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April 2003

Muslim alliance derails UN's gay rights resolution

The Guardian —  United Kingdom, 2003-04-25
An Islam-Vatican alliance derails a United Nations gay rights resolution, while the United States remains the only western country to abstain. The resolution comes up for discussion again in 2004.

A UN vote on homosexual human rights was yesterday derailed at the last minute by an alliance of disapproving Muslim countries. The UN had been due to vote on the matter for the first time in its almost 60-year history, but five Muslim countries delayed the vote until today and introduced amendments designed to kill it off. The amendments remove all references to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and render the resolution meaningless.
UN sources said Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia were doing everything they could to stop the resolution. "I suspect they want to stall as much as possible and lobby other countries to win support for their amendments," said a source.
The historic resolution on "human rights and sexual orientation" was originally tabled by Brazil at the UN commission on human rights, in Geneva, with the support of 19 other countries including Britain. It calls on all UN member states to promote and protect the human rights "of all persons regardless of their sexual orientation". But the sentiments are anathema to many UN states; almost half outlaw gay sexual relations and more than 70 countries keep a total ban on homosexuality - in some cases it is punished by death.
The British gay rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, said: "The vote has been derailed and delayed by Islamic fundamentalist states where gay people are either jailed, flogged or beheaded." He said those countries' records of gay human rights abuses showed why the resolution was urgently needed.

God on the brain: is religion just a step away from mental illness?
Anjana AHUJA

London Times —  United Kingdom, 2003-04-17
Discussion of scientific research which seeks the neurological origins of religious experience.

Did God create us or did we create God? A controversial TV documentary tonight argues that a famous evangelist's "visions" were caused by epilepsy and that religious feelings are brain malfunctions
The programme explores the new and controversial subject of neurotheology, or the role that the brain plays in religious experience. The discoveries that are emerging from this fledgeling science are, depending on your religious views, either deeply fascinating or profoundly disturbing. They imply that the brain created God, not the other way round; that religious leaders throughout history were touched not by supreme beings but by mental illness; that moments of serenity common to ardent believers of all faiths are simply hiccups in brain chemistry. The findings suggest that our attitudes to religion are underpinned by biology—that some brains are physically built to be more receptive to divine thought, and that this explains why religion induces apathy in some and fervour in others. One scientist has even built a kind of "God helmet"—a headset that can induce the feeling of an unseen presence by bathing the temples in electromagnetic fields.
...some scientists are tending to just this opinion—that God is an artefact of our evolved human minds, and that visions are symptoms of neurological abnormality. As well as Moses, experts are intrigued by St Paul, who famously encountered God in a blinding flash while on the road to Damascus, and St Teresa of Avila, who heard voices and is widely thought to have exhibited signs of schizophrenia.
Pascal Boyer, in his ambitious book Religion Explained, published in 2001, suggested that our ancestors had to be able to outwit unseen predators, and so we developed a protective belief in hidden spirits. This has transmuted today into a belief in the "airy nothing" of religion. For Boyer, an anthropology professor at Washington University, it is no coincidence that religion sprang up around 50,000 years ago, tallying approximately with the emergence of anatomically modern human beings. As soon as our brains became sufficiently evolved to embrace supernatural ideas, Boyer suggests, religion spread like a cerebral virus.
One scientist who has perhaps done more than any other to elevate the field of neurotheology to controversial heights is Professor Michael Persinger, a neurologist at Laurentian University in Ontario. Persinger has built a magnet-laden helmet that surrounds the skull with a mild electromagnetic field. It induces a mystical experience—Persinger describes it as a "sensed presence"—in four out of five people who wear it. Importantly, volunteers aretold it is an experiment on relaxation rather than a spiritual experience.
"My research shows that religious experiences are created by the brain." To Persinger, religion, which promotes the idea that a Creator is looking after us rather in the manner of a benign parent, is a "delusion".
Persinger’s colleagues cannot understand why he pursues this work with such vigour; they tell him it will damage his reputation, alienate grant-giving bodies and legitimise study of the supernatural. He tells them: "My question is, why shouldn’t we study such questions? The experimental method is the most powerful tool we have. That’s how we find truth from non-truth."

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Onward Christian soldiers
Max BLUMENTHAL, 2003-04-15

Conservative fundamentalists with close ties to President Bush are planning a new missionary push in Iraq -- and they might already be converting U.S. troops to their cause.
While winners and losers in bids for reconstruction contracts and humanitarian opportunities are still being sorted out, one group seems certain to gain an avenue into the country: Southern Baptist Convention ministers prominent in the galaxy of the religious right. Among them is Charles Stanley, the former two-time president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a close ally of former President George Bush and a fervent supporter of the current president's war on Iraq.
Stanley serves as pastor at Atlanta's First Baptist Church, a 15,000-member congregation, and is the founder of In Touch Ministries...
"The government is ordained by God with the right to promote good and restrain evil," Stanley said in his sermon. "This includes wickedness that exists within the nation, as well as any wicked persons or countries that threaten foreign nations ... Therefore, a government has biblical grounds to go to war in the nation's defense or to liberate others in the world who are enslaved." And sampling from a scattershot of biblical passages to inform his argument, Stanley warned that those who oppose or disobey the U.S. government in its drive to war "will receive condemnation upon themselves."
Though Stanley's bellicose sermon targets an American audience, it was almost certainly heard across the Arab world, as his sermons are translated into Arabic by In Touch and beamed from Benghazi, Libya, to Tehran, Iran, each week by satellite TV and radio. But while Saddam maintained his iron grip, In Touch could broadcast to Iraq only by shortwave radio; now that the regime has fallen, the ministry could be presented with a bevy of opportunities....

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Webmaster's comment:
The American Christian crusade in the Middle East continues.

Islamic dissidents warn humanists to beware radicals
Julia DUIN

Washington Times —  Washington, DC, USA, 2003-04-13
A report of talks, on Islam in the modern world, given by Ibn Warraq and others at the recent (April 2003) conference of the Council for Secular Humanism held in Washington, DC.

In real time, world Islam may be in the 21st century, but in practice, it's closer to the Dark Ages, panelists said at a forum yesterday."The theory and practice of jihad was not concocted in the Pentagon," said Ibn Warraq, a speaker at the conference on Islam sponsored by the Council for Secular Humanism at the Capitol Hilton. "It was taken from the Koran, the Hadith [additional sayings of Muhammad] and Islamic tradition. Western liberals, especially humanists, find it hard to believe this. The trouble with Western liberals is they are pathologically nice. They think that everyone thinks like them, including the Islamic fundamentalists.""For humanists, terrorists are frustrated angels forever thwarted by the United States of America," he said.

Mr. Warraq was a participant at a "One Nation under God?" conference and, along with five other Muslim dissidents, spoke for three hours on "Will Islam Come into the 21st Century?"

"Islam has the resources to come into the 21st century," said Irfan Khawaja, an adjunct philosophy professor at the College of New Jersey. "The problem is that it doesn't." The prime aim of the 350 secular humanists at the conference, he added, should be to challenge Muslims for whom "Islam aspires to universal truth. But it is not true."

Such openness has its risks—for their personal security Mr. Khawaja and Mr. Warraq withheld their photos from the conference brochure. The latter is a pen name for Mr. Warraq, who has been hired as a staff member at the Council's Amherst, N.Y., headquarters. The group is opposed to religion in public life. He has written "Why I am not a Muslim" and edited several other anti-Islamic books, including his most recent one: "Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out."

Mr. Warraq criticized listeners for their naivete, adding that humanists need to face facts. "Islamic fundamentalists are utopian visionaries who wish to replace Western-style liberal democracies with Islamic theocracy, a fascist system of filth [faith?] that aims to control every single act of every individual," he said. "It is extraordinary the amount of people who have written about the 11th of September without once mentioning Islam. We must take seriously what the Islamists say to understand their motivation, [that] it is the divinely ordained duty of all Muslims to fight—in the literal sense—until man-made law has been replaced by God's law, the Sharia, and Islamic law has conquered the entire world," Mr. Warraq said.

The Koran does not support, he added, assertions by liberal Muslims that feminism, human rights, egalitarianism and religious tolerance are compatible with their religion. "For every text the liberal Muslims produce," he said, "the mullahs will use dozens of counter-examples [that are] exegetically, philosophically, historically far more legitimate."Bringing Islam into the current century, he said, would mean following Turkey's example in forming a secular society in which mosque and state do not mix. It would also mean subjecting the Koran to the kind of textual criticism as the Bible has undergone, rewriting school textbooks to include pre-Islamic history and comparative religion and closing the "madrassas," which are fundamentalist Islamic schools for young boys.

The Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) disagreed with Mr. Warraq's accusations. "He's been a Muslim-basher for years," CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said. "This is America, and he can do it and we are free to challenge him when he does. I just wish he'd use his real name so we could find out his background and why he hates Islam. If you really believe that all Muslims are evil and dangerous and that Islam is intrinsically evil, what then? But they never answer that question."

The conference, which also featured appearances by author Christopher Hitchens, The Washington Times columnist Nat Hentoff and plaintiff Michael Newdow, whose case opposing the Pledge of Allegiance being said in public schools was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, had a common theme of highlighting tensions between secularism and religion.

"Muslims have to stop glorifying terrorism," said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physics professor from Pakistan. "You don't go into an Israeli discotheque and blow yourself up and expect the world to applaud." To American listeners, he added: "You cannot apply double standards because you will be paid back with the same coin. Don't condemn Palestinian terrorists without condemning Israeli terrorists, or installing half the dictatorships in the world, then going into Iraq and saying you're liberating it from a dictator."

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Sued for more than a million—ETS is accused of "islamophobic discrimination"

Le Devoir, 2003-04-08
The Quebec Advanced Technology School (École de technologie supérieure du Québec, ETS) is faced with a lawsuit for more than a million dollars. The ETS refused to provide a place of prayer for its Muslim students.

Webmaster's comment:
An appalling lawsuit. Must the ETS now provide a synagogue for its Jewish students? A chapel for Catholics? Another chapel for each of the other Christian sects? A temple for Hindus and another for Buddhists, etc., etc.?
A school is a school. It is unacceptable that purveyors of gods and demons be given a foothold in it.

Germany's President Rau Criticizes Bush's Religious Fervor

Deutsche Welle —  German international broadcasting service, 2003-04-01

German President Johannes Rau has added his voice to the millions of others expressing harsh criticism of U.S. President George W. Bush and the war he is leading against the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
In a television interview broadcast on Monday evening, Rau challenged Bush on a subject that is very close to the U.S. president's heart -- religion. The German president, whose position usually puts him above the daily skirmishing among Germany's political parties, said the Bible did not call on anyone to conduct crusades. "I don't believe that a people receives a message from God to free another people," Rau said.
He added that Pope John Paul II actually had the right religious approach to the conflict with Iraq. In the days leading up to the fighting, the pope stressed that the war would be a defeat for humanity. "Whoever decides that all peaceful means available under international law are exhausted assumes a grave responsibility before God, his own conscience and history," the Vatican said last month.
Rau said that instead of focusing on a religious approach to the conflict, Bush should have supported the worldly mission of the U.N. weapons inspectors and their search for weapons of mass destruction. "The U.N. inspectors would have accomplished this task without causing this suffering," he said. "That would have been the right way."

Webmaster's comment:
We should trust no-one who uses religious arguments either for war or for peace. Maybe Rau is wrong: if one looked hard enough, perhaps there is some biblical text which could be interpreted as justifying a holy war à la Bush. At any rate, what the Bible may say or not say on any subject is completely irrelevant.
Nevertheless, the German President is certainly on the right track when he criticizes Bush's "religious approach to the conflict" and promotes a "worldly"—that is, realistic—approach.

Los Angeles Archdiocese fights document release

CNN, 2003-04-01

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- When California's Roman Catholic Church was engulfed by sex abuse scandals last spring, the cardinal said he wanted his archdiocese to be at the head of nationwide efforts to deal with the crisis. A year later, prosecutors are questioning the cardinal's sincerity, and church attorneys were planning to argue in court Tuesday against the release of priest personnel files.
"What they say and what they do are two different things," said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. Church attorneys were expected to argue in court that communication between Cardinal Roger Mahony and suspected molesters is protected by the First Amendment. The lawyers say that priest-bishop confidentiality is a foundation of Catholicism and that interference with it violates the free exercise of religion.
...Some question why Mahony is trying to keep them secret if he has nothing to hide. "He and the L.A. Archdiocese are acting more like organized crime than organized religion at this point," said Lee Bashforth, who filed a criminal complaint last April against the Rev. Michael Wempe, a former Ventura County priest Bashforth alleges molested him and his brother from 1976 to 1985. Bashforth and other plaintiffs want the internal documents to see if priests admitted abuse and how the church hierarchy responded.

Webmaster's comment:
Notice that church lawyers are attempting to use the "free exercise of religion" as an excuse to withhold evidence.