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Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

Mentioning old friend Jeffrey Dahmer is a sure way to get out of jury duty [via The Cleveland Plain Dealer]

Cleveland resident John Backderf knows a great way to get out of jury duty, but it probably won’t work for most people: tell the judge you were close personal friends with Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer, who died after a prison beating in 1994, became infamous for killing 17 people and even storing some of their body parts in his freezer. Backderf was asked a common question put to jury candidates about knowing someone who committed a crime. The room froze when he mentioned Dahmer. Backderf was dismissed.

Oklahoma Sharia Ban Blocked [via The Wall Street Journal]

A federal district court judge in Oklahoma has stopped that state from implementing a constitutional referendum that passed there last week preventing courts from using foreign and international law, and specifically Sharia or Islamic law, in rulings. Muslim activists filed a suit challenging the ban last week, claiming it is an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause. Because the U.S. Constitution also deems federal treaties “the law of the land,” the ban could be used by Oklahoma to ignore such laws, including agreements such as the Geneva Convention.

‘Start of the Universe’: mini Big Bang recreated [via The Daily Telegraph]

Using the Large Hadron Collider, scientists have recreated the condition of the universe just millionths of a second after the Big Bang, coming closer than ever to replicating the universe’s creation. “Colliding particles of lead at each other at close to the speed of light, they produced heat a million times hotter than the centre of the Sun – temperatures close to those generated at the beginning of time.” The ten trillion degree centigrade temperature was created by firing lead ions at each other at 670 million miles per hour.

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Last week NPR news analyst Juan Williams was fired for remarks he made on Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor” regarding Muslims.

Political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality. I mean look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.

Whether you agree or disagree with NPR’s decision, the firing has brought forth discussion about whether such a sentiment is bigoted or not. Associating one thing with another is a classic evolutionary defensive mechanism, Shankar Vedantam writes in Slate.

These automatic associations make evolutionary sense. If one of our ancestors was wandering in a desert and came by a snake curled up next to the only tree on the landscape, her mind would connect not just that tree with that snake, but all trees with snakes. Illusory correlations are all about seeking out group patterns based on rare individual incidents: all trees and snakes and all flights with stomach upsets, rather than that one tree and that one snake, or that one flight and that one stomach upset. Scientists say correlation isn’t causation, but, from an evolutionary point of view, if the snake-tree link is wrong, all that would happen is our ancestor would avoid all trees in the future. If the link was real and she failed to see it, she could get herself killed. Our ancestors constantly drew conclusions about their environment based on limited evidence. Waiting for causative evidence could have proved costly, whereas extrapolating causation from correlation was less costly.

Most people don’t make similar associations between, say, Timothy McVeigh or the Westboro Baptist Church and Christianity because whites and Christians are the majority in America. Muslims are just the latest group to face such correlation; Vedantam notes African-Americans have long faced problems by being associated with crime.

Whenever people who strongly believe in illusory correlations are challenged about their beliefs, they invariably find ways to make their behavior seem conscious and rational. Those who would explicitly link all Muslims with terrorism might point to evidence showing that some Muslims say they want to wage a war against the West, that a large preponderance of terrorist attacks today are carried out by Muslims, and so on. This is similar to our longstanding national narrative about blacks and crime.

Todd Essig, writing in Psychology Today, argues that the unique combination of human psychology and social networking serves to spread hate quickly and efficiently. Hate speech, at least against Muslims, is part of the cultural norm, he says; “No one escapes the pull of cognitive dissonance.”

Consequently—and here is the tragic consequence—once you start speaking hate you will soon start feeling hate regardless of motive. The next thing you know you’ll be getting nervous when you see a Muslim or a person of color—maybe one of Juan Williams’ relatives—at the airport because, of course, you hatefully believe there is a good chance they are a terrorist or a mugger.

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Gays and lesbians want kiss cam parity [via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

Members of Pride St. Louis, an LGBT rights group, are requesting that the St. Louis Cardinals include gay couples in “kiss cam” shots, in which a live feed of actual audience members is displayed on a jumbotron and prompted to kiss. The move was prompted by the recent showing of two heterosexual men who jeered at the camera apparently in an attempt to embarrass them. “We always felt left out because the kiss cam always singles out heterosexual couples,” PSL organizer Harrison Roberts said “But after what happened at the Rams game, all the gay and lesbian fans that were there felt embarrassed and a little degraded.”

On the Advice of the FBI, Cartoonist Molly Norris Disappears From View [via Seattle Weekly]

Seattle Weekly cartoonist Molly Norris has changed her name and moved on the advice of the FBI after a fatwah was called on her for proposing Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Depictions of the Muslim prophet Mohammed are forbidden in Islam to prevent revering him as an idol. The government is not funding Norris’ “ghosting.”

Missing sailor found inside shark off Jaws beach [via the Daily Telegraph]

A sailor missing since August 29 was found dead in a tiger shark caught in the Bahamas, authorities said. An investment banked on a deep-sea fishing trip caught the shark and alerted authorities when a leg came out of the shark’s mouth as he hauled in on board. The sailor, Judson Newton, 43, and a friend were last seen swimming for New Providence island after their ship’s engine stalled. Neither was seen again and both were presumed drowned. Ironically, “Jaws: The Revenge,” a sequel to the 1975 “Jaws,” was filmed on the nearby beach.

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France’s senate yesterday approved by 246-1 (with 100 abstentions) a ban on burqas, a traditional Muslim garment for women that completely obscures the face. The ban comes with some severe penalties: women caught wearing burqas or other obscuring veils in public face a €150 fine and a “citizenship course”; men who force women to wear the garments face a €30,000 penalty and up to a year in prison. France has a Muslim population of five to six million, but only 2,000 women are estimated to wear burqas. However, the ban will also be imposed on tourists.

President Nicolas Sarkozy promoted the bill as a protection for women against wearing burqas or niqabs. “This is not about security or religion, but respecting our republican principles,” Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told Agence France-Presse. “France, land of secularism, guarantees respect for all religions (but) hiding the face under a face-covering veil is against public social order, whether it is forced or voluntary.” President Barack Obama and many Islamic leaders have decried the ban as a violation of free speech and religion.

It’s worth noting that the ban had at least one female Muslim supporting it. “I support banning the burqa because I believe it equates piety with the disappearance of women. The closer you are to God, the less I see of you — and I find that idea extremely dangerous,” journalist Mona Eltahawy told Salon in July. Her argument is certainly interesting and is poorly served by my brief quotation; I highly recommend reading the entire interview.

According to the BBC, France’s Constitutional Council, the highest constitutional authority in France, now has a month to decide if the ban is legal, and the ban could also be challenged at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. The outcome of that scrutiny will be closely watched; Spain and Belgium are considering similar bans.

With all the recent controversies involving Islam — including the Park51 community center in Manhattan and the Florida pastor who planned to burn Korans on the anniversary of 9/11 last week — could a similar ban happen in America? Or rather, would such a ban be constitutional in America?

An online poll (the height of scientific accuracy!) conducted by Above the Law in May found 57 percent of respondents opposed the ban as a violation of religious freedom.

University of Chicago law professor Martha Nussbaum [another complex and nuanced argument, worthy of a full read-through] examines some of the common arguments from burqa opponents. Security concerns and the need to have faces visible in public are the primary argument, one she tears apart.

 It gets very cold in Chicago – as, indeed, in many parts of Europe.  Along the streets we walk, hats pulled down over ears and brows, scarves wound tightly around noses and mouths.  No problem of either transparency or security is thought to exist, nor are we forbidden to enter public buildings so insulated.  Moreover, many beloved and trusted professionals cover their faces all year round: surgeons, dentists, (American) football players, skiers and skaters. What inspires fear and mistrust in Europe, clearly, is not covering per se, but Muslim covering.

Nussbaum makes similar short shrift of arguments that the burqa objectifies women and is worn only through coercion. She also rejects the claim that burqas are uncomfortable, “the silliest of the arguments.” After systematically rejecting all the arguments for the ban Nussbaum concludes:

We don’t even need to reach the delicate issue of religiously grounded accommodation to see that they are utterly unacceptable in a society committed to equal liberty.  Equal respect for conscience requires us to reject them.

Nussbaum did not specifically examine France’s ban in her post, instead using the hypothetical liberal democracy. In a follow-up, however, she touched on French case law.

The French policy of laïcité does indeed lead to restrictions on a wide range of religious manifestations, all in the name of a total separation of church and state.  But if one looks closely, the restrictions are unequal and discriminatory.  The school dress code forbids the Muslim headscarf and the Jewish yarmulke, along with “large” Christian crosses.  But this is a totally unequal burden, because the first two items of clothing are religiously obligatory for observant members of those religions, and the third is not: Christians are under no religious obligation to wear any cross, much less a “large” one.   So there is discrimination inherent in the French system.

John Yoo, author of the infamous Bush administration torture memos, also weighed in over at Ricochet.

My bet if that the law were written in the way that the French have done it, it might have a chance. As I understand it, the French law does not mention or ban burqas specifically. It prohibits people from wearing masks in public, with certain exceptions for costumes (this being France, where people wander the streets of Paris eating eclairs and dressed up as characters in Dangerous Liasions, I suppose). If a law like that were passed in the US, it would be neutral toward religion on its face, as opposed to a law — like one that banned animal sacrifices, but with an exception for killing animals to eat them — that obviously targeted religion (that too, was another Supreme Court case).

UChicago law professor Richard Epstein, commenting on the same post as Yoo, seemed to be less decided on the matter.

The restrictions are uneasy if the objections to them are symbolic about the place of women in society. There is no reason why a majority of people could make the world seem unanimous by banning the Burqa. But, for one thing, were these decisions made by autonomous women or forced upon them by husbands or religious leaders who are prepared to force women to wear Burqas? At this point the law would be an effort to stop coercion, not encourage it.

Finally, Elise Jordan, writing at the conservative FrumForum, compared the burqa ban to banning KKK masks in an effort to protect blacks in the south.

The courts ruled in favor of equality over free expression because of security.  Men and women had as equal a right to see a face as did the man or woman who desired to cover it.  State laws banned full facial concealment in an effort to stop the violence.  (These laws eventually helped collapse the Klan because KKK membership winnowed in their new era of transparency.)

The takeaway is that if security is a consideration, no matter the sex, religion, ideology, or orientation, we are all equal in our right to view facial expression.  Women wearing burqas are likely not hiding a bomb, but the garment is used too often to conceal terror to be ignored.

Such a ban in the U.S. would face the conflict of restricting religious and speech freedoms in the name of increased security. If a court were seeking to resolve that conflict minimally (something the Roberts court has not been terribly good at) the most obvious solution would seem to be requiring some basic security precautions — say, on flights, or secure buildings, as well as requiring the face to be displayed on a driver’s license — and otherwise letting religion take its course. It would be difficult to prove burqas are in all instances oppressive to women, and with such uncertainty religious freedom would likely prevail.

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Report: More women than men in U.S. earned doctorates last year for first time [via The Washington Post]

Women have been increasingly present in academia, but just recently they passed a new benchmark: for the first time ever, more women that men earned doctorates last year, the Council of Graduate Schools reported. In 2008-09, 28,962 women earned doctorates; 28,469 went to men. “Many women feel they have to choose between having a career in academics and having a family,” said Catherine Hill, director of research at the American Association of University Women. “Of course, they shouldn’t have to.”

France: Senate votes for Muslim face veil ban [via The Guardian]

The French senate approved by 246-1 a ban on face-covering veils traditional among Muslims, including burqas and niqabs. Unless it is challenged soon as unconstitutional, the law will go into effect in the spring. The planned penalty for violating the statute is a €150 fine and a “citizenship course.” “Supporters of the ban – including Nicolas Sarkozy, who has said the full Islamic veil “is not welcome” on French soil – say it is a move made primarily in defence of women’s rights and secularism. Critics of the ban, however, have argued that the law affects a tiny minority – 2,000 women at most – and is expected by many to stir tensions and reinforce marginalisation among some of the country’s five to six million Muslims.”

Fertility Rites [via The Atlantic]

Don’t read this article before eating. In an excerpt from his forthcoming book on chimpanzees, Jon Cohen describes the process by which researchers gather sperm samples from our primate relatives. It’s important to science — researchers are hoping studying chimp sperm will provide clues as to why humans miscarry much more frequently than chimpanzees. If you’re curious, click the link; otherwise, stay away.

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Much of the debate over New York’s Part51 project seems to have taken place outside of New York, where it has become a mainstay campaign issue in races across the country. However, a New York Times poll out today shows that a majority of New Yorkers, 67 percent, believe the Islamic center — which has already been approved by authorities — should not be built. Some other results:

  • 62 percent think Muslims have the right to build it (29 percent said no)
  • 52 percent think New York politicians should take a stand (41 percent said no)
  • 32 percent think politicians outside New York should take a stand (64 percent said now)
  • 51 percent of Manhattanites favor construction (41 percent oppose), while only 31 percent of the other four burroughs’ residents favor construction (52 percent oppose)
  • 74 percent of Republicans oppose; 44 percent of Democrats oppose
  • The education trend is fairly predictable; the more education completed, the more likely one is to support the project. Those with no college education showed a 24/62 favor/oppose spread; those with post-graduate degrees were split 60/30
  • 38 percent of those who supported the project later said they think it should be moved farther away
  • 33 percent said Muslims are more sympathetic to terrorists than other Americans
  • Almost 60 percent said they harbor negative opinions about Muslims because of 9/11

There were many of the same opinions harbored by others that has been promulgated during the nation-wide debate. One woman said she favors freedom of religion except in this case, arguing sensitivity over 9/11 should prevail.

“Give them an inch, they’ll take a yard,” another respondent said. “They want to build a mosque wherever they can. And once they start praying there, it is considered hallowed ground and can’t be taken away. Ever. That’s why we’re having this tug of war between New Yorkers and the Islamic people.”

The Washington Post’s Sue Jacoby examines the concept of sacred or hallowed ground, a phrase tossed around a lot during the Park51 debate but never elaborated upon. Sacred ground, generally considered where humans have died, are usually intended to unite but instead promote strife and violence, Jacoby writes. Successful examples of hallowed ground include Nazi concentration camps and the Gettysburg battlefield, where historians have worked to create an atmosphere of solemnity while at the same time promoting peace and tolerance. Jacoby quotes Lincoln’s famous 1862 speech at the site of the U.S.’s bloodiest battle:

“It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, for by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

… Lincoln’s words are just as applicable to the memories of recent bloodshed. It is for us, the living, to honor the dead not by puffing ourselves up about sacralizing pieces of earth but by working to prevent the creation of more blood-soaked “sacred places.”

For many, the great debate over the Islamic center boils down to religious freedom and sensitivity to victims. Noble intentions both, but there is more to the debate. The call for tolerance reaches beyond religion and becomes tolerance of that which we may fear.

All rational people know that 9/11 was perpetrated by a radical Islamist fringe group; the vast majority of the world’s second-largest religion, including those who also call themselves Americans, are victims of 9/11 as well. Once viewed as victims joining victims to fight the divisive, destructive desires of the terrorists, the Park51 project becomes less a question of sensitivity and more a question of devotion to the tolerance and freedom such terrorists despise.

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Pharmaceutical Drugs Can Be Used to Alter Activity Levels in Humans [via Science Daily]

UC-Riverside biologists have discovered that voluntary activities such as exercise are genetic traits inheritable through generations. The researchers used selective breeding on mice to create high-running generations, and their findings have important implications for humans. “Down the road people could be treated pharmacologically for low activity levels through drugs that targeted specific genes that promote activity,” biologist Theodore Garland said. “Pharmacological interventions in the future could make it more pleasurable for people to engage in voluntary exercise. Such interventions could also make it less comfortable for people to sit still for long periods of time.”

Fury in Austria at anti-mosque game [via Al Jazeera]

A fringe right-wind political group in Austria has drawn criticism after releasing a video game in which players shoot down Muslim minarets and muezzins, the person leading the call to prayer. The game is part of a political campaign to elect Freedom Party candidate Gerhard Kurzmann. “This is religious hatred and xenophobia beyond comparison,” said Austrian Islamic community leader Anas Schakfeh. There are no mosques with minarets in Styria, the region Kurzmann is running to represent and where the population is 1.6 percent Muslim

Why is vodka packaging so avant garde? [via Cranky Packaging Guy]

There are several reasons vodka enjoys more imaginative packaging than other spirits, a packaging enthusiast details in a very interesting analysis on his blog. Packaging for vodka is often rather elaborate and expensive to develop and produce, which the author links to the cheapness of producing vodka. This is due to two reasons. First, most vodkas have no traditional package designs to hold them back. Second, because premium vodka brands are plentiful, manufacturers have to find ways to make their brand stand out.

The Great Gatsby Revisited [via The Millions]

In a beautifully written essay, novelist and Columbia University professor Sonya Chung writes that her third reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” reminded her of many wonderful aspects of the 1925 novel she had yet to fully consider. “In Gatsby, Fitzgerald also gets the essential doubleness of human nature so terribly, perfectly right. Every character is pulled in (at least) two directions; love and hate, admiration and disdain, are of a piece in almost every relationship.  And the reader ultimately feels an unresolved, and yet somehow perfectly coherent dividedness about each character.”

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