All God’s children got intolerance
News from around the world this weekend: In Israel, during a sermon, 89 year-old Rabbi Ovadia Yousef, spiritual leader of Israel’s ultra-orthodox Shas political party, attacked the Palestinian people and their President Mahmoud Abbas, calling them "enemies and haters." Then, he went on to call for their deaths, saying, "May they vanish from the world, ...
News from around the world this weekend:
News from around the world this weekend:
In Israel, during a sermon, 89 year-old Rabbi Ovadia Yousef, spiritual leader of Israel’s ultra-orthodox Shas political party, attacked the Palestinian people and their President Mahmoud Abbas, calling them "enemies and haters." Then, he went on to call for their deaths, saying, "May they vanish from the world, may God smite them with the plague, them and the Palestinians, evil-doers and Israelhaters." The Israeli government soon after issued a statement asserting that "These words do not reflect the approach of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu nor the position of the government of Israel." This distancing from a key player in a party that is an important part of the current coalition government, holding four seats in the Israeli cabinet, seems pallid in the face of such repugnant remarks that were clearly designed to cast a shadow over the imminent resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. As one Israeli Knesset member argued, "If God forbid a Muslim religious leader would express similar sentiments toward Jews, he would immediately be arrested."
In Afghanistan, five campaign workers supporting the efforts of a female candidate for the country’s parliament, were gunned down. The murders, in Andraskan district of Herat province, followed the kidnapping of the five men on Thursday.
The Taliban claimed credit for the kidnappings and the incidents were just the latest in a string of assaults against female candidates for public office in Afghanistan. One study from the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan indicated that 90 percent of threats against "specific candidates were directed at women" according to the Guardian newspaper (U.K.). Fauzia Kufi, a member of parliament from the country’s north, said, "Although the public is really supporting female candidates, there are certain mullahs who deliver the message not to vote for women."
In Germany, a member of the board of the German Central Bank, Thilo Sarrazin, made headlines for his statement that "All Jews share a certain gene." He was promoting a new book called "Germany Does Away With Itself." In it, he warns the country is at risk from waves of incoming Muslims who he accuses of contributing to making Germany "more stupid." Speaking to Welt am Sonntag, a German newspaper, he argued, "Muslim immigrants don’t integrate as well as other immigrant groups across Europe. The reasons for this are apparently not based on their ethnicity, but are rooted in the culture of Islam." While he neatly supports his idea of the stupidization of Germany with his own statements and behavior, he is not the problem, but the symptom.
In Russia, gangs of club-wielding skinheads attacked 3000 people attending a rock concert in the city of Miass — part of a continuing wave of racially and religiously motivated attacks in that country. It is estimated there are 70,000 neo-Nazis active in Russia, an increase of 15 or 20 times over the past two decades. One watchdog group attributed 110 murders and 487 injuries to attacks by these groups in 2008 alone.
And here in the United States, Glenn Beck led a rally of approximately 100,000 on Washington, D.C.’s Mall, celebrating a panoply of right wings tropes including directly and indirectly the centrality of Christianity to the Tea Party vision for America. On a media victory lap following the event — which upstaged the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous rally on the same sight 47 years before — Beck went on to criticize President Barack Obama by arguing that "People aren’t recognizing his version of Christianity." Beck’s critique of Obama’s "belief structure" was tied to his sense that Obama was a "guy who understands the world through liberation theology." Beck described this as "all about victims and victimhood; oppressors and the oppressed; reparations, not repentance; collectivism, not individual salvation. I don’t know what that is, other than it’s not Muslim, it’s not Christian. It’s a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it."
Coming at a time when many Americans seem to be uncertain as to the religious origins of the president and others are criticizing him for keeping his religious views and practices too private, the Beck comments seem both opportunistic and inflammatory. But they have got some people thinking. Ross Douthat in Sunday’s New York Times argues, after calling Beck, "mercurial, weepy" and "demagogic" that he underestimated Beck. Is he serious? Sarcastic? I wasn’t sure (and I’m not sure Douthat is either) until I re-read his ending and concluded that this columnist for America’s newspaper of record actually ended up admiring at least a dimension of what Beck was doing. He wrote:
Now more than ever, Americans love leaders who seem to validate their way of life. This spirit of self-affirmation was at work in evangelicals’ enduring support for Bush, in the enthusiasm for the Dean campaign among the young, secular and tech-savvy, and now in the devotion that Palin inspires among socially conservative women. The Obama campaign raised it to an art form, convincing voters that by merely supporting his candidacy, they were proving themselves cosmopolitan and young-at-heart, multicultural and hip.
In a sense, Beck’s "Restoring Honor" was like an Obama rally through the looking glass. It was a long festival of affirmation for middle-class white Christians — square, earnest, patriotic and religious. If a speaker had suddenly burst out with an Obama-esque "we are the ones we’ve been waiting for," the message would have fit right in.
Douthat salutes in the article that Beck focused on identity politics without burdening it with too much that was political. He seems to admire the way it stirred up and bound together the crowd while leaving (at least some of the language and trappings of) partisanship to the side. In so doing, he altogether misses what is so dangerous in all this, the deep threat posed by religion-infused identity politics.
The fact is, of course, that Barack Obama should be hailed for keeping his religion and his religious practices private. The confusi
on that exists around his beliefs exists primarily due to the distortions promoted by the Becks of this world, but some of the credit goes to Obama for struggling to maintain both the dignity of his views and a tradition of keeping religion out of government that extends to the very beginnings of the Republic. As Jefferson said, "I have ever thought religion a concern purely between our God and our consciences" and "I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others."
America was largely created by refugees that had felt the impact of the religious wars of Europe, men and women who had watched a continent rend open due to struggles between Protestants and Catholics and who remembered the human cost of state religion that inevitably produced state-enforced intolerance. One form of the founders of the American republic’s genius was their insistence that religion be kept as far from the country’s political affairs as possible, except to the extent that there was a need to promulgate laws guaranteeing such a separation between church and state.
Another thing Jefferson said was "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government." As the examples of the weekend show, it is not just the past that clearly demonstrates that intermingling of religion and politics is among the most dangerous things known to human society… regardless of the religion, and regardless of the society.
David Rothkopf is a former editor of Foreign Policy and CEO of The FP Group. Twitter: @djrothkopf
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