The Wall Grows

The Wall Grows

banlaptoponairlinesThe first bricks of the wall – not just facing Mexico but around all of America – were laid today and neither the courts nor Congress can stop it.

At 3 a.m. this morning Homeland Security banned personal electronics from the airline cabins of 9 Muslim airlines. Last weekend a conference in California for African investment petered out because every African who applied to attend was denied a visa.

Trump is the front man. The engine behind him is slipping into gear with the certainty and finesse of a Benz.

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Triumphant Tutu

Triumphant Tutu

tutuOne of the world’s gentlest, most thoughtful and consequential men is sick and dying but more importantly, suffering. After 85 years he has changed his mind: euthanasia is right.

Desmond Tutu, the revered Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Nobel Laureate and winner of countless other peace prizes including America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, is above all a deeply religious, non-violent man. His prolonged sickness broke his resolve against euthanasia two years ago when he wrote in an Op-Ed in the Guardian “I have been fortunate to spend my life working for dignity for the living. Now I wish to apply my mind to the issue of dignity for the dying.”

Tutu’s arguments are not religious ones, and that is what has attracted me to his thinking. His arguments are practical, political.

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Snake Oil or Nukes?

Snake Oil or Nukes?

pastorbannedAmerica has never lacked of snake oil salesmen, but following South Africa’s banning of Steven Anderson it’s clear that we better start realizing they might be something dangerously more than just conmen.

The Tempe, Arizona, Baptist minister decided if Barack Obama won’t cleanse South Africa of “sodomites .. drinking booze .. and terrorizing God’s people,” he will. Well, guess what: South Africans are doing what we and our ratings-greedy journalists and weak-kneaded politicians won’t: Stopping American extremism.

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Vicious Volunteerism

Vicious Volunteerism

molestationChild predators in the guise of foreign volunteers to Africa are at last facing prosecution when they return home.

I’ve often written how volunteerism in Africa by (mostly western) foreigners is usually a bad idea. Child predation is an extreme matter although it’s increasingly used in Kenya as a reason social organizations should be less welcoming of foreign volunteers.

In a detailed investigation by Nairobi’s Destination Magazine (DM), a 20-year old American Christian volunteer repeatedly molests children in a Kenyan orphanage over a period of several years until new American legislation results in him being arrested at his Oklahoma home and ultimately imprisoned.

The young American was finally convicted this summer after a lengthy defense mounted in Oklahoma courts by a star-studded legal team that included the lawyer who defended Timothy McVeigh and Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE).

According to DM: “In Africa …people serving with the church …are bestowed with a great deal of respect… So much so that individuals in these capacities …can carry on a double life for years without detection.”

DM published an excellent and detailed report of the story of the Oklahoman teen who traveled multiple times to Kenya from the United States, ostensibly for Christian missionary work.

He was considered by both the community he came from in Oklahoma and the religious African community that welcomed him into their orphanage as reliable. In fact after several visits to the orphanage to volunteer he requested to live with the children rather than in volunteer dorms.

“Even though his request was peculiar, it was nevertheless granted.” An African manager on a routine check of the orphanage’s dorms then caught him having sex with the orphans.

Kenyan child activist, Kevin Wasike, also asks, “How could a volunteer be left alone with children at night, without any kind of supervision whatsoever?”

Wasike’s indictment of an organization for not properly vetting its volunteers extends well beyond the heinous social crime of child molestation.

I estimate that most – more than half – of African organizations that receive charity from abroad end up regretting it.

Most volunteers come on a lark: They volunteer in part to get a better deal for the cost of traveling. They are untrained or poorly trained for whatever they ultimately try to do. They rarely make long-term commitments, which should be an essential requirement of any employee of a social organization.

So the organization ends up dedicating more resources to “taking care of the volunteers” than the volunteers give back.

Finally, most volunteers are not certified.

Since 2003 British citizens may not volunteer anywhere abroad for any child organization without first obtaining an International Child Protection Certificate (ICPC).

The certificate is a police check on the individual intending to volunteer abroad. The Certificate is currently required by 73 countries worldwide, but not yet by Kenya.

The 2006 U.S. law that was used to convict the American teen also provides for sharing of child molester databases with countries abroad, including Kenya.

But the American legal process is weighted not just to the defendant, but in this category of cases against foreign allegations.

Though there was a video made in Kenya accompanying the defendant’s 10-page confession, together with medical exams of some of the kids shortly after sex with the defendant, the legal team delayed the trial for more than a year.

The team claimed that the video was by children who were not mentally fit, that the confession was coerced, and that the team was unable to visit Kenya, alluding to Kenya’s terrorism incidents.

Americans ascribe a near divine right to volunteering. Certainly this example is extreme, but it is often in the extremities of things wrong that we come to see the light.

Papal Productivity

Papal Productivity

popewithblackcardinalsPersons who consider themselves religious are declining in the world and Africa. But did you know that for the first time there are now more Catholics in East Africa than Protestants. Why do you think?

Catholics now make up approximately 18.0% of East Africa’s 194 million people, while Protestants have declined to 16.4%. This is the first survey ever where East African Protestants numbered fewer than Catholics.

Otherwise, there isn’t much good news for Christianity in Africa. Christianity continent-wide is declining significantly relative to Islam.

(The raw numbers of Catholics, Protestants and of course Muslims is all on the increase, and that’s usually what you hear from them. But relative to an even faster growing overall population, only Muslims are increasing.)

I think Pope Francis helps us understand why Catholics are now ‘outpercentaging’ Protestants: He’s an Hispanic of Italian immigrants, progressive politically, and socially and scientifically aware; and this mirrors many young Africans.

A increasingly large portion of Africans are not born where there parents and grandparents were. The massive dislocations of African populations are due mostly to a huge migration into urban areas from rural ones, although a small yet significant portion is a growing number of political refugees.

Young Africans are politically progressive, as demonstrated by the growingly powerful youth political movements in places like Kenya and South Africa, and they likely understand and embrace climate change, evolution, and even such arcane science as stem cell research.

This positions them as a society much like Pope Francis. Of course this begs the larger question, why? As a nonreligious person, I feel confident in suggesting an objective answer:
Redistribution of wealth, stability, and a sense of pride (which I concede is not generally considered religious) I think are the three driving factors. Catholics do much better than Protestants with these, and Muslims do much better than Christians.

I’m not suggesting these are the banner ideals for a perfect society. Indeed, freedom vies constantly with stability in Africa, and freedom does not seem to be a religious virtue but it is definitely one of mine. But in societies so terribly ravaged by war and strife for so long, stability often trumps freedom.

The modern Christian religions of Africa were determined in the mid 19th Century when European leaders eked out the continent not just for political control, but also religious control.

At that time Protestants got the biggest piece of the pie, particularly in East Africa where august men like David Livingstone gained not just the respect of the world, but of the local populations.

When independence came to Africa, many cities, towns and street names were changed back to African names from Leopoldville, Elizabeth Lane, Kaiserstrasse. But not changed were streets and towns named “Livingstone.”

Things began to shift shortly after independence swept the continent in the 1960s.

Protestantism is distinctly conservative relative to Catholicism, and even without any tenants associated to the meaning of “independence,” European Protestants warned against awarding independence to the colonies while European Catholics welcomed it.

That rather set the stage, and the Cold War accelerated protestants’ decline even more. The end of the Cold War also was another significant point, when western nations in a moment withdrew their support for much of Africa. Alas, Muslims stepped in and have never stepped out.

From my point of view, Catholic and Muslim charity does more good than protestant charity. This is simply because Catholic and Muslim charity is centrally organized while most protestant charity is composed of a multitude of small, independent projects from independent church communities abroad.

As readers of this blog know, I find it hard to embrace most charity in Africa, believing very strongly that only government-to-government assistance will ever succeed.

And that’s also why Muslim and Catholic charities are better viewed in Africa than protestant ones. Nearly two-thirds of the funds distributed by Catholic charities come from government grants. Protestant charities are reluctant, often adamantly opposed to government funding.

Government funding is much larger and comes with many more strings attached than individual church donations, and as a result, is coordinated throughout the entire spectrum of foreign aid. That makes Catholic charity far more efficacious than Protestant.

Even countries that are exceptionally protestant, like South Africa, have followed the current pope’s progressive actions with admiration. There is no single protestant leader in the world, nor really any single Muslim leader.

Personally I remain worried and skeptical of organized religion. But like many Africans, I follow Pope Francis with enormous admiration.

Terrorists Are Not Religious

Terrorists Are Not Religious

TerrorismNoReligionThe terrorist attack on a remote Kenyan university last Thursday that massacred more than 150 students is a terrible blow to what had been Kenya’s much improved security.

About a quarter of the university population was killed or injured mostly by suicide bombers who overpowered four front gate guards, then ran into the dorms and libraries where students were congregated, then pulled their bomb triggers.

Like the kamikazes of World War II, this unbelievable desperation is hardly an act of war. It reeks of the vengeance of those who expect to lose.

Kenyan security agencies had advised universities across the country a week ago that they suspected al-Shabaab would launch just such an attack on a university.

There are now a couple dozen substantial universities in the country and all of them went onto high alert. Garissa is among the newest, most remote, and nearest to Somali. It’s quite a distance from Nairobi or other populated areas of the country.

Clearly al-Shabaab – or whatever might be claiming to be al-Shabaab – was incapable of anything closer to the heart of Kenya.

As horrible as this is, it remains notable that terrorist attacks in places like Nairobi or even Mombasa have not occurred now for nearly two years. I still believe Kenyan security is better than ever.

As was Boston for the marathon. Bad stuff happens.

American media reaction was not healthy or rational: “The gunmen who attacked Garissa University College on Thursday singled out Christians for killing,” Fox News lied.

There was no attempt to determine the religion of those who were killed. After the massacre other al-Shabaab hoodlums entered the university and tried to kidnap non-Muslims, according to a report put out by al-Shabaab after the attack. News agencies have been unable to confirm the claim, although several dozen students remain unaccounted for. Those who gave interviews to the press said it was too chaotic for anyone to know if anyone else was a Muslim or not.

The bulk of the Garrisa student population, in fact, is likely secular. There are also many Sikhs, Hindus and even old fashioned animists. It was not a religious attack.

If America and others feeling besieged by terrorists continue to frame this struggle as a religious one, it will grow not diminish.

“I got an email from Anne Thompson, a journalist working with NBC News,” respected journalist and college dean, Luis Franceschi said.

“Ms Thompson’s questions reflect…most of the western world: ‘We are working on a story about today’s attack at Garissa University and are trying to understand what appears to be the religious roots of this incident… Are Christians safe in Kenya?’

“I would tell Anne Thompson a thousand times that the matter is not religious. The terrorists may say so and they are lying. If the matter were religious they would have been attacking us since independence, but they didn’t.”

The Muslim population in Kenya may be nearly a third of the avowed religious population. Muslim leaders hold prominent positions in the government and have since Independence.

Franchesci explained in an article for Nairobi’s main newspaper that the attack is linked to Kenya’s occupation of Somali, to corruption and to organized crime.

It was not a religious attack.

“I can confidently say that some of my very best friends and most impressive colleagues and students are pious and dedicated Muslims. In them I have always seen a wonderful example of virtue, humanity, sincerity and dedication, which I wish many of us Christians could imitate.”

Terrorism succeeds when it strikes irrational fears in those it challenges.

Fox News has been terrorized, and Fox News is losing. Let us hope the sane world knows better.

Jim posted this blog from Arusha, Tanzania.

Free Hate

Free Hate

freespeechIs Charlie Hebdo hateful, and if so, should it be banned?

In the U.S. hate speech is constitutionally protected, but acts motivated by hate can be deemed illegal. It’s an extraordinarily complex if subtle distinction.

It’s not surprising that the political and religious leaders of Africa are near universally condemning this week’s European terrorism, but their societies are not expressing any such agreement at all.

Some of the most Muslim of Africa’s countries, including Morocco, Egypt, Mauritania and even Somali walked in lockstep with their condemnation of the terrorists but without, however, bringing up the subject of free speech. These and many more government statements seemed almost like they were all written by the same person.

But dig into social media and it’s a completely different situation:

“Discussions on social media are incensed,” Deutsche Welle sums up, today.

Moreover, government policy as opposed to government statements in Africa is quite different. The same governments above – as with almost all African governments – have strict laws against free speech.

In Egypt a person can be detained indefinitely whenever suspected of terrorism, and in Egypt today terrorism is defined as simple as speaking the words, “Muslim Brotherhood.”

In countries like Morocco where authoritative pro-western regimes are balancing a growing populist-Muslim movement, free speech and assembly is often banned and insults of the King result in imprisonment.

In less authoritative regimes like Kenya and South Africa, current legislatures are grappling with new laws that seriously restrict the press and other forms of free speech.

So don’t believe the government statements. I believe that Africans of almost all persuasions view the terrorism this week in France and Belgium as an understandable outcome of excessive “free speech.” The question is whether the outcome is worth it.

Free speech in Africa is a powerful weapon and those in power are unanimously wary of it.

With the less stable (Somalia), less developed (Mauritania) or more contentious governments (Morocco and Egypt), inhibiting free speech is used against Islamic militants because that same interdiction is used against any criticism of the existing regime.

With more stable and progressive governments like Kenya and South Africa, where political criticism is vibrant, the debate over Charlie Hebdo is quite unsettled. Earlier this week I wrote about this.

My own view is that we need to value the “worth” of hateful criticism. In an educated and tolerant society this value can be truly understood as an important test of free speech.

But in less educated and tolerant societies the value flips and reflects not a freedom but the oppressive power of the subjugator. Thems fighting words.

“Just like there is no such thing as unfettered capitalism, there is no such thing as unfettered free speech,” writes a New York muslim using an anonymous penname (touché!).

So when we as westerners condemn curtailments of free speech elsewhere, without criticizing our own hate speech/crime laws, are we simply claiming to have achieved the perfect standard … universally?

That’s the cardinal mistake of the West: presuming not just that they know best, but that no one else anywhere knows better.

It’s just not true. It’s not possible, and if we can excise this egoism from the argument, I think we’ll begin to empathize with the movers and shakers in the developing world who have very few riches to be taken from them, but enormous amounts of dignity.

Time’s Up, Pat!

Time’s Up, Pat!

RobertsomTimeUpIt’s funny, but it’s not. Yet is this a turning point? White, racist, evangelical attitudes especially towards Africans might really be changing.

For decades, now, we enlightened ones have snickered at the bad jokes and patently racist attitudes of The Right almost to exhaustion. When allies relented and began inviting “opposing viewpoints” onto pubic forums, many of us wondered if the schism was permanent.

The abhorrence of racism became the stuff of comic strips.

Tuesday night CNN’s Anderson Cooper extended comedy into sarcasm and lambasted racist tele-evangelist Pat Robertson like never before.

Robertson is the star of the Christian Broadcasting Network and he had just answered a question on the popular “700 Club” show about ebola. He warned would-be travelers to Africa against using towels there that will infect you with AIDS.

This isn’t a gaff, it’s a simple reflection of a quintessential racist belief that black is evil.

It was hardly Robertson’s first time at it. Last year he actually claimed that gays in San Francisco wear evil little pointed rings so that when you shake their hand they can infect you with AIDS, which he called “their stuff.”

Apparently the attention to the ebola controversy breaks the threshold of cartoon tolerance of racism. Robertson’s network apologized for this remark the next day, although he never has.

No apology was ever made for the gay ring remark.

What struck me as particularly important this time was how Africa reacted. Like many of us before, Africans tend to shrug off racist attitudes as something held by bumptious uncles. Inured to the point of frustration, the general viewpoint has been that most of these attitudes will die out with the current generation.

In fact Robertson’s remarks got little attention in the African media until Cooper flayed them.

Now, for the third straight day running, it’s the most popular story in the Kenyan media.

Take that link above and scroll down to the local comments. Here are a few of my favorites:

“You can contract the sometimes incurable disease of ignorance if you listen to the likes of 700 club.” – Melissa Wainaina

“Sorry, dear Kenyans, but that’s America (USA). They don’t know there anything about other countries.” – Hanna

“Can one get aids from Towels in America? … This is ignorance and racist mixed into a potent mix.” – cbertmann

The irony is that Pat Robertson probably has a larger following per capita in Kenya than in the U.S. “What is more sad is that this guy has a huge following in Kenya,’ Shazam3535 reminded readers.

That’s because Kenyans are far more religious than Americans. Kenyans are also, in my opinion, far more tribal and therefore actually more racist than Americans, although their racism is black-on-black more than black-on-white.

Racism is racism, though, and it’s heartening reading these comments to recognize what might be a new awareness that religious evangelism provokes if not causes racism.

Are the times really changing?

Ebola Hell

Ebola Hell

When superstition in the bush becomes religion in the city, all hell breaks loose.
When superstition in the bush becomes religion in the city, all hell breaks loose.
This ebola outbreak is an epidemic, the first of 28 previous outbreaks. It’s much more dangerous and we need to understand why.

There are a number of contributing factors, but I believe the most significant one is the growing enmity and polarization between Christians and non-Christians, Muslims and non-Muslims.

It’s a horrible object lesson of a global society that just isn’t working, anymore.

Of course increased communications and more global interaction from airlines and so forth contribute to the speed of the current spread. But relative to the previous outbreaks something new and very bad has entered the equation, and I think that’s religious hostility.

Until this outbreak, ebola was confined to a tiny core of central Africa composed of only 4 countries: The Congo, Gabon, Sudan and Uganda.

In all those cases the outbreak occurred in heavily forested, rural “jungle” areas with relatively few people. As soon as health workers arrived on the scene, the outbreak was finally contained. Whenever an infected person arrived in an urban area, immediate hospitalization often led to recovery and further containment.

Those outbreaks experienced a 2/3 fatality rate: more than 1500 people died from a reported 2389 cases.

As of this moment 729 people have died and another 1323 remain hospitalized. This is half of all the previous incidents since 1976, and the epidemic is spreading into developed Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.

This is the first time that ebola once out of the jungle has not been contained.

In more urban than rural areas of Sierra Leone, infected persons are escaping from hospitals and refusing treatment.

Massive police action hasn’t been able to stop widespread street demonstrations against the west and its medicine.

Police shot 9 people in Freetown last week during a protest sparked by a former nurse who told the demonstrators that “Ebola was unreal and a gimmick aimed at carrying out cannibalistic rituals.”

In Liberia, the most developed country of the region, harsh government measures closing public institutions, confiscating bush meat and increasing public health monitoring have been met with angry demonstrations.

Following a burial yesterday grieving crowds hunted down and stoned health care workers.

All of this follows a pattern throughout the “almost developed” world that restarted earlier this year with Pakistan’s much publicized increase in polio. The disease was nearly eradicated, but this year polio has reemerged big time in Pakistan.

There’s little doubt that an insurgent campaign by the Taliban and others to prohibit polio vaccination was motivated in large part to the successful effort to find Osama bin-Laden.

Intelligence inside bin-Laden’s compound was obtained by CIA agents acting as bogus polio vaccination workers.

Additionally, Muslim clerics throughout the troubled parts of the world have started again to claim that western attempts at vaccination are really meant to sterilize Muslims.

That terrifying myth seems to have grown now to encompass the efforts to end ebola.

It’s the same horrible paradigm that provokes seniors in America to support ending medicare, or Texans to ban text book references to slavery, or coastal Floridians to vote down shoring up their communities in the advent of global warming, or Georgians to ban immigrants who are the only ones who harvest their peaches.

It’s denial of the truth with actions against one’s own self-interests.

Done with the certainty and conviction of religion, a first principal that will not be compromised.

There is little ideology or religion in Africa’s deep jungles. Survival trumps everything and superstition while intense has never seemed to work terribly against the people who adopted it.

But when superstition in the bush becomes religion in the city, then all hell breaks loose.

Arusha, Chicago & Kenya

Arusha, Chicago & Kenya

March And Vigil Remember Chicago Student Beaten To Death Near Community CtrCoastal Kenya, Chicago and Arusha suffered terrible acts of violence these past several days, and it leaves us wondering if it’s safe to walk out of the house.

The violence along Kenya’s coast just seems to get worse and worse. Although 28 of the 29 deaths this past weekend occurred outside established tourist areas, one fatality was a Russian tourist in Mombasa town who resisted an attempt to rob him of his wallet.

In Arusha, the hub for Tanzania’s famous tourist industry, a third violent attack this year happened Monday night when an IED was thrown into a popular Indian restaurant in the center of town.

No one was killed but eight people were hurt. The Verma Indian restaurant is attached to a popular city gym and is frequented by Arusha’s more affluent residents, including many foreigners.

In Chicago 16 people were killed and 80 others seriously wounded in gun battles that raged through the city’s south side for most of the weekend.

What are we to make of all this?

The Kenya violence is a continuation of the Muslim/Christian world war, a specific retribution by al-Shabaab for Kenyan occupation of Somalia.

Kenya has suffered three such attacks monthly for more than the last year alone. The Kenyan invasion, encouraged and outfitted by the Obama administration, has done much to pacify Somalia and reduce the terrorism threat to the United States, but at Kenya’s peril.

In Chicago the violence strikes me as a result of increasingly lax gun ownership restrictions. Chicago’s top cop said this to CNN. Of course why there is such anger and frustration that utilizes the available guns is the more profound question, and unlike Africa, it isn’t a Muslim/Christian war.

It’s more akin to a poor/rich war, which in fact could be the explanation for the Arusha bombing last night.

Tanzania has not participated in the war in Somalia, and so unlike Kenya and Uganda which have, Muslim groups have not claimed any responsibility for attacks seen on the Tanzanian mainland.

But the three attacks in Arusha over the past year have been political or religious. A prominent and popular Arusha politician and his wife were hurt at a political rally, and a Catholic church was bombed in a second attack.

Monday’s attack in Arusha targeted what’s considered an expensive restaurant, owned by Indians, in one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods. Throughout the last several centuries Indians in Africa have often been the brunt of attacks against political systems that favor business and the rich.

This suggests three completely different motivations for the violence in Arusha over the last year.

In the end, the simplest explanation for all the attacks is that weapons are too easily available. The next level of explanation is that identifiable groups of people feel marginalized:

Muslims in Africa. Poor in Africa. Poor in Chicago.

Some believe this in insoluble: that there will always be poor feeling marginalized, that there will always be one or another religions that feel oppressed by other religions.

I disagree. There are not enough poor in Sweden or Denmark or many, many European countries for there to be a problem of rich vs. poor in those countries.

Recent progress in Ireland proves that enmity between religions isn’t eternal. And even when some friction continues, as in Quebec, it rarely if ever becomes violent.

But taking a vacation is different from social activism. I’ve said for some time, now, that I feel the danger to vacationers in Kenya has broken at least the threshold of perception of visitors’ safety, so I can’t recommend traveling there for most people.

But to Chicago or Arusha it’s simply a matter of knowing where and where not to go. Don’t visit Chicago’s south side. Don’t eat in a downtown Arusha restaurant. Those are fairly simple tools for staying as safe as one has ever been.

The point is that this violence so far has not been random: The perpetrators are motivated by ideology, and their footprints are clearly tracked.

Visitors are not the intended targets. Only in Kenya is the violence so widespread that visitors have in fact been victims and this specifically because the focus of much of Kenya’s tourism is the coast where the religious conflict is centered.

There is still good news and bad news, and this is the bad news, today.

The Irresolvable Divine

The Irresolvable Divine

IrresolvableDivineIs last night’s passage of a new constitution in Tunisia a real positive turning point in the struggle for African democracy? Many believe so, but Islamic fundamentalism still has a hook in the document.

As democracy warrants it should. Like Egypt, majority rule government placed very fundamental Islamists in control of Tunisia’s legislature. Like Egypt, the government moved further and further towards Islamic extremism.

As democracy warranted. As the majority of Tunisians wanted.

The new constitution, however, is far more progressive than Tunisia’s population would like. It is more progressive than the failed Egyptian one under the Muslim Brotherhood and more democratic than Egypt’s new constitution that restricts religious influences.

The Tunisian document enshrines Islam as the “state religion” but also guarantees many freedoms that conservative Muslim regimes would ban, like parity for women throughout society.

But the constitution forbids “attacks on the sacred” which gives wide latitude to religious leaders to legislate doctrine, despite constitutional human rights. The dilemma is that neither is preeminent.

A very popular national journalist and cartoonist remains in jail for a political cartoon criticizing the Islamists. Although promised early freedom and an executive pardon, he has been kept in jail until arrangements can be made for his deportation to Sweden.

The conundrum for Tunisian politicians is obvious: He should not be jailed under the new constitution, but were he released unequivocally, there would be riots for condoning “attacks on the sacred.”

Although Tunisian legislators are ecstatic and the world mostly supportive (even Human Rights seems pleasantly positive) I see this as the fundamental flaw that will ultimately crack the nation, again.

Tunisia is one of the smaller, one of the most highly educated, and one of the most developed countries in Africa. There is a real similarity to Lebanon, which has also balanced extreme religious positions and human rights over nearly the last century.

But like Lebanon grand periods of peace and prosperity have been continuously interrupted by terrible civil wars and mass disturbances. I think that’s what will now happen in Tunisia.

The problem is that democracy won’t work when opposing beliefs mutually exclude one another. You can’t have a “state religion” and a state without a governing religion, yet that is precisely what Tunisia and other liberals in the Arab world are trying to do.

Ultimately it emanates form our own democracy.

I believe most of our founders were atheists, far ahead of their times. But religion in America in the late 1700s was so diluted by successive immigrants from widely different religious sects, so attacked for being allied with the British king, and so criticized by the secularists in Frances supporting our revolution, that our constitution’s reference to the divine is incredibly scant.

Almost a courtesy rather than a belief.

But as weak a contradiction as it may be, it is not a dialectic. It remains a contradiction and one that now plagues our own society, again, and most certainly terrorizes emerging societies like Tunisia.

Until developed and developing societies discard religion as having any place in democratic government, democratic government will fail.

Which Witch Wins Winston?

Which Witch Wins Winston?

A Nigerian witch is coming to America to save us! Not sure she’ll make it in time for the conservative bigwig meeting this weekend in Texas, but that’s where she’s headed!

Yesterday, 14 people were rounded up outside Durban, South Africa, and charged with cold blooded murder of a 60-year grandmother who the gang claimed was a witch.

Witch-cleansing has not yet come to America. We’re still in the witch advocacy stage, and like so often American subintellectual naivete will likely be subsumed violently in witchy acts before we loosen gun control laws further so we can eliminate the yet-to-be determined vermin.

How liberally sarcastic, Jim! Alright, alright, cut off the vigilantism at the pass, and bring on Helen!

Nigeria’s notorious witch hunter, Helen Ukpabio, is coming to Houston’s Liberty Gospel Church. A call has gone out far and wide to us afflicted to join “Lady Apostle” Helen in March. In order to attend her assembly we must own up to suffering from one or more of:

– untimely deaths in the family
– barren and “in frequent” miscarriages
– health torture
– chronic and incurable diseases

… or if you’re doing OK healthwise, you can also qualify as a sufferer of:
– bondage
– bad dreams

… and if you’re healthy, not abused and sleep like a kitty, perhaps things aren’t going so well at work:
– lack of promotion with slow progress
– facing victimization and lack of promotion

… or ok, you’re healthy, not abused, sleep like a kitty and have a secure job, but maybe you just blow that paycheck every Friday, you suffer from:
– financial impotency and difficulties

No? You actually save a bit of your paycheck. Praise the Lord! Well, undoubtedly you might still in your heart of heart suffer from:
– stagnated life with failures, or an
– unsuccessful life with disappointments

All the above are caused by “witches, mermaids or other evil spirits.”

And Helen has come to exorcize them from us! Hallelujah!

All levity aside, Helen is a monster. Her church in Nigeria has through bribery or who knows what (certainly nothing supernatural) been able to cause mayhem in less educated communities, has kidnapped children deemed being “witched” by parents, and yet has been exonerated by Nigerian magistrates. The account of this victim is heart-breaking.

My point is that something as bizarre as this finds a place anywhere there is sustained suffering when victims reach their wit’s ends. And as many of the suffering credentials Helen purports above show, it’s almost always economic suffering.

Yes there are many situations of witchcraft in Africa, but also in Appalachia and close to where I grew up in the Ozarks. Anywhere where hard work and earnest direction leads nowhere.

And it’s very enlightening to realize that Helen’s outreach has reached Texas. That place where so many jobs were created under Governor Oops.

It might be fun to poke at Helen, but it’s time to get rid of her. And not by some hocus pocos, but simple social compassion. Like, maybe, more stimulus? Jobs bill? I better stop. I feel that mermaid spirit creeping in.

Accept, or Die. Nigeria, today.

Accept, or Die. Nigeria, today.

Nigeria is blowing up. There’s martial law in four of its 36 states, bombings and other violence is escalating, and religious war threatens to inflame shaky Chad, Niger and even Mali.

Economic instability always, always produces political instability, and Nigeria as one of the leading world oil producers has economic graphs with low and high points that are remarkable for their spread, showing extreme potential and extreme fragility.

During the relatively prosperous years of most of the last several decades, the country has developed significantly. In fact its economic development sped right past its social and cultural development, and this led in its own way to serious corruption that only recently was considered its greatest challenge.

No more. Nigeria’s challenge right now is to avoid self-annihilation. And tiresome as it seems, it is the classic battle between Christians and Muslims. One which permits no compromise. Accept, or die.

I’ve spent my whole life in Africa watching religion tear apart Africa and mostly as a battle between the world’s two greatest religions, Christianity and Islam, and now I even have to enduring watching it creep into the daily life of America.

One wonders what would happen if youth’s greater perception of the impoverished theologies of the world took hold. How fast can we hope this will develop? Yet if suddenly, miraculously, religion were removed from the bombs of the world, would something else take its place, like ethnicity or poverty?

That’s a question way too complicated to think about right now. In Nigeria, Boko Haram, the underground, illegal but increasingly organized terrorist group proudly affiliated with al-Qaeda, takes responsibility for much of the violence, today. Sharia oriented, today they demanded all Christians leave the Muslim north.

And Nigeria is far more developed than neighboring countries like Niger and Chad which also suffer from Christian/Islam battles. Many Nigerian Muslim clerics are screaming for peace, recognizing that all Nigeria has gained economically is at stake. But the economic gains, the level of prosperity, may not have been enough fast enough to help these clerics get their messages accepted.

The fuel inflaming this always simmering religious battle is the economy. The President of Nigeria has begun to eliminate fuel subsidies, and the scale of the reaction is unprecedented, even in this turbulent country. Many think these will now be rolled back, but it may be too late.

Religious conflict, pricked by economic decline, is happening round the world. In the more developed west fortunately the tone of the religious conflict is moderated into a less violent social/cultural one. Instead of Jesus fighting Mohammed it’s abortionists fighting evangelicals, but in the end it’s all the same.

It’s intolerance, a battle empirically governed by those who have the money and power and are fearful of losing it. When will we ever learn…