Voices from Russia

Sunday, 19 October 2014

19 October 2014. Politics Through a Cartoonist’s Eyes…

00 Don't Wake Up the Russian Bear. 19.10.14

The Bear doesn’t fancy being woken up from his hibernation…

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00 Bob Englehart. Sharia Laws. 19.10.14

The US forces are making Afghanistan safe for Islamic law of the most retrograde variety (they do NOT represent mainstream Islam)… the American-backed junta there is as strident as ISIS is! What a luvverly thing “democracy” is, wot? Afghanistan was freer in 1965 and under the DRA, too… fancy that…

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00 Rob Rogers. GOP Guide to Leadership. 19.10.14

Reagan and G W Bush used dictatorial ukases (“executive orders”) more often than B H Obama has… Obama’s the “threat to democracy!” I’ll check into Bedlam with Mr Scrooge…

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00 Rob Rogers. NATO. He's Been Stuck Like That AInce the End of the Cold War. 19.10.14

NATO is as much of actual use as buggy whips in an age of automobiles. Yet, the USA wastes billions upon it for no good purpose… the GOP demands that we do so… Obama goes along, for if he doesn’t, the GOP in the Senate would filibuster him to death.

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00 V C Rogers. North Carolina Republiccans. 19.10.14

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It’s coming near Election Day… vote! Then, at least, you’ve got bitchin’ rights until the next time. Step up or shut up…

BMD

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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Iranian Atheists: Waiting to Come Out

01 Iranian family

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Asked about atheism in Iran, a group of women at the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran said that they were unfamiliar with the concept. Eventually, an amiable elderly lady in a black headscarf said in a puzzled tone, “Maybe, there are people like that abroad. We wouldn’t know”. There’s no faulting her, given that atheists and agnostics don’t exist in Iran… officially. A 2011 nationwide census put the share of Muslims in the country at 99.4 percent, with Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians making up another 0.2 percent, and the rest… about 300,000 people… fell under the “other” and “unknown” categories. Yet, there were some doubts about the reliability of these statistics, and, certainly, there appear to be Iranians who question God’s existence… although they don’t speak about it openly, for a public coming-out to embrace Christopher Hitchens and his ilk could land them on death row.

Milad, an Iranian IT professional now living in London, said, “There are quite a lot of [Iranian] atheists, including myself to some extent”. Like all people interviewed for this article who acknowledged the existence of non-believers in Iran, he asked to have his name changed, fearing persecution. Milad is right to be cautious, despite residing abroad, because the government isn’t above cracking down on dissenters’ relatives, said Cyrus, also a native Iranian, who works in the American media. Cyrus said that he knows of at least one case where police arrested the Iran-based father of an émigré who ran a pro-atheism group on Facebook, releasing him only after the group was shut down. He gave no details. Nevertheless, arrest can amount to getting off easy, given that punishment for apostasy under Sharia… the prescribed standard for Iranian judges… is death for male apostates and life imprisonment for females.

One problem is that Iranians must spell out their religious affiliation in numerous official documents, such as college applications, relatively early in life. For the majority, that means formally-identifying themselves as Muslim. Once that’s done, there’s no turning back to embrace any other belief system. There have been no executions of atheists reported from Iran in recent years. However, apostasy is often cited among régime opponents’ crimes, lending extra weight to the accusations against them. In a high-profile case in 2002, a court convicted Professor Hashem Aghajari of apostasy just for criticising Iran’s theocracy and gave him a death sentence, later replaced by three years’ imprisonment.

Tempting Fate on Facebook

The administrator of the Iranian Atheists and Humanists group on Facebook (not the one that was shut down) wrote to RIA-Novosti in response to questions last month, “If you try to lie, or don’t say anything about your beliefs, no one will do anything to you”. None of the self-proclaimed Iranian atheists reached by RIA-Novosti agreed to in-person interviews. One of them quipped, “This would make me a very dead Iranian girl”. The administrator of the Facebook group, who wouldn’t even give his/her gender, added, “[But he] who dares, wins, so we’re acting anonymously”. There are several Iranian pro-atheism communities on Facebook, run in either English or Farsi, mostly focused on aggregating pictures poking fun at religious figures (not limited to Islam… for example, the recently-resigned pope also got skewered). The groups have anywhere between 2,000 and 40,000 likes each, although many supporters seem to be foreigners. This form of protest may seem toothless by Western standards, but it amounts to something more daring in the Iranian context. Whilst the apostasy punishments are by far the scariest stick in the government’s arsenal, there are more-mundane reminders of the risks for Internet activists… Iran blocks Facebook and local authorities don’t take kindly to irony; they’ve even banned toys based on Simpsons characters as “Western propaganda”.

Take Off That Scarf

Online dissent may be just the tip of the iceberg, the nameless Facebook administrator said, noting, “We aren’t alone. The population of people who’re atheist is growing”, adding that there are many atheists and agnostics in Iran among well-educated residents of big cities. These middle-class urbanites were the driving force behind the 2009-10 opposition protests in Tehran that, at their peak, brought three million people to the streets of a city with 12 million residents, according to Time magazine’s estimates. The protests… brutally suppressed by the authorities… were aimed against alleged election fraud believed to have robbed a reformist candidate of victory, and were the biggest civil unrest in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The protests had no outright religious agenda, but they called for more freedom… including personal freedom. In a telling gesture, female protesters removed their headscarves when camping out in Tehran’s city squares… a move that, under normal circumstances, would have likely led to immediate arrest for defying the country’s strict Islamic moral code.

Live and Let Doubt

Although no reliable studies exist, all the Iranians and Iran experts interviewed for this article (those who admitted familiarity with the concept, that is) said that explicit atheism appears to remain a rarity in Iran. Lana Ravandi-Fadai, a researcher in the Iran section of the Moscow-based Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said, “I’ve heard some friends say that they’re atheists or agnostics, but they don’t admit it publicly”. American-based Cyrus shared similar observations, saying that those who admitted atheistic views even in their own social circle could face a judgemental response. Nevertheless, several émigrés and Iran-based atheists said that religious practices have shifted, with more people giving up active worship whilst still embracing Islam as part of their cultural identity. According to London-based Milad, who said that he still keeps in close contact with relatives and friends in Iran, “Many have never even set foot in a mosque despite identifying themselves as Muslims”. Ravandi-Fadai said, “In my personal view, the local mosque often serves social and even psychotherapeutic functions in addition to its spiritual significance. For instance, I know many women who spend their days at the mosque in order to socialise and talk over problems with others”.

Nonetheless, politicians for whom Islam is dogma stir up more public ire than the little-discussed atheists, Cyrus pointed up, and others agreed. Ali, a native Iranian living in Moscow, said, “Some claim there are fewer true believers in Iran now than before the Islamic Revolution. People are put off by being forced to believe”. It seems, judging by a smattering of conversations at least, that ordinary Iranians’ identity-over-ideology approach to Islam leads to a spirit of live-and-let-live when it comes not only to other religions, but also even to the lack of any religion at all. None of the half-dozen religious Iranians interviewed by RIA-Novosti, including two Tehran clerics (they said they were unfamiliar with the concept of atheism), expressed any hostility toward non-believers. Reza, a 30-year-old taxi-driver from the southern city of Bushehr, said, “I’ve never met such people, but I’d just want to speak with them and understand them. I’m really interested in them. I’m not thinking I’m better than them just because of my religion”. He was visiting the Khomeini mausoleum with his wife and toddler son. Reza came to the shrine to “enjoy the calm and peace” (an effect to which his child seemed immune). Later, the family strolled along the enfilade of stores that ring the tomb of Iran’s great religious leader offering snacks, carpets, Parker pens, and other items as appealing to the religious as to atheists, if any happened to pass by.

19 March 2013

Aleksei Yeremenko

Mikhail Gusev

RIA-Novosti

http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20130319/180108603/Iranian-Atheists-Waiting-to-Come-Out.html

Friday, 9 November 2012

“Egypt’s Constitution Must Be Inclusive”: Patriarch Tawadros

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Yesterday, the new Coptic Orthodox patriarch said that any new Egyptian constitution must be inclusive and that the church would oppose any text that only addressed the Muslim-majority of the nation. Patriarch Tawadros Sulaymān, picked on Sunday in a ceremony steeped in the traditions of a church that predates Islam’s arrival in Egypt, also told Reuters that Christians should be more active in seeking to shape Egyptian politics after last year’s revolt.

The 60-year-old patriarch, the 118th to lead a church that traces its origins back to the early era of Christianity, took up the helm when the rise of Islamism alarms many Christians, who make up about a tenth of the nation’s 83 million people. For decades, Christians felt shoved to the margins of society and politics. Yet, although many joined the uprising to oust Hosni Mubarak, they now worry they’ll be pushed further aside by Islamists, whom the former president repressed.

In an interview at a desert monastery, where a day earlier he learned that his name had been picked out of a glass bowl by a blindfolded boy in an elaborate ceremony at St Mark Cathedral in the Abbassia District of Cairo, Patriarch Tawadros said, “The beauty of Egyptian society is the presence of Muslims beside Christians. Diversity is strong and beautiful”. Three names selected in a vote were put in a bowl to choose the man who’d replace Pope Shenouda Roufail, who led Egypt s Coptic Orthodox Christians for four decades. Bearded, bespectacled, and wearing the long black robes of a priest, the new patriarch said that the constitution being drawn up by a 100-person assembly, dominated by Islamists, but also including Muslim and Christian religious leaders, liberals, and other politicians, should reflect Egypt’ diversity, saying, “If a good constitution is presented in which every person finds himself represented, there’s no doubt Egypt will develop”.

Tawadros trained in Egypt and Britain as a pharmacist before being ordained into the priesthood. Tawadros, speaking quietly and carefully in a room surrounded with pictures of his predecessor, whose death in March left many Christians feeling bereft after his long rule, said, “Then again, if the constitution addresses one part of the community and ignores another, it’d take society backwards”. Adding context to his comments, the patriarch spoke from Anba Beshoy Monastery, one of several in Wadi el-Natrun, northwest of Cairo, which flourished as Christian desert retreats when Muslim conquerors from Arabia expanded their influence across Egypt and North Africa.

No to Politics

When asked what he’d do if the constitution was too heavily loaded with Islamic references, Tawadros said, “We’d object”. He didn’t specify what he’d deem too Islamic, and said that he wouldn’t urge his flock onto the streets in protest, saying, “The Church doesn’t play any political role at all. If religion and politics meet, they ruin each other”. The new constitution drafts have more Islamic content than the Mubarak-era version, but one key article saying, “The principles of Sharia Islamic law” are the main source of legislation, remains unchanged. Hardline Salafi Muslims, a vocal force in Egypt s new politics, demand even stronger language.

Even though the church wouldn’t take political action, Tawadros said that there were kindred voices among more-liberal politicians and moderate Muslims, who also object to what they said are Islamist efforts to dominate the drafting process. Yet, the new church leader said it was time for Christians to play a bigger part in politics independently, to secure their rights, as any citizen should, after years of retreating from the public arena and leaving the Church to act as advocate.

Although Tawadros insisted he was continuing the work of Shenouda, his comments suggested a shift from his predecessor, who was criticised by some Christians for becoming too politicised and aligning himself too closely to Mubarak. Tawadros noted, “There’s development in society; the Church encourages every citizen to achieve their individual rights”, adding that post-revolutionary Egypt offered Christians a chance to express their demands more openly. He said, “I encourage my children to participate in political parties and express their opinions”.

President Mohamed Morsi, propelled to power by the Muslim Brotherhood, vowed to protect the rights of Christians and others. However, this hasn’t dispelled the fears of many Christians, who’ve long complained of discrimination in the workplace and other areas of society. Without referring to individuals, Tawadros said that he welcomed promises by Islamist politicians, but wanted “something on the ground”. He pointed to problems such as the longstanding demand of Christians to make it as easy to build a church, as it is to build a mosque. Nevertheless, he said he was optimistic for the biggest Christian community in the Middle East, saying that adversity wouldn’t deter Christians, observing, “The Christian is like a palm tree… when you throw a stone at it, it drops its dates”.

6 November 2012

Reuters

As quoted in The Malaysian Insider

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/world/article/new-pope-says-egypts-constitution-must-be-inclusive/

 

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

24 August 2011. The Empty Space Between the Ears: The Scariest Thing About the Rightwing…

The rightwing complains about Sharia? What about “Born Again” fantasies? Sharia is no threat to America or to its institutions… “Born Again” fancies like the Manhattan Declaration are clear and present dangers to America and all Americans (especially, real Christians not contaminated with Sectarian notions)… end of story.

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It’s cheaper to invest in politicians than in pollution controls…

Cynical Texas saying

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Read these:

http://www.thenation.com/article/162875/rewrite-sugarcoat-ignore-8-ways-conservatives-misremember-american-history

http://www.thenation.com/blog/162913/rick-perry-governor-sale

Note this:

Conservatives’ view of history is either a warm, patriotic tale of American exceptionalism or a tale of Big Government oppression. It glides over or misrepresents progressive triumphs like the New Deal or Great Society and ignores unpleasant episodes like the Jim Crow era. Only studying the United States’ “best hits” ignores the contributions of minorities, labour, and other groups. “Historians constantly challenge each other, and understandings of the past evolve (for whatever reason). However, these people are different in that they aren’t really reality-based and don’t have much standing or credibility among scholars”, William Link, a professor of history at the University of Florida, told The Nation. …

Perry has been elected governor three times, and has proclaimed his state a model worth replicating at the national level. Yet, Texas has the highest number of residents without health insurance in the nation, among the worst-ranked food stamp programmes, one of the highest child poverty rates, the lowest percentage of residents with a high school diploma, and one of the highest teenage birth rates. These are stats that deserve swears, not swagger.

Texas’s political system is also as brazenly capable of corruption by money and special interests as that in Washington, and unabashedly so. Long before the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United allowed unlimited contributions to begin flowing into national super PACs, Texas had some of the most lax campaign finance laws anywhere. At the state level, there are no limits on the amount of money individuals can contribute to candidates, allowing wealthy donors to directly bankroll campaigns. In such an environment, Rick Perry didn’t just survive, he flourished. He didn’t just embrace the system, he shattered records with it, raising more than anyone in Texas history. Indeed, for as long as Perry has been governor, the governor’s mansion has been ostensibly for sale.

Instead of commenting myself, here’s what I saw in the comboxes:

  • Wow. That doesn’t even include Jonah Goldberg’s masterpiece Liberal Fascism, which claims that Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin were all leftists and that Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and Jimmy Carter are just “softer” versions of these monsters.
  • Right-wingers lie and make stuff up. We all do that a little, but the talking crotches on FOX make it an art form. More worrisome is their appeal to the perpetually-dim bullies among us.
  • While both left and right use history to further their own agendas, I find the right’s message to be more insidious. The left tends to focus on the historical warts such as genocide, exploitation, unjust wars, economic inequality, and minority struggles. The right on the other hand glosses over the dark side and paints a picture of American exceptionalism where manifest destiny is triumphant and we always advance towards the light.
  • They look at the economic growth during the period of 1950-80 and see nothing but the failure of unions and liberalism. They see a 10 percent drop in poverty rates as a failure. They see the rise of the middle class as being related to only taxes, not wage growth. They look at the end of segregation and the passage of the Civil Rights Act and see nothing but total failure. They see the War on Drugs as a money-saving success, but the War on Poverty as a complete failure. They see cleaner air and water as job killing, regardless of the fact that “green tech” is going to create jobs as energy prices climb. Moreover, they see a divorced man who was the father of a dysfunctional family, an ex-union president, a signer of liberal abortion rights in California, a guy that raised taxes and added national debt as a hero of Family Values, a deficit hawk, and uniting force.
  • What the neocons can’t either remember or choose not to remember was that the economy sucked royally when their Messiah Ronnie Raygun was president. I don’t know how old these guys are, but I recall the job market back then, it sucked. If you wanted a job and you didn’t have a rich mommy and daddy, the military was pretty much one of the only options there was, unless, of course, you could flip burgers or scrub toilets for a living. Reagan’s “ramping up military spending” destroyed the US job market in that time.
  • George Orwell summed it up thusly, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past”. There’s not much more to be said on the subject, except that we must be alert to the re-writing history and to the motives of those who’re doing it.

Keep this in mind… the Republican Party wants the entire USA to be like Texas… lowest in the country as far as education goes, first in the country as far as putting people to death goes (it’s fair to point up that there’s good Texans who stand against the Republican Moloch… they’ve been squashed so far, but they’re there). That’s a “nasty, brutish, and short” Hobbesian future… yet, that’s what the New GOP advocates… I don’t think that’s hard to fathom, is it?

Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Albany NY

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