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30 April 2009

the Asian Wars and women and girls / Karzai pledges about-face on the Shia Family Law's provisions about women

Afghani women -- almost certainly mostly from Kabul, the only part of Afghanistan the Karzai government can claim to effectively control -- held a public protest of the new Shia Family Law, and President Harmid Karzai met with them and promised to consider their objections. (Later a mob of men attacked the women protesters.)

But Karzai has far bigger complaints to worry about. He owes his job, and every day that he can cling to it, to military intervention and military operations from the United States and its NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) allies, including long and very fierce fighting by British troops against anti-government (Taleban) guerrillas in southern provinces.

Economically the Karzai government depends almost entirely on USA and European contributions and loans.

These donor and troop-supplying nations are parliamentary democracies that, in the 20th century, re-structured themselves from Men-Only rule and law to grant the vote and full legal rights to women.

So essentially, Harmid Karzai has to convince US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and US Secretary of State and former Senator Hillary Clinton, that the new Shia law is a necessary and good thing for American interests in supporting his government in Afghanistan.

If Pelosi and Clinton agree to support the new law's treatment of girls and women in Afghanistan, they must turn their backs on every historical gain which allowed them to achieve their jobs at the top tier of American government. (The USA gave women the vote in 1920.)

This could bite Pelosi like a rattlesnake at the ballot box in 2010 -- she must run for her seat in Congress (from San Francisco) every two years.

Clinton does not face re-election, but her boss, Barack Obama, does, and if the Shia law stands, Michelle Obama can expect to face angry American women at "town meeting"-style appearances asking her how the USA can support a regime that suppresses the rights and hopes of women and girls.

This is not a Hallmark Channel or Lifetime Channel or Oprah issue. For whatever historical reasons and blunders, the region from Iraq to Iran is in unusual flux and play. This is not like Kansas or Colorado, which will have the same governments and officials next year.

What a lot of this region of Asia will be a year from now is a big crapshoot. If anyone in the world were investing right now, they wouldn't be investing in these regions.


One of the early selling points to Americans for the Afghanistan invasion and war was our pledge to improve access to education for girls; this would be the West's universally acclaimed gift to the Afghani people.

That's what it seemed like in Kansas and Colorado, anyway.

In Afghanistan, at least 20 kliks beyond Kabul, a sudden jolt of education for females was not universally hailed or appreciated.

Many viewed it and still view it as the shape which a major Western/Christian assault on traditional Afghani society and social patterns has taken.

Meanwhile, in Iran, the government is apparently taking vigorous measures not to repel a military attack by the West, but to repel and block a Velvet Revolution, a revolution of talk and exchange over porous channels (i.e., the Internet) which could take hold and bring about the sudden regime change that took place in Czechoslovakia and other Warsaw Pact countries in 1989.

The winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, Shirin Ebadi, was Iran's first woman judge until women were forced off the bench after the 1979 revolution. The prize cited her advocacy for the rights of women and children.

The battle for the world's support of the USA's two wars in Asia depends critically on convincing people in Asia, Europe and North America that we -- the USA and NATO -- are building new societies that are substantively better for people than the nations and societies we displaced and "regime changed." If the USA and NATO and Iraqi Coalition troops and governments have things go their way for the next few years, it is still not clear whether the Iraq and Afghanistan we shall have constructed will be substantively better for Iraqis and Afghanis, or whether they will perceive the new society as better than the old.

==========
Wikipedia:
==========

In 1999, Hamid Karzai married Zeenat Quraishi, an obstetrician by profession who was working as a doctor with Afghan refugees living in Pakistan. They have a son born in 2007 and named Mirwais.

==================================

The Times (London UK)
Tuesday 28 April 2009


Karzai backs down
over ‘abhorrent’
marital rape law


President Karzai bowed to international pressure yesterday by promising to amend a new law condoning marital rape and child marriage that provoked violent clashes in the Afghan capital.

The Shia Family Law, signed by the Afghan President last month, appeared to reintroduce the draconian policies of the Taleban era, such as a ban on married women leaving their homes without their husbands’ permission. The law applies to the 15 per cent of Afghans who are Shia Muslims.

At a press conference in Kabul yesterday Mr Karzai said: “The law is under review and amendments will take place. I assure you that the laws of Afghanistan will be in complete harmony with the constitution of Afghanistan, and the human rights that we have adhered to in international treaties.”

His statement appeared to rebut widespread speculation that by signing the law he was pandering to conservatives before this summer’s delayed presidential election. Mr Karzai confirmed that he would stand in the elections, where he will be the front-runner.
Related Links

* Video shows radicals beating girl in Pakistan
* Karzai introduces Taleban-style laws for women
* Right and wrong

Afghanistan’s constitution guarantees equality of the sexes and the country is also a signatory to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. However, hardline theologians argue that all other provisions are overridden by Article Three of the Constitution, which guarantees that nothing contrary to the “beliefs and provisions of Islam” is permissible in Afghan law. Mr Karzai’s climbdown came a day after he said that he had been unaware of its content when he signed it. He made the claim when he met a group of women activists who organised a protest against the new law in Kabul last week. The protesters were attacked by a mob of male supporters of the law.

The controversial provisions were buried in the 239-page document, much of it written in dense theological jargon. Mr Karzai said that his aides had not briefed him properly about the details. Many opponents of the law have said that it did not pass through the normal channels, that would have included discussion of all the articles, because MPs were advised to let the Shia community determine the details of their own laws – a right granted by the constitution.

One article stipulates that the wife “is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires”. Another passage sanctions marital rape. “As long as the husband is not travelling he has the right to have sexual intercourse with his wife every fourth night . . . Unless the wife is ill or has any kind of illness that intercourse could aggravate, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.”

Article 133 reintroduces the Taleban restrictions on women’s movements outside their homes, stating: “A wife cannot leave the house without the permission of the husband” unless in a medical or other emergency.

Article 27 endorses child marriage, with girls legally able to marry once they begin to menstruate. The law also withholds from the woman the right to inherit her husband’s wealth.

When its contents were made public it was condemned widely by Western governments, with President Obama describing the new law as abhorrent.

The Afghan Government had insisted that criticism of the law was misplaced. “We understand the concerns of our allies,” Mr Karzai said on television earlier this month. “Those concerns may be out of inappropriate or not-so-good translation of the law or a misinterpretation of it.”

A poison attack on a girls’ school north of Kabul was suspected of making 45 pupils and staff fall sick. The teachers and pupils fell ill with severe headaches during a ceremony at the school in Sadiqi District of Parwan Province, north of the capital. “It seems to be airborne poisoning,” Dr Abdullah Fahim, a spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, said.

- 30 -

* Have your say

This has got nothing to do with Islam, its caused by a lack of education caused by years of war and suffering in the region, people in Afghanistan have only seen violence for the past three decades.

anon, anon, anon

humanity, dignity and respect for a fellow human being should and must take precedence over politics, religion and customs.. it could be your daughter or your sister who is subjected to this - make a difference collectively- keep up the pressure, internationally and within each and every community

gowry retchakan , jeddah , saudi arabia

Anna london

And because sex with a circumcised man is so unpleasant. It really is time male circumcision was recognised as being responsible for so much harm

lucy, london,

Christianity went through all of this about 200 years ago.
The fact that we continue to hold onto our religious beliefs with such blatant disregard for common sense and equality makes me very despondent about the future.

gareth, brighton,

I wonder if the archbishop still supports the practice of sharia law some by some elements of British society?

Conrad Auten, Canterbury, England

The UK and US taking a high moral ground and lecturing the Afghans is a bit rich considering we in the UK only got rid of marital rape laws in 1991 and they still exist presently in some states in the USA.

Hamed, Glasgow,

Anthony, Spoken like a true man. Let's turn our backs on these helpless women and ignore their plight. It doesn't involve us, let's not interfere. Just because traditions are "long-entrenched", it doesn't make it right for them to continue. On that basis we'd still be endorsing apartheid and slavery

Karen, London,

The reason men have to force laws to have sex is that the sex in those regions are often rape-oriented in nature, so the women hate and shun sex. Afghanistan is a perfect example what happens in society when only male dominance and ideas rule. Never give men this much ruling power in Europe!

ann, london,

Anthony, there are ethical values that are apart from culture. This is a complete violation of all womens rights, we shoudl protect them. Just as people did when abolishing slavery.

Steven, Birmimgham, UK

To let any kind of violation of human rights happen is abominable! You cannot seriously say 'leave them in peace' when there is clearly no peace and plenty of unrest.

Lydia, Berlin, Germany

Robert: it's not hatred, but fear bordering on terror.

David Masu, Z├╝rich, Switzerland

Islamic interpretation of the Qur'an is as complex as Christian interpretation of the Bible. Within the division of the two largest groups (Sunni and Shia), there are different schools of theological thought and as many differences of opinion within those as there are amongst Christian theologians.

David, Hereford, UK

Let us be careful not to upset long-entrenched traditions with our ideas of ethical behavior. After all, what do we want from these people to begin with? We want them to leave us in peace. This situation does not concern us, and we should not intervere in their politics unless it involves security.

Anthony , Dallas, USA

"I assure you that the laws of Afghanistan will be in complete harmony with the constitution of Afghanistan, and the human rights that we have adhered to in international treaties.” Time will tell!

david brooks, Modewarre, Australia

I'm just starting to wonder where such hatred toward women comes from? I know about perceived power, disdain, hidden homosexuality even neurotic fear for women, but such deep rooted hatred is totally incomprehensible to me.

robert, richmond, bc

Question; Where are these rules found in the koran? chapter and verse please.

Gale Montgomery, Towanda, USA

=====================

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29 April 2009

Winter Homeless Shelter season ends / Guests invited to sleep al fresco / Hard Times

Click image, gets bigger.

My (large) town's church alliance homeless shelter -- winter only -- will close on May Day. The shelter sleeps 22 women and men, and serves a hot dinner and a cold breakfast. My team of volunteers cooks and serves dinner on the third Monday of each month.

This is a reflection of good things for the program. When the program began, volunteers were so few (RevJJ was a founding volunteer and manager) that we served one night -- all night overnight -- each week. At that time and for five or six years, the shelter -- and our weary Guests -- moved around town to a different church every night, like a floating crap game.

Now the shelter is in a single, permanent, and architecturally suitable and safe facility. The basement of the former Elks Club building -- now Quaker Meeting -- is next door to the police station, though it's rare that the program has to call the cops. (That's probably because everybody knows the police station is next door.)

Though Pride is listed as one of Christianity's Seven Deadly Sins, our team -- Christians, atheists, agnostics, college students, non-Christians of This and That sort -- takes gentle but overweaning Pride (and even competition) in cooking up the best damn chow in the program.

Looking at it from a contrary theological viewpoint: Is Bland, Uninteresting, Boring Food some kind of Virtue, or a reflection of Virtue?

For our team's last dinner, I was assigned to bake sweet potatoes to go with a Thanksgiving-style turkey dinner. The sweet potatoes were delicious, but to our surprise, were received unenthusiastically. So now I got a whomp-ass Baggie of sweet potato leftovers in the fridge.

This winter appeared to me to be a pretty uneventful (and thus pretty successful) shelter season.

That may be the Calm Before the Storm. Until recently, our guests have been The Usual Suspects -- people in criminal trouble (Northampton is the courthouse and jail town), military veterans (we have a small Veterans Administration hospital in town), alcoholics, addicts, undertreated chronic psychiatric sufferers.

I don't have to be Nostradamus to foretell that, when the shelter opens next Halloween (31 October), a new wave of guests whose troubles are largely financial will be among those lined up at the door each night around 5:30.

(The newspaper comic strip Doonesbury is running a thread about this now -- Old Traditional Homeless in conflict, competition and tension with New Unemployed Homeless.)

Most of our Old Traditional Guests already have 2 or 3 jobs -- badly-paying jobs, so they can't assemble the downpayment for a rental apartment.

If the traditional causes for bringing us our guests stay constant, next season should see a sudden surge in demand for our 22 beds, with people referred to other area shelters -- which will also be experiencing a surge in demand. Some will simply be turned away if there's no room at any other shelter.

SPECIAL MENTION this winter to the town of Amherst, 15 miles to the east, for using $30,000 of government grant money for taxi rides to send their homeless (Amherst has no shelter) to our shelter. They re-thought this Solution after a small but loud public outcry.

When the winter temperature drops to dangerous levels, our Fire Department usually turns the other way and lets us sleep extra guests on the sofas and chairs. Ultimately, it's all about nobody dying from sleeping outdoors at 20F = -7C .

This happens anyway hereabouts once or twice each winter, because some psychiatric sufferers are terrified of the shelter, and take their chances on the streets or in the woods or by the railroad tracks. Sometimes they get lucky and find an unlocked door to a heated building.


From the start, the winter shelter has been a life-and-death deal. Death cometh eventually to us all, but it hovers much more closely and perceivably over the homeless during the brutal New England winter.

After May Day, many guests will set up tents on a long sandbar island in the Connecticut River, reachable only by canoe, or by wading/swimming, and spend the Spring and Summer on the island. Historically the island has had little violent crime.

Nostradamus cannot yet see clearly whether Earth is careening toward a harsh and lingering Recession, or whether it is plummeting into a downright Great Depression -- the 1930s, but with iPods and cellphones and a few laptops, maybe a little free Wi-Fi.

Already the political battle lines are clearly drawn exactly as they were by 1932 when the Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to replace the incumbent Republican Herbert Hoover.

Conservatives claim that the quickest, surest and least damaging economic recovery will happen naturally if Government does nothing to interfere with the natural workings of the Free Market.

Liberals/Progressives believe the Free Market, by its own greed, corruption and folly, has already collapsed and is paralyzed and moribund, far too weak to heal itself. Only Government has the resources to kick-start the capitalist economy, and cushion the unemployed and most vulnerable people from the worst punishments of a collapsed Free Market.

Have I expressed this ancient controversy fairly enough (Vleeptron always aspires to be Fair And Balanced) so you can guess which side I feel is correct, and which side is totally and dangerously whack, idiotic, and historically doomed?

Since before the November 2008 presidential election, Fox News (Murdoch) has had a shrill non-stop campaign portraying Obama and the legislative majority Democratic Party as Secret Socialists who intend to destroy the Capitalist economic system in America.

Well, Hard Times are here again, and all over the world, a lot of people -- children among them -- are going to be badly punished, whether John Maynard Keynes was right or whether Milton Friedman was right.

No one can prevent the suffering to come.

But we can minimize the worst damage by coming together as Community.

A major goal the Community can set clearly for itself now is to resolve to get through the Hard Times in ways we can be proud of -- rather than have to look back on the Hard Times and be ashamed of what we didn't do and what we permitted to happen to our children and our most vulnerable neighbors.

In a world where millions are rapidly losing their Illusion of Control over their lives, coming together as Community, as neighbors who give and do what they can for each other, is the only true and realistic kind of Control we shall have for the next year or the next few years.

Above, another newspaper comic strip's portrayal of professional economists, and their expert scientific grasp of the Present and the Future of the global economic crisis.

In general, economists who, in Boom Times, predict infinite economic growth, profit, and Boomier Times that will Never Stop get paid a lot more than economists who warn that the bubble is about to burst, and dire things lie ahead for the economy.


I pay more to people who tell me I'm talented and handsome than to people who tell me I'm stupid, ugly, and smell bad.

As was in 1929, nobody (whom anybody paid any attention to) Saw This Coming.

As a young man, my father had just begun earning good money and, with his workplace pals, enthusiastically tossed every penny he had into the Booming Stock Market. He was wiped out overnight, and struggled through a terrible Great Depression. Eventually the economy recovered, and my father prospered again, but he never bought another share of stock in his life. To the end of his days, he was convinced Wall Street was a combination whorehouse, clown circus, and den of liars and thieves.

~ ~ ~

Hi everybody --

Thank you all for another very successful and very important Shelter season.
It's all about our Guests, safe and warm shelter, a hearty dinner, neighbors breaking bread together, and help toward housing and better situations.

But it's a huge pleasure and privilege to serve with this team. Thank you all so very much.

Bob Merkin

27 April 2009

Lest We Forget v.2.0 / crap I need to go out / winter crap / summer crap

Click image for larger.

I cleaned up the filched faux needlepoint alphabet to make it clearer. And I remembered some more stuff.

No William Morris wallpaper this time, just a painted wall, like the kitchen wall where I'll hang it as a checklist when I'm going out.


It's springtime, so I don't need all the winter crap I needed. But I want to remember to take the itty-bitty camera and the nifty new compact rubberized binoculars I got in Sint Maarten.
nI'm glad I had them with me when I was driving around last week, because I saw a white drake chasing other ducks away from his territory on a pond. With these binocs, maybe I'll start to get good at birding. Of course I'll have to add a field guide to birds and wildlife.

I get really pissed off and frustrated when I forget to take all the shit I need, and the list just keeps getting longer. The $·¢ is coins I need for the parking meter.

I get totally ripshit if I forget my coffee. I got a fancy new go-mug that you can turn upside-down and not a drop spills. Its handle ends in a caribiner so it snaps on my backpack.

26 April 2009

know your hilltown infrastructure / moving away from the grid / wtf? / next week: What is a septic tank?

Click for larger maybe,
no promises.


A leach field
is a series of relatively shallow (a minimum of 6 inches below the surface) underground perforated pipes set in gravel trenches that allow septic tank effluent to drain over a large area. As the effluent seeps into the ground, it is purified by the soil. Plant roots can help remove excess moisture and nutrients thereby making the purification of the remaining effluent more efficient. However, roots that clog or disrupt the pipes will seriously damage the drainage field. The challenge of leach field gardening is to find plants that will meet your landscape needs but not clog the drain pipes.

(source unknown)

Lest We Forget

Click image for larger.

Wallpaper:
'Seaweed,'' William Morris and Co.
Artist: John Henry Dearle

25 April 2009

Harvard's Islamic chaplain's e-mail on apostasy and capital punishment in Islamic law

Harvard College, which grew into Harvard University, was the first college in the North American colonies that eventually became the United States of America. Harvard was chartered by the Massachusetts government in 1636 largely as a school for Protestant clergymen.

Harvard is located in Cambridge, just across the Charles River from Boston, Massachusetts.

I don't really know what to make of this. Taha Abdul-Basser devoted his scholarly career to becoming an expert on Islamic law, and when questioned on a point in Islamic law, answered according to his understanding of Islamic law. That his e-mail left a student-chaplain correspondence and leapt into a campus and public controversy -- well, this is the atmosphere surrounding such matters in the USA and the predominantly Christian West these days.

If the issue is the West's tradition of championing separation of church and state, championing religious liberty and toleration, and championing justice and equality for women, Massachusetts has a mezzo-mezzo track record in such matters.

Last week I had to drive to Boston, and ended up circling the Statehouse (state legislature), driving past the statue that commemorates Anne Hutchinson.

Two years after Massachusetts chartered Harvard College, the colonial government and established church excommunicated and banished Hutchinson for heresy and blasphemy for her unorthodox preaching and interpretation of Christianity. A few years later, she was murdered in an Indian attack in the Dutch colony which became New York. (The Indians weren't angry with Hutchinson, but were in payback mode for a long history of bad treatment by the Dutch. Hutchinson's farm was in the way.)

During the last month, both the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan have approved laws and domestic treaties which embrace and acknowledge Sharia -- most notably to the detriment of the education of females, and the equality of women and their status under the law.

Turkey, for the first time since Ataturk founded the modern secular state in the 1920s, is facing a fierce political struggle to abandon the secular model and become an Islamic theocracy. An immediate consequence of such a change would be a prompt end to Turkey's ambitions to become a member state of the European Union.

In my imagination, I try to construct a world of the near future which somehow integrates and makes compatable the traditions and structures of Islam in Asia and Africa with the West's modern (and quite recent) emphases on religious toleration and legal equality of the sexes.

This is going to be a very difficult construction project.

=============

The Jewish Daily Forward
New York City, New York USA
Wednesday 22 April 2009

Harvard’s Muslim Chaplain
Embroiled in
Death-for-Apostasy
Controversy


by Anthony Weiss

Remarks on apostasy and capital punishment under Islamic law by Harvard’s Muslim chaplain have become the center of a heated debate about whether Islamic and Western values can be compatible.

In an e-mail to an unnamed student, the chaplain, Taha Abdul-Basser, stated that most traditional authorities on Islamic law agree that in countries under Muslim governance, the proper punishment for apostasy — that is, rejection of Islam by a former Muslim — is death. The e-mail was subsequently published online, and although Abdul-Basser has distanced himself personally from that position, the remarks have stirred a flurry of controversy and debate.

Abdul-Basser’s e-mail was circulated through an e-mail list and subsequently posted April 3 on the blog Talk Islam, from which it was picked up by several other blogs. On April 14, The Harvard Crimson, a student-run daily, published an article about the controversy. One week later, on April 21, it remained the paper’s most viewed, most commented-upon article online.

The issue being debated is anything but academic: Apostasy is outlawed in a number of Muslim countries, including Afghanistan, Malaysia, Iran and Algeria. In 2006, an Afghan named Abdul Rahman faced trial, with a potential sentence of death, for converting to Christianity, before being granted asylum in Italy. The issue has attracted a great deal of attention from such international human rights groups as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

In his original e-mail, Abdul-Basser appeared to put himself at odds with the international human rights community, which includes a number of luminaries who teach at Harvard. After a lengthy discussion of the positions of various Muslim autorities, he concluded by writing that “there is great wisdom (hikma) associated with the established and preserved position (capital punishment), and so, even if it makes some uncomfortable in the face of the hegemonic modern human rights discourse, one should not dismiss it out of hand.”

In a subsequent statement sent to the Forward, however, Abdul-Basser said that he was simply explaining to a student the traditional position of Islamic legal scholars, not advocating their viewpoint.

“I have never expressed the position that individuals who leave Islam or convert from Islam to another religion must be killed. I do not hold this opinion personally,” Abdul-Basser wrote, adding that the “wisdom” he referred to simply described the skill of the scholars who have historically debated the laws on apostasy.

“I was not advocating any of the positions summarized in my e-mail, merely addressing them in the context of the evolution of an Islamic legal doctrine,” he added.

Abdul-Basser’s original e-mail did also note that a number of Islamic thinkers have contested the notion that apostasy ought necessarily to be punished by death under Muslim law. But this has not satisfied some of Abdul-Basser’s critics. On the Web site Beliefnet, Muslim blogger Aziz Poonawalla took issue with Abdul-Basser’s contrast between Islamic law and human rights.

“The phrase, ‘hegemonic human rights discourse’ is deeply troubling because it implicitly rejects the basic notion of universal human rights,” Poonawalla wrote. “Freedom of faith and conscience is a key human right that has solid precedent and grounding in Islamic sources as well as Western roots. I reject the notion that human rights are ‘values’ which may be fluid between human societies. It’s precisely this attitude that has permitted modern Islamic states to drift so far from the established jurisprudence.”

Other critics have taken a still harsher line, calling for Abdul-Basser’s dismissal.

“This case is typical of many others; Muslim leaders, portrayed as moderate and occupying prestigious and responsible positions, turn out, in fact, to be Islamists,” said Daniel Pipes, who founded Campus Watch, an organization dedicated to rooting out and criticizing university professors and student groups that it considers to be excessively Islamist or antisemitic. “Only when institutions like Harvard engage in proper due diligence to exclude Islamists can we begin to fight the enemy within.”

Abdul-Basser’s position, however, is by no means unusual, according to Bernard Haykel, a scholar of Islamic law and history at Princeton University. Haykel said that Abdul-Basser’s statement is an accurate description of a well-established branch of traditional Muslim law.

“It’s a fairly difficult law to overcome, because the sources on which it’s based — the penalty of death for apostasy — are pretty sound sources, they’re pretty difficult to refute,” Haykel said. “To refute them requires a break, a rupture with tradition.”

Haykel also noted that Abdul-Basser’s position — that such a penalty is justified only under the auspices of a Muslim government, following the due process of Muslim law — is far more limited than what is advocated by a number of radical Islamists: “I think that what he’s reacting to is that a number of Islamist groups, including Al Qaeda, have said that you can forget the whole context of an Islamic state. In fact, you can sort of privatize this form of ruling. You don’t need a state, you don’t need proper courts, you don’t need due process. You can take the law into your own hands and kill apostates.”

Haykel said that in practice, in non-Muslim countries, those who view apostasy as a serious offense typically shun those who leave Islam. “My sense is that Muslims have dealt with these cases the way Jews have, or Christians; they’ve probably ostracized them and kicked them out of the community,” he said. “It’s the story of ‘The Chosen’ all over again.”

Contact Anthony Weiss at weiss@forward.com

- 30 -

=============

Mr. Taha Abdul-Basser
Islamic Society (Muslim)

Special areas of interest:
Islamic Belief and Practice
Islamic Ethics
Islamic Personal Development
Comparative Religion

I am the Chaplain for the Harvard Islamic Society (HIS), a student organization that is dedicated to meeting the social and religious needs of the Muslim community at Harvard and promoting an awareness of Islam in the Harvard community. (The Islamic Society has been serving the Harvard community since its establishment in 1955.) I have been an intermittent sermon-deliverer and prayer leader for the Friday congregational service, organized by HIS for more than a decade. I started as an active member of the Islamic Society when I was an undergraduate and for several years was an advisor to the Islamic Society as a graduate student.

I was born and raised as a Muslim in New York City. I came from New York City to attend Harvard College in 1992, graduated in 1996 with a degree in Comparative Study of Religion (so I understand what it means to be a Muslim student at Harvard College!), went on to pursue graduate studies here and have been at Harvard ever since! I like reading classical Islamic texts, science fiction and fantasy fiction novel and, of course, spending time with my family. Y ou can find me at the Friday congregational service (in Lowell Lecture Hall at 1:15) every week unless I am delivering the sermon elsewhere or traveling. I have led study circles on essential Islamic belief and practice, Qur’anic recitation, Prophetic traditions and traditional Arabic linguistics at the HIS Prayer Space and around the Boston metro area for years. One of the ways in which I can be helpful to interested students is by advising them on strategies for living as Muslims in the Harvard community.

I have been a student of the traditional Islamic sciences for more than 15 years, spent a brief time studying in Southern Arabia, have a couple of traditional licenses to transmit what I have learned from my teachers, am an ABD in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and am currently finishing a dissertation in post-formative Islamic ethics and traditional Arabic literary theory.

I live in the Boston suburbs with my wife (Harvard College `98) and our three children. I am available for discussions about Islamic belief and practice, comparative religious studies and ethics.

Copyright © 2009 The President and Fellows of Harvard College

===============
Talk Islam (blog)
===============

Talk Islam
johnpi

*
12:56:55 pm on April 3, 2009

Tags: apostasy, apostates, freedom of speech, Harvard Crimson, Harvard University, Hegemony of human rights discourse, Hegemony of human rights discourse watch, Islamic scholars, religious freedom, religious liberty, Taha Abdul-Basser

On the listservs, there is an uproar developing over comments made by Harvard Muslim Chaplain Taha Abdul-Basser (his blogger profile here) in response to an email query about apostasy stating that apostates should be killed - though they can only be killed by a legitimate “Muslim governmental authority and can not be performed by non-state, private actors.”

Concerned Muslims who are Harvard alums (or not) are being encouraged to write to Harvard and complain. Some are calling for his removal. Below the fold, the message fragment that is being forwarded around:

There is a vibrant Muslim community at Harvard. They have a Muslim chaplain, employed by Harvard and loved and respected by Muslims all around Boston. His name is Taha Abdul-Basser. He gives Friday sermons, is invited to talks and to him local Muslims go when they need religious advice. Rarely does any one voice disagreement with him.

Recently, Muslim students as MIT had a disagreement on what Islam has to say on apostasy. Fortunately, some one from Harvard was able to get Brother Taha’s opinion on this. Enjoy.

assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah

here is Brother Taha’s response on apostasy. he also suggested contacting two other people and if they get back, inshaAllah i will fwd the responses.
Wa-`alaykum as-salam

Taha Abdul-Basser:

Wa-iyyakum.

I am familiar with these types of discussions.

While I understand that will happen and that there is some benefit in them, in the main, it would be better if people were to withhold from _debating_ such things, since they tend not to have the requisite familiarity with issues and competence to deal with them.

Debating about religious matter is impermissible, in general, and people rarely observe the etiquette of disagreements.

There are a few places on the Net where one can find informed discussions of this issue (Search ["Abdul Hakim Murad"|Faraz Rabbani" AND "apostasy"]) . The preponderant position in all of the 4 sunni madhahib (and apparently others of the remaining eight according to one contemporary `alim) is that the verdict is capital punishment.

Of concern for us is that this can only occur in the_domain and under supervision of Muslim governmental authority and can not be performed by non-state, private actors._

Some contemporary thought leaders have emphasized the differing views (i.e. not capital punishment) that a few fuqaha’ in the last few centuries apparently held on this issue, including reportedly the senior Ottoman religious authority during the Tanzimat period and Al-Azhar in the modern period. Still others go further and attempt to elaborate on the argument that the indicants (such as the hadith: (whoever changes his religion, execute him) used to build the traditional position apply only to treason in the political sense and therefore in the absence of a political reality in which apostasy is both forsaking the community and akin to political treasons in the modern sense, the indicants do not indicate capital punishment.

I am not aware of `Allama Taqiy al-Din Ibn Taymiya’s position on this issue but much is attributed to him by both detractors and supporters so one should be wary of accepting things attributed to him without asking experts. Perhaps you can ask Ustadh Sharif el-Tobgui or Shaykh Yasir Qadhi (I am copying both), both of whom are Ibn Taymiya specialists.

I would finally note that there is great wisdom (hikma) associated with the established and preserved position (capital punishment) and so, even if it makes some uncomfortable in the face of the hegemonic modern human rights discourse, one should not dismiss it out of hand. The formal consideration of excuses for the accused and the absence of Muslim governmental authority in our case here in the North/West is for dealing with the issue practically.

And Allah knows best.

Wa s-salam.
Taha


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Comments

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razib 1:29 pm on April 3, 2009 | #

even if it makes some uncomfortable in the face of the hegemonic modern human rights discourse

LOL. this is too good. i often put up parody comments here and there combining medieval theocratic attitudes with postcolonial gibberish.
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islamoyankee 1:48 pm on April 3, 2009 | #

Glad to see Taha has become more moderate since I was there. I suppose his position becoming official, as opposed to the unofficial demagogue of campus, was a mediating force.
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plimfix 2:16 pm on April 3, 2009 | #

“Debating about religious matter is impermissible, in general, and people rarely observe the etiquette of disagreements etc etc…”

Allah sent down a revelation and then sword bearing
intellectuals to tell us what it means. Or did he send down intellectual elites to test us. You decide!
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aziz 4:56 pm on April 3, 2009 | #

razib, im unequivocally against caital punishment for paostasy as anyone else. But the logic is no less hilarious than the medieval command in the US Constiution to execute traitors. And I spent 9 years in Texas, so I am all too aware of the cultural enthusiasm for state-sanctioned capital punishment.
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aziz 4:58 pm on April 3, 2009 | #

“…whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death…”

too good!
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razib 6:03 pm on April 3, 2009 | #

your logic makes sense if you accept your view of religion. i don’t, so it isn’t logic in its fundamentals. in any case, most people don’t view nations the way you view islam if you accept this logic. you can abjure citizenship.
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John Maszka 5:54 am on April 4, 2009 | #

Hello,

I’m doing research on terrorism, and I’ve put together a pre-survey questionnaire that I’m circulating in order to get feedback on what a non-biased (non-western, non-white) survey might look like. The final survey will go out later this year.

The survey can be accessed at johnmaszka.com/SURVEY.html

Would you post it, and possibly circulate it? I’m very interested in incorporating the views of women, non-whites, and people living outside of America and Western Europe.

I’d appreciate it.

Thanks!
Take care,

John Maszka
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matoko_chan 9:53 am on April 4, 2009 | #

razib…Aziz is referring to culture and not religion.
Culture encompasses religion, you know that.
Are you a frother now like Malkin and Robert Spencer?
Someone that shares party ideology with Glen Beck and K-lo shouldn’t throw stones.
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matoko_chan 10:16 am on April 4, 2009 | #

And in an Islamic state, apostasy IS treason.
For example, since the Iraqi constitution incorporates shari’a law, certainly apostates/traiters could be excuted for apostasy/treason.
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sam 10:27 am on April 4, 2009 | #

This guy is clearly an apostate:

“it would be better if people were to withhold from _debating_ such things, since they tend not to have the requisite familiarity with issues and competence to deal with them.”

“[17:36] You shall not accept any information, unless you verify it for yourself. I have given you the hearing, the eyesight, and the brain, and you are responsible for using them.”

Can he be executed asap?
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razib 10:54 am on April 4, 2009 | #

matoko, go back to your asylum. jeez.
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matoko_chan 11:42 am on April 4, 2009 | #

Fine, razib.
deleted from your thread, but permitted here.
“Debating about religious matter is impermissible, in general, and people rarely observe the etiquette of disagreements.”
Translation: ’sometimes people say things we don’t like, and we’re too fragile and insecure to take it gracefully (or civilly).’

Actually, under Islamic law, debating about religious matter is only impermissible when the debaters are uneducated, unqualified, and ignorant. Islamic scholars debate religious matters 24/7. There are entire universitiy curriculae devoted to debating religious matters. This enforces a sort of memetic hygiene which seems to be sadly lacking in modern day christianity, where the teachings of the great prophet Issa (Jesus) seem to be rarely followed in practice.
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matoko_chan 11:45 am on April 4, 2009 | #

Stings doesn’t it?
You and the Derb and Sailer chummied with your homeslice Glen Beck.
teh horror.
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sam 11:47 am on April 4, 2009 | #

Where does it say in the Quran that you need to be an Islamic scholar to debate religion? Such BS has been imposed to keep the mullahs in positions of power. Islam is not a hierarchical religion and mullahs and qadis have no authority to dictate to the masses
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matoko_chan 11:54 am on April 4, 2009 | #

And here’s what I think of your crappy “traditional wisdom” argument.

may your children all be salafis or born-agains
in’shallah
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matoko_chan 11:59 am on April 4, 2009 | #

Sam, it is in the haditha.
Like Sir Richard says, there is no altruism in nature.
Your constant press to bring your obscene proselytizing to MENA is obvious.
We do not want it, tyvm.
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matoko_chan 12:14 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

Sam, that is the magical thinking so endemic in the christian evangelical movement as it devolves into raw fundamentalism.
Muslims are not all pining for the missionaries to bring Jesus to us.
Sorry.
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sam 1:22 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

The Haditha? You mean the Hadiths? Maybe you should get familiar with this hadith:

“Do not write anything from me except the Qur’an. Anyone who wrote anything other than the Qur’an shall erase it.”

Besides, the Hadith were collected 200-800 years after the Prophet died and even if the chain of narrators is correct[there is an entire field of isnad behind that], there in no way to verify what was said.

Why would you put such Hadiths above the Quran? Surah Kafiroon is pretty straightforward. Anyone else’s beliefs are nobody’s business.

Magical thinking is refusing to use your own brain and following sheep like behind self appointed mullahs.
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sam 2:09 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

Here is a reference on classical Hanafi doctrine vis a vis apostasy:

Classical Hanafi doctrine holds that the capital punishment of the apostate serves mainly political aims.
In principle, punishments are postponed to the hereafter and the fact that they are advanced [so that they precede the hereafter] violates the sense of probation [as the sense of human life in this world]. One deviates from this principle in order to defy a present evil and that is warfare [against the Muslims] (’Ayni, vol. VI: 702-703).

Both authors argue that the apostate’s punishment is not clue to his belief but to the military and political danger that this belief may cause. They use this argument to show that women, even if they abandon Islam, should never be condemned to death because they are, according to Hanafi doctrine, physically not able to lead war on the Muslim community. The jurists conclude from this that capital punishment is not imposed for disbelief and apostasy but as a means to prevent the military and political dangers connected with it.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2267/is_3_70/ai_110737774/pg_4/
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aramkr 6:23 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

Aziz:
Are you really incapable of appreciating the difference between a decision of private conscience and a decision to subvert or violently attack the democratic order freely chosen by the majority of your fellow citizens?
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Dave2 7:25 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

This analogy to treason or capital punishment in Texas is completely absurd.

Selling secrets to the Soviet Union, murder, rape; it makes sense to punish these things. But deciding to leave Islam is nobody’s business but your own.

Anyone who thinks changing your mind should be punishable is evil. Anyone who thinks it should be punishable by DEATH is insane.
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matoko_chan 7:47 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

You xians punished apostates and heretics with death when you were a state-religion.
It is the same thing.
when the religion is the state, apostasy is treason.
Pardon, but I think very well for my self.
I was raised catholic and now a Sufi.
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Dave2 7:48 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

matoko-chan,

Yes, and it was equally insane when the Christians did it.

Horrible oppression is horrible oppression, regardless of who is doing it.
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9u87897 7:53 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

“You xians punished apostates and heretics with death when you were a state-religion.”

find a christian cleric at a major university in 2009 who says people who apostatize from christianity should be punished with death

good luck
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rottenapples 8:00 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

well you know what they say about converts being the nuttiest of the bunch. dude, matoko, you’re a straight up idiot. i’m not going to touch your theology, since everyone on here, including you, knows that there is no god or allah (no, really, you do, you and all the other theists are just very good at pretending.) There is no such thing as heresy and no such thing as prayer, just a choice between talking to yourself and being comfortable with it, or changing your voice into that of a god so none of those wicked outside ideas could scrape against your worldview. your mullahs suck, glen beck sucks, the government sucks, but most of all, YOU suck, because YOU are the kind of person that makes this world a living hell for others.
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matoko_chan 8:02 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

Try this thought experiment xians.
Consider how you feel when Sir Richard comes to proselytize atheism to you.
We feel exactly the same the about your foul proselytizing of xianity.
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matoko_chan 8:04 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

find a christian cleric at a major university in 2009 who says people who apostatize from christianity should be punished with death

xianity is no longer a state religion.
al-Islam is.
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matoko_chan 8:06 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

You know nothing of what I believe.
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9u87897 8:09 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

who in this thread is proselytizing on behalf of christianity?

this thread is about a crazy person who has crazy views due to his crazy religion
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Aziz 8:11 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

Razib, actually if you were laughing at the idea of human rights discourse being hegemonic itself then I agree with you (as my latest post at COB amply demonstrates). But my point is valid and requires no acceptance by you of my framework - I am pointing out that this statement:

“I would finally note that there is great wisdom (hikma) associated with the established and preserved position (capital punishment)”

is a dogma that pertains to the power of the State to execute its citizens. The analogy is in fact an exact one between a putative Islamic state executing a man for apostasy and a Western republic executing a man for treason. In fact, apostasy is treason, as far as an Islamic State is concerned (and this gets into another tangent, whereby the Islamic State itself is a kind of blasphemy).

at any rate, the question here is simply whether the State has the power to execute. Theres a substantial body of thought, that is genuinely universal, which says that power is valid. Theres an entirely defensible counter position as well, which incidentally is one I am starting to embrace (that the State has no authority to execute its citizens i a Republic defined as “for the people, by the people”)

everyone else - Im sorry I just dont have the patience to wade thru tangential nonsense. Razib and I are having a good and civil debate. Watch, listen, and learn.
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matoko_chan 8:11 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

And I would say that Razib and Steve Sailer sukk far, far worse than Glen Beck, because they give him cover for his fundamentalism and bigotry and ignorance.
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9u87897 8:12 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

“xianity is no longer a state religion.
al-Islam is.”

having a state religion is a really bad idea in the first place

but hey, let’s suppose a nation has islam as its state religion: does that makes it okay to murder innocent people just for changing their mind?

just what are you defending?
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Dave2 8:14 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

Aziz,

You’re quite wrong about capital punishment in general being the central issue.

The idea that murder should be punished with death is not insane. I’m not saying it’s a good idea, but it’s not insane. But the idea that apostasy should be punished with death is absolutely 100% insane.
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matoko_chan 8:16 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

Pardon, habibi.
My rudeness and bitterness are unforgiveable.
It is the greif of seeing my idols have feet of clay, and brains of mud.
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9u87897 8:16 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

what if a state decides that having a mustache counts as treason?

will all the apologists in this thread defend the execution of people with mustaches?

will you say it’s no different from having the death penalty for treason?

what exactly are your principles here?
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Anonymous 8:31 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

1. Take a harmless activity (apostasy).
2. Give it the label of a harmful activity (treason).
3. ????
4. PROFIT!!!
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XianvsIslam 8:36 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

You people post your blather is like talking just to hear the sound of your own voice. You all stand on your soap box with your “More holy then thou” attitude and throw rocks…which is stupid because we all live in glass houses. God or no God. Christianity or Islam. The world we live in is crap and it got this way not because of what we do or do not believe but because WE SUCK! Humanity is a waste of time, energy and effort. The universe will not give two shits when we’re all gone. And that’s the only way anyone si going to know if they were right about their beliefs. Each of us will learn the answer to that question when the time comes. Or not if nothing follows. Either way, i wish it would come a whole lot sooner for a lot of people.
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Dave2 8:39 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

XianvsIslam,

You’re right, we should be happy with those who call for the execution of ex-Muslims. Never a critical voice should be raised.
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Dan 8:53 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

This thread needs to be closed quick.
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PI.info 9:05 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

This thread needs to be closed quick.

I disagree, though I would agree we are getting more heat than light at the moment. I’ve also been pleased with how much good commentary rolls in on open topics later as interested parties find them from links and Google searches.
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Bob Smythe 10:22 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

You muslims are wackjobs. If you don’t believe in free will and the freedom of religion, you need to GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE USA! You now have SWAT, PAKISTAN to be the scumbags you want to be. GO THERE!
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Bob Smythe 10:25 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

My name is Bob Smythe, and I am a very stupid person who needs to learn that leaving comments someone else’s blog is not a ‘right’.
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Dave2 11:00 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

Bob Smythe,

While you’re at it, tell the Christian Dominionists like Gary North to get out of the US.

But of course, even people with truly evil views are free to stay in the US and express their opinion.
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aziz 11:21 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

what if a state decides that having a mustache counts as treason?

I know you meant this as an attack, but actually - SPOT ON. you caught on to the point I was making EXACTLY. What’s to stop the state from defining treason like that, indeed?

this is why the state cannot be trusted with the power to execute its citizens. You did amarvelous job, Javert, of cuttig right to the heart of the issue. I wish I’d said that.
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aziz 11:26 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

ah, I see this thread made it to reddit. And its being misrepresented by the title. a more correct title would e, “Harvard Muslim Chaplain affirms the right of the State to execute its citizens”
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Ray 11:28 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

There’s a huge difference between apostasy and treason, and it is the same as the difference between apostasy and heresy.

If an apostate in an Islamic state were to make war on the religion/state while remaining an adherent/citizen, the analogy to treason might be valid. However, apostasy is analogous to disclaiming one’s citizenship, which is perfectly legal in all non-autocratic states.

If someone disavows their American citizenship (legally) and then makes war on the United States, they are not guilty of treason. They may be killed in self-defense, of course, but not executed for treason.

If an apostate leaves the religion (which is the definition), there’s no way in which anything they do to the religion can be considered the same as “treason”. Only if they claim to belong to the religion and wage war on it, can that be considered similar to treason, and that is called heresy.

Now, I don’t agree with capital punishment for either crime, but the argument would at least be *valid* if we were talking about heresy. We’re not.
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Dave2 11:43 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

On the heresy / apostasy point:

I thought it was pretty terrible the way the United States treated people who spoke out against WWI. They had people put in prison for distributing pamphlets. Absolutely disgusting.

But apparently they should have been put to death. Who knew?
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thabet 11:51 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

If an apostate in an Islamic state were to make war on the religion/state while remaining an adherent/citizen, the analogy to treason might be valid…

The ‘legal’ definition of apostasy might include such acts against the ‘collective’.
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Dave2 11:51 pm on April 4, 2009 | #

Aziz,

Why think that ‘treason’ is so flexible a word? If someone uses it to refer to the mere having of a moustache (as opposed to selling state secrets to the Soviets or something), then aren’t they just abusing language?

Does your entire point rest on playing games with words?
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PI.info 5:42 am on April 5, 2009 | #

Ray - That was a good insight, though I disagree that heresy is the same thing as “waging war.” That phrasing legitimizes violence.
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aziz 1:50 pm on April 5, 2009 | #

However, apostasy is analogous to disclaiming one’s citizenship, which is perfectly legal in all non-autocratic states.

thats not the point. I am not analogizing apostasy to treason. I a pointing out that the detah penalty can be applied to citizens of a state by that state - and that teh state decides when and where to apply it, for what crime.

If you accept that the state has power to execute its citizens, then you have already ceded the issue. The state may now define the law in what manner it chooses so as to execute you for whatever it likes. treason, apostasy (of faith), apostasy (of citizenship), having a moustache. whatever it decides.

Sure, lets hope we are in a “benevolent” state where the state wont prosecute mustaches. Just “treason” - but how then do you define treason? over the past 8 years we saw citizens of the US being denied of all due process and held without evidence (see Jose Padilla, or Ali al -Marri). So your “rights” are only as solid as the state says they are.

fundamentally, this discussion is not about saying what treason is or what apostasy is. this is about the state and its power over you as a citizen.
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Ray 6:39 pm on April 5, 2009 | #

I did say I didn’t approve of capital punishment for either crime. I don’t know whether there is any crime for which I’d approve of it, simply due to the uncertainty problem.

Even if I did accept those as valid reasons for execution (and the case is certainly arguable in the case of treason if it applies for anything), I certainly wouldn’t agree that the state has the right to execute its citizens for any arbitrary reason.

I would argue, though, that even if you accept a state has the right to kill its citizens for any reason, that right ends if they cease to be citizens, and that they have the right to do this at any time.
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Dave2 7:43 pm on April 5, 2009 | #

If you accept that the state has power to execute its citizens, then you have already ceded the issue. The state may now define the law in what manner it chooses so as to execute you for whatever it likes. treason, apostasy (of faith), apostasy (of citizenship), having a moustache. whatever it decides.

This is nonsense. If you accept capital punishment for certain things, it does not follow that you must accept capital punishment for all things. This is a very simple point of logic.

Moreover, a state might have the power of capital punishment, but have that power checked by courts applying constitutional principles. So madcap arbitrary executions are not the inevitable result of having capital punishment.

In general, the attempt to assimilate capital punishment for treason to the arbitrary execution of apostates and the mustachioed is sophistry, plain and simple. It is an attempt to defend a morally sick ideology by clouding the issue with a false equivalence.
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PI.info 9:49 pm on April 5, 2009 | #

Aziz, let’s “Talk Islam” as per the name of this blog - Does the rightly guided Muslim society governed by the rightly guided Muslim political entity give itself the task of hunting down those it describes as apostates, heretics, innovators and imperfect practitioners?

“Violence is a disease, a disease that corrupts all who use it regardless of the cause…Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who preached nonviolence during the civil rights movement, never finally claimed to be a pacifist, although he understood and warned about the moral contamination of violence.”

A question put to God: “Will You place upon Earth such as will spread corruption thereon and shed blood?” (2:30) Contamination - or corruption, if you will - the Quran and the Sunnah single out the perils of corruption as a primary concern for us. it is a big part of our deen to avoid it, “to enjoin the good and forbid the evil.”

At the end of a day that saw three suicide attacks in 24 hours in Pakistan (victims: all Muslims, some of them Shiites targeted for having been assigned the status of ‘apostates’ by their Sunni attackers), instead of sidestepping response to Sheik Abdul-Basser’s license to more corruption - or at least a permissive attitude barely restrained by the absence of a ‘legitimate governing body’ - we should resist it.

“Now there is a kind of man whose views on the life of this world may please thee greatly, and [the more so as] he cites God as witness to what is in his heart and is, moreover, exceedingly skillful in argument. But whenever he prevails, he goes about the earth spreading corruption and destroying [man's] tilth and progeny: and God does not love corruption.” (Qur’an 2:204-205) So it goes with Harvard’s Muslim Chaplin.
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aziz 10:28 pm on April 5, 2009 | #

Even if I did accept those as valid reasons for execution (and the case is certainly arguable in the case of treason if it applies for anything), I certainly wouldn’t agree that the state has the right to execute its citizens for any arbitrary reason.

perhaps you are talking past me here. I never argued that teh state has the right to execute arbitrarily; I just said thta once we give the state the power to execute us, the specifics are no longer under our control. Thats the downside of giving the state that power. The state has no rights; it has power. Citizens surrender power to the state by allowing it to execute some, thus the state can take that power and expand it as it pleases.

Dave 2 says

This is nonsense. If you accept capital punishment for certain things, it does not follow that you must accept capital punishment for all things. This is a very simple point of logic.

*sigh*

my dear friend, once you give the state - any state, even one such as ours with its constututional “protections” and what not (which have served Padilla and Marri quite well. google them), it matters not one little ounce of fairy dust what you or I “accept”.

and frankly I think I accept far less than you do, since you seem to be quite happy to let teh state have the power to kill.
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aziz 10:33 pm on April 5, 2009 | #

Aziz, let’s “Talk Islam” as per the name of this blog - Does the rightly guided Muslim society governed by the rightly guided Muslim political entity give itself the task of hunting down those it describes as apostates, heretics, innovators and imperfect practitioners?

neither such “rightly guided” entities you describe exist. but ok if we are entering teh realm of fantasy here, then i imagine that such a scenario would be one in which the state would indeed have the power to execute citizens for specific crimes - but like our own, rarely if ever actually excercised it. I cant think of an example of someone executed for treason in the past 100 years in the US, if ever, though certainly there have been many convicted of treason (and of those, quite a few convicted with only lip service to the rights supposedly guaranteed by the same constitution that defines treason as a capital crime).

If i had my ideal state, it woudl be one in which teh state had no power to kill, for treason or apostasy or anything in between. since the power to execute for apostasy is only for the islamic state and not one for the islamic citizen (according to all valid jurisprudence on the topic over the past 14 centuries), there wont be any issue.
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Ray 10:59 pm on April 5, 2009 | #

I just said thta once we give the state the power to execute us, the specifics are no longer under our control. Thats the downside of giving the state that power. The state has no rights; it has power. Citizens surrender power to the state by allowing it to execute some, thus the state can take that power and expand it as it pleases.

I think you misconstrue the notion of “power”.

Giving the state the power to execute for reason A doesn’t “give” the power for reason B. If they state *takes* it for reason B, they could have done so whether or not you “gave” it for reason A.

Might it be “easier”? Perhaps, but that’s not the point. Slippery slopes only exist to the degree that you allow them to.

Either the state respects the powers its citizens give to it or it doesn’t. Generally they don’t, so this is all talking through our asses. The state has the “power” regardless of what its citizens do, that’s why they call it a “state”. We merely speak of what is “right”.
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aziz 11:51 pm on April 5, 2009 | #

If they state *takes* it for reason B, they could have done so whether or not you “gave” it for reason A.

but we arent talking about the state taking it for reason A - we are giving it to teh state for reason A. And from there its a slippery slope to reason B.

In Iraq, for example the constitution does explicitly say that Islam is the state religion. Provisions for freedom of religion are also present, but a harsh interpretation by an “activist” judge might occur where a apostate is isngled out as having “betrayed” the state (especially if they converted to a faith that is associated with another state in conflict). Thus the state would be arguing that apostasy IS treason (bec the thinkin is, non-muslims may practice freely, but since Islam is the true faith, converting away from islam is very suspicious. hence there is probably some ulterio rmotive, etc.).
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PI.info 5:51 am on April 6, 2009 | #

realm of fantasy

Well, realm of our aspirations to be good Muslims and create the good society. Cool kids may mock this discussion, but it matters. Carried to its conclusion, where am I going with Islam if I follow the scholarship of Sheik Abdul-Basser? To my mind, that’s a good question.

i imagine that such a scenario would be one in which the state would indeed have the power to execute citizens for specific crimes - but like our own, rarely if ever actually excercised it.

Putting aside the abstract political language, you’re saying that we won’t have to sweat it because the assertions that apostates are subject to the death penalty will be largely hypocritical and arbitrarily applied. Oddly enough, though I’m more in opposition to Sheik Abdul-Basser, I think in this conversation I’m taking him more seriously and giving him more credit for meaning what he says than you are.
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aziz 6:19 am on April 6, 2009 | #

you’re saying that we won’t have to sweat it because the assertions that apostates are subject to the death penalty will be largely hypocritical and arbitrarily applied.

Im saying that in my fantasy ideal Islamic state, the state would not have the power to kill its citizens (I am pretty sure i said this in my comment without any “abstract politial language” above - see very first sentence of the last paragraph of mmy 10:33pm comment above. to be even more clear, the answer to your question posed to me about talking islam as per the name of the blog, is “No.”

as for the theological opinion of Abdul-Basser, I think you (and Razib, in his posts here and elsewhere) may be reading into his words an unequivocal support for capital punishment for apostasy that does not exist. What Basser says in the email is to first lay out in detail the established jurisprudence on the topic, which as he notes is broad and also limited to state, not private actors. He also explicitly notes that there is an opposing school of thought, particularly with respect to the following:

Still others go further and attempt to elaborate on the argument that the indicants (such as the hadith: (whoever changes his religion, execute him) used to build the traditional position apply only to treason in the political sense and therefore in the absence of a political reality in which apostasy is both forsaking the community and akin to political treasons in the modern sense, the indicants do not indicate capital punishment.

Incidentally, the emphasis above is exactly why I argue that teh state should not be permitted to execute, because the state does have the ability to dictate what constitutes treason.

Finally, as per this,

I would finally note that there is great wisdom (hikma) associated with the established and preserved position (capital punishment) and so, even if it makes some uncomfortable in the face of the hegemonic modern human rights discourse, one should not dismiss it out of hand.

I note that the hegemony in teh context of his comments (which got Razib riled up) is really a double standard whereby states in the third world are essentially forbidden and judged for doing exactly what the more powerful west has long done. The detah penalty as implemented in Texas certainly violates the “hegemonic” discourse on human rights (as does supporting a client state engaged in collective punishment/illegal occupation, or invading a country based on “pre-emptive” pretext). All that Abdul Basser is asking is that we do not dismissthe idea out of hand - there is plenty of relevant literature to build a case either way on solid argument and reasoning rather than a knee jerk response.

incidentally, though it appears I am knee jerking just as Basser warned me not to, in rejecting capital punishment out of hand (not just for apostasy but also for essentially everything else above and below on the scale), its a position ive come to after many years of consideration. i was very pro-death penalty, until just a few years ago. I am still hesitant about ruling it out entirely, as well.
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abunoor 8:41 am on April 6, 2009 | #

Aziz,

Excellent points in your last post…I know someone like Razib doesn’t care to make fine distinctions, but I’m really taken aback by P.I. Info’s failure to read and/or understand what Abdul-Basser wrote. I can’t believe that he would be upset at simply for discussing the opinions of past Muslim scholars on the issue, so apparently his outrageous crime was to state that their was some wisdom in their opinion rather than, well, I’m not sure what you would have preferred he had done, P.I. Info? Should he have said, “of course all the past scholars of Islam were stupid and/or evil and as we know we are all better and more knowledgeable than them and therefore there is no wisdom and nothing to learn from what they thought or wrote.” Is that what he should have said?

Finally, Aziz, as to executions for treason in the U.S. in the last hundred years, obviously the most famous case is the Rosenbergs.
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abunoor 8:46 am on April 6, 2009 | #

Oh, my bad, I guess the Rosenbergs were not actually convicted of treason, but espionage.

My avatar, John Brown, was convicted and executed for treason against the state of Virginia, not the federal government. (I find this odd since John Brown was obviously not a citizen of Virginia).
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abunoor 8:47 am on April 6, 2009 | #

I think the gov often has preferred espionage or other charges to treason itself, to get around having to fulfill the constitutional requirements.
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PI.info 12:28 pm on April 6, 2009 | #

I’m bringing two concerns to this conversation. One is where the death penalty for apostasy fits into our ideals and aspirations for the Muslim good society, which you address. The other is this:

My observation that the greatest sin/corruption to afflict Islamic communities in this age is not (as many seem to feel) sexual debauch: it’s the corruption of violence. Further, I’m not a pacifist, and I see conflicts in the world where Muslims are legitimately engaged in struggle. The situations where this corruption is most visible are those that involve Muslim-on-Muslim violence. This is a recent conclusion for me and of course I may be wrong, but I created a tag here of the same name to track examples of it. I’m interested in these situations because I want to throw light on this corruption, to push back against it, to resist it.

Who am I to assert about sin, criticize a distinguished scholar and advocate against that sin? I’m a Muslim. I’m supposed to do this, right? “Forbid the evil,” right?

I see in Abdul-Basser’s comment insufficient safeguard against violence. His comment was weighted and preferential of capital punishment, and therefore permissive. It is not a benign discourse. My rant is that someone in such a position should be trying harder when discussing such an issue to put a boundary around it. When you start talking about killing people everybody should turn around and pay close attention - even if the talk is grounded in jurisprudence. The admonition that only a legitimate government authority could take such action is insufficient because the number of governments that define themselves as “Islamic” are growing, and will continue to grow regardless of the policies of governments outside the Muslim world. This actually isn’t as abstract an issue as we’ve allowed here. There are more and more governments around that are liable to self-define as legitimate and entitled to deal with apostates accordingly.

And no I’m not dismissing hundreds of years of jurisprudence. I value respect for the ages, but I want the scholar to give this age what it needs: restraint from violence.
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aziz 12:35 pm on April 6, 2009 | #

I see in Abdul-Basser’s comment insufficient safeguard against violence. His comment was weighted and preferential of capital punishment, and therefore permissive. It is not a benign discourse. My rant is that someone in such a position should be trying harder when discussing such an issue to put a boundary around it.

thats a fantastic and legitimate critique in my opinion of Abdul Basser. As it happens, I have asked him for an interview and am awaiting his response. If you would be willing to draft a couple of questions for him that touch directly on this point you are making, Id be very grateful (and the quality f the interview would indeed be much greater).
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abunoor 1:40 pm on April 6, 2009 | #

P.I. Info,

I think I disagree with your interpretation of Abdul-Basser’s statements. I don’t know him, so I could of course be interpreting him wrongly, but I also understood that the context of his statement was in an email meant to go to either an individual or perhaps at most a certain list, that it was not intended as a public statement.

In general I am sympathetic to your concerns about violence, although I find this a strange area in which to be so strict about it. I see no evidence of widespread vigilante Muslim on Muslim ideological violence in the United States among the type of people who might seek an opinion from the Harvard Muslim Chaplain.

Rather, I saw the more immediately pressing issue given the facts as I understand them is that what’s actually going on here seems to be a group of people who are not sincere but rather are interested in using open academic of the Islamic tradition as evidence of someone being unfit for a position at Harvard as Muslim chaplain. I think it would be even more dangerous for the issues that you and I are concerned about regarding violence among Muslims if people in positions of responsibility who have knowledge are discouraged from speaking freely and openly and therefore people who have questions about aspects of the tradition cannot trust when they go to them for advice that they are getting honest opinions rather than politically acceptable (”for public consumption” opinions).

Again, I don’t know Abdul-Basser and I could be wrong on my interpretation of his statement, but I think the issue I’m mentioning is extremely important and one you did not seem to realize was so urgently at play here.
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PI.info 2:45 pm on April 6, 2009 | #

is that what’s actually going on here seems to be a group of people who are not sincere but rather are interested in using open academic of the Islamic tradition as evidence of someone being unfit for a position at Harvard as Muslim chaplain.

Great point. You and I have exchanged comments here I think about the difficulty of debating and criticizing Islamic topics in a forum where people who are unfriendly can pick it apart for destructive soundbites. Ultimately, we can’t be silenced by these people. For my part, I come from a political background where you call attention and put pressure on leaders. Even if Abdul-Basser is indifferent or antagonized by what has been exchanged in this thread, It still ought to feel - to him, you and me - like you just mainlined a pot of coffee to be talking about taking other people’s lives, jurisprudence or not (your fitrah screaming at you). Sometimes important things get lost in the modality of academic discourse. It’s not that the discourse should be suppressed, only that it should be very, very careful.

Another remark on other comments in this thread (some of which I moderated/deleted for being purely hostile/destructive): If I had known that this blog post was going to be such a “hot ticket,” I would have waited until Sunday morning to post it. I’ve heard official statistics that after 10 pm on a Saturday night, one in three people driving on the roads in America has been drinking. It’s probably a similar figure for people sitting in front of their computers…

It’s great news that Aziz has contacted Abdul-Basser. Aziz - I will consider what questions I might have, though most of it is probably in the material above. I was hoping he would contribute here. Having Aziz ask him questions is probably the best way for Abdul-Basser to have a respectful interface with the conversation while putting him out of reach of trolls…

I see no evidence of widespread vigilante Muslim on Muslim ideological violence in the United States

Considering the students who attend Harvard, the community of the Chaplain is the world Muslim community - where there is a lot going on that I care about and am paying attention to.
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S.M. Stirling 8:51 pm on April 14, 2009 | #

Freedom of religion is an absolute and may not be abridged by any government. Any government which attempts to do so is, itself, illegitmate and has no right to exist.

Anyone advocating religious coercion, such as this git at Harvard, should be excluded from any public university.

He still has a right to spew his nonsense; it’s a free country. He doesn’t have a right to do it on the public nickel; as a paid servant of the State he is required to subscribe to the Constitution.

In other words, the proper response is simple: strip Mr. Taha Abdul-Basser of his position, blacklist him from any other institution in receipt of public funds, and (metaphorically speaking) ride him out of town on a rail while throwing lumps of doggy-doo and rotten vegetables.

Selah.
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razib 8:55 pm on April 14, 2009 | #

woah, is that SM stirling the science fiction writer? big fan of your work!
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S.M. Stirling 9:26 pm on April 14, 2009 | #

“I’m not sure what you would have preferred he had done, P.I. Info? Should he have said, “of course all the past scholars of Islam were stupid and/or evil and as we know we are all better and more knowledgeable than them and therefore there is no wisdom and nothing to learn from what they thought or wrote.”

– well, as far as executing apostates goes - or otherwise punishing or sanctioning them in any manner whatsoever — yeah, he should have said pretty well exactly that.

Just as contemporary Christian scholars (outside the lunatic fringe) say exactly that about their predecessors when it comes to burning heretics and witches.

Any Christian or Jewish scholar at a major university who said something of this nature would be booted out so fast they’d get friction burns. Same-same for Muslims.

In other words: GET WITH THE PROGRAM!

If you want the protections of liberal tolerance you have to accept its basic premises, including the one that states religion is strictly a matter of private, individual choice.

And you have to accept it as a principle, not a tactic.
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S.M. Stirling 9:30 pm on April 14, 2009 | #

Yup, quasi-famous SF writer.
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aziz 8:34 am on April 15, 2009 | #

Mr Stirling:

Freedom of religion is an absolute and may not be abridged by any government. Any government which attempts to do so is, itself, illegitmate and has no right to exist.

Anyone advocating religious coercion, such as this git at Harvard, should be excluded from any public university.

I already commented above about how Mr Basser’s views were misconstrued; he was not advocating death for apostates but simply explaining the full
range of jurisprudence. But with respect to your specific point, freedom of religion is hardly the sole foundational basis for governmental legitimacy. If we are inclined to argue for a core set of universal
values (as I am inclined to do), then it would be freedom of speech, not religion, which should be primary among rights that governments may not infringe upon (as opposed to “granting” which implies power to taketh away).

And in fact where else but a university would the purest expression of these rights be found? Even if Basser was personally advocating death for apostates (which he was not), that too is free speech. And the
best response to bad speech is more speech, not less. If we are going to say that his comments are beyond the pale of discourse, then we are essentially defining thoughtcrime. That’s not a road we want to go down - it actually violates our basic values rather than preserves them.

and finally, I owe you an apology because I once recommended someone read Years of Rice and Salt when I actually meant to have them read Peshawar Lancers. Not that I mean any insult
towards Robinson’s work; they are just very different books, despite superficial similarities.
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Abu Noor Al-Irlandee 8:37 am on April 15, 2009 | #

S.M. Stirling,

I’m glad Razib likes your writing, it’s too bad that your reading ability is not so good. Abdul-Basser does not advocate violence or coercion towards anyone, in fact he explicitly does the opposite. Condemning him for stating what Islamic scholars have held in the past (in a private email) is anti-intellectual and anti free speech, not pro-religious freedom in any way.

The fact that you think Harvard is a public university is a pretty good measure of the seriousness with which your argument should be treated.
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PI.info 7:42 pm on April 15, 2009 | #

For the sake of all the Google searchers who find this post, the new development is that the Harvard Crimson has published a story about this, which Razib blogged here at TalkIslam and where there are more comments.

To date, about 30 additional comments between the two links.
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Al Ha 6:08 am on April 20, 2009 | #

Some vicious Jedi worshipper has clearly abstracted Mat Koko’s meds. Get him back on them or he’ll fall into a medieval coma.
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iLLogicaL 12:23 pm on April 22, 2009 | #

S.M. Stirling said: “Freedom of religion is an absolute and may not be abridged by any government. Any government which attempts to do so is, itself, illegitmate and has no right to exist.

Anyone advocating religious coercion, such as this git at Harvard, should be excluded from any public university.”

Do you not see the contradiction inherent in your two first sentences? If my religion tells me that I am to coerce others to join it, how can I practice it freely without violating your second argument?

The truth is that governments have EVERY right to proscribe religious freedom so that one’s religion does not cause undue harm to society. There is no such thing as an absolute freedom; they all come with rules and responsibilities.

For an example, the Bible and the Koran both have ample calls for followers to physically attack those of other faiths (and especially those of no faith at all). Now, people are free to call themselves Christians or Muslims, but if they follow the dictates of their sacred texts and kill a bunch of atheists on behalf of their god, I should hope the state would feel no compunction about prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law, regardless of what their religion says. It’s if they didn’t do so, rather than if they did, that they would, as you claim, cease to exist.
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Ray 12:30 pm on April 22, 2009 | #

I thought it was pretty obvious that what he meant was that “Freedom of (religious) *belief* is an absolute”.

Actions based on beliefs (religious or otherwise) are, of course, not absolute rights. Unless, perhaps, those actions are speech or entirely speech-like, but that’s for an unrelated reason.

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