Category - Faith and Spirituality

Sponsoring Sufism

And Its Problems as a Counterterrorism Strategy

Foreign Affairs, By Fait Muedini, November 3

With the Syrian civil war in its fourth year—and now with Russia’s direct intervention on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—Washington is more keen than ever to push back the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS). And at least when it comes to that mission, the Assad government is looking to join in. Just over a year ago, Assad government spokesperson Mohamed Jihad al-Laham reached out to the U.S. Congress to ask for support in the fight against ISIS and to criticize the rebel forces that the United States supports as being just as radical as the larger group. In his letter, Laham also suggested promoting Sufism—a mystical branch of Islam—as a mechanism to alter the violent behavior of terrorist actors.

The inclusion of Sufism in Laham’s plea for military support might seem out of place. But since 9/11, such sentiments have become routine as the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western countries have come up against hard-line Islamist groups. In most cases, the West has opted for a multipronged response, which usually includes increased counterterrorism surveillance, military intervention, and the sponsorship of “friendly” and “tolerant” interpretations of Islam both domestically and abroad. The logic is that messages of tolerance could thwart would-be jihadists from becoming indoctrinated by less tolerant religious strands.

In fact, the sponsoring of Sufism is a popular choice around the world, including in Algeria, Morocco, Pakistan, and Russia. In Algeria, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has invested resources in promoting Sufi education; the state has promoted Sufi leaders’ activities and also allows Sufi groups to disperse information and literature in the country. King Mohammed VI of Morocco continues to call upon Sufi symbolism in his speeches and has attempted to control and reshape religious education in the country by promoting a Sufi agenda. In Pakistan, political leaders often go to Sufi shrines in order to show the public their closeness to Sufi orders. Furthermore, they court Sufi leaders for political support. And in Russia, President Vladimir Putin has also promoted Sufism in Chechnya through the installation of Ramzan Kadyrov as head of the republic. A strong ally to the Kremlin, Kadyrov is a member of the Qadiriyya Sufi order and frequently uses Sufism to counter Islamists in the region. All this provides Putin with greater control over the region and the state with an opportunity to support a brand of Islam that challenges more literal interpretations of the faith.

Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts, study finds

Religious belief appears to have negative influence on children’s altruism and judgments of others’ actions even as parents see them as ‘more empathetic’

The Guardian, By Harriet Sherwood, November 6

Children from religious families are less kind and more punitive than those from non-religious households, according to a new study.

Academics from seven universities across the world studied Christian, Muslim and non-religious children to test the relationship between religion and morality.

They found that religious belief is a negative influence on children’s altruism.

“Overall, our findings … contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others,” said the authors of The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World, published this week in Current Biology.

“More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that secularisation of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness – in fact, it will do just the opposite.”


The findings “robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households”.

Older children, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, “exhibit[ed] the greatest negative relations”.

Vatican synod holds its line on gay couples but offers new hope to Catholic divorcees

Bishops confirm Catholic teaching on the ‘intrinsic disorder’ of homosexuality

The Observer, By Rosie Scammell, October 24

After a three-week marathon of Vatican talks on family issues, Roman Catholic bishops voted on a summary document which decided against overhauling the church’s teaching on gay Catholics but paved the way for greater openness towards divorcees.

Pope Francis described the Vatican summit as a way to “open up broader horizons, rising above conspiracy theories and blinkered viewpoints”.

“Surely it was not about finding exhaustive solutions for all the difficulties and uncertainties which challenge and threaten the family,” the pontiff said, “but rather about seeing these difficulties and uncertainties in the light of the Faith, carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand.”
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The Latest: Pope speaks of importance of poverty to church

AP, September 20

Havana — The latest developments in Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba and the United States. All times local:

6:30 p.m.

Pope Francis has spoken off-the-cuff at length for the first time during his trip to Cuba, breaking from prepared remarks to deliver a sermon that focuses extensively on the importance of poverty to the Roman Catholic Church.

He also warns of the dangers of falling prey to the temptations of wealth.

In Francis’s word: “Our dear mother church is poor. God wants it poor, as he wanted our Holy Mother Mary to be poor.”

… Our dear mother church is poor??????????????? Maybe his holiness needs to take another look at the books.

Archbishop of Canterbury promises sex abuse inquiry

The Archbishop of Canterbury has promised to investigate sex abuse in the Church of England if the judge-led abuse inquiry does not look into it within six months.

BBC, July 12

Justin Welby made the promise during a private meeting with survivors of clerical abuse earlier this week.

The independent inquiry into child sex abuse led by Justice Lowell Goddard is expected to last five years.

Lambeth Palace said the archbishop wanted the Church to be reviewed first.

But it said if this did not happen within six months, the archbishop would instigate an “independently-led past cases review”.

Austere brand of Islam on rise in Europe, stirring concerns

Associated Press, By Elaine Ganley, June 21

Paris — Its imams preach austere piety, its tenets demand strict separation of sexes — and some of its most radical adherents are heeding the call of jihad. Salafism, an Islamic movement based on a literal reading of the Quran, is on the rise in France, Germany and Britain, security officials say, with Salafis sharply increasing their influence in mosques and on the streets.

The trend worries European authorities, who see Salafism as one of the inspirational forces for young Europeans heading to Syria or Iraq to do battle for the Islamic State group. Experts, however, point out that the vast majority of Salafis are peace-loving.

In Germany, there are currently about 7,000 Salafis in the country — nearly double the 3,800 estimated four years ago, the Interior Ministry said last month. About 100 French mosques are now controlled by Salafis, a small number compared to the more than 2,000 Muslim houses of worship, but more than double the number four years ago, a senior security official told The Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. France does not do head-counts by religious practices or origins.

In Britain the numbers are on the rise, too. Seven percent of Britain’s 1,740 mosques are run by Salafis, according to Mehmood Naqshbandi, an expert on Britain’s Muslims and counter-extremism adviser to the British government who keeps a database of the various currents of Islam in Britain. He says those numbers are steadily growing, especially among young people — and that a quarter to half of British Muslims under 30 “accept some parts or all of the Salafi theology.”

Meet the Gay Mormon Men (and Their Wives) Beseeching SCOTUS to Save ‘Traditional’ Marriage

TPM, By James Ross Gardner, June 17

We were in the basement, a shirtless Jim Morrison looming on the wall behind me, when Erin Caldwell’s naked foot snaked under her husband Danny’s leg. Her toes, one adorned with a ring, coiled around his thigh and hooked in to nest behind his knee.

Hardly a salacious gesture, not even for a conservative American family like the Caldwells. Except that Danny wants to have sex with men. “Want” isn’t the term he’d use; it’s more like his body desires it. His heart? He insists it belongs to Erin. Yet lately, “Horrible, horrible things have been said. Just a lot of stuff online,” he told me. “That our marriage is a sham. That I’m just sleeping around on the side, and that I’m not really in love with her…they’ve called her ‘a fag hag.’”

Erin flinched at those words. Fag. Hag. Two jagged syllables that seemed to gouge at her chest.

Six weeks earlier, in April of this year, the Caldwells declared their unusual marriage in the form of an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States, which they cosigned with 19 other people, nearly all members of the Mormon church. Submitted in advance of the court’s oral arguments, the brief contests the constitutional legalization of gay marriage. Its signees, or amici, all hail from “mixed-orientation” marriages: same-sex-attracted men married to straight women.

The Real Lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment

The New Yorker, By Maria Konnikova, June 12

On the morning of August 17, 1971, nine young men in the Palo Alto area received visits from local police officers. While their neighbors looked on, the men were arrested for violating Penal Codes 211 and 459 (armed robbery and burglary), searched, handcuffed, and led into the rear of a waiting police car. The cars took them to a Palo Alto police station, where the men were booked, fingerprinted, moved to a holding cell, and blindfolded. Finally, they were transported to the Stanford County Prison—also known as the Stanford University psychology department.

They were willing participants in the Stanford Prison Experiment, one of the most controversial studies in the history of social psychology. (It’s the subject of a new film of the same name—a drama, not a documentary—starring Billy Crudup, of “Almost Famous,” as the lead investigator, Philip Zimbardo.) The study subjects, middle-class college students, had answered a questionnaire about their family backgrounds, physical- and mental-health histories, and social behavior, and had been deemed “normal”; a coin flip divided them into prisoners and guards. According to the lore that’s grown up around the experiment, the guards, with little to no instruction, began humiliating and psychologically abusing the prisoners within twenty-four hours of the study’s start. The prisoners, in turn, became submissive and depersonalized, taking the abuse and saying little in protest. The behavior of all involved was so extreme that the experiment, which was meant to last two weeks, was terminated after six days.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn acquitted of ‘aggravated pimping’

BBC, June 12

A French court has acquitted former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of procuring prostitutes for sex parties in France, Belgium and the US.

Mr Strauss-Kahn stood alongside 13 co-defendants, most of whom were also acquitted of “aggravated pimping”.

He has always denied knowing that some of the women who took part in orgies he attended were prostitutes.

Pope Creates Abuse Tribunal for Cases of Bishop Negligence

AP, June 10

Vatican City – Pope Francis has created a new Vatican tribunal section to hear cases of bishops accused of failing to protect children from sexually abusive priests, the biggest step the Holy See has taken yet to hold bishops accountable.

For years, the Vatican has been criticized by victims, advocacy groups and others for having failed to ever punish or forcibly remove a bishop who covered up for clergy who raped or molested children. In April, Francis accepted the resignation of a U.S. bishop who had been convicted of failing to report a suspected child abuser, but that wasn’t a forced removal.

The Vatican said Wednesday that Francis had approved proposals made by his sexual abuse advisory board. They create a mechanism by which the Vatican can receive and examine complaints of abuse of office by bishops and adjudicate them.

A special new judicial section will be created inside the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “to judge bishops with regard to crimes of the abuse of office when connected to the abuse of minors,” a Vatican statement said.


Canon law already does provide sanctions for bishops who are negligent in their duties, but the Vatican was never known to have meted out punishment for a bishop who covered up for an abuser.

Now, with these proposals, “the process is defined,” Lombardi said.