by: Norman Allen on May 19th, 2015 | No Comments »
In condemning Dzhokar Tsarnaev to death, we would do well to remember Cain and Abel. Even after murdering his brother, Cain is shown unthinkable mercy and protection from God. Above, stained glass from the Genesis story in Fairford Parish Church, England. Credit: CreativeCommons / Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.
Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s death sentence, handed down on May 15, serves as the grand finale to a year of public discussion about capital punishment. The Supreme Court is considering the potential cruelty of lethal injections, and Kelly Renee Gissendaner lives under a stay of execution in Georgia, prompted by fears of another “botched execution,” like the one experienced by Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last spring. It seems a good time to step back and revisit what the Bible’s authors have to say about that book’s first murderer, and the consequences of his actions.
I found the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, remembering from my Sunday School days that God punishes the murderer with the “Mark of Cain,” a sort of brand that ensures Cain will spend the rest of his days as an outcast. I quickly learned, though, that my memory — or my Sunday School teacher — had it totally wrong.
by: Huma Munir on May 16th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
"Astronomy teaches us humility and compassion," writes Huma Munir. "Of all human virtues, humility is probably the most beautiful and important."
In 1990, spacecraft Voyager 1 took one last photo of the Earth from 6 billion kilometers away before drifting further into outer space. The Earth stood out no more than a tiny dot against the vast expanse of darkness in the space.
Inspired by the photo, famous astrophysicist and atheist, Carl Sagan, wrote a book titled Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. In it, he said studying astronomy can be a humbling and a character-building experience. Though Sagan did not believe in a higher power, his work has greatly inspired me to connect with God, and has led me on a journey of self-reformation.
In many senses, and contrary to popular belief, astronomy is helpful to religious believers.
Firstly, it teaches us that the world is limitless.
Credit: CreativeCommons / Samantha Marx.
This is the second in my series of commentaries on the American Freedom Defense Initiative and its “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest” held recently in Garland, Texas.
In my first commentary, I discussed the controversy surrounding the so-called American Freedom Defense Initiative’s (AFDI) cartoon caricature context of the Prophet Muhammad where two men opened fire on a security officer stationed outside the contest building. The officer brought down the shooters killing them both. By my bringing attention to the Islamophobia guiding AFDI’s event, a few readers of my commentary accused me of “blaming the victims.”
In actuality, I did no such thing. AFDI and its leader, Pamela Geller, have a far-reaching history of Islam bashing, and their event in Texas fit clearly into that framework. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which follows extremist hate group, defines AFDI as an extremist right-wing organization. To caricature the Prophet Muhammad, while clearly protected by the First Amendment’s “freedom of speech” clause, can also be seen as an act of hate and bullying for the goal of insulting, inciting, inflaming, demeaning, and provoking.
by: Susan Bloch on May 12th, 2015 | 29 Comments »
When I heard the news that Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai massacre, was recently released from a Pakistani prison on bail, I stared at the TV in disbelief.He had been accused of personally planning and directing the three-day rampage at India’s commercial capital that killed hundreds of people. Yet the Lahore High Court had dismissed the detention orders issued by the Punjab government, claiming insufficient evidence for a conviction. Lakhvi’s meticulously executed plan had destroyed the lives of many deliberately targeted Westerners and Jews. Bullets were sprayed at local bystanders, including commuters at the crowded train station, and anyone who just happened to be in the path of Lakhvi’s well-trained gunmen.
His release made no sense. Confessions of two of the terrorists — recently executed, Ajmal Kasab and American jihadist, David Headley –confirmed that the accused had personally directed the gunmen by satellite phone from a safe house in Karachi. What was the judge thinking?
by: Edith Lutz on May 8th, 2015 | 3 Comments »
The perennially increasing military budgets of world powers have resulted in unprecedented militarization, in the middle of which often sits Israel. Peace, on the other hand, is a child of nonviolent communication and empathy. Credit: CreativeCommons / Palestine Solidarity Project.
Promoting the capacity for empathy and supporting measures that help to develop empathy would be the better way to pave the path towards peace in the Middle East — and perhaps the only viable one.
It would certainly be a cheaper one. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) the total sum of the world’s military expenditures in 2014 amounted to 1,776 billion dollars. With $610 billion, the United States was far and away at the top of the league. The U.S.A. exported armaments worth more than $20 billion, making it the world’s leading exporter, too. In some cases the United States is very generous and offers additional military aid (supporting their own killing industry in the process). Israel, for example, is such a beneficiary. It receives military aid of about $3 billion annually. The U.S. has also helped with additional aid in special cases, such as the funding of the Iron Drone project with $429 million in March 2014 or with $576 million for the Tamir interception missiles in July 2014 (Haaretz,10 March/18 Aug 2014). Egypt is the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. “In the interest of U.S. national security” and despite the protests of human rights activists, the States is going to resume its frozen military aid. President Obama has asked the Congress for $1.3 billion in military aid for Egypt per year. (Reuters)
by: Yanna Bat Adam on May 4th, 2015 | No Comments »
As my physical body grows old and older, there is in parallel, an essence aware of itself that becomes younger and younger.
Two opposite movements that don’t contradict each other in any way as there is a sense of wonder in becoming older/younger at the same time.
When life is seen as a miracle even the Holocaust is perceived as a gift of the One and Only Force of Nature.
A David State of Heart, Yanna, 2015.
When we are identified with our physical body, trying endlessly to meet its corporeal needs for food, sex, family, money, respect control and knowledge we see the world from the 1st story of a 10-story building.
This perspective does not enable us to see much.
Imagine you see the world from the angle of a crawling snake that continuously looks for something to hunt.
We are trapped like animals in a human form, trying to survive as best as possible as do other beasts. It sometimes feels that animals are more “civilized” than us “humans.”
by: Aryeh Cohen on April 30th, 2015 | No Comments »
Credit: CreativeCommons / Dorret.
Watching, reading, and thinking about Baltimore, the killing of Freddie Gray by Baltimore police, and the current nonviolent and violent reactions to that killing, I keep going back to Hannah Arendt. Arendt, in her essay on violence, draws an important distinction between violence and power.
Politically speaking, it is not enough to say that power and violence are not the same. Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course its end is the disappearance of power. This implies that it is not correct to say that the opposite of violence is nonviolence: to speak of nonviolent power is actually redundant. Violence can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it. (Reflections on Violence)
The power that concerns Arendt is the power of political communities. Power is the result of people coming together for political ends. Or as Arendt says: “Power needs no justification as it is inherent in the very existence of political communities.” However, Arendt here adds a supremely important caveat: “What, however, it does need is legitimacy.” Power is dependent on legitimacy. This is why violence is the opposite of power. When the power of a political community is legitimate, when it is recognized as legitimate by those who form the community, then there is no need for the violence of domination. It is only when legitimacy disappears that violence takes center stage.
by: Lydia Gans on April 27th, 2015 | No Comments »
The Berkeley City Council is once again moving to enact laws more cruel and dehumanizing than ever. It’s not the first time that they will have passed laws increasingly targeting homeless people. Panhandling within 10 feet of a parking pay station would be a crime. Putting personal objects in planters or within three feet of a tree well would be a crime. Poor people will have to have a tape measure handy to make sure they’re not committing a crime. As a matter of fact just about anything that a homeless person needs for sleeping, tent, mat, sleeping bag, cannot be left on any sidewalk any time of day. Nor can personal items be attached to trees, planters, parking meters etc. etc. and oh yes, it would be a crime to sit against a building.
Voices of protest are being heard. Members of the interfaith coalition of more than 40 congregations, including Buddhists, Quakers, Roman Catholics, Unitarians, Christians, Muslims, Jews, are speaking out against the city’s criminalization of homelessness. On April 9 they held a protest ‘in solidarity with homeless people’ at the downtown Berkeley BART Plaza. Starting at 5 o’clock with a meal and an interfaith service it concluded with a sleep-out at the Plaza until 6:30 Friday morning.
by: Peter Balakian on April 24th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Formal recognition of the Armenian genocide is growing not only in the countries of the diaspora, but in Turkey itself. Above, the Armenian March to Remember Genocide in Hollywood, CA. Credit: CreativeCommons / JR Woodward.
I was standing under Halogen spot lights spoking the white walls of a chic art gallery on Istiktal Street in Istanbul, a bustling pedestrian avenue of boutiques and restaurants, as I shook hands with three young Turkish fiction writers. Their publicist from their publishing house Yapi Kredir, led us to the table where we each had a small microphone and a name card in front of us, which for me was a kind of identity card. Three Americans, three Turks, all were writers of fiction but me. We had English translations of our Turkish colleagues’ works, and I felt the silence in the room grow as we moved between Turkish and English.
I was here in Istanbul in late October of 2014 to read in public for the first time. I agreed to join a group of American writers organized by the poet Christopher Merrill who directs the Iowa Writers International School at the University of Iowa. The project was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy as a cultural reading tour to Turkey and Armenia. The underlying concept was to foster some kind of dialogue between Armenians and Turks on the eve of the centennial of the Armenian genocide.
by: Brian O’Callaghan on April 23rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »
The reality for many Trans people in Asia is far from utopian, but there is little of the overt discrimination and violence prevalent in other parts of the world. Historically, there has always been space for a third gender in Eastern cultures. Credit: Author.
To see more photographs from Brian O’Callaghan’s “Transitions,” visit the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery.
When I began photographing and interviewing Trans women in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I had to acknowledge to myself that I knew very little about the myriad of gender identities that exist. I had never really encountered positive Trans visibility until I lived in Asia. I began to see that my hetero-normative worldview was reinforced through the media and society at large. Even though I identify as an openly gay man, my notions about gender possibilities were policed. An essential lesson I learned from this project is that, there is not just one Trans story or experience. The women I interviewed wanted to share their stories in the hope of changing perceptions of what it means to be Trans.