Monday, April 29, 2013

True dialogue is made of sterner stuff

Pluralism is relatively a new topic, and the nature of pluralism is to respect the otherness of other and accept the God given uniqueness of each tradition. However, like all issues of life, even pluralism is misunderstood. "

The statement in the article is sad, "Ironically, this attempt to marginalize religion is made in the name of pluralism and tolerance. They say religion should, at best, be confined to homes and churches as it is considered to be not just insignificant but even a destabilising force in society." Pluralism does not marginalize, but allows each religion to be what it is.
Mike Ghouse

True dialogue is made of sterner stuff

Gregory XVI, in his encyclical letter Mirari vos (1832), (On liberalism and religious indifference) denounced as “delirium” the idea that liberty of conscience, especially liberty of worship, is the inalienable right of every human, which should be proclaimed by law. Delirium of the samedegree is the belief that citizens have the right to freely spread their ideas, however false, without being restrained from doing so by ecclesiastical or civil law.
Today we find such words as shocking, not to say downright offensive. (Though a libertarian worth his or her salt in the lineage of Voltaire would presumably defend the right of Gregory XVI to say what he said.)
The Church has moved a long way since then. With Vatican II, particularly with the document on human dignity, the Church crystallised and gave an authoritative stamp to the developing theological reflection on human dignity, religious liberty, relations with State and, more importantly, with society. Authentic Church teaching on the matter would state the opposite of the papal denouncement above.
This positive development on the part of the Church was not always reciprocated by secularists. A 2009 study by the American-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life noted that more than 70 per cent of the world’s countries impose legal or administrative restrictions which in practice annul the rights of individual believers and religious groups.
A year later the charitable foundation Aid to the Church in Need stated that today 75 per cent of all religious persecution is directed against Christians.
This persecution is not limited to so-called Third World countries. In some European countries, for example, measures are taken against gynaecologists and obstetricians who have an objection in conscience to screen unborn children for Down Syndrome if these screenings are to be used to procure abortion.
Last year, Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote that Christians in Great Britain are being “persecuted” by courts, “driven underground”, “vilified” by the State, treated as “bigots” and sacked simply for expressing their beliefs.
Lord Alton of Liverpool, during the Tyburn Lecture on 9 May 2012, said the battle for religious freedom is far from over, and shamed “the Dawkins/Hitchens school of angry atheism” as the principal challenge to Christianity in Great Britain.
More subtle and dangerous than the administrative and legal restriction is the cultural dimension of radical secularism. Benedict XVI, in an address to German Catholics in September 2011, pointed towards the infiltration of every area of life by what he described as subliminal relativism. He added that “sometimes this relativism becomes aggressive when it opposes those who say they know where the truth or meaning of life is to be found”.
These relativists first make a dogma out of the belief in the relativity of all value systems and then they seek to impose this dogmatism on others. I have recently had a public discussion with a self-proclaimed atheist whose dogmatism and fundamentalism would make a Taliban look like a libertarian!
These radical secularists, who sometimes camouflage under the more acceptable appellatives of moderates and progressives, systematically denigrate religious beliefs. They do their best to relegate all expressions of religious belief to the private sphere and seek to deny religion any influence on society.
Ironically, this attempt to marginalise religion is made in the name of pluralism and tolerance. They say religion should, at best, be confined to homes and churches as it is considered to be not just insignificant but even a destabilising force in society.
Though this relativist environment is permeating Maltese culture and way of life, many Church people still give more importance to potential administrative and legal measures that marginalise the Christian value system.
As important these may be, such provisions are less important than the development of a culture based on a relativist and individualistic mentality. This is the sector where ideas are nourished, the humus for relativist political projects is grown, secularist worldviews are formed and the belief that religion’s place is in sacristies fomented.
The proponents of this relativist culture are doing their utmost to control the public sphere and manipulate public discourse. They want us to believe that the secularist value systems and worldviews are the best for humanity. They try to ridicule those who think differently.
Lord Carey’s warning about the estimation of Christian viewpoints as bigoted is everyday occurrence in our own backyard.
There is, however, a more insidious attempt to marginalise the Christian ethos in the Maltese public sphere with the exception of its ritualistic presence on State occasions. This attempt is garbed in the language of pseudo-respect. The mantra goes something like this: “We know that the Church cannot be in favour of such measures. We understand the Church’s position and respect it.”
This statement generally follows a public policy proposal for some “alleged progress, or alleged rights, or an alleged humanism” (Benedict XVI’s words) particularly in the area of gender and family issues. Moreover, it is uttered in soft language accompanied by a welcoming smile and a respectful (read: Pharisaic) nod to Church exponents. When this statement is denuded from its intrinsic double-speak, it reads differently: “We believe that the Church is a club of hopeless bigots. You can say what you want but we will do whatever we want.”
The mantra uttered in pseudo-respect shows – at best – a measure of tolerance which is bereft of a desire to dialogue. True dialogue is made of sterner stuff. In a pluralistic society such as Malta is, there is place not just for the uttering of differing views but for a sober, strong and informed dialectical encounter between different positions. This encounter should enrich the debate, its participants and the final product. If the position of the Church and of its followers is skirted during such discussions, the democratic process and society are the losers.
If the Christian ethos no longer holds any social meaning, the dictatorship of relativism would be absolute and the human person will be impoverished. This is not acceptable. The Church’s presence in this agora is animated by the Gospel’s vision of service. In this agora it should neither be cowed nor be cocky. In the face of intolerant secularism the Church should base its positions on its millenarian experience in the human condition while buttressing them by best practices, knowledge and research.
In season and out of season the Church should continue to insist on and practice sincere dialogue and mutual respect.
Thank you.
Mike Ghouse
(214) 325-1916/ text

....... Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, peace, Islam, Israel, India, interfaith, and cohesion at work place. He is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day at He believes in Standing up for others and has done that throughout his life as an activist. Mike has a presence on national and local TV, Radio and Print Media. He is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News; fortnightly at Huffington post; and several other periodicals across the world. His personal site indexes all his work through many links.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

5 dumbest things said about the Boston Marathon Explosions: Fox News, Asra Nomani, (some) Republicans

Asra | Omid
Being a seasoned journalist, and having endured harassment for the stand you take, you have a greater responsibility to choose the language that does not aggravate the conflict. I see your point of view and context, but facts don't matter to the right wing nuts, they never get it, they are damned parrots without brains, this is fodder to them. 
I started using Insha Allah in the last ten years, when I realized that I had high BP - and simply cannot promise any one, particularly my Muslim friends that "I will deliver the results"  -what if I croak and don't deliver? Indeed it is the humility that makes me say Insha Allah, if I don't deliver, it means my life is limited and have no control over it and is subject to what was programmed in my DNA.
Many Muslims and I support you for the pioneering work you have done in creating awareness about women's space in the place of worship. There will be greater acceptability of you, if you could just think - am I worsening the situation or mitigating it? Am I a journalist that presents facts to stir up raw emotions or do my words go towards creating a better society. If you don't believe you have a social responsibility for a better society, I have no argument then.
Great piece, it is educational and well written. Indeed, I and will share this with my groups.   I wrote a similar piece after Major Nidal's madness and the usage of Allah u Akbar. Its at World Muslim Congress and probably at Huffpost.
Thank you both, a genuine discussion is good.

Thank you.

Mike Ghouse

5 dumbest things said about the Boston Marathon Explosions: Fox News, Asra Nomani, (some) Republicans

Tragedies and triumphs stir our souls.  Whatever is buried deep below bubbles to the surface, and reveals itself.

For some, it is a heroic self-sacrifice that they may hitherto not known they were capable of till that very moment.   For others, it is not so deeply buried prejudice and hatred.

We have focused a great deal—and rightly so—on the heroic actions of the First Responders, the ordinary people, and the Boston police department.

But let us also take a moment to think about some of the idiotic ignorance that is now also apparent and public.  The purpose is not (merely) to expose and ridicule—ok, maybe there is a touch of that—but rather to shine the light on areas of shortcoming that we, all of us, will have to deal with if we are to get to a more beautiful place than we are right now.

Yes, we could make up this entire list from Fox News.   But in the interest of being “fair and balanced”, I tried to spread the love around.

So here we go:  Five dumbest things (so far) said about the Boston Marathon explosions.

1)    Ann Coulter, Fox News Ideologue, on how Muslim women “ought To Be In Prison For Wearing A Hijab…”
Coulter is of course known for a whole set of famous comments, stating that when it comes to Muslims, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

Ann Coulter:  Invade Muslim Countries and Convert them to Christianity

Ann Coulter: Invade Muslim Countries and Convert them to

Well, Ms. Coulter is at it again.   This time her comments about comments about Katherine Russell, the wife of the dead Boston marathon suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  Ms. Russell is not in any way suspected of being associated with any criminal activity, and her family has already released a statement stating that they, like everyone else, were in the dark about the crimes Tamerlane is accused of doing.
Ann Coulter:  Fox News pundit

So how is Ms. Russell offending Coulter?   It is that Ms. Russell converted to Islam a few years ago, and has chosen to wear a head-covering when she is in public.   Ms. Russell wears a form of head-covering (hijab) in public, as many Muslim women do, as many Orthodox Jewish women do, and as many Christian women used to do until not too long ago (and nuns still do).
This, choosing how to dress, is the crime for which Ms. Coulter thinks Ms. Russell (and presumably other Muslim women) should go to prison.
No, Ms. Coulter.

The whole point of a free society is that people should be free to make their own decisions about their body and their clothing.

If women want to cover their hair, more power to them.
If they want to wear shorts and a T-shirt, more power to them.
If they want to dress modestly, more power to them.
If women want to wear bikinis, more power to them.

If living in a free society means that you are free to dress as you like and get on Fox and voice your admittedly ignorant comments, those same freedoms mean that Ms. Russell, like other citizens, are free to dress as they like and believe what they want.     You can no more negate their rights without stripping yourself of yours.

Not being content to stop her rant with hijab, Coulter proceeded to ask of Ms. Russell “Did she get a clitorectomy too?”

Fortunately, there was a wonderfully gracious response from many Muslim women:
2)    Geographically challenged Americans

Apparently many Americans cannot tell the difference between Chechnya (a land-locked republic of former Soviet Union, currently a Russian federal subject) and the Czech Republic (an East European country).
Someone has had even had the good sense to compile a list of tweets revealing this sad if humorous confusion:
Geographically Challenged Tweets about Chechnya/Czech Republic

Yes.  “Public Shaming” indeed.    The lack of knowledge of many Americans about the broader world is somewhat legendary.
Now combine that lack of awareness about the world with anger, and desire to want to inflict damage on people (as in “nuking” people, even if it happens to be, well, the wrong people), and the combination is shall we say not revealing the best face of America.

By the way, a few geographically challenged Americans were calling for nuking a country, Czechoslovakia, which has not existed since 1993.

3)    Fox News Identifies Root Causes of Terrorism:  American Boobs, skyscrapers, and Pools.   (Really).
The next “award” goes to Bill O’Reilly and Adam Carolla.   Opining on Bill O’Reilly’s show, Adam Carolla vents [If you can't stomach idiocy, fast-forward to 1:55].

Bill O'Reilly: Fox News
Bill O’Reilly: Fox News
“They hate our culture, they hate our way of life. They hate that our women’s boobies get bigger, our swimming pools get deeper, and we’re building skyscrapers and bridges. Allah is supposed to take care of all this decadence, but Allah never does, so they take it upon themselves.”

I wonder who the “they” are:  The Tsarnaev brothers?  1.5 billion Muslims around the world?  Chechens?  Terrorists?   All the above?  Or perhaps it doesn’t matter in Carolla’s provincial worldview, as long as they are some “imagined” other.

And for the “our” in Carolla’s statement (“they hate our culture”), I wonder about the reference there as well.     Who is the “we” here?  Fox news?  America? Maybe, just maybe, not all Americans have inflated boobies, ever-deeper pools, and skyscrapers.

For that matter, I wonder if Carolla has googled the tallest buildings in the world.   (just wonderin’).  Hint:  It may not be where he thinks.

I also wonder about Carolla, an avowed atheist, singling out “Allah.”   Could it be that he is hesitant to reveal to Fox’s conservative base that he disavows “their” Christian God as well?   Fox News loves to accuse Muslims of “Taqiyya” (hiding their true religious intentions).  I wonder if one could speak of “atheist taqiyya”?
Never mind.

Some comments are so idiotic that that are perhaps not worth the breath needed to dissect, analyze, and refute them.    Let’s just say that these comments reveal more about Carolla’s shallow misogynist materialism than they tell us anything about any one else on the planet.  And shame on Bill O’Reilly for allowing them to go on unchallenged.
[And seriously, how is this on TV?  ]
Next item.

4)    Asra Nomani, Muslim journalist for Washington Post:  Use of phrases like “God-willing” is a sign of radicalization.

In breathless “analysis”, Nomani opined that the she had the courage to talk about what other Muslims know about but are too “politically correct” to admit:   that the usage of phrases like insha’allah (“God-willing”) by Muslims is a “red flag” of “someone who is becoming hardcore. “

Asra Nomani:  Washington Post pundit
Asra Nomani: Washington Post ]
No, Ms. Nomani.
One wonders how often Ms. Nomani has actually been around real practicing Muslims, whose daily language is imbued with reminders of the Divine:
If you ask most Muslims “How are you?”

You might hear:  “Praise be to God (Alhamdulilah), I am doing well.”
If you ask most Muslims “Will I see you tomorrow?”
You might hear:   “If God wills it (insha’Allah), I will be there.”
To point out a beautiful child, a Muslim might state “Look at what God has willed (masha’allah), what a beautiful child!”

The use, and increased usage, of phrases like Godwilling (insha’allah) is not a sign of radicalization, but merely one of piety.   In the Qur’an, God enjoins upon Muslims:  “never say I will do such-and-such tomorrow without adding If-God-wills-it-so…’”  [Qur’an 18:23-24]
If such phraseology sounds “stuffy” to some ears, it is (or was) a part of the Christian tradition as well.  The Epistle of James (4:15) includes the following injunction:

For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
If the Lord will…
Uttering these phrases makes one neither a Christian radical nor a Muslim radical, but simply a person who recognizes that we, by our own selves, can do nothing.   We acknowledge that our life, breath, soul, and will, are all dependent on God.
Then again, I am not sure how much to expect from someone like Asra Nomani who uses her position of access in media to argue that Muslims should be racially profiled.
5) Many, many Republican officials across the country
Oh sweet Jesus, get in line here, for it’s a looooong cue.  Where to start?
Do we go with Republican New York sen. Greg Ball who argued for the use of torture?

R-NY Congressman Greg Ball calls for torture.
R-NY Congressman Greg Ball calls for torture.
“And it comes down to this,” Ball said. “When you talk about terrorism, information matters. And if getting that information, including torture, would save one innocent life – including, that we’ve seen, children – would you use torture? I can tell you I would be first in line.”
That, in spite of the fact that the government’s own bi-partisan report issued recently states that torture has “no justification”, and that this practice of torture “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.”    Furthermore, our own government has concluded that torture does not actually produce accurate results, and there is no evidence that information obtained by torture could not have been obtained by legal means.
Do we go with the North Carolina’s own Michele Presnell who equated Islamic prayer with “Condoning terrorism”?
Michele Presnel (R-NC)
Michele Presnel (R-NC)
Do we go with the California Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher who stated that Islam as a whole represents a threat to the United States:
Here is the Congressman in his own words:
Dana Rohrabacher
Dana Rohrabacher
I hope we all work together against a religion that will motivate people to murder children and other threats to us as a civilization.”

Or should we go to other zealots who have talked about isolating mosques and putting them all under surveillance, when we know that the few Muslims who commit acts of terror come not from mosques.  Instead, they tend to be isolated and alienated individuals who get their propaganda from online lectures from radical overseas clerics?    In other words, we would want American Muslims to go to mosques, to have healthy and functioning mosque communities, to get their information from trained religious authorities, and to be part of a vibrant and paranoia-free community.

To put it more eloquently, listen to the words of Imam Suhaib Webb of the large Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center:
“Radicalization does not happen to young people with a strong grounding in the American Muslim mainstream; increasingly, it happens online, and sometimes abroad, among the isolated and disaffected.”
It would be helpful if the FBI did not spend millions of dollars planting 15,000 spies in mosques to do surveillance on all Muslims, and in many cases seek to brainwash susceptible young people before sweeping in to arrest those some people.   I think there is a name for that:  entrapment.

The New York Times has a name for this type of a legal justice system as well:  a separate justice system for Muslims.

“Separate but equal” is a path that we as Americans have tried before, and we don’t want to go down that rabitt hole again.

Let us hope that shining the light on these provides us with an opportunity to heal, to remove shortcomings, and ameliorate our own ignorance.   May it be that these may be a step towards moving woundedness to healing. 

Courtesy of Religion News

Omid Safi

Omid Safi

Omid Safi is a Professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and classical Islam. He leads educational tours to Turkey every summer, through Illuminated Tours:

Saturday, April 27, 2013

China government accepting religous pluralism, says expert

Courtesy - Radio Australia
China government accepting religous pluralism, says expert
Updated 23 April 2013, 15:37 AEST

The man in charge of the State Administration of Religious affairs in China says while religion could be a force for good in the officially atheist country, it's important to ensure that it does not mislead people.
Wang Zuoan made the rare comment to the Study Times, a newspaper published by the Central Party School which trains rising officials.
Since China embarked on the road to economic reform some three decades ago, tight controls on some religious practices have been relaxed.
But just how far are the Chinese authorities prepared to go?
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Dr Benjamin Penny, research fellow, School of Culture, History & Language, Australian National University
PENNY: I think that the statement that Wang Zuoan has made, and this is a very, very official journal so this counts as a very, very official statement, the interview that he gave indicates that general policy positions regarding religion are pretty much the same as they have been for quite a number of years now, except I think the interview does have a tone perhaps of slightly less negativity towards religion. I think in particular one of the realisations that comes through very strongly in the interview is that the party is now accepting that the number of religious believers in China is really very high, and rather than trying to get rid of religion or to manage it very tightly, it's actually coming around to a position almost by necessity that says that religious believers might actually have something to offer the country if they behave correctly.

EWART: So not so much a change in attitude but a change in management style?

PENNY: Perhaps, certainly a change in tone. One of the particular points that Wang raises here is that religion and the administration of religion and government should actually be separate. I mean he doesn't go so far as to say that religions should have the right to do anything they like. He still maintains that the law of the state should override any kind of religious considerations, and that religious administrations and so forth should behave according to the ideals of keeping society stable and orderly and so forth, which is obviously a reference to religious uprisings or religious trouble and so forth. But he also does say that religious believers have got rights, that religious organisations and buildings and so on have to be maintained for the needs of religious believers, they can't be snatched by local authorities or businesses or something like that. So he is in a sense defending I think more strongly than we have seen for a while the rights of religious believers.

EWART: Could you see that extension of rights stretching to obvious targets, government targets like the Falungong and the Uighurs up in the north west?

PENNY: No in short, those are quite different cases. In terms of the Uighurs and perhaps the Tibetans the official position of the state would be that as it were it's not the religion that's bad, it's people using the religion to do bad things against the state or against society. So they're going to come down very hard as they have done on those matters. Falungong is a difference case, the government does not recognise Falungong as a religion at all. In China there's a set of categories that sounds rather odd to people in the west, namely that there are certain religions that are officially accepted; those are Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoism. Apart from those other things that we would think of as kind of religious fall into two categories; one is the evil cult which is where Falungong fits and evil cults are there to be eradicated as hard as you can. And the other is superstition, which is generally regarded as feudal superstition that is a hangover from the old society. And it can be eased away with education, is generally the way it's thought of.

EWART: So in essence are what we're seeing here is that the Chinese officials are saying that they are prepared to tolerate religion providing shall we say that devotees go about their religion in a quiet way and they don't pose any perceived threat to the state?

PENNY: I think that's right, I mean the words that the Chinese use all the time and indeed in the constitution are that religious believers are allowed to do normal religious activities. What those normal, what normal means can vary from place to place and time to time. But certainly I think what we have here is a realisation that religion is in fact growing in China, and this is of course not the way that the Marxist classics should have religion behave, but nonetheless the government has come to terms I think in some sense with the idea that there are, I mean their own estimate is more than 100-million religious believers in China, and they also admit that's almost certainly an underestimate. I think most independent observers would see it as a very large underestimate. But nonetheless they're coming around to the idea that religion is a long term thing, it's been around in China for millennia, it's not going to go away in a hurry, in fact it's growing, and so really the attitude of government should be one of working with religions to manage them in a way that aids social stability and social harmony.

EWART: So how would you see for example China's relationship with the Vatican changing in light of this or would it change at all?

PENNY: I don't think I can see that changing in a hurry because the issue with the Vatican is actually one of as it were international relations. The Chinese maintain that one of the things that religious believers are not allowed to do is to have, well they would say be controlled by overseas entities. And for them the Vatican is a kind of extra state authority, I mean extra to the Chinese state authority, to which Chinese citizens owe allegiance. Their idea about the way the Catholic church should run in China is that it should be an indigenous Catholic church, as the Protestant churches have become indigenous Protestant churches. And that control of influence from the Vatican in say the appointment of Bishops and so forth, is a matter of, it's almost a diplomatic matter rather than religious matter.

Jewish pluralism in Israel: It’s flourishing

Courtesy of Jewish Journal

Jewish pluralism in Israel: It’s flourishing


While American Jews haven’t been looking — or have been looking in the wrong places — Jewish pluralism in Israel is booming. But like most things in Israel it looks much different than Jewish pluralism in the United States. In Israel, Jewish pluralism takes place almost totally outside of the synagogue. It can be seen in music, bestselling books, museum programs and film. But perhaps most importantly it takes place in encounters between all types of Israelis over Jewish texts.

The recent inaugural speech by Yesh Atid MK Ruth Calderon increased awareness of Jewish pluralism, but she and others have been actively involved in institutions in this arena for over 30 years.  Calderon spoke of her experience in learning of Judaism” from the tanach to the palmach (from the bible to Zionist history) with nothing in between. Something was missing, she noted.  Her sentiments are not unique they speak to a large sector of younger Israelis who find the strict dichotomy between dati and cheloni (secular and religious) a thing of the past.

These activities are an expression of Israelis that the texts belong to all the Jewish people not just a segment of the population. And these encounters take place in a new type of Beit Midrash (study hall).

One example is Beit Midrash Elul, founded by Ruth Calderon in Jerusalem in 1989   as a place for observant and non observant Jews to come together in encountering Jewish texts.  Elul’s programs have grown over the years to and reach Israelis of all ages throughout the country. The programs range from text study to storytelling for children to a program where teenage “garage bands” work together to learn Jewish texts improve their musical skills and compose and perform a song based on the text. You can catch a great video at

Calderon went on to found and serve as director of Alma located right off of rechov shenkin in tel aviv, seen by many as the center of hip secular Tel Aviv. Inside the Alma beit midrash the same young people found at the cafes come to study Talmud.
Another major trend is the growth of mechinot (pre army) and midrashot (post army Pre University in most cases). In these institutions observant and non observant young people live and study together for several months.

At Midreshet Ein Prat participants study Western philosophy and Jewish texts. The study day literally begins at 8 am with Talmud and ends at midnight with Machiavelli with session on the Hebrew prophets Sufi Islam in between. At another midrasha, Beit Yisrael, students combine Jewish text study with community service.  There I found students engrossed in their first exposure to the thought of Abraham Joshua Heschel both the Chassidic and the social justice sides.
Over and over again in conversations with participants in these programs I have encountered similar reactions to the experience. “I grew up in a Jewish state and never saw a page of Talmud…something was missing”, “I studied these texts in high school with teachers and students who all came from the same observant  background I now have an opportunity to see these texts in a different light when learning them with people of different backgrounds”.

The batei midrash and midrashot all began from the bottom up (or to use the somewhat overused moniker they were typical of startup nation).  The social change they may trigger is an unknown but there are some interesting developments coming at the top.

Yair Lapid, the leader of the upstart and highly successful Yeish Atid party has been involved in groups associated with this “jewish renaissance” movement for over a decade. In addition to Calderon, Yeish Atid’s MKs include Aliza Lavie a feminist activist within the Orthodox community founder of the group Kolech The new Minister of Education is Yaish Atid MK Rabbi Shai Piron a leader of the liberal Orthodox Tzohar group.

Further signs of change are the growing number of joint dati /lo dati schools across the county. The growth is such that an MA program in education specializing in preparation for this type of pedagogy was recently established.

A member of the Tzohar group Rav David Stav has positioned himself as a serious candidate for the Chief Rabbinate ..complete with an active Facebook feed. And of course the recent election has considerably reduced the influence of the ultra-orthodox parties in education and other areas
Do these developments mean Israel is on the way to a model of American Jewry with large congregations of Reform and Conservative Jews?…not likely. Yet many involved in these programs have been influenced by the openness they have seen in American Jewry. They then created distinctively Israeli institutions.
At the same time, Israelis are offering American Jews a different model of pluralism. It would be a place where participants leave their denominational labels at the door and enter a beit midrash where they can engage with Jewish texts together. If post denominationalism is the most appropriate description for 21st century American Judaism this is the perfect fit.

There is a potential for a new dimension to relations between Israelis and American Jews as well.  Some steps have been made in this direction but there is potential for far more, involving  American visitors to Israel be they individuals, synagogue groups, gap year programs or Rabbinical students studying for a year in Israel. Engagements over Jewish texts have historically been a central part of Jewish life they offer potential to be a focal point for interaction across American and Israeli Jews pluralism without labels.

On Shabbat May 3- 4 Los Angeles will have an opportunity to learn more about Beit Midrash Elul and pluralism. Leaders of the beit midrash will be at Ikar, Temple Emanuel, Temple Beth Am and Bnai David over the course of Shabbat. There are also limited spaces available at a Shabbat lunch and Saturday evening program contact for more information. Interested in visiting some of these groups on your next trip to Israel contact check his Jewish Journal blog: chavayaexperiences.

Israel facing uphill battle over religious pluralism

Courtesy of Heritage Florida Jewish News
 Serge Attai/Flash90/JTA
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Natan Sharansky’s proposal last week to expand the space for non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall could be historic.
But for most Israelis, changes at the Western Wall are of only trivial interest. Far more pressing are state restrictions on marriage and conversion, Sabbath bans on public transit, and haredi Orthodox exemptions from Israel’s mandatory draft.

The haredi draft exemption was a central issue in January’s elections for the Knesset, and it has been a hot topic of debate for the last year or so. A comprehensive bill is now in the works to draft haredi men, providing financial incentives to those who enlist and penalizing those who don’t.
A few political parties—notably the large, centrist Yesh Atid—have promised reforms on marriage, conversion and public transportation, too. But with the government’s coalition agreement giving each party veto power over any change in the state’s religious policy, sweeping changes on marriage and conversion are unlikely because the nationalist Jewish Home party is unlikely to approve such reforms.
The Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate nearly has a monopoly over marriage and conversion in Israel. Non-Orthodoxwedding ceremonies, interfaith marriages and same-sex marriages are not recognized in Israel unless such couples wed and obtain a valid marriage certificate overseas.
When it comes to conversion in Israel, there is only one kind: Orthodox. Non-Orthodox converts to Judaism from overseas may be granted citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return, but the Rabbinate can prevent them from marrying, divorcing or being buried as Jews once they are in Israel.
Perhaps a milder issue by comparison, many secular Israelis chafe against Sabbath-day limitations on public transit and commerce. While not entirely banned on Saturdays, they are subject to severely restrictive laws.
There have been some reforms in all three areas in recent years.
In 2010, the Yisrael Beiteinu party, which draws from a secular Russian immigrant support base, led a push for civil marriage. In a compromise, the watered-down bill passed by the Knesset legalized civil unions only for couples with no religious faith, not for Jews or interfaith couples.
Yesh Atid hopes to use that law as a template for allowing civil unions for any Israeli.
“We plan to work together on these issues,” Yesh Atid Knesset member Dov Lipman, an American-born rabbi, told JTA. “There’s already been significant discussion with all of the religious bodies on compromising on these issues. I do believe we can make significant changes.”
But Yesh Atid’s coalition partner, Jewish Home, reportedly opposes expanding civil unions. Instead, Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben Dahan is proposing measures to streamline the Orthodox marriage process—for example, allowing couples to marry with the Orthodox rabbi of their choosing.
By some measures, the conversion issue has been thornier.
In 2010, a Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset member, David Rotem, proposed a bill meant to give would-be converts more leeway in choosing where and how to convert in Israel. But the bill also would have consolidated control over conversions under the office of the Rabbinate, further weakening Reform and Conservative conversions.
Following an outcry from Jewish leaders in the United States, the bill was shelved. Sharansky was tasked with finding a solution to the dispute, but nothing has materialized. In the meantime, Israel’s Supreme Court was subject to a freeze on hearing any cases relating to conversion.
The high court freeze expires at the end of April.
“Who is a Jew is an issue that will come back,” predicted Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi and chairman of Hiddush, an Israeli nonprofit that advocates for religious pluralism. “The courts making it a headline issue will happen within a few months.”
Public transit may be the issue most conducive to compromise because it does not involve questions of Jewish identity or continuity.
An illustration of Natan Sharansky’s proposal, which will expand the Western Wall and create a permanent egalitarian space in the Robinson’s Arch area.
Public buses long have run on Shabbat in Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, and private shared taxis run in Tel Aviv on the Sabbath. Lipman said Yesh Atid backs running buses on Shabbat in non-Orthodox neighborhoods on a limited schedule.
The one wild card in Israel’s religion and state debate is David Stav, a Modern Orthodox rabbi who will run for the position of chief rabbi in June. If he wins, supporters of the reform-minded rabbi say he will put a friendlier face on the Rabbinate and help unite a divided society.

But in an interview last year with JTA, the reforms outlined by Stav were mostly procedural. For example, he supports the drive to allow couples to marry under a rabbi of their choice.
Regev says the best chance for bringing about far-reaching reforms lies outside the country—in the form of the American Jewish community.

“At this point it’s all a question of applying sufficient pressure,” Regev said. “This subject can’t be pushed under the rug.”


Interfaith disappointments

This essay is dedicated to the Muslim Interfaith activists -

The biggest disappointment in the interfaith world comes when your friends, who are usually rational in their approach to say this with ease, “These acts of terrorism are done in the name of Islam. I do not think the others were done in the name of Christianity etc. With the exception of Islam, other Religions variable accepts responsibility for the actions of their followers.” or this from an immigrant who has carried the baggage from overseas to this land, “Their silence angers me.. Especially when there was a bomb scare at my daughter’s school this week. I don't like it..and you know me, I love everyone... But they don't make it easy...” and this from an octogenarian who has been a part of the interfaith dialogue for the last 20 years, “Qur'an teaches them to lie”.

It is frustrating; if you are out there in the trenches, you will fully understand it. There is a saying in India, "after you hear the Ramayana (story / play) for the entire night, how dumb of you to ask, what was the relationship between Rama and Sita?

When you hear that kind of ignorance after years of exchanges, the instant feeling that comes to your mind is to walk away from it. Instead go make the money with that time,  take the vacation and pay Sadaqah (Voluntary Charity) to extinguish the guilt, to feel good about not doing enough of the unselfish good.

That was a fleeting feeling, I have recouped since then. We cannot let impatience take over or throw us into the rotten business of score keeping and getting even. It will create a bigger wedge. We just cannot let our short term feelings temper the long term good of the society.

There are thousands of us out there from every faith tradition spending days and nights to build a cohesive society, where each of us learns about the other, and earns a respectable space in the society, so all of us can learn to respect the other and live our lives. 

My mentors are Prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Krishna, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. among others. Everything they did was to mitigate conflicts and nurture goodwill, it was for the common good of humanity.

This pulls me to the wisdom of Bhagvad Gita, my 2nd favorite book after Qur'an, “You have a right to perform your duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action, never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” The guidance is similar in all religions. God (Qur'an) says to the Prophet, don’t be frustrated if people don’t get your message, your job is to do the dharma, the duty to deliver the message, and it’s up to me to bless the guidance.

A majority of the articles I write weave through the wisdom of several religions and we need to continue to do that. No matter what hurdles or frustrations we go through, we cannot let anyone derail us.

I thank my interfaith friends for writing those unpleasant words,  there is a whole lot more out there,  worse than this,  and unfortunately it 
comes from the wisest people in the interfaith circles. I am glad they wrote this, and it reminds us,  we have a lot more work to do.

What prompted this?

My weekly article in Dallas Morning news | The righteous mind of Tsarnaev Brothers.

3,300 Americans have been killed in violence since the Newtown Massacre. Was the Newtown killer, Wisconsin shooter or the Denver murderer authorized by Americans Christians to kill? American Muslims did not authorize Major Nidal and Faisal Shahzad either. Indeed, if they had any inkling, they would have been the first to report them to the FBI. Timothy McVeigh was a looney and acted on his own, so are the Tsarnaev brothers who acted on their own -


Response I

The  long term ideal would be for us to uplift ourselves in public policy, no one should look at the criminals race, religion or ethnicity. I hope a day will come when Muslims don't have to condemn the acts of these criminals, and they should not be held accountable for the crimes of the criminals who follow a similar faith,  just as you and I would not go to jail for the murders committed by a family member. They committed the crime and they get blamed and punished, not anyone else.  

As a civil society, we have the responsibility to sort the right from the wrong. We should not buy into the alibis of the criminals, first they committed the crime, and then they want to dupe us (all of us) into believing that Islam made them do it. As long as they sell this idea and we buy it, the blame gets shifted and we bark at the wrong tree. Islam did not commit the crime; these men did it and must be punished to the maximum extent of the law.

These criminals are way too smart; they want to deflect the blame to an intangible item like religion to save their tail. We should not let them blame a religion, any religion for that matter. Get them, just like we do with all criminals. Major Nidal yelled Allahu Akbar before opening the fire that is not an Islamic act, he used it reflexively – the words are to be used when you are praying.

Criminals will commit the crime any way, God does not matter to them, morals mean nothing to them, life has no value to them, and punishment does not deter these men – the Tsarnaev brothers, McVeigh’s and 50 others. Rachel Maddow has listed many of the criminals at:

Response II

Its human to err and human to misunderstand. The greater call is to know each other. This article explores the phobias we all have about knowing the truth. In this case, I urge you to read 5 verses before and after, and you may find yourselves freer with lesser bias. It’s frightening to be free

Response III

Although no community is responsible, or should be responsible for the actions of the individuals that profess similar faith, similar origins of ethnicity or similar race, Muslims have done more than their share.

The Muslim community has done everything possible to guard the safety of fellow Americans, and nearly all of the bad guys caught by the FBI were reported by Muslims. Indeed the NYPD surveillance report violated civil rights, but the outcome absolved the Muslim community from radicalization.

GOP Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House’s homeland security subcommittee said this week: “Ninety-nine percent of Muslims are outstanding Americans, but the fact is, that’s where the threat is coming,” and added, ““If you know a threat is coming from a certain community, that’s where you look.”

As a Muslim I welcome this with a caution to Congressman Peter King: No witch hunting, sir. You will do more harm to the cohesive fabric of America than those terrorists could ever do. Please heed the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. He said “Injustice to one is injustice to all.” Inflicting apprehension on Muslims is drilling fear in all Americans.

In the retreat a month ago, where representative King, Ambassador Bolton and almost all of the Fox commentators were present - Sean Hannity gave me the stage and assured that he is after the radicals and not Muslims, and I am glad to hear a modified tone of Representative King. Two nights ago, I was with him on TV with Buchanan - Sean kept his word from the retreat that he would not attack Islam or Muslims but the radicals among Muslims,  and I salute him for the same. Indeed it was repeated on the radio show two days ago with Brigitte Gabriel and Steve Emerson.

Response  IV

ISNA is exonerated by the Federal judge from the charges of co-conspiracy. CAIR would have been shut down by the FBI, if they were co-conspirators. No one can BS us that these organizations will not let the FBI investigate them. I was able to articulate the ISNA part with Hannity on his Radio show yesterday with Brigitte Gabrielle and Steve Emerson. Indeed, I asked both of them to take history lessons - terrorism did not exist significantly prior to the Munich bombing in 1971. All the problems of terrorism we see have its seed in the Israel Palestine conflict. If we can work security to Israel and Justice to the Palestinians, we can mitigate most of the problems. Pat Buchanan on Hannity was parroting that Muslims don't condemn terrorism. I asked him to Google and look up the site

And since the last two days the site is visited over 150,000 times.

Sean Hannity

A few Muslims have been on my tail, some of them hate me outright for being on Fox – a non-Muslim thing to judge others without knowing a thing.  Although I have not been able to say everything my Muslim friends expect me to say, I have been able to offer a semblance of another point of view on his show.

When he said, I respect you, and will be careful in distinguishing Muslims and Radical Muslims, it was worth my time and my three years with him, and every ounce of humiliation in the first 5 shows was worth it.  Indeed, he has kept his promise most of the times. I salute him for that; not only that, Representative King and others present in the retreat have adopted that tone that I have quoted above.

As a community, some of us do not deal with conflicts well. We mirror the right wingers– we don’t negotiate with terrorists. Hell, then who do you make peace with? Mother Teresa has said something to that effect.

Hannity is indeed a good guy, and if we learn to see his point of view (my article at Dallas Morning on the topic), and then he will see our point of view. It is a good example of engaging with patience.

We have a lot of work to do.

This note is dedicated to some of my Muslim interfaith friends who are in the trenches, dealing with the tough questions, embarrassment, doubts and concerns in their public meetings with fellow humans of different faiths.   

Dedicated to

Maha ElGenaidi, Iftekhar Hai, Shahla Khan Salter,  Rafiq  Lodhia, Dr. Amina Wadud,  Dr. Najeeba Syeed Miller, Ani Zonneveld, Pamela Taylor, Dr. Mohamed Taher, Gehan Sabry, Harris Zafar and several others. Mind you, they are not dealing with surface goody-goody conversations, but with deep conflicts and mitigation there of. We can handle most conflicts.


Thank you.

....... Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, peace, Islam, Israel, India, interfaith, and cohesion at work place. He is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day at He believes in Standing up for others and has done that throughout his life as an activist. Mike has a presence on national and local TV, Radio and Print Media. He is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News; fortnightly at Huffington post; and several other periodicals across the world. His personal site indexes all his work through many links.