left biblioblography

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Voudon Vs. Catholicism–Which Shaman Would You Choose?

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

Do do that voodoovoodoobankrobbery
that you do so well.
For you do something to me
that nobody else could do! – Cole Porter, You Do Something To Me

Sometimes I think my nose should be flat and I should be suffering a concussion, considering all the facepalms and headdesks I do when reading ‘headlines’ like the following:

Voodoo won't save Haiti, says cardinal 

Haiti's first Roman Catholic cardinal has described voodoo as a "big social problem" for his desperately poor country, arguing that the religion offers "magic" but no real solutions to a population deprived of justice and a political voice.

Chibly Langlois, who was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in February, linked Haiti's belief system to its chronic political problems, which he says force poor Haitians – the overwhelming majority of a population of 10 million – to seek supernatural solutions.

"If a person is well educated and has the financial means, they will go to a doctor [instead of the voodoo priest] when they get sick. If that same person went to the court to get justice they would not go to the voodoo priest to get revenge. It's a big problem for the church. And for Haiti," he said.

About 80% of Haitians are Roman Catholic; roughly half the population also practises voodoo – though many do not do so in public. "That's why voodoo ceremonies are conducted at night–time. They are ashamed to say they practise it," said Langlois.

Voodoo, which has its roots in west Africa's pantheist religions but incorporates images and rituals of Catholicism, has played a central role in Haitian society since before colonial times. A voodoo ceremony in August 1791 is said to have helped trigger Haiti's first big slave insurrection against the French colonisers. It was banned in 1934 and categorised as sorcery in the penal code.

In the 1940s Catholics in Haiti burned voodoo masks and drums in a series of "anti-superstition" campaigns. Meanwhile, Hollywood popularised the (entirely fictional) image of voodoo as a religion of zombies, devil worship and ceremonies involving wax dolls and pins.

Voodoo remained banned in Haiti until 1987, when a new constitution came into force, and it was not until 2003 that it was given legal recognition as a religion with equal standing to Catholicism.

But after decades of uneasy tolerance by the Catholic church, Langlois declared that Haitians cannot follow both religions. "The church cannot – and does not – ignore the cultural elements and uses of voodoo, like the drum, the rhythm, the way of singing. But you can't be voodooist and Catholic. The Catholic should be pure Catholic; the voodooist should be pure voodoo," he said.

It is a clear, if controversial, message, for the poorest country in the Americas.

Richard Morse, a Haitian-American anthropologist and musician, whose mother was a voodoo priestess, described the cardinal's remarks as dishonest.

"If you want to talk about Haiti's ills, you've got to start with slavery, in which the Catholics were very involved. So I'm not sure what good comes of blaming the victim."

Morse also questioned the Catholic church's right to prescribe for Haitians. "Voodoo was born in Haiti, of Haitians and it is our culture. Catholicism is imported and we respect it and embrace it but we also love the truth."

Jeanguy Sainteus, founder of Haiti's leading dance company, said that he regarded voodoo as being more meaningful than the Catholic faith. "I feel more connected with the lwa [voodoo spirits] than [anything I feel] when I go to church," he said.

"Voodoo is a religion, like the Catholic faith. It's certainly not a big problem for Haiti. If people use voodoo properly and if we are open about it and talk about who we really are, it can only be good."

Sainteus said voodoo's standing as the religion of the poor meant it was "misused and misunderstood". He added that the cardinal and other Haitians "need to see voodoo with their eyes, not their prejudice, because it is the key to Haiti's future".

Langlois, 55, the youngest of Jesuit Pope Francis's recent crop of 19 cardinals, is seen to epitomise the Vatican's determination to refocus the church's attention on the poor.

He says it was this commitment to the poor that led him to broker negotiations between President Michel Martelly's administration and the opposition in mid-March, in an attempt to break political deadlock over the organisation of senate and local authority elections that are more than two years overdue.

"As Pope Francis said, he would rather have a church that gets its hands dirty than one that is closed in on itself," said Langlois. "I should work to help provide a better solution to the country even if I know I'm taking a risk."

It’s this kind of nonsense that makes me throw my hands up in disgust when I read shit like this. One witch doctor criticizing other witch doctors is pretty much pot.kettle.black. If the Holy Cee (guess what word I substitute for ‘church’?) is really really worried about these folks, howzabout they actually sell their papist trappings and trimmings to help them out? (Rhetorical question, of course: they never shall).

And who would win in a Cage match? The Virgin Mary vs. Baron Samadi? And which belief is wackier? One states that ‘gods’ wander around waiting to possess willing individuals, the other propounds that a human woman untouched by male semen gave birth anyways. Need I elaborate?

Sad, sad world we live in.

Till the next post then.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

More On The Madness Of Muslims: Islamic Taxation With Representation

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

"kill the disbelievers wherever we find them" (2:191);moandjesuscompulse

"fight and slay the Pagans, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem" (9:5);

"slay or crucify or cut the hands and feet of the unbelievers, that they be expelled from the land with disgrace and that they shall have a great punishment in world hereafter" (5:34).

These idiots won’t stop until they drag us all back to medieval barbarism:

Convert, pay tax, or die, Islamic State warns Christians

Islamist insurgents have issued an ultimatum to northern Iraq's dwindling Christian population to either convert to Islam, pay a religious levy or face death, according to a statement issued by the Islamic State (Isis) and distributed in the militant-controlled city of Mosul. The al-Qaida offshoot that led last month's lightning assault to capture swathes of northern Iraq said the ruling would come into effect on Saturday.

In the statement, Isis said Christians who wanted to remain in the "caliphate" declared earlier this month in parts of Iraq and Syria must agree to abide by terms of a "dhimma" contract – a historic practice under which non-Muslims were protected in Muslim lands in return for a special levy known as "jizya". "We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment of jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword," the announcement said.

A resident of Mosul said the statement, issued in the name of the Islamic State in Iraq's northern province of Nineveh, had been distributed on Thursday and read out in mosques. It said that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which the group has now named Caliph Ibrahim, had set a Saturday deadline for Christians who did not want to stay and live under those terms to "leave the borders of the Islamic Caliphate". "After this date, there is nothing between us and them but the sword," it said.

The Nineveh decree echoes one that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the former name for the Islamic State, issued in the Syrian city of Raqqa in February, demanding that Christians pay the jizya levy in gold and curb displays of their faith in return for protection.

The concept of dhimma, governing non-Muslims living under Islamic rule, dates back to the early Islamic era in the seventh century, but was largely abolished during the Ottoman reforms of the mid-19th century.

Mosul, once home to diverse faiths, had a Christian population of around 100,000 a decade ago, but waves of attacks on Christians since the 2003 US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein have seen those numbers collapse.

The Mosul residents who saw the Islamic State announcement estimated the city's Christian population before last month's militant takeover at around 5,000. The vast bulk of those have since fled, leaving perhaps only 200 in the city.

The ‘Caliphate’ is just another name for tyrannical ideological theocrat. This is the 21st century, this shit’s gotta stop.

What someone needs to do, is take a squad into Iraq, and dust these assholes off. Not a big fan of US foreign intervention myself, but if these fucks take Iraq, they’ll be on to Libya next, and then who knows?

And all this because of some charlatan named Abe decided he was the father of the ‘chosen people’ (whatever that nauseating neologism is supposed to mean, besides enabling the worst kind of tribalism ever).

Till the next post then.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

There’s A Memo? Who Knew?

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

old-atheists-vs-new-atheistsI have never been a big fan of Julian Baggini – he tends to be an accommodationist who  recites the Rodney King mantra, mistaking tone for temperament (and content), trying to bridge those vast schisms between believers and non-believers. It’s a nice thought, one I’d entertained many years ago but abandoned when faced with the ferocious tenaciousness and the unbelievable capacity for dishonesty that religious folk in general exhibit. Anyways, here’s his ‘manifesto’:

Atheists, please read my heathen manifesto

In recent years, we atheists have become more confident and outspoken in articulating and defending our godlessness in the public square. Much has been gained by this. There is now wider awareness of the reasonableness of a naturalist world view, and some of the unjustified deference to religion has been removed, exposing them to much needed critical scrutiny.

Unfortunately, however, in a culture that tends to focus on the widest distinctions, the most extreme positions and the most strident advocates, the "moderate middle" has been sidelined by this debate. There is a perception of unbridgeable polarisation, and a sense that the debates have sunk into a stale impasse, with the same tired old arguments being rehearsed time and again by protagonists who are getting more and more entrenched.

It is time, therefore, for those of us who are tired of the status quo to try to shift the focus of our public discussions of atheism into areas where more progress and genuine dialogue is possible. To achieve this, we need to rethink what atheism stands for and how to present it. The so-called "new atheism" may have put us on the map, but in the public imagination it amounts to little more than a caricature of Richard Dawkins, which is not an accurate representation of the terrain many of us occupy. We now need something else.

This manifesto is an attempt to point towards the next phase of atheism's involvement in public discourse. It is not a list of doctrines that people are asked to sign up to but a set of suggestions to provide a focus for debate and discussion. Nor is it an attempt to accurately describe what all atheists have in common. Rather it is an attempt to prescribe what the best form of atheism should be like.

1 Why we are heathens

It has long been recognised that the term "atheist" has unhelpful connotations. It has too many dark associations and also defines itself negatively, against what it opposes, not what it stands for. "Humanist" is one alternative, but humanists are a subset of atheists who have a formal organisation and set of beliefs many atheists do not share. Whatever the intentions of those who adopt the labels, "rationalist" and "bright" both suffer from sounding too self-satisfied, too confident, implying that others are irrationalists or dim.

If we want an alternative, we should look to other groups who have reclaimed mocking nicknames, such as gays, Methodists and Quakers. We need a name that shows that we do not think too highly of ourselves. This is no trivial point: atheism faces the human condition with honesty, and that requires acknowledging our absurdity, weakness and stupidity, not just our capacity for creativity, intelligence, love and compassion. "Heathen" fulfils this ambition. We are heathens because we have not been saved by God and because in the absence of divine revelation, we are in so many ways deeply unenlightened. The main difference between us and the religious is that we know this to be true of all of us, but they believe it is not true of them.

2 Heathens are naturalists

Heathens are not merely unbelievers: we believe many things too. Most importantly, we believe in naturalism: the natural world is all there is and there is no purposive, conscious agency that created or guides it. This natural world may contain many mysteries and even unseen dimensions, but we have no reason to believe that they are anything like the heavens, spirit worlds and deities that have characterised supernatural religious beliefs over history. Many religious believers deny the "supernatural" label, but unless they are willing to disavow such beliefs as in the reality of a divine person, miracles, resurrections or life after death, they are not naturalists.

3 Our first commitment is to the truth

Although we believe many things about what does and does not exist, these are the conclusions we come to, not the basis of our worldview. That basis is a commitment to see the world as truthfully as we can, using our rational faculties as best we can, based on the best evidence we have. That is where our primary commitment lies, not the conclusions we reach. Hence we are prepared to accept the possibility that we are wrong. It also means that we respect and have much in common with people who come to very different conclusions but have an equal respect for truth, reason and evidence. A heathen has more in common with a sincere, rational, religious truth-seeker than an atheist whose lack of belief is unquestioned, or has become unquestionable.

4 We respect science, not scientism

Heathens place science in high regard, being the most successful means humans have devised to come to a true understanding of the real nature of the world on the basis of reason and evidence. If a belief conflicts with science, then no matter how much we cherish it, science should prevail. That is why the religious beliefs we most oppose are those that defy scientific knowledge, such as young earth creationism.

Nonetheless, this does not make us scientistic. Scientism is the belief that science provides the only means of gaining true knowledge of the world, and that everything has to be understood through the lens of science or not at all. There are scientistic atheists but heathens are not among them. Science is limited in what it can contribute to our understanding of who we are and how we should live because many of the most important facts of human life only emerge at a level of description on which science remains silent. History, for example, may ultimately depend on nothing more than the movements of atoms, but you cannot understand the battle of Hastings by examining interactions of fermions and bosons. Love may depend on nothing more than the physical firing of neurons, but anyone who tries to understand it solely in those terms just does not know what love means.

Science may also make life uncomfortable for us. For example, it may undermine certain beliefs about free will that many atheists have relied on to give dignity and autonomy to our species.

Heathens are therefore properly respectful of science but also mindful of its limits. Science is not our Bible: the last word on everything.

5 We value reason as precious but fragile

Heathens have a commitment to reason that fully acknowledges the limits of reason. Reason is itself a multi-faceted thing that cannot be reduced to pure logic. We use reason whenever we try to form true beliefs on the basis of the clearest thinking, using the best evidence. But reason almost always leaves us short of certain knowledge and very often leaves us with a need to make a judgment in order to come to a conclusion. We also need to accept that human beings are very imperfect users of reason, susceptible to biases, distortions and prejudices that lead even the most intelligent astray. In short, if we understand what reason is and how it works, we have very good reason to doubt those who claim rationality solely for those who accept their worldview and who deny the rationality of those who disagree.

6 We are convinced, not dogmatic

The heathen's modesty about the power of reason and the certainty of her conclusions should not be mistaken for a shoulder-shrugging agnosticism. We have a very high degree of confidence in the truth of our naturalistic worldview. But we do not dogmatically assert it. Being open to being wrong and to changing our minds does not mean we lack conviction that we are right. Strength of belief is not the same as rigidity of dogma.

7 We have no illusions about life as a heathen

Many people do not understand that it is possible to lead a meaningful, happy life as a heathen, but we maintain that it is and can point to any number of atheist philosophers and thinkers who have explained why this is so. But such meaning and contentment does not inevitably follow from becoming a heathen. Ours is a universe without guarantees of redemption or salvation and sometimes people have terrible lives or do terrible things and thrive. On such occasions, we have no consolation. That is the dark side of accepting the truth, and we are prepared to acknowledge it. We are heathens because we value living in the truth. But that does not mean that we pretend that always makes life easy or us happy. If the evidence were to show that religious people are happier and healthier than us, we would not see that as any reason to give up our convictions.

8 We are secularists

We support a state that is neutral as regards people's fundamental worldviews. It is not neutral when it comes to the shared values necessary for people of different conviction to live and thrive together. But it should not give any special privilege to any particular sect or group, or use their creeds as a basis for policy. Politics requires a coming together of people of different fundamental convictions to formulate and justify policy in terms that all understand, on the basis of principles that as many as possible can share.

This secularism does not require that religion is banished from public life or that people may not be open as to how their faiths, or lack of one, motivate their values. As long as the core of the business of state is neutral as regards to comprehensive worldviews, we can be relaxed about expressions of these commitments in society at large. We want to maintain the state's neutrality on fundamental worldviews, not purge religion from society.

9 Heathens can be religious

There are a small minority of forms of religion that are entirely compatible with the heathen position. These are forms of religion that reject the real existence of supernatural entities and divinely authored texts, accept that science trumps dogma, and who see the essential core of religion in its values and practices. We have very little evidence that anything more than a small fraction of actual existent religion is like this, but when it does conform to this description, heathens have no reason to dismiss it as false.

10 Religion is often our friend

We believe in not being tone-deaf to religion and to understand it in the most charitable way possible. So we support religions when they work to promote values we share, including those of social justice and compassion. We are respectful and sympathetic to the religious when they arrive at their different conclusions on the basis of the same commitment to sincere, rational, undogmatic inquiry as us, without in any way denying that we believe them to be false and misguided. We are also sympathetic to religion when its effects are more benign than malign. We appreciate that commitment to truth is but one value and that a commitment to compassion and kindness to others is also of supreme importance. We are not prepared to insist that it is indubitably better to live guided by such values allied with false beliefs than it is to live without such values but also without false belief.

11 We are critical of religion when necessary

Our willingness to accept what is good in religion is balanced by an equally honest commitment to be critical of it when necessary. We object when religion invokes mystery to avoid difficult questions or to obfuscate when clarity is needed. We do not like the way in which "people of faith" tend to huddle together in an unprincipled coalition of self-interest, even when that means liberals getting into bed with homophobes and misogynists. We think it is disingenuous for religious people to talk about the reasonableness of their beliefs and the importance of values and practice, while drawing a veil over their embrace of superstitious beliefs. In these and other areas, we assert the right and need to make civil but acute criticisms.

And although our general stance is not one of hostility towards religion, there are some occasions when this is exactly what is called for. When religions promote prejudice, division or discrimination, suppress truth or stand in the way of medical or social progress, a hostile response is an appropriate, principled one, just as it is when atheists are guilty of the same crimes.

12 This manifesto is less concerned with distinguishing heathens from others than forging links between us and others

Our commitment to independent thought and the provisionality of belief means that few heathens are likely to agree completely with this manifesto. It is therefore almost a precondition of supporting it that you do not entirely support it. At the same time, although very few people of faith can be heathens, many will find themselves in agreement with much of what heathens belief. This is what provides the common ground to make fruitful dialogue possible: we need to accept what we share in order to accept with civility and understanding what we most certainly do not. This is what the heathen manifesto is really about.

For the most part, it all seems fairly rational. The real red flag here is bullet point # 10, ‘Religion Is Often Our Friend’. No it isn’t. Religion isn’t a person: it can no more befriend us than be our enemy. Only another living being can be our friend. Religion inspires no one: it is an excuse for people to do what they wish to do, a prepared societally-sanctioned explanation for craziness.

Bullet point # 11: ‘We are critical of religion when necessary’. This is that ‘there’s-a-time-and-a-place’ jazz, where there never is nor ever will be a ‘time and a place’. We are at a critical juncture here: religion is telling people to spew forth as many children as possible, because their particular delusion has some cosmic babysitter coming down from on high to clean the planet up and wipe the boogers out of their hair. The issue of overpopulation by itself is an issue that threatens our species survival. So it is always necessary to criticize it, to ridicule it, to marginalize it.

We keep treating these mooks with kid gloves, pretty soon there’ll be too many people with too many feelings making too many problems (apologies to Phil Collins), and not enough space to live in.

Till the next post, then.

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Saturday, July 05, 2014

Allegories Gone Wild–‘We Are Legion’ Is An Empty Threat

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

exorcismThe devil made me do it, oh, oh, oh, oh
It was an act of a man possessed now
The devil made me do it, oh, oh, oh, oh
Your honor, I am innocent

– Ru Paul

It (almost) never ceases to confound me, the idiocy the Holy Cee will stoop to:

Vatican gives official backing to exorcists

Exorcists now have an extra weapon in their fight against evil – the official backing of the Catholic church. The Vatican has formally recognised the International Association of Exorcists, a group of 250 priests in 30 countries who liberate the faithful from demons.

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reported this week that the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy had approved the organisation's statutes and recognised the group under canon law.

More than his predecessors, Pope Francis speaks frequently about the devil, and last year was seen placing his hands on the head of a man supposedly possessed by four demons in what exorcists said was a prayer of liberation from Satan.

The head of the association, the Rev Francesco Bamonte, said the Vatican approval was cause for joy. "Exorcism is a form of charity that benefits those who suffer," he told L'Osservatore.

Charity? No. Personally, I’d like to see every single ‘exorcist’ on earth get tried for crimes against humanity. Because demons don’t exist. Period. Here in the 21st century, we don’t require the aid of a bunch of iron-age-shepherd shamans – and people who proffer a false alternative are worse than liars…mistaking superstitious drivel  for actual psychological therapy. So many human minds, suffering because of other people’s ‘spiritual charity’.

And scars like these…scars too, have ripples. Pain has a memetic echo that carries its message across the years somehow, an evolutionary flourish the hindbrain inherits.

And these pointy-headed witch doctors are doing nothing but increasing the risk and pain of those individuals who require actual professional help, not the Voodoo Catholick dance jive, some old geezer spraying the victim with water and chanting some Latin rubbish.

It’s a disgrace. A disgrace to the human race. Somebody should seriously lock these con artists up.

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

More On The Madness Of Muslims–To Compel, Or Not To Compel?

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
militant_atheistThis should be no surprise for anyone:

Saudi Arabia Defines Atheists as Terrorists

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has shocked many by announcing in a royal proclamation that under new laws, being an atheist and spreading atheist ideas is now a terrorist action. The Interior Ministry of Saudi Arabia has issued new guide lines about what exactly defines an atheist, which includes, “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”
The changes in law have come, the authorities in Saudi Arabia claim, to prevent dissidence and unrest within the country and to better protect their law-abiding citizens. They are specifically to prevent protests and other actions that could “harm public order.” However, it is perhaps more accurate to say that there is concern within Saudi Arabia that their citizens are traveling to Syria to aid in the fighting there, and then returning with new ideas about how a government should interact with its people. The re-definition of atheist is thought to be an easy way of tarring the names of those that the government of Saudi Arabia wishes to remove and criminalizing anyone that has thought or speech that contradicts the government’s official positions.

The effects of these changes in law, however, are not limited to new arrests that may occur in the future. They also apply to those that are currently in prison in Saudi Arabia. This could greatly alter the resolution of cases against inmates that are considered dissenters by the Saudi Arabian government. On the other hand, it has been argued that in many legal cases, these new definitions have been used for a while to convict people of slight offenses.

Saudi Arabia is understandably concerned about terrorism. After all, eighteen of the nineteen 9/11 bombers were from Saudi Arabia. This move, however, has caused outrage amongst human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, which monitors actions taken to limit the rights of citizens. The laws will merely aid officials within Saudi Arabia that are currently carrying out systematic campaigns of fear, intimidation, panic, and investigation of their own population.

Oh, fuck that.

Saudi Arabia is a foremost exporter of Wahabbi terrorists, and is a main financial backer for Al-Qaida. And they’re ‘understandably concerned about terrorism’? The KSA has a horrific record of human rights violations – let’s never mind they treat their women like shit.

The ugly fact is…until petroleum is rendered worthless, these crazy asshats are going to do whatever they please, because in our world, it is all about paygrade.

Till the next post, then.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

More On The Madness Of Muslims: Globalizing Jihad

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis
islam-religion-of-peace-cartoonThis is so disturbing on multiple levels…

The terrifying rise of Isis: $2bn in loot, online killings and an army on the run

1. Who are they?

Isis is the (slightly confusing) English acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, a Sunni jihadist group whose sudden capture of Mosul, Tikrit and extensive swaths of Iraqi territory last week has triggered a new crisis, complete with atrocities targeting Iraqi army soldiers and volunteers. Known in Arabic as Da'ash, it grew out of the Islamic State in Iraq, an al-Qaida affiliate which, in turn, came into existence after the 2003 US-led invasion.

The leader or emir (prince) of Isis is a 43-year-old Sunni, known by his nom de guerre as Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, or Abu Dua. His real name is Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai. He was held prisoner by US forces from 2005 to 2009. US military sources have quoted him as saying when he was released from Camp Bucca in Iraq: "I'll see you guys in New York." According to some accounts he was radicalised by his experience of captivity. But others describe him as having been a firebrand preacher under Saddam Hussein's rule. He studied at the University of Baghdad, and was listed as a terrorist by the UN in 2011.

It is a measure of Baghdadi's success and charisma that Isis has become the group of choice for thousands of foreign would-be fighters who have flocked to his banner. Late last year, he announced the creation of a new group that would be merged with a rival al-Qaida affiliate active in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. That was disputed both by Nusra and Osama bin Laden's successor as the leader of al-Qaida "central", the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri. Baghdadi, who has been described as more extreme than Bin Laden, refused an order from Zawahiri to focus the group's efforts in Iraq and leave Syria alone.

In the areas of Syria it controls, Isis has set up courts, schools and other services, flying its black jihadi flag everywhere. In Raqqa, it even started a consumer protection authority for food standards. It has established a reputation for extreme brutality, carrying out crucifixions, beheadings and amputations.

Estimates of Isis numbers range from 7,000 to 10,000. Its rank and file members are drawn from fighters who were previously with al-Qaida, some former Ba'athists and soldiers of the Saddam-era army. What is far harder to quantify – and a highly significant question – is how much support the group has from Iraq's wider Sunni community, the people who lost their power and influence when Saddam was overthrown.

"Isis now presents itself as an ideologically superior alternative to al-Qaida within the jihadi community," says Charles Lister, of the Brookings Doha Center. "As such, it has increasingly become a transnational movement with immediate objectives far beyond Iraq and Syria."

Worrisome? It gets worse:

2. What do they want and what's their link to al-Qaida?

Last February, al-Qaida disavowed Isis, saying it was "in no way connected to it", that it had not been informed of its creation, and was not responsible for its actions. Isis was deemed too extreme for al-Qaida.

The fallout between Isis and al-Qaida is not surprising. The ISI's methods and attitude – including indiscriminate bombings in civilian areas and the imposition of its harsh, ultraconservative interpretation of Islam – had long prompted debate within jihadi circles. Several of the letters found among the so-called Abbottabad papers (a stash of correspondence recovered from Bin Laden's Pakistani hideaway after his killing in 2011) question or criticise the group and warn that it might have a negative impact on al-Qaida's reputation.

In one 21-page letter, dated January 2011, the American jihadist Adam Gadahn advised the al-Qaida leadership to "declare its discontent with the behaviour … being carried out by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq, without an order from al-Qaida and without consultation". Al-Qaida didn't take Gadahn's advice. The rift only grew, spurred by the rise of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

Although they are now open rivals, ironically all three groups – Jabhat al-Nusra and Zawahiri's al-Qaida on the one hand, and Isis on the other – share the same goals: the creation of an Islamic state in Syria (and Iraq) and the return of the borderless Islamic caliphate, which ended in 1924 after the fall of the Ottoman empire.

‘Too extreme for Al-Qaida?’ Can you say “Uh-oh”, boys and girls?

3. Where does Isis get its money from?

Since the end of 2011, Islamic charities and rich individuals in the gulf have been funding insurgent groups in Syria. As the role of Islamist groups within or linked to Jabhat al-Nusra and Isis has grown, many of these donors have directly or indirectly provided money that reaches jihadist organisations. According to a policy briefing by the Brookings Doha Center last month, much of the charity-based and private fundraising for the insurgency in Syria focuses on particular areas of the country, most of which involve jihadists.

Until late last year, it was possible to find the international depository banking details for donations. Now this has been replaced by mobile phone contact information and WhatsApp accounts used to coordinate donations and sometimes even physical street addresses from where the money is collected.

Isis has secured massive cashflows from the oilfields of eastern Syria, which it had commandeered in late 2012, some of which it sold back to the Syrian regime. It has also made money from smuggling raw materials pillaged in Syria as well as priceless antiquities from archeological digs. An intelligence official told the Guardian that Isis took $36m from al-Nabuk, an area in the Qalamoun mountains west of Damascus, including antiquities that are up to 8,000 years old.

Computer sticks taken from an Isis courier by Iraqi forces before the fall of the northern city of Mosul revealed that Isis – before the city's capture – had cash and assets worth $875m (£516m). After the fall of Mosul, Isis looted the banks and captured military supplies that have boosted the group's coffers to about $2bn, according to Iraqi officials.

Gulf donors support Isis out of solidarity with fellow Sunnis in Syria as President Bashir al-Assad has unleashed his military to crush opposition to his rule. The US has tried to put pressure on the governments in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar to crack down on funding for extremist groups, but these regimes say donors are justified in backing rebel forces in Syria because the US failed to act against Assad, especially when he crossed the "red line" laid down by President Barack Obama with the use of chemical weapons.

Two billion dollars is a lot of cabbage. Oil money combined with grand theft to spearhead religious fanatics. Always a bad recipe.

Now here’s the scarier part:

4. How do they use social media and how effective is their campaign?

Jihadists have always embraced technology. Ever since 9/11, the global jihad movement has used the internet to disseminate information, create its own narrative and incite supporters.

The traditional repository of this activity was password-protected forums where jihadists and their supporters could be connected in a safe environment to share information and discuss events. Most importantly, it allowed forum administrators to control the debate by deleting problematic posts and suspending troublesome users.

Web forums are less important these days, giving way to platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. In this respect, Isis has harnessed the power of these platforms better than any other jihadist movement today. Online, it has created a brand, spread a seductive narrative and employed powerful iconography. This strategy has been responsible for inspiring thousands of men from all over the world to join the group.

But Isis also realises that it cannot control the narrative the way its predecessors once could. Social media, coupled with the ubiquity of smartphones, has meant that individual fighters can now film and upload events to the internet in an instant, often with little thought. Isis is not always happy about this. Just a few weeks ago, the group crucified two men in Manbij, Syria, for alleged apostasy (although supporters say the men were regime spies). A Spanish foreign fighter who had promised his followers a video of the spectacle had to make do with only providing pictures of the sadistic act. "Our leadership forbade anyone from filming it," he said.

This is not the first time Isis has warned its members about their online activity. Earlier this year, the group chopped off the hand of a man in Raqqa. It was a dark, torrid affair with the swordsman requiring several attempts before finally severing the man's hand. After understandable public outcry, the group has now prohibited anyone from filming similar events. It still goes on, of course, but anyone brandishing a smartphone will be censured.

In many senses, this represents the "pluralising" of the global jihad. Whereas we had one or two voices to analyse in the past, we now have hundreds. Individual fighters offer a stream of consciousness from their world, tweeting about their experiences, sharing pictures of daily life and bragging about their military accomplishments. These men are frequently unguarded and clumsy, offering an insight into parts of Isis that the group would no doubt rather keep hidden.

Putting these accounts into perspective is important. Although Isis maintains an institutional presence on social media, far more popular are the personal accounts of individual fighters or "disseminators" – sympathetic individuals (typically based in the west) who tweet in support of the group and its aims. These disseminators are among the most vociferous and zealous activists, compensating for their absence on the battlefield with their ferocious support online.

We often talk about the "social media strategy" of jihadist groups. At the official level, with institutional accounts, there is clearly a plan: to rebut criticism, promote the group's narrative, and spread its image as a benevolent vanguard. They recognise this as a necessity. But savvy organisations such as Isis are also acutely aware of the dangers of allowing individual fighters unfettered access to social media. The real challenge for these groups in future years will not be how they use the internet, but how well they can manage it.

Smart sociopaths. Oh joy.

Is this then the price we pay for accommodating these nutjobs? Driven crazy by too much sun, sand-drenched pores, little to no sex, and blindly following the teachings of a fraudulent, illiterate pedophiliac from the 5th century, do these hairy-eyed lunatics represent our future, one of a Sharia-driven government, a theocracy from the dankest dungeon of medieval times?

They will take my democracy when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

Ideological mad dogs are in the same slot as real ones: they need to get put down.

Till the next post, then.

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Republicans Gone Mental–The ‘Good News’ Ain’t Too Damn Good

Cross posted @ the Atheist Oasis

gohmertpyle“At that greatest of all spectacles, that last and eternal judgment how shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sages philosophers blushing in red-hot fires with their deluded pupils; so many tragedians more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings; so many dancers tripping more nimbly from anguish then ever before from applause." –Tertullian

As a rule, I usually have a bad attitude about my fellow citizenry. Let’s face it: they tend to be morons (hopefully, present company excluded). Between their numbness to how the rest of the world actually works, their capacity for narcissism (not exclusive to nationality, certainly), and the raging pride of anti-intellectualism, it is a monumental effort not to club some of them when they mouth outrageous stupidities.

Take Gohmert Pyle, for instance:

Louie Gohmert tells Congress the ‘good news’ that non-Christians are ‘going to Hell’

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) on Tuesday grilled a pastor who supports the separation of church and state, asking him why he did not share the “good news” that non-Christians were going to Hell.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing about religious freedom on Tuesday, Gohmert told the Rev. Barry Lynn, who serves as the executive director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, that the Founders of the country — and Franklin Roosevelt — had often mentioned religion in their writings.

Lynn pointed out that he had received the Medal of Freedom from the Roosevelt Institute for his work supporting the freedom to worship.

“But that wasn’t awarded by Roosevelt himself?” Gohmert interrupted, before asking if the pastor understood that the “meaning” of being a Christian was to evangelize.

“Do you believe in sharing the good news that will keep people from going to Hell, consistent with Christian beliefs?” the Texas Republican wondered.

Lynn, however, disagreed with the congressman’s “construction of what Hell is like or why one gets there.”

“So, you do not believe somebody would go to Hell if they do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth, the life?” Gohmert pressed.

The pastor argued that people would not got to Hell for believing a “set of ideas.”

“No, not a set of ideas. Either you believe as a Christian that Jesus is the way, the truth, or life or you don’t,” Gohmert shot back. “And there’s nothing wrong in our country with that — there’s no crime, there’s no shame.”

“Congressman, what I believe is not necessarily what I think ought to justify the creation of public policy for everybody,” Lynn explained. “For the 2,000 different religions that exist in this country, the 25 million non-believers. I’ve never been offended, I’ve never been ashamed to share my belief. When I spoke recently at an American Atheists conference, it was clear from the very beginning, the first sentence that I was a Christian minister.”

“So, the Christian belief as you see it is whatever you choose to think about Christ, whether or not you believe those words he said that nobody basically ‘goes to heaven except through me,’” Gohmert concluded, ignoring the point about separation of church and state.

I’d really like to go down to Texas, find this guy, and slap the ever-livin’ crap out of him.

For one thing, maybe the Founders did spout off about religion a lot (being politicians, you have to pander to your constituency) – but they also meant for us to have slaves. Thomas Paine often quoted the bibble, but that didn’t stop him from writing one of the most scathing critiques of said tome, still a classic to this day.

Maybe Gohmert Pyle should’ve done some reading – but of course, being a Republican, Faux Noise isn’t just a TV show, it’s a repository of ‘facts’.

Pyle missed this little nugget, for instance:

“The traditional Jeffersonian principle of religious freedom was so broadly democratic that it included the right to have no religion at all – it gave to the individual the right to worship any God he chose or no god.” – FDR

And all of us could quote presidents as early as Washington, all the way up to Obama (oh, hey, I’ll be the Founding fathers never saw that one coming!) on the topic of SOCAS till we were collectively blue in the face, but Gohmert wouldn’t listen. It’s what Republicans do, after all. Pull facts out of their asses, and claim they’re covered in chocolate.

And really, this goes to something I’ve been saying for years: if anyone holding high office in this country holds allegiance to their religion above their oath to the constitution, they can’t be trusted to make objective decisions for the rest of us who do NOT adhere to their belief system.

And from what I’ve seen, that’s the bulk of the Republicans in office right now. Untrustworthy, narrow-minded bigots white good ole boys who cry ‘Limited government’ out one side of their mouths, while dictating what women can do with their bodies, defending 10 commandment statuary, insist that SOCAS is unidirectional, and other such affronts to the rational mind.

Obviously, evolution favors the idiot who shouts loudest, not the rational person who thinks.

Till the next post, then.

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