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SACW - 26 Sept 2012 | Sri Lanka: Editor sacked / Bangladesh: Communal attack in Rangamati / Pakistan: Bounty business / India: Story of Rationalists ; Assam: blood and belonging / Salafi Fundamentalists / US Evangelists in school / One Billion Rising

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  • Harsh Kapoor
    South Asia Citizens Wire - 27 Sept 2012 - No. 2752 ... Contents: 1. Sri Lanka: Sunday Leader editor Frederica Jansz sacked (Charles Haviland) 2. Bangladesh:
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 25 4:56 PM
      South Asia Citizens Wire - 27 Sept 2012 - No. 2752

      1. Sri Lanka: Sunday Leader editor Frederica Jansz sacked (Charles Haviland)
      2. Bangladesh: Communal attack in Rangamati
      3. Pakistan: The bounty business (Edit, The Express Tribune)
      4. The story of the Rationalist Movement in India (Review by Dilip Simeon)
      5. India: Blood and Belonging (Basharat Peer)
      6. India: A children’s magazine, newspaper, Urdu poetry – anything can land you in jail (Muzamil Jaleel)
      7. India: The Unreality of Wasseypur (Javed Iqbal)
      9. India: Selected posts on Communalism Watch

      9. Fundamentalist Salafis pose a grave threat to citizens of Middle East and North Africa
      10. USA: How evangelicals are making children their missionaries in public schools (Katherine Stewart)
      11. International campaign One Billion Rising: Eve Ensler, Kamla Bhasin

      by Charles Haviland
      (BBC News, 21 September 2012)

      The editor of Sri Lanka's most outspokenly anti-government newspaper says she has been dismissed after it was was bought by a businessman who wanted it to change its editorial line.

      Frederica Jansz said that she left after refusing to curb her writing style or compromise her credibility.
      The previous editor of the the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was assassinated three years ago.
      His murder by four masked men on motorbikes has never been solved.
      The Sunday Leader has always been controversial in a country where most media censor themselves.
      Many fear an adverse government reaction from the government if they do not do so.

      'Telephone tirade'

      Ms Jansz has been blunt in explaining her sudden departure.
      Offices of the Lankaenews.com website that were attacked in January 2011 News organisations critical of the government say that they have been targeted for several years
      She told the BBC that after an associate of the family of President Mahinda Rajapaksa bought a 72% stake in the paper, he asked her to stop carrying articles critical of the Rajapaksas - several of whom occupy senior government positions.

      Ms Jansz said the new owner, Asanga Seneviratne, wanted her to "curb her style of writing and compromise her credibility".

      She says that when she refused he terminated her contract.
      Mr Seneviratne was not immediately available for comment.

      The Sunday Leader is known for doggedly pursuing stories alleging government misdeeds.
      It shot to fame towards the close of the war when Mr Wickrematunge was assassinated by men who have never been caught.
      Last year Ms Jansz testified for the government against opposition politician Sarath Fonseka over a highly controversial interview which he gave.
      In July, however, she openly accused the defence secretary, who is also the president's brother, of launching an obscene tirade against her on the telephone.

      Media rights campaigners will be watching closely to see what direction The Sunday Leader now takes.

      Bengali settlers conducted communal attacks upon indigenous Jumma peoples in Rangamati on 22 September 2012. At least 40 Jumma students, 1 government physician, 12 Union Parishad chairmen, 2 college teachers and 5 Bengali students received wounds while severe damage was brought to the office and rest house of the CHT Regional Council, shops and houses of the Jumma people. Even though the army and police reached the spots much later, the security forces did not beef up proper measure. Despite the army took their positions at different locations along the main road (Rangamati-Chittagong road), the Bengali settlers conducted attacks upon the Jumma peoples and their localities either side causing wide damage upon Jumma-owned shops and houses.


      (The Express Tribune, September 24, 2012)

      Bilour deserves to be penalised, though danger following this would be that he will be upheld as a hero by extremists. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

      Why does so much controversy always seem to be stemming from our country? This time around, Railway Minister Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour’s offer of a $100,000 bounty for the head of the man who made the controversial video, Innocence of Muslims, finds us in the eye of the storm.

      Bilour, a veteran ANP leader, should know better. As he himself has accepted, he is, in fact, instigating murder and thereby committing a crime. The fact that he is aware of this and willing to bear the consequences does not alter his intended-to-incite statement. At a time when we need the frenzy over the video to fade away, Bilour has created more hype by calling on elements of al Qaeda and the Taliban to kill the film-maker and also appealing to the ‘rich people’ to donate money for this cause.

      Fortunately, the federal government has had the good sense to completely dissociate itself from the ‘bounty’ offer. A spokesman said an explanation would be sought and the ANP leader spoken to. Indeed, members of the ANP themselves seem stunned by Bilour’s comment and his assertion that he is answerable only to the Holy Prophet (pbuh), They have asserted that his statement reflects his views alone and not the party’s. An ANP MNA, Bushra Gohar, has described Bilour’s statement as a criminal act. Bilour deserves to be penalised, though the danger following this would be that he will be upheld as a hero by extremists, creating further problems for taking such an action.

      No one with any degree of wisdom condones the film. But what we do need to understand is that its makers would be hit hardest if Muslims simply chose to ignore it and refused to further its publicity. Bilour has done just the opposite; his ‘reward for head’ saga will only complicate matters. It seems obvious that, at the very least, he needs to be removed from his cabinet post and persuaded to refrain from making any further calls to seek death or demand extremist acts in this fashion. Such actions only push our country further away from a place in the civilised world.

      Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2012.

      Review by Dilip Simeon
      [Book Review]

      Disenchanting India: Organized Rationalism and Criticism of Religion in India
      By Johannes Quack
      Oxford University Press, New York, 2012
      ISBN 978-0-19-981260-8; 978-0-19-981262-2 (pbk)

      Review by Dilip Simeon, for H-Asia, a part of H-Net: http://www.h-net.org/ asia/

      On March 10, 2012, Sanal Edamaruku, President of the Indian Rationalist Association inspected a crucifix in front of a suburban church in Mumbai. The crucifix had attracted hundreds of devotees on account of droplets of water trickling from Jesus’ feet. Edamaruku identified the source of the water (a drainage near a washing room) and the capillary action whereby it reached Jesus feet. Later, in a live TV program he explained his findings and accused Church officials of miracle mongering. A heated debate began, in which priests demanded an apology. Upon his refusal, the police charged him under section 295 of the Indian Penal Code for hurting religious sentiments.

      This book is an account of the broader rationalist movement in India of which Sanal Edamaruku is a prominent member, and a vivid description of its origins, practices and beliefs. A monograph on the radical avowal of scientific reason, it fills a much needed lacuna in the annals of modern India. The clubbing together of reason and science, is of course, a problem in itself, one that the narrative enables the reader to discern. Borrowing partly from Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age (2007), the author coins the term ‘modes of unbelief’ to refer to the rationalists’ questioning of India’s endemic religiosity.

      The story of Indian rationalism has an illustrious cast in Quack’s telling. It includes Jotiba Phule, G.G. Agarkar, Shahu Maharaj, Annie Besant, Ramaswami Naicker, Jawaharlal Nehru, B.R. Ambedkar, M.N. Roy, Goparaju Rao ‘Gora’, Annadurai and a host of others. Much of the activism that the study focuses on derives inspiration from Phule’s Satyashodhak Samaj. This is because an important dimension of organized rationalism was and remains the challenge to sacralised social injustice. The roots of this challenge lie in diverse intellectual currents such as the Bengal Renaissance and the religious and social reform movements of Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Maharashtra. The rationalists trace their roots to ancient Indian materialism and the medieval Bhakti movement – this claim is a counter to the traditionalist charge that the reformers were westernisers and intellectual slaves.

      Many Indian rationalists were strongly influenced by Western intellectuals such as the nineteenth century American thinkers Robert Ingersoll and George Holyoake. They also had personal ties with such figures as the MP Charles Bradlaugh and his ally Annie Besant (who played a strong role in propagating rationalism in India before she became a Theosophist). Organizational links were established early on with the English Rationalist Press Association (RPA), whose publications had great influence, and encouraged the advent of Indian journals such as the Anglo-Tamil Philosophic Inquirer and Free Thought. Organised rationalism dates from the founding of the Rationalist Association of India in Bombay (1930) that merged with the Indian Rationalist Association in 1950. The latter body was founded in 1949, with a leading role being played by R.P. Paranjpe, a former Vice Chancellor of Bombay University. Among its members were C.N. Annadurai (sixteenth Chief Minister of Tamilnadu) and the well-known maverick communist M.N. Roy. Even though not all these personages remained within the loosely-defined doctrinal fold of rationalism, all of them contributed to the propagation of what came to be defined in the Indian constitution as a scientific temper.

      The core of the book is an ethnographic study of the Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, (Organization for the Eradication of Superstition, ANiS, better known in the province of Maharashtra as MANS). Established in the late 1980’s, Quack describes it as one of the most active rationalist organisations in India. ANiS has branches in most districts in Maharashtra, publishes monthly magazines and conducts regular programmes in schools, colleges and villages to combat superstition and educate people on matters pertaining to sex, the environment, addiction and black magic. Led by ANiS, rationalists in Maharashtra have also initiated an anti-superstition Bill, that has been approved by the Cabinet five times but not yet (2012) passed into law. (Quack errs in stating - p 13 - that it was passed in the legislative assembly in 2005).

      The book undertakes an in-depth study of ANiS, its organisational structure and practices. The relevant section begins with extensive interviews with its president, Dr Narayan Dabholkar, who also edits the respected Marathi weekly, Sadhana. ANiS’ approach – representative of a broad range of Indian rationalists - amounts to an ideology of humanism, and is exemplified in a statement made by one of its activists: ‘The task is to link humanism, rationalism, atheism, science, and the fruits of science – that is technology – the scientific temper and the power of reason, in order to live a happy and fulfilling life, both emotionally and physically.’(p 12) Chapter 13 contains an account of what rationalism means to its various proponents. The account in this section evokes interesting tensions on matters of accommodation to astrology and Ayurveda.

      The author discerns that ANiS’s and Dabholkar’s ‘position with respect to religion grew less confrontational over the years’ (187) and that its main critical focus was on superstition and the misuse of religion to exploit people. Thus, Dabholkar avers that ‘the caste system is the oldest superstition of mankind’ (185) and Sanal Edamaruku describes superstition as a kind of enforcement of ignorance (189). There are small sketches of other agnostic intellectuals, such as Gogineni Babu, former director of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, who in an interview with Quack, cited art and music as exemplars of a spirituality without religion. We also come across philosophical problems posed by the fact of scientists holding apparently irrational beliefs and indulging in religious rituals and practices. He cites in this regard the late Professor A.K. Ramanujan’s remembrance of his father, the astronomer Srinivas Ramanujan, who along with his scientific work, also practiced astrology, held on to caste rituals and reminded his son that the brain has two lobes (194).

      The author makes an effort to understand the personal motivations of ANiS activists. An interesting observation is that their most characteristic stance lies in seeing rationalism as ‘primarily a moral category’ (215). Social justice is seen as accompanying rationality. Thus, the activist Sushila Munde asks him: ‘can any rational person say: I believe in injustice?’ In another interview, Vandana Shinde stressed that non-violence was part of rationalism, which for her meant ‘to avoid violence and to try to find the truth’ (215).

      The rationalist movement and its efforts to dispel superstition have been the source of controversy. Hindu nationalist groups have attacked them (and this includes attempts at physical disruption of their events) for undermining Hindu culture and hurting Hindu sentiments. Others have criticized the anti-superstition Bill for attempting to deprive ordinary people of a rich source of traditional healing practices.

      The book is a rich source of information about what may be called the progressivist spectrum of Indian thought – along the way providing the reader with references to theoretical studies of secular modernity and enlightenment rationality. These include Max Weber’s concept of disenchantment and more recent work by Charles Taylor, Ashis Nandy and Gyan Prakash, among others. We gain access to material about and web-links to rationalist groups across India, and not just in Maharashtra. It provides the reader with food for thought on complex questions such as the relation between the aspiration for social justice on the one hand and the struggle for rational thought on the other. In India it was never a straightforward battle between science and organized religion. Rather, in the words of G. Vijayan, head of the Atheist Centre: ‘In India we find that the conflict is between religion and social reform. In India we find philosophical freedom on the one side and social ostracism on the other’(53). The narrative is engaging and full of ethnographic detail about personal dilemmas, doctrinal conflicts and rationalist performances. Disenchanting India is a major contribution to and entry-point for the study of complex and long-standing problems of Indian society.

      [The above article is also available at: http://www.sacw.net/article2836.html ]

      by Basharat Peer
      The tensions over immigration and the subsequent competition between ethnic groups for resources and political power have driven politics in Assam since the late nineteen-seventies, but have been exacerbated in recent years, ever since the 2003 peace deal between the Bodo insurgents and the Indian government that created autonomous districts for the Bodos within Assam. The establishment of those districts brought in state and federal funding—the biggest source of revenue in a place with almost no industry—and Kokrajhar, the capital of Bodoland, soon became relatively prosperous.

      by Muzamil Jaleel
      (Indian Express, September 25 2012)

      In the story of men getting branded “SIMI activists” and charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), innocuous objects take the form of “incriminating material”. The list of such “material”, in which anything written in Urdu or Arabic comes right at the top, is by now predictable — and includes Urdu poetry, pamphlets issued by Hindu groups, newspaper articles about the Sangh Parivar, pictures and videos of the Gujarat riots, books on Islam, complaints against discrimination, as well as verses of the Quran.

      by Javed Iqbal

      The ending of the film was shown properly,’ speak unanimous voices, the well-known folklore of Wasseypur, Dhanbad, ‘Gangster Shafiq Khan was really gunned down at the Topchachi petrol pump like it was shown in the first part of the film.’
      ‘That’s how it’s done in Dhanbad.’
      And there are long lists of assassinations and murders in Dhanbad. MLA Gurdas Chaterjee of the Marxist Co-ordination Committee was gunned down on the highway. Superintendent of Police Randhir Verma was murdered by dacoits during a botched bank robbery. Santosen Gupta of the Forward Bloc was gunned down. Mukul Dev of the RJD was murdered. S K Rai, a union leader is murdered. Samin Khan, a gangster, gets bail and leaves court and is shot to death, while still in the custody of the police. Sakel Dev Singh of the coal mafia is killed at the bypass; his brother who works with him, is killed at Shakti chowk, gunned down by an AK47. Manoj Singh alias Dabloo from Matkuria village, who allegedly terrorised the Muslims of Wasseypur was gunned down. Chottna Khan, 18 years old, the son of Shafiq Khan was gunned down. Mohd. Irfan a railway contractor was killed by a gang. Najeer Ahmed, a ward commissioner, is murdered. A woman home guard who once shared a love with a police officer, who would eventually take him on after their affair turned bitter, would find the dead body of her cut-up nephew in a well at the Dhanbad Polytechnic.
      These are just a few high profile murder cases, say the locals, who on one level shy away from the violence that represented their city and on another level take pride in the knowledge of who was gunning down who at what point. Wasseypur, now a part of Dhanbad district in Jharkhand, has grown, over the decades from a culture of violence and gang warfare, parts of which are depicted in the film Gangs of Wasseypur.
      The film tells the story of three generations of a family, starting with a backdrop to mining in Dhanbad, with the murder of Shahid Khan in the hands of coal mafia leader Ramadhir Singh, and the revenge promised by his son Sardar Khan (in reality Shafiq Khan), and his sons Faisal Khan (in reality Faheem Khan).
      ‘There was never any revenge story,’ said Iqbal (24), the son of Faheem Khan (50), grandson of Shafiq, sitting in the very room where a rival gang had attacked late at night, and even fired onto a police check post as shown in the opening sequence of the film. ‘My great grandfather died of natural causes, he was never murdered by any Singh. And there was another thing, a twist. I had a grand uncle Hanif, who had wanted my father Faheem dead and who had hired a man called Sagir.’
      ‘And it’s for the murder of Sagir that my father is in Hazaribagh jail.’
      ‘None of this is in the film,’ continued Iqbal, who adds that the sequence where Sardar Khan would call for the rescue of an abducted woman, fictitious, as well as one-time affair of Sardar Khan’s wife, or the Romeo-Juliet type inter-gang marriages, or the arbitrariness of names of characters such as ‘Perpendicular’ and ‘Definite’. There are instead, Prince Khans and Goodwin Khans.
      ‘There are two kinds of laws in Dhanbad. There’s the law to arrest for the Faheem Khan Family and there’s the law to investigate for the Singh Mansion,’ says Iqbal, himself just released on bail for murder, referring to the fact that the Singh family is still at large.
      Dhanbad is an unreal place. A small mining town with extreme poverty and a rich labour history. A small town with a bustling middle class bursting through the one main road. You can expect to be stuck in an hour long traffic jam in Dhanbad over Wasseypur, you can find shopping complexes, or remnants of a burnt truck where four people were killed in police firing last year on the 27th of April, or you can find the dead body of a lawaris young man in a seedy hotel near the bus stop. It’s a city of myths, half-truths, and blatant lies. A city where a man called Suraj Deo Singh is also Suryadev Singh, or A K Rai, is also A K Roy. Now an old mansion of a private mine owner who owned 85 mines lay in ruin while the police still continues to extort money from the poorest who pick off scraps of coal to sell. A district partially affected by Maoists, two blocks – Topchachi and Tundi, have been sights of arrests and ambushes. It’s a town with massive migration, massive amounts of pollution owing to the coal mines, many left abandoned and unfilled, others now open-cast, and massive amounts of exploitation by the mafia that literally sells labour across the district border.
      Dhanbad is where the Chasnala mining accident took place in December 1975 that claimed over 380 lives. A lake vanished into the mines. No one survived. Kala Patthar was made and still remembered. And in September of 1995, the Gazlitang mining accident claimed 96 lives...
      Read more:


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      SEE: http://communalism.blogspot.com


      (Foreign Affairs - September 19, 2012)

      The Sources of Salafi Conduct: Harsh Politics in the New Middle East
      by William McCants

      If the Arab Spring uprisings were an earthquake in Middle Eastern politics, last week was a major aftershock. The rumbling began in Cairo, where a satellite TV station run by Salafis played clips of an inflammatory film about the Prophet Muhammad. Soon after, Salafi religious leaders called for protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, blaming Washington for not censoring a film made in the United States. The pattern was repeated in Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, and elsewhere. Although much has been made of the riots as a response to the film, they are more fundamentally about the nature of the post-Arab Spring regimes, and specifically about who gets to police public morality. Salafis across the region see themselves as the rightful guardians of the public sphere -- and are acting to ensure that others see them that way, too.

      Although Salafis do not make up a majority of the population in any of these countries, they were able to set the political agendas there for the past week for several reasons. They punch above their weight because of the vast funding they receive from fellow travelers in the wealthy Gulf monarchies, particularly in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Each year, millions of dollars flow out of the Gulf and into Salafi charities and satellite channels like the one that touched off the riots. (By comparison, liberal NGOs receive far less support from the wealthy countries in the region.) Salafi leaders spend this money on social programs and proselytizing, handy tools with which to gin up votes or whip up anger at perceived slights to Salafism or Islam.

      Indeed, most of the Salafi groups do not aspire to take over the state through violence or even elections -- their numbers are too small. Instead, they seek to use public anger to pull these states to the right. Where they have strong political and cultural institutions behind them, as in Egypt, they can do so through political pressure and shows of strength in the street. Where such institutions are lacking, Salafis instead use vigilantism or preaching to challenge the powers that be.

      It is unclear what percentage of Egypt's population Salafis make up, but they control a quarter of the parliament. This means that the less conservative Muslim Brotherhood, which won both the parliamentary and presidential elections, cannot ignore them. In parliament, Salafis have agitated for a constitution that recognizes the paramount authority of Islamic law. They have also pushed for legal codes that reflect the Koran's commandments.

      Like the religious right in Israel, Egyptian Salafis hold the feet of less conservative politicians to the fire. They demonstrated the full extent of their power to do so last week as protests raged. On September 13, the deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat el-Shater, sent a conciliatory letter to the American people via The New York Times. In it, he wrote that "the breach of the United States Embassy premises by Egyptian protesters is illegal under international law. The failure of the protecting police force has to be investigated." Presumably, he did not want to provoke Western anger and put U.S. financial assistance at risk. But Cairo had to worry about domestic politics, too, and so Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi embraced the protests and turned a blind eye to their excesses, either hoping for the Salafis' praise or fearing their wrath.

      In other countries, Salafis make up even smaller percentages of the population and have less institutional clout, but their penchant for vigilantism makes them feared nonetheless. In Tunisia, the moderate Islamists in power only recently allowed the Salafis to establish a political party leaving the Salafis without representation in the new Constituent Assembly. To push their conservative agenda, Salafi activists have taken to the streets, where they have ransacked alleged symbols of Western decadence such as bars and art exhibits and clashed with police in protests against the secular state. Salafi rioters also burned cars and smashed windows at the American embassy, allegedly encouraged by a jihadi Salafi cleric in Tunisia. The Tunisian government has since sought his arrest.

      Organizationally, Libya's Salafis fall somewhere in between those of Tunisia and Egypt. Their number is reportedly greater than in Tunisia but they do not have the centralized institutions of the Egyptian Salafis, which makes it hard for them to mobilize politically. Their three political parties fared poorly in the recent elections, winning only one seat between them. Like their Tunisian counterparts, Libyan Salafis are noteworthy for their vigilantism, particularly for attacking the shrines of local saints. It seems likely that Salafi jihadis led the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that resulted in the death of several American citizens, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. The government responded quickly by condemning the violence and vowing to track down the culprits. Libyan citizens also protested against the perpetrators of the attack.

      As the United States considers how to respond to the protests, it would do well to consider the varied national circumstances underlying them. In Egypt, after all, Salafis who participate in politics have shown that they are not necessarily hostile to U.S. security interests in the region. As shown by their political platforms, they care more about cultural issues. Yet it is precisely their anger over a cultural issue that led to their assault on the U.S. consulates and embassies. If Salafis become involved in electoral politics across the region, their cultural views will not change. At the very least, though, they would become more answerable to their fellow citizens.

      The best course for the United States is to address its concerns about Salafi groups to their respective governments and to make it clear that these concerns have to do with security and not religion. Washington must emphasize that it expects governments in the region to prevent the most extreme of its Salafis from resorting to violence. Withholding aid from these countries would be the most drastic measure; the United States can also issue travel alerts, which hurt the tourism and foreign investment that these governments depend on. Calling attention to the double talk of political and religious leaders in the region also helps hold them accountable. Even raising doubts about the status of an ally, as Obama did in an interview with Telemundo last week, can give more leverage to Islamists working to improve relations with the West.

      If Middle Eastern governments respond by punishing those who harmed American property and citizens, protecting U.S. embassies during future protests, and discouraging violent reprisals for cultural insults, the United States will not have to act on its threats. Indeed, Tunisia and Libya are already doing so, which the United States should reward with security assistance if those countries require it. But if those same governments pander to the protestors or continue to allow them to destroy American lives and property, then the United States should respond quickly. A U.S. failure to enforce its redlines hurts non-Salafi Islamists as much as it hurts the United States. The non-Salafi Islamists appear weak, dancing to someone else's tune. They also appear incapable of policing their own citizens.

      Salafis also stand to gain by reining in their vigilantes. The movement is too closely associated with violent excess, which has hindered Salafism from becoming a majority movement outside the Gulf. During the recent protests, the self-described "jihadi trend" was in full view. Al Qaeda's flag flew prominently at several demonstrations; protesters even raised it over the U.S. embassy in Cairo in place of the American one. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's brother, a self-professed jihadi, also played a prominent role in the Cairo protests. The refrain "Obama, all of us are Osama" was written on nearby walls, and it echoed around the protest. Such slogans scare moderates in the region, regardless of ideology, and likely worry outside Salafi funders who would rather avoid association with an international pariah such as al Qaeda.

      The embassy protests will not be the last aftershock of the Arab uprisings. There are simply too many extremists and provocateurs on both sides of the Atlantic. As the region continues to rebuild itself, the Salafis will not likely come to power but will certainly continue to press those who do. Until moderate Islamists take them to task, Salafis will continue to erode their authority and jeopardize their alliances.



      As someone with loved ones in Tunisia, I have to say the first page of this article is excellent, but the second page is a horrible disappointment. It's as if the only issues that matter are US security and not Tunisian security, the rights of US citizens and not those of Tunisians. Perhaps more disturbing is that there is no mention of supporting liberals, feminists, atheists, agnostics, human rights advocates, free speech advocates, free press advocates, pluralists, religious minorities, and others who support a secular society with freedom of religion and freedom to not be religious. Instead we have advice for "moderate Islamists" on how to deal with Salafists and other extremists. Until the the world wakes up to the fact that theocracy, even so-called "moderate" theocracy, is a grave threat to equal rights, the progress of mankind, and to world peace, security, and stability we will keep creating monsters that will work to send us all back to the Dark Ages. ]

      by Katherine Stewart
      (guardian.co.uk, 25 September 2012)

      Adults can't proselytise in schools – but kids can. Hence a new scam by fundamentalists to circumvent church-state separation

      A gathering of evangelical Christians in Washington
      Annual 'See You at the Pole' prayer events, where youths are expected to organize a demonstration of prayer by their school's flagpole, are primarily tended to and hosted by adults. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Reuters

      When he was 15, Jim ran drugs for a cult group. When I first heard his story, I was shocked – not just that the group was running drugs, but that they had directed one of their youngest recruits to do the dirty work for them. Then I learned why it made sense in a technical sort of way: the cult leaders reasoned that the older members, if caught, would face serious sentences and lifetime records, whereas the kids could get away with an unpleasant but not life-altering juvenile detention. It was a matter of using kids to do what the grown-ups didn't want to risk doing themselves.

      In a tactical sense, religious fundamentalists in America appear to have taken a page from the same book. The constitution and the law prohibits adults from, say, establishing ministries within public schools aimed at proselytizing to the children during school hours. But a growing number of religious activists have come to realize that it's technically legal if they get the kids to do their work for them. OK, so religious proselytizing is not the same thing as running drugs – but manipulating kids to exploit legal loopholes isn't pretty wherever it happens.

      This tactic has been tested and deployed in a great number of situations already in schools across the country. Right now, a large group of fundamentalist organizations and church denominations is making a big bet that they will be able to pull it off on a national scale, starting in 2013.

      If you go to the Every Student Every School website, you'll see that their dozens of promotional videos are first-rate. The music is great, the cameras are professionally handled, the sound bites are short and snappy. Their message is very clear.

      As ESES's name implies, their idea is to proselytize every student in every public school in America through an aggressive "Adopt-a-School" campaign. And the way to do it is to have the kids do what grownups are not allowed to do – establish full-fledged missionary operations inside the schools. A clever map allows viewers to click on their state and type in their area code, revealing every school in the district and determine whether it has been "adopted" by churches or other religious organizations. Kids from those entities are instructed to conduct daily prayer groups during the school day, distribute religious literature and are given numerous other ideas for practicing or promoting their religion at school.

      "We must help our teenagers get serious about sharing their faith with those God has place in their lives," an article on the ESES website advises. According to ESES's Campus Prayer Guide, evangelical Christian students are in a "strategic position" to proselytize "unchurched" peers, and advises these students to "consider every school a PRAYER ZONE."

      Who is behind ESES and its sponsoring group, Campus Alliance? It is backed by nearly 60 large-scale fundamentalist initiatives and church denominations, including the Fellowship for Christian Athletes, Young Life, Youth with a Mission, Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU) and the Life Book Movement, a project of the Gideons International.

      ESES is the fulfillment of a strategy that has been unfolding for the past few decades. It started with student groups rightfully claiming certain free speech rights in public schools. After all, kids can and should be allowed to talk about their religion with their friends at school. It led to a legal distinction by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor that seems more simple on the surface than it is in practice – the distinction between private speech by students and speech that is linked to school authorities or the authority of the school.

      This distinction was perhaps too simplistic. After all, when students give class presentations, they don't have a right to express just any views on any subject they choose. Schools routinely restrict student speech – directing kids to speak politely, or speak in turn, for instance – when it makes sense for educational purposes, and even sometimes when it doesn't. This distinction ultimately led to what some fundamentalist activists took to calling a "God-given loophole".

      Tomorrow, 26 September, for instance, marks the 22nd annual "See You at the Pole" prayer event, in which children nationwide gather around the flagpole at their schools and pray in as ostentatious a manner as possible. The event is purportedly "student-led". But at the SYAP I attended, local pastors directed kids in their youth groups to join, told them what to do, loaned them sound amplification equipment, participated in the event and hosted an after-party at a local mega-church, which was staffed with adults wearing t-shirts with the SYAP logo.

      These initiatives are "student-led" in the same sense that a pee-wee soccer league is student-led. Yes, it's the kids kicking the ball, but you have to be pretty detached from reality to imagine that there would be kids on that playing field in the first place without the grown-ups organizing and funding their activities, and cheering them from the sidelines.

      Bible distribution programs are pursuing the same tactic. For years, adult missionaries with the Gideons International sought to distribute Bibles in public schools – with limited success, as adults are not allowed to hand out religious literature on public school grounds. But give a stash of evangelical tracts to a kid, and the kid is allowed to do it for them. In the past three years since its inception, the Life Book movement, a "peer evangelism" project of the Gideons International, claims to have distributed over 3.4m evangelical tracts, written with teens in mind, to kids on school campuses nationwide.

      In many instances, such activities like this will appear as a nuisance at the margin, one of those violations of the spirit of the constitution, if not the letter, that would seem to be more about symbolism and principle than anything else. But in this case, it would be naïve to imagine that that is the end game. The goal of such initiatives, quite clearly, is to normalize the idea that public schools should be venues for religious activity. Once you've got churches entangling themselves in the schools, it is very hard to remove them.

      New York City's department of education found this out the hard way. After being forced by the courts to allow churches rent-free access to space within public schools, a new constituency was created: namely, churchgoers and church leaders accustomed to having state-subsidized houses of worship. Even though the second circuit court of appeals recognized that there was a serious constitutional concern here, the department of education has run into heavy political resistance, which they are still battling today.

      Defenders of such religious initiatives call their efforts a fight for "religious freedom." But largely what they seek are special privileges for their religion alone. The normalization of the integration of church and school comes from very particular strands of the Christian faith; not every Christian denomination, or every religion, is involved in this kind of activity. Mainline Christian denominations, to give just one example, are largely excluded. The work of ESES and its friends creates precisely those ills against which the constitutional principle of the "separation of church and state" was intended to defend.

      Such mixing of church and school is sure to cause conflict and division – especially among parents who are not represented by the school-churches. It will burden public school officials who already have enough to deal with in terms of instruction and management, and are frankly not equipped to handle sectarian conflicts in school communities. But the groups involved in these efforts won't be deterred by that division. In fact, many of them welcome it. Many fundamentalists simply do not accept public schools as legitimate enterprises in the first place. They see public education as secular education, and therefore intrinsically hostile to their religion.

      At their core, they do not accept that we live in a diverse society with a secular form of government. If their activities degrade support for the public schools or even destroy them, they will not be sorry to see them go.

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