Put the Breaks on Anti-Semitism

If we were to listen to Bibi Netanyahu, Hillel, or the US Republicans, one would think that at any moment Israel would be bombed off the planet with millions of Americans cheering alongside of militant Islamists with their covert Islamist leader Barack Hussein Obama.

Except that this sort of narrative is false and uses only fear to conserve its kinetic pulse.

The number of anti-Semitic incidents on campuses in three of the last four years is actually the lowest it’s been since the ADL started keeping track in 1999.

via The Anti-Semitism Surge That Isn’t – Forward.com.

If the trend is going down, there are some positive causes somewhere out there. In fact, this might be the result of efforts at campuses to ramp up racial and ethnic dialogue in order to reduce tensions at the boundaries of differences between people. We may very well be more aware of differences that bother us and create tension and that awareness may even make a problem seem larger than it actually is. But while reality seems this way, it is important not to focus as much on the uneasiness in feeling, but on the positive outcomes and measurable behavior changes towards tolerance over time.

While appropriately muscular responses from campus authorities are welcome, our hunch is that much of this perceived anti-Semitism fits into a broader pattern of incivility with regards to race, gender and ethnicity, and should be addressed in that context.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/217167/the-anti-semitism-surge-that-isnt/#ixzz3VKSHWN1O

Despite the fact that Netanyahu and many, many others insist that protests against Israel’s political machine and its handling of Palestinians are fundamentally anti-Semitic, I expect that what we will continue to see is evidence that this connection is a fiction driven by people who use distorted experiences to control agendas that have one goal in mind: grasping and maintaining power.

Jindal’s Chronic Islamophobia and Christian Hypocricy

“In other words, we shouldn’t tolerate those who wanna come and try to impose some variant or some version of Sharia law.”

via Megyn Presses Jindal on Suggestion to Ban Radical Islamists from U.S..

The sheer ignorance and myopia of Jindal in this clip is nearly baffling. His message is basically that there are Islamist immigrants who want to treat women as second class citizens, undermine the freedoms of others, and who will weaken American by not believing in American exceptionalism.

“There are Muslims that wanna treat women as second class citizens.”

“There are those who wanna use our freedoms to undermine the freedoms of others.”

“We believe in religious liberty but that doesn’t mean that you can use your freedoms to undermine the freedoms of other people.”

Jindal like so many in the GOP ranks will make statements like these without calling out Christians who do exactly the same thing on a much wider scale than American Muslims. Jindal delivered the commencement speech at Liberty University in May of 2014 where he spoke about his conversion experience, the current “war on religion” perpetrated by the “left,” and his support for Phil Robertson and those who defend “traditional marriage.”

The question is not about what freedoms are limited, but whose freedoms are limited and by what religious beliefs. Christianity gets a free pass on every issue – even if the kind of Christianity he endorses to speak freely is very clear in its understanding of the subordinate role of women to men and consciously and intentionally limits the ability of some Americans to exercise the same rights and freedoms as others. This is no more clear in the case of same gender marriage. It is justified to limit these freedoms as a Christian. Apparently it is not justified to do the same action in the name of Islam – even if Islam generally supports the same views regarding human freedom with respect to women and homosexuality.

This is before we even take on the fact that the way the term Shari’ah Law is casually tossed around in GOP and conservative Christian circles completely misuses and misunderstands what it actually is. It is not a process to compel the infidel to submit to Allah. Shari’ah Law is fundamentally,

“concerned with a set of values that are essential to Islam and the best manner of their protection…Faith in God, the manner of worshipping Him and observance of the five pillars of Islam thus constitute the essential concerns of Shari’ah” (Kamali, 2008, p. 2).

That its application has become overly legalistic in some Muslim communities is known and it has been an area of disagreement in Muslim communities for how Shari’ah is interpreted and applied. This is true in Sufist philosophy which has a more inward focus on one’s mystical communion with Allah as opposed to outward or legalistic displays of legal submission. It is an emphasis on Islam in which one seeks foremost, “sublime feeling of divine presence.” External legality is secondary to this aim.

The overarching Islamic principle of divine unity (tawḥīd) which requires an integrated approach to values should not simply be subsumed under the rubric of legality that focuses on the externalities of conduct often at the expense of the inner development of the human person (Kamali, 2008, p. 4).

Shari’ah is far more complex and nuanced in both its interpretation and application than perhaps Jindal and its staunchest opponents will ever acknowledge. That is beyond a shame. It is the kind of rhetoric that continues to adrenalize intolerance to the degree that even conservative pundits like Megyn Kelly are unable to it bring down to earth. Lest we think that this is limited to conservative media, liberal sources are bleeding with Islamophobia.

An exchange that we need to watch carefully and often is between CNN’s Don Lemon and Alisyn Camerota who are factually incorrect and continue to adhere to their beliefs even when confronted head-on by Reza Aslan. This is precisely why we need stronger departments of religious education as the media shows us time and again that with religion, Americans are chronically and pathetically ignorant. This, not letting those who oppose American exceptionalism become citizens, is the source of American weakness.

Source: Kamali, M. H. (2008) Shari’ah law: An introduction. OneWorld: Oxford.

When Criticism Becomes Anti-Semitism

The Swarthmore Hillel organization is changing its name and its identity in response to a long conflict with its parent organization. Hillel is decidedly anti BDS which is the Boycott, Sanction, and Divestment movement in protest of Israel’s policies and human rights violations towards Palestinians. Any event or person representing a pro-BDS perspective is not welcome by Hillel. The Swarthmore organization took issue with this and will sever its association with Hillel.

Open Hillel “is a student-run campaign to encourage inclusivity and open discourse at campus Hillels. We seek to change the “standards for partnership” in Hillel International’s guidelines, which exclude certain groups from Hillel based on their political views on Israel. In addition, we encourage local campus Hillels to adopt policies that are more open and inclusive than Hillel International’s, and that allow for free discourse on all subjects within the Hillel community.”

Rather than empower young Jews who are working to create meaningful programming, Hillel International has tried to bully them into silence,” the Open Hillel movement said in a statement. “As students involved in our Hillels around the country, we demand an immediate halt to any attempts to legally blackmail our peers and ask that supporters of openness in the American Jewish community join us in actively expressing our shame in Hillel International’s actions. via Swarthmore Hillel breaks with parent organization over Israel issues @insidehighered.

Hillel’s position conflates of the idea of delegitimizing Israel as a state with the argument that the way that Israel is enforcing its legitimacy as a state has serious and fundamental human rights issues. This is absolutist thinking in its finest form. Hillel has its own standard for when criticism becomes delegitimization and they do not appear to make much of a valuable distinction. It’s not a sound argument at all.

Criticism becomes anti-Semitism, however, when it demonizes Israel or its leaders, denies Israel the right to defend its citizens or seeks to denigrate Israel’s right to exist.

When politics and religion are so related, it becomes difficult to criticize one set of policies without receiving condemnation for somehow delegitimating or rejecting not only the Jewish people, but their religion. Of course, the same can be said of Islamic states where critiquing the policy entails disrespecting the religion.

Why can’t Hillel hold in tension the fact that faithful Jews can also hold Israel in condemnation for its actions? Was that not what the judges and prophets did so long ago?

Believe It. Alcoholics Anonymous is Rational

Alcoholics Anonymous is often referred to as a “cult,” “sexist,” “faith-based,” “false,” or any other combination of terms that serve it up as a method people use to get and stay sober that is ineffective and even destructive. The first step “We admitted we were powerless…” is where the snag happens and after that it is all downhill. At that point there are too many mentions of God and too few licensed professionals leading meetings for it to have any scientific muster. If that isn’t enough, the statistics will then come out suggesting a less than 10% success rate and not going to any meetings and getting sober on one’s own are just as effective. Finally the real kicker: AA will say that it is your fault rather than the program’s if you go out and get drunk again. Talk about a punch to the ego.

The Atlantic offers up another addition to this narrative with Gabrielle Glaser’s article, “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous.” In this she asserts that AA is essentially anachronistic and its ideas of powerlessness and a higher power perpetuate an outdated and ineffective method for treating addiction. The simple idea that healing from alcohol addiction can happen with an abstinence only approach as AA is complicated by some who argue that “going cold turkey only intensifies cravings” or “likely deters people with mild or moderate alcohol-use disorder from seeking help.” If you talk to any alcoholic newly separated from booze, the idea of abstinence sucks. However, if you talk with anyone with long-term sobriety, it was the best decision they ever made.

Glaser does point out that addiction treatment in the US does not get the attention it needs to be more effective and that too many rehabs and treatment centers rely on AA to do the work for them. I do agree with her here, but for different reasons. AA and rehab were never supposed to be married this way. Bill Wilson, co-founder of AA, had an idea of setting up hospitals to take in alcoholics, but that idea was quashed before the first edition Alcoholics Anonymous was ever published. It was always understood as something dangerous that would pull people away from the mission of the group itself. As Bill Wilson writes regarding the non-professional nature of AA in Tradition Eight: “Every time we have tried to professionalize our Twelfth Step, the result has been exactly the same: Our single purpose has been defeated.” It’s a relationship that does not produce the best results and has skewed the core of what AA is to those who have recovered from alcoholism in its steps. People in AA know this already.

Glaser’s “AA” is Straw

The AA program was intended to work only among those who has a desire to stop drinking and then to move forward with the entire program. The program itself starts with cessation of drinking. That’s just Step 1. Every step after that has to do with achieving and maintaining a “spiritual experience” which is also called a “psychic change.” Glaser talks about one small piece of AA and ignores the rest of it which would conveniently address her subsequent criticisms. Her solution is that there are ways to help addicts to drink moderately with the use of drugs among other solutions that are available. She’s right, and no literature in AA disputes this. There are other methods and AA is not for everyone.

Moreover, AA’s program teaches that drinking itself is a symptom of a deeper psychological problem. But in good straw-man building fashion, she does not take us there in the article.

Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us. Our liquor was but a symptom. So we had to get down to causes and conditions. (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 64)

Glaser talks about alternatives. Among them, “motivational enhancement, a form of counseling that aims to help people see the need to change.” Or, that AA is not equipped to address issues of other mental health issues. This is where she shows that she has done some extraordinarily shoddy research into AA itself. The literature in AA is very clear about how to work with physicians and the importance of working with the medical community.

We recognize that alcoholics are not immune to other diseases. Some of us have had to cope with depressions that can be suicidal; schizophrenia that sometimes requires hospitalization; bipolar disorder, and other mental and biological illnesses. Also among us are diabetics, epileptics, members with heart trouble, cancer, allergies, hypertension, and many other serious physical conditions. Because of the difficulties that many alcoholics have with drugs, some members have taken the position that no one in A.A. should take any medication. While this position has undoubtedly prevented relapses for some, it has meant disaster for others.

She also describes the AA program consisting of “attending meetings, earning one’s sobriety chips, and never taking another sip of alcohol.” In fact, if you present this to anyone in AA who has long-term recovery under his or her belt they will laugh at you and tell you that AA approached this way is a recipe for relapse! The examples she gives are simply examples of people who may have had bad experiences in AA. But to someone with long-term sobriety, these examples are of people who did not do the work to change their lives in a way where the cravings desisted. Glaser fails to talk about all of the stuff in the steps that restructure life and redirect behaviors in ways that are exactly the opposite of the self-seeking behaviors of the active addict.

“J.G.” in Glaser’s article, who rationalizes his way into “a cycle of bingeing and abstinence,” is not a new character in AA lore. Again, the person sober for a while will tell him that he might not be done researching his own drinking and is probably not ready for AA just yet. That guy doesn’t want to get sober, he wants to drink. But no one in AA is stopping him. Abstinence is not the cause of his bingeing, his alcoholism is.

Trading One Dependency for Another?

Words such as “retention” and “success” are frequently thrown out in articles such as Glaser’s without any description of what they the measure of them is. Is someone who gets sober in AA for a decade, then goes out for a night of binge drinking a failure? What does it mean to “get better?” Perhaps to Glaser dependence on pills in order to resist cravings is the way to go.

She plans to keep taking naltrexone indefinitely, and has become an advocate for Sinclair’s method: she set up a nonprofit organization for people seeking information about it and made a documentary called One Little Pill.

That might work for some people, but without working through all the other shit that alcoholism brings with it, you are just slowing down the physical cravings. Alcoholics destroy the lives of those around them, not only their own. Unless you can clean up that mess, nothing will really change. If you just want to slow down your drinking, AA is just not the place for you. But if your drinking has been the primary cause in what you perceive to be a majorly fucked up life, a pill is not going to resolve that – even if it takes away your physical cravings to get lit.

The core problem with Glaser’s article is that it focuses on the physical problem of alcoholism which the Big Book talks about, but then ignores the majority AA program which is primarily a pragmatic method to radically change one’s thinking not just to stay abstinent from alcohol, but then to become a more honest and helpful person than what one was before hand. It is primarily a program about solutions rather than problems. It is about replacing one set of behaviors and environmental conditions with another in order to produce different behavior outcomes after recognizing the root causes for one’s drinking – causes that are discovered in steps 4-9.

Seen in its fullness, AA is about as rational as any program of recovery can get. When you see the rational work done between a sponsor and a sponsee you can see how rational it is and how striking it is compared to many of the modern programs of behavior and cognitive therapies used in other addiction treatment theories.

As one of Glaser’s critics says, “What keeps me in the AA rooms despite this is, first and always, the people–a community whose impact is hard to grasp unless you are part of it (which the self-proclaimed non-alcoholic Glaser most definitely is not).”

Portraits of the Lunatic Fringe, 1869

Old images are always a bit creepy. Old images of insane asylum artifacts are even creepier. I wonder how our current treatment of the mentally ill will be viewed far off in the future?

Inspired by the Retreat, the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum pioneered the care and treatment of the mentally ill during the Victorian and Edwardian era. Gone were days of brutality and fear. Patients were cared for as best as was then able and according to the available medical advice. It may seem strange and harsh to us today—especially the use of confinement cells to hold some violent, paranoid and delusional patients—but in relative terms, our treatment of the mentally ill will no doubt be seen as harsh by future generations.

via Portraits of inmates from a ‘Lunatic Asylum,’ 1869 | Dangerous Minds.

What do you think?

Gordon College’s Tightrope Between Theology and Diversity

Every religiously-affiliated college and university is discriminatory. The question is the degree to which the institution discriminates and how close those policies come to breaking policy with accrediting agencies and civil authorities. Right now Gordon College is navigating their niche in between these entities.

It is very difficult for a college to maintain its theological integrity when it places values on specific identities and behaviors while at the same time it seeks to expand it programs and ranking as an institution that is advancing potential careers of its students. It is easier for an institution to maintain its boundaries and grow when the social environment in which it sits is more conducive to its given worldview. Institutions like Liberty University or BYU are physically located in environments that are good matches with their policies and honor codes. Both are in very religious areas where the sponsoring denomination of the institution is in the majority of the religious adherents for the region. Internal policies will often have a much better match with civic policies.

Institutions like Gordon College have a different path to carve given that their own religious values may not be as well matched to the environment. This is where internal policy and external pressure find friction. Gordon College finds itself in an area that is less religious and politically liberal creating a disconnect between its worldview and that of the outlying communities. This is no more true than in Gordon College’s policy regarding homosexual behavior.

It is perfectly justified for the institution to have clear religious view on homosexual behavior as it is with many other institutions across the country. There is nothing inherently illegal in such policies as long as it is clear in all of the admission and enrollment literature. As with many evangelical institutions, especially those within the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Gordon requires students and faculty to profess their Christian faith commitment. This commitment assumes behavioral standards which are binding. The very first of these includes sexual conduct and homosexuality.

A. Practices Governed by Scripture—The following behavioral expectations are binding on all members of the Gordon community.

Those words and actions which are expressly forbidden in Scripture, including but not limited to blasphemy, profanity, dishonesty, theft, drunkenness, sexual relations outside marriage, and homosexual practice, will not be tolerated in the lives of Gordon community members, either on or off campus.

With this in mind, Gordon College is doing something different to address the needs of those in the LGBT community to feel safe at the college, even if the college does not affirm the lifestyles of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender students. The core of the college policy has to do with behavior itself. So the issue for Gordon College is how to be both affirming of its students and clear about its conduct policy in a way that does not outright reject students who may not feel they fit its understanding of what a committed Christian looks like.

(President Michael) Lindsay said in his email that the college has spent the last nine months discussing the issue of human sexuality. On Monday the college announced a series of initiatives, including more training for staff, surveys to address the well-being of students as it relates to sexuality and sexual identity, stronger anti-bullying policies, and the formation of a task force of students, faculty and staff.

Opening up the conversation like this is a new direction for an evangelical college. It might not look like much from an outsider especially from a secular or liberal perspective. However, with the mishandling of sexual abuse that is at the forefront of higher education and the fallout of Bob Jones University’s egregious coverup, this has the potential to be a positive direction for how to handle a religious community that will only be more diverse in its sexuality if Gordon College does not become more prohibitive of the students it accepts.

US Higher Education Gets Islam

In a historic first for the United States, an American Muslim college has now joined the nation’s community of accredited institutions of higher education.

On Wednesday, March 4, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) granted Zaytuna College accreditation.

The school was founded in 2008, “rooting itself firmly in the American liberal arts tradition” and welcomed its first freshman class in 2010 making this is a very fast track top accreditation. Now accredited, the school can apply for federal and private grants as well as student visas. In most ways, this is a school that has now begun as most small, liberal arts colleges began – small, religiously affiliated, and liberal arts. Moreover, the legacy in American higher education of its religiously affiliated institutions is that they have always been rather selective.

Co-founder Hamza Yusuf is an advisor to the Center for Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and “outspoken critic of extremism.” However, no founding of an Islamic institution of any sort will go without criticism and condemnation. This is falling to Zaytuna’s other co-founder, Hatem Bazian,

Contributor to Al-Jazeera,

Hatem Bazian is coeditor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at Berkeley University.

Bazian is targeted as an anti-Semite with a decidedly anti-Israel agenda. Naturally, the right will put forth the fear that he will use the institution to further his political agenda.

“He’s an anti-Israel activist and he uses academia to further his agenda,” Nonie Darwish, founder of Arabs for Israel and a human rights advocate, told FoxNews.com.

The right-wing media that generates fear over Muslims gathering just about anywhere often conflates Islamism with any view that does not actively engage American exceptionalism much less any Muslim that dares critique the US policies and attitudes towards Muslims. Bazian is vulnerable to feel the fire from the right.

He is outspoken in his criticism of the US policies towards Israel, domestic policies with respect to hate crimes towards Muslims, and an activist working to prevent Islamophobia worldwide.

As we witness recurring attacks on Gaza and the continued unconditional support of administrations in the US, England, France, Germany, Canada and Australia for Israel, one must ask the question as to why Arabs and Muslims should buy products from these countries. How can one stand for justice while purchasing products that provide economic power that is transformed into financial, political and military support for Israel?

Naturally, for some, this translates into: Israel must die, America is the infidel, and capitalism is at war with Allah. For those of us who value reason and educated opinions, Bazian has never said anything of the sort.

Christian institutions such as Patrick Henry College are decidedly religious and political in their mission but will rarely get the same criticism from the right because they forward the agenda of their media megaphones. However, the left has never been that friendly towards an institution like Patrick Henry College which asserts that when government:

1) commands disobedience to God, 2) enjoins the right and duty of human beings to worship God, 3) denies other God-ordained rights by extreme oppression and tyranny, or 4) “when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object (tyranny), evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism” it is the right and duty of godly men and women “to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.”

As a representative of the minority Muslim population, Zaytuna will have an uphill battle to gain public currency of its degree offerings. These offerings are slim at the moment, but will need to expand as the institution grows and will eventually seek re-accreditation.

Congratulations, Zaytuna.