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End the Business of War – An Open Letter


by: Manchester Jewish Action for Palestine on October 7th, 2015 | No Comments »

The Jewish New Year arrived last month amidst an explosion of chaos in the UK and Europe. The Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashana and the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur, is a time of deep reflection, repentance and renewal.

At the same time, the photograph of 4-year-old Alan, a Syrian refugee washed up on the shores of a Turkish beach, moved millions around the world. From that moment forward, #Refugeeswelcome was trending on twitter. Demonstrations sprung up in hundreds of cities in Europe demonstrating solidarity with refugees fleeing their countries.

Somehow, in these last few weeks, as the New Year arrived, the world changed. The media, once suffuse with racist propaganda about illegal immigrants, began launching appeals for the refugee crisis. The power of people’s emotions and grief over this topic has turned the tides. It has been devastating and inspiring. We, as descendants of refugees from Eastern Europe who were welcomed into Britain, know too well the importance of offering sanctuary for those fleeing war and persecution.

After endless statements purporting to ensure that Britain would deal with the refugee crisis, not by taking in more refugees but by “ensuring their regions are stable”, David Cameron scurried off to Lebanon in September to visit Syrian refugees living in camps.

But at the same time, Cameron’s UK government recently held the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition in London, which welcomed over 30,000 attendees, 1,683 global defence and security suppliers from 54 countries and hosting 42 international pavilions. The audience included top-level international military staff, major procurement officials, and the entire industry supply chain, from large prime contractors to supplying companies. This UK arms fair, supported and funded by the government, was pursuing the sale of UK arms and internal security equipment to countries strongly criticized for human rights abuses such as Iraq, Bahrain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt. (1)


Stephen Colbert is America’s Holy Fool


by: Ed Simon on October 4th, 2015 | No Comments »

In the semiotician Umberto Eco’s unlikely 1980 best-seller The Name of the Rose a medieval Franciscan monk investigating a series of murders at an Italian monastery discovers that the victims have been targeted by the abbot for reading a forbidden book – the only copy of an apocryphal work on comedy by Aristotle. The abbot reasons that if such a distinguished thinker whose work is the very basis for scholasticism was known to have argued that comedy was the equal of drama, then the power of religious authorities such as himself would be questioned, for humor can be used as a tool for not just challenging hierarchy, but for enduring one’s own life without the teachings of hierarchy as well.

William of Baskerville, the fourteenth-century protagonist of Eco’s novel, does not agree with the abbot. He believes that simply because Christ is not depicted as laughing in the gospels does not mean that he didn’t in life. For Baskerville humor and spirituality are inseparable, it is precisely the radical, upending, disruptive nature of joyful comedy that allows for evil and sin to be resisted. It’s worth considering what exactly the relationship is between Christianity and comedy, especially since the popular stereotype (among the secular, but sometimes among the pious as well) sees these two categories as somehow being antithetical. And yet a great tradition exists within Christianity of being a “fool for Christ.”

Stephen Colbert in Iraq

Credit: Creative Commons

Stephen Colbert, formerly of the brilliant Colbert Report which satirically skewered right-wing blowhards like Bill O’Reilly and now David Letterman’s replacement on The Late Show is a devout Roman Catholic. He has made no secret of his faith (in fact the comedian once taught catechism class), but for some viewers confused about how to separate Colbert from his performance the intensity of the host’s religion can seem disorienting. And yet Colbert himself sees absolutely no conflict between his humor and his faith. In an interview with Colbert posted on September 9th, Father Thomas Rosica of the Canadian based and Vatican-affiliated Salt and Light Television asked what one question would be that he would ask Pope Francis. The performer replied “I would ask him about being a fool for Christ… to be a fool for Christ is to love, because we are made, we are here to dig our brief moment in time.” A “fool for Christ” – it’s a seemingly counter-intuitive concept, but one that is threaded throughout orthodoxy.

So what exactly is a “fool for Christ?” It’s a concept with deep roots in both Catholic and Orthodox traditions (the later celebrating many yurodivy as saints), and indeed more generally the religious strength of “foolishness” is one that is celebrated in thought as varied as the folk-tales of Hasidic Judaism to the “crazy-wisdom” of Zen Buddhist koans. It’s important to remember that “foolishness” can’t be reduced or limited to comedy, and that a “fool for Christ” need not be seen as being a theological form of its secular counterpart the “jester.” And yet there are certain similarities, ones that Colbert would be correct to identify as potentially properties of the engaged comedian who despite anarchic sensibilities takes the divine very seriously. The fool for Christ is one who is shocking, or flouts conventional social mores, whether that means casting off all possessions (including clothes), living unconventionally, or purposefully making your fervency by seeming mad or stupid, and yes, in some cases being funny. It is Paul in Corinthians who first uses the term, and indeed it is a concept that demonstrates the profound anti-establishment, subversive, “world turned upside down” nature of Christianity, even if that very radicalness sometimes seems unpalatable to the conventionally and normatively faithful. The holy fool is like the court jester who is able to speak the truth because of his ridiculousness, like Lear’s clown in the howling wilderness – but the holy fool works not for a mere king, but for God.

Erasmus of Rotterdam’s classic humanist work In Praise of Folly celebrates the potential of the holy fool. Written in 1511 England while Erasmus was on his friend Thomas More’s estate, the text is an ironic encomium where the character Folly, personified as a woman, praises herself, and claims that “all Christian religion seems to have a kind of alliance with folly and in no respect to have any accord with wisdom.” It might seem blasphemous, the Church placed Erasmus’ works on the Index of Forbidden Books, but it is paralleled by Colbert who in his interview said “Logic itself will not lead me to God. But my love of the world and my gratitude toward it will. So hopefully I can use my mind to make my jokes and not deny my love for God at the same time.” The holy fool embodies divinity because in their descent they help to elevate. As Erasmus explains “And Christ himself… became a fool when taking upon him the nature of man… he was made sin that he might heal sinners.”

Stephen Colbert is good for American Catholicism and he is good for America. For many secular Americans, many of whom are former Catholics, the face of the American Church has too often been the unsmiling visage of Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. Taking offense at everything, picketing, petitioning and seemingly always enraged about any difference in opinion or the appearance of mere irreverence. Colbert on the other hand is irreverence incarnate, first in his performance as a blowhard newscaster on Comedy Central and now on CBS’ The Late Show. And despite his “foolishness” his Catholic bona fides are not to be doubted (check out the Catholic trivia competition between him and rock virtuoso/former altar boy Jack White). But it is this “foolishness” that makes him such a potent voice. His interview last week with Vice-President Joe Biden which touched on faith and grief demonstrates the unique genius of Colbert at being able to discuss religion through comedy. Sergey Ivanov of the Russian Academy of Sciences claims that a “holy fool” is one who “feigns insanity, pretends to be silly, or who provokes shock or outrage by his deliberate unruliness.” Is this not a description of the political jester who was “Stephen Colbert” for the last decade? As the “real” Stephen Colbert starts The Late Show, might we hope that late night television may develop its own theological jester in him, a type of national holy fool?

Ed Simon is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department of Lehigh University. His research focuses on religion and literature in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Atlantic world. He has been previously published inSalon,Quartz,The Revealer, theJournal of the Northern Renaissance, and thePublic Domain Reviewamong others. Currently he is the assistant editor of theJournal of Heresy Studies, and one of the founding members of the International Society for Heresy Studies. He can be followed on Twitter @WithEdSimon.

Justice for Mohammad Akhlaq


by: Sunita Viswanath on October 2nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

On this auspicious day – Gandhi Jayanti (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday) and International Day of Non-Violence – my colleagues and I at Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus are heartbroken to read the news that a Muslim man, Mohammad Akhlaq, was lynched and murdered by a Hindu mob in Northern India because it was rumored that he killed and cow and consumed the meat. News reports claim that a mob of Hindus wielding bricks, batons, and swords came to the man’s house to hunt him down, beat him to death and severely injure his son and mother.


Settle into fall with these crisp online features from Tikkun!


by: Tikkun on October 2nd, 2015 | No Comments »

Tikkun is not only a print quarterly with a thirty-year history of publishing the best critical thought in spirituality, social justice, politics, and culture—it’s also a web magazine that publishes dozens of online exclusives each month.

Below, find online-access features from the print magazine, like Peter Gabel’s plan for transforming the justice system, as well as web-only exclusives from Marc Gopin, Candace Mittel, and Michael Lerner and Cat Zavis—plus poetry by Philip Terman and Admiel Kosman, and book reviews by Matthew Fox and Michael LaPointe.

Don’t miss a beat—make it a habit to visit us online at tikkun.org!


The Spiritual Dimension of Social Justice: Transforming the Legal Arena
by Peter Gabel

We need a new legal paradigm that affirms the spiritual dimension of our common existence. Join our efforts to place empathy at the center of the law.

Read More»

Plus—scholars and experts respond to Gabel’s call to transform the justice system.


A Rightwingers’ Guide to Political Correctness


by: Ron Hirschbein on October 1st, 2015 | No Comments »

Donald Trump gives a speech

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Fellow rightwingers expect you to be politically correct. Here’s how. Overuse the putdown “you’re just being politically correct” against all enemies foreign and domestic. Use the argument-stopping, dismissive putdown against those questioning your ideology or correcting your racist and sexist slurs. For example, when someone reminds you that the 1% gets the lion’s share of the wealth, there’s no need for discussion; they’re just being politically correct, right? If you’re criticized for calling Arabs ragheads or women chicks you know what to say: Don’t take responsibility for insults deeply offensive to fellow human beings.

It’s not enough, of course, to put opponents down by calling them politically correct. You must be politically correct lest you offend your cohort by calling things by their right name.  Let’s look at examples from business and the military: You’re probably in one of these communities, or that’s where your sympathies lie. Here’s what’s politically correct if you’re a true, patriotic American in the rightwing echo chamber:

  • There’s no such thing as a greedy capitalist; there are only job-creators. (Any criticism of inequality is class warfare—smacks of Marxism.)
  • Playing the stock market isn’t gambling; it’s investing. The market never crashes; it undergoes needed corrections. [Careful! Don’t call it a bull market a mistake.]
  • That used car with a sordid history is a pre-owned vehicle.
  • That cramped, almost unusable house, is a cozy dollhouse or starter home. It’s not dilapidated; it simply needs TCL.
  • You don’t buy death insurance—it’s life insurance.
  • There are no estate taxes—just death taxes. (Who would want to victimize those inheriting sums over $5,000,000 by taxing their proceeds? Next thing you know, hedge fund managers will be taxed at the same rate as wage earners. Speaking of wage earners, liberals want to subject earnings exceeding $118,500 to Social Security Taxes: Surely this would quash incentive to make more money.)


Alison OK Frost Captures the Strange Absurdities of War and Discrimination


by: Oona Taper on October 1st, 2015 | No Comments »

Alison OK Frost creates delicate and disturbing watercolors. Her figures seem to be part of a post apocalyptic world even though they are all drawn from news articles. Stripped of context and background information they float eerily on the white page.

Her images use the delicate style of watercolors to express the brutal elements of modern society. She wants to illustrate this dynamic in her work: “A few years ago I took part in the occupy Oakland protest and one thing that was really striking was how beautiful tear gas is, especially at night. I want to use these clouds in a way that uses the visual language of beautiful landscape watercolors.”


She came to this series through an obsession with the images themselves. She explains that her earlier work was quite different. She made oil paintings influenced by scenes from religious paintings. She says she took “scenes from particle paintings that featured the virgin mary and then juxtaposed them with my own life. ” Once she finished this series she didn’t know what to do with her art. She says she floundered for a few years. In this time she collected images without a specific project in mind. She collected images that she describes as ” a little uneasy, almost humorous. Taken out of context you could look at them and say, ‘oh this is a science fiction movie about a post apocalyptic future;’ but the weren’t, they were just news stories from today.” When she began painting these images in watercolor she says “something clicked.” She instantaneously knew that was the direction in which she wanted to take her art.

Collecting images remained integral to the process. She sees herself as a “visual data organizer,” and her sketchbook as a “visual database.” Her sketchbook has few sketches; instead she makes collections of images to prepare for paintings. The sketchbook consists of pages of related images in which she is interested- she has pages dedicated to sinkholes, for instance. Other pages combine images from distinct sources; she has a page with refuges and marching bands. She says, “I have been working on combining different kinds of parades. I am figuring out how to combine those visually and what that means in terms of masses of people and how they congregate.”

In her newest work she is interested in dissecting what it means to juxtapose images that are visually similar but quite different thematically. “I have been collecting images of tidal waves and kids playing in hydrants and with images from the civil rights movement – a big way that black protesters in the 60s were dehumanized was by spraying them with fire hoses. But all of those images, when you break those down to basic visual information, are nearly identical. At a glance you wouldn’t know, are these people playing? Are these people running from nature? Are they running from other people who don’t see them as human?”


The New Extreme of the American Left


by: Jason Espada on October 1st, 2015 | 5 Comments »

As American soldiers returned from Vietnam in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, they were met with scorn, spat on in airports, and called “baby killers”. The anger directed towards them came from an enraged and educated opposition that had gradually become aware of the injustice and sheer criminality of the wars being waged.

In their passion, progressives in those times went too far in blaming the soldiers, yet were entirely right in insisting that the men and women who pulled the triggers, who opened the bay doors of the planes and dropped the napalm, were also responsible. Carnage doesn’t just happen by itself, and the criticisms and accusations back then were calls to awaken the conscience of the soldier and the nation- they were cries for justice, for humanity, and for an end to the cruelty and abomination of wars of aggression.

Many veterans themselves, aware that they had been deceived, turned into activists against the war. The picture that emerged over time was then one of a public, reunited with the foot soldiers, against the American empire that had used our resources and men and women’s lives for geopolitical ends, in immoral and unjustified wars. There was a period of grief and remorse for blaming the soldiers, for criticizing them so harshly when they too were among the manipulated. The administration didn’t care about their lives either. Looking back, we can say that those in the armed forces during that time were victims as well. These military men and women, however, were not held up then as heroes, or exalted for their sacrifice.

Fast forward to 2015. Since the end of the Vietnam War, the United States government has continued its role as the aggressor in one war after another, and there is now a new extreme in what remains of the American Left. Whereas before we had soldiers vilified for their actions – today there is no criticism of them at all. Instead, many of the leading voices of the public Left are either silent, or have nothing but reverence for the modern soldier. They praise their courage and sacrifice, as if these were virtues all by themselves. In the American Left, there is now a vast gulf between opposing modern wars and any sense that the military men and women are responsible for heinous, criminal acts. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction –from condemnation of deceived victim-soldier all the way to praise and honor and deference being given them for their dedication, as separate from the particular wars we are now engaged in in the Middle East.


Press Release: Jewish World Watch Mobilizes Activist Community to Aid Syrian Refugees


by: Jewish World Watch on September 28th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

In pre-Yom Kippur message, leading anti-Genocide organization calls for increase in the number of refugees admitted to U.S; announces creation of emergency fund for Syrian refugees

(Los Angeles) – Today, the Jewish World Watch Board of Directors issued the following statement:

“The horrific images coming out of Syria have shocked and appalled people of conscience everywhere. The Assad regime continues to torture and barrel bomb civilians. ISIS has systematically killed and enslaved entire communities. We have seen the lifeless bodies of Syrian babies wash up on European shores, as tens of thousands of refugees remain stranded in train stations and detention camps. The violence shows no signs of subsiding, with more than 200,000 Syrians killed and three million fleeing the ever-widening crisis.

During these holiest days of the Jewish year, we have issued an urgent appeal to all members of our community to take action now on behalf of the Syrian refugees fleeing grave violence and systematic persecution in their country. JWW has set up an emergency fund for Syrian refugees, which will work with credible partner organizations to provide immediate relief on the ground. At the same time, our community has begun advocating to our policymakers for a significant increase in the number of Syrian refuges that will be offered sanctuary in the United States. While we welcome President Obama’s announcement that the U.S. will increase the number of Syrian refugees it will absorb, the current numbers suggested by the Administration are simply not high enough.


Rosh Hashana, 2015


by: JVP Rabbinic Council on September 26th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Almost four years ago, the Rabbis of Jewish Voice for Peace called on President Obama to resist the call to go to war with Iran and choose instead a peaceful resolution. We said: “As Jewish leaders, we believe that the path of wisdom towards achieving peace and stability in the region is through dialog and engagement and not through acts of war.” Today, along with rest of the world, we congratulate President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry for bringing us the Iran nuclear deal. We believe that peace, not war, serves best the people of the United States, Iran, Israel and all the people of the region.

In the coming days, in synagogues and homes across the country, Jews welcome Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Jews greet each other with the blessing: “may you be inscribed in the Book of Life.” This year we extend our blessings to the 35,000 Jews in Iran, the millions of Iranians, our fellow Jews in Israel and the American people for whom this peace treaty offers the best hope for being inscribed in the Book of Life.

President Obama has given us hope this Rosh Hashana. Hope that international conflict can be resolved through diplomacy; hope that engaging in the highest self-interest of other nations can serve our own national self-interest; hope that peace, not war, be our first choice, not the choice of last resort; hope that Iranians can live and thrive in peace; hope that the Middle East can be a region of peace; hope that we can live in a world with less, not more, nuclear arms.


A Proposal to Shrink the Supply of Firearms Available for Criminal Use


by: Robert Cogan on September 18th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Robert Heinlein, a Libertarian Science fiction writer, popularized the phrase “TANSTAAFL.” He was expressing colloquially, by the words “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” a principle popularized in economics by Milton Friedman. The principle, somewhat oversimplified, is that whenever there is an exclusive choice whichever alternative is taken has an opportunity cost associated, the opportunity to choose another alternative. Reality is often a little less simple. There is no free lunch but there are many relatively governmentally highly subsidized lunches and many much lower or totally unsubsidized ones. That is the case with seeking to reduce harm from the presence in America of between its’ possibly 270 – 300 million firearms. A gun redemption program can only be successful under the motto “Go Big, or Go Home.”

The dialog over harm reduction from firearms is stagnant. The Liberal side says: “Guns facilitate crime! Pass Ban Laws!” and the Conservative one says: “Guns don’t commit crimes! Just enforce the laws that already exist!” The criminal use of guns not in proper custody leads to enormous medical and legal costs (recently estimated at $233 billion per year.) These costs are borne not just by the victim but also by non-firearms using taxpayers for medical and legal expenses including long incarceration. Neither side is willing to ask the questions “How, practically, can further harm reduction occur?” “What will further harm reduction cost?” and “Who will pay what amounts for it?” These debate positions amount to each side asking for a free lunch from the other. Enforcement would cost a lot either way. It is little noticed that to maintain this oversupply and too – great ease of access, further harm reduction requires much greater expense in detection and treatment of mental illness, control rather than freedom of persons, including surveillance and sometimes prolonged custodianship of the ill, as well as in hardening sites where potential masses of victims can be found (court houses, malls, theatres, schools.) Furthermore, it was recently revealed in a study that in addition to insane persons there are also a large number of persons who have access to firearms and admit to being quick to anger and impulsive and carry guns outside the home (1.5%, as many as 3.6 million people)[1]. Many of these persons may not have committable mental illnesses. Such would be the costs, unless there is a less costly, voluntary, market – based way of getting excess guns out of circulation.