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Muslim Americans in a Post-9/11 World September 10, 2006

Posted by newsfittopost in immigration, international, religion, terrorism.
7 comments

Aside from those who have loved ones who died on September 11th, perhaps no group of people were affected more by the tragedy than Muslim Americans. Some Muslim Americans have relatives that were killed by the collapsing World Trade Center, others have been subjected to discrimination and violence because of their religious beliefs, and all have had to cope with the same harsh reality all Americans face: A country less secure because of terrorism.

Despite the constant reminders of the threat of “Islamo-facism”, “Islamic extremists” and “Muslim terrorists”, Muslims from countries around the world are continuing to immigrate to the United States. According to The New York Times, the number of Muslims entering the country dipped sharply after the 9/11 attacks. But in 2005, nearly 96,000 Muslims became legal permanent residents – more than in any year in the past 20 years.

The numbers are quite promising for a country that is seen by many Muslims as the enemy of Islam. For those Muslims who come to the United States despite concerns over our foreign policy, political and religious freedom seems to outweigh our role in the Middle East. As the New York Times article points out, the Pakistan Independence Day parade in the Little Pakistan neighborhood of Brooklyn is now dominated by American flags, which was not always the case.

It seems as if some Muslim Americans who lived in the country prior to 9/11 have now developed an identity that emphasizes being an American as much as it does being a Muslim. Of course, many had this identity way before the attacks, but the agony that came with the fall of the World Trade Center seemed to encourage a patriotic identification with America, regardless of politicial affiliation, religion or ethnicity. There is extreme division and polarization in America five years after the attacks, but traces of this unified identity continues to linger for many.

America is extremely fortunate that Muslims are still immigrating to our nation in hopes of fulfilling that mythic “American dream”. As we continue to make Muslims a visible and valued part of the fabric of American life, it will become increasingly difficult for extremists to claim our country is the enemy of Islam. Obviously, this alone will not end the threat of terrorism. But it will take a multi-faceted approach that emphasizes inclusion as much as it emphasizes rooting out terrorists.

Muslim Americans continue to face discrimination because of fear and intolerance, but I am hopeful that we are moving in the right direction. As a Pakistani woman who immigrated to Brooklyn in March said: “This is a land of opportunity. There is equality for everyone.” The more Muslim Americans who believe this to be true, the safer and better-off our country will be.

What Others Are Saying:

Please Note: The views of the following bloggers do not necessarily represent my views.

Infidel Bloggers Alliance: Winds of War: It’s Time for American Muslims to Act

Jihad Watch: America is Not Islamaphobic, It Really Just Doesn’t Understand the Religion at All

Peace and Mutual Understanding for a Better World: We Shouldn’t Profile Muslim Americans

Curious: Increasing Muslim immigration to US

Fundamentalist Hypocrisy: Literalism for You, Not Me August 29, 2006

Posted by newsfittopost in lgbt Issues, religion, religion distorted.
5 comments

In a wonderful column in the Miami Herald, Leonard Pitts Jr. criticizes fundamentalists who use the literal meaning of Bible verses to condemn gay people but then ignore the literal meaning of other passages that condemn their actions. The double-standard is glaring, and Leonard Pitts’ column is a more eloquent version of my earlier post on right-wing Christian hypocrisy. I encourage you to read the entire column, but here are some highlights:

…it illustrates a point I’ve made on many occasions when people bring out Bibles to explain why gay folk deserve no civil rights. Maybe now, without the reflexive emotionalism that gay brings to cloud their view, a few more people will see the obvious: Bible literalism is impractical and impossible…

…has no one else noticed how literally some Christians interpret those Scriptures that give them license to condemn, yet how elastic and liberal their readings are when dealing with Scriptures that convict their personal behaviors? Meaning that it’s always a little more difficult to catch people being literal about turn the other cheek, do not store up treasures on earth, do not turn away the borrower, love your enemy.

Yet, you can’t go to the store without tripping over someone who wants you to know the Bible calls homosexuality an abomination.

Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Freedom Are Not at Odds August 24, 2006

Posted by newsfittopost in anti-gay activists, lgbt Issues, marriage equality, religion, religion distorted.
7 comments

Running out of reasons to oppose same-sex marriage, anti-gay organizations have once again resorted to the argument that same-sex marriage conflicts with religious freedom. Let’s go to the First Amendment of the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

According to anti-gay activists, allowing same-sex civil marriage (which has no official relationship to the church) will somehow violate the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. Does government recognition of civil marriage equality make a law that respects an establishment of religion? Nope. Does same-sex civil marriage prohibit a particular religions’ ability to carry out its practices freely? Don’t think so.

Government marriage licenses have nothing to do with religion. Atheists, Protestants, Muslims, Mormons and Satanists can all get married under the laws of the federal government. There is no requirement to state your religious beliefs or get married in a church… hell, drunk couples get married by an Elvis in Vegas. Government recognition of marriage would not require any church or religious institution to allow a same-sex ceremony.

Anti-gay religious leaders claim legalizing same-sex marriage violates their religious freedoms, but what about the religious freedoms of churches that do recognize same-sex couples? Several denominations, including the United Church of Christ, marry same-sex couples and bless their relationships. If the religious freedoms of anti-gay churches would be violated by legalizing same-sex marriage, it is just as valid to say that more inclusive denominations have their religious freedoms violated by the ban on marriage equality. Or is one religious institution supposed to be respected more than the other? Maybe they should look back at the “no establishment of religion” part of the First Amendment. I guarantee that when same-sex marriage is finally legalized (which it will be), anti-gay churches will be able to continue to condemn gay people from the pulpit without government interference.

Civil marriage is a government contract that extends over a thousand rights and benefits to help protect couples and their families. To say same-sex couples do not deserve protection, that their children do not deserve protection, is a gross violation of the equal protection clause of the constitution.

Anti-gay organizations will continue to use the “religious discrimination” argument as a grounds for continuing discrimination against same-sex couples and LGBT people. Don’t be too surprised though… allowing discrimination because of Bible verses or “religious freedom” is nothing new. Let’s see what good old Wikipedia has to say:

Today nearly all modern Christians are united in the condemnation of slavery as wrong and contrary to God’s will. Nearly all Christian leaders before the late 17th century recorded slavery, within specific Biblical limitations, as consistent with Christian theology. In both Europe and the United States, progressive Christians were at the forefront of the abolitionist movements.

Let’s hope progressives once again use compassion and common-sense when applying Bible verses to our modern world.

The Right-Wing’s Defense of Mel Gibson August 4, 2006

Posted by newsfittopost in entertainment, hate speech, religion.
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The whole Mel Gibson affair has been an ugly display of how many Americans rationalize bigotry and refuse to understand the impact of hateful speech. The worst offense, of course, was Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic comments the night he was arrested for drunk driving. We have heard his apology and every individual may choose whether or not to accept it. For me, it is hard to accept an apology for anti-Semitic comments when it is quite obvious that Mel Gibson himself still harbors his anti-Jewish beliefs… a public relations disaster cannot reverse a lifetime of prejudice towards a particular group.

What has disturbed me almost as much as the Mel Gibson episode itself is the right-wing response to the incident. When Rep. Patrick Kennedy was caught driving drunk in Washington DC, Fox News and the right-wing had an absolute field day. They had every right to criticize the congressman for risking the lives of others by driving under the influence, but you would expect them to be equally as angry when Mel Gibson was pulled over while sloshed. Instead, we have seen a consistent right-wing defense of Mel Gibson, including a defense of his anti-Semitic tirade and attempt to resist arrest.

On the August 2 edition of Hannity & Colmes, Sean Hannity attempts to compare the outrage over Patrick Kennedy’s arrest to the outrage over Mel Gibson’s arrest. Of course, he mentions his appreciation for Gibson’s honesty about his nighttime adventure and criticizes Kennedy for not “telling the truth” when he was pulled over. Hannity somehow comes to the conclusion that Kennedy’s incident was much more offensive than Gibson’s, ignoring the fact that Kennedy had a peaceful arrest while Gibson verbally attacked a Jewish officer:

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: All right. Now I want to ask you, when Patrick Kennedy crashed his car into a barrier, saying to police at 3 in the morning he was going for a vote and was taken home by police, I said, “I want him to get help.” I said, “But what he didn’t do at the time was admit the truth.”

ANN COULTER, [DUMBASS] GUEST: Right.

HANNITY: Gibson, I want him to get help.

COULTER: Right. He has a little sketchy-wetchy (ph) problem.

HANNITY: He’s drinking. He says these things.

COULTER: Right.

HANNITY: But he came on and admitted it, profoundly apologized. After he gets help, he plans to make good. It seems it’s not going to be accepted by people. Should it be?

COULTER: Sure. Of course. What people do when they’re drunk, especially someone with a problem, as Gibson apparently has, I mean, obviously it’s a different standard. He didn’t, you know, drive a woman off a bridge and, you know, he’s not trying to sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee either.

HANNITY: By the way, and he didn’t go home that night, and he admitted the truth. It seems to be a big difference. That doesn’t matter.

COULTER: And meanwhile, what he says, blind drunk is what Cindy Sheehan says. Stone cold sober. And according to Maureen Dowd, she has absolute moral authority. So how about talking to all of these Democrat supporters who talk like Gibson does when he’s drunk?

HANNITY: All right. Let me ask you this. Is it always going to be…

COULTER: And that isn’t exaggeration, by the way.

HANNITY: No, no. But is there always going to be a double standard when it comes to conservatives, what they say, liberals what they say, liberals, as you mentioned, a bridge incident. Liberals have always forgiven and forgotten.

COULTER: Right.

HANNITY: I honestly want Patrick Kennedy to get help. I’ve known a lot of people that have had alcohol or drug problems. And I said so at the time. But you’ve got to be straight with us.

The mind-numbing banter between Coulter and Hannity was a not-so-eloquent attempt to avoid why Americans are angry with Mel Gibson. I have barely heard any criticism of Gibson because he was drunk driving… people are angry over his anti-Semitic comments. What is this bullshit about honesty and finding the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous? People are not criticizing Gibson for the disease of alcoholism, he is being criticized because of another disease that he chooses to keep: bigotry.

Leaving Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity’s recently-found desire to help those who are struggling and moving on to Brent Bozell, president of the annoyingly conservative Media Research Center. Bozell quickly mentions in one line (five words long) that Gibson’s comments were “disgraceful”. He then proceeds to ignore Mel Gibson’s prejudice and instead attacks those who are offended by hearing the anti-Semitic remarks:

The paparazzi news media can’t get enough of this story, and some, like ABC’s Diane Sawyer, can barely conceal their glee. The hard news covered, here comes the analysis, with this-man-will-never-get-another-job-in-this- town reports everywhere you turn, fueled by the likes of Arianna Huffington, who has denounced Gibson’s “odious racism”… The first thing Mel Gibson and everyone else should do is ignore people like these. They are hypocrites.

Apparently, Bozell’s advice to Mel Gibson is to “ignore” people who are criticizing him for his anti-Semitic comments. Bozell then goes on to attack the media and others for not criticizing actor Ian McKellen when he accused the Catholic Church of “misleading us all the time” and that “the Bible should have a disclaimer in the front saying this is fiction”. Although these comments are offensive to many and probably shouldn’t have been said, there is a big difference between McKellen’s statements and Mel Gibson’s remarks. Most importantly, Ian McKellen is an openly gay man who has spent his entire life listening to the Catholic Church condemn him for who he is. The Vatican and anti-gay activists use the Bible to call gay people “immoral”, “deviant” and “hell-bound”. McKellen was not initiating the attack, he was responding (appropriately or not) to attacks on his humanity and ability to live as he chooses. What has the Jewish community ever done to Mel Gibson to evoke such an attack?

Bozell continues his condemnation of television shows and movies that he perceives to be anti-Catholic. Fair enough, but we are talking about entertainment and fiction, not true hatred spewed out of a drunken man’s mouth. Bozell needs to remember that television is not reality, and Mel Gibson’s comments were all too real for many Americans.

Mel Gibson should be forgiven, but not because of a statement released by his public relations guy. He needs to prove to the Jewish community and other communities he has offended in the past that he is not only sorry for speaking like a bigot, but he is sorry for being one. He needs to admit who he is and prove that he is working to overcome his intense prejudices.

Until then, he can get drunk with Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and Brent Bozell, because his Hollywood friends may be dwindling.

Role of the Church: Moving Away From Divisive Politics July 30, 2006

Posted by newsfittopost in politics, religion, religion distorted.
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One of the biggest struggles for many gay and lesbian people is their faith in a higher being. The Christ they believed in most of their lives – a compassionate, accepting son of God – is often times hard to find in today’s houses of worship.

Many preachers claim gays and lesbians are immoral beings intent on the destruction of family, marriage and tradition. More painful than the attacks themselves, however, is that this alleged “morality” is most often times claimed to be the word of God.

Just as the Bible was used to justify slavery, segregation and anti-semitism, conservative religious leaders are once again using the Holy book as justification for intolerance. And just as popular religious leaders like Jerry Falwell were forced to apologize for their “former” support of segregation and South African apartheid, there will be a time when religious leaders will feel compelled to apologize to gays and lesbians. Anyone who does not believe this has a poor understanding of the history of religious oppression.

The tide is already beginning to turn. More conservative Evangelicals are refusing to speak out against issues like same-sex marriage, even if they don’t support it themselves.

Cedar Ridge Community Church pastor Brian D. McLaren:

More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right. You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people.

Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’

This concern among more moderate Evangelicals could transform the way pastors preach to their flock. It is part of a relatively new evangelical movement called the “emerging church”, which tries to lessen the polarizing views of fundamentalist Evangelicals on the right. The “emerging church” hopes to return kindness and compassion to the church… something that has nearly disappeared since extreme conservative ideology became embraced by the most visible preachers.

Evangelical megachurch leader Rev. Gregory A. Boyd believes some Christians have turned patriotism and political affiliation into a form of “idolatry”. From the New York Times:

Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

“Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act,” he said. “And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed.”

These pastors are brave people of God willing to lose the parts of their congregations that are embedded with the belief that Christianity and the Republican party are synonymous. Religious teachings take priority over politics, and these pastors realize that the extreme-right is intent on creating a psuedo-theocracy in the United States. Theocracies have and always will lead to oppression and violence… America would not be an exception.

Christians, gay or straight, should continue to push for religious institutions free of politics – progressive or conservative. It is my belief that the Christian God is far more pleased with followers who help the poor, than followers who lobby Congress to ban same-sex marriage. This transformation is epitomized by the recent election of Episcopal leader Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. We can only hope that Bishop Schori represents Christianity of the twenty-first century, and Falwell becomes a distant memory.