‘Benedict XVI always cast himself as the reluctant pope, a shy bookworm who preferred solitary walks in the Alps to the public glare and the majesty of Vatican pageantry. But once in office, he never shied from charting the Catholic Church on the course he thought it needed — a determination reflected in his stunning announcement Monday that he would be the first pope to resign since 1415 (12 Feb 2013)’.
The police protection provided for journalists proves that a physical threat is taken seriously. In this story, offended Muslims are thought to pose a potential danger to French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo. It prizes freedom of expression to an extent many consider extreme. In its turn, Charlie attacks what it considers extreme, and always has. No subject is untouchable, certainly not religion, not even the Prophet Mohammed. Those at the paper don’t see it as inciting hatred, but as pushing thinking beyond conformism. The publishing director Charb (Stephane Charbonnier) said: “What? We can’t lampoon Mohammed in France? Yes we can. We can caricature everyone in France. I don’t hold it against a Muslim for not laughing at our drawings, but he’s not going to tell us what law we have to follow. I live under French law. I don’t live under the law of the Koran.” The team at Charlie Hebdo has a history of not backing down, with a mantra that says no one’s going to do their thinking for them. Charb said: “It’s plain to see that the sole subject that poses a problem is radical Islam. When we attack the Catholic extreme right, very strongly, no one talks about it in the papers. But we’re not allowed to laugh about Muslim fundamentalists. Well, there’s a new rule that will have to be written up, but we won’t respect it.” Charlie won’t be bullied. Last year someone burned the offices with a Molotov cocktail and its website was hacked as it was preparing an issue commenting on the Islamist electoral victory in Tunisia, an issue headed ‘Sharia Hebdo’. Even veterans of left politics in Europe have said the satirists are masochists, pushing as hard as they do. The paper started out called ‘Hara-Kiri’. It was shut down by the Interior Minister in 1970, a few days after a fire in a disco had claimed more than 140 lives. Then the father of the Fourth Republic, General de Gaulle passed away in his home, and it ran the headline: ‘Tragic dance in Colombey – one dead.’ It came back from the ban, borrowing the leader’s first name in its new masthead – or was that just a coincidence? As British parallels to this approach to the sacred we can perhaps cite Monty Python or Private Eye. Only lack of readers put Charlie Hebdo out of business for a decade. Resurrected in 1992, it put the boot into all faiths, the Jews as well, and the editors faced lawsuit after lawsuit. They weren’t gentle with politicians either. An early reader slammed them as ‘dumb and nasty’ (‘bête et méchant’). They made the label their motto. They say what many people might say behind closed doors, only they put it in print, and say damn the risk (26 Sept 2012).
An explosion has killed at least four people on a bus carrying Israeli tourists in the eastern Bulgarian city of Burgas, Bulgarian officials say. More than 20 people were also injured when the bus exploded at Burgas airport, by the Black Sea. Witnesses told Israeli TV that someone boarded the bus and a huge explosion immediately followed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later accused Iran of being behind the explosion. “All the signs lead to Iran,” he said in a statement. “Israel will respond forcefully to Iranian terror.” Iran has made no public comments to the Israeli accusations. Wednesday’s blast came on the 18th anniversary of a deadly attack on a Jewish community centre in Argentina. Israel blamed Iran for that attack – a claim denied by Tehran (18 July 2012).
The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made an immediate response: “I was deeply saddened and angered to learn of today’s terrorist attack against Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. The United States condemns in the strongest terms this heinous terrorist attack against innocent civilians. We offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their loved ones. The United States stands ready to offer any assistance necessary, and we will work with our partners in Bulgaria, Israel and elsewhere so that the perpetrators can be apprehended swiftly and brought to justice for this appalling crime”.[i] In contrast, what was Hillary Clinton’s reaction to the death of Assad’s relatives in Damascus??? The news agency published this update: “White House says violence is not the answer in Syria but attack on Assad’s inner circle shows “window is closing.” White House says international community needs to act in a unified way. White House says it has no information on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s whereabouts; White House goes on to say the U.S. is closely monitoring Syria’s military facilities and believes its chemical stockpile remains under government control”.
One day some people get killed in a terrorist attack and their deaths are seen as a sign of a “window [that] is closing”. On the same day, some other people die as a result of another terrorist attack but they were “innocent civilians” who lost their lives in a “heinous terrorist attack”. In both cases, the victims were semites, Arab Muslims and Israeli Jews . . . or rather, followers of the secularist Baath regime in Syria and inhabitants of a European nation state based in the Middle East, where the religion one professes to follow determines one’s ethnic and legal status.
Israel hosted the first Miss Holocaust Pageant. The contestants were primarily judged on personal stories of survival (29 June 2012).
The Second World War ended in 1945, but the State of Israel is still taking full advantage of the events for propaganda and other questionable P.R. purposes nearly seventy years later . . . Israel claims that 200,000 Holocaust survivors are currently living in Occupied Palestine, referred to by some as the Promised Land or the State of Israel . . . 300 contestants and 14 finalists between the ages of 74 and 97, and the winner is Hava Hershkovitz, a mere spring chicken in Holocaust terms at a sprightly 79 . . . The newly-crowned Miss Holocaust 2012 did not mince her words either: “It’s not easy at this age to be in a beauty contest, but we’re all doing it to show that we’re still alive”.
American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein is a 2009 documentary film about the life of the American academic Norman Finkelstein, directed and produced by David Ridgen and Nicolas Rossier. The documentary features Finkelstein and several of his supporters and opponents, including Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz. The film made its world premiere in Chicago as part of the 2009 IFP Chicago Underground Film Festival and won the audience choice award for best documentary. It was a part of the Sheffield Doc/Fest, IDFA in Amsterdam and Hot Docs in Toronto. It won the Cinema Politica Audience Award in 2010. Jerusalem Film Festival describes the work of the filmmakers as: “the most talked-about documentary films of the last months, a fascinating portrait that confidently walks that tightrope known as balance” The film had its television premiere on Yes Television in Israel in May 2010. In April 2011 the film aired on Al Jazeera English worldwide and in the US on Link TV and selected PBS stations.
I just stumbled across this video on Facebook. It is the astrophysicist Neil De Grasse Tyson explaining his position on the vexing issue of religion: ‘Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson claims the title “scientist” above all other “ists.” And yet, he says he is “constantly claimed by atheists.” So where does he stand? “Neil deGrasse, widely claimed by atheists, is actually an agnostic”’.
Richard Dawkins, “Darwin’s Rottweiler”, famously adheres to the same position, namely that there are certain things which cannot be known – “known unknowns”, as it were – and that he therefore is happy to state that he is an agnostic, adding however, “I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low”. It seems to me that admitting that one cannot be sure about the existence of a supernatural deity is but a natural and even logical thing to do . . . The recent phenomenon of New Atheism has produced many outspoken and aggressive atheist who are always talking about their belief in reason, somehow forgetting that the human being is not a reasonable creature. Man is an irrational animal that in the course of its evolution has achieved self-consciousness and a remarkable mastery over the natural world. Following the writings of the famous biologist Desmond Morris, one could describe man as a primate that has acquired carnivorous habits as a result of its changed habitat. From a forest-dwelling ape, happily feeding on freely available vegetables and fruits, man’s ancestor entered the wide open landscape and into competition with carnivorous wolves and big cats to ultimately become the most successful predator dwelling on earth. As a living thing, man’s ultimate fixation is procreation and the acquisition of digestible foodstuffs. Far from being a paragon of rationality, man is constantly subject to his or her sexual urges. Man’s ability to be cognizant of his (or her) own existence does turn him (or her) into a most peculiar animal, but at the end of the day, man is but an animal, man is but a naked ape wearing clothes as a means of controlling his (or her) constantly present sexual urges . . . Man is not controlled by reason, but by his procreational compulsion to ensure the survival of the species and the continuation of certain genetic material . . . and, to paraphrase Freud, civilization is but the outcome of a constant struggle to control the human sex drive . . . or as phrased by Adam Christian, “Freud notes that civilization’s antagonism toward sexuality arises from the necessity work of building communal bonds based on friendship. If the activity of the libido were allowed to run rampant, it would likely destroy the monogamous love-relationship of the couple that society has endorsed as the most stable”.
On the popular website Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow reveals that “Richard Dawkins has a new kids’ book coming out in October 2011 called The Magic of Reality, which explains just how gosh-darned awesome the actual scientifically explained world is, and how wondrous the universe is when considered as a material, non-supernatural phenomenon. And if that wasn’t awesome enough, the book is illustrated by the wonderful Dave McKean”. Dawkins has been highly critical of the way in which children are being used by religious institutions, and has thus also been most vocal about the injustice of subjecting children to religious indoctrination, or should I say education: “Innocent children are being saddled with demonstrable falsehoods . . . It’s time to question the abuse of childhood innocence with superstitious ideas of hellfire and damnation. Isn’t it weird the way we automatically label a tiny child with its parents’ religion?”. In his quest to counter the religious indoctrination of ‘innocent children’, he has now finally taken the initiative by means of writing a book aimed at a younger audience, arguably in the hope that parents would choose his book to enlighten their offspring. And here is Dawkins selling his book on BBC 2’s Newsnight on 13 September 2011.
Ever since his God Delusion hit the bookshops in 2006, the Oxford professor Dawkins has become a public figure all across the world. As a result, many people have now become aware of his apparently controversial work and thinking. For instance, in Turkey his website was banned due to the machinations of the notorious charlatan Adnan Oktar, who employs the pseudonym Harun Yahya to distribute Islamic Creationist propaganda. The organisation behind Oktar has been active for many years, trying to convince the gullible that Darwin was a buffoon and the theory of evolution just a theory, or rather a theory which does not explain the emergence of complex forms of life. But not just in Turkey, Dawkins has also become very “popular” in the U.S., as a figure personifying all that is wrong with non-religious people. Many has consequently taken it upon themselves to tell the professor just how wrong he is via e-mail. And here is Professor Dawkins reading his hate-mail . . . the internet is a great leveller indeed, now just about anybody, or rather anybody living in the affluent part of the world where computers are readily available and internet access equally easy to come by, can get in touch with the most learned of scholars, as long as he or she deems the ability to have a publicly accessible e-mail address a virtue. In this respect, Professor Dawkins is most virtuous indeed and he clearly revels in reading what less educated (and more gullible) mortals feel like telling him. We live in interesting times indeed . . .
As for the other side of the equation, here is the well-known YouTuber Laci Green reading her favourite, “brutal” Dawkins quote in one of her videos.
(22 April 2008)
Miss Green has since moved on to other pastures, here she is talking about the myth of Adam and Eve in graphic detail.
(12 September 2009)
Here she is, a little bit older and a whole lot wiser, telling the world of her own struggles with God, family, and life as she knows it.
(8 July 2010)
 “Dawkins: Religion equals ‘child abuse’ Scientist compares Moses to Hitler, calls New Testament ‘sado-masochistic doctrine’” WorldNetDaily (08 January 2006). http://www.wnd.com/?pageId=34248.
From Boston to New York, many religious faiths are playing a role in the Occupy Wall Street protests (24 Oct. 2011).
Two thousand years after they were written, the world famous Dead Sea Scrolls are now available online. The Israel Museum and web giant Google initiated the project which were uploaded onto the Internet on Monday, 26 September 2011. The scrolls digitalized so far include the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll and the War Scroll. All five scrolls can be magnified so users can examine the texts and details invisible to the naked eye are made visible through ultra-high resolution. The Great Isaiah Scroll can be searched by column, chapter and verse and is accompanied by an English translation tool and an option for users to submit translations of verses in their own languages. “The Dead Sea Scrolls Project with the Israel Museum enriches and preserves an important part of world heritage by making it accessible to all on the internet,” said Professor Yossi Matias, Managing Director of Google’s R&D Center in Israel (http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/project).
The news agency Agence France-Presse reports that ‘[F]ive of the main Dead Sea scrolls, containing some of the oldest-known surviving biblical texts, were on Monday [, 26 September 2011] put online as part of a joint project between the Israel Museum and Google. The project gives the public access to ultra high-resolution images of the ancient scrolls in a format which is easily searchable, with the magnified text revealing details previously invisible to the naked eye, a museum statement said. So far, five of the scrolls have been digitised as part of the $3.5-million project which uses space-age technology to produce the clearest renderings yet of the ancient texts’. This latest stunt from Google is very exciting, as the scrolls offer insights into the development of Judaism and how it relates to Christianity. A Jewish sect known as the Essenes were responsible for the texts written on the scrolls accidentally discovered by a passing shepherd in an abandoned cave.
In order to understand the importance of the Dead Sea scrolls and how they relate to our understanding of Judaism and Christianity, I would here like to reproduce a lecture given in 2008: ‘The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has revolutionized our picture of the early history of Judaism and of the Jewish background of early Christianity. With the completion of the publication of the entire scrolls collection, it is now possible to draw significant conclusions from this treasure trove of ancient documents. This illustrated lecture by Professor Lawrence Schiffman will discuss the discovery of the scrolls, the archaeology of Qumran where the scrolls were unearthed, the nature of the library, and its significance for the study of Judaism, Christianity and their common destiny’.
When producer Ian Nagoski started collecting the 78′s that make up To What Strange Place, he initially thought he was collecting music of the former Ottoman Empire recorded in Greece, Turkey, and Syria. What he learned instead was that he was collecting some of the earliest recordings made in America — until now almost completely forgotten. This short film explores Nagoski’s search for the lives behind the music of “To What Strange Place,” and what his search says about his own need to reclaim these lost
voices from obscurity (4 July 2011).