‘Black Mass’ at Harvard: Not a black and white issue

When I first heard about the planned “Black Mass” reenactment at Harvard Extension School, scheduled for tonight (Monday), I had mixed feelings. (Update: Organizers have announced they are moving the event to an off-campus site.)

I am an atheist and an advocate of free expression. But as a member of the Harvard community, this event troubles me—and it raises concerns about the selective ways in which we support free speech.

The Cultural Studies Club at Harvard Extension School has argued that the reenactment, led by the New York-based Satanic Temple, is intended to be educational: “Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes, but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices.”

This event, however, is not merely a “different cultural practice.” It is designed to specifically parody and mock a sacred Catholic ritual.

After listening to arguments for and against the planned “Black Mass,” I wasn’t sure how to respond—but then I spoke with an atheist friend who is also a former Catholic. She said that she thinks the Cultural Studies Club should certainly be allowed to host this event. But she also said that, even as an atheist, it feels like an attack on her Catholic family members and friends.

So I asked myself: How would I respond if this were a ceremony designed to mock the sincerely held beliefs, practices, or identities of another group? How would I feel if it were a “Black Seder” instead of a “Black Mass”? What if this were a ritual mocking a same-sex wedding ceremony? The sense of liberation an atheist feels when she can speak openly about her skepticism? A Muslim call to prayer?

Would I react in the same manner?

It is a difficult question that evades an easy answer.

I don’t mean to equate Catholicism with Islam, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) identity, atheism, Judaism, or any other identity or worldview. Muslims, Jews, Catholics, LGBTQ people, and atheists have historically experienced very different kinds of oppression and prejudice, and continue to today.

‘The Square’ filmmakers capture a revolution — and then an Oscar nomination

January 17, 2014

 

On a recent afternoon, Jehane Noujaim apologized for checking her cellphone in the middle of an interview. The director of “The Square,” an immersion into the Egyptian revolution, wanted to make sure her producer, Karim Amer, was going to be able to get back into the country — his country — to see an ailing relative. Such apprehension was nothing new for Noujaim.

“The Square,” nominated Thursday for an Academy Award for best documentary, opened Friday in theaters and via Netflix, but has yet to be screened in Egypt, whose tumultuous recent history is its subject. “The film is in censorship,” she said. “They won’t issue a letter to show it publicly. There’s an attempt to whitewash the last three years. That period is given intimate perspective in the film, which tracks the downfall of dictatorial Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 after 18 days of mass protests and military intimidation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

The story continues as Mubarak’s elected successor, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, also is toppled, amid rising violence and discord between religious and secular factions. The tilts and turns meant that, shortly after winning an audience award for “The Square” at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Noujaim went back to shooting and re-editing the film. “Most of these verite films, you make up a story that you think you’re following,” said Noujaim, whose films include “Control Room” and “Startup.com.”

“You make a plan and God laughs, right? And that’s the exciting thing about making these films. You don’t know which way a story is going to go. But this story, much more than anything I’ve ever worked on, I had no idea where it was going. We had to have people ready to film at any moment.” The Harvard-educated filmmaker, 39, was born in Washington but raised in Cairo between the ages of 7 and 17. She grew up a few minutes from Tahrir Square but never imagined that one day she’d be sleeping in it.

“There was no place else I wanted to be in the world when things started happening there,” Noujaim said. It was in the square that she met the film’s key figures, each a different piece of the populist puzzle that came together in the story. “You look for people who will take you into worlds that you will never ordinarily see.”

The Academy Award nomination is the first ever for an Egyptian film. Noujaim compared the moment to “getting accepted to the World Cup for the first time.” The timing is crucial, as the country voted last week on a new constitution — backed by the military government — with presidential and parliamentary elections expected soon. “What Ahmed said when we were short-listed was, this means that despite censorship that this film will be unstoppable and our story will never be able to be obliterated or silenced,” Noujaim said. “The government will be in a very uncomfortable place, which is exactly where they need to be put for censoring a film about a hugely important chapter of Egyptian history.”

 

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-square-filmmakers-capture-a-revolution–and-then-an-oscar-nomination/2014/01/17/9617eb6c-7ee1-11e3-93c1-0e888170b723_story.html

Religious Groups’ Views on End-of-Life Issues

November 21, 2013

 

In the following summaries, religious leaders, scholars and ethicists from 16 major American religious groups explain how their faith traditions’ teachings address physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia and other end-of-life questions. (For an in-depth look at public opinion on end-of-life issues, see “Views on End-of-Life Medical Treatments.” And for an overview of the political, legal and ethical dimensions of the end-of-life debate, see “To End Our Days.”)

Assemblies of God

The Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, opposes physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. The denomination teaches that life is a sacred gift and that only God should determine when life ends. “We simply feel that it is not our prerogative to end life,” says Edgar R. Lee, chairman of the church’s Commission on Doctrinal Purity. “God is the giver of life, not us.”

At the same time, the church allows that life need not be sustained at all costs when there is no hope for recovery. “We leave room for people to [reject] artificial means of life support,” Lee says. Indeed, he adds, the church “does not frown on” the use of pain medication to alleviate suffering, “even in cases where it might contribute to hastening death.”

Islam

Islamic teachings oppose physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. “Muslims believe that life is sacred and comes from God; therefore it is a sin to take life,” says David Stephen Powers, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Islam also teaches that God alone decides how long someone will live and when they will die, according to Ayman Shabana, a visiting fellow at the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass. “There is this reluctance … to make any kind of decisions that would end life prematurely because it is believed that [these decisions] are solely in the hands of God,” Shabana says.

Islam’s views on such issues as assisted suicide and euthanasia also are influenced by the belief that suffering and other difficulties might be beneficial, Shabana says. “There is this notion that you don’t always know what’s good for you,” he says, “so it may be right that you should go through some kind of difficulty that tests your faith.” Indeed, Shabana says, “in the Islamic tradition, end-of-life suffering is seen as a way to purify previous sins so that by the time you meet God, you do so in a [more pure] state.”

While Islamic thinkers oppose hastening death, they also generally believe that the terminally ill need not employ extraordinary means and technologies to delay dying. “We are basically talking about the difference between a conscious decision to end life, which is wrong, and life ending by itself,” Shabana says, adding that the line between the two is not always clearly defined.

For more information:

Aramesh, K., and Shadi, H. 2007. “Euthanasia: An Islamic Ethical Perspective.” Iranian Journal of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, volume 6, supplement 5, pages 35-38.

 

PEW.com: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/11/21/religious-groups-views-on-end-of-life-issues/

Editorial: Why the West Fears Islam – Muslims in Western Democracies

Harvard professor and Islam expert Jocelyne Cesari looks into the mechanisms of the West’s fear of Islam, and ponders on how the dominant narrative that tends to present Islam as an alien religion can be countered.

en.qantara.de : http://en.qantara.de/content/muslims-in-liberal-democracies-why-the-west-fears-islam

Leila Ahmed, Harvard Divinity School Muslim Scholar, Wins Prestigious Grawemeyer Award

ahmedFor the first time, the University of Louisville’s prestigious Grawemeyer Award in Religion, a $100,000 cash prize, will go to a female Muslim scholar.

Leila Ahmed, a Harvard Divinity School professor specializing in women and Islam, will receive the 2013 Grawemeyer religion award for her 2011 book, “A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America.” The book explores why a growing number of Muslim women are wearing religious headscarves

Ahmed, 72, was born and raised in Cairo at a time when few women wore religious headscarves, yet considered themselves observant Muslims. Why, she wanted to know, has the hijab enjoyed such a comeback?

Known for debunking stereotypes about Muslims, Ahmed acknowledged she started the research with her own prejudices. “I thought this was going to be connected with fundamentalist Islam, or patriarchal Islam,” she said.

Instead, interviews with Muslim women of diverse backgrounds around the world revealed that many of them wore the hijab as a symbol of activism and to assert their identity, especially in America after 9/11. “They wanted a way of saying,’I’m proud to be Muslim and I want to show you, you shouldn’t have prejudices against Muslims.'”

Some women hoped their hijabs would make other women think about their own styles of dress, as well as social justice and service. While activism often motivated women to don hijabs, religious commitment remained an important reason as well. “Many women wear the hijab because they believe that God requires them to,” Ahmed said.

Multiculturalism in Europe

The recent victory of socialist François Hollande in France’s 2012 presidential election was certainly a turning point for the social and economic politics of France. Unfortunately, this is less true when it comes to immigration, race, and culture, evidenced by Hollande saying he would firmly support France’s ban on niqabs, or face-covering Islamic veils, and his stance against Turkish accession to the EU.

François Hollande has made clear that he will address the material conditions and worries of French citizens. But he has been quite silent on questions pertaining to cultural diversity and social cohesion, for the simple reason that he shares with Sarkozy the same conception of French national identity, defined as an abstract community of citizens bound together by principles of equality and liberty. In these conditions, the cultural and religious background of citizens is not part and should not interfere with civic solidarity and public life.

However, such an ideal has been increasingly difficult to uphold when Muslims, among other cultural and regional groups, are claiming their right to express their specificity in public space, which has in turn raised the anxiety and fears of a lot of French citizens. These fears have been the main reason for the long-standing political success of the National Front, from its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen to his daughter Marine, the current leader of the party . At the same time, Muslims of all colors and stripes keep asserting that there is no contradiction between being French and being a Muslim.

Nations or groups need to exist in opposition to an ‘Other,’ and in today’s national imagination, Islam plays that role. It may be impossible for societies to completely rid themselves of this polarizing rhetoric.

That said, societies differ in how much their political imaginations are subjected to open critical discussion. Accordingly, it is necessary for French politicians across the political spectrum to explicitly reject economic and social issues being linked to cultural issues or the ‘Islamization’ of Europe. It is also imperative for policymakers to change the dominant narrative of French national identity by including Islamic culture and history.

Such a change would involve a new education project where, from history to arts and culture, Muslims are not described as the Other. It means acknowledging the cross pollination of philosophical and scientific ideas as well as the multiple encounters of artists, merchants, clerics, and migrants from medieval times to the immigration waves after WWII. Most Muslims already acknowledge France as their home and have made numerous artistic and cultural contributions to the French ‘patrimoine.’ The challenge is to reshape French imagination so Muslims can be seen as legitimate fellow citizens.

 

Jocelyne Cesari, Research Fellow in Political Science and Director, Islam in the West Program, Harvard University

Frontiers of Fear: Immigration and Insecurity in the US and Europe

On both sides of the Atlantic, restrictive immigration policies have
been framed as security imperatives since the 1990s. This trend
accelerated in the aftermath of 9/11 and subsequent terrorist attacks in
Europe. In her new book, /Frontiers of Fear/, Ariane Chebel d’Appollonia
raises two central questions with profound consequences for national
security and immigration policy: First, does the securitization of
immigration issues actually contribute to the enhancement of internal
security? Second, does the use of counterterrorist measures address such
immigration issues as the increasing number of illegal immigrants, the
resilience of ethnic tensions, and the emergence of homegrown
radicalization?

Join us as the author questions the assumptions informing political
agendas in the United States and Europe, analyzing implementation and
evaluating the efficacy of policies in terms of their objectives.

*Ariane Chebel d’Appollonia* is a Senior Researcher with the Center for
Political Research, Sciences Po (Paris) and an Associate Professor in
the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University.
She is the author of several books, most recently /Les Frontières du
Racisme/, and coeditor of /Managing Ethnic Diversity after 9/11/ and
/Immigration, Integration and Security/.

*Jocelyne Cesari* is currently the Minerva Chair at the National Defense
University in Washington, DC, and conducts research on Islam and
democratization in the context of the Arab Spring. She is also a Senior
Visiting Professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at
John Hopkins University. At Harvard University, she directs the “Islam
in the West” International Research Program.

4 AP reporters win Harvard investigative prize for stories on NYPD Muslim surveillance

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Four Associated Press reporters won the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting on Tuesday for a series of stories about the New York Police Department’s widespread surveillance of Muslims after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Chris Hawley and Eileen Sullivan won the $25,000 prize for their extensive reporting on the spying programs that monitored and recorded life in Muslim communities.

Alex S. Jones, director of the center that gives out the prize, the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said the Goldsmith judges “found that the AP had shown great courage and fortitude in pursuing what they knew would be a very sensitive story, but it was one that needed to be told.”

The four reported that police monitored mosques and Muslims around the New York metropolitan area and kept tabs on Muslim student groups at universities in upstate New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The police also sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip with college students.