Date: Sat, 28 Dec 1996 14:00:41 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 28, 1996

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Date: Sat, 28 Dec 1996 14:00:41 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 28, 1996 Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org 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 nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #223 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/28/96 http://www.atheists.org ftp.atheists.org/pub/ e-mail: aanews@atheists.org 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, CELEBRATES ANNIVERSARY 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 Taliban positions." 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 limited media. 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. ** Related Developments: 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 Muslim groups: * 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 Mutiliation 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 practices. 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 say." 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." (signed) Mitchell Kahle 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 much different. 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 much promise." 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 sister." 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. ** HELP US REACH 10,000 READERS! 'Tis almost the new year, and the deadline for our 1996 goal of reaching 10,000 readers for aanews. There's still time to help. Why not simply forward a copy of this dispatch to a friend who might be interested in subscribing, and joining the growing family of regular on-line aanews readers? It's so simple. Or, post aanews to your web site, news group or bulletin board. Help us reach the goal! You'll be doing your share for Atheism and state-church separation. And remember... aanews is a FREE service. ** 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 subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please) in the message body. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, the LISTMASTER (cg@atheists.org). Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait, irep@atheists.org.

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