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THEISTWATCH FOR JUNE 7, 1995 ____________________ ____________________ Bangladesh--BLASPHEMY TRIAL SET FOR BANGLADESHI WRITER United States--FUNDAMENTALISTS USING 'CHRISTIAN' PHONE SERVICE Canada--PRIEST SUES CHURCH OVER JOB Egypt--FASHION IN EGYPT RESPONDS TO CHANGES, ISLAMIC CODES Zambia--AIDS CRISIS IN ZAMBIA HIGHLIGHTS RELIGIOUS OPPOSITION Saudi Arabia--MUSLIM LEADER SAYS "WHIP 'EM" Saudi Arabia--SAUDIS BUST MUSLIM CLERIC World--THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS ____________________ ____________________ BLASPHEMY TRIAL SET FOR BANGLADESHI WRITER Islamic Clerics Want Taslima Nasrin Hanged For Allegedly Wanting To Revise The Koran by Conrad F. Goeringer Responding to outcries by Islamic clerics and other fundamentalists, a magistrate in Dhaka, Bangladesh has set a June 3 trial date for self-exiled writer Taslima Nasrin. Last year, an Indian newspaper reported that Nasrin had said that the Muslim holy book, the Koran, "should be revised thoroughly" and that women should have the option of having multiple husbands since the privilege of men having numerous wives accords with religious law. Nasrin, who is an open Atheist, has denied the comments concerning the Koran. Fundamentalists took to the streets demanding that Nasrin be hanged. The writer fled to Sweden last August and spend the summer in Berlin, Germany under a grant from a state fund. The Dhaka magistrate ruled Saturday, June 3, that defense objections were invalid and that the Home Ministry's call for a trial was "appropriate and good in law." Under Bangladeshi statutes, a person who commits an offence outside the country can't be prosecuted without special writ from the Ministry. Specific charges against Nasrin include "insulting Islam" and "hurting Moslem sentiments." Meanwhile, another self-exiled Bangladeshi intellectual, poet Daud Haider, denied last Saturday that he had secretly married Taslima Nasrin. He termed the report, which appeared in Dhaka's Independent newspaper, "incorrect, baseless." In an interview with Reuters by telephone, he said that he had no relations with Nasrin and did not like her or her writing. Haider fled Bangladesh in 1974 to escape religious fundamentalism, after saying that birth as a Muslim was a "sin." He resides in Germany. FUNDAMENTALISTS USING 'CHRISTIAN' PHONE SERVICE by Conrad F. Goeringer Angered by what they see as a pro-homosexual bias by communications giant AT&T, fundamentalist Christians throughout the country are signing up with an Oklahoma-based "Christian long-distance company" known as LifeLine. The president of the firm, Tracy Freeny, announced last Friday, June 2, that "as many as 10,000 groups . . . have signed up." Supporters include the Christian Coalition. LifeLine is operated by a parent company, AmeriVision Communications Inc., which has been in existence for nearly six years. Freeny says that the firm "is founded upon . . . the rock of Jesus Christ." A percentage of revenue is donated to religious and political groups, including state chapters of the Christian Coalition. LifeLine's success in part is due to the efforts of the American Family Association, a conservative fundamentalist group which monitors media and program sponsors. AT&T, MCI, and Sprint have been accused of "promoting a homosexual agenda," advertising during movies with "violence, profanity and negatives," and being affiliates with a group which raises money for "homosexual causes." The former executive director of the Christian Coalition's West Virginia chapter released a letter Friday stating "I believe LifeLine is the answer to the predicament in which we find ourselves as Christians with our present long distance carriers." Meanwhile, an AT&T representative told Knight-Ridder Business News that the conglomerate has no interest in promoting a particular lifestyle. Bruce Stinson said that "The charge is based on some people's interpretation of AT&T's personnel policies, which are based on maintaining a harassment-free workplace for women, gay employees and anyone (else)." Critics charge that while individuals and groups should be free to support or boycott businesses, the idea of "Christians only" smacks of boycotts against Jews and others in 1930s Germany. Others maintain that there should not be a "religious test" for conducting business in the marketplace and such groups as the Coalition are trying to "bully" others into accepting their religious dogma. PRIEST SUES CHURCH OVER JOB by Conrad F. Goeringer The Rev. James Roberts of Vancouver, British Columbia may never have heard the phrase "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." He is suing the Canadian archdiocese, claiming that the Roman Catholic church is depriving him of work and a monthly pension. Roberts, 67, wants financial compensation for his emotional and health damages. He told Ecumenical Press that "I want to work as a Catholic priest in some way," but that "The church is not terribly keen on me because I've been outspoken on various controversial and delicate Catholic matters." Those "matters" include church doctrines relating to abortion, birth control, divorce, homosexuality, and women priestesses. With liberal views on these issues, though, one has to wonder why would anyone, including James Roberts, want a job with the Roman Catholic church? FASHION IN EGYPT RESPONDS TO CHANGES, ISLAMIC CODES by Conrad F. Goeringer As women, intellectuals, workers, and other elements throughout the Middle East work for secularism, something as benign as the style of everyday clothing reflects the tension between the desire for social change and long-standing Islamic traditions. In relatively secular Iraq, women are not required to wear a facial covering or "veil" and represent a high percentage of those working in entrepreneurial, management, even legal sectors. The situation is quite different in conservative Saudi Arabia, however, where a religious police force of "mutawahs" roam the streets enforcing Islamic strictures on appearance and behavior. A women who does not wear the veil, or who displays inordinant amounts of bare skin is considered profane, immodest, even an embarrassment to husband or family. But the ambiguity of Islamic tradition and modern fashion consciousness is most evident in Egypt, where women appear in a range of clothing styles. Some observers say that the tradition of wearing the veil is gradually returning, but not entirely due to religious pressures. One store owner recently told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the veil was a "fashion . . . it's a statement. It's not all religion anymore." She may be right. There is plenty of clothing diversity in Egypt, where the climate seems to play a dominant role in determining how people dress. But women, particularly in metropolitan areas like Cairo, are wearing headgear in glowing colors imported from India, the Far East, and Italy. Out of favor are the long dark robes and black cloth veils seen in places such as Iran. Some of this may be a reaction to the hardline position of religious fundamentalists who have vowed to overthrow the Egyptian government. Thanks to the efforts of the late Anwar Sadat and his wife, there is a small but growing feminist movement in Egypt. While women are still expected to dress "modestly," jewelry, bright fabrics, and lipstick are widely flaunted. Observers have noted even the presence of "gimme" caps with fashion or sports logos. Men still control the major institutions in Egypt, and women are still often pressured into wearing the veil and living up to Islamic codes. In the last 20 years, more than 10 million Egyptian men have taken jobs in Saudi Arabia and other ultra- conservative emirates. They often return to Egypt indoctrinated with stricter religious and social standards. Yet many women often wear shapeless robes and veils because they simply cannot afford to replace their wardrobes. Exotic scarves can go for as much as $75, and a new sporty dress can run as much as $120. That's three months of pay for a civil servant, and five months of earnings for a teacher. But unlike Iran, Western influences in dress, music, movies, and other areas is widespread throughout Egypt. Unless fundamentalists succeed in establishing an Islamic police state, that country should continue to evolve and be a trend-setter for the rest of the Middle East. AIDS CRISIS IN ZAMBIA HIGHLIGHTS RELIGIOUS OPPOSITION by Conrad F. Goeringer The AIDS tragedy in the African country of Zambia has reached epidemic proportions. Nearly one in four adults are infected with HIV, the virus believed to cause AIDS. In the last three years, sixteen members of parliament have died, and no class or sector of the society has been spared. According to the June 5 Philadelphia Inquirer, the deadly disease is wiping out businessmen, entrepreneurs, teachers, accountants, and even clergy. Fighting the disease, or at least containing its spread, is a relatively simple but not easy process. Billboards and other advertisements in this country of 8,000,000 promote the use of condoms. But health workers in Zambia now find widespread religious and cultural barriers to their efforts. And the problems begin at the top. Zambia's President, Frederick Chiluba, is a self-described born-again Christian who refuses to endorse the use of condoms, and instead advocates abstinence and marital fidelity. He maintains that "love outside of marriage" is the root of the AIDS crisis, a position which critics see as narrow and unrealistic in its expectations. Zambian church officials share much the same view, and the issue surrounding the use of condoms has turned into a "referendum on religion." But Christianity is not the only obstacle to combatting AIDS. One vector for the disease is ancient tribal rituals such as "cleansing." Tribal lore says that when a married person dies, a "spirit" or soul remains behind in the house threatening to cause sickness or even death for relatives. The "cleansing" ritual consists of the surviving spouse having sex with a blood relative of the deceased. If the survivor happens to be male, the female participant in the "cleansing" is often picked by the dead woman's family. Africa is the part of the world most ravaged by AIDS. 11 million have been infected in the Sub-Saharan region, compared to 3 million in Southeast Asia, 2 million in Latin America, and 1 million in North America. Ironically, Africa has become a major target for born-again evangelical groups, many of whom agree with the "abstinence" and chastity agenda. Despite an enormous outreach, the failure to understand and deal with human behavior on a realistic, non-dogmatic level has resulted less in "saving souls" and more in the death and suffering of millions. MUSLIM LEADER SAYS "WHIP 'EM" by Conrad F. Goeringer Here's something to think about when you hear evangelicals demanding "tough love" as the solution to society's ills. The Grand Mufti of Egypt's Islamic religion has defended Saudi Arabia's use of flogging as punishment for slander, just two weeks after an Egyptian doctor was caned. Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi said that he supported Saudi authorities, insisting "I swear with God as my witness that Saudi rulings seek justice and truth. . . . When judicial institutions give their word, we obey without question because these conclusions are reached after detailed and accurate studies." The Mufti's "obey without question" stance has prompted spirited debate throughout Egypt because of the case involving Dr. Mohammed Kamal Kahlifa. He was given 80 lashes in Saudi Arabia on May 23 with little publicity in the American press after refusing to withdraw allegations made in private that the headmaster of a school had sexually assaulted his seven-year-old son. A professional medical organization in Egypt said that it was disgusted with the punishment, making headlines in the Al-Ahrar newspaper. The Egyptian government now says that it will investigate the case. The Grand Mufti also condemned any Muslim committing slander and quoted verse from the Koran which demanded 80 lashes for spreading false accusations. "Saudi Arabia has its own traditions and its legal system that is based on the word of God and the prophet," he noted. The whipping, while it stirred debate and controversy in that part of the Middle East, received sparse coverage in American news media. Reuters carried the original story out of London, and American officials have said nothing about this "human rights" violation. The reason may be found in yesterday's announcement by Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown that Saudi Arabia is finalizing plans in a $6 billion order for new planes from the Boeing Company and McDonnell Douglas Corporation. Reportedly, Boeing will build 22 of their computer-designed 777 jetliners and five 747s. McDonnell Douglas will turn out 29 MD-90s and four MD-11 jet fighters. A vice president for marketing at Boeing told Reuters that "We've been working very closely with Saudia (sic) over the past 15 months, trying to determine their fleet requirements." The $6 billion is a much-needed shot in the arm for the ailing aerospace industry. Boeing stock climbed to $61.75 on the New York Stock Exchange, and McDonnell Douglas was up to $73. Oil is another reason why the West, and especially the U.S. may not want to offend Saudi sensibilities, even if draconian religious practices violate human rights. Saudi Arabia is going to invest $2.5 billion into the development of a vast oilfield in the remote "Empty Quarter"; a team from Aramco, the Arabian American Oil Company, will be setting up a project work office in the U.S. in coming months to oversee foreign contracts. Known as the Shaybah oil field, the deposit contains seven billion barrels of low sulphur oil. Housing, pipeline construction, and operating equipment will all be bidded-out to foreign firms. There is also a developing German-Saudi-Yemeni axis which the U.S. is eager to encourage. Yemini President Ali Abdullah Saleh is expected to hold reconciliation talks with Saudi King Fahd. The two countries have signed a memorandum of understanding to resolve a 60-year-old border dispute which has at times turned violent. Yemen voted against a U.N. resolution which supported the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. But the United States was pleased when Yemeni authorities last weekended handed over a collaborator of the international terrorist "Carlos the Jackal" Ramirez to the Germans. Johannes Weinrich was taken into custody last week in the Yemeni city of Aden. He was extradited Saturday to Germany to face charges in the 1983 bombing of a French cultural center in Berlin which killed one person and injured twenty-two others. Weinrich is believed to be an associate of Carlos, whose real name is Illich Ramirez Sanchez. Known as "the Jackal," Carlos is believed to have masterminded plots throughout the world during the 1970s and early 1980s, working with groups such as the Japanese Red Army. He claimed responsibility for the Berlin attack in a letter to the German embassy in Saudi Arabia. Carlos had been on the "most wanted" list of a number of governments, including the U.S., Israeli, and British. It is certainly in the interest of the Saudi Royal House to have the U.S. as an ally. Following Desert Storm, a massive supply depot was built in Saudi Arabia with an estimated $2 billion in emergency equipment, fuel and ammunition. Big money in the form of oil agreements and defense treaties may explain in part why Saudi human rights outrages attract little or no public scrutiny in the U.S. SAUDIS BUST MUSLIM CLERIC by Conrad F. Goeringer International observers say that the arrest of a prominent Islamic leader last Saturday, June 3, by Saudi Arabian authorities indicates that nation's growing unease with opposition from the religious establishment there. A blind 75-year-old sheik named Hammoud Bin Abdullarh al- Akla-al-Shouebi was taken into custody following a police raid on his home in central Saudi Arabia. Also arrested were several of his followers, according to the London-based Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights. Al-Shouebi is one of a growing number of Muslim leaders who worked for "democratic reforms and more accountability after the 1991 Persian Gulf war," according to a report filed by Associated Press in Cyprus. But those "reforms" may not be along the Western model. Although the Saudi government enforces Islamic law and maintains a special clerical police force of "mutawas," extreme Muslim fundamentalists see the desert kingdom as "too Western" or catering to U.S. (and even Israeli) interests. Many objected to Saudi participation in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, when Saudi pilots and troops participated in Operation Desert Storm. Saudi air fields were used for U.S. and British jet attacks on Iraq. Clerics even then feared that the mere presence of foreign troops (including Black and female service personnel) would "contaminate" Islamic culture. It is far from clear that Al-Schouebi and other clerics, though they object to the power monopoly of the ruling Saud family and its network of more than 1,200 princes and other officials, would support Western democratic values and civil liberties. THEISTWATCH SHORT-SHOTS Obsolete and oppressive practices such as the dowry exist in reactionary countries like Iran, and often continue to create problems for the powers that be. In May, 3,300 couples were married in mass ceremonies organized by Islamic mullahs, satisfying dowries and, according to Reuters news service, "heading off what religious leaders fear might be physically harmful temptation." A relief committee organized by Imans ("holy men") paid the dowries. There is also the practice of "mahrieh," a fee that the groom has to pay the bride on demand. High prices for both of these reactionary practices "are making marriage next to impossible for many young people," much to the dismay of the clergy. Maybe the country needs a good dose of guilt-free and liberating free love! ******************** According to a March report from Reuters, coffins are rarely used in Jewish burials in Israel. Bodies are merely wrapped in sheets and wheeled to their graves on hospital-type gurneys. THe rabbis explain that this way the bones can rise unimpeded on the Day of Redemption. ******************** Associated Press reports that in late May, Oregon teenagers found the body of DeWitt Finley, a 56-year-old salesman, in the cab of his pickup truck. Last seen on November 14, Finley had turned off the main highway to take the back roads through Siskiyou National Forest to Grants Pass. He became stuck in the snow on Bear Camp Road and starved to death while waiting for help. According to letters he wrote and left in the truck, Finley decided to trust in god for a rescue, waiting in his truck for at least nine weeks before he died. During that time he wrote letters to his employer, saying, "I have no control over my life. It's all in His hands. His will be done. Death here in another month or so, so He sends someone to save me. Yet knowing His will, I'm at peace and His grace will prevail. If I'm saved to finish my life here, please know I'll always be thankful to you and remain your servant. If not -- I'll see you in Glory." The entire nine weeks Finley was waiting and praying, he was no more than a few hundred feet from a clear, paved road which was only a 16-mile-walk to a store and safety. ******************** From the joke department: "Well, why did the Puritans come to this country?" a teacher asked his history class. "To worship in their own way and to make other people do the same," was the reply. *********************************************************************** * * * American Atheists website: * * PO Box 140195 FTP: * * Austin, TX 78714-0195 * * Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: * * FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 * * * * Atheist Viewpoint TV: * * Info on American Atheists:, * * & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address * * AANEWS -Free subscription: * * and put "info aanews" in message body * * * * This text may be freely downloaded, reprinted, and/other * * otherwise redistributed, provided appropriate point of * * origin credit is given to American Atheists. * * * ***********************************************************************


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