Date: Thu, 27 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 27, 1996 nn nn AA

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Date: Thu, 27 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 27, 1996 Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn # 76 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 6/27/96 In This Edition... * "Religious Rights" Aren't OUR Idea of "Rights" ~~ Phoney "Dissidents" * Church Loan Guarantee Clears Senate * One Man's Opinion: Should We Pay For Church Fires? * About This List... ISLAMIC ''DISSIDENTS'' TIED TO SAUDI BLAST AT MILITARY BASE? As investigators continue to probe the wreckage of a U.S. Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia, attention is beginning to focus on an international network of Islamic fundamentalist "dissidents" linked to terrorist activities in Egypt, Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan, and even European nations. On Tuesday, a truck bomb estimated to carry up to 5,000 pounds of high explosive materials, detonated outside a base apartment building in Dhahran killing 19 and injuring hundreds of others. There is evidence to suggest, though, that this attack was directed as much against the ruling Saudi royal establishment -- a network of over 5,000 princes and princesses who control the government under the leadership of King Fahd -- as it was against the American military presence. Observers note that while Saudi Arabia considers itself to be a strict, Islamic nation, there is widespread religious fundamentalist opposition to the government which considers the presence of foreigners on Saudi soil to be a corrosive influence. According to reports gathered by AANEWS, two shadowy Islamic groups are now being considered as likely candidates for the bombing at Dhahran -- the Movement for Islamic Change and the Tigers of the Gulf, which claimed responsibility for bombing a military communications center in Riyadh last year. Seven people, including five Americans, were killed in that attack. The Saudi government arrested four local Islamic militants who were beheaded for the crime earlier this month. The Movement for Islamic Change first surfaced in April, 1995 when leafletts appeared throughout the country protesting the presence of foreign troops on Saudi soil for Operation Desert Storm. Even less is known about the Tigers of the Gulf, although officials see similarities in Tuesday's bombing and the previous terrorist attacks. But is is in the ersatz "dissident" networks outside the country where the answer to the Dhahran bombing may well lay. Despite its heavy emphasis on Islam, religious fundamentalists say that Saudi Arabia has not gone far enough in protecting the Muslim culture from outsiders and foreign interests. The issue is especially emotional since the country considers itself to be the birthplace of the Islamic religion, and maintains the holiest religious shrine in the Muslim world, the Great Mosque at Mecca. It's role as a leading producer of oil has also provided Saudi Arabia with enormous wealth, and a problematic relationship with foreign powers including the United States and Great Britain. The country was a major political and military ally in Operation Desert Storm, and the U.S. has a considerable investment in equipping and training Saudi security forces. The presence of foreigners -- especially American military personnell -- angers many of the religious fundamentalists. There is also the problem of the ruling House of Saud, a family dynasty that has unified and ruled the country since the turn of the century. There is no written constitution, and all political parties are banned. Since 1992, a Consultative Council known as the Majlis Ash-Shura has existed to provide advice to the king, but its members are appointed and represent the Saud family line. According to the U.S. Department of State (Feb. 1995 position paper on Human Rights), "The concept of the separation of religion and state is not accepted by either society or the Government. The legitimacy of the Government depends to a large degree on its perceived adherence to the precepts of a puritanically conservative form of Islam." Even so, outspoken clerics and fundamentalist movements that seek to make Saudi Arabia even stronger in its support of Islam have encountered persecution. The clerical ranks have been divided over the country's role in Desert Storm, it's lack of support for the "Islamic Revolution" in neighboring Iran, and even the limited western influences which have percolated throughout the country. There are also widespread charges of corruption and "infidel" practices within the House of Saud. As a result, those seeking to establish an Iranian pro-active style of aggressive religious imperialism have been imprisoned, executed, or exiled. This has fostered an extensive, well-organized "dissident" network stretching throughout the Gulf and Mediterranean region. But while this "dissident" movement criticizes the harsh actions of Saudi officials and demands "human rights," its notion of rights has little in common with democratic, western concepts. Most of the organizations support an explicitly Islamic state; and they are part of a wave of religious fundamentalists confronting not just the religious Saudi governmentl, but avowedly secular nations such as Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria. One of the most outspoken Saudi critics is Mohammed al-Masari, who runs the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights based in London. The British government has tried to deport al-Masari for his provocative remarks, such as his call for the extermination of Jews. Mr. al-Masari has been profiled in previous aanews dispatches. Today, The London Times noted that he refuses to condemn the latest attack at Dhahran, although he added that he does not support terrorism. "As an Islamicist, I am not going to condemn the actions of an Islamic group...I condemn the Americans for sending troops to occupy our country, and King Fahd for inviting them in," he said. Masari's operation is tied to networks of Saudi-based dissidents, including Sheick Sefr al-Hawwali (lecturer in religion at the University of Mecca), and an agronomist named Mohsen al-Awaji from the King Saud University in Riyad. Much of the support for the CDLR comes from young, relatively educated Saudi's who nevertheless face record unemployment and other social problems. The Committee may also be linked to a former Saudi diplomat, Mohammed al-Khilewi, who has sought asylum in the United States. It was rumored that Khilewi had information not only about extensive human rights violation in Saudi Arabia, but an alleged clandestine nuclear arms program as well. The European-based dissidents receiving funding from a number of sources, including Iran and the Islamic government in the Sudan. Another name mentioned in reports is Osama Bin Laden, a former Saudi construction magnate with extensive ties to the Afghanistan Mujahedin. Bin Laden recruited and trained thousands of Egyptians, Algerians, Lebanese, Turks, Kuwaitis and Tunisians to join the Afghan resistance movement in a war that turned out to a debacle for the Soviet Union. At the time, he was the "middleman" between the Saudi government and the Afghan Mujahadeen. Returning home, Bin Laden's social and religious views became more extreme, and he began opposing the social and foreign policies of the Saudi regime. He presently lives in the Sudan, and is revered by the population of his home town of Almatig, especially for his recent construction of a new highway connected Khartoum to Port Sudan Mr. Bin Laden's money is believed to be funding a number of the London groups, and in 1994 he came out publicly in support of Masari and the CDLR. The four Saudi dissidents arrested and beheaded for their role in the November car bombing also acknowledge their alleged involvement with Osama Bin Laden; and it has been suggested that Tuesday's attack could have been in retaliation for their deaths. The active presence of Islamic "dissident groups" is perhaps the ultimate irony in this new mid-east war for religious purity. Many of the organizations are now based in European countries which are allies of the Arab regimes they seek to overthrow. And while groups such as the Committee for the Defense of Leigitmate Rights often criticize "oppression" and say they support "rights," it is always within the strict notion of religious law, or "Sharia" that such statements are to be understood. The Arabic name of CDLR specifies "the defense of Sharia rights," a point often lost to western observers. While political analysts believe that the Saudi regime is stable for now, Islamic fundamentalism is emerging as a powerful movement throughout the entire region. Unfortunately, the Arab states are turning toward increased use of brute force and repression to stem this tide. The head of Saudi Intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal has visited Cairo for meetings with his counterpart there, and the former Egyptian Interior Minister, Zaki Badr, has been serving as a special consultant to the Saudi Arabian government in its fight against terrorism. According to Associated Press, Britain is allowing over 100 Egyptian agents operate on its soil to help monitor dissidents in that country. But that strategy seems to be less and less effective; fundamentalism in Saudi Arabia appears to be thriving in a climate of economic uncertainty and the ambiguities of change as former tribal cultures confront modernity. The birthpangs of secularism in the middle east are proving to be increasingly painful; and for religious fundamentalists, the only true path is one leading back to the past. ********** HOUSE, SENATE MOVING FOR CHURCH LOAN GUARANTEES A story which has gone on-and-off the political (and news) radar screen for the past couple of weeks is, well, back again. Earlier, AANEWS reported that President Bill Clinton was proposing government loan guarantees to rebuild churches damaged in the recent alleged spat of church arsons. While condemning any violence of this type, American Atheists insided that these suspected arsons could not serve as an excuse to by-pass the First Amendment, and begin handing out public money to religious organizations. Last week, a special AANEWS dispatch reported that Senator Edward Kennedy was working on proposed legislation which would give outright grants to churches which had been destroyed due to arson motivated by racial or "religious-hate." Subsequent stories in the media suggested that this funding would circumvent the First Amendment by pretending that the money was to compensate churches as "victims of crime," and that the grants could be funneled through agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This afternoon, CNN reports that a federal loan guarantee provision to use taxpayer moneys in order to rebuild churches has been included in a Senate Bill similar to one enacted by the House last week by a 422-0 vote. (What does THAT say about the status of genuine free speech and dissent in this culture?) The loan guarantee is packed in with a measure that would "double federal penalties for church arson" and, according to CNN, "gives the federal government greater jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute arson at religious buildings." Isn't it nice to know that churches are valued more in America than, say, schools, private homes, or places of businesses upon which people depend for their living? Isn't it assuring to know that taxpayer money will always be there when churches encounter calamity? As of now, we think that the House Bill is the "Prevention of Church Arson Act." The Senate measure now goes to the House and, if accepted, will promptly be rushed to Bill Clinton's desk for his expected signature. Meanwhile... CHRISTIAN COALITION: ''MARKETPLACE ECONOMICS'' EXCEPT WHEN CHURCHES ARE INVOLVED... (One Man's Opinion) Earlier today, Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and called for a review of any insurance firm that drops coverage of churches that have been fire bombed. According to a press release sent out by the Coalition, Reed told the Senators: "During our recent summit on church arsons in Atlanta on June 18, we heard heart-wrenching testimony from several pastors who have lost their insurance coverage...I call upon this committee to look into this matter to see what can be done to ensure the continued protection of these churches once they are rebuilt." It is indeed an odd position for the Christian Coalition which, to some, is a champion of free market economics. Just what does Mr. Reed have in mind, anyway? If my business burns, or my car is in an accident, or my house catches fire, my insurance rates will (alas) go up. We don't see Mr. Reed and his group out protesting the insurance-gouging of millions of working Americans who depend on their automobile for transportation, and who face constant rate-hikes from insurance firms. It is curious that when matters of religion are involved, the State is suddenly called upon to become the loan guarantor and insurer of last resort. Many of the burnt churches have been described as "older structures" which are in "remote locations." Some of the fires have been attributed to things like defective wiring. And just about ANY rural building which is vacant for long periods of time can become home to vagrants, curious kids, pranksters, and yes, arsonists. Considering this, exactly what should insurance companies do? If they do not pass on costs to the churches, they will eventually pass on those costs to other consumers. Mr. Reed's indignation is a bit selective. Churches account for about 1% of arsons annually, and despite reports of an "epidemic" of such fires, that statistic remains relatively stable. And Mr. Reed is being a bit greedy here as well; the Coalition says that it will be sponsoring a "Racial Reconciliation Sunday" on July 14 and July 21, and is urging the 100,000 churches on its mailing list to raise betwen $500,000 and $1,000,000. By our count, that's a feeble $5 - $10 amount from each of these churches. Were these "people of faith" truly in the "christ-filled" spirit of giving, they should be able to come up with enough money to rebuild the churches AND pay the insurance premiums without demanding special treatment and funding from the government. Yes, this whole matter of church "arsons" IS volatile and easy to misinterpret. Opposition to government loan guarantees, though, does not amount to condoning violence of any kind against churches. We also suggest that the whole "church arson conspiracy" has, thus far, not withstood the test of evidence. Contrary to the statements of many religious and political figures, these fires reflect a number of different causes. Some involve racist nitwits linked to groups like the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, some are the work of "mentally disturbed" lone teenagers, others stem from more prosaic causes. At least one black church fire appears to have been started by a church deacon! So, we'll say it again: Defense of the First Amendment, the separation of state and church, MUST be color blind and religion-blind. Government has no business appropriating tax monies to construct religious edifices or assist religious congregations. Ralph Reed will just have dig a little deeper, cough up a little more, and keep his hands out of everyone else's pockets. *************************** About This List... AANEWS is a free service of 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 about American Atheists, send e-mail to: info@atheists.org, and include your name and postal address. You may post, forward or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to American Atheists and the aanews. 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. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.

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