THEISTWATCH FOR JUNE 7, 1995 Bangladesh - BLASPHEMY TRIAL SET FOR BANGLADESHI WRITER Unite
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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