Friday, January 28, 2011

Hysteria Over Muslim Growth: A Myth Shared by Jihadists and Islamophobes Alike

The New York Times has an excellent article by religion writer Laurie Goodstein, covering a report by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life on the pace of Muslim growth globally over the next twenty years. The upshot for that time period is that even though the number of Muslims will increase at twice the rate of non-Muslims, the growth rate will level off and will occur at a rate too slow to create any drastic shift in balance among world religions.

(I learned of Ms. Goodstein's report from a reprint in the
Belief section of today's Houston Chronicle. I have not been able to find an electronic link to the Chronicle's version, but it appears they published the New York Times article in full.)

The Pew Research Center has a strong track record of gathering actual facts about peoples' religious beliefs and behaviors, and of using expert analysis to dispel myths and misunderstanding. The myth in this case is a pretty much global hysteria about the pace of Muslim growth--shared, ironically, both by Jihadists who want non-Muslims to fear a Muslim tide of global dominance and by Islamophobes who feel compelled to do all in their power to stem that tide.

The Pew findings show that the tide is imaginary. As Muslim economic, education and political levels improve, birthrates in majority-Muslim countries (and among Muslims in majority-non-Muslim countries) will become more like the birthrates among non-Muslims.

The following are excerpts from Laurie Goodstein's report:

A new report forecasts that the number of Muslims around the world will grow over the next 20 years at twice the rate of non-Muslims, but that the rapid growth will level off. With more Muslim women getting educations and jobs, people migrating to cities, and living standards improving, the report says, the birthrate in majority-Muslim countries will come to more closely resemble the pattern in other nations.

Predictions that Europe will become a majority-Muslim “Eurabia” are unfounded, according to the report by the
Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, a nonpartisan research group.

Muslims in Europe made up only 6 percent of the population in 2010, and will grow to 8 percent by 2030, the report says. In France and Belgium, Muslims will be about 10 percent of the population in 20 years, and in Britain, 8 percent.

Globally, Muslims now make up 23.4 percent of the population, and if current trends continue, will be 26.4 percent by 2030. Such growth is not enough to create a drastic shift in the world’s religious balance, experts said. The world’s Christian population has been estimated in other reports to be 30 percent to 33 percent.

Amaney A. Jamal, associate professor of politics at Princeton and a consultant for Pew on global Islam, said that the report could challenge assertions by some scholars and far-right political parties about future demographic domination by Muslims.

“There’s this overwhelming assumption that Muslims are populating the earth, and not only are they growing at this exponential rate in the Muslim world, they’re going to be dominating Europe and, soon after, the United States,” she said. “But the figures don’t even come close. I’m looking at all this and wondering, where is all the hysteria coming from?”

In the United States, the report found about 2.6 million Muslims in 2010, a number projected to rise to 6.2 million in 20 years. (The 2.6 million figure is far lower than the numbers claimed by some American Muslim groups, but not out of line with some previous studies.) At that rate of growth, Muslims would still be a religious minority in 2030, 1.7 percent of the American population — about the equivalent of Jews in the United States today.

The report suggests that economic and educational factors affect population growth rates among Muslims far more than the religious factor. In Iran, which encourages family planning and birth control, the fertility rate of only 1.7 children per woman resembles that of many European countries. It has the lowest fertility rate of any Muslim-majority nation, while Niger, a poor African nation, has the highest, at 6.9 children per woman. Iranian girls receive 15 years of schooling on average; in Niger, it is four years.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

All Our Taxes Won't Save Texas; Leave That to the Least of Our Brothers and Sisters

Houston Chronicle political reporter Lisa Falkenberg has an excellent commentary in today's newspaper on the suicidal folly of the state budget Texas Republicans plan to enact.

Being last among the fifty states in per capita spending and health insurance coverage? That just wasn't good enough for Texas. And so, says Falkenberg, Governor Rick Perry shows us what he really means when he urges Republicans "seize the moment" and "show the rest of the country how conservative governing and budgeting can help lead the way out of this national economic crisis."

They will accomplish this feat by unemploying up to 100,000 educators, denying financial aid to 60,000 students, and cutting programs like Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program and food stamps by $2 billion. Really something to be proud of! Go Rick!

Falkenberg's commentary follows in full:

Hey you! Teacher who's going to lose your job, stop worrying. There's no state budget shortfall.

Hey you, community college student who's going to lose your financial aid, and maybe even your campus, stop whining. There's no budget shortfall.

Hey you, kid from the poor side of town who could lose your health insurance and probably your access to pre-school, stop crying. There's no budget shortfall.

There can't be. This is Texas. And according to Gov. Rick Perry, we don't have shortfalls in Texas. And certainly not deficits.

We may have "budget challenges," as Perry termed them in his inauguration speech. They may be challenges that require more than $30 billion in cuts. Those cuts may lead to, among many other things, the elimination of nearly 10,000 state jobs and as many as 100,000 public education jobs, loss of financial aid for 60,000 students; and $2 billion in cuts to programs like Medicaid, CHIP and food stamps that keep our most vulnerable citizens alive.

But, hey, no biggie.

Lost jobs and health insurance aren't exactly urgent matters. And investing in our state's future through the education of our young people is no emergency.

No, in the great state of Texas we reserve that term "emergency" for much weightier matters.

Like cracking down on voter fraud that doesn't exist, outlawing sanctuary cities that never were, and supporting a federal balanced budget amendment that has no hope of passing.

And, of course, allowing the government to barge into a medical exam room and order a woman considering an abortion to submit to a procedure that will compound her emotional distress. You know, important stuff like that.

The governor recently bestowed upon the above issues emergency status while he was in Las Vegas peddling his book at a hunting and shooting trade show. I think this is what the governor would call "multitasking."

Like nearly every other state, Texas is required to balance its budget each session. This means we'll never rack up trillions in credit card debt like the federal government.

In lean times — doomsday times, if you read those paranoid liberal loons in the mainstream media - when there's not enough money coming in to pay the bills, when we're estimated to have only slightly more revenue than we spent in 2006-2007, despite inflation and population growth and increased demand on social services, we don't raise taxes. (Maybe a few fees that nobody will notice, but not taxes.)

We simply cut the fat. Even if there isn't any. Even if we find ourselves hacking away at bone matter.

Now, to the faint of heart, this may sound draconian, especially considering that Texas already ranks dead last in per capita state spending and first in the number of people without health insurance.

But there simply aren't any other options - except, well, it is true that Perry boasted proudly in his campaign ads last year that "today, we have billions in surplus." Indeed we do. It's called the Rainy Day Fund. But the governor has vowed to defend from frantic pillaging that $9 billion pile of your money and mine for the logical reason that if it were spent, the governor and his Republican colleagues could no longer proudly boast that today we have billions in surplus.

It really all comes down to a simple exercise in prioritization. Some things count: the governor's Enterprise "deal closing" Fund for businesses. And some things don't: Early childhood education.

It's the Texan way, the Texas Exception. And lest you take exception, take a moment to recall the prophetic words in Perry's recent inauguration speech. He called on Texans to show the rest of the country how conservative governing and budgeting can help lead the way out of this national economic crisis.

This, declared the governor, will some day come to be known by historians as the "Texas Century."

"This is our time, this is our place in history," according to the governor's speech. "We must seize the moment."

And so we must!

After all, the way we're headed, it could be our last.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Smoking Gun:" 1997 Letter Shows SOME Vatican Officials Tried to Obstruct Justice

Several different news outlets are carrying versions of an Associated Press article with headlines like Vatican Told Irish Bishops Not to Report Abuse.

The article says that in a 1997 letter that has not been made public before, Archbishop Luciano Storero, Pope John Paul II's diplomat to Ireland, expressed Vatican misgivings about "a 1996 Irish church initiative to begin helping police identify pedophile priests following Ireland's first wave of publicly disclosed lawsuits."

The article continues: "Storero wrote that canon law — which required abuse allegations and punishments to be handled within the church — 'must be meticulously followed.' He warned that any bishops who tried to impose punishments outside the confines of canon law would face the 'highly embarrassing" position of having their actions overturned on appeal in Rome."

Anti-child-abuse activists in Ireland and the United States saw the letter as "the smoking gun we've been looking for" to document that the Vatican not only sanctioned bishops' hiding pedophiles from criminal investigators but in fact ordered bishops to do so.

Not so fast, says the National Catholic Reporter's John Allen Jr. in a posting today. Allen allows that the letter documents "that in the late 1990s the Vatican was ambivalent about requirements that bishops be required to report abuse to police and civil prosecutors." Allen argues, though, that "There are three bits of context...which complicate efforts to tout the letter as a smoking gun."

The first was that one of the points of the letter was to avoid having bishops' determinations to remove sexual abusers overturned at the Vatican level on procedural grounds if the bishops did not follow the Code of Canon Law meticulously.

Second, the highest concern reflected in the letter was that reporting sexual abuse to the police could not be allowed to violate the seal of the confessional between the priest and his confessor: as long as the bishop protected the sanctity of the confessional, there was nothing to stop him from cooperating with local authorities.

Third, the letter reflected "a debate among senior Vatican officials about how aggressive the church ought to be in streamlining procedures for sex abuse cases." The letter, says Allen, reflects the position of Colombian Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, head of the Congregation for the Clergy at the time. Allen notes that Castrillón lost the argument to then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, whose tougher stance eventually prevailed.

Allen's bits of context may nuance how the letter constitutes "a smoking gun." But they cannot fully exonerate the Vatican--or Pope John Paul II, whose cause for sainthood is very much tarnished by the Vatican's mismanagement of the entire sexual abuse crisis.

It was good for the abused and for the church that Ratzinger's position eventually trumped the Castrillón stance which John Paul II allowed to dominate for too many years. But at the very least the Vatican is criminally liable for obstruction of justice during the time before Ratzinger prevailed.

The letter undoubtedly is one of the smoking guns for that period. Everyone believes there are more. Now Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger knows that first-hand. He ought to admit it publicly--and in every court case in which the issue is raised. That is the only substantive way for the Roman Catholic institution to make amends for its criminal behavior.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Westboro Backs Off Protesting All Tucson Victims' Funerals, Kansas TV Station Says

KCTV Channel 5 of Kansas City, MO, reports that Fred Phelps' Kansas hate group, which masquerades as Westboro Baptist Church, has backed off plans to picket the funerals of any of the Tucson shooting victims, in exchange for air time on a local Christian radio station and a Canadian radio talk show:

A Kansas church that pickets the funerals of soldiers and blames their deaths on the country's tolerance of homosexuality now says it won't protest the funerals of any victims of Arizona's mass shooting.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, of Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church, says her church has agreed to avoid Thursday's funeral of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green in exchange for live radio interviews in Canada and Arizona.

The church also promised to not protest the funeral of U.S. District Judge John Roll or other victims of the shooting after a nationally syndicated radio show agreed to host church members Monday.

Christina and Roll were among six killed in the shooting Saturday targeting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Westboro church members picket high-profile funerals to promote their beliefs.

Judging from Google searches, other outlets confirm that the Phelps Klan agreed not to picket yesterday's funeral of nine-year old Christina Green; but KCTV seems to be virtually alone is quoting their change of heart about the funeral of Judge Roll or the other victims. It will interesting to see if KCTV turns out to be accurate.

Meanwhile, kudos to all the Tucson residents and visitors who participated in Angel Actions like the one above at the two funerals that have been held so far, as well as all those who lined streets for miles to protect the mourners and their loved ones from the Phelps's attempt to violate their religious freedom to conduct funerals without harassment from those who believe only in intolerant theocratic nonsense.

In the Crosshairs: Incite Paranoia, And the Crazies Will Do the Killing for You

Predictable. Yet still amazing. That Sarah Palin and her worshippers would disclaim any responsibility for the gun assault on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of Arizona Chief Federal Judge John Roll, along with five others who happened into the line of fire, including a budding nine-year old girl.

Those gun-scope sites Palin put on her map of 20 Congressional representatives she wanted eliminated were just map symbols, the Palinistas claim. Even though Rep. Giffords herself, right after Palin published her targets, warned that such right-wing paramilitary symbolism could have very dire consequences. I'd say "hogwash" or "bullshit." But neither term is strong enough to capture the utter hypocrisy of Palin's weaseling. Perhaps the Jack Ohman cartoon above says it best.

At least Palin's lack of remorse has forced brighter minds to reflect on why most of us feel in our gut--despite assurances from all over that such feelings are unjustified--that Palin is not without blame, that at the very least she contributed to the political atmosphere in which the Tuscon shooter became increasingly deranged. The most helpful I have read was
Dangerous Outcomes from a Culture of Paranoia, written by Harold Meyerson, op-ed columnist for the Washington Post.

Meyerson helps situate between more accurate limits exactly how Palin and Beck and Limbaugh and the tea partiers incite such violence. They are very careful to maintain a position of plausible deniability and not say outright that anyone should kill anybody else. But instead they paint such a paranoid picture of what their opponents are "doing to the country," and rant about it so often and so dramatically, that some troubled person somewhere is bound to think it's their patriotic duty to do something about it.

Such tactics, of course, have precedent. Consider the Nazis leading up to World War II. Consider the extremists of the pro-life movement. The pattern is the same: arouse paranoia about those you oppose, and the crazies will take them out for you. Here's Meyerson's analysis in full:

Last October, Glenn Beck was musing on his radio show about the prospect of the government seizing his children if he didn't give them flu vaccines. "You want to take my kids because of that?" he said. "Meet Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson."

Last April, Erick Erickson, the managing editor of the right-wing RedState blog and a CNN commentator, was questioning the legality of the Census Bureau's American Community Survey on a radio show. "We have become, or are becoming, enslaved by the government. . . . I dare 'em to try to come to throw me in jail. I dare 'em to. [I'll] pull out my wife's shotgun and see how that little ACS twerp likes being scared at the door."

Do right-wing talk show commentators incite violence against the government? Feel free to draw your own conclusions - but to dwell on the rise of violent rhetoric on the right is to miss an even bigger, though connected, problem. Let's focus, rather, on the first part of Beck's and Erickson's observations: The government wants to take away Glenn Beck's (and by extension, your) kids. The government wants to take a census and will throw Erick Erickson (and by extension, you) in jail if he, and you, don't comply.

Can we see the hands of all the kids taken from their parents because they didn't get flu shots? How about all those people rotting in jail because they didn't cooperate in compiling the census?

The primary problem with the political discourse of the right in today's America isn't that it incites violence per se. It's that it implants and reinforces paranoid fears about the government and conservatism's domestic adversaries.

Much of the culture and thinking of the American right - the mainstream as well as the fringe - has descended into paranoid suppositions about the government, the Democrats and the president. This is not to say that the left wing doesn't have a paranoid fringe, too. But by every available measure, it's the right where conspiracy theories have exploded.

A fabricated specter of impending governmental totalitarianism haunts the right's dreams. One month after Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, Beck hosted a show that gamed out how militias in Southern and Western states might rise up against an oppressive government. The number of self-proclaimed right-wing militias tripled - from 42 to 127, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center - in 2009 (and that doesn't count those that are entirely underground).

As much of the right sees it, the government is planning to incarcerate its enemies (see Beck and Erickson, above), socialize the economy and take away everyones guns. At the fringe, we have figures like Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, who told a rally in Washington last April that, "We're in a war. The other side knows they are at war, because they started it. They are coming for our freedom, for our money, for our kids, for our property. They are coming for everything because they are a bunch of socialists."

But the imputation of lurking totalitarianism, alien ideologies, and subversion of liberties to liberals and moderates has become the default rhetoric of the right. Never mind that Obama is a Marxist, a Kenyan and an advocate of sharia law. Consider the plight of poor Fred Upton, the Republican congressman just installed as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, over considerable right-wing opposition. According to Beck, Upton is "all socialist," while Rush Limbaugh calls him the personification of "nannyism" and "statism." Upton's crime is that he supports more energy-efficient light bulbs. How that puts him in a league with Marx, Engels and Nanny McPhee, I will leave to subtler minds.

American politics and culture have a rich history of paranoia, as historian Richard Hofstadter and many others have documented. Many of the incidents of anti-government violence over the past couple of years - flying a plane into an IRS building in Texas, shooting police officers in Pittsburgh and carrying out last weekend's savagery in Tucson - came from people who, however individually loony they may have been, also harbored paranoid visions of the government that resembled, though by no means entirely, those put forth by the Becks and the Ericksons.

That doesn't make Beck, Erickson, Rupert Murdoch and their ilk responsible for Tucson. It does make them responsible for promoting a paranoid culture that makes America a more divided and dangerous land.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Westboro Fascist Church Hits New Low: Now "God Hates Catholics" Not Just Fags

CNN has been reporting for several hours on steps by the Arizona Legislature and local citizens to mitigate plans by the infamous Fred Phelps and his neo-Nazi Westboro 'Baptist' Church to picket the funerals of those killed by a deranged gunman in Tucson Saturday.

Evidently the first target of Phelps' storm troopers will be the family of Christina Green, the nine-year old girl who was the youngest of the innocents slaughtered.

Earlier postings of the CNN article said a flier on the Westboro website declared they would picket her funeral because she attended a Catholic church with her family, and “God Hates Catholics...God calls your religion 'vain,' as it's empty of His truth; you worship idols!”

At this hour the Westboro website appears to be down--so that linking to the hateful flier, or verifying it was taken down, is not possible. However, CNN has now replaced its earlier reporting with the following more generic account:

"Westboro Baptist Church spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of Fred Phelps, provided CNN with a statement detailing their decision to picket the funerals. It is filled with the usual anti-gay, anti-abortion and anti-divorce church members used to justify their pickets -- that God hates America because it has turned its back on what they see as God's way."

Whether the "God hates Catholics" flier is still posted or not, the fact that Phelps and company could use this terrible incident to descend from "God hates fags" to "God hates Catholics" only illustrates more vividly their complete intolerance for any religious belief but their own.

Shame on Phelps and his followers for calling themselves Baptist and sullying the Baptist Church with a message that is neither Baptist nor Christian.

And thank God there are decent people in Tucson and Arizona who are doing what they can to protect the victims' families from theocrats who are as deluded and dangerous as the man who pulled the trigger.