27 October 2014

'Tis the Season - for Voting

I object to unsolicited, unwanted political calls.  I know when election day is.  I know when and where early voting is.  I know how to apply for and execute an absentee ballot.  And I know how to find the specific details I need when I'm ready to vote. 

I'm tired of candidate mail, e-mail, and phone calls, especially the bot calls  because "their people" have access to records that show I have not voted yet.   I haven't given permission for my voting history to be accessible to political party honchos so they can feel free to dog me until I do vote.   I'll vote when I'm damned good and ready and none of the political advertisements, good or bad, influence my choice in a positive way.   

That political party dupes are manipulatively dogging me to vote only encourages me NOT to vote for the candidate who are the subject of their calls.  That some of the calls are financed by out of state funders who want to manipulate elections is beyond unconscionable.  When the calls solicit my vote by gossiping about  the other candidates and trying to create scandal (some of which is actual slander), and because they all do it, my only choice is to vote for whomever does the least mud-slinging.  I doubt that is the best way to choose a candidate,  but given that human decency is at the top of my list, at least it is the process available to me to weed out the worst candidates i.e. those who engage in the most mud-slinging. 

I would prefer to vote based on the needed skills I think a candidate will bring to the office, and top of the list is how willing a candidate is to educate the constituency, and as importantly to be educated by the constituency when factual efforts (rather than mere opinion) are made by knowledgeable constituents.  However, without human decency the other abilities of a candidate diminish in their relevancy, in my opinion, since each candidate has at least the minimum ability to fulfill the responsibilities of the office for which he or she is running.  When I pick up the phone to hang up, after the bot recording starts, and do not have the advantage of knowing to what extent the candidate wants to gossip about other candidates (some is factual, some is slanderous), then my secondary method for weeding out who I vote for is to vote for the person who has not called or who has called the least number of times. 

I have lived in states which actually enable and promote democratic process.   I have yet to consider where I live as one of these state.  Why is that?  How about this, or more specifically the absence of this.  Consider a state that creates a publication each election which simply states the facts.  It presents each candidate, no matter the party - including third parties; it presents each issue, changes in the law; referendums and initiatives are included.  A short version describing these is in the front of the publication.  A long version of the actual laws and/or proposed changes, is in the back of the publication.  A very short pro and con of a few sentences  is also offered for each candidate and issue which has only to do with the facts.  The publication is objective.  There is no mud-slinging.   The publication is delivered to every mailbox, voter or not, citizen or not.   An effort is made to educate the voters.  That is priceless.  Additionally, at the poles the flag is proximately placed and visible so that it is easy to find the voting location; this is not the case where I have voted, nor when I have worked at the polls on election day.
 

All states would be well advised to use political contributions to produce and distribute such a publication rather than subsidizing the advertising of party mud-slinging.  Instead it seems where I live that government at all levels  relishes underestimating both the intelligence and concern of  voters and everyone else.   Everyone is affected by the results of election day, citizen or not, monetary contributor or not.  Everyone has the right to know about the candidates and the issues whether or not they qualify to vote, whether or not they contribute to campaigns.   

Bottom line:  everyone should have the right to have easy  access to an objective printed publication detailing candidates and issues.  When that happens in my state it will come much closer to actually enabling and promoting democratic process instead of government by the favored system:  "ol' boy/ol' girl, its who you know and/or how much money you contribute".

Reza Aslan Knows How to Address Religious Bigotry. Is Anyone Listening?

So here we go with some valuable Reza Aslan wisdom.  He has been in the media quite a lot, recently, and for good reason.  The man knows of that which he speaks - and does so factually, kindly, and with good humor.  Plus he has the patience to continue repeating what people need to know and understand.  But why must he continue to repeat himself endlessly?  Well, I would say its because sacred ignorance makes poor listeners of everyone.  

Reza Aslan has a realistic perspective about religion, in general (outside of dogma unique to individual religions on which he also has a good handle).  And he has earned numerous degrees in religion and theology, so has the credentials needed to be taken seriously.  Additionally, his video about his most recent best selling book, "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" is excellent.  Two recent books have been on the New York Times best seller list:   "No god but God: The origins, Evolution, and the future of Islam", in 2005 and "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth", last year.

Being a comparative religion dilettante, myself (with no degree in the field but a long time interest and years of study), what he says that no one else is saying and needs to be said, rings true with me

Aslan was recently interviewed by Salon's Elias Isquith, for Salon, 10 October 2014 in part because of the  way he repeatedly stands up to bigoted comments without loosing his cool.
"EXCLUSIVE: Reza Aslan on Bill Maher’s anti-Islam crusade: 'Frank bigotry'" ("Author and scholar who's quarreled with comedian over Islam before tells Salon why this time is different")  And he was an Op-Ed contributor to the New York Times two days earlier with his article "Bill Maher Isn’t the Only One Who Misunderstands Religion"

Reza Aslan lets loose on atheists for a while in this Salon interview, and is totally on target as well as being factual without being unkind ". . . they tend to read the scriptures more literally than any literalist I know."  Yes,  I have noticed that, myself, in the way some atheists talk about religion - the way they assign ignorant beliefs to religious folks which few religious folks have.  Religious folks interpret their religions differently than they were interpreted centuries ago.   And I'm not referring to the politicalization here of religion which tends to corrupt every religion over the centuries, but instead the way in which we understand the spiritual lessons that are taught in relation to our own times and places.  But the thing about religion (any philosophy or body of knowledge, actually) is that when it is universal the understandings of the profound truths religion teaches, flexibly fit into any time and place, rather than being limited to interpretation only in terms of the environment of origin.  Aslan refers to that as being part of religious literacy.   So many religious folks are not literate religiously, so how could we expect atheists to be? 

Aslan points out a basic important idea about religion that seems to escape notice of government and media, universally, and thus, unfortunately the general public. 
To point out the obvious the example he uses is a cultural belief that is being superimposed upon religion in a specific nation.  "It is really the single most basic idea about religion, that it marries itself to whatever culture it comes into contact with. If you ask a Saudi Imam why women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive, he’ll say, “Because Islam demands it.” But that’s absurd because, first of all, Islam demands no such thing; and secondly, the only country in the world in which women can’t drive is Saudi Arabia.  So the inability to understand the difference between a cultural practice and religious belief is shocking among self-described intellectuals."  Oh, yes.  That is so very true.  Not understanding the difference leads to bigoted blanket statements - as Aslan points out.

Reza Aslan does not talk about ISIL or Afghanistan, but I consider both to be an example of his comment.  The media would love to blame Arabs for ISIL.   Yes, when it comes to ISIL the media so wants to blame Arabs and Muslims, but the terrorists are clearly foreign to the region.   We know lots of them are Chechens - probably a majority of them . . . the same brutal trouble-makers who created chaos and raised havoc in Syria . . . until they changed their location to take hostage a piece of land we currently refer to as ISIL. 

And how does this relate to Aslan's comment?  Well, it looks like the Chechens are still trying to spread the Russian revolution, or expand the U.S.S.R.'s Communist Empire.  Does that make ISIL a "Russian" invasion?  Well of course not - technically - without the existence of the U.S.S.R that is not possible.   But maybe, culturally, that is exactly what they are doing - even though the Chechen terrorists claim to hate Russia and in fact claim they are motivated to do what they do by that hate. 

The ISIL Chechens are gloating because of doing something U.S.S.R. but did not succeed at doing. U.S.S.R. did  not understanding the importance of religion in the lives of the people in nations which it wanted to include in it's empire.  But look what Chechens have done by using and abusing religion to foment rebellion in Syria, and victimize Syrian people; and look at what they are doing now in what they claim is their very own ISIL territory.

To understand ISIL better it is necessary to have a better understanding of Chechens, for the purpose of understanding the difference between being driven by religious beliefs, and being driven by cultural practices associated with the politics of their ethnic history and environment.  And that means we need to take a look at Afghanistan too.


"The Secret Battles Between US Forces and Chechen Terrorists" provides some insight into that.  However there is nothing much secret about any of this, and we sure didn't need Wikileaks to tell us what was blatantly obvious - that Chechens have been involved in the training and fighting of the terrorist in Afghanistan

Daryl Morini says about U.S.S.R.'S "Viet-Nam" in Afghanistan:  "The fear of militant Islam affecting Moscow’s control over its Muslim population was also behind the Kremlin rationale for war. This particular mentality, whether right or wrong, continued in the guises of two full-scale Russian wars in Chechnya. Finally, the prestige of socialist ideology was also at stake in Afghanistan . . . "

And why does that matter?  Well, the longer the inability to understand the difference between a cultural practice and religious belief is evident in bigoted statements that are made about religion, the longer there is avoidance about understanding the politics driving the problems, and thus the long term solutions evade those who want to blame the problem on religion rather than politics.  And the longer unwarranted blame of religion goes on.

What does this have to do with Aslan's comments?  Well, the lack of religious literacy he points out, is not simply theoretical, or a reaction to Islamophobia.  It is definitely connected to real world problems as an underlying cause and an exacerbation of problems.

Daryl Morini says "Ten years of war against a popular Afghan resistance stirred discontent within the USSR, and probably contributed greatly to the collapse and popular unrest of 1991."

Do Americans not realize the "Afghan resistance" (aided by U.S. during U.S.S.R's time in Afghanistan) is having exactly the same effect on  U.S.A.?  Knowing this would be the result many did not want the U.S. to militarily address problems in Afghanistan.  But so to does the resistance wherever we are involved in military action, create discontent at home.  For example We need to get our heads on straight, collectively as Americans, and understand that in all the centuries Afghanistan has existed, its people have become expert at skillfully using their mountainous terrain to fend off outsiders whether they are would be invaders, terrorists wanting to hide out, and/or there by invitation.  Leave them alone to fight their own battles and solve their own problems.  They have managed to do it for centuries and foiled invasions all that time.  No matter what the predominate religion, the political differences created because of differences in interpretation of religion. are due to cultural difference.  Just like the Chechen terrorists of ISIL now do, the Afghanis hiding out in the mountains adopted a culture of using their flawed interpretation of religion as a weapon.  Clearly Aslan is on to something important when he talks about the inability to understand the difference between a cultural practice and religious belief.  It is, indeed, shocking - especially in otherwise astute people.

Other gems in the Aslan's Salon interview:  "I always say that it’s not enough to just know more about your neighbor’s religion. We have to become a far more religious literate people. It’s bizarre that we are the most religiously devout, developed country in the world, and yet our understanding of the historical, sociological, philosophical and cultural aspects of religion is so uninformed and basic."

Religion is a matter of identity
much more so than it is a matter of beliefs and practices, and that is something that is very, very difficult for Americans to understand."

Truly.  That is why the fear-mongering Islamophobia of our politicians repeatedly proves they are unable to differentiate between the cultural influences of a nation and religious influences which are also subject to cultural influences.  More specifically the bigoted comments indicate there is no understanding of unique cultural influences that determine the way in which religion is interpreted because of culture.  Until they can differentiate, and until the media can and does, our military actions in predominately Muslim lands seem increasingly to be an exercise in charging around like an angry bull in a china closet because of not addressing the actual political problems that are reflected in destructive ways in religion.  Essentially religion is being used like a "human shield" by terrorists whose actions and attitudes are all politically motivated.

Given our own "separation of church and state" which is designed to protect religions and government from one another, if we really truly understood the profundity of that as Americans, then we would also understand the protections it provides for us.  Because of this we have no need to do ideological battle because of religious differences competing to influence government, and corrupting government in the process.  Religious differences, politicized, are proven to have the potential to create internal strife at best,  civil war at worst.  Anyone remember that it was religious strive in England that landed the Puritans and Pilgrims on the east coast of North America?  These facts should be well known -  should not have been forgotten.  If we truly understood that we are protected from these problems in our nation by the separation of church and state, then how could we and our elected and appointed government officials have so many obvious problems understanding the difference between cultural practices in nations and their influence on interpretation of religious beliefs in a nation where there is no separation of church and state?  Or do we not understand because we DO protect religion and government from one another, and simply can not comprehend the extent of trouble that not doing so has the potential to create?  Either way we have a lesson to learn.

Understand this: the undue influence of religion on government because of cultural interpretation about which all do not agree, and the undue influence of government on religion when it adopts a specific interpretation of religion with which all do not agree politically, results in the political problems that potentially victimize segments of the population . . . as we see in Afghanistan and other nations where we are involved  militarily, that do not separate "church and state".

I have long found it interesting to learn from individuals why they believe what they believe.  Myself, I like to learn these things that Aslan tells us we need to know about all religions and denominations - as long as I am convinced  it is not a conversion effort - that it is clearly understood the purpose for discussing religion is for the purpose of religious literacy.  And I know many folks feel similarly which might be why some might not be open to learning anything about any other religions or denomination, unless it is very clear to them it is not a conversion effort.

Of course it is importance to differentiate between the culture of a nation, and the religion as uniquely practiced because of that culture, in  nations that do not separate church and state.  When we do not fully comprehend a political environment in nations that do not separate church and state because of our nation's lack of religious literacy, we unnecessarily endanger our nation, other nations, our front line troops, and the people in the war-torn nations.

26 October 2014

Palestine for Beginners: Three Videos

Allow me to suggest a short series of excellent introductory videos. 

PALESTINE FOR BEGINNERS, PART ONE: ROOTS OF CONFLICT
PALESTINE FOR BEGINNERS, PART TWO: OCCUPATION, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND US TAX DOLLARS
PALESTINE FOR BEGINNERS, PART THREE: Issues, Obstacles, Futures

The videos were created by Palestine Information Project, written and presented by Linda Bevis and Edward Mast.  They are factual.   First I must say - do not be insulted by the "beginner" designation.  These are good videos for everyone, whether as an introduction or as a review.   If you have ever asked me, or anyone else, for information in the past I highly recommend these videos, though the amount of information might be overwhelming to anyone.  You will need to listen carefully, probably more than once, because of the amount of information being presented especially if you are not familiar with the legal issues.  In particular, the fact that the  presentation is within the legal framework in which it belongs, is key to the understanding of both problems and solutions. 

The idea of these videos as with all efforts to educate, is to convince of the necessity of understanding the issues.   Doubt and question.  If something does not sound quite right then do your own research to discover the facts for yourself.   But if you are  uninclined to make or take time to do so, then learning from these videos is the next best choice (and/or from other videos of a similar caliber).  Of course I always advocate library research using actual books and other hard copy material.   Except for scholars, and then only to fulfill course requirements for credit it seems, the book method of learning seems to fall by the wayside too often.  However, with all the publications that have been digitalized I really can not fault too much those whose preferred method of research is online.  It is convenient in many ways.  And it is a good starting place.  However, nothing really can take the place or compare with the ease and joy of sitting in the library at a table full of books, comparing and contrasting what is stated, as a way to learn the facts.  Nothing compares when making an effort to understand the complexity of issues, any issues, to sitting with a table full of open books so as to ascertain the same set of facts all authors agree upon and present, versus the selective facts they each omit and include upon which their analyses are based.  Not only is it a way to learn the facts, it is a way to learn how much each author can be trusted to be objective.  And objectivity is of primary importance in understanding any issue. 

If you have been paying attention to these issues for a long time these videos are a reminder of the extensive knowledge you have accumulated over time, every detail of it important to the understanding of the issues.  Well done.  Keep up the good work.

Because of a comment in the third video I would add that rarely are Palestinian individuals  prejudiced against Jews.  The confusion may lie in the fact that when Palestinians in oPt talk about the issues some will simply say "Jews" when referring to Israeli Zionists.  However, there is no confusion because everyone agrees that the problem is not the religion, or ethnicity, but instead a result of those who embrace the political ideology of Zionism.  Of course not all Jews are Zionists, and not even all Israelis are Zionists.  Some Zionists, perhaps even a majority, are Jews living in Israel.  Even so the numbers of Jews, even in Israel, who have seen the light and are no longer Zionists, is slowly diminishing.  There are a few more comments in the videos which I would make differently, more precisely, but these are introductory and as such of high value.

As usual, it most be noted there is a very clear distinction between Jewish (ethnic and religious) and Zionist (political).   The problem  is the political situation of the Israeli government's institutionalized "state" terror; because it is responsible for the illegal nature of the occupation created by those who embrace the Zionist political ideology.  Not only are Zionists victimizing Palestine, they also blame Judaism for their crimes which has become a serious problem worldwide, not only for Israelis and Jews.  It has lead to what seem to be insurmountable political obstacles, insurmountable  because International and Humanitarian laws are being violated, then when cited are neither condemned nor enforced.  Unfortunately, the U.S.A., alone most of the time, refuses to condemn the lawlessness of the Israeli government which is totally unconscionable to Americans and everyone else.