Beliefnet
City of Brass

It is easy to focus on the negative, but sometimes it is important to remind ourselves of the good news for a change. To that end, Juan Cole has compiled a list of ten good news stories from the Islamic world that we all should take a moment to remind ourselves of. There’s plenty to decry in the world at large, but we need to remind ourselves that there was much to celebrate, as well.

I think we do need to add some kudos for President Bush to that list, as well – especially for his legacy in Africa.

My friend Ali Eteraz calls the Inauguration a “secular hajj” for America:

The theological comparison isn’t far-fetched. Emerson, Whitman, Dewey, and Rorty all suggested that politics is America’s civil religion.
This makes the constitution the country’s holy text. The division of
government into a legislative, executive and judicial branch is an
earthly version of a triune deity. As for the presidency, the novelist
EL Doctorow described its metaphysical role when he wrote: “With each
elected president the nation is conformed spiritually. He is the
artificer of our malleable national soul. He proposes not only the laws
but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our
responses. The people he appoints are cast in his image. The trouble
they get into, and get us into, is his characteristic trouble. Finally,
the media amplify his character into our moral weather report. He
becomes the face of our sky, the conditions that prevail.”

The
inauguration is a ritual, akin to Muslims touching the walls of the
Ka’bah in Mecca. It renders tangible the ethereal. It is a reminder
that the government is like an idol, a fact that was well known to
those who introduced the modern nation-state – the French even raised a
new goddess after the revolution – but which goes entirely forgotten by
us.

Eteraz doesn’t stop there, though – go read his piece in full, for just like the Hajj, there is a kind of redemption involved.

I was hoping he would make a pun regarding the Black Stone, though 🙂

My friend Razib has started an interesting debate on the meaning and value of the concept, “Judeo-Christian” – his initial post attracted a vigorous discussion, a response from Ross Douthat at The Atlantic, and lively discussion at Talk Islam. Frankly I think that the phrase “Judeo-Islamic” is a more defensible construct (agreeing with Razib’s general point).

You can follow the entire debate via this link at Talk Islam.

The following is a statement of principles written by Richard Silverstein of the blog Tikkun Olam and other American Jewish writers (many of whom contributed to the landmark collection of essays, A Time to Speak Out) regarding the ongoing Israeli operation in Gaza.

As human beings, we are shocked and appalled at the mass destruction unleashed by the State of Israel against the people of Gaza in its current military operation, following years of Israeli occupation, siege, and deprivation.

 As Americans, we protest the carte blanche given Israel by the US government to pursue a war of “national honor,” “restoring deterrence,” “destroying Hamas,” and “searing Israel’s military might into the consciousness of the Gazans.”

As progressives, we reject the same justifications for the carnage that we heard ad nauseum from the supporters of the Second Iraq War: the so-called “war on terror,” the “clash of civilizations,” the “need to re-establish deterrence” – all of which served to justify a misguided and unnecessary war, with disastrous consequences for America and Iraq.

But as Jews of different religious persuasions, from Orthodox to secular atheist, we are especially horrified that a state that purports to speak in our name wages a military campaign that has killed over 1,000 people, a large percentage of them civilians, children, and non-combatants, with little or no consideration for human rights or the laws of war.

While the moral and legal issue concerning Israel’s right to respond militarily in these circumstance can be debated, there is near-universal agreement that its conduct of the military operation has been unjust and even criminal – with only the usual apologists for the Jewish state disagreeing.

As Jews, we stand united with another Israel, the patriarch Jacob, who cursed his sons Simeon and Levi for massacring the people of Shechem in revenge for the rape of their sister Dinah. Like Jacob, “we shall not be a party to the counsel of zealots. We shall not be counted in their assembly. (See Genesis 34. 49: 5-7).

As Jews, we stand united with the Jewish sages who rejected the zealotry of the Jewish “terrorists” at Masada,  those who masked ethnic tribalism in the cloak of “self-defense” and “national honor.”

As Jews, we listen not only when the sage Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” but also when he says, “If I am only for myself, what am I?”  Hillel’s closing words also ring true in this hour of decision when a ceasefire is demanded of both sides: “If not now, when?”

Finally, as American Jewish progressives, and as human beings, we condemn Hamas and Israel for violating the human rights of civilians on both sides, although we do not necessarily declare these violations to be morally or legally equivalent.  We affirm the rights of both Israeli and the Palestinian peoples to self-determination and self-defense, as we affirm the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

This statement is reprinted from Tikkun Olam. To sign your name to this statement, please send your full name, title (if you wish), & affiliation (if you wish) to statement.signatories@gmail.com.