Charlie Hebdo and the Comic Tradition

CHARLIE HEBDO AND THE COMIC TRADITION

I’ve read and watched an awful lot of news analysis of Charlie Hebdo, but rarely do pundits mention some of the salient facts about what Charlie Hebdo actually does and about the tradition of satire:

1) Charlie Hebdo mocks all three Abrahamic religions, not just Islam, and it does so offensively with no special favorites, but Jews and Christians do not attack and demonize Charlie Hebdo;

2) The tradition of satire and caricatures or religion in France is very old going, back to at least the French Revolution, and is tied to the deep distrust of religious institutions (the Catholic Church primarily) that was closely linked to the royal dictatorship that crushed economic, social, and political freedoms in France;

3) Charlie Hebdo does not only mock religion; it mocks other institutions and prominent public figures;

4) Charlie Hebdo is a part of a tradition of offensive satire that goes back to ancient Greek comedy. It includes writers such as Aristophanes whom many profess to love (mainly because they don’t understand, or care about, the ancient references). However, if Aristophanes were alive today, he would probably engender hatred among the people he would gleefully pillory and mock.

5) Commentators are shocked by all the sexual references in Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons. However, ancient comedy (and drama), which is the literary predecessor of Charlie Hebdo, was associated with phallus processions, accompanied by obscenities and verbal abuse.

So what some consider juvenile, stupid, and offensive in Charlie Hebdo has roots in literature and dramatic traditions that we profess to admire and call “classic.” We in the U.S. live in a culture that is still relatively Puritanical in its approach to public sexuality, and that is coming out in the U.S. media coverage.

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Mizrahi Nation: Middle Eastern Jews in Israel and a Brief History of Jews in the Middle East

MizrahiNation1

A superb article by Matti Friedman, one of the best of I have seen not only on the history of the Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jews) in Israel, but on what it means to be Israeli, Jewish, and living in the Middle East. This article offers a perspective that is rarely found in discussions about Israel and the Israel/Palestinian conflict. After reading it, you may find your views on Israel, Jews, and the Middle East at least a little different.

I particularly enjoyed his characterization of the “religious vs. secular” Jewish dichotomy as a Western/Ashkenazi labeling. For Mizrachi, that distinction doesn’t exist. They have their own “liberal” form of Judaism which is not Orthodox, but “traditional”/Masorti–the name for Conservative Judaism, but different, because it has its own history and application that is completely different from the European-based movement. For example, some Mizrachi may go to Synagogue in the morning, head to the beach in the afternoon, text to one another, while celebrating Havdalah (end of Shabbat) later.

Overall the Mizrachi are much more “liberal” in practice than the Ashkenazi (European-based) religious, but more politically conservative than many Ashkenazi. Their conservatism is not based on ideology (as is typical of Ashkenazi on all sides of the political spectrum), however, but more on experience in having lived in the Middle East for many centuries (well before Islam ever got there).

http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2014/06/mizrahi-nation/

 

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Media Bias and Israel

FriedmanMatti

More on the bias of Western media coverage of Israel by a former AP reporter, Matti Friedman: hostile fixation on Jews and Israel; censorship of Gaza coverage under pressure from Hamas and failure to report Hamas using civilians as human shields; and failure to report on an Israeli peace proposal. The original story discussed the failure of Western media to report on the corruption of the Palestinian Authority; the all-consuming media criticism of Israeli society and politics, with virtually no criticism of Palestinian society and politics; intense documenting of Israeli violence against Palestinians, with no corresponding, remotely equivalent documenting of Hamas’ brutality and vast military infrastructure; failure to report on Hamas intimidation of reporters; failure to describe the Hamas charter, which call for the genocide of Jews and uses the notorious Jew-hating Protocols of Zion to call for the murder of Jews; failure to report on Israeli peace proposals prior to the Netanyahu government; failure to report on the tiny size (both geographically and demographically) of Israel in contrast to the Arab/Muslim world; failure to connect Hamas to other extreme, exclusivist, violent Muslim religious movements (e.g. al Qaeda, ISIS, Hezbollah, Taliban); and the overall equivalence of Israel as bad oppressors and Palestinians as sympathetic victims.

I am a strong critic of many Israeli policies (settlements, racism against Arabs, too much religion in government, the Netanyahu’s goverment failure to engage the Palestinian Authority), but it’s appalling how media coverage is so one-sided and tilted against Israel (and Jews as well) and so relatively non-critical of Hamas (which advocates genocide of Jews, believes in forced conversion to Islam, supports brutality and violence, and opposes democratic and secular values) and the Palestinian Authority (which is notoriously corrupt, inept, suspicious of democratic values, and refuses to accept Israel as Jewish): http://tabletmag.com/scroll/184707/ongoing-controversy-around-the-most-important-story-on-earth

Here’s the original article by Friedman: http://tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/183033/israel-insider-guide?all=1

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Gaza, Israel, and Media Coverage

Why are the global protests all focused on Gaza? Many more are dying in Syria: 700 over a two-day period.

Israel is the bogeyman for world media, but no one gives a hoot if Arabs are slaughtering other Arabs. What does this say about Israel and about antisemitism (yesterday protesters looted and ransacked Jewish businesses in a Paris suburb)?

Part 1: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGING THAT MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS SO EXTENSIVE BECAUSE OF ISRAEL’S FAILURE TO AGREE TO A CEASEFIRE

I don’t agree with you that the ceasefire issue is what drives the media.

The reason everyone pays attention to Gaza, and not to Syria, is because no one in the West gives a darn about Arabs and Muslims dying, but they do enjoy scapegoating Jews wherever they are. Whatever problems there are in the Middle East, blame it on the Jews. Now Muslims and Arabs have joined in on this. Take a look at Paris and its suburbs, where protesters have now burned and decimated French Jewish businesses. This is not primarily because of Gaza, but because fundamentally, at root, people blame Jews for whatever problems exists in their communities and cultures.

It’s sad, but it’s a fact. I don’t see a lot of people in Europe attacking Russian churches and community centers, because Russian separatists shot down a passenger jet. Where are the protesters on Iran’s treatment of the Bahai? Israelis are trying to protect their civilian population. You can argue about their tactics and effectiveness, but they do have a good argument based on self-defense.

No, fundamentally, the media and most people are fixated on Jews. This is a 2500-year-old problem, deeply rooted in history and culture. Those of us who devote our lives to working on antisemitism, Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, must face this on a daily basis. That’s the reality, and no amount of rationalizations get around this fact.

PART 2: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT EXTENSIVE MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS DUE TO LIMITED FINANCIAL RESOURCES

a) It’s not just Syria that the media ignores. Last I heard France is pretty good digs for reporters. Yet how much media attention is focused on protesters burning down Jewish shops and businesses, calling Jews “pigs” and shouting “kill the Jews,” vandalizing and storming synagogues, and hunting Jews on the streets? There were similar (though less destructive) events in Germany. I don’t see much on the TV about that. Iran is a police state, but it’s relatively safe to travel in. Where is the attention on the Iranian treatment of the Bahai, who are viciously persecuted and murdered? What about the Iranian treatment of their native Arab population and political dissidents, whom they like to hang from cranes? Where is the attention on the destruction of indigenous communities worldwide (including in the US and Canada) for corporate profit (oil, minerals, gems, whatever)? What about China and Tibet? What about the treatment of women and gays in the Arab/Muslim world? How much media attention is there on that compared to Israel? I could go on and on. The fact of the matter is, the media, and people in general, are obsessed with Jews. Israel is a good proxy for that.

There is one financial factor you did not mention: Israel coverage markets well to a public that is focused on Jews and Judaism. In other words, “Israel” sells. As the newspaper people used to say, “Israel” makes good copy.

That said, I do agree that the safety and cheapness of travel to Israel is a factor in media coverage of Israel. Part of the attraction is also that Israel is a pleasant place to which to travel and a democracy with a free press. There’s just a lot more to it than your explanation.

b) Israel is in the news all the time. The media always has stories about the Palestinian situation–not as intensely as Gaza right now, but these stories are all over the place regularly. They’re hard to miss. I don’t see nearly as much attention on the stuff I describe above as I do on Israel, even when Israel is not involved in a war.

Beyond that, there has been massive violence (with concentrated deaths in short periods of time) in other locations over the past decades with relatively little media attention: Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Congo, Ivory Coast. Back in the 1960s through the 1990s we saw hideous numbers of deaths in conflicts in South America, Africa, and East Asia (remember East Timor) without comparable attention. Naturally disasters such as occur in Bangladesh and India attract relatively little attention. These are not all impossible to cover (not as easy as Israel, but not Syria), and yet we saw very little on them. I would not expect the equivalence of Gaza, but I would have expected a lot more than we got.

Somehow the media figured out a way to cover our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Vietnam. The media covered the breakup of Yugoslavia, including Bosnia/Serbia. They covered the Tiannamen Square uprising in China. They gave blanket coverage to the Indonesian tsunami. They focused on the 2009/10 election protests in Iran. In the U.S. the media covered the Tea Party, but much less the Occupy movement.

If it wanted to do so, the media could cover Syria to a greater extent than it has recently. Yes, it’s not easy, and, yes, it’s more expensive. Coverage of Syria would never equal coverage of Gaza, but the media could give Syria much more attention than it has–even without a lot of reporters on the ground. It chooses not to, because Syria, Arabs, and Muslims just don’t hold the attention of the public or of news decision-makers. They’re just not sexy or meaningful to enough people.

I’m not saying that it’s unreasonable to give Gaza a lot of attention. And I’m not saying that a Jewish fixation is the only reason the media focuses on Israel/Gaza/West Bank. I am saying that Gaza has attracted much more attention than other stories of similar magnitude and that part of it has to do with the public’s fascination (for both good and ill) with Israel and Jews. I’m also saying that the media picks and chooses what it decides to cover, in part based on what it thinks sells best. And Israel sells real well. And it has since 1948, especially since 1967.

And I can tell you this. Unless a miracle happens soon, stories about Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors will continue to abound (massive deaths or not), while stories about Ukraine and Russia will have long since faded into oblivion. This does have to do with the prominent place of Jews (in spite of their small numbers) and Israel in human culture and history.

c) All in all I just don’t buy this argument. It does not pass the smell test. The amount of coverage on Israel/Palestine (the former British Mandate), a tiny piece of land with a miniscule population of Jews and Arabs is massive and overwhelming, even without the current Gaza conflict. The overwhelming coverage cannot be explained away simply by reference to limited media resources. An alien from another solar system who dropped onto earth and saw the media coverage would assume that Israel/Palestine must comprise a large continent and a major portion of the world’s population. Obviously, that’s not the case. There are other reasons why the public and the media are obsessed with this little slice of our planet. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

d) I do think antisemitism is a major factor, but not the only one. It’s fixation on Jews that’s really at the core here. Even some supporters of Israel are motivated in part by the Bible and by their belief in Jews as part of God’s plan. And there are philosemitic non-Jews who focus on Jews and on Israel for a whole host of reasons. I wouldn’t call that antisemitism, but it does reflect a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Jews and Judaism. So fixation on Judaism is not simply antisemitism, but can actually be philosemitism as well. I would certainly rather have the latter than the former, but even that is a sword cutting more than one way.

I think it would be best for Jews if others would simply live their lives and leave us be. At the same time, I admit that Jews sometimes cultivate this fixation, and I’m certainly uncomfortable with that. There should be dialogue and conversation–not as an attempt to convert or to preach, but in order to learn and grow. I think it’s much better for Christians to become better Christians than to become Jews or something else, and I think it’s much better for Jews to become better Jews than to spend our time distinguishing ourselves from Christians and others.

As for one-sidedness, that’s a red herring. There are lot of one-sided conflicts in the world (some of which I already mentioned above) that do not get the same attention as Israel/Palestine. In Tibet, it’s mostly Tibetans getting killed, not Chinese. In Iran, no government officials get killed, only dissidents and disfavored minorities. In Central America, governments killed rebels and dissidents far more than the latter killed the former. In France, supporters of Israel are not attacking pro-Palestinian demonstrators, while Palestinians supporters are engaging in numerous attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. Right now in Syria, ISIS seems to be inflicting most of the damage.

Actually, the death toll in Gaza is now over 700 Gazans and 32 Israeli soldiers, plus two civilians. Of course, that’s because Israelis try to protect their civilians, while the goal of Hamas is to have as many civilians as possible killed in order to promote their PR/media campaign. It’s amazing (though sadly not surprising) to me that the media mentions this only in passing or skeptically. Also, we have no way of knowing how many Gazan civilians vs. soldiers are being killed–Hamas is not exactly a trustworthy source for this kind of info.

In any case, the media would do well to spend more time looking more deeply at what’s going on and not simply reporting death numbers as if it’s a football game. From that perspective, however, Hamas is winning. For them the side with the most dead is the victor. So on the media scoreboard, Hamas is currently ahead of Israel, c. 1,058 vs. 53. That’s a lopsided victory for Hamas. I’m sure Hamas’ leaders are thrilled. The culture of death is winning in a landslide over the culture of life.

Perhaps, however, the distancing of other countries from Hamas that I have observed recently is a move in the right direction. That would certainly show some sophistication in not simply accepting Hamas’ explanations at face value. I hope the media will move in that direction as well.

 

PART 3: ON ISRAELI AND ARAB POSITIONS ON A PALESTINE STATE (INCLUDING THOMAS FRIEDMAN WHO WANTS ISRAEL TO FOCUS ON DEVELOPING THE WEST BANK AS A THRIVING DEMOCRACY)

I’m not a fan of Netanyahu and have never supported him or Likud. I’m not sure he’s as opposed to a Palestinian state as you think, but I’m not sure he believes in much of anything–except his own political survival. And I wrote on this blog that most Arab governments don’t want a Palestinian state either: see the same thing here-http://mysticscholar.org/whats-really-going-on-in-the…/

As far as the West Bank goes, Friedman is right in principle, but that’s no easy task either. Fatah is corrupt, inept, and non-democratic, and there is not much of a prospect for more salutary groups or institutions that could take the lead. The West Bank would need a massive shift in culture and outlook for what Friedman suggests to happen. And Arab governments, as well as Iran, have no interest in an autonomous, free, democratic Palestine. They will do everything possible to prevent that from happening. So that leaves essentially a mess for Israel to deal with. Netanyahu is not much of a leader, but I doubt that anyone or any Israeli party could deal with the current state of things. 

So what are the options? What should Israel do in light of all this? I have no idea. Neither does anyone else as far as I can make out. The best I can think of is play a waiting game and hope that the West Bank cleans up its act and that the Arab world develops some kind of democratic institutions (Tunisia??).

As far as handling Hamas, I don’t know what Israel should do. I’m not an Israeli, and I don’t live there. But I know I wouldn’t put up with rockets firing on my land and tunnels with terrorists pouring out. Perhaps there’s a better way to deal with Hamas, but I don’t know what it is, and I haven’t heard anything plausible. Demilitarizing Gaza would make sense, but that seems impossible, given Hamas and given the sentiments of Gazans. 

If you have something practical to suggest, I really would listen–really. But most of what I’ve heard out there is, quite frankly, naive, totally impractical, or simply wrong. I’m waiting–but sometimes, you just have to tread water for a while. 

Friedman can talk and talk, but his ideas are not really pragmatic or feasible; they just sound nice and thoughtful. He’s not really suggesting anything workable, just a lot of hopeful words.

In the meantime, I have to deal with the antisemitism that’s out there and that’s integrally related to the media’s depiction of Israel. France is a mess, and the attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions is reminiscent of Nazi-era events. And this is happening across Europe. The situation is ugly and screwed-up, and the media is making it worse by not explaining what’s going on.

It does bother me that Israel gets singled out for its deplorable conduct, while the other nations you mention get a pass. The BDS movement focuses on Israel, but shows no interest in advocating divestment in other countries with far worse human rights violations (in the Middle East, that would include Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, among others). This too is ugly and antisemitic, and the media does not address it at all. When you’re dealing with the detritus of the Holocaust that still remains with us and the burgeoning global antisemitism, this is very disturbing indeed.

 

Part 4: ON ISRAEL LEAVING THE WEST BANK AND THE CREATION OF A PALESTINIAN STATE THERE

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

PART 5: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT THE CONCEPT OF THE “CHOSEN PEOPLE” AND OF “DIFFERENCE ARE WHAT DRIVE SOME OF THE ANIMOSITY TOWARD ISRAELIS AND JEWS

On the whole “chosen people” business, I rarely hear Jews, including most Israelis, talk about this. Most of the Israeli settlers are looking for suburban plots near Jerusalem and have no interest in theology. There are extreme settlers who talk about the Chosen People (Hebron, for example–and quite a number of them are American immigrants), but they are a small minority, and most Israelis (even religious ones) strongly dislike them.

It’s mostly Christians who talk about Jews as the Chosen People. I’ve led a lot of Jewish study groups, and that topic hardly ever comes us, except in response to Christians. Conservative/Evangelical Christians love the whole “Chosen People” trope and run with it non-stop. They have their own agenda, with end-time theology and mass conversion. Mainline and liberal Christians hate the whole idea of it and complain incessantly about Jewish superiority and tribalism.

Jewish sources talk about the Chosen People, but mostly not with pride. In Jewish tradition, God asked every other people to be the chosen ones, and they all refused. The Jews were the last, and they finally agreed to it–with a lot of complaints that have continued through the centuries. The concept of being “chosen” is not necessarily positive at all, but a burden that Jews are stuck with, forcing them to live difficult lives without much reward.

Even so, most Jews today don’t talk about it much, because it’s not an important part of daily life, of identity, or of practice. It’s mainly Christians (and now Muslims) who obsess over it.

Now, on the concept of “difference,” that’s a different matter. Lots of individuals and groups think of themselves as different. And, in fact, they are.

Teilhard de Chardin (who was a Catholic evolutionary biologist and theologian) had a concept known as the Omega Point, which he believed was the ultimate level of collective consciousness that human beings could attain in the distant future. He thought that collective consciousness depended not on homogeneity, but on hyper-individuality–each person’s authentic uniqueness.

We’re all different, and, yes, we’re all similar too, but Jews focus more on the “difference” part. They’re not the only group to do that. I don’t think that everyone should have to be the same. There should be a place (I hope) on the planet and in the human species for individuals and groups who focus more on difference.

 

ON THE DIFFICULTIES OF A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

 

ON PROSPECTS FOR A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

Actually, believe it or not, I think there will be peace some day. So I’m not pessimistic in the long term. I may be wrong, but, in my view, the Arab/Muslim world will have to move toward a more democratic system of governance before a two-state solution works. That’s going to take time. In spite of its shortcomings, the “Arab Spring” (which is not Spring in some places I realize) was a positive step. Tunisia will be interesting to watch.

Dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians will also help over time. This will not transform the region over night, but it is slowly affecting the situation and will continue to do so..

As for your idea, Ehud Barak offered something similar in 1999. Arafat and the PLO rejected it. It may not have been the right time, and Barak was a terrible negotiator.

Israel did not “seize” Gaza and the West Bank. Israel entered them in 1967 after facing a massive Arab attack. When the Arab world decides to accept a Jewish state in the Middle East (which governments are beginning to), then it will be easier to deal with the logistics of this problem.

On the Arab right of return, this is obviously a thorny issue and will involve compensation. The Palestinians are the only group in the world given “refugee” status after multiple generations of absence from a territory. When the Arab countries expelled Jews after 1948, Israel accepted them as full citizens of the state of Israel. On the other hand, Arab governments forced Palestinians to live in refugee camps and did not integrate them into Arab societies.

Israel will have to deal with this issue financially, but it’s not as one-sided as your words imply. There are two stories here, each having legitimacy: two peoples with two painful histories and competing narratives and claims to the land.

As for Hamas, I’m glad you’re confident in Gaza tossing them out under the right conditions. I’m not. And I don’t think Israelis can assume anything. All I have to do is look at other parts of the Middle East to draw another conclusion.

Nevertheless, at some point, the day will come when a two-state solution can be put into action. I just don’t think that day has arrived yet. Let’s hope it comes soon.

RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE WHO ARGUES THAT ISRAEL IS NOT A DEMOCRACY, COMPARING IT TO ALABAMA 100 YEARS AGO

KantGazaExchange1

On the Barak proposal and the Camp David Summit, most observers (including many Palestinians ones) lay the blame on Arafat–that he never offered a concrete counter-proposal and could not give up on the right of return. In the end, Arafat could not accept a Jewish state on land that he still considered as belonging to the Palestinians. In other words, he was not ready to make a deal–Barak was (even with his weaknesses as a negotiator).

As for democracy, Israel is not a perfect society, and there’s racism and prejudice there, along with at times poor treatment of its Arab population. And, yes, it is a Jewish state, with Jewish governing principles and a Jewish majority.

That said, Arab citizens in Israel have more freedom and rights than they do in almost any Arab/ Muslim society that I can think of. The rights of Arab Israeli women are far higher than in any Arab society. Arab Israelis also have a considerable higher standard of living than in the surrounding societies and can actually be openly gay without being murdered.

In 2011, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion commissioned a poll of Arab residents of Jerusalem. A plurality indicated that, if given the choice, they would choose to live under Israel rather than the PLO and that they thought their neighbors would prefer Israeli citizenship to Palestinian citizenship. Most Israeli Arabs vehemently oppose an Israel-Palestine settlement, because they do not wish to live under the PLO. Senior PLO and Hamas leaders (including three sisters of Ishmail Haniyeh, the top leader of Hamas) have sought Israeli ID cards so that they can live in Israel if they choose. Many of them have done so, including Haniyeh’s sisters. (Haniyeh’s sisters currently live as Israeli citizens in the Bedouin town of Tel as-Sabi near Beesheva on the edge of the Negev in Southern Israel; several of their children have served in the Israeli Defense Force/IDF!). I don’t know what the polls are saying now and who is living where and who holds which ID cards, but not all Palestinians and Israeli Arabs view Israel as a authoritarian state (as you suggest). Further, their view of the Israeli government versus the PLO and Hamas is filled with complexity, nuance, and contradictions.

If we consider Germany a democracy or Italy or France or Japan or South Korea (countries that presume ethnic/linguistic/cultural majorities), then Israel is no less a democracy than any of those. Israel believes it has a right to preserve its Jewish character, that Jews need to have a place where they can live without fear of persecution, discrimination, and murder. I don’t think that’s unreasonable or contrary to democratic principles. Perhaps others have a new definition of democracy with which I am unfamiliar.

Would you really compare Israel to Alabama a 100 years ago– lynchings; micegenation laws; separate water fountains, bathrooms, park benches; not to mention effective voting prohibition? Are you sure that you thought this analogy through? I don’t think there are many objective observers who would consider your comparison legitimate or reasonable. You might want to try a new tack.

 

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Argo Oscar: Oy

The victory of Argo at the Oscars is a major disappointment. The film is not much more than a video game played on the silver screen. It’s Hollywood fast food, pablum served to those who do not want to think much about history, art, or the Middle East. The creators of this film assumed that the audience was ignorant and mindless, and the Academy of Motion Pictures rewarded them for their cynical manipulations.

The film is historical flimflam. So many of the basic, asserted facts in the film are simply untrue: In reality everything went smoothly at the Tehran airport with no problems from Iranian security or customs; there was no airport chase; there was never a cancellation of the mission at the last minute; there was no location scouting in Tehran; the escapees were not in one house, but two; the escapees did in fact have access to the outdoors; there was no film producer played by Alan Arkin; the film vastly overstates the role of the CIA and vastly understates the Canadian component of the effort (which was in fact primary); the British and New Zealand embassies did not turn away the Americans, but helped them in many ways; and Ben Affleck resembles Latino Antonio Mendes about as accurately as Bible paintings that depict the historical Jesus as blond and blue-eyed.

The lack of historical accuracy is galling given that Steven Spielberg made every effort to adhere to veracity when he directed the epic film, Lincoln. Even more important, we are dealing right now with real, live Iranians and Muslims in the Middle East. Producing a film that distorts history and outright lies destroys American credibility and makes us look almost as manipulative and hateful as some of the leaders in the Iranian government. How do we criticize Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, for denying the Holocaust, when an Oscar-winning American film fabricates historical events in Iran out of thin air?

Iran has an ancient history, a rich culture, and a sophisticated, intelligent population. Yet, the film not only depicts Iranians as cartoonish caricatures, but also creates the impression of Iran as a giant, throbbing blob-like mob of dark, olive-skinned paranoid idiots. It reeks of Islamophobia, indulges in classic stereotypes about the Middle East and Iran, and belittles others whom we do not understand. Not only is this morally wrong, but it also harms our capacity as a society to figure out how to deal with a nation that has enormous influence over our strategic interests and is threatening to obliterate Israel with a nuclear weapon.

The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has done many hideous things: torturing and murdering political dissidents, arresting and humiliating political opponents, suppressing freedom of speech and the press, persecuting and murdering Bahais and gays, discriminating against other minorities, preventing free elections, spying on its own people, imprisoning US diplomats, engaging in global, state-sponsored terrorism, denying the holocaust, and threatening to annihilate Israel with a nuclear weapon. There is plenty to criticize here. Why would a film misstate the facts about the hostage episode and depict most Iranians as stupid, ignorant? Doing so does nothing to help anyone and seriously impairs the credibility of those trying to stop the Iranian government from engaging in nuclear terror.

Yes, Argo is a fun film to watch. It’s exciting, fast-paced, and keeps viewers hooked for every moment of the film.  But the world is not a video game, nor are people stick-figure cutouts. And, no matter what postmodern academic critics (and also apparently Hollywood directors and writers) claim, events really do happen in ways that historians and journalists can often verify. Indeed, while interpretation is enormously multifaceted and complex, we do not live in a world where facts are irrelevant and non-existent.

Maybe the film would not have garnered this kind of attention, but a film that adhered to the basic facts, focused on a story that was nuanced and subtle, and developed characters that felt authentic and genuine would have been moving, transcendent, and actually added something meaningful to our increasingly disintegrating world. Unfortunately, Argo does the opposite.

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Environmental Prophets of Doom

There is something I want to say about many in the environmental movement. I hear a lot of people predicting “The End” and the collapse of everything. In fact, I understand their point of view, and I have some sympathy with it. We as a species certainly can destroy the earth through pollution, nuclear catastrophe, destruction of eco-systems, and other means.

However, I don’t really see the value in this. What good does such pessimism and hopelessness do? If everything is going to be destroyed anyway in the near future, then please shut up and live your life. We don’t need to hear prophecies of doom any more than we need to have it rammed in to us that we are going to die some day. Yes, I know, but I don’t need someone screaming at me about it every minute of the day.

I guess I place these environmental prophets of doom in the same category as I place fundamentalist Christian evangelists who speak of the coming apocalypse. Doom-saying, apocalyptic Christians can go to Jerusalem or Texas or Salt Lake or wherever else they have a vision to await the return of Christ; ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch Hasidim can await the return of Rabbi Schneerson to Brooklyn and Jerusalem; Shiite Muslims (like the current President of Iran and many others) can go to Damascus to await the descent of the twelfth imam (the Mahdi); and perhaps secular environmental prophets should go to Greenland or the Antarctic or Alaska or Polynesia to await the final collapse of civilization and planetary life.

Yes, we have problems, and they’re serious, life-threatening, even cataclysmic. We’ve been around for a little while now, and empires comes and go, as do societies and peoples. But the earth has continued, so has life, in spite of what human beings have done to the planet (and they’ve done a lot even before now). And the earth is certainly not the only planet with life, nor is this the only universe, and there are other life forms we on the planet have yet to encounter (or perhaps don’t recall).

While there is reason for an apocalyptic voice now and throughout history, sometimes it enters into pointlessness, even silliness. Often it reflects a kind of species narcissism, as if our problems, however difficult, portend the end of all that is. There’s much we don’t know or remember about our our own lives, the history of our species, and the origins and characteristics of our solar system, galaxy, and universe. Yet we presume to predict future outcomes and events based on our own limited knowledge and life-experience.

Just because our efforts do not seem to have much affect, if any, does not mean that nothing is changing. When we assume we are failing or having no impact (and I’ve done that too), we are in fact acting selfishly, assuming the world depends on us, that we have some inherent right to see change, and that our individual lifetimes have a greater value than thousands upon thousands of generations that came before us and that will come after us–not to mention the millions upon millions of generations of every cell and life-form. Maybe we need to lighten up and enjoy the music. I know I need to do that.

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Mali and the Cruelty of Fundamentalist Religion

Mali1

Mali is a wonderful African country with gorgeous music, a cosmopolitan history, and a diverse population, but Al Qaeda Islamists have wreaked havoc on the northen section, including the culturally renowned cities of Gao and Timbuktu. This is another warning about what happens when the fanatically religious take control of a society (take a look at Christian fundamentalists in Uganda who are persecuting gays). The embedded video is hard to watch, but powerful:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/24/world/africa/mali-victims-speak-out/index.html

 

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General Boykin and Christian Dominionism

Former General William “Jerry” Boykin is busy promoting Christian dominionism, targeting Islam, and promoting “Christian warriors.” This is one wierd world. George Bernard Shaw was right when he said that “earth is the insane asylum of the universe.” I guess General Boykin and his allies are not very familiar with cultures and traditions other than his own. Just living in his own little isolation chamber, I guess
http://coloradoindependent.com/85808/palin-to-honor-troops-in-colorado-with-christian-military-crusader-boykin

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Secret Mercenary Force Set Up by Blackwater Founder for UAE

Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater (now XE) is now working on building a mercenary force of mostly Latin American soldiers that will work on behalf of the UAE in order to put down internal revolts, defend pipelines, and combat terrorism. No Muslims need apply, because the leadership and Prince is convinced that Muslim soldiers will not shoot other Muslims.  Prince is also associated with Christian dominionism. Meanwhile, is this legal? Can an American citizen hire out a mercenary force on behalf of a foreign nation without permission of the U.S. government? At the least, this will not make the United States look very good to the Arab/Muslim world.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/world/middleeast/15prince.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

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Christian-Muslim Clashes in Egypt

Clashes leave twelve dead and two churches in flames in Cairo: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/09/world/middleeast/09egypt.html

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Huckabee Indoctrination

Huckabee wants Americans indoctrinated at gunpoint by David Barton, pseudo-historian who claims the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation. Barton apparently denies that the First Amendment protects the religious rights of all US citizens; rather it protects only those who are Christian. Another Oy vez.
http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2011/03/30/mike-huckabee-says-he-wants-americans-to-be-indoctrinated-at-gunpoint/

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A New Day

A NEW DAY
© 2010, Dr. Laurence H. Kant
Essay for the Evolutionary Envisioning Circle of the Annual Great Mother Celebration, September, 2010

A new day emerges, as so many have in millennia past. Once, after we foraged and gathered, we became hunters. Once, after we hunted, we became farmers and shepherds. Once, after we lived in villages and small enclaves, we became city dwellers. Once, after priests and kings ruled, leaders came from the people. Once we did not know what was on the other side of the ocean; now we can not only travel there by boat or jet, but we can be virtually present on other continents when we’re secure at home half a world away. Once we thought that mass violence and genocide were normal; now we don’t. Once we did not even have a word for genocide; now we do.

Each time we move a few steps closer to the land of Eden, where, amidst friendship, dance, love-making, study, and work, we will dine again with God, the Source of All That Is. The sparks of fire that scattered at creation slowly come together to create a flame that lights our world in times of dissolution and chaos. We move from confusion toward knowledge, from fear toward courage, from despair toward hope, from separation toward unity, from pieces toward wholes.

What is wholeness? In Hebrew and Arabic, shalom/salaam connects to a Semitic root that means “whole” and “complete.” Some say “peace,” but that’s only part of the story. In its mystical sense, shalom/salaam really means interconnected oneness. It is that place where difference and oneness coexist, where each being finds its own unique purpose and self-expression as part of one planetary tableau, one eternal poem, one cosmic body, one collective consciousness, one Source.

During the shift, the ego (the I) recedes, and the authentic person emerges from its mother’s womb. The true self, the person You truly are, takes its place in the chariot palace, near the blazing wings of the multi-headed cherubim and the flashing heat of the serpentine seraphim. There it dines with other new-born true selves to seek wisdom in the new Temple of Knowledge and Love. Feminine and masculine energies, whose significance we assumed we understood, reveal unexpected meanings to thinking bodies and heart-filled minds. Days of pleasure and collective communing finally allow a slumbering species to shed its ego hide and put on a healing garment of shared awareness.

What will wholeness mean for evolving human culture? “Conformity” means a mass of individuals forming a collective mega ego (an I). Genuine “community” means a critical mass of individuals building a whole that transcends the individual egos and creates a collective Higher Self.

The events we see on our television sets and computer monitors—boiling, jittery delirium and tumult accompanied by earth’s eruptions, swirling storms, and disappearing ice—signal a shift from one age to the next. There will be many more such shifts in the future. But, for now, at this moment, our twenty-five-hundred-year sojourn at the inn of familiar habits, nations, and institutions has ended. Dying structures make way for new. Another day of travelling begins toward another inn on the road circling back and forward from and toward Eden. Here, in another time long, long ahead, we will be able to eat of both trees—of life and knowledge—but with experience enough to do so as humble partners of the Source, adult co-creators, sharing in the miraculous birthing of new worlds.

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Arab Antisemitism and Yusuf al-Qaradawi


This is an excellent primer on Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/hamas_e138.htm

Also an essay on Arab antisemitism by Richard Cohen
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/28/AR2011022805199.html

In the meantime, Hamas resists letting the UN include the holocaust in its human rights curriculum
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/28/hamas-un-holocaust-lessons-gaza

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Saudi Arabia and Revolution

The situation is ripe for change in Saudi Arabia, but the country could end up divided between young, tech-savvy, democratic secularists, anti-democratic Wahabi Islamists, and restless Shiites:
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/02/28/yes_it_could_happen_here

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The Islamist Role in Egyptian Politics

This is an analysis of the possible popularity of Islamist parties in Egypt.  The Muslim Brotherhood is only one such party, and the Islamist movement in Egypt is far from monolithic:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/27/AR2011022701272.html

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Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Yusuf al-Qaradawi

Relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are close, as this article indicates.  And now Hamas has invited one of the charismatic leaders of the Brotherhood to Gaza, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.  Egyptian Qaradawi has frequently called for jihad against Israel and Jews, the destruction of Israel, and has said that he himself looks forward to coming to Israel to personally shoot Jews.

http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/hamas_e137.htm

For more on Qaradawi and his hatred of Jews, see the following:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/02/sheikh-qaradawi-seeks-total-war/71626/

http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=35&x_article=2000 (this discusses not only Qaradawi’s anti-semitism, his love for Hitler and his hopes for another even more successful Jewish holocaust, but also his support for female genital mutilation and wife beating, suicide killers, the fatwa ordering the murder of Salman Rushdie, the execution of apostates, and laws treating religious minorities differently.  The author emphasizes the whitewashing of Muslim Brotherhood hatred and violence in the New York Times.

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Turkey as Regional Muslim Power

Turkey is growing in influence in the Middle East because of its closeness to the Muslim Brotherhood:
http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=arab-revolt-makes-turkey-a-regional-power-2011-02-16

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The Muslim Brotherhood’s Internal Divisions

The Muslim Brotherhood is not monolithic, and it may receive less support when it is not the only alternative.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/21/AR2011022102498.html

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al-Qaradawi Returns to Egypt and Publicly Attacks Israel

This is a danger that the Egyptian democratic movement must confront clearly and courageously.

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=209102

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Bahrain and Iran


An excellent analysis of this potential social and religious powder keg, where ethnic and religious conflict lies just beneath the surface.  US policy has glossed over much of this, but the chickens are coming home to roost.  Now is the time to encourage peaceful, democratic change in order to avoid an extremist religious Shiite takeover.
http://jerusalemcenter.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/could-the-kingdom-of-bahrain-become-an-iranian-pearl-harbor/

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Tunisia: Secular and Religion


Tunisia has a very proud civil, secular tradition that includes women’s rights.  With the collapse of the dictatorship of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisian society and politics are at a crossroads.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/world/africa/21tunisia.html?_r=1&hp

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Religion Not Important in Egypt Revolution


Despite the understandable talk about the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolt in Egypt (and throughout the Middle East) has not been about religion, but about economic opportunity and freedom.  This is a secular issue.  While this does not guarantee that religious extremists will not come to power in the midst of chaos, it suggests that there is tremendous pressure against that scenario.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/16/world/middleeast/16islam.html?hp=&pagewanted=all

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“Palestine, an Obsession of Radical West, Not Arabs”

This essay is impressive.  Brendan O’Neil absolutely nails it.  This is all about victims and who is the biggest victim.

Back when Israelis looked like victims in the fifties and sixties, the same lefties loved Israelis and Jews (by the way, I’m no conservative either).  Israelis and Jews were good victims then too.  Until Israel won wars in 1967 and 1973, the Israelis and Jews (because of the Holocaust experience) were the favored victims.  Many Jews were glad to have their support, but now I realize what that support actually meant.  Jews are fine for these protesters as long as they remain victims:  holocaust survivors, victims of anti-semitism, and poor Israelis facing massive odds against far more populous Arabs.  However, God forbid that they should defend themselves and emerge victorious.  Like the Palestinians, Jews were a tribe that middle-class empathizers could “coo” over.  We’re still a tribe.  Only we’ve made the mistake of forming a prosperous, democratic county and protecting ourselves.

There’s no question that Israel has done things that are problematic, especially the settlement policy.  Israelis have also fallen into the trap of responding to every Palestinian provocation with force.  There’s racism against Arabs that is prevalent in Israel.

Still this is a democratic society (the only full-fledged democracy in the Middle East) that is under siege from surrounding countries who want to annihilate it and to remove all Jews from the Middle East.  Israel’s own Arab citizens have more economic opportunity, mobility, and freedom than the vast majority of other Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East. It is a diverse society that has women serving in the military, gay pride parades, as well as Arab and Ethiopian Jews.

In the end, whether you are Israeli/Jewish or Palestinian, most in the West look at you as a symbol, a trope.  Not many really give a hoot about you, except in so far as you conform to some preconceptions that elicit feelings of tenderness or revulsion.  It’s not just liberals, but conservatives, as well, especially some fundamentalist Christians.  The latter see Palestinians as Muslim allies of the Anti-Christ ready to destroy Christianity, while Jews are ancient witnesses to Christ whose presence in the “Holy Land” will help usher in the Second Coming.  Of course, in this scenario, the returned Christ will pretty much kill all of us, Muslim and Jew alike, unless we convert.

It would be nice if people could look at us, both Jews and our Palestinian cousins, as fellow human beings.  Perhaps that’s too much to ask.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/palestine-an-obsession-of-radical-west-not-arabs/comments-e6frg6zo-1226006572220

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Egypt’s Khomeini


I don’t see an Iranian-style revolution as happening, especially given the strong secular culture in Egypt, the existence of many Muslims who support democracy, the antipathy of many Egyptians for Iran, the role of the army, and the educated techie youth generation.  But it’s something to pay attention to and will probably produce some major bumps in the road.

http://www.tabletmag.com/news-and-politics/58461/jewel-of-the-nile/

Here’s also an excellent, clear-eyed summary of the Muslim Brotherhood:  http://www.hudson-ny.org/1882/muslim-brotherhood-reality

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Religious Leaders Call on Rep. Allen West to apologize for Comments on Islam and Muslim Representative, Keith Ellison

This is hate speech as far as I am concerned.  It is ugly and unacceptable from anyone, especially from a member of the US House of Representatives.  Maybe he’s getting the media attention he craves, but these remarks dehumanize a group of people and create a context for discrimination and violence.

http://floridaindependent.com/20788/religious-leaders-call-on-allen-west-to-apologize-for-intemperate-comments-about-islam

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Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt

I don’t agree with Religion Link’s description (http://www.religionlink.com/topic_110131.php) of the Muslim Brotherhood as “not simply a religion, but a way of life.”  Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood believes that.  Yet, even though the Muslim Brotherhood is not monolithic, it also believes that Egypt should be an Islamic state, as should other Muslim countries in the Middle East.  It does not historically affirm freedom, openness, an entrepreneurial economy, or secular democratic values such as a free press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.  Unlike Iranian Shi’ites, the Mujhadeen, and Jihadists generally, the Muslim Brotherhood is not wedded to intimidation and violence as the primary means of achieving its goals, but it is willing to use violence when it sees fit.  For example, members assassinated King Abdullah I in Jordan in 1951, tried to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, were implicated in the assassination of Anwar El Sadat in 1981, assassinated a number of moderate Arab leaders in the 1950’s, and perpetrated other terrorist attacks including the Hebron massacre of Jews in1929.  Since the 1970’s and 80’s, it has renounced violence and has spoken of Islamic democracy, but given its history and its hostility to generally accepted democratic values, it would not be unreasonable to view its democratic advocacy very skeptically.  Further, Hamas (which rules Gaza) is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, and it has consistently used violence against both Israelis and Palestinians as an important tactical component.  In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood views Israel as the enemy of Arabs and Muslims.  The Muslim Brotherhood has also had a long-standing, well-documented admiration of, and support, for Nazi ideology.  In general, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt now uses moderate tactics, but its goal is still an Islamic state.  And, remember, calling for Islam to be a part of government is not the same as calling for an Islamic State, with Sharia law and all its accoutrements.  There’s certainly the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood has changed and will continue to evolve into a democratic movement, but there will have to be more evidence to trust that.

Here is a link from Juan Cole, suggesting that a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is unlikely.  Many Egyptians who are religious and who oppose the current government also have democratic, secular values.  And there is a long tradition of secular politics in Egypt.  There is also widespread support for Islamic values, but not necessarily for an Islamic state:  http://www.juancole.com/2011/02/why-egypt-2011-is-not-iran-1979.html .  I hope Cole is right.

That said, in the final analysis, prosperity and peace in the Middle East depend upon Muslim/Arab societies developing democratic traditions and cultures of openness,  That will be good for everyone, including the US and Israel, in the long run.  Of course, the “long run” can take a long time, and there can be a lot of turbulence and suffering in-between.

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New York City Mosque

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ed-koch/citizens-recall-and-be-gu_b_683853.html
Ed Koch defends Obama on the NYC mosque (comparing Obama’s comments to George Washington’s letter on behalf of Jews) and condemns attempts to amend the fourteenth amendment.

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Resurrection

A discussion of resurrection in a modern context:

http://www.newsweek.com/2010/03/24/far-from-heaven.html

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