.

For Islam, the Prophet Mohammed brought a revolution to the fate of the nomadic Arabs. Throughout his life, Jesus Christ stood up for deprived and oppressed people, said Vichai. "God is the embodiment of justice. God saves human beings from corrupt society and suggests ways towards a society of love, justice and joy."

In the Bible, those with authority and power have to serve powerless people, especially the impoverished, such as orphans and widows. "Jesus Christ denounced corrupt authorities who abused their power for personal gain or for the benefit of their cronies. These people are condemned to hell," said Vichai.

Given the aggravating social ills and injustice, he added that we need to have more people with ethical courage. "For example, when we see injured people after a road accident, will we stop to help? Some may say 'no' as they fear being accused as the culprit.

"But will anyone insist on helping the injured even if he or she may risk being wrongly accused?" He added that Jesus Christ chose to stand for what was right and just to the end. He was turned down by his own disciples and died a lonely death.

"A person may die but the virtue he or she dies for will be passed on to the next generations. And this - unconditional courage, is how we can help restore social justice."

Despite social and environmental crises and spiritual degradation, we can still be hopeful, believes Sarawuth, chairman of the Council of Muslim Organisations in Thailand.

Good people still outnumber the not-so-good ones, he said; however, they need to be more actively engaged in society. "Promoting good deeds in society is not enough. We also need to stop malicious deeds, such as corruption, and murder from happening. Evil deeds, with the aid of money and power, proliferate at a high speed these days.

"The way to impede social ills, according to Islamic guidelines, can be done through actions, words and prayers. Yet it is not through violence," said Sarawuth.

Christ and Mohammed showed us the way to tackle violence and injustice, he pointed out. They showed us the virtue of forgiveness. "To his enemies who killed his relatives, Mohammad said 'Forgive them for they do not know,' and Christ said the same thing too."

Sarawuth said that if we learn more about the religions of our friends, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, for instance, we will see more similarities than differences. Tianchai added that nterfaith dialogue and understanding can serve as a powerful tool to remedy social injustice.

"If all religions join forces and people of all spiritual traditions join hands to tackle social ills and environmental crisis, we will have great power to tackle injustice in society. And this powerful source can save us from the critical point of social and environmental crisis that threatens the survival of humanity," said Tianchai.

Above all, Vichai said, social injustice starts from each and every one of us. "Live a just and fair life. Engage in spiritual and religious teachings and practices in our daily living."

Link to this article - http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2009/10/towards-kind-and-just-society.html

If you wish to write your comments - http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2009/10/towards-kind-and-just-society.html#comments

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hindu fanatics messing Hinduism

Fanatics of the faith misrepresent their faith more than anyone else. They talk peace while pointing the gun at you. An article appeared on the face book about Hinduism, I could not post my comments on it, and the comment box was removed and now the article is gone too.

It was one of the most beautiful expressions of Hinduism, as I have shared the wisdom of religion, every beautiful religion on my radio shows, workshops and write ups, I really liked it. Indeed, that is the essence of everyfaith. It was such a joy to read it with one major exception.

In the midst of such a beautiful article, a sentence in parenthesis spoiled the beauty of that piece. It was an upload of hate, that which brings impurity in one's Dharma; the righteous conduct. It's like drinking the sewer without realizing what it does to one’s body health. Hate is binding, it does not bring Mukti (salvation, liberation, Nirvana, Moksha) and it messes up one's life.

We need to dis-own religion, it is the passionate owning of religion that makes us a base animal fighting for its posession. Religion is there to give us freedom and not bind us, it allows us to be like Krishna who asked us to surrender to him, like Allah who wants us to submit to his will and like Jesus who wants us to follow him - when we do that, we find that the whole world to be one family, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, or all of us made into tribes and nations from the same source, one nation under God.

I found the following sentence loaded with ignorance, the item was removed before I could copy, however I copied the following statement to write my comments. Fanatics of the faith misrepresent their faith more than anyone else. They talk peace while pointing the gun at you.

The hateful statement is in parenthesis: (IMPORTANT COROLLARY: Since totalitarian dogmas like communism, islam, xianity do not conform to Hindu Dharma’s essence, they are adharmic creeds, undesirable for societal well being – not just in India, but any place where they operate).

It reaffirms the statement that individuals are bad, not the religion. You find bad dudes in every faith, but that does not make their faith a bad one. Bad Indians, bad Americans do not make our nations bad, it makes those individuals bad. We need to be pure in our hearts. 1/10th of 1% of any group of people are bad, no matter what religion they wear, you will find badness in that fraction in every major faith particularly Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

The Neocon* Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims continue to spew hate in the name of love, what a contradiction!

Don't blame the acts of Hitler on Christianity, of Osama on Islam. There is not a major religious group that does not have ugly men like these two (another sentence in that article).

Evil persists not necessarily because of evil statements above, but because we the good men and women remain silent about it. I am writing this note to let it be known, that Hindu religion should not be allowed to be tarnished with statements like the one quoted above. I will speak out against any evil notes ascribed to Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism or any faith and I hope you feel the same if not now, some day.

* Neocons, who are they? - http://hatesermons.blogspot.com/2008/03/neocons.html

Mike Ghouse
Foundation for Pluralism
World Muslim Congress

Sunday, October 18, 2009

In search of Jesus, a poem

The poem, In search of Jesus follows:

Mirza, I used to experiment with phrases on my radio shows, one of them comes to mind is "every place where justice is needed, a peace maker emerges". The sentence was deliberatly altered to not give away. Invariably the caller would say it is in Quraan, in Bhagvad Gita, in the Bible or the Bahais Book. That is the essence of goodness and am glad every one claimed it. Indeed, it is in all those scriptures.

All the scriptures from what I have known in the last 15 years of study, have the same bottom line; to bring peace and balance to an individual and balance with what surrounds one; life and matter.

Thanks for addressing the parodox in the following poem.

In search of Jesus
Mirza A. Beg
Oct 15, 2009

This poem, allegorically laments the misuse of the name and the message of Jesus. With a few changed words and syntax it would be valid for any religion.

The age of Information is entwined with the age of misinformation. Thoughtful understanding requires hard work; propaganda only needs bumper stickers. Religious zealots from all sides symbiotically feed on propagandized fear. The internal struggle is between the heart of each religion serving with humility and the strong arm seeking supremacy through misconstrued words.

The paradox is – in all religions; those who claim universality of their brand of religion behave as exclusivist tribal supremacist and those who introspectively value personal responsibility enhance universal amity.

Son of Mary

Celebrated is your name
Your Hellenized name

You are a messenger
A pristine idea to a few
A God to some
And the Son of God

You are a friend to some
A seer of wisdom
A promise of justice
And salvation

A hope for tomorrow
A redeemer to fallen
A beacon to lost souls
A promise of peace

Some shout your name
From lavish pulpits
Peddling salvation
From fire and damnation

They amass power
To usher your kingdom
At the point of the sword
Or atom tipped bombs

While others
Walk a lonely road
Quietly, humbly
Serving the needy

They love their neighbors
Humbly serve the meek
The sick, the injured
And the bombed

Mirza A. Beg can be contacted at, mab64@yahoo.com, or http://mirzasmusings.blogspot.com/

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Imams from Jordan and Pluralism

The Imams from Jordan and Pluralism

Carrollton, Texas – October 8, 2009-10-09 :- An exploratory meeting between the Imams of Jordan and the representatives of the Foundation for Pluralism took place in Carrollton. They were on a mission to understand how the interfaith works in the United States.

I am pleased to have been a part of the seminal initiative by the Saudis, one of their ministers had asked and I had arranged a meeting of 20 people at the Crescent court in 2004, reluctantly, as a first step, I had agreed to bring 5 Muslims, Jews and Christians each with a promise of including all other faiths later on. Thank God, the Saudis have taken intiatives and held an international interfaith meetings including many a faith traditions. The work goes on.

The most exciting thing to report is the concurrent emergence of Pluralism (Pluralism is an attitude of respecting the otherness of other - it is not a religion, ideology or a system) across the world. Due to lack of time on my part, I will write a few key points.

Interfaith is about faiths, whereas pluralism is about co-existence between, atheists, theists, monotheist and polytheists.

Invitation was sent to at least two individuals from every one of the 14 faiths I usually assemble.
About 15 people in all exchanged ideas including a Mormon, a Christian, a Universalist, myself and the Imams.

Genuine interfaith dialogue is about learning the uniqueness of each faith and seeing how we all can work in creating a society that respects and honors co-existence. Genuine interfaith dialogue is about respecting the other point of view and not have the eagerness to prove one has all the answers or superior. It is about humility and treating each one as an equal.

We have to accept the existence of fake ones too; whose sole agenda is ‘conversion’, to put it bluntly these meetings provide them customers or souls to harvest. The good ones set the standards at the front end - The Carrollton interfaith group is very clear about it – no proselytizing and on one will make an atttemp to prove that one is superior to the other.

I was thrilled to learn about some of the great things they are doing out there, the head Imam gets notes from all the Mosques about the sermons they deliver on Friday, and he was proudly reporting that their focus was on compassion and co-existence. He was telling the stories of Churches and Mosques lined up in Amman are treated as places of God. He also added that once a while an Imam feels the humiliation and anger and vents it out, he said it was the part of the freedom of speech and he shared that a few Rabbis on the other side of the border also spew out hate in their sermons. He made clear that it was never against Jews or Judaism but against the oppression as they see it.

When I mentioned about Prophet Muhammad being the initiator of interfaith dialogues which took place in his Mosque; the flood gates opened. Each one was eager and one of them was telling innumerable stories about the prophet Muhammad and how he respected others. In one story he said a few miscreants were passing by and one of them said death to the prophet by altering the greeting Salaam Alaikum, prophets’ wife Aisha had retorted back “same to you”, hearing that the Prophet told her, no we cannot do that, instead let’s pray that God give goodwill to all. Who knows prayers may change them.

In my blog Hate sermons, I have asked people of all faiths to speak out if some one is using the religious pulpit to spew hate towards others. The Wall Street Journal had falsely claimed around the beginning of 2009 that there are hate sermons delivered in the Mosques, I challenged them to prove it and they have not done it, and one Muslim doctor also had joined the Wall Street Journal, I demanded that he prove it too, instead he sent an email that it used to be the case several years ago.

Hate sermons are routinely delivered from the pulpits or cultural centers of many religions in the United States, and God bless so many individuals who speak out against them despite the pressure from some extremists to carry on the hate agenda. I know several Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Christian friends who have spoken up against hate sermons.

If all the religious and civic institutions on their own will, post the speeches and sermons on their websites, a self-monitoring system would evolve and hope the congregation will have common sense to question hate against any one, which is detrimental to safety and security of each one of the 6.5 billion of us.

Indeed, I will be writing an article about the stereotyping Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians, Zoroastrians and Sikhs, and the actual stories involving overcoming stereotyping.

Dinner buffet comprised of Chicken Biryani, Chicken Curry, Naan, Carrot desert and Salad.

Personal Notes:

I will write the finer points when I get a chance, I attended Karen Armstrong’s lecture on Tuesday and that was a heaven to listen to her wisdom. I’ve got to write about it. Then on Friday, I attended the release of Autobiography of Rev. Moon in Washington D.C and I have to write about it too. These two are my mentors along with Prophet Muhammad, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Gandhi, MLK and the new of course, President Obama who has just won the Nobel Peace Prize. God bless him and hope and pray that more and more people listen to his message of co-existence.

If you would like to be included in the list, please send an email to: Ghousejournal@gmail.com

Mike Ghouse

Obama wins Nobel Peace Award

I believe this is the most deserving award ever given. This man is going to change the way people think and work together. He is a catalyst for creating a world of co-existence, Congratulations!

Obama believes in justice and justice is the only thing that will last and brings sustainable security and hope to the Israelis and the Palestinians. What is good for one has got to be good for the other, for it to continue, if not, it is not justice.

Mike Ghouse

"The best way to congratulate President Obama is to show him that
his efforts matter. Let him know that you share the optimism of
the Nobel Prize Committee and the hope that he will go the full
nine yards for Mideast peace. Tell the President, Mazel Tov!

We look forward to the day when this prize is shared with
Israeli and Palestinian leadership against the backdrop of two
states living side-by-side in peace and security."

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom writes

We know Obama cares about global public opinion -- indeed, we may be his best conscience. So let’s send him a flood of congratulations and urge him to fulfil his promise through real action -- take action now at this link, then spread the word, and we’ll deliver a global flood of signatures direct to the White House:


This Nobel peace prize is a down-payment on work yet to be done. It is an act of faith, based on the fact that Obama is making the right noises and seems to know what he is doing; and on the fact that, compared to his predecessor, he already looks like a master-craftsman.
Julian Borger, Guardian

By KARL RITTER and MATT MOORE, Associated Press Writers Karl Ritter And Matt Moore, Associated Press Writers – 13 mins ago

OSLO – President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in a stunning decision designed to encourage his initiatives to reduce nuclear arms, ease tensions with the Muslim world and stress diplomacy and cooperation rather than unilateralism.

Many observers were shocked by the unexpected choice so early in the Obama presidency, which began less than two weeks before the Feb. 1 nomination deadline and has yet to yield concrete achievements in peacemaking.

Some around the world objected to the choice of Obama, who still oversees wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has launched deadly counter-terror strikes in Pakistan and Somalia.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee countered that it was trying "to promote what he stands for and the positive processes that have started now." It lauded the change in global mood wrought by Obama's calls for peace and cooperation, and praised his pledges to reduce the world stock of nuclear arms, ease American conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthen the U.S. role in combating climate change.

The peace prize was created partly to encourage ongoing peace efforts but Obama's efforts are at far earlier stages than past winners'. The Nobel committee acknowledged that they may not bear fruit at all.

"He got the prize because he has been able to change the international climate," Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said. "Some people say, and I understand it, isn't it premature? Too early? Well, I'd say then that it could be too late to respond three years from now. It is now that we have the opportunity to respond — all of us."

The selection to some extent reflects a trans-Atlantic divergence on Obama. In Europe and much of the world he is lionized for bringing the United States closer to mainstream global thinking on issues like climate change and multilateralism. At home, the picture is more complicated. As president, Obama is often criticized as he attempts to carry out his agenda — drawing fire over a host of issues from government spending to health care to the conduct of the war in Afghanistan.

U.S. Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele contended that Obama won the prize as a result of his "star power" rather than meaningful accomplishments.

"The real question Americans are asking is, What has President Obama actually accomplished?" Steele said.

Obama's election and foreign policy moves caused a dramatic improvement in the image of the U.S. around the world. A 25-nation poll of 27,000 people released in July by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found double-digit boosts to the percentage of people viewing the U.S. favorably in countries around the world. That indicator had plunged across the world under President George W. Bush.

"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," Jagland said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has made no secret of his admiration for Obama, called the decision the embodiment of the "return of America into the hearts of the people of the world."

But Obama's work is far from done, on numerous fronts.

He said he would end the Iraq war but has been slow to bring the troops home and the real end of the U.S. military presence there won't come until at least 2012.

He's running a second war in the Muslim world, in Afghanistan — and is seriously considering ramping up the number of U.S. troops on the ground and asking for help from others, too.

"I don't think Obama deserves this. I don't know who's making all these decisions. The prize should go to someone who has done something for peace and humanity," said Ahmad Shabir, 18-year-old student in Kabul. "Since he is the president, I don't see any change in U.S. strategy in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Obama has said that battling climate change is a priority. But the U.S. seems likely to head into crucial international negotiations set for Copenhagen in December with Obama-backed legislation still stalled in Congress.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa, who won the prize in 1983, questioned whether Obama deserved it now.

"So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act," Walesa said.

"This is probably an encouragement for him to act. Let's see if he perseveres. Let's give him time to act," Walesa said.

Last year's prize winner, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, saw the award as vindication that Obama "is ready to seriously seek a solution to the question of Israel and Palestine," he told Finnish broadcaster YLE.

"Of course, this puts pressure on Obama. The world expects that he will also achieve something," Ahtisaari said.

Unlike the other Nobel Prizes, which are awarded by Swedish institutions, the peace prize is given out by a five-member committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament. Like the Parliament, the committee has a leftist slant, with three members elected by left-of-center parties. Jagland said the decision to honor Obama was unanimous.

The award appeared to be at least partly a slap at Bush from a committee that harshly criticized Obama's predecessor for his largely unilateral military action in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The Nobel committee praised Obama's creation of "a new climate in international politics" and said he had returned multilateral diplomacy and institutions like the U.N. to the center of the world stage.

"You have to remember that the world has been in a pretty dangerous phase," Jagland said. "And anybody who can contribute to getting the world out of this situation deserves a Nobel Peace Prize."

Until seconds before the award, speculation had focused on a wide variety of candidates besides Obama: Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a Colombian senator, a Chinese dissident and an Afghan woman's rights activist, among others. The Nobel committee received a record 205 nominations for this year's prize, though it was not immediately apparent who nominated Obama.

"The exciting and important thing about this prize is that it's given to someone ... who has the power to contribute to peace," Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who won the prize in 1984, said Obama's award shows great things are expected from him in coming years.

"It's an award coming near the beginning of the first term of office of a relatively young president that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all," Tutu said. "It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama's message of hope."

Obama is the third sitting U.S. president to win the award: President Theodore Roosevelt won in 1906 and President Woodrow Wilson was awarded the prize in 1919.

Wilson received the prize for his role in founding the League of Nations, the hopeful but ultimately failed precursor to the contemporary United Nations.

The Nobel committee chairman said after awarding the 2002 prize to former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, for his mediation in international conflicts, that it should be seen as a "kick in the leg" to the Bush administration's hard line in the buildup to the Iraq war.

Five years later, the committee honored Bush's adversary in the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore, for his campaign to raise awareness about global warming.

In July talks in Moscow, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed that their negotiators would work out a new limit on delivery vehicles for nuclear warheads of between 500 and 1,100. They also agreed that warhead limits would be reduced from the current range of 1,700-2,200 to as low as 1,500. The United States now has about 2,200 such warheads, compared to about 2,800 for the Russians.

But there has been no word on whether either side has started to act on the reductions.

Former Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, said Obama has already provided outstanding leadership in the effort to prevent nuclear proliferation.

"In less than a year in office, he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself," ElBaradei said. "He has shown an unshakable commitment to diplomacy, mutual respect and dialogue as the best means of resolving conflicts."

Obama also has attempted to restart stalled talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, but just a day after Obama hosted the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in New York, Israeli officials boasted that they had fended off U.S. pressure to halt settlement construction. Moderate Palestinians said they felt undermined by Obama's failure to back up his demand for a freeze.

Obama was to meet with his top advisers on the Afghan war on Friday to consider a request by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to send as many as 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan as the U.S war there enters its ninth year.

Obama ordered 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan earlier this year and has continued the use of unmanned drones for attacks on militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a strategy devised by the Bush administration. The attacks often kill or injure civilians living in the area.

Nominators for the prize include former laureates; current and former members of the committee and their staff; members of national governments and legislatures; university professors of law, theology, social sciences, history and philosophy; leaders of peace research and foreign affairs institutes; and members of international courts of law.

In his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses."

The committee has taken a wide interpretation of Nobel's guidelines, expanding the prize beyond peace mediation to include efforts to combat poverty, disease and climate change.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee decided not to inform Obama before the announcement because it didn't want to wake him up, committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said.

"Waking up a president in the middle of the night, this isn't really something you do," Jagland said.


Associated Press writers Ian MacDougall in Oslo, Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Celean Jacobson in Johannesburg, George Jahn in Vienna, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki and Jennifer Loven in Washington contributed to this report.


On the Net:


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How Moses Shaped America

This is a fascinating story, please learn about Moses in three faiths here in Dallas on Sunday. Details of the event listed at the bottom of the story.

There is a Moses in every community, find yours and write a note about him in the comments section below. Not the historic or geographical or religious Moses, but the essence of his work.

What is common between all the spiritual leaders? Where did Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Muhammad, Buddha, Mahavir, Zoroaster, Confucious, Nanak, Bahaullah, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others got their power from? I believe it was their unselfishness. Everything they did was for the good of the mankind and were successful at changing the world. You cannot go wrong if you do things for others or live for the sake of others, as Rev. Sun Myung Moon puts it. Mike Ghouse
# # #

How Moses Shaped America
By Bruce Feiler Monday, Oct. 12, 2009
The Ten Commandments teach that freedom depends on law.


"We are in the presence of a lot of Moseses," Barack Obama said on March 4, 2007, three weeks after announcing his candidacy for President. He was speaking in Selma, Ala., surrounded by civil rights pioneers. Obama cast his run for the White House as a fulfillment of the Moses tradition of leading people out of bondage into freedom. "I thank the Moses generation, but we've got to remember that Joshua still had a job to do. As great as Moses was ... he didn't cross over the river to see the promised land."

Eight months into his presidency, Obama might want to give Moses a second look. On issues from health care to Afghanistan, the President faces doubts and rebellions, from an entrenched pharaonic establishment on one hand and restless, stiff-necked followers on the other. There's good reason, then, for Obama to heed the leadership lessons of history's greatest leader. Like presidential predecessors from Washington to Reagan, Obama can use the Moses story to help guide Americans in troubled times. From the Pilgrims to the Founding Fathers, the Civil War to the civil rights movement, Americans have turned to Moses in periods of crisis because his narrative offers a road map of peril and promise. (See pictures of the Civil Rights movement from Emmett Till to Barack Obama.)

Plight of the Pilgrims
The Moses story opens in the 13th century B.C.E. with the Israelites enslaved in Egypt. After the pharaoh orders the slaughter of all Israelite male babies, Moses is floated down the Nile, picked up by the pharaoh's daughter and raised in the palace. An adult Moses murders an Egyptian for beating "one of his kinsmen," then flees to the desert, where, later, a voice in a burning bush recruits him to free the Israelites. This moment represents Moses' first leadership test: Will he cling to his unburdened life or attempt to free a people enslaved for centuries?

The plight of the Israelites resonated with the earliest American settlers. For centuries, the Catholic Church had banned the direct reading of Scripture. But the Protestant Reformation, combined with the printing press, brought vernacular Bibles to everyday readers. What Protestants discovered was a narrative that reminded them of their sense of subjugation by the church and appealed to their dreams of a Utopian New World. The Pilgrims stressed this aspect of Moses. When the band of Protestant breakaways left England in 1620, they described themselves as the chosen people fleeing their pharaoh, King James. On the Atlantic, they proclaimed their journey to be as vital as "Moses and the Israelites when they went out of Egypt." And when they got to Cape Cod, they thanked God for letting them pass through their fiery Red Sea. (See 10 surprising facts about the world's oldest Bible.)

By the time of the Revolution, the theme of beleaguered people standing up to a superpower had become the go-to narrative of American identity. The two best-selling books of 1776 featured Moses. Thomas Paine, in Common Sense, called King George the "hardened, sullen tempered pharaoh." Samuel Sherwood, in The Church's Flight into the Wilderness, said God would deliver the colonies from Egyptian bondage. The Moses image was so pervasive that on July 4, after signing the Declaration of Independence, the Congress asked Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to propose a seal for the United States. Their recommendation: Moses, leading the Israelites through the Red Sea as the water overwhelms the pharaoh. In their eyes, Moses was America's true Founding Father.

But escaping bondage proved to be only half the story. After the Israelites arrive in the desert, they face a period of lawlessness, which prompts the Ten Commandments. Only by rallying around the new order can the people become a nation. Freedom depends on law.

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Americans faced a similar moment of chaos after the Revolution. One Connecticut preacher noted that Moses took 40 years to quell the Israelites' grumbling: Now "we are acting the same stupid part." And so just as a reluctant Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, then handed down the Ten Commandments, a reluctant George Washington led the colonists to victory, then presided over the drafting of the Constitution. The parallel was not lost. Two-thirds of the eulogies at Washington's death compared the "leader and father of the American nation" to the "first conductor of the Jewish nation."

Let My People Go

While Moses was a unifying presence during the founding era, a generation later he got dragged into the issue that most divided the country. The Israelites' escape from slavery was the dominant motif of slave spirituals, including "Turn Back Pharaoh's Army," "I Am Bound for the Promised Land" and the most famous, "Go Down, Moses," which was called the national anthem of slaves: "When Israel was in Egypt Land,/ Let my people go;/ Oppressed so hard they could not stand,/ Let my people go." (See pictures of colorful religious festivals.)

Spirituals sent coded messages. As Frederick Douglass wrote, when he and his comrades sang, "O Canaan, sweet Canaan,/ I am bound for the land of Canaan," overseers believed they were worshipping the white god. But to them, it meant they were about to escape on the Underground Railroad. The movement's famous conductor, Harriet Tubman, was called the Moses of her people.

And yet even as abolitionists used the Exodus to attack slavery, Southerners used it to defend the institution. The War Between the States became the War Between the Moseses. Slaveholders cited a bevy of biblical passages — Abraham acquires slaves; Moses invites slaves to the first Passover; Jesus does nothing to free slaves — to claim the Bible endorsed slavery. The book that joined Americans together was torn asunder by slavery. (See the top 10 Jesus films.)

It took America's most Bible-quoting President to reunite the country. Called a pharaoh by his opponents, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves after a "vow before God"; he invoked the Exodus at Gettysburg. When he died, Lincoln, like Washington before him, was compared to Moses. "There is no historic figure more noble than that of the Jewish lawgiver," Henry Ward Beecher eulogized. "There is scarcely another event in history more touching than his death." Until now. "Again a great leader of the people has passed through toil, sorrow, battle and war, and come near to the promised land of peace, into which he might not pass over."

Lincoln's assassination initiated an even more long-lasting tribute to Moses, the Statue of Liberty, given to America by the French to honor the slain President. The sculptor, Frédéric Bartholdi, chose the goddess of liberty as his model, but he enhanced her with two icons from Moses: the nimbus of light around her head and the tablet in her arms, both from the moment Moses descends Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. The message: Freedom comes with law.

Moses and Superman
With the rise of secularism and the declining influence of the Bible in the 20th century, Moses might have melted away as a role model. But something curious happened. He was so identified as a hero of the American Dream that he superseded Scripture and entered the realm of popular culture, from novels to television.

Superman was modeled partly on Moses. The comic-book hero's creators, two bookish Jews from Cleveland named Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, drew their character's backstory from the superhero of the Torah. Just as baby Moses is floated down the Nile in a basket to escape annihilation, baby Superman is launched into space in a rocket ship to avoid extinction. Just as Moses is raised in an alien world before being summoned to liberate Israel, Superman is raised in an alien environment before being called to assist humanity.

But it was Cecil B. DeMille who turned Moses into a symbol of American power in the Cold War. The 1956 epic The Ten Commandments, which in its inflation-adjusted total ranks as the fifth highest grossing movie of all time, opened with DeMille appearing onscreen. "The theme of this picture is whether men ought to be ruled by God's law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator," he said. "The same battle continues throughout the world today." To drive home his point, DeMille cast mostly Americans as Israelites and Europeans as Egyptians. And in the film's final shot, Charlton Heston adopts the pose of the Statue of Liberty and quotes the line from the third book of Moses — Leviticus — inscribed on the Liberty Bell: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." (See the 100 best movies of all time.)

To modern Americans, Moses' heartbreak, in many ways, ensures his ongoing appeal. Though a champion of freedom, he was also a prophet of disappointment. After leading the Israelites for 40 years, Moses is denied entry to the promised land for disobeying God. No one understood this aspect of the Moses story better than Martin Luther King Jr. In his first national speech, in 1956, he likened the U.S. Supreme Court to Moses for splitting the Red Sea of segregation. On the night before his death 12 years later, King predicted he would not fulfill his dream. "I've been to the mountaintop," he declared. "And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. And I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land." Both Moses and King are reminders that even the greatest leaders fall short. (See rare pictures of Martin Luther King Jr.)

So what lessons can the current occupant of the White House learn from a figure that nearly every one of his predecessors has invoked?

First, sell the milk and honey. Obama is the first President to hold a Passover seder in the White House, but he seems to be forgetting the main point of the service: the story of Moses is, above all, a story. It's a narrative of hope. Details are fine for negotiating policy, but it's the vision of milk and honey that gets people to plunge into the Red Sea.

Second, remember the Nile. As he wrestles with whether to tackle immigration, toughen regulations or insure all Americans, the President should recall that from the moment God hears his people moaning under slavery, the entire moral focus of the Moses story is to build a society that nurtures everyone. Thirty-six times, the Torah urges the Israelites to befriend the stranger, for they were strangers in Egypt.

Third, the one on Sinai takes the heat. The Bible outlines at least a dozen rebellions in which the people attempt to overthrow Moses. In a striking parallel to Obama, the Israelites even question Moses' birthright: "Who made you leader over us?" God offers to destroy the people, but Moses brokers a compromise. The strongest leaders face the harshest criticism and hold fast against their naysayers.

Finally, you may not enter the promised land. Forced to die across the Jordan on Mount Nebo, Moses confronts his final choice: Will he fight or prepare the Israelites for the future? He chooses the latter. "I have put before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity," he says. "Choose life."

These words capture what may be the most trying lesson of leadership: You may fail, but your legacy is to prepare your followers to succeed without you. So plunge into the waters, persevere through the dryness, and don't be surprised if you don't reach your goal. For the true destination is not this year at all, but next.

Feiler is the author of America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story, from which this article is adapted


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A few years ago, I attended a program called "Connecting our faiths" organized by Marzuk and Alexis Jaami in Dallas.

Rabbi Grisham spoke about Moses - it was one of the most fascinating talks about Moses I have ever heard. My mental schemas were capturing the essence of everything I was hearing, indeed, the way Rabbi was telling the story of Moses, it appeared to me that he was telling the story of Prophet Muhammad. At the beginning it was Baby Krishna's story which nearly coincides with the story of Baby Moses.

DALLAS, TX – Connecting Our Faiths continues its Abrahamic faith series with the Mormon Church at Temple Shalom exploring faith connections to Moses. In his inaugural address, President Obama reminded Americans that there are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and other people of faith here. Why is this important? There are many Jews, Christians, Muslims and others in this country and around the world who don’t know Moses is a key connection with other faiths. Where can this common ground take us? A Jewish rabbi, Mormon President and Muslim Imam will explore their faith connections examining Moses’ Impact on Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Sunday, October 1, 5 p.m. – 7 p.m., Temple Shalom, 6930 Alpha Rd., Dallas 75240, 972-661-1810. The event is free and open to the public.