Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Religion and War. Or, “What Makes Me Happy”

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 23, 2011

Which is the most violent religion in the world?”, I asked my class recently. No doubt you have your opinions, but these people say that the religion now responsible for most wars is in fact Nationalism. That’s right, they argue that government-sponsored promotion of our “nation” is actually a religion that commits blood sacrifice by sending our young men and women to war. Sound crazy? Gaddaffi’s Libya is currently being taken over— by nationalist causes?— with the support of NATO powers. We’re near the 10th anniversary of 9/11, closely followed by the anniversary of ten years of US-sponsored war. Maybe we should consider what they say?

Here are some excerpts:

Americans live in a culture that is as religious as any that exists. In this article we contend that nationalism is the most powerful religion in the United States, and perhaps in many other countries. Structurally speaking, nationalism mirrors sectarian belief systems such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam and others that are more conventionally labeled as religious. It happens that nationalism also satisfies many traditional definitions of religion, but citizens of nation-states have religious reasons for denying it. We argue that both sectarian and national religions organize killing energy by committing devotees to sacrifice themselves to the group… Although our examples come mostly from the United States and its majority sectarian faith, and although generalization is risky, the principles we describe are broadly applicable to other enduring groups, defined as groups for which members are willing to give their lives.

… The familiar claim that a religious view of the world is characterized by a moral opposition to violence ignores a more complex reality in which faiths that most deeply bind the commitment of devotees are structures for organizing killing energy. This is true both for religions that aggressively kill the Other in the name of a deity or deities and those that pledge their devotees to self-sacrifice when confronted with violence. We shall argue that violent and so-called non-violent religions are structurally indistinguishable from a certain perspective.

click to enlarge

Click to see bigger pic.

what is really true in any community is what its members can agree is worth killing for, or what they can be compelled to sacrifice their lives for. The sacred is thus easily recognized. It is that set of beliefs and persons for which we ought to shed our own blood, if necessary, when there is a serious threat. Rituals that celebrate this blood sacrifice give expression and witness to faith. Sacrificial death thus defines both sectarian and national identity. This is the first sense in which both are species of religion…

On the whole, we misunderstand the genuinely religious character of American patriotism and the violent character of genuine religion. What distinguishes nationalism from sectarianism is not group logic, for both are religions of blood sacrifice. What distinguishes them is historical location. In the West Christianity once could kill and ask others to die in the name of its particular god. In some places it does this still. But in general in the West the power to compel believers to die passed from Christianity to the nation-state, where it largely remains…

Americans traditionally regard the nation-state as the domain of unassailable force and religion as the domain of unassailable truth. This separation of faith and force is markedly unstable and collapses completely in wartime…

If nationalism is religious, why do we deny it? … [The nationalist] god is inexpressible, unsayable, unknowable, beyond language. But that god may not be refused when it calls for sacrifice. …

Some citizens openly speak of the American flag as sacred. Can we disregard the impassioned testimony of others that it is not, and neither is the nation it represents? …

To understand how war is ritual sacrifice, recall that the raw material of society is bodies. Organizing and disposing of them is the fundamental task of all societies. The social is quite literally constructed from the body and from specific bodies that are dedicated and used up for the purpose. The enduringness of any group depends at least partly on the willingness of its members to sacrifice themselves for the continuing life of the group. The creation of national or sectarian religious sentiment depends on a common secret, which is that the underlying cost of all society is the violent death of some portion of its members. …

Does that push any buttons for ya? Respond below.

These ideas don’t make me happy, but the picture above right does. It’s the bookshelf in the study after one of my biweekly trips to the library. As Happygirl will testify, I pretty much jump up and down with glee when I have a pile with such titles as Stupa: Art, Architechtonics and Symbolism, Critical Discourse Analysis and Language Cognition or Foucault, Psychology and the Analytics of Power. I can see your eyes glazing over already πŸ˜‰

There are 87 books in that photo, my current reading for two papers I’m writing. One is a Foucauldian reading of Western Buddhist meditation. A second is a paper on “civil religion”, the New Zealand state and nationalist wars. My interest in investigating civil religion and war was stimulated by Marvin and Ingle’s highly provocative article Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Revisiting Civil Religion, excerpted above.

Civil religion is an established, though contested, concept in sociology of religion. Very simply, it can be several related ideas, either a) a religion becomes a supporter of the state/political system or b) the state uses religion & religious symbolism to promote its agenda -think state prayers on Memorial Day/ANZAC day or the anniversary of 9/11. Or c) the state itself becomes a religion. The theory is debated, of course. I’m not sure I agree with it, but it provokes some interesting thoughts.

The concept of civil religion was not original to Robert Bellah, as one text asserts, nor even Rousseau although he’s generally credited with it. Nope, it looks like “Augustine’s discussion in book 6 of The City of God of Varro’s category of ‘civil theology’ ” started it all off circa 410 CE (Grosby, 2001: 114). Sociological concepts are sometimes much older than commonly thought.

So apparently if we support our nation, we’re religious, regardless of our personal beliefs.

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One of my all-time favourite tunes, from a band I would see live ANY time.
Slayer | War Ensemble

Those of you who are curious to see the actual book titles can Click to see a bigger pic in yfrog.

References

Grosby, Steven. (2001). “Nationality and Religion.” In Guibernau, Monserrat and Hutchinson, John. (eds.) (2001). Understanding Nationalism. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Marvin, C. & Ingle, D. (1996). “Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Revisiting Civil Religion.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. (1996). 64(4), 767-780. http://www.asc.upenn.edu/usr/fcm/jaar.htm Web March 2011.

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Posted in Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Gun Nuts and Peaceniks

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 9, 2011

Right now the major news in the USA is the tragic shooting attempt on an Arizona congresswoman. At the time of writing she is badly wounded, but 18 other people were also shot. Six are dead, including a nine year-old girl. I offer my condolences to my US friends; this is sad and wrong.

As an outside observer, I want to offer a few thoughts, partially based on the Twitter and Facebook commentary I’m seeing.

A Culture Of Blame

To me, it’s strange that many immediately jumped to a political motive. For example, a friend tweeted “I wish the sheriff would just name Rush and Beck and Fox News [as responsible].” Sure, Gabrielle Giffords, the target, is a politician. However it may be a little premature to jump in and reduce this to GOP vs Dems. As Lavika tweeted, “Many are choosing sides & using their vitriol to numb pain. Vitriol on behalf of ‘good’ is still vitriol, btw”. To me, the shooter looked a little mentally unstable on paper. This is not to say he wasn’t politically motivated, but there may be a lot more nuance to this story. Lavika also tweeted: “Mental health care, especially youth mental health, is very political; they have no voice, they can’t get care, but they can get guns.”

One commentator writes “We have no idea what motivated the shooter and whether it had anything to do with politics.”

man with pistol

Us and Them

Given the immediate politicization of this attack, I’m also continually amazed at the polarization in US politics. Either you are a Democrat or a Republican, there is no other choice. This leads to an “us and them”, “black and white”, “right and wrong” circling of the wagons that I believe is deeply unhelpful. How can political progress be made when the other side is always characterised as the enemy? In places like New Zealand, Australia, most of Europe… In fact, every other decent Western nation I can think of, there are multiple political parties. This leads to a) more nuance b) more choice and c) the need for co-operation between various political groups.

What if you are “left” on some issues, but “right” on others? In the US there is no party that fits you. Congresswoman Giffords, who was attacked, is a perfect example of exactly this. As a former republican, she characterises herself as a “blue dog” democrat. In other words, she had to make a hard choice as neither party truly represents her views. There aren’t any other political options.

Is This Terrorism?

SquintingInFog tweeted “Why is this not an act of terrorism? Apparently white people are lone wackos, brown people are terrorists”, and, “If shooter were Muslim, it would be called terrorism, even if he acted alone & was psychotic”.

My answer: If it was ideological, then yes, it’s terrorism. Welcome to another “terrorist attack” by a non-Muslim US man, born and bred within Uncle Sam’s bosom.

We Have A Right To Kill

I’m writing this in a country where hunting is popular. We have a lot of guns here in New Zealand. But we don’t allow handguns (except for target shooting, a minority pastime). We certainly don’t allow people to carry them around in public. Even our police do not carry weapons on their person. So to hear about a “right to bear arms” frankly sounds bizarre to us. It sounds as silly as “the right to buy cars” or the “right to chew gum”. (Don’t laugh, gum is banned in Singapore.) Yes, we are legally allowed to buy hunting guns in New Zealand. And that’s how I’d prefer to phrase it. Maybe the USA would benefit from leaving the word “right” out of the equation? The word “right” gives the purchase and use of an item a moral gravity that I just don’t think is warranted. It makes carrying a gun seem somehow holy, instead of fearful and potentially lethal. I can’t compare the right to own a killing weapon with the right to life or the right not to live in poverty. (I’d like to hear more about the right to a fair wage, having just read Nickel and Dimed.) At least I’m not the only one to see a need for handgun control.

Hope

Turning from the killing in the USA, I want the whole world to know about the peace activism in Egypt— by Muslims, no less. Regular followers will know I write from time to time trying to understand Islam and its relation to the West. Egypt has recently had some horrible attacks on Christian churches. What is wonderful is this story of a Muslim initiative where Muslims attended christian churches in order to shield christians against extremists.

I have no idea how we would “shield” minorities in our countries from attack. But isn’t it a wonderful thing to consider? Perhaps a cadre of straight people could walk with gay people seeking marriage equality. Or upper middle-class people could walk with Wal-Mart staff seeking to establish a union. Any ideas?

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Pink Floyd | Us and Them

Posted in ethics, hardship, Islam | Tagged: , , , , , | 34 Comments »

Paradise Now: A Powerful Movie

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 16, 2010

Yesterday I asked if Muslims would find the movie “Four Lions” funny? Well, at least some Muslims do:

Humour allows us to conquer our own fears of terrorism and terrorists, and allows us to feel brave. We see the human weaknesses of our opponents, instead of buying into the myths of an invincible robotic terror machine. The fear created by the myths – whether perpetuated by the bin Laden’s or the Bush’s of this world – is itself part of the terrorisation process. If we can defuse the myth, we can get down to tackling the criminals at the heart of the violence and destruction…

explosion NYC

…In a global Gallup poll of 50,000 Muslims across 35 countries, the results showed that of the seven per cent of Muslims who said the 9/11 attacks were justified, absolutely none quoted the Quran to support their view. Again, it is politics, not religion.” From Can Terror Be Funny? at AltMuslim. More Muslim commentary here and a good US-based review here. (Some spoilers in these.)

On to another movie on the same topic, much more serious and equally important. Released in 2005, I think Paradise Now is one of the most thought-provoking movies made. (Along with “Dead Man Walking”, “Milk”, “Food Inc”, “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Lord of War”.) Don’t worry, it’s not boringly didactic.

The movie follows Said and Khaled, two Palestinian friends who are recruited to be suicide bombers. This may be the last 48 hours of their lives. Drama, humanity, evil, love, romance, tragedy, comedy, it’s got it all. The movie is not really about the Israel/Palestine question, it merely assumes this as the background to the question of whether killing others in protest is valid. Perhaps even realism, not just humour, can take some of the scariness away. The film is not simplistic, and without giving away too much it portrays both the terrorist and pacifist points of view well. Both men and Khaled’s girlfriend have doubts, but I won’t tell you how it ends.

I was stunned by it.

Independent trailer for Paradise Now:

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Posted in ethics, hardship, Islam, life, Meaning of Life, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Dying for a Laugh

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 15, 2010

Or, How to Curse Really Well.

One of the disadvantages of being born in a country with no large wildlife is the lack of good swear words. “You’re a Kakapo’s bum” doesn’t compare with the exotic combinations of “Elephant”, “Donkey” and “Mother” which pepper Urdu and Hindi.

Well, I suppose the early Maori may have cursed about the Moa or the Giant Haast Eagle? “Your father is a Moa’s toenail. Now cook the man some eggs.”

laughing seal

My knowledge of Hindi was vastly improved by a work colleague who taught us how to swear in his language. This was mainly to tease another co-worker, by threatening to phone her mother and use these words in the conversation. She was a good Indian girl as far as her distant family were concerned, “Don’t you dare tell my parents about my boyfriend”. I think we did try out one or two phrases on a cab driver when we were drunk.

Boy, those cultures can really swear! Think of a body part, multiply by a large animal, insult its intelligence, give it a foul disease and have sex with it. That’s what a real insult is, none of this mild Anglo-Saxon rubbish. Perhaps even in their blasphemies the English are too polite.

Except the guys in Four Lions are also English. My knowledge of Pakistani swearing, which seems just as gleefully vile as Hindi, expanded by watching this film. Some time ago I listed top ten spiritual movies. I’ve discovered a few more, and this one would definitely make it into the list. Not because it’s spiritual as such, but because the story takes place within the current political and social climate of westernised Islam and offers wicked social commentary. Better than that, it’s hilarious.

Four Lions is the story of four English men wanting to martyr themselves for their faith. Unfortunately most of them are incredibly inept. At first I was concerned their failure and stupidity could appear racist, but it’s clear that other characters are also mentally challenged, for example the dim white girl who flats next door and the bumbling English authorities who deal with the group. I wonder what different Muslim communities think of this film? There are some poignant human moments too, and the social commentary is deeper than it first appears.

I don’t want to spoil it for you, so all I’ll say is: It’s funny— see it!

Four Lions Trailer

Guess what? There’s another fantastic movie about suicide bombers, I posted that here.

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Posted in humor, humour, Islam | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

How Can We Stop The Killing?

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 3, 2010

Yesterday I couldn’t write. The violence of the world sickened me, and I was in shock.

In the news is the story of 58 people killed in a Baghdad church by attackers who systematically shot them, and detonated explosives when the security forces tried to free them. If that wasn’t enough, today scores more are killed in markets and workplaces by ten car bombs.

I’m so sick of the violence and evil of fanatics. They kill Muslims, Jews, Christians, Atheists, and even themselves.

The thing is, this is not new. Violence, death and hate have been going on for decades centuries, in many places around the world. I don’t know why the news yesterday affected me so much, but it did.

Muslims and Christians chant anti-terrorist slogans during a funeral of slain Christians in Baghdad, from here.

We can argue about whether religion ’causes’ this kind of violence, as some do. I think it’s a little more nuanced than that. “It’s all being blamed on the failure of Iraqi politicians to agree on the formation of a government”, according to Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Baghdad. Politics, not (just) religion. (For those interested, there’s evidence Al-Quaeda only grew in Iraq AFTER the invasion by Western forces)

But that’s not what concerns me here. Mostly, I just need time to grieve.

I could write a long piece analysing this and that, trying to create the definitive statement for peace. But in the end, others have done it far better than I and there’s really not much more to say. All of us hate the killing of innocents.

For me, the bigger question is: What can I do? How can I stop it? Can anyone tell me?

Here’s a few ideas:
* Join an organisation which works to bring peace. (Which one? Do they do any good?)
* Nuke Iraq out of existence (Military “solutions”.)
* Use my skills as a writer to change the world. (*cough*)

To repeat something I said on Crystal’s blog: I know that love is more important than belief. Sadly, I don’t know how that will ever get through to fanatics.

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Slayer | War Ensemble

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Islam Interfaith Talk: There is Hope

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 27, 2010

I was profoundly moved by this video featuring Eboo Patel, an American Muslim. Please watch it.

While the talk is particularly aimed at the interaction between Christians and Muslims I think everyone needs to watch this, particularly those concerned about Islam in Western countries. My friends in the USA will find this particularly timely.

Seeing we’re here, I’ll add a couple of other useful links:
* Snopes debunks the myth that “Muslims will take over Europe by 20XX”.
* How many Muslims have condemned terrorism? A lot. Take a look at this list.

I wanna be honest: I don’t find Islam attractive or compelling as a religion. However, I do believe we can work together and live together in peace if we will actually listen to each other. Please share this post with those who need to hear this message.

Finally, here’s a useful video from Time Magazine about the current controversy over a Muslim center in New York. Can you see that these are ordinary, well-educated American people? Check out Somewhere, Over The Rainbow.

Also see International Have a Meal with a Muslim Day.

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Somewhere, Over The Rainbow

Posted by spritzophrenia on July 28, 2010

Do I want there to be a God? Do I want g0d to exist? Or perhaps another kind of spiritual reality, like Nirvana? Yes, today I think I do.

I’m inhaling the scent from the flowers a dear friend gave me. I’m looking at the sun shining through the trees outside my window, and thinking it would be nice if there was something more than the mere material world. Maybe God. A nice g0d, of course. That would be kinda cool. I’m not claiming my desire for the numinous is evidence g0d exists, although some have argued that.

I can hear my imaginary friend say “Aha! How can you possibly search for meaning without utterly passionless detachment? You’re biased.” To which I smile, “Of course I’m biased. Show me someone who isn’t”.

As Iain writes, there are dangers of wish fulfilment in religion. No-one is completely objective but I think commitment to a position is perfectly ok. It doesn’t preclude the ability to reason well. Philosopher Roger Trigg says scientists are committed to an intellectual position when they work, but this doesn’t invalidate their research.

Dancing in the sunlit forest

Sikh religion ascribes importance to the sanscrit word sat. It means “truth” ¹ and is used in many ways: satsangi (follower of truth), satguru (conveyor of truth), satsang (speaking of truth), and more. I’m committed to truth, as well as to my desires. As Trigg concludes:

It is fashionable to fix one’s attention of the fact of commitment. This is understandable. If our commitment determines what we regard as true, all that matters is whether a commitment is sincere. … As we have seen, however, commitments involve claims to truth which are logically prior to the commitment. It follows that what ought to be of fundamental interest is whether the claims are true and the commitments justifiable. ²

Here’s an example of commitment to an opposite point of view, respected atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel writes about not wanting God to exist:

I am talking of … the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true… It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God: I don’t want the universe to be like that. … I am curious whether there is anyone who is genuinely indifferent as to whether there is a God – anyone who, whatever his actual belief about the matter, doesn’t particularly want either one of the answers to be correct.” ³

The obscenities inflicted upon us by religious zealots revolt me.

However, would I like there to be a g0d? Today at least, I say yes. How about you?

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Notes
1. Sat means more than the English word “truth”, but we’re keeping things simple here. Thanks to Brian at Church of the Churchless for introducing me to the word.
2. Roger Trigg, Reason and Commitment (Cambridge University Press, 1973).
3. Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (Oxford University Press, 1997) page 130 – quoted in Timothy Keller, The Reason for God.

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The Police | Spirits in a Material World

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Should Society Tell Women What To Wear?

Posted by spritzophrenia on May 17, 2010

In the news recently some European countries seek to ban the full face veil worn by some Muslim women – two variations known as the burkha and the niqab. Religious freedom and the veil has become a sticky issue.

This BBC article contains a useful guide to the most common styles of veil Muslim women wear – there’s more than two! Full face veils are a minority custom and a national Italian Islamic council is among many who point out that it’s not a core requirement of the religion. The Dean of Al Azhar University calls full face veiling “a custom that has nothing to do with the Islamic faith“.

Cultural differences can be both enlightening and amusing. It’s possible that veiling women only sexualises them more. I know of two women who lived in a country (Malaysia?) where women generally cover most of their body. They used to joke about local men lusting after body parts that nobody cared about in New Zealand. Then one day they both wore sleeveless blouses on a bus, and the driver almost drove off the road staring at their arms. After that they were more careful about what they wore.

In discussing the European situation with a friend we both agreed the only reason to ban full veils would be for security reasons. We don’t allow motorcycle helmets or balaclavas to be worn in banks and it’s probably reasonable to ban full face veils for the same reason. An alternative would be to require the veil to be dropped in certain situations, for example when stopped by the police.

esoteric
A woman wearing the Niqab protests in Tours, France, February 2010

However, some polititians have suggested that such veiling denigrates women and they propose a ban for feminist reasons. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the full veils “threaten the dignity of women”. Regardless of whether this is the case, that’s no reason to try and suppress someone’s culture. Let me say at this point I believe that, like conservative Christianity, conservative Islam represses woman and I’m not a fan of full face veils. Regardless, we may not like it but we must allow these women the freedom to choose such dress.

Ironically, I wonder whether the desire to “free” these women would have exactly the opposite effect, forcing them to stay at home because they won’t be able to go out in public. (On further reading I see the Muslim Executive of Belgium has argued the same thing, warning it would lead to women who do wear the veil being trapped in their homes.)

There is also some talk along the lines of “these people have come to our country and they should integrate with us”. Stefaan van Heck, an MP with the Belgian Green Party, is one who argues that unveiling women is better for social integration. However, integration should not mean assimilation. Diversity of cultures enriches our countries, and minority groups should be encouraged to retain their languages and customs provided we don’t end up with ghettos. I think if you are in a foreign country it’s respectful and wise to learn the language and follow local customs. However, this does not mean one has to completely lose one’s own culture.

Ban the burkha for security reasons if that’s the best solution, but don’t try to justify it by appealing to women’s rights or the need for cultural assimilation.

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What do you think?

Posted in Islam, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

God Doesn’t Want You To Fly Into Buildings

Posted by spritzophrenia on March 6, 2010

I guess we needed some hope. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, a Muslim scholar based in the UK has condemned terrorism and criticized Islamic extremists who cite their religion to justify violence.

Ul-Qadri’s 600-page fatwa is “arguably the most comprehensive theological refutation of Islamist terrorism to date,” according to the Quilliam Foundation, a London organization that describes itself as a counterterrorism think tank.

“Terrorism is terrorism,” ul-Qadri said at a news conference hosted by the foundation. “Violence is violence. It has no place in Islamic teaching, and no justification can be provided to it.

The foundation mentioned says ul-Qadri “is the founder of the Minhaj-ul-Quran, an organization with hundreds of thousands of followers in South Asia and the United Kingdom” and is a “mainstream Muslim scholar” who is a “widely recognized and respected authority on Islamic jurisprudence.” I hope that’s so, I’m a bit sceptical of most people who say they have a following of hundreds of thousands when that can’t be verified. [Edit: On further checking he does seem to have a large following]. Islam is a large and varied religion, and I don’t know if he will be listened to or even heard of by people easily swayed by extremists.

Still, here’s hoping someone listens to him.

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