Date: Mon, 30 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 30, 1996 A M
Date: Mon, 30 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 30, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#169 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 9/30/96
In This Issue...
* New Era Indictment Raises Old Question
*(Groan!) Another Islamic Theocracy
* Upitty Women in Pakistan!
* About This List...
NEW ERA FOUNDER INDICTED: SCANDAL SPOTLIGHTS RELIGIOUS $$$
Billion-Dollar Religious Crusade Funding Plan Remains Mystery...
The U.S. government filed its 82-count indictment on Friday against the
founder of a non-profit charity organization with ties to some of the most
powerful religious organizations in the country. It is the latest chapter in
a scandal which began over one-and-a-half years ago, following the collapse
of the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy, casting doubts on the charity's
president and founder, John Bennett, and raising suspcions of wealthy,
anonymous donors who talked of funneling up to $1 billion into the coffers of
religious evangelical movements.
Bennett stands accused of operating a "double-your-money" scheme which
enticed a number of non-profit organizations -- many of them religious --
into putting up "good faith" investmen money which, promised Bennett, could
be doubled in value in as little as 90-days after being matched by wealthy,
secret contributors. There are suspected indications that Bennett operated a
pyramid scheme, possibly repaying the investors with their "donated" money
out of the funds of new investors.
Early reports identified a number of religious groups "based in Colorado
Springs, Colorado" as participants in the New Era arrangement.
The government now contends that Bennett -- a leading figure in the
Philadelphia arts and philanthropic community -- diverted money from New Era
for his personal use; a bankruptcy trustee now puts that figure at nearly
$5,000,000. Both New Era and Bennett filed for Chapter 13; at the time, he
and his wife resided in a $620,000 home which had been paid for in cash. The
philanthropist also informed federal bankruptcy officials that the couple
could live on no less than $9,880 per month to cover personal expenses.
Investigators contend that Bennett acted as a middle-man between
non-profit organizations and wealthy donors, many of them interested in
assisting religious causes. Among the names being mentioned is that of John
Templeton Jr., son of British investment mogul Sir John Templeton who founded
the prestigious Templeton Prize for Religion, the world's largest endowment
reward. According to the London Times, Sir John intended to contribute over
$16,000,000 this year alone "mainly to religious and spiritual causes."
Templeton made his fortune as an investor in Japan, heading up the
Templeton Galbraith and Hansberger fund. He sold his stake in the business
in 1992 for nearly $500 million, but even with hefty philanthropic
contributions like the Templeton Prize, his fortune has continued to expand.
The list of New Era participants reads like a who's-who of elite arts and
cultural organizations as well as evangelical outreaches. Most organizations
lost money in the philanthropy's bankruptcy, a figure which investigators now
put at a staggering $136 million; but about $85 million ended up in the
coffers of so-called "net positive" groups who either received substantial
matching funds or outright grants.
185 religious organizations in the New Era collapse promptly founded the
United Response to New Era, in an effort to establish "biblically and morally
correct" ground rules and recoup some of their initial investment. The goal
is to have the "net positives" turn over all of their earnings to a third
party, the Evangelical Council for financial Accountability, to cover the
losses of the "net negatives." Some of the former category, such as Baptists
for Life, have already done so.
That plan was approved last month by a U.S. Bankruptcy judge; but the "net
negatives' will get back only about 65% of their investment.
31 nonprofit groups, meanwhile, have filed a $90 million lawsuit against
the troubled Prudential Securities, Inc., maintaining that the giant firm has
played a "pivotal role" in the collapse of New Era, was aware that Bennett's
operation was a fruad, and considered the matching program as "a likely scam
operation." Plaintiffs in that New Era-related suit include Philadelphia
College of Bible, Biblical Theological Seminary, United Theological Seminary
and several small religious colleges.
A Fund For Proselytizing ?
Bennett could face up to $28 million in fines, and prison sentences of
over 900 years if convicted for running the financial scheme. On Friday,
defense attorneys filed documents claiming that the New Era founder suffered
brain injury during a 1984 auto accident, and was under psychiatric care and
Even so, Bennett reportedly projected a charming, confident demeanor when
dealing with both possible grantees, investors and philanthropists.
But in the mountain of legal and accounting paperwork which has become
part of the largest philanthropic scandal in decades, a key elements has
apparantly been ignored. Early accounts of the New Era collapse quoted
sources who said that Bennett and the philanthropy were part of an effort by
"wealthy donors who wish to remain anonymous" to channel sums of up to $1
billion into religious evangelical groups in the United States. That news
was quickly subsumed by the outcry of New Era's "net negatives" -- especially
bible colleges, missionary groups and other religious organizations -- that
they had lost millions.
The fate of the various groups involved in the philanthropy's collapse is
still not clear, and there is the possibility that some of New Era's "sugar
daddies" will continue to pour money into their coffers. Even without John
Bennett, a cozy relationship will continue to exist between power financial
backers like Templeton, and religious evangelical groups.
ANOTHER ''NATION UNDER GOD'' AS TALIBAN SEIZES CONTROL IN AFGHANISTAN
Women, Intellectuals, Media Are
Islamic fundamentalist rebels seized control of the Afghan capital of
Kabul over the weekend, and began a reign of terror to enforce strict Muslim
doctrines. The group known as Taliban now rules over two-thirds of the
nation; a broadcast from Mullah Omar, the organization's leader, declared the
country a "competely Islamic state" and promised that a "complete Islamic
system will be enforced."
The Taliban victory has been described as a series of "stunning successes"
in the aftermath of a ten-year civil war and battle against the former Soviet
Union. The organization represents perhaps the most extreme Islamic movement
yet to achieve state power, and is even more theocratic than its counterparts
in nations like Iran, or even Saudi Arabia.
The roots of the Taliban movement go back to the civil war against the
Soviets, which ended in 1989 and was a contributing factor to the collapse of
Moscow's communist regime. That war was unpopular in Russia, and the Red Army
was bested by a coalition of Islamic guerrilla groups assisted by Western
interests, including the United States which supplied guns, ammunition, food,
medical supplies and even sophisticated, hand-held Stinger air-to-ground
missiles. Later, the Russian defeat would be compared to the American
experience in Vietnam.
Sometime in 1994, the Taliban movement was started by Mullah Muhammad
Omar, a guerrilla fighter who had lost an eye during one of numerous
encounters with the Soviets. Little is known about the Mullah, although it
is suspected that he shares the roots of other Taliban fighters, most of whom
were clerical students in religiousschools and had lived in the squalid
refugee camps established during the civil war.
With the Soviets out of the country, the various guerrilla or Mujahadeen
groups either brokered deals with the tenuous government in Kabul, or began
operating as criminal organizations preying on trade convoys and villages
throughout the country. Taliban emerged as a orderly, if draconian
alternative to that chaos; it also refused to join the coalition government
which itself was enforcing strict Islamic codes. This past summer,
Afghanistan's new prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, took over the Kabul
government under a peace pact with President Burhanuddin Rabbani. The new
administration quickly announced a crack-down on corruption and crime, and
ordered all women to wear "decent and dignified dress" in public and avoid
"illegal mixing' of the two sexes. Hekmatyar also began overtures to local
warlords, former Mujahadeen rebels, who had established themselves in some of
the 27 provinces which the Kabul administration still didn't control.
But Kabul was already under rocket attack by the Taliban, a fact which
split and disturbed many Arab nations. Pakistan was backing the Taliban as
part of its own continuation of the "Great Game" and its quarrels with India.
And the Kabul regime was also dominated by ethnic Tajiks, whereas the young
Taliban warriors were mostly Pashtun tribesmen.
The collapse of the Kabul government and the Taliban victory has brough
swift change to the capital. Taliban militia tracked down and hanged the
former president Mohammed Najibullah from a pole near the presidential
palaced. A hunt was initiated for Hekmatyar and Ahmad Shah Masood, the
government's former military chief.
While troops loyal to the old Kabul regime retreated from the city,
Taliban religious officials were already making new decrees...
* Mullah Agha Gulabi, identified by the London Times as a "religious
scholar", told the population by radio that "God says that those committing
adultery should be stoned to death. Anybody who drinks and says that it is
not against the Koran, you have to kill him and hang his body for three days
until people this is the body of a drinker who did not obey the Koran."
* A six-man ruling council has been established, and the Taliban militia
was informing Kabul citizens to "go about their lives as usual." But militia
units immediately began sweeping neighborhood, confiscating firearms and
ammunition. Taliban officials also issued an order barring female workers
from offices and schools, and told women to begin wearing Islamic head veils
when in public. "Two women were repeatedly struck by militiamen in the market
in the east of the city (Kabul) centre after they were spotted wearing
scarves which did not cover all their hair or faces..." reports today's
London Times. "They (Taliban militia) began beating her with sticks and
telling her she was un-Islamic for wearing such revealing clothes..."
Throwing women out of the workplace may also have devastating financial
consequences for the city's 40,000 "war widows" who are the sole support of
* The Taliban regime has also ordered all government employees to grow
beards within six weeks, "or face Islamic punishment," notes the Times.
* Observers expect that in coming days, Taliban militias will begin
confiscating telesivion sets and establishing roadblocks in search of banned
printed materials, even rock 'n roll tape cassettes -- something which has
been carried out in other Taliban-controlled areas.
Not An Iranian Ally
Strangely, the Taliban sect is not supported by the Shiite theocracy in
Iran. That reflects theological and political considerations though, since
Tehran was an ally of the old Kabul theocracy. Taliban militias also did not
engage forces, or challenge areas under the control of pro Saudi Arabian
Mujahadeen forces, and there were reports that Saudi interests were
bankrolling the Taliban as much as the Pakistani govenrment.
What does Pakistan get for its support of the new Kabul theocracy? In
1995, Hindustan Times of India observed that the regime of Pakistani leader
General al-haq Zia "would agree to a seemless and a borderless friendship
based in the islamic (sic) brotherhood...They clearly told Mujahidin (sic)
and others (Taliban) that they must get free access, through Afghanistan,
into Central Asia, Iran and the Gulf Countries." In the pathway -- Iran,
which bortders Afghanistan and Pakistan on one side, and Turkey and Iraq on
Meanwhile, Pakistan maintains its own Islamic hard-line, directed
particularly at women...
PAKISTANI WOMEN DENOUNCE ISLAMIC CHATTEL STATUS
A decision by Pakistan's High Court last week upholding laws which prevent
females from getting married without the approval of "guardians" prompted a
demonstration by hundreds of angry women, organized by the group Womens's
Action Forum. Representatives of the group which includes female attorneys,
writers, artists, journalists and civil liberties activists told media: "The
judgment is unacceptable as it is in violation of the constitution which
guarantees equal rights to all citizens." Meanwhile, the progressive journal
"Friday Times" said that the court decision "Is the most ridiculous judgment
which will leave women at the mercy of their guardians. The judgment
represents obscure thinking which considers women nothing more than
But that didn't stop Justice Abdul Hafeez Cheema from declaring null and
void the marriages of two women who got hitched to the men of their choice
against the orders of their fathers. The case involved a 14 and a 19-year
old, who along with their new husbands were charged with fornication. Both
women had run away from home last month . Cheema, in handing down his
decision, quoted from the Koran which states: "No marriage except the
marriage of Muhammad is valid without the permission of the guardians of the
women. Cheema also noted that under Muslim strictures, even divorcees and
widows must obtain the consent of "guardians" in order to re-marry.
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