Category Archives: Organised Religion

US Religion is Worth $1.2 trillion a Year, More Than America’s 10 Biggest Tech Companies, Combined

Cory Doctorow reports for Boing Boing:

The largely tax-free religion industry is one of the biggest in America, worth $1.2 trillion a year, a number that includes religious “healthcare facilities, schools, daycare and charities; media; businesses with faith backgrounds; the kosher and halal food markets; social and philanthropic programmes; and staff and overheads for congregations.”

The figure comes from The Socio-economic Contribution of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis, co-authored by Georgetown’s Brian J Grim and Newseum’s Melissa E Grim, and published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion. The authors describe the estimate as “conservative” and note that while religion as a whole is declining in the US, spending on religious “social programs” has tripled since 2001, to $9T.

Grim and his co-author Melissa Grim of the Newseum Institute in Washington came up with three estimates of the worth of US religion. The lowest, at $378bn, took into account only the revenues of faith-based organisations. The middle estimate, $1.2tn, included an estimate of the market value of goods and services provided by religious organisations and the contributions of businesses with religious roots.

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Megachurch Pastor Says Trump Has God’s Approval to Start Nuclear War

Jake Johnson reports for Common Dreams:

U.S. President Donald Trump and Pastor Robert Jeffress participate in the Celebrate Freedom Rally at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on July 1, 2017 in Washington, D.C.After President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” on Tuesday, many began to worry about the prospect of nuclear war.

Not Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress.

Shortly following the president’s remarks, Jeffress—who is also one of Trump’s “evangelical advisers“—released a statement declaring that “God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-un,” the leader of North Korea.

Jeffress went on to say he is “heartened to see that our president…will not tolerate any threat against the American people.”

“When President Trump draws a red line, he will not erase it, move it, or back away from it,” Jeffress concluded. “Thank God for a president who is serious about protecting our country.”

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Trump and the Christian Fascists

Chris Hedges writes for Truthdig:

Donald Trump’s ideological vacuum, the more he is isolated and attacked, is being filled by the Christian right. This Christianized fascism, with its network of megachurches, schools, universities and law schools and its vast radio and television empire, is a potent ally for a beleaguered White House. The Christian right has been organizing and preparing to take power for decades. If the nation suffers another economic collapse, which is probably inevitable, another catastrophic domestic terrorist attack or a new war, President Trump’s ability to force the Christian right’s agenda on the public and shut down dissent will be dramatically enhanced. In the presidential election, Trump had 81 percent of white evangelicals behind him.

Trump’s moves to restrict abortion, defund Planned Parenthood, permit discrimination against LGBT people in the name of “religious liberty” and allow churches to become active in politics by gutting the Johnson Amendment, along with his nominations of judges championed by the Federalist Society and his call for a ban on Muslim immigrants, have endeared him to the Christian right. He has rolled back civil rights legislation and business and environmental regulations. He has elevated several stalwarts of the Christian right into power—Mike Pence to the vice presidency, Jeff Sessions to the Justice Department, Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, Betsy DeVos to the Department of Education, Tom Price to Health and Human Services and Ben Carson to Housing and Urban Development. He embraces the white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, greed, religious intolerance, anger and racism that define the Christian right.

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In Major Church-State Decision, U.S. Supreme Court Sides with Religious Institution

Amy Goodman speaks with Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate.com and the author of the recent piece: ‘Did the court just seriously wound the separation of church and state?(Democracy Now!)

Blaming Islam: Religion Isn’t a Crucial Factor In Terror Attacks

Mehdi Hasan reported for The Intercept in March:

What do you think of when you hear the word “terrorist”? Big beards and brown skins? Turban-wearing Muslim migrants from the Middle East? Refugees maybe?

Yet according to a report from the New America Foundation, “every jihadist who conducted a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal resident.” A recent study in Britain, which last week endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 2005, revealed that more than two out of three “Islamism-inspired” terrorist offenses were carried out by individuals “who were either born or raised in the UK.”

The common stereotype of the Middle Eastern, Muslim-born terrorist is not just lazy and inaccurate, but easy fodder for the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam far right. Consider the swift reaction of White House official Sebastian Gorka to the horrific terror attack in London last week. “The war is real,” he told Fox News while the bodies of the victims were still warm, “and that’s why executive orders like President Trump’s travel moratorium are so important.”

Sorry, what? The 52-year-old perpetrator of the London attack, Khalid Masood, was born and brought up in the UK and would not have been affected in the slightest by a travel ban on Muslims from the Middle East. He was neither a refugee nor an immigrant. He was not of Middle Eastern origin either, and he was not even a Muslim for the vast majority of his life. Born to a white mother and black father as Adrian Elms, and raised as Adrian Ajao, he is believed to have converted to Islam in prison in 2003 and had a well-documented history of criminality prior to mowing down innocent pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, and stabbing a police officer outside the Houses of Parliament.

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The Women Behind the Disquietingly Vital ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Stephanie Eckardt writes for W Magazine:

Image result for The Women Behind the Disquietingly Vital The Handmaid's TaleIn February of this year, a novel from 1985, by a Canadian author now 77, shot right to the top of the bestsellers lists. Though popular for decades, The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s chilling vision of a near-future dystopia in what was once New England—where a toxic environment, a cruel theocracy, and a plague of infertility have turned a sector of women into enslaved concubines—suddenly seemed all too timely. It was then that a trailer for the book’s upcoming TV adaptation aired during the Super Bowl, just a couple of weeks after Donald Trump was inaugurated and a nationwide spread of marches for women’s rights turned into the largest protest in American history.

Atwood did not seem upset by the sudden renewal of interest in the single most enduring work of her back catalogue, despite the fact that she’s still churning out book after book today. “How could I be?” she said on a recent morning in Washington, D.C., in the historic Hay-Adams hotel not even a block away from the White House. “But on the other hand, the circumstances that have given rise to it having this sudden uptick are quite frightening. If I had a choice of two things—book not popular, circumstances not arise, or book popular, due to certain circumstances—I would of course pick the first one. But those were not my choices.”

Right alongside her book on the current bestseller lists is another prescient dystopian vision, George Orwell’s 1984—which happened to be the year that Atwood started writing The Handmaid’s Tale on legal pads and a beat-up typewriter in West Berlin, punctuated by echoing reminders of the East German Air Force. It was not her first experience with political unrest. Born in 1939, which, as Atwood is wont to remind, “takes me all the way through World War II,” she seems to consider her “deep background in dystopias,” accumulated both in history books at Harvard and on the ground in places like Afghanistan, tantamount to her destiny.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Is Just Like Trump’s America? Not So Fast

Jessa Crispin writes for The Guardian:

Image result for The Handmaid's Tale[…] If the television show based on the Margaret Atwood dystopia feels like propaganda, with its depiction of women raped, mutilated, and forced into shapeless cloaks and bonnets in the new American theocracy named Gilead, then it shouldn’t be a surprise viewers are responding to it as such.

There are dozens of thinkpieces claiming this show is all too real and relevant; Atwood herself called it “a documentary” of Trump’s America. Sarah Jones at The New Republic went so far as to compare Gilead to contemporary Texas and Indiana. Women are in peril. We must do something.

If this propaganda is not being used to sell us a war, we should be interested in what it is selling us instead. That so many women are willing to compare their own political situation living under a democratically elected president with no overwhelming religious ideology (or any other kind, for that matter, except for maybe the ideology of greed and chaos), with the characters’ position as sexual slaves and baby incubators for the ruling class, shows that it is always satisfying to position yourself as the oppressed bravely struggling against oppression.

The text and the thinkpieces make it clear who our enemies are: conservatives and Christians. (It shouldn’t be a surprise The New Republic piece was headlined “The Handmaid’s Tale is a Warning to Conservative Women.”)

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Jehovah’s Witnesses Had Foes Before Putin

Leonid Bershidsky writes for Bloomberg:

When the Russian Supreme Court banned Jehovah’s Witnesses and ordered the confiscation of the denomination’s property on Thursday, it wasn’t the first time. The faithful were outlaws in the Soviet Union, too, until that country’s final year. The stubborn group will fight on — but the court has delivered another chilling reminder that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is even less free than the USSR was.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a U.S.-based global religious organization, and they often are targeted by authoritarian and belligerent governments because members don’t believe in government authority. They don’t vote, serve in the military, salute flags or hail leaders. When the Nazis came to power in Germany, the Witnesses wouldn’t use the Nazi salute because, according to their beliefs, it amounted to idolatry. Hitler responded by sending more than 10,000 “Bible Students,” as they called themselves then, to prisons and concentration camps, where their pacifism particularly inspired torturers.

In the Soviet Union directly after World War II, Witnesses were mostly concentrated in western Ukraine and Transcarpathia, and they had the bad luck to trade Nazi persecution for the equally harsh Stalinist kind. In two secret operations in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Witnesses were removed to Siberian labor camps. There were only about 10,000 of them then. But adherents of the denomination didn’t stop practicing and preaching in exile and in the camps, and when, after Stalin’s death, the state stopped systematically imprisoning them and switched to a harassment tactic, the flock started growing.

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The Meaning of Milo

Ross Douthat writes for The New York Times:

[…] From Dubya’s evangelical conservatism to Milo’s Rimbaudian new right, from “marriage is between a man and a woman” to “well, we draw the line at ephebophilia” is a rather dizzying trajectory. But if you understand what’s happened to cultural conservatism over the last decade, the strange career of Yiannopoulos makes a striking sort of sense.

First, post-1960s social conservatism — the bigger-than-the-religious-right tent that once included a lot of moderately religious fellow travelers — has collapsed back to its zealous core. On practically every issue save abortion, liberals won the culture war decisively, and religious conservatives awoke to find themselves strangers in their own country, dismissed as bigots from liberalism’s pulpits and stuck on the wrong side of 40-60 or 30-70 public-opinion splits.

But social liberalism’s sweeping victory produced new forms of backlash — less traditionalist and more populist, less religious and more rowdy, not sacred but profane. These forms of resistance take aim at liberalism’s own forms of social-justice sanctimony, which have smothered academic life and permeated notionally apolitical arenas from late-night comedy to sportswriting. The resisters don’t exactly have a program. Instead, they’ve got a posture — a “whaddya got?” rebellion against any rules that the new liberal order sets.

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Trump’s Inaugural Address: A Call For Holy War

Kevin Gosztola writes for Shadowproof:

President Donald Trump at the Inauguration. (Screen shot from White House live stream)President Donald Trump used his inaugural address to call for the “civilized world” to unite “against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.” It received one of the most enthusiastic responses from the crowd in attendance at the National Mall.

The words evoked memory of President George W. Bush and his administration. After the September 11th attacks, Bush referred to the “war on terrorism” as a “crusade.” It suggested the Bush administration meant to fight terrorism as a kind of holy war against Muslims.

Trump did not use the word “crusade,” but there was a distinct Christian theocratic theme to his gung ho declaration to “reinforce old alliances and form new ones” in the fight against “radical Islamic terrorism.”

 

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Jeremy Scahill on Betsy DeVos Lying During Her Senate Confirmation Hearing and Her Brother Erik Prince’s Ties to Donald Trump

Amy Goodman speaks to investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill about Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos lying during her Senate confirmation hearing and her brother Erik Prince‘s links to Donald Trump. (Democracy Now!)

Could Leah Remini’s Series Be Scientology’s Church Abuse Scandal?

Bethany Mandel reports for The Federalist:

Image result for Leah Remini scientologyLast week A&E aired not one, but two new episodes of its series exposing Scientology, “Scientology: The Aftermath.” Both shed light on the darkest elements of the group, which the series charges has terrorized and even caused the deaths of opponents and followers alike. What makes Scientology a cult instead of just an extreme religion? These two episodes explained the difference better than any of the previous episodes.

The first new episode was an aired edition of a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) in which actress Leah Remini answered viewers’ questions about the cult. She sat opposite the former International Spokesman of Scientology and one of its most famous defectors, Mike Rinder, and interviewed a series of the most famous foes of Scientology, including the subject of a groundbreaking book, entitled “The Unbreakable Miss Lovely.” It’s from perhaps the most famous contemporary Scientology chronicler, a journalist who first exposed the group.

Other guests included Karen de la Carriere, the ex-wife of Scientology President Heber Jentzsch and mother to Alex Jentzsch. Karen squarely blames Scientology for Alex’s untimely death. This episode was a last-minute addition to the rotation of eight episodes A&E filmed in Remini’s series, which is the first of its kind about the “religion” on television.

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A Deadly Day: Russian Ambassador Assassinated, Berlin Truck Crash and Zürich Mosque Attacked

Amy Goodman speaks to Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of several books, about the three deadly events which took place on 19th December and the wider context surrounding them. (Democracy Now!)

Donald Trump’s Capitalist Christianity Has Old Roots

Ellen Wayland-Smith writes for The Conversation:

A long tradition of Christian thought encourages believers to forgo worldly pursuits—like making money—and instead focus on the spiritual prize of salvation. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,” the evangelist Matthew warns Christians, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”

But the Protestant Reformation changed this way of thinking. According to German sociologist Max Weber, the Protestant virtues of thrift, delayed gratification and professional diligence in the pursuit of wealth gave birth to modern capitalism.

Business success became a sign of God’s favor, and nowhere more than in America did this ethos achieve such florid expression. During the 19th century, an American prosperity gospel—the conviction that God wanted Americans to live in material abundance—began to take shape. Meanwhile, the country witnessed an explosion of Christian sects and offshoots, from Methodists to Mormons.

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Donald Trump and Christian Fundamentalist Power: Interview with Jeff Sharlet

Thom Hartmann speaks to Jeff Sharlet, journalist and author of The Family, about the power Christian fundamentalists will wield under a President Donald Trump, (Thom Hartmann)

Europeans Greatly Overestimate Muslim Population, Poll Shows

Pamela Duncan reports for The Guardian:

Image result for Europeans greatly overestimate Muslim population, poll showsMembers of the public in European states including France, Belgium, Germany and the UK greatly overestimate their country’s Muslim population and the rate at which it is growing.

An Ipsos Mori survey that measured the gap between public perception and reality in 40 countries in 2016 found French respondents were by far the most likely to overstate their country’s current and projected Muslim population.

The average French estimate was that 31% of the population was Muslim – almost one in three residents. According to Pew Research, France’s Muslim population actually stood at 7.5% in 2010, or one in 13 people.

French respondents were also widest of the mark when it came to the projected Muslim population in 2020. The average prediction was that Muslims would make up 40% of the French population in four years’ time, almost five times the 8.3% Pew Research projection.

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Mike Pence Has “Militant Agenda” Against Women, the Poor, Immigrants, LGBTQ People

Juan Gonzalez speaks to Jeremy Scahill, investigative journalist and co-founder of The Intercept, who says despite Mike Pence frequently being portrayed as a counterbalance to Trump, his ascendance to the second most powerful position in the U.S. government is a “tremendous coup for the radical religious right.” (Democracy Now!)

Team Trump’s Message: The Clash of Civilizations Is Back

Michael Hirsh reports for Politico:

161119-Michael-Flynn-GettyImages-599941542.jpg[…] Welcome back, approximately, to the world just after 9/11, when terror hung in the air, fear was raw and palpable and Islamophobia was so rampant that George W. Bush felt compelled to go to a Washington mosque six days after the attacks and declare: “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.” Barack Obama, having inherited a much bigger global war from Bush after the invasion of Iraq, has avoided any talk of Islam at all and insisted on calling the enemy merely “violent extremism.” Obama repeatedly sought to remind Americans that it was precisely the idea of a “clash of civilizations” that Islamists embraced—because it frames the conflict as one against all of Islam and its culture, not just the jihadists.

But the incoming president, Trump, appears open to the clash-of-civilizations idea—one that fits neatly with his view of an America that rejects “globalism,” tightens up its borders against immigrants, and bans most new Muslims from coming in until they can be “vetted.” “I think Islam hates us,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last March. While he said he was speaking of radical Islam, he added: “It’s very hard to define. It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.” For the Trump team, who did not respond to a request for comment, Muslims appear to be guilty of radical sympathies until proven innocent.

That approach, some scholars say, will be a terrible mistake, 15 years into what is already seen by some as a “Forever War.”

“Sadly, Trump traffics in a similar ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative to that of Al Qaeda and ISIS,” says Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics, author of the recently published book ISIS: A History. “They all view the world in binary terms. … What Trump and his followers do not get is that their inflammatory rhetoric plays into the hands of ISIS and Al Qaeda, who labor hard to convince skeptical Muslims that the West is waging a war against Islam.”

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Just What Trump Needs: Religious Right Says He Was Elected By God

Peter Montgomery reports for Right Wing Watch:

Image result for trump religious rightReligious Right leaders were some of Donald Trump’s most fervent supporters in the presidential election—offering dozens of religious justifications for backing Trump in spite of his evident arrogance, dishonesty, mistreatment of women, and other character flaws. Telling the supremely narcissistic Trump that he has God’s special backing seems to be pouring gasoline on the fire, and that’s what Religious Right leaders have been doing since Election Day. “The Lord did this!” exulted former Rep. Michele Bachmann on the night of the election. Televangelist and End Times huckster Jim Bakker called Trump’s victory “the greatest miracle I have ever seen.”

George Barna, an evangelical pollster and Religious Right activist, appeared after the election on “Stand in the Gap,” a radio program hosted by the American Pastors Network’s Sam Rohrer. Barna gushed that voter turnout among SAGE (Spiritually Active Governance Engaged) Christians—his term for “real Christians” who attend church often and are politically active—was “astounding.” He said SAGE Christians were “the single most united and strongest segment backing Donald Trump.”

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Mike Pence Will Be the Most Powerful Christian Supremacist in U.S. History

Jeremy Scahill writes for The Intercept:

Image result for Mike Pence Will Be the Most Powerful Christian Supremacist in U.S. HistoryThe election of Donald Trump has sent shockwaves through the souls of compassionate, humane people across the country and the world. Horror that a candidate who ran on a platform of open bigotry, threats against immigrants and Muslims, and blatant misogyny will soon be president is now sinking in. Trump appointed a white nationalist, Steve Bannon, as chief White House strategist — which was promptly celebrated by the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan. Bannon and other possible extremist Trump appointees, such as John Bolton, a neocon who believes the U.S. should “bomb Iran,” and the authoritarian Rudy Giuliani, are now receiving much deserved public scrutiny.

The incoming vice president, Mike Pence, has not elicited the same reaction, instead often painted as the reasonable adult on the ticket, a “counterbalance” to Trump and a “bridge to the establishment.” However, there is every reason to regard him as, if anything, even more terrifying than the president-elect.

Pence’s ascent to the second most powerful position in the U.S. government is a tremendous coup for the radical religious right. Pence — and his fellow Christian supremacist militants — would not have been able to win the White House on their own. For them, Donald Trump was a godsend. “This may not be our preferred candidate, but that doesn’t mean it may not be God’s candidate to do something that we don’t see,” said David Barton, a prominent Christian right activist and president of Wall Builders, an organization dedicated to making the U.S. government enforce “biblical values.” In June, Barton prophesied: “We may look back in a few years and say, ‘Wow, [Trump] really did some things that none of us expected.’”

Trump is a Trojan horse for a cabal of vicious zealots who have long craved an extremist Christian theocracy, and Pence is one of its most prized warriors. With Republican control of the House and Senate and the prospect of dramatically and decisively tilting the balance of the Supreme Court to the far right, the incoming administration will have a real shot at bringing the fire and brimstone of the second coming to Washington.

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Michele Bachmann On Donald Trump’s Victory: ‘The Lord Did This’

The Hatred that Trump’s Lies Will Leave Behind

Juan Cole writes for Informed Comment:

147841543577687Whether Trump wins or loses (and in my view there isn’t much chance he can win), he will leave behind a toxic legacy of increased racial and religious hatred, which he has deliberatedly stirred up in order to take the focus off his policies– policies that will hurt workers and will throw even more money at the super-wealthy. This use of racism to divide the working class and whip up support for the business classes is as old as American capitalism.

Trump has galvanized sentiment against Latinos and immigrants (a minority of Americans of Latino ancestry is first-generation immigrants) by loudly proclaiming that they are guilty of all kinds of crimes. In fact, violent crime has fallen 48% in the US since the early 1990s, yet in the past 25 years immigration has soared. Research shows that immigrants commit less crime than the native-born. It isn’t hard to figure out why. First, those who don’t yet have citizenship are afraid of being deported, so they keep their noses clean. But more importantly, and contrary to what Trump alleges, immigrants are go-getters who have taken the big step of leaving home to accomplish something. They are highly motivated to succeed and often bring with them a great deal of human capital. As for jobs, immigrants aren’t stealing them from the native born. They are doing different jobs than locals with the same educational attainments. That’s because they often don’t have as good English skills or can’t afford to turn down menial jobs. The hatred against immigrants Trump has fostered is based on a set of lies, lies that are easily shown to be falsehoods. But it is a little unlikely that this hatred of foreigners will subside Wednesday, whatever happens.

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Religious Right Not True Believers in Trump, But See Him as a Tool

Paul Jay speaks to journalist and author Frederick Clarkson who says that Donald Trump is not seen as a moral or religious leader, but as a vehicle for their political purposes. (The Real News)

HyperNormalisation by Adam Curtis

Documentary by British filmmaker Adam Curtis released on 16th October 2016 exclusively on BBC iPlayer. (BBC)

Erdogan could use the coup against him to turn Turkey towards full-scale Islamisation

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

an102884259epa05427172.jpg[…] The programme of Mr Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) since they won their first general election in 2002 has been to reverse the secularisation introduced by Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the republic in 1923.  As the AKP has tightened its grip on power, it has chipped away at the secular institutions of the state and encouraged the Islamisation of education and social behaviour as well as seeking to cull non-Islamist officials and officers.

Mr Erdogan has said that he wants to see “the growth of a religious generation”, which would replace long-standing secular domination in Turkey. His foreign policy since the Arab Spring in 2011 has been to support the largely Sunni Arab uprising in Syria in alliance with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, though his efforts to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad have so far failed. This strategy included tolerance for extreme Islamist jihadi movements such as Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, enabling them to establish networks of support inside Turkey. However, in the summer of 2015 the Turkish government agreed to let the US and four other states, including the UK, use Incirlik air base in south east Turkey for air strikes against Isis. Gunmen and bombers from the Islamist group attacked Ataturk Istanbul airport in June killing 42 people.

The failed coup will enable the implementation of Mr Erdogan’s long-desired presidential system based on Islamic values. It is unlikely to face much resistance now from people who do not want to be labelled as coup sympathisers. Not only are large numbers of soldiers and officials being arrested, but they are being publicly humiliated by being beaten, forced to strip to their underwear and lie crammed together on the floor of wherever they are being held. The commander of Incirlik air base, Gen Bekir Ercan Van, was shown on film handcuffed and being bundled into the back of a van.

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A Saudi Morals Enforcer Called for a More Liberal Islam, Then the Death Threats Began

Ben Hubbard reports for The New York Times:

For most of his adult life, Ahmed Qassim al-Ghamdi worked among the bearded enforcers of Saudi Arabia. He was a dedicated employee of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — known abroad as the religious police — serving with the front-line troops protecting the Islamic kingdom from Westernization, secularism and anything but the most conservative Islamic practices.

Some of that resembled ordinary police work: busting drug dealers and bootleggers in a country that bans alcohol. But the men of “the Commission,” as Saudis call it, spent most of their time maintaining the puritanical public norms that set Saudi Arabia apart not only from the West, but from most of the Muslim world.

A key offense was ikhtilat, or unauthorized mixing between men and women. The kingdom’s clerics warn that it could lead to fornication, adultery, broken homes, children born of unmarried couples and full-blown societal collapse.

For years, Mr. Ghamdi stuck with the program and was eventually put in charge of the Commission for the region of Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. Then he had a reckoning and began to question the rules. So he turned to the Quran and the stories of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, considered the exemplars of Islamic conduct. What he found was striking and life altering: There had been plenty of mixing among the first generation of Muslims, and no one had seemed to mind.

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Saudi Wahhabism a Tool of U.S. Foreign Policy: Interview with Chris Hedges

Paul Jay speaks to journalist and author Chris Hedges about the history of Saudi-promoted Wahhabism and blowback as ISIS attacks their former allies. (The Real News)

Pope attacks culture of ‘perfect people’

Michael Cook reports for BioEdge:

Pope Francis has made a stinging, if familiar, attack on the bioethics of a consumer society in an address in Rome. He decried the tendency to search for the perfect body and to warehouse the disabled out of sight to avoid offending the sensibilities of the “privileged few”.

In an age when care for one’s body has become an obsession and a big business, anything imperfect has to be hidden away, since it threatens the happiness and serenity of the privileged few and endangers the dominant model.

Such persons should best be kept apart, in some “enclosure” – even a gilded one – or in “islands” of pietism or social welfare, so that they do not hold back the pace of a false well-being. In some cases, we are even told that it is better to eliminate them as soon as possible, because they become an unacceptable economic burden in time of crisis.

Yet what an illusion it is when people today shut their eyes in the face of sickness and disability! They fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations.

The world does not become better because only apparently “perfect” people live there – I say “perfect” rather than “false” – but when human solidarity, mutual acceptance and respect increase.

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The Muslims Are Coming! The Muslims Are Coming!

Lawrence Pinak writes for Foreign Policy:

[…] Anti-Muslim xenophobia is nothing new. America’s fear of Islam is older than the republic itself. Even before Paul Revere rode through Massachusetts warning, “The British are coming!” his compatriots were effectively saying the same thing about Muslims.

In the 1600s, Cotton Mather, minister of Boston’s Old North Church, fulminated against “Mahometan Turks and Moors, and Devils” when news trickled back to the colonies that Americans were being taken hostage in northern Africa, a precursor to today’s Middle East kidnappings. Mather reassured his congregants that “we are afar off, in a Land, which never had (that I ever heard of) one Mahometan breathing in it.”

But Mather was deluded. It is believed the first Muslim arrived in the New World around 1527 with the Conquistadors; the first documented Muslim settler arrived in the Dutch province of New Netherland — we now know it as the mid-Atlantic states — around 1630. In fact, according to historian Kambiz GhaneaBassiri’s A History of Islam in America, you could almost say that the United States owes its existence to Muslims, since Europeans were, in part, looking for a trading route that avoided the Muslim empires of North Africa and the Middle East. Meanwhile, many of the slaves being dragged ashore in irons were Muslims, prisoners captured by rival tribes who waged jihad against those who did not adhere to their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam — not unlike today’s Islamic State extremists.

Copies of the Quran arrived with early European settlers and would soon be printed in America. Mather himself is said to have read the Muslim holy book regularly; “know thine enemy” and all that.

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Outrage in Multi-Ethnic Malaysia as Government Backs Islamic Law

Praveen Menon reports for Reuters:

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak attends an event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in this March 14, 2016 file photo.  REUTERS/Olivia Harris/FilesPrime Minister Najib Razak’s government threw its support in parliament this week behind an Islamic penal code that includes amputations and stoning, shocking some of his allies and stoking fears of further strains in the multi-ethnic country.

Critics believe the scandal-tainted prime minister is using ‘hudud’, the Islamic law, to shore up the backing of Muslim Malay voters and fend off attacks on his leadership ahead of critical by-elections next month and a general election in 2018.

The government on Thursday unexpectedly submitted to parliament a hudud bill that had been proposed by the Islamist group Parti Islam se-Malaysia’s (PAS).

Although debate on the law was deferred to October by PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang, its submission to parliament brought criticism from leaders across the political spectrum, including allies of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, who represent the ethnic Chinese and Indian communities.

Najib sought to ease tensions with his allies on Friday, saying the bill was “misunderstood”

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