Date: Sat, 31 Aug 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 31, 1996 A M E

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Date: Sat, 31 Aug 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 31, 1996 Reply-To:, A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn # 143 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 8/31/96 (Nightowl Edition) In This Issue... * Mideast Peace Process Threatened? * Church Accused Of Partisan Politics * Will Pope Downsize His Job? Nessie Insulted... * About This List... MIDEAST PEACE THREATENED BY RELIGIOUS DOGMAS Is Netanyahu's Hardline Strategy Unraveling? Religious extremism is once again threatening the precarious truce in Israel and occupied territories between Jews and Palestinians. Relations between the two sides continue to deteriorate, and the ultimate winners may be the fringe religious movements. Both Muslim and Israeli fundamentalists have stepped up their activities. On the Palestinian side, any collapse of the peace process compounds errors made by PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who late last week called for a general strike and prayer protest in Jerusalem. Arafat is facing an erosion of confidence in his leadership, and once again the power vacuum could be filled by militant Islamic fundamentalists including the Hamas movement. In Israel, the new coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces increased activity from Orthodox fundamentalists, and a collapse of its own hard-line strategy with the Palestinians. In the last several days: * Palestinians, frustrated by what they perceive to be renewed attacks by Israelis have staged limited strikes and focused international attention on the situation in the occupied areas. * Syrian President Assad informed diplomats that he would not resume any negotiations with Netanyahu, a key element in the Likud strategy. * Jordan spoke out against Israel's continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the Gaza and West Bank. Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea commented that "The mistakes of recent weeks do not stem from ideology. They stem from the government's arrogance, its thickheadedness, its blindness." But ideology may be a more important factor than generally admitted. Netanyahu managed to win a tight race with former Prime Minister Shimon Peres only by gaining the support of the country's rightwing religious fundamentalist groups like United Torah, National Religious Party and the Shas movement. Their pricetag for support has been important ministry posts and a new, aggressive round of settlement construction in occupied lands. Meanwhile, Netanyahu's lieutenants have made major stragegic blunders, such as ordering the demolition of a Palestinian youth center in east Jerusalem, and refusing to let Arafat's helicopter land in the West Bank. By undercutting Arafat's strategy of engagement, Israeli policy may be playing into the hands of more militant Islamic groups like Hamas. Up to now, Hamas has been held in check partly by Arafat's Palestinian Authority and the prospect of a negotiated peace. But like Netanyahu, Arafat has made his own series of blunders, including shutting down Hamas-linked or independent newspapers in the area under his control, and cracking down on protest directed at the Authority. The Hamas Movement Hamas is the Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement. In the occupied territories of "greater Israel," it has emerged as the major rival for Arafat's Paletinian Liberation Organization (PLO). While the PLO has sought to establish an independent, secular Palestinian state, Hamas seeks the creation of an Islamic Republic modeled after its major benefactor, Iran. Analysts say that Hamas enjoys the support of 15%-30% of Palestinians; it is strongest in impoverished areas of the West Bank and settlement camps, areas with high unemployment, desperate living conditions, and where youth see little prospect for a normal life. Hamas also has another layer of support, though, from some merchants and small landowners, and has made inroads into academic institutions. The movement is run by a council, most of whose members live outside the territories. A key player is Ayatollah Ali Fallahian, Chief of Intelligence for Iran. Hamas receives about $30 million a year from various sources, including Iran, gulf states and Saudi interests; it has also gotten military training from the Muslim Brotherhood operating out of the Jordan, the group which is fighting to overturn the Egyptian government and establish an Islamic Republic there. Within Hamas, there are splits between the military wing known as Izzedine al-Qassam, and its political spokesmen. The former has been known to act independently for short-term gains, a problem which is compounded by the fact that Hamas is far from a centralized entity. Indeed, attacks by Hamas -- especially on civilian targets in Israel like buses -- have widened the gap between Iran and leaders like Yasser Arafat. Earlier this year, observers noted that at least two military wings of Hamas were operating. The new group is known as Pupils of Ayyash, named for a master bomb builder known as "The Engineer" who was killed in January when a cellular telephone blew up in his face. Some Palestinians suspect that plot was engineered by the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. Arafat has never succeeded in bringing Hamas into either the peace process or the Palestinian Authority. Now, with the ongoing failure of a peaceful dialogue with the Israeli's, Hamas and other groups are capitalizing on Arafat's loss of prestige and effectiveness in dealing with leaders like Netanyahu. Disagreement In Israel As of Thursday night, opposition leaders were warning Netanyahu that his failure to negotiate promptly with Arafat and the Palestinian Authority was leading Israel toward another round of violence. Reuter news services noted that the sides "have been sliding back into a pattern of confrontation and suspicion after four years in which (they)had been trying to build trust." Whereas in the past Arafat and former Prime Minister Peres representated relatively secular impulses working on behalf of a negotiated, peaceful compromise, religious elements are once again motivating many of the players. Orthodox and other religious hardliners in Israel used the recent elections to call for a giant expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied areas. Meanwhile, Hamas and other groups advocate the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a regional Islamic theocracy. ** POPE READY TO QUIT? REPORTS COMPARED TO LOCH NESS MONSTER Would Nessie be insulted? Perhaps she would if she existed, especially after another Vatican denial of reports which suggest that Pope John Paul II is considering abdication in view of failing health. Archbishop Jean-Francois Arrighi, a spokesman for the Vatican curia, told The London Times that rumors of early papal retirement were like the famous Loch Ness monster -- "It is a creature which does not exist, but now and then someone appears who swears he has seen it." But that newfound skepticism has done little to silence reports appearing last week in the French magazine L'Express, which featured a cover story titled "Should John Paul II Abdicate?" According to that article and other sources, there is growing concern over the pope's unexpected visit recently to a hospital because of "abdominal pains." Vatican watchers also note that John Paul's health has declined considerably since his election as pope in 1978 at the age of 58. Once a fairly robust hiker and mountain climber, he now suffers from memory loss, and appears to walk with considerable difficulty. His left hand trembles, and at times the pontiff -- said to be the representative of god on earth -- appears to lack focus and awareness. Other medical problems have plagued the pope; he was shot in the stomach in 1981, and in July 1992 he underwent surgery where doctors removed a tumor from his colon. The following year, he broke his shoulder and in May, 1994 broke his hip. Press reports say that the pontiff is determine to lead the Roman Catholic Church into the 21st century, and considers the onset of the new millennium as a significant eschatological-religious event. One of John Paul II's goals for the year 2000 is reportedly a unification of major Protestant denominations under the umbrella of the Catholic church, and unification between the Vatican and Orthodox religious sects based in Greece, Istanbul and Moscow. Despite the stories about declining health, the pontiff is reportedly intending to keep a series of scheduled visits to Hungary and France in the coming weeks. ** ANOTHER CHURCH ACCUSED OF OVERT POLITICAL CAMPAIGNING A complain has been filed against yet another "mega-church" for partisan political activity. Last week, Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service charging that the Second Baptist Church of Lake Jackson, Texas, had mailed out 7,000 letters to officials nationwide urging them to vote against any candidate who supported abortion. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told The Houston Chronicle that "Partisan politicking by religious groups violates federal law." The complaint against this church comes four months after a similar charge over the political antics of a Houston congregation. AU is conducting a campaign it calls "Project Fair Play," which is directed specifically at religious groups that violate IRS rules barring partisan political activism. Lynn maintains that churches which engage in such campaigning "should give up their tax-exempt status." The "New" and "Mega" Church ~ A Dangerous Trend The Second Baptist Church of Houston was described as "a textbook example of the phenomenon known as the 'mega church' and a 'political machine' in a May, 1996 story in Church & State Magazine. Mega Churches have also been the subject of recent articles in the nation's press, including the prestigious Atlantic Magazine; these congregations are usually characterized as "full services" churches which offer an array of activities for members. The Houston church, for instance, featured gyms, racquetball courts and a bowling alley for its 22,000 congregants. Not all of the "mega" churches engage in the overt political activity which Second Baptist of Houston did. The church printed up pamphlets urging members to vote for a specific slate of candidates during the March 12 presidential primary elections as part of what it called The Nehemiah Project; it also hosted meetings for those active in the local Republican caucus. The latest suit highlights growing concern about the activities of religious groups which cross the line separating discussion of issues (such as abortion) from partisan political campaigning. *** About This List... AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For information on American Atheists, send mail to, and include your name and mailing address. Or, check out our cool web site at You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. 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