Good News & Bad News

As per usual, this week there was some good news and some bad news.

Some good news was contained in a Pew Forum survey of the “religious landscape” in the U.S. Here’s how Bob Parks summarized the results in his weekly newsletter:
Based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older, the Pew survey finds a changing landscape. More than a quarter of Americans have left the faith they were born in. Americans who are unaffiliated with any religion have seen the greatest growth in numbers as a result. Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses. Is there any indication that Americans are becoming more rational? Perhaps. About a fourth of those who are unaffiliated describe themselves as atheist or agnostic.
In more detail, the results show that (16.1±2)% of us were “unaffiliated” with any religion, including 1.6% atheists, 2.4% agnostic, and 12.1% “nothing in particular”. That contrasts with results I’ve summarized elsewhere: by 1999, one careful survey of Americans showed that 11.4% and another showed that 11.2% chose a “no religion" preference – “the second-largest single belief group in America, second only to Roman Catholics.” The new results suggest that since 9/11 and the subsequent publication of some great, conscious-raising books (e.g., Sam Harris’ The End of Faith and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion), our numbers have climbed from about 30 million Americans to maybe 50 million.

"Maybe", because the bad news is that, as per usual, the survey had serious flaws in methodology. One was in the form of the question asked by the (probably religious) pollsters employed by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI): rather than inquire about people’s “religious affiliations” (a loaded question, containing “the fallacy of interrogation” or “the fallacy of presupposition” – similar to asking if you’ve stopped beating your wife yet), the pollsters should have first asked a more general and more neutral question, such as:
Do you have a natural or a supernatural worldview; that is, is it your opinion that everything that exists is natural or do you believe in the existence of supernatural things, such as ghosts and gods and similar?
And another serious flaw in the Pew survey is the potentially huge bias caused by its sampling methodology. Only 35% of those contacted (by telephone) consented to an interview (by telephone), and of those, only 86% completed the survey. Thus, the response rate was 24%.

What’s the matter, people, don’t you want to let the religious fundies know where you live? Welcome to the club! I’ll bet that the results are about as reliable as 1940s' surveys by Nazis asking people how many Jews were in their household.

If people in the Pew Forum (or any organization) really wanted to know what a significant percentage of all Americans think about the stupid god idea, then they’d ask appropriate questions and guarantee anonymity, for example, by conducting their survey by mail, paying all expenses, and legally committing themselves to a million dollar liability for each respondent ever identified.

But meanwhile, there was some good news. Reporting on a Gallup poll, an AFP news report by Karin Zeitvogel states:
About 93 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims are moderates and only seven percent are politically radical, according to the poll, based on more than 50,000 interviews.
The bad news is that the result means: there’s “only” ~90 million Muslims who won’t need much convincing to become terrorists. And reality may be much worse – if one abandons the dubious assumption that Arabs, in particular, told the pollsters what they really thought, rather than (as is customary) to say what they thought the visitors wanted to hear (i.e., that they were peaceful).

But then, there was the good news in a report by Robert Pigott of the BBC that included the following:
Turkey is preparing to publish a document that represents a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam – and a controversial and radical modernization of the religion. The country’s powerful Department of Religious Affairs has commissioned a team of theologians at Ankara University to carry out a fundamental revision of the Hadith, the second most sacred text in Islam after the Koran.

The Hadith is a collection of thousands of sayings reputed to come from the Prophet Muhammad. As such, it is the principal guide for Muslims in interpreting the Koran and the source of the vast majority of Islamic law, or Sharia.

But the Turkish state has come to see the Hadith as having an often negative influence on a society it is in a hurry to modernize, and believes it responsible for obscuring the original values of Islam.

It says that a significant number of the sayings were never uttered by Muhammad, and even some that were need now to be reinterpreted.

Commentators say the very theology of Islam is being reinterpreted in order to effect a radical renewal of the religion.

Its supporters say the spirit of logic and reason inherent in Islam at its foundation 1,400 years ago are being rediscovered. Some believe it could represent the beginning of a reformation in the religion…

An adviser to the project, Felix Koerner, says some of the sayings – also known individually as “hadiths” – can be shown to have been invented hundreds of years after the Prophet Muhammad died, to serve the purposes of contemporary society.

“Unfortunately you can even justify through alleged hadiths, the Muslim – or pseudo-Muslim – practice of female genital mutilation,” he says.

“You can find messages which say ‘that is what the Prophet ordered us to do’. But you can show historically how they came into being, as influences from other cultures, that were then projected onto Islamic tradition”…

As part of its aggressive program of renewal, Turkey has given theological training to 450 women, and appointed them as senior imams called “vaizes”. They have been given the task of explaining the original spirit of Islam to remote communities in Turkey’s vast interior.

One of the women, Hulya Koc, looked out over a sea of headscarves at a town meeting in central Turkey and told the women of the equality, justice, and human rights guaranteed by an accurate interpretation of the Koran – one guided and confirmed by the revised Hadith. She says that, at the moment, Islam is being widely used to justify the violent suppression of women.

“There are honor killings,” she explains. “We hear that some women are being killed when they marry the wrong person or run away with someone they love. There’s also violence against women within families, including sexual harassment by uncles and others. This does not exist in Islam... we have to explain that to them.”

‘New Islam’
According to Fadi Hakura, an expert on Turkey from Chatham House in London, Turkey is doing nothing less than recreating Islam – changing it from a religion whose rules must be obeyed, to one designed to serve the needs of people in a modern secular democracy. He says that to achieve it, the state is fashioning a new Islam.

“This is kind of akin to the Christian Reformation,” he says. “Not exactly the same, but if you think, it’s changing the theological foundations of [the] religion. “

Fadi Hakura believes that until now secularist Turkey has been intent on creating a new politics for Islam. Now, he says, “they are trying to fashion a new Islam.”

Significantly, the “Ankara School” of theologians working on the new Hadith has been using Western critical techniques and philosophy. They have also taken an even bolder step – rejecting a long-established rule of Muslim scholars that later (and often more conservative) texts override earlier ones.

“You have to see them as a whole,” says Fadi Hakura. “You can’t say, for example, that the verses of violence override the verses of peace. This is used a lot in the Middle East, this kind of ideology. I cannot impress enough how fundamental [this change] is.” 

Great news! Right? Reformation!! Enlightenment, finally reaching the Muslim world!!!

Oh, sure, they’d have troubles. Recall the troubles in Europe that came with the reformation of Christianity. It’s easy to imagine the troubles when the ideas of the Ankara school of theologians clashed, for example, with those of the "mentally challenged" theologians at the Cairo “university” Al-Azhar. But at least the news provided some hope that “light might conquer darkness still”.

But then the bad news hit two days later. At IslamOnline, Ahmad Maher debunks the BBC report with his report, entitled “Turkey Classifying Not Revising Hadith”. For example:
“Make no mistake, we are not after modifying or revising the Hadith,” Mehmet Gormez, deputy director of the religious affairs authority Diyanet and supervisor of the project, told IslamOnline.net in a phone interview. “What we are actually doing is re-classifying, re-categorizing the Hadith and translating it into Turkish, no more no less.”

He shrugged off media suggestions that Turkey was re-writing the Hadith and creating a new Islam. “They made too much fuss and took the project out of its real context. We are neither fashioning a new Islam nor dare to alter the fixtures maxims of Islam,” Gormez said emphatically.

“The Western media have read what are doing from a Christian perspective and understood it in line with their Christian and Western cultures.” When it comes to Islam, Gormez said, the Western media is used to focusing on women’s status and jihad.
In comments on these events at Jihad Watch, “Matamoros” summarized them succinctly:
Religious Reformations in History
The Protestant Reformation: 1517–1648
The English (Anglican) Reformation: c.1520–1566
The Islamic Reformation: Feb 27th – Feb 29th, 2008 (both dates inclusive)
Ah but, meanwhile, there was some really great new – and I’m not being facetious: Al-Jazeera (Qatar) stood firm!

Two weeks ago in this blog, in a note entitled “Islam’s Dark Ages Grow Dimmer”, I commented on the muzzling of Arab TV stations by Arab Propaganda ministers. The referenced AP report by Maggie Michael contained the following:
The new rules allow countries to suspend, terminate or refuse to renew the licenses of TV network offices that violate them. Qatar, whose government funds the popular station Al-Jazeera, was the only nation of the 21 Arab states not to sign the charter.
At the great website established by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), there’s news not only that Al-Jazeera (Qatar) didn’t fold, they stood firm – and with style!

What follows is some of the transcript of the video clip. If you, also, don't do Windows (and if all you "do" is English and if the clip isn't in English), then ya gotta read what follows!!
Moroccan Satirist Bziz Bound and Gagged on Al-Jazeera TV in Mockery of Arab League Resolution to Limit Freedom of Speech on TV

[Following are excerpts from an interview with Ahmad Al-Sanousi “Bziz”, a Moroccan political satirist, which aired on Al-Jazeera TV (Qatar) on February 20, 2008]

Host: Political satires that make fun of presidents of Western countries, using comedians or puppets, have become the most famous TV shows, and they are very popular in France, the U.S., Britain, and most European countries. None of these presidents has ever banned or prohibited any political satire, or places any artist on trial, even though they make a mockery of these presidents. [TV shows] join other forms of satire – first and foremost, theater and caricatures. In our Arab world, however, the Arab information ministers have convened, and issued revolutionary edicts and resolutions, threatening with fire and brimstone and with an iron fist anyone who gets it into his head to insult, whether explicitly or implicitly, a ruler, a minister, or even a guard working for an Arab government. In keeping with these edicts, our guest today is the artist Al-Sanousi, one of the most prominent political satirists in the Arab world… The viewers should know that for the past 18 years, Ahmad Al-Sanousi has been forbidden to perform, or even to appear in the state-run media in Morocco…

[Following is a short satirical sequence featuring the host and Al-Sanousi. Al-Sanousi is sitting at his seat, bound and gagged.]

Host: We’ve had you bound and gagged, because we cannot trust you to watch your tongue. From now on, we intend to implement the resolutions on all our guests. We will not allow anyone to insult any leader, or his wife, his children, his grandchildren, or his great-grandchildren – down to the 100th generation. We will not allow this.

[Al-Sanousi tries to argue, but he is gagged so his words cannot be heard.]

Host: We will not allow any guest to insult any minister or even a guard working for the government. The only ones you are allowed to criticize as much as you like are the downtrodden peoples.

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Mmmm...

Host: Enough! We will keep you tied up. What do you say? Do you accept the terms? Will you be polite and refrain from insulting anyone?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Mmmmm...

Host: Look... if you try to make fun of me – are you familiar with this rod? You’ve been beaten with it in the past, right?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Mmmmmm...

Host: In 1996.

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Along with the unemployed.

Host: This rod is ready. If you deviate to the left or to the right – the rod is here. Have you ever experienced this whip? We will be using these instruments on some of our guests. We will use the rod and whip on our guests. If this is enough to keep him polite and make him adhere to the rules – okay. Otherwise, we will cut off his tongue with these shears, and serve it as an offering to the rulers and governments. All the insolent guests – we will chop off their tongues. We adhere to the resolutions.

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: The resolutions of the minister?

Host: Of the Arab information ministers. Are you going to abide by the rules, or shall we keep you tied up? Do you see the men I have brought here, the ones who tied you up? Each of them has a rod. If you don’t abide by the rules, I will unleash them on you. So are you going to abide by the rules? Guys, release him.

[The men untie Al-Sanousi and remove his gag.]

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Are these...

Host: Enough!

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Are these the Arab information ministers? Is this an Arab information minister?

Host: No, I got them from the Ministry of the Interior. They specialize in torture. If you deviate, I’m keeping the instruments right here.

[Here begins the actual interview]

Host: What do you think of the monumental resolutions made by the Arab information ministers?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: First of all, these are Arab “execution” ministers.

Host: What, you are being [insolent] already?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: No, it was just a pun. I did not break the rules. This is the first time that the ministers have made a resolution, Allah be praised. They convened and made a resolution, and that’s great… Our state-run TV channels have become an instrument of torture.

Host: In what way?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: For instance, they arrest somebody, place him in a solitary cell with no windows, and make him watch the state-run TV channel 24 hours a day. You know that on state-run channels, they air news bulletins and other programs which are dedicated to glorifying the ruler – but no news or information. After a few hours of watching, the detainee collapses.

Host: He collapses?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: Yes, because he has been watching Arab state-run TV for 12 years. Then he confesses to things he has done and things he has not done. Another guy was watching...

Host: In other words, state-run TV has become an instrument of torture?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: It has become an instrument of psychological and physical torture. If I put you in front of a state-run TV channel for 24 years... 24 hours will seem like 24 years, and you will confess to things you did and things you didn’t do.

Host: What should they do to improve these channels?

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: I think one of the ministers who convened in the “League of Arab Censorship” should have suggested making the news bulletins musical.

Host: In what way?…

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: I think, for instance, that when the anchor reads the news, he should make it interesting.

Host: Give us an example.

[Al-Sanousi takes out a lute and begins to play.]

Ahmad Al-Sanousi: For instance [sings]: “Now on the news, on the news, on the news... His presidential highness has received several ministers…”

Host: You must be obedient and loyal, and glorify the president or the ruler every day, so they will be pleased with you.
I say: a rousing cheer for Al-Jazeera! Good job fellas!! In fact, brilliant!!!

But then, there’s more bad news out of Egypt. Last week in this blog, I suggested that child abuse can lead to adult hate (which can lead to child abuse, in a never-ending cycle of violence). This week, a mentally challenged lawyer by the name of Ibrahim Elias was on Egyptian TV promoting child abuse. Again courtesy MEMRI, here’s a portion of the transcript of the video clip:
Ibrahim Elias: Yes. Instilling discipline is carried out in stages: First, you may deny things from the child, and at the end, you may beat him. Beating was permitted as a means of instilling discipline. Not every child should be beaten, and not on every occasion. How and when to beat is determined according to necessity, and the necessity should be evaluated. Who knows better, Allah or us? Our Lord knows best. The Prophet Muhammad said: “Order your children to pray, until the age of seven, and beat them so they pray, until the age of ten.” The Prophet Muhammad talked about beating. Allah said in the Koran in Surat Al-Nisa – and I don’t want to get the women mad at me: “As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them, refuse to share their beds, and beat them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them.” This is verse 34 in Surat Al-Nisa. Disobedience by a wife or a child means violation of orders. In other words, it is a transgression. When a child commits a transgression that merits a beating – he should be beaten… Weren’t [the great Egyptian authors] Al-’Aqqad and Taha Hussein beaten? Weren’t they beaten on the soles of their feet so that they would memorize the Koran and thousands of poems?

Interviewer: Is that what made Al-’Aqqad who he was?

Ibrahim Elias: Yes, they became great scholars.

Interviewer: Thanks to beatings, whole institutions were created…

Ibrahim Elias: Our society will fall apart. We have our own education. These ideas are imported from all kinds of conferences about female circumcision, child-beating, wife-beating, and polygamy. These imported ideas don’t work for us, and they will not be implemented in Egypt as long as Al-Azhar exists.
Let’s hope that this lawyer Ibrahim Elias never becomes a judge. He relies not only on hearsay evidence, but hearsay of hearsay. I’m thinking about what Thomas Paine wrote in 1794 book The Age of Reason [quoted below, with liberty taken to update some punctuation and spelling and to add a few notes in square brackets].
Every… [organized, revealed] religion has established itself by pretending some special mission from God, communicated to certain individuals: the Jews have their Moses; the Christians [have] their Jesus Christ…, the [Muslims] have their Muhammad [and, after Paine wrote this, the Mormons had the Rigdon-Smith conspiracy]… Each of those [religions rely on]… certain books, which they call revelation, or the word of God: the Jews say that their word of God was given by God to Moses, face to face; the Christians say that their word of God came by divine inspiration; and the [Muslims] say that their word of God was brought by an angel from Heaven [just as the Mormons claim, for their Book of Mormon]. Each of those [religions] accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.

As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some other observations on the word ‘revelation’. Revelation, when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man. No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if He pleases [if he were to exist!]. But admitting, for the sake of [argument], that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that [first] person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it.

It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication – after this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.

When Moses told the children of Israel that he received the two tables of the Commandments from the hands of God, they were not obliged to believe him, because they had no other authority for it than his telling them so; and I have no other authority for it than some “historian” telling me so. The commandments carry no internal evidence of divinity with them; they contain some good moral precepts, such as any man qualified to be a lawgiver, or a legislator, could produce himself, without having recourse to supernatural intervention. [Paine adds the footnote: “It is, however, necessary to except the declaration which says that God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children; it is contrary to every principle of moral justice.”]

When I am told that the Quran was written in Heaven and brought to Muhammad by an angel, the account comes too near the same kind of hearsay evidence and second-hand authority as the former [and similarly for the Book of Mormon]. I did not see the angel myself, and, therefore, I have a right not to believe it.

When also I am told that a woman called the Virgin Mary, said, or gave out, that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not. Such a circumstance requires much stronger evidence than their bare word for it. But we have not even this – for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves; it is only reported by others that they said so. It is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not choose to rest my belief upon such evidence.
And so, when Ibrahim Elias asks, “Who knows better, Allah or us?”, I answer, unequivocally: "We do!" And when he claims, “The Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Order your children to pray, until the age of seven, and beat them so they pray, until the age of ten’,” I say – with all respect that’s due: “Blow it out your ear, ya stupid nut!”

And finally for this list is the good/bad news that the brave “dean of Saudi bloggers”, Fouad al-Farhan has finally been heard from. After being kept in solitary confinement and held for 82 days, he was permitted to phone his family. His “crime” appears to be derived from his blog's theme:
Searching for freedom, dignity, justice, equality, public participation, and all the rest of lost Islamic values…
In the column at the right, I’ve added a link to the Free Fouad Campaign. And suggestions to the contrary notwithstanding, I’d bet that behind Fouad’s incarceration are the Saudi “thugs” dedicated to the Promotion of Vice and the Prevention of Virtue.

And yes, I meant to write it that way – although it’s opposite from the way they write it. But as is common with dumb thugs and conniving clerics, they don’t yet see that Abraham, Moses, Ezra, Jesus, all the popes, Muhammad, and Hitler were all wrong:

The worst vice is to blindly obey; the greatest virtue is to figure things out for yourself.


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