24 March 2009

Far-right march provokes riot in Israeli Arab town

Young Arab demonstrators have rioted and attacked the police in Umm Al-Fahm, Israel, after a march on the outskirts of the town by around 100 far-right Jewish Israeli activists bearing Israeli flags. The Jewish marchers were protected by 2,500 policemen. The Arab counter-demonstration was largely peaceful, but the rioters injured 15 policemen. The right-wing march was partly organised by Baruch Marzel, the leader of the banned anti-Arab Kach movement.

A marcher named Michael Ben-Ari said, "All we are doing is waving the Israeli flag. All we are demanding is loyalty to the state.... The State of Israel is the Jewish people's state. We are here to voice our truth and not to create provocations."

However, views such as those expressed by Ben-Ari are seen by Arab Israelis as racist. According to Jamal Zahalka, the leader of the Israeli Arab Balad party and a member of the Knesset, "Racism is not freedom of expression, it's a criminal act and the law should punish it."

Jewish leaders from towns around Umm Al-Fahm have also condemned the march. Some Jews joined the Arab counter-demonstration (BBC).

So the remnants of Kach seem to be taking a page out of the book of the Orange Order. Not the best path to be going down, certainly, unless they actually want to turn Israel proper into another Northern Ireland.

22 March 2009

China holds 93 Buddhist monks in Qinghai

Following a pro-independence riot in which about 100 people attacked Chinese policemen and government officials in the ethnically Tibetan town of La'gyab in Qinghai Province, the government arrested approximately 93 Tibetan Buddhist monks.

Apparently, the riot began when a pro-independence Tibetan monk escaped from prison. According to Chinese authorities, the monk is still at large. According to a Tibetan website, however, he has committed suicide. A further two laypeople are also being held under arrest (BBC).

19 March 2009

Carpet intended for Prophet's (pbuh) grave up for auction

Sotheby's is planning to auction off a carpet once intended to adorn the grave of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The carpet was commissioned in the 1860s by the Maharaja of Baroda (present-day Vadodara, Gujarat, India). Its name, the Pearl Carpet of Baroda, comes from the fact that it is encrusted with about "two million natural seed pearls" from the Persian Gulf.

The Maharaja's death put an end to plans to send the carpet to the Prophet's (pbuh) grave. The carpet travelled from India to Monaco, and is now housed in Qatar.

Bidding is to start at US $5 million (C $6.2 million), but Sotheby's is predicting that the carpet could sell for up to US $20 million (C $24.8 million) (BBC).

In life, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) slept on a straw mat or a leather mattress stuffed with fibre. Living a life of humility and simplicity was his conscious choice. God alone knows, but I very much doubt the Prophet would have approved of the decoration of his tomb with literally millions of pearls. So I'm glad that this carpet is being treated as a work of art, rather than a religious object. And I'm certainly glad that it never did end up at the Prophet's graveside.

16 March 2009

Greyhound killer not culpable due to delusions

Vince Li, the 40-year-old Chinese immigrant who beheaded fellow Greyhound bus passenger Tim McLean, 22, near Portage La Prairie, Manitoba last year, has been found not criminally responsible for the act. Li claimed to psychiatrists who evaluated him that he had heard the voice of God tell him that McLean must be killed. When he was arrested after a standoff with police, Li reportedly told them, "I'm guilty, please kill me." Li has been found to be suffering from schizophrenia. He has been committed to a psychiatric institution in Manitoba, and can be released only once a board determines that he no longer poses a threat to the public (CBC).

This wasn't the first time Li, a Baptist, heard the voice of God; in fact, he told his wife Ana back in 2004 that he had seen God. In 2005, Li thought God's voice instructed him to walk from Toronto to Winnipeg (a distance of 1,518 km). Eventually, the police picked him up and took him to a psychiatric clinic in Toronto.

Li told a psychiatrist that "God choose me to kill him.... God choose my hand to kill, I truly believe that.... But sometimes I ask God why he picked me to do these things. I'm an average person. I still trust God. God is 90-99 percent good" (Ottawa Citizen).

What a tragic story. The Portage Daily Graphic/Central Plains Herald-Leader (seriously long-name for twin small-town newspapers) ran an editorial saying that Li should be jailed once the treatment for his schizophrenia is complete. First of all, what guarantee is there that Li will ever recover sufficiently to be released? Secondly, what Tara Seel of the Herald-Leader doesn't seem to appreciate is that Li clearly wasn't sane when he committed this horrible act. You can't blame someone for doing something unless he knew what he was doing. It's simple logic. It's also simple justice. Punishing a sick man is no solution to the pain of McLean's family, which must be deep indeed. I think the Manitoba justice system took exactly the right course of action in this case.

Two years!

Notes on Religion is now two years old.

Thank you, everyone, for visiting, reading and commenting, and I hope you keep coming back.

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Visitor profiles, 15 February to 14 March 2009

Welcome to the sixteenth installment of Notes on Religion visitor profiles!

This month (15 February to 14 March 2009):

This month, Notes on Religion received 952 visits.

Visitors came to Notes on Religion from every inhabited continent, alhamdu lillah. The majority of visitors (61%) came from the United States. Canada was next with 11%, while the United Kingdom came third with 6%. In sha' Allah, I'll quote all monetary amounts (if any are discussed) in US dollars along with Canadian dollars over the coming month.

In the US, the largest number of visitors (14%) came from California.

In Canada, 14% of the visitors' ISPs were in Quebec.

The vast majority of visitors this past month (81%) were referred to Notes on Religion by Google. The most common Google search term that brought visitors to the blog was 'nazi beheading video'.

The most popular browser this month was Internet Explorer (52%). 91% of the visitors were Windows users.

Since the founding of the blog (15 March 2007 to 14 March 2009):

The total number of visitors during these two years was 6,938. The average number of visitors was nine per day.

The largest number of visitors (47%) came from the United States. The second-highest number (17%) came from here in Canada. The United Kingdom came third with 8%.

In the US, the largest number of visitors (14%) came from California.

Quebec accounted for 39% of the visitors' ISPs within Canada.

The biggest proportion of visitors (49%) was referred to the blog by Google. The most common search term entered by visitors who were referred to Notes on Religion by Google was 'russian neo nazi beheading'.

The most popular browser was Internet Explorer (47%). 90% of the visitors were Windows users.

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15 March 2009

Over 800 sex abuse claims against Catholic Church in US last year

According to the Roman Catholic Church in the US, there were over 800 claims of sexual abuse of parishioners by clergy submitted in 2008. This number represents a 16% increase over the 2007 level. In 2008, the Catholic Church paid out US $436 million (C $555 million) to settle the claims. Most of these funds went towards compensating victims.

Approximately a fifth of the victims were children under ten years of age when the abuse occurred.

According to Francis Cardinal George, the Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, the Church was "on the right path" in its aim to ensure the protection of "all children in society" (BBC).

This is obviously a serious problem. It's not my place to tell the Church how to overcome its own shortcomings, but perhaps this calls for a married clergy.

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13 March 2009

BBC's Simpson displays prejudices on Iraq

In an article on Tariq Aziz, who has recently been sentenced to 15 years in prison for his contribution to the execution of 42 Iraqi flour merchants in 1992, the BBC's long-serving correspondent John Simpson has made two statements that I find quite surprising because of the outright prejudices contained in them.

First of all, according to Simpson, "although [Aziz] comes from a Christian family, this is a matter of historical chance rather than an indication of his opinions." This statement is, obviously, problematic on a number of levels. Would Simpson say this of a British politician with an unsavoury reputation? Would he take the pains to point out that such-and-such European or North American politician was born into a Christian family and had then gone astray? Moreover, what does it mean to say that the fact that he's a Christian is no indication of his opinions? Can Simpson tell us what opinions a Christian, as understood by him, does hold or should hold? Can he tell us which is the Christian opinion: invading Iraq as the Christians Bush and Blair did, or not invading it, as several different churches (including the Catholic Church, to which Aziz belongs, and which later accepted Blair into its fold) urged? Are Bush and Blair not Christians? If they are, why is Tariq Aziz any less a Christian? And, further, is Simpson trying to say here that Aziz's Baath Party membership would have been more understandable had he come from a Muslim family? If he is saying that, what is that but a calumny?

Secondly, according to Simpson, "Tariq Aziz changed his name from Mikhail Yuhanna... to something much more Arab-sounding, in order to fit in better with his Baathist colleagues". Now, pray tell me, what is not "Arab-sounding" about the name Mikhail Yuhanna? Again, it seems that Simpson is trying to equate "Arab" and "Muslim", and to try to portray the Christians as an anomaly in the Arab world. The fact is, Christian Arabs were present in the Middle East long before the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had been born. Mikhail Yuhanna is certainly not a non-Arab-sounding name. On the other hand, it is an identifiably Christian name. By renaming himself Tariq Aziz, Yuhanna did not Arabise his name; he secularised it. There is a big difference between the two, which a man of John Simpson's experience ought to be aware of.

08 March 2009

Kadyrov bribing parents to name their sons Muhammad

The pro-Russian president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, has announced that boys born tonight will receive 50,000 rubles (C$ 1,796 / US$ 1,398) from the Akhmad Kadyrov Fund, as a way to mark the Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) birthday. In exchange, Kadyrov said he would "ask" the boys' parents to name their newborn sons Muhammad.

Kadyrov is also planning to distribute 5,000 rubles each to 10,000 poor Chechens. Furthermore, the Prophet's (pbuh) birthday is being marked with the distribution of flour and sugar to the poor, along with special prayers and fireworks in major Chechen cities (Белорусские новости).

What can I say? It's somewhat pathetic when a dictator as brutal as Kadyrov starts playing the religion card. Kadyrov can't even distribute charity without interfering in as personal a decision as naming one's child. I don't think he's fooling anyone, though, neither with his construction of the largest mosque in Europe, nor with his latest gimmick.

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Illinois pastor murdered

Pastor Fred Winters of the First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois has been shot dead inside his church by a man who stabbed himself after the attack. The suspect has been arrested (BBC).

Yet another reasons, if one were needed, to take guns off the streets.

The Prophet's birthday (peace be upon him)

The 12th of Rabi' al-Awwal, according to Sunni Muslims, is the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This year, the date corresponds to the 8th or 9th of March.

May the peace and blessings of God be on His last messenger.

01 March 2009

Muslims (finally) part of the American family

This will probably come as no surprise, but my favourite part about Obama's inauguration speech was the line "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers." Something like this would have been nice during the campaign, coming from Obama himself, and not just Colin Powell (although I certainly admire Powell for what he said). Now, though, Obama has righted a significant campaign wrong. The word "Muslim" is thus no longer a "smear"; it is part of what the US is.

My second favourite line was, "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." And as part of the launch of this "new way forward", in his interview to Al Arabiya, Obama said "America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers", moving the Muslims into first place. This is not to say that the Muslims must have precedence in lists; rather, my point is obviously that delegitimising the Americanness of Muslim Americans has just got a lot harder.

It's certainly too early to say that American Muslims have "arrived", but it's a good start. It makes me happy for my American Muslim wife, but also for Muslims in the West in general, as well as for the US, which, it seems, is indeed on its way to building a "more perfect union".

[This is my 300th post on Notes on Religion.]

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Something Even More Magical

In other news...