Monday, April 30, 2007

If Turkey were secular

Massive protests in Turkey yesterday highlighted the growing tension between religious Turks and their secular sisters in the predominantly Muslim country.

Two weeks after three Bible sellers were murdered by Turkish zeoloats, the at least 700,000 secular protesters were concerned about what Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul's campaign for presidency would mean for non-religious Turks living in Istanbul and other major cities.

“People here are the real Turkey," one protester told the New York Times:

It is an emotional reaction to a relatively new layering of society that began 20 years ago but has accelerated recently. A massive migration from rural areas to Turkey’s cities and a large-scale economic boom have drawn an entirely new class of religious Turks from the country’s heartland into the life of its secular cities.

The class is represented by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is challenging the secular elite, forcing a presidential candidate upon them whom they find completely distasteful.

On Friday, the military gave him a warning. It has ousted four elected governments since 1960, and seemed to be considering whether to make Mr. Erdogan’s the fifth. On Sunday, Mr. Erdogan gave a warning of his own: He will continue to push his candidate, an action that will probably lead to early national elections.

Secular Turks fear that Mr. Erdogan has a secret agenda to impose Islamic law on Turkey and that his party’s move to secure the presidency, the highest seat of secularism in Turkey, is one of the final steps needed to start that process.

But Metin Heper, a professor at Bilkent University in Ankara, said: “They fear these people, but these fears are groundless. Gradually, they will see that these people are no different from themselves.”

Friday, April 27, 2007

Pharoah and the LAFD

LAFD's public image continues to spiral down. My colleague, Eugene Tong, reported yesterday that someone had gotten on the PA of a fire station in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood (synonymous with L.A. Jewry) and sung, "Who let the Jews out?" to the tune of the Baha Men's hit song.

That story hit the wire and caught the eye of New Yorker Sam Apple, who is Jewish and two years ago published a book called "Schlepping Through the Alps," described by The Washington Post as "The liveliest, most unusual travel tale in recent memory."

To promote his book, Apple created a Passover parody that he put up on YouTube.

Jewcy rated it the second best Jewish Viral Video based on "Jewishness, re-watchability and viral impact (basically, whether you would be proud to forward it)." Apple's video, which features a distraught Pharoah and a caravan of Israelites driving slammed Caddies through a parted Red Sea, was called "Who let the Jews out?"

Apple, who obviously suffers from Jewish guilt, called Tong to apologize for any indirect harm he may have caused.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

God and aliens

Aliens.jpgSwiss scientist Michel Mayor, who was credited with co-finding the first planet outside our solar system, is now sleuthing for signs of alien life. What if he finds it? What would that mean for the religious faithful on planet Earth?

It's a vexing question, mostly because it seems impossible to know the importance of the answer. Two years ago, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders told me the existence of extraterrestrials wouldn't contradict theological doctrine. Mormons and Seventh-day Adventists already believe aliens exist, though not the kind that tried to eat Sigourney Weaver. Scientology, on the other hand, is built upon scary space creatures.

From an article I wrote for The Sun (no longer available online):

The theological significance of extraterrestrial life has been debated for centuries. In the Middle Ages, as today, some argued that God could have created worlds better than ours; others maintained that Earth was the center of God's universe.

"Although it became heretical to deny that God could create other worlds, it was dangerous to claim he had,' Joseph L. Spradley, a physics and astronomy professor at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., wrote in 1998 for a fellowship of Christian scientists.

The verdict from most Christians is still out. However, many theologians say, if God did create other worlds and other people, that would not contradict the biblical story of the sin of man being redeemed by the son of God.

"How God shares the story of creation and of love and of the ultimate hope for the restoration of all things in God's design, I think that can be worked out in many different ways,' said Philip A. Amerson, president of the Claremont School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary.

There could be different paths to God on different planets, Amerson said. Others accept a more traditional salvation model.

"Saint Paul would suggest to indicate, and it is just a hint, that if there is life on other planets, and these beings needed salvation or redemption, the death of Christ on planet Earth would be a sufficient price,' said the Rev. John Jefferson Davis, a Presbyterian and professor of theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary near Boston.

Another possibility is that extraterrestrials would not need atonement, Seventh-day Adventists believe. Because these beings would not have been borne of Adam and Eve, they would be perfectly moral beings incapable of sin.

War on Islam

NotATerrorist.jpgIt doesn't matter what rhetorical polishing President Bush's team has done to market the "War on Terror." Outside the United States, it's perceived as an effort to undermine -- even attack -- Islam, according to a report by, a research group affiliated with the University of Maryland.

"While US leaders may frame the conflict as a war on terrorism, people in the Islamic world clearly perceive the US as being at war with Islam,” said Steven Kull, editor of

Via the Bible Belt Blogger:

Muslims have raised concerns about the "War on Terrorism" since President Bush briefly dubbed it a "crusade" back in September 2001. [The word, which conjures up images of medieval battles between Christians and Muslims, was quickly scrapped.]

In Egypt, 92 percent of those polled believe one of the U.S.'s goals is to weaken and divide the Islamic world. Only four percent disagreed. Seventy-eight percent agreed with the statement in Morocco, and 73 percent shared that view in Pakistan and Indonesia.

While suspicious of U.S. foreign policy, the people polled also expressed opposition to terrorism. Attacks aimed at civilians to carry out political goals are "not at all justified" according to 57 percent of Moroccans, 77 percent of Egyptians, 81 percent of Pakistanis and 84 percent of Indonesians.

U.S. Muslims were not surveyed. Though Muslim Americans might not believe the United States is at war with Islam, they have grown increasingly concerned about home-grown Islamophobia. When I wrote about this two weeks ago, it incited some e-mails that warranted their fears.

But this statement from WorldPublicOpinion's press release helps explain why some Americans broadly paint Muslims as scary:

Most respondents have mixed feelings about al Qaeda. Large majorities agree with many of its goals, but believe that terrorist attacks on civilians are contrary to Islam.

Many people would stop reading after that first sentence.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hedging on 'genocide' -- the plight of the Armenians

Hitler.JPG"Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?"

Hitler reportedly asked that question of his commanding generals in 1939, as he prepared to rid the world of Jews. Holocaust historians site this quotation when trying to explain Hitler's rational for how his acts would escape world condemnation. And yet, Jews -- who have so much in common with Armenians -- have struggled to embrace Armenians as true kindred spirits, diaspora people like Jews, who, though they did not suffer the Holocaust, suffered a holocaust.

Today marks the 92nd anniversary of the beginning of what most historians call the Armenian Genocide. And though most Western countries have recognized the acts as genocide, the United States and Israel have not. The U.S. has not wanted to offend an important military ally, and Israel has been hard pressed to condemn the founding fathers of the best friend in the Muslim world.

But the tide has shifted.

Two years ago, the Daily News' Lisa Friedman reported that Rep. Mark Lantos, Congress' only Holocaust survivor, had changed course and now supported a resolution to call the slaugthering of Armenians by Ottomon Turks a genocide. Media outlets have been all over the story this year, the year handicappers predict Congress might finally pass a non-binding resolution calling the atrocities genocide. (The LA Times had a front-page story Saturday and an Opinion cover Sunday.) A January headline in the Turkish Daily News proclaimed, "US Jewish lobby warns Turkish MFA: Even we might not be able to block the Armenian genocide bill if you don’t move."

Valley Beth Shalom, a Conservative Encino synagogue, has begun pushing for Jewish recognition. I covered an event the synagogue held in January that brought together Armenian and Jewish youth for a screening of the moving "Screamers," a documentary following the rock band System of a Down's campaign to have the genocide acknowledged across Europe and the U.S.

"Amnesia of the past foreshadows amnesia of the future. Forget yesterday's tragedy and the threat to tomorrow is denied. Forget the first genocide of the 20th century -- the murder of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 -- and the memory and atrocities of the first genocide of the 21st century in Darfur turn invisible, and the world response is muted," Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom wrote in this week's Jewish Journal.

" ... Every genocide is singular. But a kinship of suffering unites us all. To play the shameless game of "one-downsmanship" is an invidious sport. My blood is not redder than yours, my suffering not more painful than yours. Hatred consumes us all indiscriminately."

Schulweis, who founded the group Jewish World Watch, which is working against the genocide in Darfur, also will preside over a shabbat dinner for Armenians and Jews at his temple Friday night. He will be joined by His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate, Western Diocese/Armenian Church of North America.

Turkey does not dispute that more than a million Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1923, but it attributes the deaths to civil strife and notes that many Turks died then, too; there are even statues to who lost their lives.

"Let's unearth the truth about what happened in 1915 together," the Turkish embassy said in a full page ad on the back of the LA Times A section Monday. "We can face the truth about our past; we call upon the Armenians to do the same."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Greenberg going, going, almost gone

apprentice brad.jpgWell, Donald Trump didn't want me, but the Jewish Journal does.

So today, I accepted a writing job at the largest Jewish paper outside New York. I know what you're thinking. You're not Jewish. Not religiously. No matter how bushy a beard you can grow. Correct, but I'll be reporting about a lot more than just Judaism -- Jewish life, politics, history and most everything else.

The job will be satisfying both professionally and personally. The weekly format and larger newshole will help me develop my narrative voice and become an expert in a specific field. The subject matter will allow me to learn more about my ancestors while getting a paycheck.

My new digs will be in Koreatown. From the 15th floor suite, I can see Kate's office and for the first time since we got married, we'll be able to meet up for lunch. (My first job put us 80 miles apart; the Daily News separates us by 20 miles.)

I'm grateful for the time I've had in Woodland Hills, for the opportunities Ron and Melissa have given me to grow, for the shepherding editing of Aron Miller, who brought me here. This unexpected offer brought a tough decision; I'll miss a lot of people. Brent Hopkins, my good buddy and role model here at the Daily News, had this nice farewell on the paper's union blog.

During the next two weeks, if you have a good religion story, let me know. And after that, I'll be taking the religion blog with me. Loyal God Blogites (Mom, I know you're reading), please come and see what I'm doing for the Jewish Journal.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Biblical lessons in Va Tech wake

Job.jpgIt's not often I read an editorial that begins like this:

IN THE BIBLICAL Book of Job, the anguished hero is visited by three friends who attempt to comfort him by drawing airy and sententious lessons from his agonies. Of course, they end up adding to his troubles; Job endures not only the real pains of grief and sickness but the indignity of having his suffering milked for rhetorical effect.

Thanks to the LA Times for this thoughtful reflection on everything politicians and activists can do wrong in the immediate wake of tragedy. Pushing for gun control; insisting a broader right to bear arms. Blaming the university for not reacting quick enough. Dismissing the attack to a shunned lover's rage.

"I have heard many such things," Job says. "Miserable comforters are ye all." No newspaper is in a position to criticize anybody for capitalizing on tragedy or taking convenient positions. There will be time for both in the days to come. But now is a time to respect, quietly, the tears and the pain of this terrible event.

Holocaust survivor dies in Va Tech massacre

Liviu.jpgLiviu Librescu survived the Holocaust. But while millions worldwide observed Yom HaShoah Monday, Librescu sacrificed his life for his Virginia Tech students. From the Jerusalem Post, via my favorite blog:

Professor Liviu Librescu, 76, threw himself in front of the shooter when the man attempted to enter his classroom. The Israeli mechanics and engineering lecturer was shot to death, "but all the students lived - because of him," Virginia Tech student Asael Arad - also an Israeli - told Army Radio.

Several of Librescu's other students sent e-mails to his wife, Marlena, telling of how he blocked the gunman's way and saved their lives, said Librescu's son, Joe.

"My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Joe Librescu said in a telephone interview from his home outside of Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Jews and money

"If you ever forget you are a Jew, a Gentile will remind you."

So the saying goes. And for me, it was true: I grew up in a Christian home and, aside from my last name, knew nothing about what it was to be Jewish. Except of course, for the jokes, which usually involved terms like "money grubbing."

Thompson.jpgIt seems today that presidential hopeful Tommy Thompson wasn't aware of the stereotype that says Jews are stingy money hoarders, a slander that has been used to incite violence and foment malevolence. Here is what he told a group of Jewish activists, courtesy of Haaretz:

"I'm in the private sector and for the first time in my life I'm earning money. You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that."

Thompson later apologized for the comments that had caused a stir in the audience, saying that he had meant it as a compliment, and had only wanted to highlight the "accomplishments" of the Jewish religion.

"I just want to clarify something because I didn't [by] any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things," he said.
It's difficult to imagine someone being so oblivious, but he is running for president. That should be worth something. The headline from the Dallas Morning News' religion blog says it all: "Next he'll tell the NAACP that he loves that great fried chicken and watermelon they serve..."

Religion reporting wins Pulitzer

As anticipated, NYTer Andrea Elliott earned a Pulitzer Prize today, what the board called, "for her intimate, richly textured portrait of an immigrant imam striving to find his way and serve his faithful in America."

Click here for links to the "Imam in America" stories.

Death to the death penalty

Texas is synonymous with capital punishment. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Texas has executed 391 people. This year, 12 Texans have been executed; the other 49 states have killed a sole convicted murderer.

That's what makes this so surprising: The Dallas Morning News' editorial board has called for an end to the death penalty. Here's the explanation:

Ernest Ray Willis set a fire that killed two women in Pecos County. So said Texas prosecutors who obtained a conviction in 1987 and sent Mr. Willis to death row. But it wasn't true.

Seventeen years later, a federal judge overturned the conviction, finding that prosecutors had drugged Mr. Willis with powerful anti-psychotic medication during his trial and then used his glazed appearance to characterize him as "cold-hearted." They also suppressed evidence and introduced neither physical proof nor eyewitnesses in the trial – and his court-appointed lawyers mounted a lousy defense. Besides, another death-row inmate confessed to the killings.

The state dropped all charges. Ernest Ray Willis emerged from prison a pauper. But he was lucky: He had his life. Not so Carlos De Luna, who was executed in 1989 for the stabbing death of a single mother who worked at a gas station. For years, another man with a history of violent crimes bragged that he had committed the crime. The case against Mr. De Luna, in many eyes, does not stand up to closer examination.

There are signs he was innocent. We don't know for sure, but we do know that if the state made a mistake, nothing can rectify it.

And that uncomfortable truth has led this editorial board to re-examine its century-old stance on the death penalty. This board has lost confidence that the state of Texas can guarantee that every inmate it executes is truly guilty of murder. We do not believe that any legal system devised by inherently flawed human beings can determine with moral certainty the guilt of every defendant convicted of murder.

That is why we believe the state of Texas should abandon the death penalty – because we cannot reconcile the fact that it is both imperfect and irreversible.


From our vantage point in Dallas County, the possibility of tragic, fatal error in the death chamber appears undeniable. We have seen a parade of 13 men walk out of the prison system after years – even decades – of imprisonment for crimes they didn't commit. Though not death penalty cases, these examples – including an exoneration just last week – reveal how shaky investigative techniques and reliance on eyewitnesses can derail the lives of the innocent.

Here is the religious spin on capital punishment, from an article I wrote for The Sun before Tookie Williams was executed:

There is diversity across political ideology and religious dogma.

Generally, though, Jews oppose the death penalty, as do Buddhists. Many Muslims believe it is an acceptable punishment although some decry its application.

Pope John Paul II, who once met with the man who tried to kill him and publicly expressed his forgiveness, strongly condemned the death penalty in 1999. U.S. Catholic bishops this spring announced a campaign to put the punishment to rest.

Most Protestant denominations also have publicly joined the abolitionists in what they see as the other pro-life issue.

But the largest U.S. Christian denomination Southern Baptists support states' rights to execute murderers.

"The same ones who support pro-life support the death penalty. It is an oxymoron,' said the Rev. Michael Nichols, a Southern Baptist chaplain at California Institution for Men in Chino who disagrees with his denomination's stance.

The United States is the only westernized nation to allow capital punishment. Last year, it was one of four countries that accounted for 97 percent of known executions, according to Amnesty International. The other three were China, Iran and Vietnam.

In the United States, this is attributed to stronger Christian convictions, say some theologians and the writings of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

"If we don't have God as the author of law, then law is meaningless because it is whatever we say it is and the Nazis were right,' said Kevin Thomas, an assistant professor of theology and law at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.

Christians who support the death penalty often point to the 13th chapter of the New Testament book of Romans:

"If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.'

Other supporters refer to several passages in the Old Testament, particularly the ninth chapter of Genesis: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.'

But more liberal theologians argue Jesus Christ, who was crucified, opposed executions. In fact, Christ is credited with the clemency most widely known throughout history that of a woman caught in adultery.

"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,' he said, according to the Gospel of John.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Evel Knievel born again

EvelJump.jpgTwo weeks ago, the man synonymous with carefree adverturism, someone who lept the fountain at Caesar's Palace (right), told a Palm Sunday crowd at the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County that he had taken a leap of faith.

"I don't know what in the world happened," Robert "Evel" Knievel said. "I don't know if it was the power of the prayer or God himself, but it just reached out, either while I was driving or walking down the sidewalk or sleeping, and it just—the power of God in Jesus just grabbed me. … All of a sudden, I just believed in Jesus Christ. I did, I believed in him! … I rose up in bed and, I was by myself, and I said, 'Devil, Devil, you bastard you, get away from me. I cast you out of my life.' … I just got on my knees and prayed that God would put his arms around me and never, ever, ever let me go."

Evel's testimony reportedly resulted in hundreds of people being baptized on the spot. From an article I submitted to Christianity Today last night, online now.

Roots of Jewish brainpower

Why are Jews so smart? (Or dumb, depending on your point of reference.) Well, in this month's Commentary Magazine, controversial scholar Charles Murray, a self-described "Scots-Irish Gentile," has a piece titled "Jewish Genius" in which he writes that "going back to the time of Moses, Judaism was intertwined with intellectual complexity."

In the first half of the 20th century, despite pervasive and continuing social discrimination against Jews throughout the Western world, despite the retraction of legal rights, and despite the Holocaust, Jews won 14 percent of Nobel Prizes in literature, chemistry, physics, and medicine/physiology. In the second half of the 20th century, when Nobel Prizes began to be awarded to people from all over the world, that figure rose to 29 percent. So far, in the 21st century, it has been 32 percent. Jews constitute about two-tenths of one percent of the world’s population. You do the math.


New York City’s public-school system used to administer a pencil-and-paper IQ test to its entire school population. In 1954, a psychologist used those test results to identify all 28 children in the New York public-school system with measured IQ’s of 170 or higher. Of those 28, 24 were Jews.


Nothing that I have presented up to this point is scientifically controversial. The profile of disproportionately high Jewish accomplishment in the arts and sciences since the 18th century, the reality of elevated Jewish IQ, and the connection between the two are not to be denied by means of data. And so we come to the great question: how and when did this elevated Jewish IQ come about?

Murray, of the American Enterprise Institute, tries to answer that question here. He refutes research published last year in the Journal of Biosocial Science that reported Ashkenazi Jews had heightened intelligence, but not Sephardic or Oriental Jews. Gregory Cochran, an author of that study, snaps back in The Forward.

“I would call it pure speculation,” said Cochran, who is a researcher in Utah. “I don’t think there’s any evidence he’s right.”


Murray acknowledges that his work is based more on historical impressions than on rigorous science, but it is already provoking debate in a corner of the intellectual world that tends to make Jews very uncomfortable: genetics.

Cochran’s work was widely panned by geneticists, and Murray makes even less of an effort to placate these experts with scientifically grounded evidence. The assumption from which both researchers work — that intelligence has a genetic basis — is still disputed by many scientists. Harry Ostrer, a leading Jewish geneticist, said that Murray’s work was “speculation” and that both Murray and Cochran trade in a “love of group typology — Jews are smart and blacks are great athletes.”

Zell: 'One tough Jew'

Sam Zell got the treatment today from the largest Jewish newspapers in Los Angeles and New York. The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and The Forward recycle the stories of Zell's reputation as a open-shirt-wearing, motorcycle-riding, grave-dancing business maverick.

But, more fascinating, is that both papers note the oddity of Zell, whose parents fled Poland the night before Nazi invasion, placing the winning bid for the Tribune Co, which owns the Los Angeles Times.

From The Forward:

The irony of Zell’s latest success is that it will likely make him the owner of a company that has been the very antithesis of the Jewish summer camp culture in which Zell was molded. The Chicago Tribune, the company’s flagship publication, has had a famously antagonistic relationship with the Jewish community in Chicago — historically because of its right-wing, isolationist stance during World War II, and more recently because of its critical coverage of Israel. Newspaper watchers say that Zell and the Tribune will be an interesting mix.

“The paper has a reputation for having a thick glass ceiling for Jews,” said Michael Siegel, who for 25 years has been the rabbi at Chicago’s Anshe Emet Synagogue, where Zell is a member. “For someone like Sam Zell, who is noted as a grave dancer, here is he is more of a grave spinner. There are probably some past owners and executives who are spinning in their graves right now.”

And from The Jewish Journal:

Happily for them, most of the old-time Los Angeles anti-Semites who used to hang out at the downtown California Club are either dead or too old to care that a Jew is on the verge of owning the L.A. Times.

Not just any Jew. Sam Zell looks as though he's one tough Jew, probably even tougher than the old California Clubbers who stole the water from the Owens Valley and got rich in sneaky San Fernando Valley land deals.


Another Jew, David Geffen, is waiting in the wings, hoping to be either Zell's joint-venture partner or to buy the Times from him.

However it turns out, we'll probably have a Jew in charge of the Times, which was once one of old Los Angeles' most famous WASP institutions. What a great day for old L.A. Jews with long memories of country clubs and downtown clubs that banned them; restrictive covenants that kept them out of certain fancy neighborhoods; anti-Semitic fraternities and sororities at USC and UCLA and law firms that never seemed able to find a place for a smart Jewish attorney. They also may have memories of the old Times, which, while not anti-Semitic, was a perfect reflection of the conservative Republican WASP culture of Los Angeles' upper classes.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

More e-mail

I've been getting a lot of response to my article in today's Daily News about Islamophobia. Here is another gem, with added emphasis in bold:

Why do so many Jews in the U.S., continue to apologize and making excuses for radical Islam. Here's a group of people who want to marginalize and destroy Jews all over the world, yet you and many others of the Jewish faith, defend them and push their propaganda.

There is NO such thing as Islamophobia! when is the last time you heard of a Muslim being beaten, raped or murdered in the U.S.???? They are allowed to work where they want, preach when they want and say what they want. nearly the complete opposite of their home country. What there is, is a realization that there are millions of Muslims both here and around the world, who want to impose their backwards, totalitarian beliefs on the rest of us. WHY IS IT THAT LIBERALS LIKE YOU DON'T GET THIS!!!!

So as long as you're giving University teachers a pass on their hate speech against the U.S. and Israel, how about you talk about how:

Muslims burn and loot cars and homes in Paris every night!

a Muslim shot and killed Jewish women at a Synagogue in Seattle

Schools in the U.K. are now BANNING any teaching of the holocaust so they don't offend Muslims.

this list is endless but those are recent examples.

Brad, you're on the wrong side. So while you push your politically correct - multicultural drivel, I'll choose to fight to keep this country strong and safe. While you're waiting in line with your prayer rug on the way to the ovens, I'll continue to shine a light on the hate speech that Imams are spewing in Mosque's.

I should note that based on this man's last name, which is the same way he misidentified my faith -- I am culturally though not religiously Jewish -- he might be Jewish.


Snuke.jpgAn episode of "South Park" last month (a clip is available here and the entire episode here) offered a true pearl of religious-persecution wisdom. The premise of the entire show, in which a rally for Hillary "Hildog" Clinton is disrupted by a dirty bomb that has been slipped inside her, is that Cartman is trying to stop a new Muslim student from carrying out his terrorist plot. Why does Cartman -- who in another episode this season convinced the school that Kyle, the fourth grade's lone Jew, planned 9/11 and in a previous season emulated Hitler -- suspect young Bahir wants to nuke South Park?

Because he is Muslim -- no other reason is needed.

In the Daily News today, I touched on a theme of this "South Park" episode. (It was already in the works, and was turned in long ago. I swear.) Increasingly, Muslim Americans are talking about "Islamophobia." After 9/11, they felt misunderstood. Now they say they are being targeted for discrimination and persecution. One of the people I interviewed, Hussam Ayloush of the SoCal chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, spoke at length about the "industry of hate" that fuels Islamophobia.

Here's a recent post on his blog that names some names. "Are you a professional failure?" Ayloush asks. "... No more worries. Your hardships are gone. I have the right solution for you. Just become a Muslim basher and all your financial and low self-esteem troubles will be gone."

Making Ayloush's list is Steven Emerson, whose reporting for The New Republic last summer enshrouded in controversy the selection of local Muslim Maher Hathout for a county humanitarian award. Coincidentally, on the same day the "South Park" episode aired, The New Republic posted online another Emerson piece criticizing a mainstream Muslim American organization -- Ayloush's CAIR.

CAIR has been accused repeatedly of having terrorists ties, and Emerson again makes the claim, while taking aim at a recent NY Times article, posted here at the International Herald Tribune, that he thought was a CAIR apologia.

Emerson, a self-styled terrorism expert, has, of course, been a controversial figure.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dodger faithful

For the past 50 years, Nettie Berkson, 91, has attended Dodger home openers religiously. For her grandson Glen Greenberg (no relation to me), the Dodgers have been as much a part of his life as Moses' law. "When I was born," Greenberg said while sitting in the family seats a few rows behind home plate during yesterday's home opener, "it was like, Alright, I'm Jewish and I'm a Dodgers fan."

Jon Weisman, who writes the blog Dodger Thoughts, took that connection between being Jewish and loving the Dodgers several steps farther.

My 13th birthday came in 1980, which is of some significance to the Jewish people. However, I was never a religious person. I flunked out of Hebrew school after my first year because most days, I stayed home to watch the Bugs Bunny-Road Runner Hour instead of attending. I was not moved to change my ways when my older brother was bar-mitzvahed in 1976, nor when my sister was bat-mitzvahed in 1978. In the case of my sister, she had herself quit Hebrew school after a couple of years, but then did a crash course at the last minute when she realized that she was going to miss out on a heck of a lot of presents if she didn't get that bat mitzvah.

Me, I didn't want the presents that badly. I was a pretty content kid. But as the time approached, my father grew a little concerned that I would follow my sister's less-than-sincere path. So, in a fashion he compares to "The Devil and Daniel Webster," he made me an offer. If I gave up my right to have a bar mitzvah, my Dad would give me a lifetime pass to the Dodgers.

Yep, that was the offer. I hope it doesn't alienate the more righteous of my readers to learn that I snapped that offer up in a second. (I would say that about 10 percent of the people to whom I tell this story are appalled to some degree.) But that's why, in at least one respect, the Dodgers are my religion.

Won't spell on Sunday

Huck.jpgRemember when the Dodgers were battling the Giants for a spot in the 2001 playoffs and slugger Shawn Green announced he wouldn't play on Yom Kippur? Well, this story out of America's heartland is similar, except the superstar is a Christian, and the sport is spelling. From the Indianapolis Star:

Elliot Huck, a 14-year-old from Bloomington who finished 45th out of more than 250 spellers in the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., last year, says competing on Sunday conflicts with his view of the Biblical commandment to rest on the Sabbath.

"I always try to glorify God with what I do in the spelling bee because he is the one who gave me the talent for spelling," said Elliot, a student at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington.

"Now I think I'm going to not spell and try to give glory to God in that."

'Hotbeds of Anti-Israel Rhetoric'

Ali.jpg The Forward published a lengthy article last week titled, "California Campuses Gain a Reputation as Hotbeds of Anti-Israel Rhetoric."

It opens with a January protest in Irvine sparked by a lecture from Daniel Pipes, a polarizing Middle East expert and a visiting professor at Pepperdine University:

The lecture topic was “The Threat to Israel’s Existence.” The speaker was Daniel Pipes, a Middle East analyst known for his hawkish pro-Israel views and sharp denunciations of Islamic extremism. The setting was the University of California, Irvine, a campus with a national reputation as a hotbed of anti-Israel rhetoric.

Students wearing Palestinian kaffiyehs clustered in the center of the auditorium.

The stage was set for confrontation.

Sure enough, 15 minutes into Pipes’s speech, just as he had built up to one of his main points — “The Palestinians must have their will crushed so that they will no longer be trying to eliminate Israel, so they will tend to their own affairs and leave Israel alone” — dozens of Muslim students interrupted him with hostile shouts, before promptly marching out of the lecture hall, chanting “anti-Israel, anti-oppression.”

Afterward, the student protesters gathered outside, where they listened to a speaker vow, “It’s just a matter of time before the State of Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth.”

Here's the nut:

U.C. Irvine though is only the most recent in what can seem like a rotation of California campuses to emerge as the focus of Jewish communal concern. At a number of California public universities, Jewish students have long faced particularly inflammatory rhetoric from anti-Israel activists — a state of affairs that predates even the most recent intifada. While at any given school, such activity tends to ebb and flow, established Muslim student groups in California repeatedly have brought fiery anti-Israel speakers to campus, including one who regularly praises suicide bombers, expresses support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and rails against “Zionist Jews.”

“I think the tenor and the tone of the debate and the shrillness of identity politics is meaningfully different in California,” said David Harris, director of the Washington-based Israel on Campus Coalition. “There are different challenges on campuses across the country, to be sure, but at some schools in California — especially large state schools — Israel’s supporters on campus are confronted with distinct challenges, including strongly heated rhetoric and a lack of respect and common civility.”

Surprisingly, the article offers no voice of moderate Muslims. Only this from Oakland cleric Amir Abdel Malik Ali (pictured):

Last spring, Ali gave a notorious speech at U.C. Irvine during a week of activities sponsored by the campus Muslim Student Union under the rubric “Holocaust in the Holy Land.” Speaking on a campus plaza behind a sign reading “Israel, the 4th Reich,” Ali noted that Israelis are “reluctant to get on buses and things, or go to the cafĂ©,” adding, “It’s about time that they live in fear.” He said that whereas Israelis are “coming to live,” they are opposed by “people who are ready to die, who say either victory or martyrdom. You can’t fight against that.”

“We will fight you until we are either martyred or until we are victorious,” he said. “That’s how we look at it. And they know that that’s how Muslims believe.”

I called Shakeel Syed, the executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, which overseas area mosques, to see if, in fact, Ali spoke for all Muslims.

"I categorically would dispute the myth that all Muslims feel that way," Syed said. "I don't think anybody speaks for all Muslims to beign with. And it is not right for Forward to say that all California campuses -- the only controversy that exists on this is at the UC Irvine campus. Both Hillel and the Muslim group are unable to reconcile and both have been quite hostile to each other."

Monday, April 9, 2007

True Blue Jew

I left religion out of today's story about a 91-year-old Dodger devotee because it really wasn't germane. But it is worth a mention.

Of course, to many Americans, sports are religion. But Nettie Berkson's Westside apartment isn't decorated like it belongs to someone who will attend their 50th consecutive Dodgers home opener today. It has no room filled with True Blue memorabilia, and the family didn't even take photos at the games until her great-grandchildren started attending four years ago.

Instead, her living room walls are lined with her childhood menorah, her father's shofar and a large portrait of her father deep in Torah study.

Nettie was the only one of 12 children born outside Poland -- in Chicago -- and she grew up a loyal Cubs fan. Every Friday, she would ditch school early to catch the El to Wrigley Field. Back then, the Cubs played all their games during the day, which was fortunate for an Orthodox Jew like Nettie who had to be home before the Sabbath candles were lit Friday at sundown. Wrigley Field added lights in 1988, but the Cubs still play every Friday home game at 1:20 p.m.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Catholic irony

CardinalGeorge.jpgEnding up in the hospital certainly wasn't what Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago had in mind when he decided he would bless Easter meals with holy water.

George, 70, was hospitalized after he slipped on a patch of marble floor that had been splashed with holy water and fractured his hip Saturday. From the Chicago Tribune:

He did not lose consciousness and even continued with the blessing. But shortly after the service, the pain in his right hip grew more severe and he was taken to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood in a private car.

Though the injury was not serious and did not require surgery, spokeswoman Colleen Dolan said George would remain hospitalized for a few days of physical therapy and using a walker, to not apply pressure to his hip.

"He took a fall . . . in his exuberance with the holy water," Dolan said. "He was concerned when it started to hurt more. That is why he wanted to check, and we're glad he did."

Saturday, April 7, 2007

One, Jew, three

Tab.jpgQuestion: How many Jewish-American princesses does it take to screw in a light bulb?

If you've heard the joke, that answer is pretty easy. But what is more difficult is determining how many Jewish-American princesses there are, or how many Jewish Americans for that matter.

A new study by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University, an esteemed school outside Boston that is named after the first Jew to join the Supreme Court, reported that the American Jewish community is between 6 million and 6.4 million. Seven years ago, the National Jewish Population Survey estimated American Jewry had fallen from 5.5 million in 1990 to 5.2 in 2000.

"What some people ask is 'Why does anybody care how many there are?' " Len Saxe, director of the Steinhardt institute, told the LA Times. "In the Jewish community the numbers, especially since they all hover around 6 million, have particular relevance. In the wake of the Holocaust, where 6 million were killed, how many Jews are remaining and whether the community is regenerating or not — it's a very sensitive issue."

More of Los Angeles' 600,000 Jews –- second in population outside Israel only to New York -- live in the Valley Hills, where 48 percent of affluents residents are Jewish, than anywhere else.

"West Los Angeles is a close second to Valley Hills in the major categories, making the two expensive 'golden ghettoes' the most Jewish in the city and country," the Jewish Journal reported in January.

Counting Jews is notoriously difficult in the United States because the U.S. Census is not allowed to ask questions about religion. There is also the variable of affiliation. When Jewish population surveys are administered, it is challenging to control for the fact that some people will identify as Jewish because they converted and attend synagogue while secular Jews won't, and vice versa.

As for the original question: The answer was two. One to get a Tab, and one to call Daddy.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Bill Donahue goes 'soft'

Bill Donohue's Catholic League responded to last night's "South Park" with this brief press release:

I have no idea why "South Park" creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker caricature me as a heartless thug. In any event, I stand convicted and have no defense. Now I have to get back to business -- I hear someone just took some liberties with the Easter Bunny.

I actually think that was a joke. It certainly was a gentler treatment of Hollywood than Donohue has given in the past. I still can't find the entire episode on the web, but the "St. Peter" clip at talks about the show's premise that St. Peter -- the first pope -- was in fact a rabbit.

A South Park Easter

Donohue.png"South Park" tonight absolutely skewered Catholic League President Bill Donohue in a ridiculous episode that used the Da Vinci Code formula to claim their was a centuries-old conspiracy to cover up the fact that St. Peter was in fact a rabbit -- Peter Rabbit.

Donohue, a firebrand in the culture-wars arena, is so hell-bent on capturing and killing Snowball, a descent of Peter and the rightful heir to the papacy, that he actually imprisons Pope Benedict and Jesus. The blasphemy only grows worse as the episode moves on, peaking when Christ bisects Donohue, who has appointed himself pope, with a throwing star.

It hasn't been uploaded yet, but it should be here soon.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Francis Collin's DNA for faith

It's been almost a year since Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, wrote The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, a book promoters dream. Collins was written up in just about every major publication, from the LA Times to the Times of London.

Today, a little late on the story, posted this commentary from Collins that begins, "I am a scientist and a believer, and I find no conflict between those world views."

Collins is not alone among scientists -- just a dramatic minority. Several polls have found about 40 percent of scientists believe in God -- but only 10 percent of those elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

"It never seemed to me there was a contradiction. ... They are both different ways of knowing about the world,'' Kenneth R. Miller, a prominent biology professor at Brown University and author of Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, told me last fall for a story about Moorpark College's Year of Science and Religion. "Science is the best method we have, the only method we have to understand the nature of the material world, how it works, what the history of this planet has been like. And what religion tells us is the meaning of our place in that world. It's different sides of the same coin.''

Miller's name comes up in a book I'm currently reading called Monkey Girl by Los Angeles Magazine writer Edward Humes. Centered around the 2005 Dover school board debacle, Humes tries to separate myth from fact when it comes to the tenants of evolution, and science from faith when it comes to the origin of species.

Miller, Collins and most other God-fearing scientists have little in common with the Dover board members who decided every student should be taught the gaps in evolutionary theory and be given a supplementary text called Of Pandas and People. Dover was a case study for the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank pushing Intelligent Design, which critics called Creation in new clothes. Dover science teachers, vehemently opposed to Of Pandas, wanted to use a text book written by Miller.

Monkey Girl is a good, fair book, a crash course in the histories of evolutionary theory, creation science and the to-the-grave opinions that separate their polarized faithful. Here is what Collins had to say about evolution in an interview seven years ago with PBS' Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly:

ABERNETHY: What do you say to your fellow Christians who say, "Evolution is just a theory, and I can't put that together with my idea of a creator God"?

COLLINS: Well, evolution is a theory. It's a very compelling one. As somebody who studies DNA, the fact that we are 98.4 percent identical at the DNA level to a chimpanzee, it's pretty hard to ignore the fact that when I am studying a particular gene, I can go to the mouse and find it's the similar gene, and it's 90 percent the same. It's certainly compatible with the theory of evolution, although it will always be a theory that we cannot actually prove. I'm a theistic evolutionist. I take the view that God, in His wisdom, used evolution as His creative scheme. I don't see why that's such a bad idea. That's pretty amazingly creative on His part. And what is wrong with that as a way of putting together in a synthetic way the view of God who is interested in creating a group of individuals that He can have fellowship with -- us? Why is evolution not an appropriate way to get to that goal? I don't see a problem with that. The only problems that get put forward are by those who would interpret Genesis 1 in a very literal way. And that interpretation in many ways is a -- is a modern one. Saint Augustine in 400 AD, without any reasons to try to be an apologist to Charles Darwin, agreed that that was not a particularly appropriate way to interpret the words that are written in that first chapter of the Bible.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Obama our savior

So there certainly is a crowd of Democrats that hopes Barack Obama is the messiah their forefathers spoke of. But seriously, this? Last Saturday, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago put on display an undergraduate's papier mache sculpture of Obama in the Son of God's robe and with a neon halo around his head.
In the 2008 presidential race, in which Obama is trying to beat out Hillary Clinton and then the Republican nominee, religious beliefs have already become an issue. There were the flimsy reports by the Washington Times' sister magazine and Fox News that Obama studied as a youth at an Indonesian madrasa (recruitment academies for Islamic fundamentalists). Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Sun-Times, however, had this more informed, nuanced take on Obama's faith.

As for odd religious images, the Obama sculpture is hardly alone. The day before it went on display, the planned Holy Week exhibition of a life-size chocolate Jesus -- being crucified in the nude, with respect to anatomy -- was cancelled after it was widely ripped by Christains. But that's nothing in the history of outrageous art.

* Updated: As expected GetReligion has, rightfully so, posted a piece criticizing the Obama sculpture reportage:

In all seriousness, the first news report I saw on this item was frightfully poor. A.J. Sterling of Fox News Chicago states glibly that "some may be offended by the suggestion that Christ is black, or that the United States could have a black president, but they don’t seem to be at the exhibit this night." I guess the Grand Kleagle of the closest Klan had a previous engagement.