Religious Leaders’ Views on Radical Life Extension

No religious group in the United States has released an official statement on radical life extension. However, here are brief summaries of how some clergy, bioethicists and other scholars from 18 major American religious groups say their traditions might approach this evolving issue. (For an in-depth look at public opinion on radical life extension and related issues, see “Living to 120 and Beyond: Americans’ Views on Aging, Medical Advances and Radical Life Extension.” And for an overview of the scientific research and emerging ethical debate, see “To Count Our Days: The Scientific and Ethical Dimensions of Radical Life Extension.”)

Islam

Radically extending life “probably wouldn’t be a problem for most” Muslims, according to Aisha Musa, a professor of religion at Colgate University who has written about the issue from a Muslim perspective. According to Musa and others, Muslims believe Allah (God) knows the exact life span of each person  from birth to death, or what the Quran calls one’s “term appointed” (Sura 40:67). “Since you can’t really violate God’s plan for you, life extension is alright because it’s part of God’s will,” Musa says.

 

Given this outlook, many Muslims would likely see life-extending technologies as in accordance with God’s plan for humanity. “Whenever there is something new, Muslims believe that it has happened with God’s endorsement,” says Abdulaziz Sachedina, chair of Islamic studies at George Mason University and the author of “Islamic Biomedical Ethics.” “Whatever we do, God has a hand in it.”

 

Neither major branch of Islam (Sunni and Shia) has a central authority that would issue a decree on life extension. But Shia Muslims do follow religious leaders known as grand ayatollahs, who issue religious edicts, called fatwas, that are binding on their followers.

 

According to Mohsen Kadivar, a Shia theologian and philosopher based in Iran but currently teaching at Duke University in Durham, N.C., many Shia ayatollahs would likely sanction life-extension therapies as long as their object was not to extend life indefinitely. “There is a difference between life extension and immortality,” Kadivar says, adding, “The first is acceptable and the second is not acceptable, according to Islam and the Quran.”

 

Musa and Sachedina, who are Sunni, agree that striving for immortality would go against Islamic teachings because it would keep Muslims from heaven. “There is a deep-seated belief that death is a blessing,” Sachedina says. “We look forward to dying.”

 

Lose the Lads Mags: It’s not about the nudity

How can covering up women at one time oppress them, and at other times empower them? Why, when some women take their clothes off for money, are they objectifying themselves, and at other times simply performing? Why are some images of women objectification and others simply art? Essentially, how can the same action mean two different things? One thing must be understood: it’s not about nudity.

 

The recent Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign is spearheaded by two organisations which fight for gender equality (UK Feminista and Object), but some have argued that covering up lads’ mags in shops is actually a misogynistic action. However at the same time, there is a similar case made by Islamists that the hiding-away of lads’ mags should be done to preserve modesty. The hiding-away is being done for two very different reasons, and people need to realise this.

 

Authoritarian Islamists use gaffer tape on lads’ mags for the same reason they want to cover up real women’s bodies- but Lose the Lads’ Mags wants to do it to protect not only children but the female salespeople who must handle this material. The critique that the campaign is promoting a ‘weak, meek’ image of women suggests that he has failed to grasp the difference between a woman seeing another woman’s naked breasts, and a woman being forced to handle and sell sexist material. As Sophie Bennett, a spokesperson for the campaign, explains, ‘The issue for the thousands of people who have called on shops to lose the lads’ mags is absolutely not about nudity. It’s about sexism.’

 

The concealing of lads’ mags in shops in the UK is far removed from the ‘sticky handmade burqa’ that is used by Islamists to cover up such magazines as the author points out it’s not about the nudity.

Reza Aslan: A Jesus scholar who’s often a moving target

Reza Aslan can’t help but chuckle when he looks back on the 1980s, for he says he spent much of the decade pretending to be Mexican.

 

The Iranian-born immigrant mastered break dancing and embraced the nickname “El Pinguino,” (The Penguin) a nod to his bowlegs. Assuming an alternate ethnic identity suited a singular purpose for the young Aslan, who came to the United States in 1979 at the age of 7.

 

“I was scrubbing myself clean of any hint of my ethnicity or my religion,” says Aslan, whose mother was a less than enthusiastic Muslim and whose father was a more than enthusiastic atheist. “It was not the best time to be Iranian in America.”

 

Two decades later, Aslan — author of the bestseller “Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” — still seems to be calibrating his identity in small but telling ways. Even as he has achieved phenomenal success as the author of well-crafted religious history books that appeal to a mass audience, he’s eager — perhaps overeager — to present himself as a formidable academic with special bona fides in religion and history.

Naval officer who authored book on militant Islam is sentencing witness against Manning

FORT MEADE, Md. — Prosecutors are asking an expert on militant Islam to help them show that Pfc. Bradley Manning damaged U.S. interests by disclosing classified information through WikiLeaks.

 

Navy Cmdr. Youssef Aboul-Enein (ah-BOOL’-ah-NEEN’) is set to testify Thursday at Manning’s sentencing hearing at Fort Meade, near Baltimore.

 

The witness is the author of the book, “Militant Islamist Ideology.” He’s also a top adviser at the Pentagon’s Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism. He argues that winning the war against militant Islamists requires a nuanced understanding of their ideology.

 

Prosecutors are nearing the end of their part of the sentencing hearing. Manning faces up to 90 years in prison for giving more than 700,000 documents, along with battlefield video, to the anti-secrecy group while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010.

Richard Dawkins criticised for Twitter comment about Muslims

The outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins was involved in an online Twitter row on Thursday after tweeting: “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

 

As users piled in to criticise him, the scientist continued: “Why mention Muslim Nobels rather than any other group? Because we so often hear boasts about (a) their total numbers and (b) their science.”

 

However if one looks at what Dawkins is really saying, that Muslims as a unit throughout history have done nothing since the Middle Ages, and that is clearly attributable to their stupid religion, then one must point out that a Nobel prize is not by any means a suitable or universal enough criterion. It has only been going for a little more than a hundred years, the prizes it awards are for excellence in academic research which is far superior in western scientific and academic institutions due to the socioeconomic development of the West. Nesrine Malik for the guardian commented “The whole process of trying to parse the painfully obvious fallacy reminded me of the task of arguing against extremist Muslim clerics when they try to denigrate non-Muslims, the same momentary sense of helplessness and not knowing where to start. The same opinion with an agenda dressed up as fact. But one usually takes academics and scientists more seriously and tries to engage. With this latest salvo, I am afraid that we must consign Dawkins to this very same pile of the irrational and the dishonest.”

 

With the debate escalating, Dawkins, who has more than 777,000 followers, said: “Many are asking how many Nobels have been won by atheists. Needs research. I’d love to know. I suspect the proportion is v high, and growing.”

 

Owen Jones, the left-leaning commentator and author of Chavs, told Dawkins: “How dare you dress your bigotry up as atheism. You are now beyond an embarrassment.” Legal blogger Jack of Kent added: “Following @RichardDawkins tweet, Trinity Cambridge has presumably also produced more Soviet-supporting traitors to the UK than Islam.”

 

The row also drew in historian Tom Holland and Channel 4’s economics editor Faisal Islam who commented: “I thought scientists were meant to upbraid journalists for use of spurious data points to ‘prove’ existing prejudgements”.

 

@jptoc chipped in: “A similar (and infuriating for Dawkins) ‘fact’ is that Islam has more recipients of Nobel Prizes than Dawkins. It’s bad scientific method.”

 

But some users appeared more forgiving. @Chriss_m, said: “Dawkins spent the best part of 10 years attacking Christianity and not raising an eyebrow. He now turns that same eye on Islam and uproar.”

 

Trinity College, Cambridge, has 32 Nobel laureates, as against 10 Muslims listed in Wikipedia. When the Guardian contacted Dawkins by email to ask whether he was surprised by the uproar, he replied: “Prompted by exasperation at hearing boasts of (a) how numerous Muslims are in the world and (b) how great is their science.

 

Return of the Jesus Wars

BEFORE “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Gospel of Judas,” before Mel Gibson’s “Passion” and Martin Scorsese’s “Last Temptation,” before the Dead Sea Scrolls were unearthed and the Gnostic gospels rediscovered, there was a German scholar named Hermann Samuel Reimarus.

 

Today there are enough competing “real Jesuses” that it’s hard for a would-be Strauss to find his Shaftesbury. Which is why every reinterpreter of Jesus not named Dan Brown is probably envious of Reza Aslan, the Iranian-born academic and author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” who achieved Strauss-style liftoff thanks to 10 painful minutes on Fox News.

 

Those minutes were spent with the interviewer, Lauren Green, asking Aslan to explain why a Muslim would write a book about Jesus — with Aslan coolly emphasizing his credentials and the non-Islamic nature of his argument — and then with Green asking variations on the Muslim question, to increasing offense and diminishing returns.

 

The video quickly went viral, turning Aslan into a culture-war icon, a martyr to Fox’s biases … and soon enough (as these things tend to go) a martyr with a No. 1 best seller.

 

The irony is that Aslan’s succès de scandale would be more deserved if he had actually written in defense of the Islamic view of Jesus. That would have been something provocative and — to Western readers — relatively new.

 

Instead, Aslan’s book offers a more engaging version of the argument Reimarus made 250 years ago. His Jesus is an essentially political figure, a revolutionary killed because he challenged Roman rule, who was then mysticized by his disciples and divinized by Paul of Tarsus.

 

We British go out of our way to avoid using the word ‘Muslim’

Have the Brits got a problem with “Muslims”? The author notices that on British television news coverage the lengths to which some reporters went to in order to avoid using the word “Muslim”.

 

Now if we categorise court defendants by their religion, we are saying – in effect – that their religion must have some relevance to their crime, or to their propensity to commit crime. We don’t routinely identify men or women charged with criminal offences as “Christian”, “Buddhist”, “Jewish” or, for that matter, atheist, because this, too, would suggest that our belief – or non-belief – in Jesus, Buddha or Yahweh has a connection to our criminal intent. We may be described as “British” in a court appearance – to distinguish us from French or Spanish citizens with whom we are accused of consorting in crime – but never as British Catholics.

 

Criminals of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, Muslims though they probably are, are technically of “Asian background”. The catch is that the word “Asian” – according to the author – means Chinese. Or Japanese. That’s not a dated or a racist idea. Visiting an Asian restaurant in London, people don’t expect to eat Arab food. If acquaintances say they are bringing an Asian friend to dinner, expect to see a Chinese or a Japanese or a Burmese or a Thai or a Malaysian. Or Indian (albeit they may be Muslims). Chinese, after all, constitute more than a quarter of Asia’s 4.3 billion population. But if they are bringing a Muslim friend, they would say just that, or Iranian or Pakistani or perhaps – if they were from the “Western” end of the Muslim world – Arabs. The real subject to be confronted here, is whether the misogynistic, patriarchal world in which so many Muslims do indeed live has somehow leached over into crime; whether there actually is a connection between the Muslim identity of the men in Oxford and their crime; no, not their religion, but their background, call it “social”, cultural”, political or whatever. The 500 Imams obviously thought there was a connection. That’s why they all preached the same sermon at the same time.

 

The author’s argument is far larger than this. The 9/11 attacks brought down a lot of the sensibilities about “Muslims”. The killers were Arab Muslims. And reporters said so. But what could not be discussed was that almost all were from Saudi Arabia and that the identity of these men might suggest there were problems in the Middle East, which must not be the subject of conversation since it might involve America’s relations with Israel. But nobody referred to the hijackers of 9/11 referred to as an “Asian gang”. Which they were, were they not?

Is the Muslim call to prayer really such a menace?

The author Patrick Strudwick questions the outrage caused by Channel 4’s decision to broadcast the adhan by likening it to the ever present BBC broadcasting of songs of praise on a Sunday. Songs of praise is aimed at the devout. Its purpose is clear: to call followers to prayer, to convert non-believers, to ring out across the land like an air-raid siren from on high. The programmes, for transmission on British terrestrial television, will, I fear, inflame community tensions; whip up divisions between religious groups and even spark hate crimes against its devotees. So let’s ban Songs of Praise. The BBC is set to continue its weekly indoctrination of impressionable young viewers with this vile, dangerous programme. Call it a publicity stunt; call it the deliberate provocation of right-thinking atheists, but this supposedly innocent show about Christians flaunting their religion with hymns – some of which contain such incitements to holy war as, “Onward, Christian soldiers… Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe” – exposes once and for all the sinister agenda of the BBC: to turn all our children Anglican.

 

The Sun, the Ukip, and Tory MP Conor Burns however are “Vibrating with indignation at a frequency inaudible to rational adults” over Channel 4’s decision to broadcast the adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, every morning during Ramadan, which begins next Tuesday. A spokesman for Ukip said: “It will inflame community tension”. Burns called it “politically-correct tokenism”. They fear, seemingly, that so soon after the Woolwich murder, such chanting could prompt further Islamophobic attacks, entirely unaware that theirs is an Islamophobic attack and that censoring religious worship would gain the respect of Mao.

 

They seem ignorant too of the entirely obvious truism that the more people know of a culture, the greater our understanding of the complexities, rituals and history of a faith, the more irrational fear is neutralised. Their broadcast, in three-part disharmony, is a hymn for a very un-British hate.

Georgia Newspaper Column Calls On U.S. To Send Muslims ‘Back To Their Native Land’

A local newspaper in Georgia recently published a column ostensibly about U.S. Middle East policy but which took a hard right turn into birtherism and racism, highlighting the Islamophobia problem at the local-level.

In its June 19 edition, the Advance — local newspaper for Vidalia, GA — published a “Plain Talk” column from author Gerry Allen on the current atmosphere of turbulence in the Middle East. The full article, titled “An Arab Spring or an Arab Fall,” can be read in full here.

Allen opens the piece claiming that Rudyard Kipling — author of the poem “The White Man’s Burden” essentially justifying Western imperialism — is one of his favorite authors, quoting the British writer as once saying, “East is East and West is West and never the twain will meet.” Allen then immediately calls up some of the most repugnant stereotypes of Islam, saying that while denying women and girls educations, Muslims “really don’t favor educating anybody in anything but mayhem.”

From there, the column becomes a tour de force of racism and Islamophobia masquerading as a critique of U.S. foreign policy. On Iraq, Allen notes the folly of attempting to impose democracy on a “truly backward people who had been ruled by tyrants and the Koran for thousands of years.” He criticizes President Obama — whom he frequently refers to as “Obumer” — for wavering on Syria, claiming that the President lacks the “backbone” to impose a no-fly zone. The reason for this lack of decisiveness? “He is a Muslim himself or at least a Muslim sympathizer,” Allen claims of Obama, repeating claims that birthers have made for years.

The localized nature of Islamophobia in the United States lends itself to problems both on the policy front and in terms of hindering efforts to end discrimination. CAP expert Matt Duss recently co-authored a report in which the effect of laws seeking to ban “Sharia law” within states often have unintended legal consequences. “Although packaged as an effort to protect American values and democracy, the bans spring from a movement whose goal is the demonization of the Islamic faith,” Duss wrote, along with the Brennan Center’s Fazia Patel and Amos Toh. “Beyond that, however, many foreign law bans are so broadly phrased as to cast doubt on the validity of a whole host of personal and business arrangements.”

Attempts to correct the many misperceptions of Muslims at the state and local-level often finds itself in conflict with those who would prefer to continue to spread hatred. Just last month, protesters shouted down calls for tolerance at a Tennessee meeting, instead cheering references to an area mosque being set on fire during its construction.

 

Salam, Islam: a Trip inside the Muslim Community

June 6, 2013

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After success with his first novel, Pasquale Nuccio Franco goes back to the library this time with another book.

 

“Salam, Islam” is a travel through the Muslim community, through a number of interviews and articles that have given life to an understanding of spiritual matters, politics and social issues of a religion very often viewed with suspicion if not bitterness.

 

With this work, the author hoped to illustrate the truth essence of Islam and open a window to little known aspects that are often misinterpreted. In fact, many include anecdotes, and stories told in library book pages little known to many.

From the social point of view, the author insists that the collective followers denounce those who now seem to be synonymous with the religion i.e. Islam and radical Islamism.

There are, however, also insights pertaining to market expansion as fashion, food, forms of tourism – including new tourists to the Islamic religion – search engines and the internet and the presence of women no the net and in the economy.

In this respect, the author delves into a topic that in a situation like the present, of the economic downturn, could make it a resource for international markets, namely Islamic Finance, focusing to the rules of Shari’a which is still little known in our country.

From the past, some considerations related to the so-called “Arab Spring”, the role played by the media as a sounding board of this movement and the struggle for greater freedom of information and the effect on the proliferation of newspapers, satellite channels and Internet.

Not the usual book, Salam, Islam’s purpose is to tell the reality as much as possible with objectivity and consistency in a framework that places the Islamic community as a pivotal player of our society.