Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas have fought their biggest battle yet for Syria's beleaguered president, prompting international alarm that the civil war may spread and an urgent call for restraint from the United States.
Massive protests in Turkey yesterday highlighted the growing tension between religious Turks and their secular sisters in the predominantly Muslim country.
Two weeks after three Bible sellers were murdered by Turkish zeoloats, the at least 700,000 secular protesters were concerned about what Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul’s campaign for presidency would mean for non-religious Turks living in Istanbul and other major cities.
âPeople here are the real Turkey,” one protester told the New York Times:
It is an emotional reaction to a relatively new layering of society that began 20 years ago but has accelerated recently. A massive migration from rural areas to Turkeyâs cities and a large-scale economic boom have drawn an entirely new class of religious Turks from the countryâs heartland into the life of its secular cities.
The class is represented by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is challenging the secular elite, forcing a presidential candidate upon them whom they find completely distasteful.
On Friday, the military gave him a warning. It has ousted four elected governments since 1960, and seemed to be considering whether to make Mr. Erdoganâs the fifth. On Sunday, Mr. Erdogan gave a warning of his own: He will continue to push his candidate, an action that will probably lead to early national elections.
Secular Turks fear that Mr. Erdogan has a secret agenda to impose Islamic law on Turkey and that his partyâs move to secure the presidency, the highest seat of secularism in Turkey, is one of the final steps needed to start that process.
But Metin Heper, a professor at Bilkent University in Ankara, said: âThey fear these people, but these fears are groundless. Gradually, they will see that these people are no different from themselves.â
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LAFD’s public image continues to spiral down. My colleague, Eugene Tong, reported yesterday that someone had gotten on the PA of a fire station in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood (synonymous with L.A. Jewry) and sung, “Who let the Jews out?” to the tune of the Baha Men’s hit song.
That story hit the wire and caught the eye of New Yorker Sam Apple, who is Jewish and two years ago published a book called “Schlepping Through the Alps,” described by The Washington Post as “The liveliest, most unusual travel tale in recent memory.”
To promote his book, Apple created a Passover parody that he put up on YouTube.
Jewcy rated it the second best Jewish Viral Video based on “Jewishness, re-watchability and viral impact (basically, whether you would be proud to forward it).” Apple’s video, which features a distraught Pharoah and a caravan of Israelites driving slammed Caddies through a parted Red Sea, was called “Who let the Jews out?”
Apple, who obviously suffers from Jewish guilt, called Tong to apologize for any indirect harm he may have caused.
Swiss scientist Michel Mayor, who was credited with co-finding the first planet outside our solar system, is now sleuthing for signs of alien life. What if he finds it? What would that mean for the religious faithful on planet Earth?
It’s a vexing question, mostly because it seems impossible to know the importance of the answer. Two years ago, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders told me the existence of extraterrestrials wouldn’t contradict theological doctrine. Mormons and Seventh-day Adventists already believe aliens exist, though not the kind that tried to eat Sigourney Weaver. Scientology, on the other hand, is built upon scary space creatures.
From an article I wrote for The Sun (no longer available online):
The theological significance of extraterrestrial life has been debated for centuries. In the Middle Ages, as today, some argued that God could have created worlds better than ours; others maintained that Earth was the center of God’s universe.
“Although it became heretical to deny that God could create other worlds, it was dangerous to claim he had,’ Joseph L. Spradley, a physics and astronomy professor at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., wrote in 1998 for a fellowship of Christian scientists.
The verdict from most Christians is still out. However, many theologians say, if God did create other worlds and other people, that would not contradict the biblical story of the sin of man being redeemed by the son of God.
“How God shares the story of creation and of love and of the ultimate hope for the restoration of all things in God’s design, I think that can be worked out in many different ways,’ said Philip A. Amerson, president of the Claremont School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary.
There could be different paths to God on different planets, Amerson said. Others accept a more traditional salvation model.
“Saint Paul would suggest to indicate, and it is just a hint, that if there is life on other planets, and these beings needed salvation or redemption, the death of Christ on planet Earth would be a sufficient price,’ said the Rev. John Jefferson Davis, a Presbyterian and professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary near Boston.
Another possibility is that extraterrestrials would not need atonement, Seventh-day Adventists believe. Because these beings would not have been borne of Adam and Eve, they would be perfectly moral beings incapable of sin.
It doesn’t matter what rhetorical polishing President Bush’s team has done to market the “War on Terror.” Outside the United States, it’s perceived as an effort to undermine—even attack—Islam, according to a report by WorldPublicOpinion.org, a research group affiliated with the University of Maryland.
“While US leaders may frame the conflict as a war on terrorism, people in the Islamic world clearly perceive the US as being at war with Islam,â said Steven Kull, editor of WorldPublicOpinion.org.
Muslims have raised concerns about the “War on Terrorism” since President Bush briefly dubbed it a “crusade” back in September 2001. [The word, which conjures up images of medieval battles between Christians and Muslims, was quickly scrapped.]
In Egypt, 92 percent of those polled believe one of the U.S.‘s goals is to weaken and divide the Islamic world. Only four percent disagreed. Seventy-eight percent agreed with the statement in Morocco, and 73 percent shared that view in Pakistan and Indonesia.
While suspicious of U.S. foreign policy, the people polled also expressed opposition to terrorism. Attacks aimed at civilians to carry out political goals are “not at all justified” according to 57 percent of Moroccans, 77 percent of Egyptians, 81 percent of Pakistanis and 84 percent of Indonesians.
U.S. Muslims were not surveyed. Though Muslim Americans might not believe the United States is at war with Islam, they have grown increasingly concerned about home-grown Islamophobia. When I wrote about this two weeks ago, it incited some e-mails that warranted their fears.
But this statement from WorldPublicOpinion’s press release helps explain why some Americans broadly paint Muslims as scary:
Most respondents have mixed feelings about al Qaeda. Large majorities agree with many of its goals, but believe that terrorist attacks on civilians are contrary to Islam.
Many people would stop reading after that first sentence.
“Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?”
Hitler reportedly asked that question of his commanding generals in 1939, as he prepared to rid the world of Jews. Holocaust historians site this quotation when trying to explain Hitler’s rational for how his acts would escape world condemnation. And yet, Jews—who have so much in common with Armenians—have struggled to embrace Armenians as true kindred spirits, diaspora people like Jews, who, though they did not suffer the Holocaust, suffered a holocaust.
Today marks the 92nd anniversary of the beginning of what mosthistorians call the Armenian Genocide. And though most Western countries have recognized the acts as genocide, the United States and Israel have not. The U.S. has not wanted to offend an important military ally, and Israel has been hard pressed to condemn the founding fathers of the best friend in the Muslim world.
But the tide has shifted.
Two years ago, the Daily News’ Lisa Friedman reported that Rep. Mark Lantos, Congress’ only Holocaust survivor, had changed course and now supported a resolution to call the slaugthering of Armenians by Ottomon Turks a genocide. Media outlets have been all over the story this year, the year handicappers predict Congress might finally pass a non-binding resolution calling the atrocities genocide. (The LA Times had a front-page story Saturday and an Opinion cover Sunday.) A January headline in the Turkish Daily Newsproclaimed, “US Jewish lobby warns Turkish MFA: Even we might not be able to block the Armenian genocide bill if you donât move.”
Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative Encino synagogue, has begun pushing for Jewish recognition. I covered an event the synagogue held in January that brought together Armenian and Jewish youth for a screening of the moving “Screamers,” a documentary following the rock band System of a Down’s campaign to have the genocide acknowledged across Europe and the U.S.
“Amnesia of the past foreshadows amnesia of the future. Forget yesterday’s tragedy and the threat to tomorrow is denied. Forget the first genocide of the 20th century—the murder of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915—and the memory and atrocities of the first genocide of the 21st century in Darfur turn invisible, and the world response is muted,” Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom wrote in this week’s Jewish Journal.
” ... Every genocide is singular. But a kinship of suffering unites us all. To play the shameless game of “one-downsmanship” is an invidious sport. My blood is not redder than yours, my suffering not more painful than yours. Hatred consumes us all indiscriminately.”
Schulweis, who founded the group Jewish World Watch, which is working against the genocide in Darfur, also will preside over a shabbat dinner for Armenians and Jews at his temple Friday night. He will be joined by His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate, Western Diocese/Armenian Church of North America.
Turkey does not dispute that more than a million Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1923, but it attributes the deaths to civil strife and notes that many Turks died then, too; there are even statues to who lost their lives.
“Let’s unearth the truth about what happened in 1915 together,” the Turkish embassy said in a full page ad on the back of the LA Times A section Monday. “We can face the truth about our past; we call upon the Armenians to do the same.”
So today, I accepted a writing job at the largest Jewish paper outside New York. I know what you’re thinking. You’re not Jewish. Not religiously. No matter how bushy a beard you can grow. Correct, but I’ll be reporting about a lot more than just Judaism—Jewish life, politics, history and most everything else.
The job will be satisfying both professionally and personally. The weekly format and larger newshole will help me develop my narrative voice and become an expert in a specific field. The subject matter will allow me to learn more about my ancestors while getting a paycheck.
My new digs will be in Koreatown. From the 15th floor suite, I can see Kate’s office and for the first time since we got married, we’ll be able to meet up for lunch. (My first job put us 80 miles apart; the Daily News separates us by 20 miles.)
I’m grateful for the time I’ve had in Woodland Hills, for the opportunities Ron and Melissa have given me to grow, for the shepherding editing of Aron Miller, who brought me here. This unexpected offer brought a tough decision; I’ll miss a lot of people. Brent Hopkins, my good buddy and role model here at the Daily News, had this nice farewell on the paper’s union blog.
During the next two weeks, if you have a good religion story, let me know. And after that, I’ll be taking the religion blog with me. Loyal God Blogites (Mom, I know you’re reading), please come and see what I’m doing for the Jewish Journal.
It’s not often I read an editorial that begins like this:
IN THE BIBLICAL Book of Job, the anguished hero is visited by three friends who attempt to comfort him by drawing airy and sententious lessons from his agonies. Of course, they end up adding to his troubles; Job endures not only the real pains of grief and sickness but the indignity of having his suffering milked for rhetorical effect.
Thanks to the LA Times for this thoughtful reflection on everything politicians and activists can do wrong in the immediate wake of tragedy. Pushing for gun control; insisting a broader right to bear arms. Blaming the university for not reacting quick enough. Dismissing the attack to a shunned lover’s rage.
“I have heard many such things,” Job says. “Miserable comforters are ye all.” No newspaper is in a position to criticize anybody for capitalizing on tragedy or taking convenient positions. There will be time for both in the days to come. But now is a time to respect, quietly, the tears and the pain of this terrible event.
Liviu Librescu survived the Holocaust. But while millions worldwide observed Yom HaShoah Monday, Librescu sacrificed his life for his Virginia Tech students. From the Jerusalem Post, via my favorite blog:
Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, threw himself in front of the shooter when the man attempted to enter his classroom. The Israeli mechanics and engineering lecturer was shot to death, “but all the students lived - because of him,” Virginia Tech student Asael Arad - also an Israeli - told Army Radio.
Several of Librescu’s other students sent e-mails to his wife, Marlena, telling of how he blocked the gunman’s way and saved their lives, said Librescu’s son, Joe.
“My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee,” Joe Librescu said in a telephone interview from his home outside of Tel Aviv. “Students started opening windows and jumping out.”
“If you ever forget you are a Jew, a Gentile will remind you.”
So the saying goes. And for me, it was true: I grew up in a Christian home and, aside from my last name, knew nothing about what it was to be Jewish. Except of course, for the jokes, which usually involved terms like “money grubbing.”
It seems today that presidential hopeful Tommy Thompson wasn’t aware of the stereotype that says Jews are stingy money hoarders, a slander that has been used to incite violence and foment malevolence. Here is what he told a group of Jewish activists, courtesy of Haaretz:
“I’m in the private sector and for the first time in my life I’m earning money. You know that’s sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that.”
Thompson later apologized for the comments that had caused a stir in the audience, saying that he had meant it as a compliment, and had only wanted to highlight the “accomplishments” of the Jewish religion.
“I just want to clarify something because I didn’t [by] any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things,” he said.
It’s difficult to imagine someone being so oblivious, but he is running for president. That should be worth something. The headline from the Dallas Morning News’ religion blog says it all: “Next he’ll tell the NAACP that he loves that great fried chicken and watermelon they serve…”
Texas is synonymous with capital punishment. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Texas has executed 391 people. This year, 12 Texans have been executed; the other 49 states have killed a sole convicted murderer.
That’s what makes this so surprising: The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board has called for an end to the death penalty. Here’s the explanation:
Ernest Ray Willis set a fire that killed two women in Pecos County. So said Texas prosecutors who obtained a conviction in 1987 and sent Mr. Willis to death row. But it wasn’t true.
Seventeen years later, a federal judge overturned the conviction, finding that prosecutors had drugged Mr. Willis with powerful anti-psychotic medication during his trial and then used his glazed appearance to characterize him as “cold-hearted.” They also suppressed evidence and introduced neither physical proof nor eyewitnesses in the trial â and his court-appointed lawyers mounted a lousy defense. Besides, another death-row inmate confessed to the killings.
The state dropped all charges. Ernest Ray Willis emerged from prison a pauper. But he was lucky: He had his life. Not so Carlos De Luna, who was executed in 1989 for the stabbing death of a single mother who worked at a gas station. For years, another man with a history of violent crimes bragged that he had committed the crime. The case against Mr. De Luna, in many eyes, does not stand up to closer examination.
There are signs he was innocent. We don’t know for sure, but we do know that if the state made a mistake, nothing can rectify it.
And that uncomfortable truth has led this editorial board to re-examine its century-old stance on the death penalty. This board has lost confidence that the state of Texas can guarantee that every inmate it executes is truly guilty of murder. We do not believe that any legal system devised by inherently flawed human beings can determine with moral certainty the guilt of every defendant convicted of murder.
That is why we believe the state of Texas should abandon the death penalty â because we cannot reconcile the fact that it is both imperfect and irreversible.
From our vantage point in Dallas County, the possibility of tragic, fatal error in the death chamber appears undeniable. We have seen a parade of 13 men walk out of the prison system after years â even decades â of imprisonment for crimes they didn’t commit. Though not death penalty cases, these examples â including an exoneration just last week â reveal how shaky investigative techniques and reliance on eyewitnesses can derail the lives of the innocent.
Here is the religious spin on capital punishment, from an article I wrote for The Sun before Tookie Williams was executed:
There is diversity across political ideology and religious dogma.
Generally, though, Jews oppose the death penalty, as do Buddhists. Many Muslims believe it is an acceptable punishment although some decry its application.
Pope John Paul II, who once met with the man who tried to kill him and publicly expressed his forgiveness, strongly condemned the death penalty in 1999. U.S. Catholic bishops this spring announced a campaign to put the punishment to rest.
Most Protestant denominations also have publicly joined the abolitionists in what they see as the other pro-life issue.
But the largest U.S. Christian denomination Southern Baptists support states’ rights to execute murderers.
“The same ones who support pro-life support the death penalty. It is an oxymoron,’ said the Rev. Michael Nichols, a Southern Baptist chaplain at California Institution for Men in Chino who disagrees with his denomination’s stance.
The United States is the only westernized nation to allow capital punishment. Last year, it was one of four countries that accounted for 97 percent of known executions, according to Amnesty International. The other three were China, Iran and Vietnam.
In the United States, this is attributed to stronger Christian convictions, say some theologians and the writings of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
“If we don’t have God as the author of law, then law is meaningless because it is whatever we say it is and the Nazis were right,’ said Kevin Thomas, an assistant professor of theology and law at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.
Christians who support the death penalty often point to the 13th chapter of the New Testament book of Romans:
“If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.’
Other supporters refer to several passages in the Old Testament, particularly the ninth chapter of Genesis: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.’
But more liberal theologians argue Jesus Christ, who was crucified, opposed executions. In fact, Christ is credited with the clemency most widely known throughout history that of a woman caught in adultery.
“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,’ he said, according to the Gospel of John.
Two weeks ago, the man synonymous with carefree adverturism, someone who lept the fountain at Caesar’s Palace (right), told a Palm Sunday crowd at the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County that he had taken a leap of faith.
“I don’t know what in the world happened,” Robert “Evel” Knievel said. “I don’t know if it was the power of the prayer or God himself, but it just reached out, either while I was driving or walking down the sidewalk or sleeping, and it justâthe power of God in Jesus just grabbed me. â¦ All of a sudden, I just believed in Jesus Christ. I did, I believed in him! â¦ I rose up in bed and, I was by myself, and I said, ‘Devil, Devil, you bastard you, get away from me. I cast you out of my life.’ â¦ I just got on my knees and prayed that God would put his arms around me and never, ever, ever let me go.”
Evel’s testimony reportedly resulted in hundreds of people being baptized on the spot. From an article I submitted to Christianity Today last night, online now.
Why are Jews so smart? (Or dumb, depending on your point of reference.) Well, in this month’s Commentary Magazine, controversial scholar Charles Murray, a self-described “Scots-Irish Gentile,” has a piece titled “Jewish Genius” in which he writes that “going back to the time of Moses, Judaism was intertwined with intellectual complexity.”
In the first half of the 20th century, despite pervasive and continuing social discrimination against Jews throughout the Western world, despite the retraction of legal rights, and despite the Holocaust, Jews won 14 percent of Nobel Prizes in literature, chemistry, physics, and medicine/physiology. In the second half of the 20th century, when Nobel Prizes began to be awarded to people from all over the world, that figure rose to 29 percent. So far, in the 21st century, it has been 32 percent. Jews constitute about two-tenths of one percent of the worldâs population. You do the math.
New York Cityâs public-school system used to administer a pencil-and-paper IQ test to its entire school population. In 1954, a psychologist used those test results to identify all 28 children in the New York public-school system with measured IQâs of 170 or higher. Of those 28, 24 were Jews.
Nothing that I have presented up to this point is scientifically controversial. The profile of disproportionately high Jewish accomplishment in the arts and sciences since the 18th century, the reality of elevated Jewish IQ, and the connection between the two are not to be denied by means of data. And so we come to the great question: how and when did this elevated Jewish IQ come about?
Murray, of the American Enterprise Institute, tries to answer that question here. He refutes research published last year in the Journal of Biosocial Science that reported Ashkenazi Jews had heightened intelligence, but not Sephardic or Oriental Jews. Gregory Cochran, an author of that study, snaps back in The Forward.
âI would call it pure speculation,â said Cochran, who is a researcher in Utah. âI donât think thereâs any evidence heâs right.â
Murray acknowledges that his work is based more on historical impressions than on rigorous science, but it is already provoking debate in a corner of the intellectual world that tends to make Jews very uncomfortable: genetics.
Cochranâs work was widely panned by geneticists, and Murray makes even less of an effort to placate these experts with scientifically grounded evidence. The assumption from which both researchers work â that intelligence has a genetic basis â is still disputed by many scientists. Harry Ostrer, a leading Jewish geneticist, said that Murrayâs work was âspeculationâ and that both Murray and Cochran trade in a âlove of group typology â Jews are smart and blacks are great athletes.â
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