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Trump 1, Theology 0

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — politics wearing religion as a glove and vice versa, mostly re Trump but MB too ]

This is a sort of anti-post for me, because it reports on a situation where theology is considered unimportant by pastor and Governor Mike Huckabee.

First, a DoubleTweet from Michelle Boorstein of WaPo:

Trump is speaking today at Trump Towers, it appears, and Boorstein has been tweeting excerpts of what he’s been telling 900 top evangelical and social conservative leaders behind closed doors — she has, it would appear, an ear to a leaky keyhole.

I’m not interested in the DoubleTweet-ishness here, Boorstein is simply dividing a comment that exceeds twitter’s 140 character rule into two parts to post it. But her message does indicate that the theological equivalent of “dress casual” is the tone of the meeting.


Which is surely what caused Michael Farris, Founder and now Chancellor of Patrick Henry College, to post a FaceBook comment today picked up as an op ed in Christian Post under the stunning title, Trump’s Meeting With Evangelical Leaders Marks the End of the Christian Right.

Excerpts [I’ve collapsed the one-sentence-per-paragraph format here for ease of reading]:

I attended the very first meeting of the Moral Majority held in Indianapolis in February of 1980. I was the Washington state director of the MM and have been a leader of the “Christian right” ever since.

[ .. ]

The premise of the meeting in 1980 was that only candidates that reflected a biblical worldview and good character would gain our support. Today, a candidate whose worldview is greed and whose god is his appetites (Philippians 3) is being tacitly endorsed by this throng. They are saying we are Republicans no matter what the candidate believes and no matter how vile and unrepentant his character. They are not a phalanx of God’s prophets confronting a wicked leader, this is a parade of elephants.

In 1980 I believed that Christians could dramatically influence politics. Today, we see politics fully influencing a thousand Christian leaders.

This is a day of mourning.


Farris was politely dis-invited from the meeting on account of his known anti-Trump sentiments, but for my purposes, what’s interesting here is what the incident shows us about the vexed business of disentangling religion and politics. In dealing with religiously-related terrorism, the question often arises as to whether a given text or act is political, wearing religion as “cover” — or essentially religious, albeit with political implications.

In this case, it’s instructive (for me at least) to see that for Huckabee, politics is dominant, and wears religion as a glove or mask, whereas for Farris, it is religion that is dominant, albeit in the context of a presidential campaign which is by definition political.

Whether as Farris asserts, today’s meeting at Trump Towers “marks the end of the Christian Right” presumably depends on which of those two words one chooses to emphasize.


FWIW, here’s the same “which is the hand, which is the glove” issue in Egypt:

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood faces a dilemma: Religion or politics?

We’re a legacy industry in a world of start-up competitors

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]

chautauqua haqqani daveed


From the outset, when cheers went up for Daveed’s birthplace, Ashland, Oregon, and Ambassador Haqqani’s, Karachi — and for the brilliant meeting of the minds that is Chautauqua — it was clear that we were in the presence of two gracious, witty and informed intelligences, and the seriousness of the conversation between them that followed did nothing to reduce our pleasure in the event. Daveed called it “easily the best experience I have ever had as a speaker.”

I’ll highlight some quotes from each speaker, with the occasional comment:

Amb. Haqqani:

None of the countries except Egypt, Turkey and Iran, none of the countries of the Middle East are in borders that are historic, or that have evolved through a historic process. And that’s why you see the borders a straight lines. Straight lines are always drawn by cartographers or politicians, the real maps in history are always convoluted because of some historic factor or the other, or some river or some mountains.

You’ll see how neatly this fits with my recent post on borders, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

And now that whole structure, the contrived structure, is coming apart.

Then most important part of it is, that this crisis of identity – who are we? are we Muslims trying to recreate the past under the principles of the caliphate .. or are we Arabs, trying to unify everybody based on one language, or are we these states that are contrived, or are we our ethnic group, or are we our tribe, or are we our sect? And this is not only in the region, it’s also overlapping into the Muslim communities in the diaspora..


If Amb. Haqqani emphasized the multiple identities in play in the Arabic, Islamic, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and tribal worlds in his opening, Daveed’s emphasis was on the failure of the post-Westphalian concept of the nation state.

Daveed G-R:

In the economic sphere there’s this thing that is often called “legacy industries” – industries that fit for another time, but are kind of out of place today. Think of Blockbuster Video, once a massive, massive corporation.. that’s a legacy industry. So when Ambassador Haqqani talks about how it’s not just in the Middle East that we have this crisis of identity, I think the broader trend is that the Westphalian state that he spoke about, the kind of state that was encoded after the Peace of Westphalia, looks to a lot of people who are in this generation of the internet where ideas flow freely, it looks like a legacy industry.

Why do you need this as a form of political organizing? And what ISIS has shown is that a violent non-state actor, even a jihadist group that is genocidal and implements as brutal a form of Islamic law as you could possibly see, it can hold territory the size of Great Britain, and it can withstand the advance of a coalition that includes the world’s most powerful countries including the United States. And what that suggests is that alternative forms of political organization can now compete with the nation state.


The Ambassador then turned to the lessons we should take from 1919’s US King–Crane Commission, reporting on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire — they concluded that it gave us

a great opportunity — not likely to return — to build .. a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding the rights of minorities

— down to our own times.

Amb. Haqqani:

What we can be sure of is that the current situation is something that will not be dealt with without understanding the texture of these societies. So for example, when the United States went into Iraq without full understanding of its sectarian and tribal composition, and assumed that, all we are doing is deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and then we will hold elections and now a nice new guy will get elected, and things will be all right -– that that is certainly not the recipe. So what we can say with certainty in 2015 is .. over the last century what we have learnt is: outsiders, based on their interests, determining borders is not a good idea, and should certainly not be repeated. Assuming that others are anxious to embrace your culture in totality is also an unrealistic idea.

The sentence that follows was a stunner from the Ambassador, gently delivered — a single sentence that could just as easily have been the title for this post as the remark by Daveed with which I have in fact titled it:

Let me just say that, look, he ideological battle, in the Muslim world, will have to be fought by the likes of me.

Spot on — and we are fortunate the Ambassador and his like are among us.


Daveed then turned to another topic I have freqently emphasized myself.

Daveed G-R:

The power of ideas – we as Americans tend not to recognize this when it falls outside of ideas that are familiar to us. So one thing that the US has been slow to acknowledge is the role of the ideology that our friend and ally Saudi Arabia has been promulgating globally, in fomenting jihadist organizations.

And one of the reasons we have been slow to recognize that. I mean one reason is obvious, which is oil. .. But another reason has been – we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being real – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us –as basically being a pretext, with some underlying motivation which is more familiar to us. That it must be economics, or it must be political anger. I’m not saying those are irrelevant, they’re not – but when Al-Qaida or ISIS explains themselves, taking their explanation seriously and understanding where they’re coming from – not as representatives of Islam as a whole, but as representatives of the particular ideology that they claim to stand for – we need to take that seriously. Because they certainly do.


Amb. Haqqani:

The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.

This makes a nice DoubleQuote with Gabriel Marcel‘s more general aphorism:

Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.


Toward the end of the discussion, Daveed touched on some ideas of recurrent interest to Zenpundit readers..

Daveed G-R:

Looking at the US Government, questions that I ask a lot are: Why are we so bad at strategy? Why are we so bad at analysis? Why do we take such a short term view and negate the long term?

He then freturned to the issue of legacy industries and nation-states:

Blockbuster is a legacy industry. And the reason why legacy industries have so much trouble competing against start-up firms, is because start-ups are smaller, it’s more easy for them to change course, to implement innovative policies, to make resolute decisions – they can out-manoeuver larger companies. And so larger companies that do well adapt themselves to this new environment where they have start-up competitors. Nation-state governments are legacy industries. Violent non-state actors are start-up compoetitors.

— and had the final, pointed word:

We’re a legacy industry ina world of start-up competitors.


Having offered you these tastes, at this point I can only encourage you to watch the whole hour and a quarter, filled to the brim with incisive and articulately-stated insights:

Going five rounds and then some with those Egyptian Crucifixions…

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — news, debate, credibility, Muslim brotherhood, Egypt, Ansar al-Shariah, Yemen, capital punishment, scriptures, USA, progress? ]

There’s plenty of food for thought here — quite a Smörgåsbord in fact — with rumor outstripping fact, images and facts too grisly for the squeamish, biases and bias-confirmation, subtlety in the details, scriptural sanctions and shifts in emphasis, capital punishment… and human progress, to paraphrase William Gibson, more or less evenly distributed.

Round One:

On the 17th of August, Michael Carl wrote a piece, Arab Spring run amok: ‘Brotherhood’ starts Crucifixions in WorldNetDaily:

The Arab Spring takeover of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood has run amok, with reports from several different media agencies that the radical Muslims have begun crucifying opponents of newly installed President Mohammed Morsi.

Middle East media confirm that during a recent rampage, Muslim Brotherhood operatives “crucified those opposing Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others.”

The run amok is stated as fact, the crucifixions are described in terms of reports.

Also worth noting:

Carl quoted in his support Raymond Ibrahim — a Fellow with the Middle East Forum and the Investigative Project on Terrorism — in support. It is worth noting that Ibrahim, who authored The Al Qaeda Reader — a book I admire for its pointed insistance of the religious current in AQ documents — is himself an American of Egyptian Coptic Christian parentage, whose views of the Brotherhood can be gleaned from a recent post of his titled Egypt: Islamists vs. Copts — An Animosity That Seeks Any Excuse to Attack

Round Two:

On the 22nd, Jonathan Kay responded to Carl’s piece in the [Candadian] National Post, Egypt’s “crucifixion” hoax becomes an instant Internet myth:

Have you heard the one about how Christians are being nailed up on crucifixes and left to die in front of the Egyptian presidential place?

It’s a story worth dissecting — not because it’s true (it isn’t), but because it is a textbook example of how the Internet, once thought to be the perfect medium of truth-seeking, has been co-opted by culture warriors as a weapon to fire up the naïve masses with lies and urban legends.

Kay then offered his somewhat nuanced critique:

It is, of course, theoretically possible that Muslim radicals truly have “crucified” someone, somewhere, sometime, in Egypt. Islamist mobs have staged countless murderous attacks on Copt “infidels” in recent years — and a crucifixion would hardly be a more barbarous tactic than truck bombs and beheadings.

But the story doesn’t just allege that a crucifixion has taken place somewhere in Egypt: It alleges that multiple crucifixions have taken place in front of the presidential palace. That would be the equivalent of, say, mass lynchings taking place in front of the White House, or a giant gang rape taking place in front of Ottawa’s Centennial Flame fountain.

Kay then goes into some detail about his attempts to find a single photograph — or an eyewitness account — of a crucifixion outside Egypt’s Presidential Palace, and his inability to find either one, coupled with his research into the murky origins of the story…

His overall sense of things?

Why do so many people believe this made up story? For the same reason that people believe all urban legends — because they play to some deeply held narrative that resides in our deepest fears. In this case, the narrative is that the Arab Spring is part of an orchestrated Islamist plot to destroy Western civilization (beginning with Israel).

Round Three:

Carl quickly responded with Video Report confirms Egyptian Crucificions.

The problem here: Kay had written “That’s because there is no Sky report on the subject” — he had, he write that, and Carl quoted him, pointing out that Sky had in fact carried a report, as if that dismissed Kay’s point. What Carl didn’t quote was the following paragraphs, in which Kay said:

Yesterday I contacted the management of Sky News Arabic, and asked them about the crucifixions. According to Fares Ghneim, a Sky communications official, the crucifixion claim “began on social media. It started getting pick-up from there and eventually reached us.”

“Our reporters came across reports of the alleged crucifixions and a story very briefly appeared on the Sky News Arabia website,” he added. “The story — which was taken down within minutes — was based on third-party reports and I am not aware that any of our reporters said or confirmed anything along the lines of what is quoted…

So: Kay somewhat foolishly overstated his case with his summary “there is no Sky report” but made it immediately clear that there was in fact a report, “taken down within minutes”. Carl then quotes the inaccurate summary and shows it to be inaccurate, while ignoring the more detailed (and accurate) version.

Round Four:

Jonathan Kay came back on the 24th with More on the debunked Egyptian ‘crucifixion’ hoax (and its 2009 precedent). He made the point I’ve just made above, and then mentioned a Carnegie Endowment report describing “an internet rumor circulated in late 2008 to the effect that Hamas was ‘celebrating’ Christmas by crucifying Gaza’s non-Muslims”:

And amazingly, it wasn’t just the conspiracy theorists at WND who got sucked into this one. According to Brown, it was featured in blogs connected to such respectable publications as The New Republic, National Review and Commentary. Even the Simon Wiesenthal Center was pushing the story.

Voices that agree with you are easier to hear (and believe) than voices that don’t.

Round Five:

Carl came back again with Shocking video evidence of Islamic Crucifixion on the 29th:

WND recently confirmed a Sky News Arabia report of the crucifixion of dissidents in Egypt.

According to a report by Lebanon Today translated into English, the Yemeni jihadist group Ansar al-Shariah took control of the Azzan area of Yemen and imposed Islamic law, or Shariah.

In the process, the group crucified three men, accusing them of being agents for the U.S. The executions reportedly took place several months ago.

See that?

We’ve been discussing crucifixions allegedly taking place right outside the Presidential Palace in Egypt, and although the headline here doesn’t specify Egypt, the Egypt story is again mentioned — at which point we switch from Egypt to Yemen, and from the Muslim Brotherhood to the AQAO-related Ansar al Shariah!

Funny thing, that.

And then some:

The Carnegie report:

Here’s another quick quote from the Carnegie Endowment’s piece to which Kay referred, Pointers for the Obama Administration in the Middle East: Avoiding Myths and Vain Hopes from January 2009:

Myth 4: Hamas decided to celebrate Christmas by crucifying people.

Didn’t hear this one?

It is an odd story and one that is not central to diplomatic efforts. But it can illustrate the treacheries of finding one’s way in the conflict.

Different versions of this story has spread around the world—propounded most recently by a member of the Australian Senate.

If you have not read about it, that is because of what you choose to read. If you rely on the New York Times, the story would be news to you. If you choose the Washington Post, you may remember it popping up in Charles Krauthammer’s column. It turned up at least twice in the Washington Times. In the UK, it was asserted by a columnist for the Times but by none in the Guardian. Aficionados of English-language Israeli press would have read it a couple times in the Jerusalem Post but never in Ha‘aretz. It was featured in blogs connected to the New Republic, the National Review, and Commentary, but not the Nation or Mother Jones. It was pushed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center but not pursued by other mainstream Jewish organizations.

Oh, and by the way — it’s not true.

So the credibility of various media is at issue here, eh?


As Kay observed in his first piece, WorldNetDaily does have a history of making dubious conspiracist claims, such as:

most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today’s rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products

Medical authorities with a wide range of approaches have refuted this claim, from Dr Andrew Weil (“the premier resource for timely, trustworthy information on natural health and wellness“):

When you consider that millions of men in China, Japan and other Asian countries have had soy foods in their daily diets from earliest childhood, you can appreciate that the plant estrogens they contain have no discernible effect on male sexual development, and no feminizing effects at all.

to the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes for Health, which hosts the Fertility and Sterility (2010 May 1; 93(7): 2095-104) article Soybean isoflavone exposure does not have feminizing effects on men: a critical examination of the clinical evidence.

Meanwhile in Yemen…

I usually like to have an intriguing graphic at the head of my posts, but the appropriate graphic for this one is striking enough that I thought it better to present it here, well into the body of the post. It comes from MEMRI TV:

It depicts that crucifixion in Yemen. And I’d say it represents a man who has been hung on a cross to die in the excruciating heat, rather than someone crucified in the Roman manner. Either way, the death would be a horrible one — and such things happen.

It appears there was indeed a crucifixion — indeed, there may have been three — in Yemen.

Nota Bene:

But note well: this is not the Muslim Brotherhood, this is not Egypt, this is not anything happening directly in front of Morsi’s Presidential Palace. This is Yemen, and this is allegedly the work of Ansar al-Shariah.

Gregory Johnsen described the relationship between Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Ansar al-Shariah a few months ago in this Frontline piece:

We know that Nasir al-Wuhayshi heads both AQAP and Ansar al-Sharia. We know that the different emirs for Ansar al-Sharia accept the bay‘a or oath of allegiance on behalf of Wuhayshi. And we know that members claimed by Ansar al-Sharia are also claimed by AQAP. … What we don’t know is whether everyone who self-identifies as Ansar al-Sharia would also identify as a member of AQAP.

Okay, the exact, appropriate use of the term Al-Qaeda and the relations of AQAP and Ansar are topic of discussion among scholars. But whether you think, Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, they’re all the same, or Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, so very different, likely depends on how much you know about the respective organizations and their history.

Here’s a fairly nuanced assessment from CFR:

Since 9/11, prominent members of the Brotherhood have renounced violence publicly and tried to distance themselves from al-Qaeda’s violent practices. The Brotherhood’s foray into electoral politics has also widened the schism between them and groups like al-Qaeda. Zawahiri had been openly critical of the Brotherhood’s participation in the 2005 parliamentary elections.

But like other mass social movements, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is hardly a monolith; it comprises hardliners, reformers, and centrists, notes terrorism expert Lydia Khalil. And some hardline leaders have voiced support for al-Qaeda or use of violent jihad…

By way of religious context:

The Qur’an endorses crucifixion as a penalty at 5.33-4:T

Those who wage war against God and His Messenger and strive to spread corruption in the land should be punished by death, crucifixion, the amputation of an alternate hand and foot or banishment from the land: a disgrace for them in this world, and then a terrible punishment in the Hereafter, unless they repent before you overpower them: in that case bear in mind that God is forgiving and merciful.

Similarly, the Torah in Deuteronomy 21.18-21 endorses death by stoning for disobedient sons:

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

Jesus in the Gospel of John 8.7 comments on the punishment by stoning of an adulteress with a clever rabbinic shift of emphasis — not denying earlier scripture (Deuteronomy 17.7) which called for the first stone to be cast by a witness, but rendering the punishment itself effectively impossible to carry out:

He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.


From stoning, crucifixion and beheading, we the human race have by and large progressed in our use of capital punishment to such more recent devices as the guillotine, gas chamber, electric chair, and lethal injection.

Someone named Starling Carlton was executed in South Carolina in 1859 for aiding a runaway slave.

According to the Innocence Project:

Seventeen people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row.

And so the wheel turns.

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