Date: Sat, 28 Dec 1996 14:00:41 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 28, 1996
Date: Sat, 28 Dec 1996 14:00:41 -0500
Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 28, 1996
from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS
suject: AANEWS for December 28, 1996
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#223 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/28/96
In This Issue:
* Afghanistan ~ Taliban On New Offensive
* Religious Genital Mutilation On Rise In U.S.
* More John Paul II ~ Hey, Guys, Blame The Women!
* Still Growing! But We Need Your Help...
* About This List...
TALIBAN SEIZES TOWN DURING NEW OFFENSIVE,
Energized by emotional anniversary ceremonies commemorating the Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan, the fundamentalist Taliban militia seized a key
mountain stronghold yesterday and routed troops loyal to the former
government. Backed by withering rocket and artillery assaults, Taliban
infantry stormed into the town of Stalif, operations base for outsted
military chief Ahmed Shah Massood. "The loss was a blow to Massood's
soldiers," noted the Washington Post, "who had used the high ground to shell
The Taliban victory effectively pushed the front lines in this phase of
the Afghan civil war a full 24 miles from the beleaugered capital of Kabul,
where the fundamentalist militia has instituted a draconian civil-religious
law. Men are required to attend mosques five time each day and grow full
length beards. Women have been banned from the workplace, and must wear
full-length robes and head coverings while in public. In addition, Taliban
mullahs have shut down the nation's educational system, banned movies and
television broadcasts, and instituted strict censorship in the country's
Opponents of the new regime, which controls about 80% of Afghanistan, had
formed a coalition linking former military commander Massood with Rashid
Dostrum, a warlord based in the northern part of the country. That tenuous
alliance had achieved limited gains against the Taliban fighters in the last
few weeks, pushing the battle lines to within 12 miles of Kabul. The rebels
still have control of the air base at Baghram, and have launched limited air
attacks on Taliban positions.
The attack on Stalif appears to have coincided with a series of
commemorative rallies staged by Taliban clerics marking the December 27, 1979
anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Many Taliban mullahs and
military commanders were then small children, who subsequently grew up in the
midst of a widespread civil war among competing Muslim factions. The
withdrawal of Soviet forces created a power vacuum, and a series of
governments in Kabul never succeeded in gaining full control of the
countryside, much of which still was in the hands of drug gangs, former
Mujahadeen fighters, and religious militias like Taliban. Over the last four
years, an estmated 35,000 people died in that phase of the civil war; and
Taliban emerged as the strongest Islamic faction.
The recent military developments mean that the precarious rebel coalition
will now have an even harder time striking back at Taliban. And there is
little news from within Kabul concerning any opposition to the clerical
regime which may be forming. There were reports several weeks ago that peope
were amassing firearms and whatever other weapons they could find or
manufacture in anticipation of an uprising.
Islamic fundamentalism has emerged as a serious threat throughout the world
to secular societies and governments regardless of their specific political
orientation. There are new developments in recent news involving militant
* In Bahrain, that country's Islamic government is led by Sunni Moslems,
and faces a fast-growing Shiite Islamic insurgency with ties to Iran. The two
groups, while both embracing Islam, have serious doctrinal differences
concerning the prophetic succession to their prophet Mohammed. Shiites have
come to be identified with the militant regime in Tehran, although Shiite
Muslims in Iraq have the support of many western nations because of their
opposition to the government of Sadham Hussein.
In Bahrain and other Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, Shiite groups
advance a strict anti-western political agenda including opposition to
foreign influences, outside cultural incursions, western-style civil
liberties and, of course, military alliances with the United States or Euope.
* Yesterday in the capital of Manama, Bahranian security forces fired tear
gas to disperse Shiites who were rallying outside a mosque. Ironically,
Shiites are a slgiht majority among Bahrain's 500,00 people, but the ruling
al-Khalifa family embraces Sunni teachings. Shiites have launched a campaign
demanding equal rights and more social services.
FEMALE CIRCUMCISION RITE IS GROWING PROBLEM IN U.S.
"Family Values," Religious Superstition Obstacles to Ending Genital
The practice of female circumcision, the cutting and mutilation of young
girls' genitals, is becoming a major problem within some immigrant
communities in the U.S. according to government and media reports, including
today's New York Times. For many, the rite is justified by a particular
interpretation of Islamic law, or based on African religious-tribal
The Times notes that "Caseworkers and federal health officials say
stopping the practice of female genital cutting among the small, but growing,
population of African refugees and immigrants in the United States, will take
more than simply passing a law. It will mean finding a way to change the
minds of parents..."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estmated that there will be
more than 15,000 genital circumcision rites performed on young girls in
America this year alone. The practice is considered "commonplace" in 28
nations. One immigrant mother told the Times that she was taught that
genital mutilation "was a way of ensuring a girl's good behavior...It
prevents them from running wild." She added that "Women should be meek,
simple and quite, not aggressive and outgoing."
Cultural, Legal Difficulties
Combating the practice is difficult, although this year congress directed
federal health agencies to begin finding ways of reaching out to immigrant
communities and educate them about the possible harm in mutiliation rites.
The practice was also made punishable by up to five years in prison.
"But the law will be difficult to enforce," notes the Times. Indeed, the
"family values" embraced by America's religious groups may prove to be an
obstacle to getting cases of such mutilation stoppped or even reported.
"Doctors who spot cases of genital cutting are likely to be reluctant to
report parents to authorities for fear of breaking up close-knit families and
sending well-meaning mothers and fathers to prisons, child-abuse experts
Secrecy, and even acceptance of the rite within ethnic communities is also
a problem. Health officials are not generally aware of female genital
mutilation, and may not be looking for it.
But two pieces of "religious rights" legislation may, in effect, legalize
the practice, or certainly make ending it a lot harder. The Religious
Freedom Restoration Act places the legal burden on authorities in justifying
any action which may "burden" religious expression and ritual. RFRA grew out
of shamanic and other religious rituals practice by Native Americans; it
essentially creates a class of "special rights' which may be exercised if
practiced within the context of religious organizations.
And forms of the Religious Equality Amendment may put a chilling effect on
children's rights agencies. Already, a number of fundamentalist groups
object to children even receiving periodic physical exams or instruction on
health-related matters. That may make detecting cases of genital mutilation
a lot harder.
The First Task:Education
But many critics of the practice recognize that ending female genital
mutilation ultimately requires educating people and radically changing values
about the status of women and gender roles. Unfortunately, that task is
being diluted to the need for "sensitivity" and even finding symbolic
alternatives to the practice. At Seattle's Harborview Medical Center, for
instance, authorities agreed to a procedure involving what the Times
described as "making a ritual nick of the prepuce, a fold of skin that caps
the clitoris and that is analogous to the foreskin of the penis, with no
removal of tissue."
"They said they saw the procedure as an alternative to cutting."
Critics charged that the "alternative" was still degrading to women,
though, it was soon abandoned.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is reportedly
organizing meetings of advocacy and other groups which work with African
refugees, and may even ask Muslim religious leaders to issue a statement
explaining that the Koran does not require the practice.
Ending the ritual may prove to be difficult; or, the values which result in
the barbaric practice may simply manifest themselves in some other form
Female genital mutilation has historically been just one of a number of
strategems aimed at controlling women. And immigrant groups may feel the same
anxieties and threats now being expressed in the "alpha male backlash"
resonating throughout the culture, manifest in events like the Million Man
March and he Promise Keepers movement. Ultimately, the war against female
circumcision -- and other expressions of mystical superstition -- will be won
only through a change in values and attitudes.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
The tinsel is hardly off the living room tree, but we're still getting
samples of letters Atheists have written to local media protesting religious
displays on public property. American Atheist Mitchell Kahle had this
missive to the editor published in the Honolulu Advertiser, with the title
"Religious displays risky expensive suit." Mitch wrote:
"By allowng private organizations to display religious symbols and
messages on city property, the mayor is risking yet another expensive lawsuit
against the tapayers of Honolulu.
"The Christian nativity, Buddhist tree, and Jewish menorah currently
included alongside decoration for 'Honolulu City Lights' may satisfy
constitutional requirements becuse no public funds are used. However, the
practice creates a slippery slope between government entanglement with
religion and protected free speech.
"Appeasement of religious groups by elected government officials may be
good politics, but it is nonetheless always unfair and inappropriae. The
correct policy, and one that is safe from legal challenge, is to prohibit all
private religious displays on public property."
Kudos to Mitch. Just because Buddhists, Jews or other non-mainstream
religious groups are now "in on the action" doesn't magically render such
displays like the traditional nativity creches constitutional and
appropriate. And we still say -- take the yellow pages test! There are
plenty of churches, temples and mosques where the religious may do as they
choose, and display whatever they wish -- on their own property, and at their
own expense. Clearly, displays on government property are designed not only
to whip up enthusiasm for a particular faith (and belief in general), but to
chip away at the wall of separation between government and religion.
In the article about female genital mutilation, we suggest that one
cultural impetus against ending this barbaric practice is the growing "alpha
male backlash" against feminism and the erosion of tradition roles by an
emergent, and problematic, global economy. In short, the women have their own
money to spend, and their own lives to pursue, and the guys can no longer
justify beer-swigging "I'm the head of the household!" behavior by sayng that
they are the sole breadwinner.
Indeed, the alpha male backlash-- an entire array of resentments against
women -- manifests itself across a whole range of issues; efforts to limit or
ban abortion, religious revivalist frenzies like the Promise Keepers, and
once again, even the sclerotic utterances of the pope.
Not that John Paul II has been exactly a friend of feminism; he opposes
abortion, or even given women "equal time" in participating in foolish church
rituals like the mass. But there's an interesting papal quote in the recent
book "His Holiness: John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time" by Carl
Bernstein and Marco Polti. In conversation with a female UN representative,
Hiz Holinez was asked about the approximately 200,00 women who die each year
from self-induced abortions.
"Don't you think that all irresponsible behavior of men is caused by
women?," asked JP-2.
Speaking of abortion and the pope, religious movements have emerged as
major foes of attempts to control rampant population expansion. Monty Python
wasn't that far off the mark in their comical lyrics, "Every sperm is sacred,
every sperm is great, when a sperm is wasted, god become irate."
Religions have long had a vacillating relationship with population. Holy
wars would be justified if they culled "surplus" populations of
non-believers. THOSE souls could ultimately be "sorted out by god," as one
cleric remarked in the midst of the Holy Inquisition.
Emergent global civilization has placed all religious groups in a sort of
turf war for the allegiance of believers, a "marketshare" so to speak of the
belief customer base. Militant Muslims see just about any effort at
population control as an agenda to control their sheer numbers. Hindu
fundamentalists express similar concerns, and the rantings of the Roman
Catholic Church and many Protestant evangelicals and fundmentalists aren't
There is some good news in the midst of this madness, however. Changing
values and the rise of an individual-oriented, consumer culture may well be
having an effect on population growth, coupled with aggressive outreaches to
educate people and make birth control technology available. Yesterday, the
president of the Population Institute in Washington, D.C. told reporters that
the global population is still expanding by more than 90,000,000 annually,
but that the rate has slowed over recent years. Werner Fornos added that
with a concerted effort, we could still defuse a "demographic time bomb" and
stabilize the population at approximately 8 billion by the year 2025. And
while the slow-down is good news, it "analogous to a tidal wave hitting any
one of our coastal cities at 90 feet rather than 100 feet," says Fornos. "So
we're not out of the woods. But it is a turnaround and spells for the future
The current world population is estimated at 5.9 billion, and will pass
the 6 billion mark by th year 2000. Fornos adds that the declining rate of
expansion is due to a number of factors: "Whenever a woman has an eighth
grade education, she has half the number of pregnancies of her uneducated
Fornos also told reporters "Aside from universal access to affordable
family planning, equity and equality for women is the most important
intervention that can be taken for slowing population growth, as well as for
helping the poorest to escape poverty." The Population Institute worries
that a major threat to attempts at limiting population may be the U.S.
Congress. In the upcoming 105th Congressional session, look for religious
groups like Focus on the Family, Eagle Forum, and Christian Coalition to do
all they can to delay or stop $385 million already earmarked for
international family planning efforts.
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