City of Brass

City of Brass

Yom Kippur

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for the Jewish people. Yom Kippur is a sacred day in many respects, and has great relevance for Islam – after all, it was the Prophet Moses AS who initiated the observance of fasting on Yom Kippur. Sunni tradition holds that the Prophet SAW, on arriving in Medina in 622, found that the Jews in residence there were fasting in observance of Yom Kippur, and instructed muslims to observe the fast that day as well – which was 10th Muharram, or Ashura, according to the Hijri calendar. I am actually rather curious about that, it should be a simple calculation to verify sometime. Of course, in the Shi’a tradition Ashura is the day of martyrdom of Imam Husain AS, and so fasting on that day is done in remembrance and grief – the acknowledgment that Husain AS sacrificed himself for the sake of Islam. Thus, Yom Kippur carries an echo of atonement for Shi’a muslims as well. The deeper you dig into these kinds of things, the more parallels emerge, as should be expected since the prophets of Judaism and Christianity are also the prophets of Islam. 

Obama McCain Debate II: the best question

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

I confess that I wasn’t really watching the debate because I had any interest in what McCain would say. I already know who I am voting for and I already know where McCain stands on all the issues, except for his astonishing mortgage bailout plan, about which the less said, the better. I really wanted to get a better sense for the general governing philosophy for an Obama administration. On that score, the bulk of the debate was a rehash of Obama’s technocratic campaign, but this exchange (from the transcript) really stood out in my mind and was the highlight of the debate.

Brokaw: Sen. McCain, for you, we have our first question from the Internet
tonight. A child of the Depression, 78-year-old Fiorra from Chicago.

Since World War II, we have never been asked to sacrifice anything to
help our country, except the blood of our heroic men and women. As
president, what sacrifices — sacrifices will you ask every American to
make to help restore the American dream and to get out of the economic
morass that we’re now in?

McCain: [spending cuts, entitlements, earmarks, blah blah blah. Defense? ooookay.]

Obama: You know, a lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11
and where you were on that day and, you know, how all of the country
was ready to come together and make enormous changes to make us not
only safer, but to make us a better country and a more unified country.

And President Bush did some smart things at the outset, but one of the
opportunities that was missed was, when he spoke to the American
people, he said, “Go out and shop.”

That wasn’t the kind of call to service that I think the American people were looking for.

And so it’s important to understand that the — I think the American
people are hungry for the kind of leadership that is going to tackle
these problems not just in government, but outside of government.

And let’s take the example of energy, which we already spoke about.
There is going to be the need for each and every one of us to start
thinking about how we use energy.

I believe in the need for
increased oil production. We’re going to have to explore new ways to
get more oil, and that includes offshore drilling. It includes telling
the oil companies, that currently have 68 million acres that they’re
not using, that either you use them or you lose them.

We’re going to have to develop clean coal technology and safe ways to store nuclear energy.

But each and every one of us can start thinking about how can we save
energy in our homes, in our buildings. And one of the things I want to
do is make sure that we’re providing incentives so that you can buy a
fuel efficient car that’s made right here in the United States of
America, not in Japan or South Korea, making sure that you are able to
weatherize your home or make your business more fuel efficient.

And that’s going to require effort from each and every one of us.

And the last point I just want to make. I think the young people of
America are especially interested in how they can serve, and that’s one
of the reasons why I’m interested in doubling the Peace Corps, making
sure that we are creating a volunteer corps all across this country
that can be involved in their community, involved in military service,
so that military families and our troops are not the only ones bearing
the burden of renewing America.

That’s something that all of us have to be involved with and that requires some leadership from Washington.

I can’t overstate the importance of this. Most serious analysts have long observed that energy lies at the crossroads of most of our 21st-century challenges: national security, environment, economy, and arguably liberty itself, since the track record of oil-producing nations in that regards has not exactly been great (OPEC stands as an exception to Fareed Zakaria’s general observation that political liberalism increases with per-capita GDP in his excellent book, The Future of Freedom). So not only did Obama answer the question, but he answered it in the right context – Americans should be asked for sacrifice, but not for something of minor importance. This is the essence of leadership – to draw people forward and lead them in positive action, not just treat the American public as passive entities along for the ride.

Interestingly, Obama’s answer is fundamentally conservative. First, it is literally conservative by definition – since we are being asked to conserve energy for our own collective sake. Politically, Obama’s answer is conservative because it places the responsibility for action directly upon the individual – McCain mentioned numerous times how great and resourceful we are as a people, but Obama here is actually paying more than lip service to that idea. Fundamentally, the concept of national service is also conservative – a protection and contribution to the home and hearth, an “energy militia” of citizenry in a sense. This is critical in fostering that sense of ownership that a citizen should feel at a gut level towards not the “government” but the society and nation.

Related – Daniel Larison’s extensive discussion on “patriotism” vs “nationalism“. It’s not an arbitrary distinction.

Strange twist in the Dayton incident

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

There’s been a followup in the Dayton mosque incident, with the police now revealing that the can of pepper spray was found inside the mosque, not nearby:

The can of pepper spray found four days after someone sprayed a
10-year-old girl in the face at a local mosque was discovered inside
the mosque, a Dayton police lieutenant said.

The girl said she was sprayed about 9:40 p.m. Sept. 26 through an
open basement window of the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, Lt. John
Huber said.

The girl told police one of two men outside the basement window
sprayed her with something from a white can with a red top as she
watched children whose parents and relatives had gathered at the mosque
to celebrate Ramadan.

A can of pepper spray was found Sept. 30 in another room in the
basement inside a red and white-striped bag, Huber said. He said it was
initially reported to him that the can was found near the mosque, but
he later learned it was inside the mosque.

The article also mentions that the police interviewed a ten-year old boy in relation to the incident. It’s possible that this wasn’t an attack at all, but an accident between children. If that’s the case, then obviously the Obsession mass-mailing was not relevant to the incident at hand (though hardly exculpatory for the more serious critique of Obsession, that the movie creates a climate of hate and mistrust towards ordinary muslim-Americans. There’s no white-washing the cynical evil intent of the movie and its cowardly, shadowy backers).

I hope that this incident turns out to have been nothing more than an accident and not a hate crime at all. That would be really, really great news indeed.

Brian McLaren endorses Obama

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Brian McLaren is a Christian pastor who approaches faith and politics from within the compassionate tradition of Christianity, focusing on the Prophet Jesus’ AS example of charity and taking care of the poor, etc for his inspiration rather than judgment and brimstone. As such his politics take him leftward in opposition to the conservative Religious Right – the Religious Left, I suppose, would be the natural term, though of course it is a fledgling movement with no comparable political clout. It’s worth noting that McLaren just publically endorsed the Matthew 25 network, a pan-Christian political action committee with a focus on social work, and endorsed Barack Obama for President. An excerpt from his endorsement letter:

A lot
of us feel that we’ve watched large sectors of our Christian
community in the U.S. engage in several decades of divisive, ineffective,
and downright counterproductive political engagement. At best, many
attempts at engagement have been superficial, simplistic, and subject
to binary thinking where one or two wedge issues easily distinguish
the “good guys” from the bad. At worst, we’ve watched
too many of our fellow Christians slip into a “culture war”
mindset where neighbors became enemies to be defeated and silenced,
not loved as we love ourselves. In addition, we’ve watched too
many members of our faith communities be manipulated by cynical politicians
who knew what tune to play to get people of faith marching obediently
in their parade.

Many of us – sadly, I include myself here – stood on
the sidelines and complained about the wrong being done by “the
Religious Right.” In private, we might say that the major media
figures didn’t speak for us, but we responded to faith-based
misuse of the political process with faith-based disuse. We didn’t
realize, as we now do, that disuse tends to favor those in power and
support the status quo.

As I’ve watched with sadness what has happened in recent years,
I’ve promised myself again and again that I wouldn’t just
stand on the sidelines complaining this election season. That’s
why I’m so thrilled about positive, constructive initiatives
like the Matthew 25 Network. Drawing from Jesus’ powerful parable
about his solidarity with “the least of these,” this network
invites us as people of faith to step beyond individual self-interest,
and even beyond the interest-group politics of “what’s
best for us” – whether “us” is our denomination,
religion, party, or nation. It invites us to consider how to use our
vote on behalf of the neediest, the most vulnerable and poverty-stricken
… so that their concerns are our own when we vote. For us, this
is inherent in what it means to be followers of Jesus.

Based on these values, the Matthew 25 Network has chosen to support
Barack Obama. Does that mean that every one of us is in full agreement
with every detail of Senator Obama’s campaign? Of course not:
we’re electing a president, not a Messiah! Blind, uncritical
support is part of the misuse that we’re trying to move beyond.

This is a significant development, because it comes at the time when the influence of the Religious Right is at an all-time low. The Matthew25 group reject the single-issue politics of the pro-life wing, as well, with a sub-organization called Pro Life Pro Obama, which argues that there is no inherent contradiction in being pro-life and supporting the pro-choice Senator. The reason is that Obama has articulated a desire to reduce abortions by making them unnecessary, rather than illegal (a re-framing of the abortion issue that brings right and left together). In addition to seeking to reduce the need for abortion, they also quite wisely focus on “life” as a choice – and argue that women must be encouraged to choose life and be supported in that decision (that latter part conspicuously absent from most pro-life partisans’ considerations).

Of course, there is a backlash. McLaren’s approach to the Bible is not a literalist fundamentalist one, but rather interpretative. On issues like homosexuality, for example, this leads him to counsel compassion for the sinners rather than taking a hard-line stance. Those who disagree with him (“foundationalists”) invoke plenty of doctrine in their arguments, but can’t seem to avoid accusing him of depravity in the course of their arguments. In the political realm, his endorsement for Obama led to him being labeled a “heretic”, and far worse. In some ways this political schism reflects the tension within Islam in the modern era, suggesting that these theological and political issues transcend faith and represent a more universal trend. That trend, throughout world history, has pointed in the direction of increasing liberalism and less religious literalism.

There’s more to the Religious Left than just McLaren or Matthew 25, of course. Another great resource is the God’s Politics blog, which is headed by Jim Wallis and is a co-venture of Beliefnet.com and Sojourner.net. Also, Street Prophets is full-fledged blog progressive liberal blog community with an explicit focus on religion and politics, a spin-off of DailyKos. I think that as the Religious Left finds its voice, it will naturally broaden to Islam and Judaism as well; examples of this include Talk Islam and Ameinu. And there still remain strong voices on the right, such as Beliefnet’s own Rod Dreher, who still identify as conservative but whose approach towards politics is independent and principled. Inshallah we can all work together and undo some of the damage wrought by this closing era of conservative religious dominance.

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