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It is ironic that the root of extremist Islam took shape in Saudi Arabia under the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abdul Hahhab (1703-1792) whose goal it was to bring the Arabian peninsula back to the strict teachings of the Prophet. It is just this form of Wahhabism that is taught in the madrases of Pakistan also reported to be funded by the Saudis. Wahhabism is the root of Islamic extremism in the world today.

Do the Saudis themselves feel threatened by the very form of Islam that was developed and is practiced on their soil? What is going on here?

Memri reported the following:

Dr. Abd Al-Rahman Al-Hadlaq, supervisor of the counseling committee, told Al-Watan that the amount of aid given to the families depended on their financial situation, and added that this support also “had a positive effect on the prisoners themselves, and on their attitude towards the ideological therapy [provided by] the counseling program.” He said that the financial incentives were meant to “demonstrate the humanitarian side of the security forces, [and to show] the prisoners’ families that the state empathizes [with their problems], cares about their needs, and truly wishes to rehabilitate their sons, who have fallen prey to a misguided group that [merely] wishes to exploit the [difficult] conditions in which they and their families live in order to recruit further members from their families.”

Ali Sa’d Al-Mussa, a lecturer at King Khaled University in Abha, criticized the financial support granted to extremists and their families. He wrote in Al-Watan: “The honorable Sheikh Muhammad Al-Najimi, member of the ideological counseling committee, said that the state has so far spent over 100 million riyals on presents, weddings, cars and monthly salaries for prisoners who had espoused a distorted ideology, and for their families. It was also stated that this [financial aid] was one of the factors that convinced some of [these prisoners] to renounce their previous views…

“I am afraid that, [in this way], holding [extremist] views leads to earning a prize, or worse – a steady income. What extraordinary thing have these [extremists] done that we give them a free car only for renouncing their [extremist] views, while thousands of honest young people can only dream of [owning] a car? What extraordinary thing have these [prisoners] done that we [finance] their weddings, when thousands of honest young people can only dream – not of the scent of a woman but even of a bottle of perfume? What extraordinary thing have they done that we grant them and their families a monthly salary, while thousands of honest men cannot even dream of a job as security guards? People should be rewarded for their actions, but it seems that we have turned this concept upon its head…

clipped from www.memri.org
As part of its fight against terrorism, the Saudi Interior Ministry has been operating an ideological counseling program for security prisoners in the Saudi jails aimed at encouraging them to renounce their extremist beliefs. The program, which has been running for several years, is implemented by a counseling committee composed of ulema, psychiatrists and psychologists who hold counseling sessions with the prisoners and gives them lessons in Islam. When the counselors become convinced that a prisoner is reformed, they recommend his release from jail. [1]
It has recently been reported that, in addition to counseling, prisoners receive financial incentives to renounce their extremist views.

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Seed Newsvine

Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff write in Haaretz:

If someone were to offer Ehud Olmert the possibility of drawing a thick, black line through all of the events of the past year, presumably the prime minister would gladly accept it. It isn’t just the war in Lebanon. It is also the affair of the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit two and a half weeks earlier, and the failed “Summer Rain” military operation in the Gaza Strip in the wake of the kidnapping, which did not bring Shalit back and did not yield any other significant accomplishments.

Here are two of the outstanding statements from that period that Olmert would no doubt prefer to forget: On June 26, one day after Shalit was abducted: “The question of the release of [Palestinian] prisoners [in return for Shalit] is not at all on the agenda of the government of Israel.” On July 1, a statement from the Foreign Ministry on Olmert’s behalf: “There will not be any deal. The soldier Shalit will be released, or else we will be compelled to act to release him.” Behind the scenes Olmert’s people were constantly briefing and reminding journalists: The aim is to break the old rules of the game. Israel will act so that the terror organizations, first in the territories and afterward in Lebanon, will lose the desire to abduct more people.

Since then more than eight months have elapsed. The appetite of the would-be abductors has perhaps been tempered – in light of the many losses among the Palestinians and the Lebanese – but the incentive is still there. Israel is now negotiating the release of thousands of prisoners in return for Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, in two separate channels.

The numbers reported here seem to be a bit excessive. 1400::1 is a very high price to pay for a prisoner exchange with no assurances that this behavior will cease, that rockets will no longer be targeted from Gaza into Israel, with no declaration of both the de jure and de facto existence of Israel (what other state requires this of their neighbors?) As regular readers of this blog know, I am not opposed to the notion of negotiation with one’s political enemies. It must be clear, however, that any negotiations that occur do not amount to a list of demands by one side as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. 1400::1 or even 1400::3 borders on a take-it-or-leave-it demand.

It is clear that negotiations require two sides that are willing to engage each other in meaningful talks. No reasonable person can enter talks that place demands so far out of reach that they don’t pass the giggle test. All one can do is giggle at a demand that 1400 prisoners, each with, to use the Israeli phrase, blood on his hands, in exchange for from 1 to 3 kidnapped soldiers. The demand is simply ridiculous.

If Hamas truly intends to negotiate with Israel as its leadership has indicated in recent days then it is up to that leadership to drop their ridiculous take-it-or-leave-it demands and sit down as honest negotiators. Both sides should negotiate hard, but reasonably. Most importantly, both sides must be willing to make concessions to the other, small ones that can be monitored and deemed successful at first, and then larger ones. In the end, neither side can resort to violence the second one does not get its own way. It is time for a new way of thinking, for the playground bullies to stand aside and let the people negotiate an end to nearly a century of violence.

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I just finished reading Harold Bloom’s Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine. I had a hard time putting this extraordinary work of non-fiction down. Bloom’s scholarship is as solid as his writing style. For anyone wanting to think seriously about the origins of religious belief, about the monotheisms that pervade western thought, for those, like Zizek, who speculate that origins are less important in the development of cultural adhesions than are the actions taken by those who later revise broad social projects into working organizational entities (Marx was not a Marxist until Lenin came along to pragmatically implement his version of Marx’ ideas) simply must read this book.

Below I post several reviews of Bloom’s book:

From Amazon.com

Bloom’s occasional forays into religious criticism are particularly interesting, given his lifelong passion for poetry and his contributions to the study of literature. And while discussions of religion itself are in play here, it is the characters of Jesus and Yahweh that inhabit the pages, and Bloom’s literary critic more than his moonlighting theologian examining them. And what of that analysis? Bloom has an obvious affinity for Yahweh over Jesus (even though Jesus gets first billing in the book’s title.) But to ascribe that preference to his Jewish roots is perhaps too easy. A close reading reveals more. Bloom finds that Yahweh, with his covenants, tempers, resolutions, and even occasional forays into the physical where he fights, eats and walks in the cool of the Garden presents a more interesting character than the rather enigmatic Jesus who only comes truly alive for him in Mark’s gospel, and even more so beyond the canonical scriptures in the Gospel of Thomas. And though in sensibility and identification Bloom hews closer to Yahweh, he acknowledges the place Jesus and his followers have made in the world, through an application of his own theory of the anxiety of influence, noting that “The New Testament frequently is a strong misreading of the Hebrew Bible, and certainly it has persuaded multitudes.” Provocative statements like these abound, but Bloom is no provocateur. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his meditations on the names divine, it is hard not to respect his vigorous intellect and bracing candor as he explores their power.–Ed Dobeas

From Booklist

The most prolific American literary critic maintains a lesser career as a critic of the religious imagination. His most famous product in that capacity, The Book of J (1990), argued that a woman wrote the Torah. The American Religion (1992) descried a specifically American kind of religious creativity, of which the greatest expressions are American Baptism and Mormonism. This book is more personal than argumentative and more literary than religious criticism, unless Bloom’s frequent exasperated disparagements of Christian theology are considered a form of the latter. It is an examination of Yahweh (whom Bloom discriminates from God the Father in the Christian Trinity) in the Hebrew Bible and of Yeshua or Jesus of Nazareth (whom Bloom discriminates from Jesus Christ) in Mark, the one Gospel Bloom finds compelling. Yahweh is an all-too-human deity, says Bloom, and Yeshua is entirely human. Moreover, the two are akin in irascibility, unpredictability, and a penchant for irony. While Yeshua could be Yahweh’s son (but isn’t), Jesus Christ, a creation of Paul, the Gospel of John, and the rest of the New Testament, except the epistles of James, bears no family resemblance Bloom can see. The interest of Bloom’s analysis is undermined, especially for readers knowledgeable about Christian orthodoxy, by his anti-Trinitarian carping and his confused statements about the Incarnation and Atonement, which some may see as symptoms of willful ignorance or even anti-Christian prejudice. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved From Publishers Weekly


Prolific literary critic, Yale professor and professional provocateur Bloom (The Book of J) here tackles the characters of the Jewish and Christian gods: what god do we meet in Hebrew Scripture? Who is the Jesus of the New Testament, and does he bear any relation to the Jesus most Americans worship? Does, for that matter, the Hebrew Yahweh resemble the first person of contemporary Christians’ Trinity? Bloom, as usual, skewers quite a few sacred cows-for example, he dismisses the quest for the historical Jesus as a waste of time, and says that Jewish-Christian dialogue is a “farce.” But in fact Bloom’s major points are somewhat commonplace, including his assertion that the Christian reading of Hebrew Scripture laid the groundwork for Christian anti-Semitism. A fair enough charge, but hardly a new one; theologians have observed, and debated, this point for centuries. Bloom’s real brilliance lies in his smaller, subtler claims, such as his nuanced discussion of the different ways Matthew, Mark and Luke present Jesus, his assertion that Bible translator William Tyndale anticipated Shakespeare, and his observation that, contra Marx, religion is not the opiate of the people but their “poetry, both bad and good.” The book is learned, even erudite, and sure to be controversial. (Oct. 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

My point–Read This Book.

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Reported by STEVEN R. HURST, Associated Press Writer on Yahoo.com

The powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his militiamen on Sunday to redouble their battle to oust American forces and argued that Iraq’s army and police should join him in defeating “your archenemy.” The U.S. nilitary annoucned the weekend deaths of 10 American soldiers, including six killed on Sunday.

Security remained so tenuous in the capital on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the U.S. capture of Baghdad that Iraq’s military declared a 24-hour ban on all vehicles in the capital from 5 a.m. Monday.


There you have it, the surge must be working. The article goes on to report that at least 47 people were found dead on Sunday, 17 of whom were executed and dumped in Baghdad. What a strategy for winning George II seems to have.

While I don’t really want to go out on a limb, I think I will. I am sort of thinking out loud here. These ideas are in the process of forming in my own thinking but I thought it was time to share. It seems to me that the Iraq war is q 21st Century version of the 11th Century Crusades. Christians and the Christian God fighting Muslims and Allah for control over lands that both consider sacred but for very different reasons. In the 21st Century, the sacredness of the land from the Western point-of-view is the oil riches that lie beneath the ground. Nevertheless, the battle is one with deep religious undertones. Islam and the complete submission to Allah and the Western submission to greed and acquisition of great wealth as an outgrowth of Christian theology. Why does Muqtada al-Sadr refer to the United States as the archenemy? Why else, unless this was, at the core, a war for religion and religious supremacy–the control of the Middle East by the West–domination of Islam by Christians? To ignore this possibility is to ignore the historical record. To ignore this possibility is to live in denial.

Think about the fact that it took a fundamentalist Christian president of the United States, backed by NeoCons and evangelical church leaders to engage the United States in the renewal of this ancient battle. Even George I, (remember him–Saddam tried to kill my daddy), had the sense to accomplish military objectives but leave the dictator in power so as not to destabilize the region. Not George II. His goal, to insert a Western democracy in Iraq, code for lets Christianize the Middle East, demanded the destabilization of the country in order to accomplish his goals. What remains is the simple fact that to date over 3,000 American men and women have lost their lives, over 25,000 more are wounded in battle, scarred for life. This does not count the few British soldiers and even fewer coalition force troops that have been killed or seriously injured in this war effort.

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I am bothered by the construction Judeo-Christian tradition (ethic, ethic principles, morals, values) that seems to have cropped up in American English usage in the past 35 to 40 years. It seems to me that two factors are in play here. The first is associated with guilt and the second is associated with the US long-term commitment to Israel and the sustenance of democracy in the Middle East. Neither factor is particularly consequential nor accurate. The assumption of the first is that Christianity developed from and is the inheritor of (the fulfillment of, the extension of) Judaism; that the two are one in the same. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Judaism and Christianity are not born of the same tradition. In fact, the closest religion or religious tradition to Judaism is Islam in the sense that neither Judaism nor Islam compromise in the slightest regarding a strict interpretation of monotheism. Christianity, on the other hand, goes to great length to understand God as multiple entities somehow encapsulated in one; a singular trinity. While Christians draw from Jewish sacred writings, they choose to alter the order of those writings to suit an historical purpose. If Christianity did, in fact, arise from a sect of Judaism then there would be no need to recalibrate scripture. Islam’s sacred texts do not base their authenticity on the writings of another, rather, by paying attention to precursors, the Qur’an lays down its own monotheistic and ethical path that takes great pain to show appropriate respect to the “people of the book.”

As is currently the trend among both liberal and conservative Christian denominations, praising connections to their Jewish past has become something of an obsession. Jews are quite often suspicious of such “friendship.” History of relations with Christians, beginning with the words of Christian Canonical scriptural texts, are at best difficult. Christian triumphalism and reliance on the anti-Jewish rhetoric of the Christian Bible has often led to mass slaughter of Jews, wholesale persecution of Jews, expulsion of Jews from Christian nations, and other lesser but equally onerous attacks on Jews. We need only turn to the first Crusade of 1096 when Christian Knights on the way to slaughter Muslims in the Holy Land stopped along the way to kill Jews in Germany, or explore the politics of the Spanish Holy Order of the Inquisition which caused Jews to convert to Christianity or be burned at the stake. In 1492 the Spanish Monarchs expelled Jews from the Iberian peninsula followed only a few short years later by the Portuguese monarch. Need I mention the pogroms in Poland and Russia against Jews by Christian zealots. Oh, and then there are the NAZI atrocities. The new found friendship, while welcome, is suspect. I believe it derives from a modern sense of guilt and a rational sense that the acts against the Jews of the past are unsupportable and unforgivable. The easy way out is to claim an allegiance, one disrupted for 2,000 years by a sort of family dispute, but one that is born of the same traditions and beliefs. The use of the term Judeo-Christian is a guilt ridden form of saying let’s bury the hatchet. I am reminded of Rodney King’s words, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

I am all for getting along but not for the wrong reasons. I think it is important for Christians to follow their belief system but to recognize that it is not nor has it ever been rooted in a Jewish tradition. To claim such is to misread both the Jewish and Christian texts. The New Covenant is not intended to extend the old, rather it is a full and developed replacement of the old covenant so far as the Christian is concerned. For the Jew there is but a single covenant between God and man. It is and has always been and has not been replaced by anything. For the Christian the Messiah has come while the Jewish believer still awaits the coming of the Messiah. The old joke about the argument between the rabbi and the priest about whether when the Messiah comes will it be Christ returning or something altogether different ends with the rabbi suggesting that the debate is easily settled. He says, “When he arrives, why not just ask him?” These are not similar traditions. Do they derive from something similar? Jacob Neusner (1984) in a well documented work argues that the voice of Jesus and the voice of Rabbinic Judaism, Hillel, seem to have said many of the same things. But is Christianity the religion of Jesus or that of Paul, the apostle to the gentiles? Neusner asks the question is the historical Jesus and the historical Hillel perhaps one in the same person?

If the ethics of Christianity and the ethics of Judaism are similar then, it seems to me, it is enough to find ways to act responsibly toward one another and toward the other without having to compromise one’s fundamental beliefs to assuage guilt.

The second reason, the political connection of the United States and Israel, does not require a religious connection. If the relationship between the United States and Israel is one that is productive for both sides then it is one worthy of pursuit. If, on the other hand, the relationship is not good for one or the other side or both then it is not. To think of the relationship as one that is connected to a Judeo-Christian connection is to marginalize the Muslim population of the Middle East. It is, for the Christian, the Crusades by proxy. The Judeo-Christian connection, in this sense, is obscene and not worthy of rational consideration.

On all counts, as a Jewish American, a voting participant in our grand democratic experiment, I soundly reject the Judeo-Christian connection on all grounds.

References

Neusner, J. (1984). Judaism in the beginning of Christianity. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.

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