Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Intolerance In Indonesia

Having blogged about and expressing my support for the proposed Cordoba House near the former World Trade Center site in downtown Manhattan, I read with interest the developing story of a similar situation taking place in Indonesia. Only this time, the roles of majority and minority religions have changed.

From this BBC article:

For the last few weeks, a group of Christians have been holding their Sunday prayer services on an empty plot of land - resulting in violent clashes between them and the majority Muslims.

The Christians say the land belongs to them, and they were given permission by the local government to pray here.

Violence has already broken out
over this matter.

Rev. Luspida Simandjuntak, and a church elder, Hasian Lumbantoruan Sihombing, were attacked as they, along with HKBP worshippers, were on their way to a Sunday service at the church’s construction site at Ciketing village. Building plans a were halted following protests from residents and hardline groups.

As with the Cordoba House project, also known as Park51, there have been calls for the Christians to move to another location in the hopes of putting a stop to further Muslim attacks.

In response, "[t]he church’s spokesman, Judianto Simandjuntak, said the congregation would continue holding their services at the current location in Ciketing."

We will remain in Ciketing because we have the constitutional right to perform religious services.”

The already tense situation has the potential to get uglier. The BBC reporter who wrote the article linked to above interviewed "Khairul Fuad, a long-time resident,... a devout Muslim [but of course, right?], and a family man."

The article quotes him as saying, "The land belong to us, and the majority of the people who live around it are Muslims. There was a rumour that to get that land, those Christians didn't tell the people they wanted to build a place of worship." Switch Muslims and Christians and what does that remind you of?

More menacing are the words of Murhali Barda, described as the local leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders' Front.

"There is no problem with praying. But when they are there with a mission to build a place of worship, it is unacceptable," he told me as he showed me around Bekasi's oldest mosque.

"If we start calling for Holy War, it doesn't matter if we live or die," he said, smiling. "If there is violence that results from this, then the Christians only have themselves to blame

It wouldn't surprise me if this story is starting to make the rounds of the wingnut echo chamber here in the United States. I can almost here them declaring "You see, we're supposed to bend over for a mosque at Ground Zero and the Muslims are attacking Christians for wanting to have a church in a Muslim country!"

If so, I would say they have it backwards. One of the points I raised in my post on the Cordoba House is that letting it be built near the World Trade Center can give us the moral standing to forcefully condemn the lack of reciprocity in Muslim majority countries. Allowing the intolerant to prevail in our own country emboldens the intolerant elsewhere. It also plays into something I have observed among religious believers, which is the zero-sum mentality they have with regard to other religions. Allow members of Religion B to openly worship, and somehow it is seen as a loss by members of Religion A.

Furthermore, for those here in the United States who might try to use the situation in Indonesia as justification for opposing the Cordoba House, they would do well to notice that there are Indonesians of all faiths, including Muslims, who condemn the behavior of the militant Muslims.

From the same BBC article:

The problems in Bekasi have caught the attention of the entire nation.

In Jakarta, Indonesians of different faiths joined forces, raising their voices in unison in support of a more secular Indonesia.

The constitution guarantees the rights of citizens to practise their religion freely.

The protesters say they want their government to take action and uphold the principles of this country

Nevertheless, the Indonesian government could probably use a little more prodding to give it some backbone in cracking down on the militants. There is always the temptation to give in to the militants in the hope that it will appease them, but as the shopworn argument goes, appeasing them will only embolden them further. Here is the link to the Indonesian Embassy in the United States. Tell them, politely, of course, that the principle of religious freedom should be upheld.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Desecrated The Book of Mormon

With all the hoopla recently over some kook pastor in Florida with a congregation not much bigger than an overcrowded kindergarten classroom in New York City who threatened to burn a pile of Qurans on September 11, I had forgotten that I had desecrated another religion's holy book.

I recall writing in another post that I have been noticing that the Book of Mormon has been appearing with increasing frequency in hotel and motel rooms across America and throughout the world alongside the Gideon Bibles. I took a copy of the Book of Mormon from a hotel I stayed at in Hong Kong several years ago, which I still haven't gotten around to reading yet.

Last month, my family and I spent four nights at the Marriott on the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls. When we got settled in our room, I noticed the Book of Mormon sitting on top of the night table between our beds. I promptly tossed it into the trash bin, where over the next few days it got buried underneath juice boxes, wrappers and other assorted flotsam and jetsam before the pail was emptied by the cleaning staff. It's probably in a landfill somewhere by now, slowly decaying from the elements and whatever icky stuff from the trash piled above it might be oozing and leaking down onto it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Warning: The Practice of Islam Is Hazardous To Your Health

While perusing the English language daily The Jakarta Post, I came across this article about the large numbers of vehicular accidents in Indonesia during the Idul Fitri holiday.

National Police deputy chief for operations Insp. Gen. Soenarko said Thursday there had been 743 traffic accidents from Sept. 3 to Sept. 8 nationwide, killing 144 people and wounding 579 others. Most of the victims were holidaymakers riding motorcycles, Soenarko added.

During the Idul Fitri exodus last year there were 1,646 traffic accidents across the country, claiming 702 lives and injuring 2,556 others.

But that is not the only Muslim holiday that has proven consistently fatal to adherents of the Islamic faith. Another is the pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of the faith, which all able-bodied Muslims are expected to undertake at least once in their lives. Recent years have witnessed a number of mass casualty events at Islam's holiest site.

In 2004: The stampede, during a peak event of the annual Muslim pilgrimage, or hajj, lasted about a half-hour, Saudi officials said. There were 244 dead and hundreds of other worshippers injured, some critically, Hajj Minister Iyad Madani said.

In 2006: Thousands of Muslim pilgrims rushing to complete a symbolic stoning ritual during the hajj tripped over luggage Thursday, causing a crush in which up to 400 people were killed despite Saudi attempts to prevent stampedes that have plagued the annual event.

Saudi officials estimated that 400 people were killed. More than 1,000 people were injured, said Dr. Abbasi with the Saudi Red Crescent.

[That] year's hajj was also marred by the collapse of a Mecca hotel on January 5, where 76 pilgrims were killed. The reason for the hotel collapse remains unknown. The latest disaster is expected to prompt the Saudis to enforce stricter controls, in order to do a better job of ensuring the safety of the millions of the faithful who arrive for the Hajj each year.

Call me skeptical, but I have a hard time believing that a particular religion is true when the mere practice of that religion proves to be so deadly to its followers.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Who Are You Calling A Parasite, Rabbi Lapin?

By way of Crooks and Liars, I watched the clip below from a recent episode of Glenn Beck's television program.

What a way to smear an entire segment of the American people, rabbi. Simply by virtue of going to church or synagogue once a week, tens of millions of other Americans are better people than I or any other atheist American?

But if you want to talk about parasites on a society, Rabbi Lapin would perhaps do better to focus on a growing segment of the population of Israel, Ultra-Orthodox Jews.

This article from The Jewish Daily Forward gives a good summary of the demographic dilemma faced by Israel.

Under a rule enacted at the time of Israel’s founding, draft-age men are excused from serving if they are engaged in full-time Torah study at a recognized academy through age 40. The rule has the dual effect of removing yeshiva students from both the military and the work force. The more Haredim, experience shows, the fewer potential soldiers, and the fewer taxpayers.

When the exemption was first approved in 1948, it involved barely 400 men. Four decades later, in 1992, the Torah-study exemption was granted to 5% of that year’s conscription-age cohort of 18-year-olds. This year, 2007, the proportion reached 11%. In 2019, the exempted yeshiva students are projected to top 23% of the cohort, which is the proportion of Haredi students among this year’s first graders — the most straightforward predictor.

Nonreligious exemptions have declined in recent years, but Torah exemptions have soared. The main reason is fertility: The Haredi community averages 7.6 children per woman, roughly triple the rate for the population as a whole, according to the Israel government’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

But even peace will not solve the problem of Haredi men removed from the work force by their prolonged yeshiva studies. At present, just 30% of Haredi men participate in the work force. Almost half the Haredi population lives below the official poverty line. As the Haredi share of the population grows, pressure will mount on the tax rolls, the welfare system and inter-communal tolerance and civility

A prime example of this lack of tolerance and civility happened this past June as per this article from the BBC:

Police said 120,000 Ashkenazi Jews rallied in Jerusalem and near Tel Aviv.

They turned out to support parents who refused to let their girls share classrooms with Jewish pupils of Sephardic or Middle Eastern descent.

The Ashkenazi parents, who are of European descent, want segregated classrooms because they say Sephardi families are not religious enough.

"There is a set of rules [in the ultra-Orthodox community]. We don't want televisions in the home, there are rules of modesty, we are against the internet," Mr Litzman was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

"I don't want my daughter to be educated with a girl who has a TV at home

Ultra-Orthodox Judaism is a mental disorder.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

World To End on October 21, 2011

Well, that's what it says in this tract put out by the eBible Fellowship that I found taped to one of the support pillars underneath the elevated tracks at the Hicksville train station this past Wednesday. How can we be sure that the world will come to an end on October 21, 2011? Because it says so in the Bible! And the author of the tract declares that "The Bible is the Word of God! Everything the Bible declares has the full authority of God Himself."

For openers, I guess this puts a damper on Barack Obama's chances of being re-elected in 2012.

But before the world ends on October 21, 2011, the pamphlet declares that we will first experience Judgment Day on May 21, 2011. This might be what that taxi driver was referring to on that February morning in 2009 when my family and I were being driven to JFK Airport for our vacation in Puerto Rico.

And what will happen on Judgment Day? It will set in motion a five-month period in which a "period of horrible torment will begin for all of the inhabitants of the earth." Gee, I thought the period of torment would start this coming November if the Republicans capture majorities in both houses of Congress.

On May 21, 2011, "God will raise up all of the dead that have ever died from their graves." No mention about people who were cremated or eaten by alligators or sharks. "Earthquakes will ravage the whole world as the earth will no longer conceal its dead." Wow, talk about bringing out your dead!

"People who died as saved individuals will experience the resurrection of their bodies and immediately leave this world to be forever with the Lord." If God abides in a non-physical environment, then why would a resurrection of physical bodies be necessary?

"Those who die unsaved will be raised up as well, but only to have their lifeless bodies scattered about the face of all the earth. Death will be everywhere." Again, what if I am cremated and my ashes scattered before May 21, 2011?

I have to say, I just love that whoever is putting out this tract is so absolutely confident as to cite specific dates in the near future when these apocalyptic events will supposedly occur. I would love to see what these people will have to say when they wake up on October 22, 2011 and the world will still be here.

The pamphlet contains other amusing and interesting information. Most Young Earth Creationists cite a roughly 6,000 year old Earth. However, the folks at the eBible Fellowship set the Creation in 11,013 B.C., with the demise of the Earth predicted "13,023 years from creation."

And how can we know this to be true? Because "[t]he genealogies of the book of Genesis... can be shown to be a precise calendar of the history of mankind in this world. The Bible 's calendar of history is completely accurate and trustworthy." After all, "[s]ince this Bible calendar is given by God in His Word, it can be trusted wholeheartedly." Gotta love that circular reasoning.

What always cracks me up about these End Times people is their belief that our little speck of a planet in one galaxy in a universe filled with billions of galaxies is some kind of central battlefield in a cosmic struggle between the forces of Good and Evil. The human origins of their belief systems is betrayed by the geocentric bias inherent in their theology. A being that creates a universe filled, as previously mentioned, with billions of galaxies that themselves contain untold billions of planets orbiting their own stars operates according to an Earth based calendar system measured in Earth days, Earth months, and Earth years. And of course, nothing preoccupies this immensely powerful and intelligent being more than the mundane affairs of the human inhabitants of this one planet during a tiny sliver of time on a timescale of billions of years.

Anyway, mark your calendar for my blog post on May 22, 2011 when I write about the Judgment Day that never happened.