Sunday, February 15, 2015

If We Don't Pay Attention, It Almost Makes Sense




You gotta love that moral equivalence.

It should be troubling that atheists, such as Bill Maher, exhibit the most understanding of the intersection of religion and politics.  Atlantic contributing editor Jeffrey Tayler, an unabashed atheist, claims

What, some might ask, could be wrong with prayer? By common definition, prayer entails someone sitting for a quiet moment and beseeching his or her Lord for intervention in matters of grave import – that it rain on the crops or souls be saved, that gays be “healed” or atheists “see the light,” and so on. In objective terms, however, the supplicant is demanding improbable favors from an imaginary despot...

I would disagree, but it is nearly beyond dispute, as Tayler observes, that when "doing so with lowered head and genuflections and other  toadying gestures of obeisance," it is "behavior that without faith's halo would be classified as symptoms of mental derangement."

Yet, Tayler concentrates on critiquing President Obama's recent speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, where

After the keynote speaker leaves the podium, the president, as a rule, delivers an address – usually pious pablum hardly worth listening to. This year was different: President Obama’s words stirred Republicans to ire: They contended that he, in an excursus apparently of his own composition, drew a false equivalency between the atrocities committed by ISIS and the outrages perpetrated in Christianity’s name, starting with the Crusades and running all the way up to slavery and Jim Crow in the United States.

I’ll discuss what upset the Republicans in a moment. Progressives, it turns out, actually have more reason for rancor.

Tayler argues that Presidents shouldn't attend the National Prayer Breakfast, a legitimate position, but is unfair to Christianity and Judaism in arguing that it "lends credence to faiths that, by any humane standard, long ago discredited themselves and should certainly not be legitimized with Washingtonian pomp and reverence."  More justified, however, is his observation that this government was "proudly founded on the separation between Church and State," with Tayler surprisingly neglecting to add that the Ten Commandments, contrary to the imagination of most conservatives, did not serve as the basis for most of  the nation's laws.

Clearly, Tayler does not disagree with that which most incensed conservatives, the President's comment that (presumably Christian) Americans "too often... justified in the name of Christ" the atrocities of slavery and Jim Crow," a remark besotted with moral equivalence but accurate nonetheless. He is far less sanguine that the President stated

But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge -- or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.  From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it.  We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism  -- terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions. 

Tayler responds

“Betraying” Islam? Really? The Charlie Hebdo assassins were executing the death penalty against “violators” of injunctions inscribed in the Quran and the Hadith that forbid the depiction and mocking of the Prophet Muhammad. Indeed, Al Qaeda and ISIS, to which the killers may have been linked, find sanction in these texts for beheadings, the enslavement of women and much else. To justifiably claim that any of these jihadis are “betraying” Islam, we have to ignore the meaning of words in such injunctions and interpret them to suit our tastes. Unfortunately, neither the Charlie Hebdo assassins nor the butchers of ISIS choose to do this.

There comes a time that an honest Barack Obama has to come face-to-face with the reality that perhaps many violent Islamists really do understand their own religion, though they choose to manifest them in evil ways. No such luck.

President Obama continued "We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion." Responding, Tayler contended "the chief impetus for all this bloodshed and mayhem is, obviously, religion- the commonality Obama conveniently skirted."

Well, yes, of course a President (especially the first black President) couldn't say that, just as a President (especially the first black President) couldn't skip a National Prayer Breakfast.  Tayler went on "Had religion not existed, had it waned by our time, all this violence would just not have happened."

It is debatable that the violence would not have occurred anyway, given that human beings have found many other reasons- property and money come first to mind- to wage war or commit other organized mayhem. Additionally, it is impossible to determine that great acts of violence wouldn't occur without religious devotion inasmuch as, lacking that, human beings would not exist as we now know them.

But Tayler rightly criticized Obama equating "sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic...."  Last October, The New York Times reported

For three years, the northern Bekaa Valley, the birthplace of Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite paramilitary group, has been warding off ripples of war from Syria, just over the mountains. But in recent weeks, encroaching skirmishes have made the area feel more like a front line.

That foreboding was underscored in recent days as Sunni insurgents from Syria fired rockets at the mostly Shiite village of Labweh in retaliation for the Lebanese Army’s operations in Tripoli.

In November, VICE explained

Nearly two months into the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, a spate of attacks across the country illustrates the shortcomings of the international response to its disregarded conflict.

The mission, dubbed MINUSCA and officially launched on September 15, still has only two-thirds of the 11,800 peacekeepers mandated by the UN Security Council. Other divisions, such as the one for human rights, face even greater staff shortages. Operating alongside roughly 2,000 French troops and some 750 EU peacekeepers, the combined force has been hard-pressed to protect civilians amid continued fighting between predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels and Christian and animist self-defense groups called the anti-balaka in a territory roughly the size of France.

On October 10th in Dekoa, a town 160 miles north of the capital Bangui, armed members of the Seleka stormed a church where civilians had sought shelter. Despite the presence of UN peacekeepers at the entrance of the church, nine people were murdered as they hid inside the compound. French troops eventually arrived to quell the violence, but not before five more civilians were killed in the town. Three women and four children were among the dead.

Yesterday, NBC News reported

Boko Haram forces appear poised to attack Maiduguri, a city of 2 million in northeast Nigeria -- meaning that 200,000 Christians could be at risk of slaughter by the Islamist terror group, say U.S. intelligence officials and experts on Nigeria.

"An attack on Madiguri is very likely," said J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Project at the Atlantic Council, echoing U.S. intelligence officials. Pham believes, as do other experts, that Boko Haram has already placed "sleeper cells" among the tide of refugees who have fled the group's murderous rampage through Africa's most populous nation. "They've done it everywhere else they've gone," said Pham. "So why not Maiduguri?"

Admittedly, the brutal fighting in the Central African Republic pits predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels against what VICE terms "Christian and animist self-defense groups called the anti-balaka."

Still, terrorist violence around the globe lacks clear equivalence, which does not deter from equating mass murder perpetrated by Muslims but that (less common) perpetrated by Christians. But the President doesn't stop there when he cites "sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic," therein portraying virtually unspeakable crimes against humanity.

Without missing a beat- in the same sentence- the President adds "a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion." Taken together, President Obama actually stated "We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion."

It is a claim of equivalence as astonishing in its implication as in its subtlety.  At least thousands of people have been killed in Nigeria (video, below, describing abductions of Boko Haram), at least tens of thousands in the Central African Republic, and hundreds of thousands in Syria, and the President equates those atrocities with anti-Semitism and hate crimes. He  does so probably because they, he maintains, are occurring in Europe (not so on any other continent, apparently).   He makes sure not to antagonize Muslims across the world- they are, he says, doing only what Christians are doing- while European citizens have the temerity to commit "hate crimes."

Jeffrey Tayler's criticism of the institution of the national prayer breakfast is welcome, or should be. So, too, must the President come under scrutiny for the false equivalence he is so prone to creating.There are implications, not so clear today, to his eagerness to try to pull the wool over our eyes.











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