Remembering the Holocaust

Each year on the 27th of Nisan (this year April 23-24, 2017), Jews around the world observe Yom HaShoah (יום השואה), or Holocaust Remembrance Day, on which we remember the approximately six million Jews killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

We remember those who perished, as well those families who lost loved ones during this dark time in history.

But it is not only Jews who should remember this day; we should all constantly remember the evil that is possible in our nations when populist authoritarians seek to single out and target particular minority groups and blame them for what they believe to be the problems with our country.

When we say, “Never again,” this should not only be a rallying cry for Jews who must remain vigilant against those who, to this very day, seek their destruction, but it should also be a rallying cry for non-Jews, who must vow never again to stand idly by and hold the coats of those who would persecute Jews, or any minority group, in our midst.

It is good to remember. Today, let us remember those who died, and commit ourselves to taking the steps necessary to ensure that nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again.

yad-vashem-jerusalem-israel_main

Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Jerusalem

 

Remembering the Armenian Genocide

Today, April 24, we remember the Armenian Genocide, beginning in 1915, where the Young Turks of the Ottoman Empire (soon thereafter the Republic of Turkey) oversaw the coordinated extermination of somewhere between 600,000 to 1.6 million Armenians, along with other Christian minorities.

As a proud son of the central San Joaquin Valley, a Fresno State alum, a frequent visitor to Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter, and a friend and ally of the Armenian community in Fresno, whose contributions have helped shape the cultural heritage of the city that raised me, I ask that you pause for a moment today to remember those who perished and those who lost loved ones during this horrendous, and all too often overlooked (and by some, even denied) catastrophe that was the Armenian Genocide.

To learn more, visit the Armenian Genocide Museum & Institute webpage or visit the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex atop the hill of Tsitsernakaberd memorial in the Armenian capital of Yerevan.

The eternal flame burns at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan (photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images via IB Times).

 

 

On ISIS, Sex Slavery, Rape Culture, and Religious Fundamentalism

I recently read a disgusting story involving ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State/Da’esh and the plight of female sex slaves traded between its members. I relayed the following story to my class and asked them for their initial thoughts on slavery, but specifically on sex slavery and the exchange of female sexual slaves between men.


The story stated that a wealthy ISIS operative owned a female slave. (This is apparently not uncommon in this culture.) This ISIS operative then sold two of his daughters in marriage to another ISIS operative to be wives for him. (Again, remember that polygamy, or having two or more wives at once, is not unlawful in this culture. There is some question about having two sisters as wives at the same time.)

To one of the daughters he sold in marriage he also gave his female slave as a gift to the daughter to be her slave. However, when that daughter could not bear children for her new husband, she gave her husband that same female slave to have sex with him and bear children for him. The female slave bore him two children, but his wife claimed both boys as her own children.

Later on, one of her husband’s sons by the wife’s sister (his other wife) also had sex with the female slave.


This was the plight of one woman–a sex slave–as told in the story.

I placed the above story on a powerpoint as I read it to my class. I then asked my class for their reactions to this story.

“Barbaric!” said one student.

“Horrible!” said another.

“Who would do that?” asked yet another.

One exasperated student chimed in, “How is this legal? How is this not banned by Islam?”

“Well, this is the problem with Islam!”, replied another male student. “They have slavery and they don’t respect women.”

Most students were disgusted. One student was near tears. “How could they treat women like this?” she muttered. “Those poor women. They never had a chance.”

Another determined student bellowed from the back of the room: “This is why we need to defeat them. ISIS. We can’t let this happen!

And before I could respond, he continued: “And this is why we have to keep them from coming here to the United States. Any religion that allows THIS in its so-called “holy book” should not be allowed in this country!”

And there it was. I stood silently, looking down at the ground.

After a deliberate, silent pause, I looked up, looked around the class, and then said, “Note that I didn’t include any names in this story. Let me replace the words ‘ISIS operative’ and ‘female slave’ with some actual names and I want to ask you the same question.”

I clicked on my laptop and the following story appeared in place of the earlier one.


The story stated that a wealthy MAN NAMED LABAN owned a female slave NAMED BILHAH (Gen. 29:29).(This is apparently not uncommon in this culture.) LABAN then sold two of his daughters (LEAH AND RACHEL) in marriage to another MAN NAMED JACOB to be wives for him. (Again, remember that polygamy, or having two or more wives at once, is not unlawful in this culture. There is some question about having two sisters as wives at the same time.)

To RACHEL he also gave his female slave, BILHAH, as a gift to RACHEL to be her slave (Gen. 30:3). However, when RACHEL could not bear children for JACOB, she gave JACOB BILHAH to have sex with him and bear children for him (Gen. 30:4). BILHAH bore him two children, DAN AND NAPHTALI, but RACHEL claimed both boys as her own children.

Later on, one of JACOB‘s sons, REUBEN, by RACHEL‘s sister (LEAH) also had sex with BILHAH (Gen. 35:22).


“Now how do you feel about this account of sexual slavery?” I asked the class.

The students stared at the screen, some with wide eyes and open jaws.

Our boisterous student protested from the back of the classroom: “That’s not the same! That’s a long time ago. That’s a completely different context.”

“Actually,” I replied calmly, “It’s the exact same story, just with the names changed.”

“Yeah, but…” one student chimed in, “…this is different. This is from the Bible. This is different.”

“You’re right!”, I responded, “This is the birth of ancient Israel.”

I continued, “Isn’t it fascinating that the twelve tribes of Israel are the result of a polygamous marriage–a man married to two women at once, in fact, two sisters, which is explicitly banned in Lev. 18:18: (“And you shall not take a woman as a rival to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.”)–and two sex slaves, Bilhah and Zilpah.”

I reiterated: “The twelve tribes of Israel are the product of one man, two wives, and two sex slaves.”

“OK,” one student interrupted, “…but this was God’s plan. God was OK with this. God didn’t punish this. This was part of his plan.”

I retorted, “First of all, you’re right. Gen. 25:6 says that Abraham had sex slaves (concubines).”

I continued: “In Exod. 21:10, God says you can have multiple wives: “If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish the food, clothing, or marital rights of the first wife.” So does Deut. 21:15-16: “If a man has two wives, one of them loved and the other disliked, and if both the loved and the disliked have borne him sons, the firstborn being the son of the one who is disliked, then on the day when he wills his possessions to his sons, he is not permitted to treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the disliked, who is the firstborn.”

“In Deut. 22:28-29, God says that if you rape a woman, you are not put in prison, but God says you must pay a fine to her father, and you must marry her and never divorce her: “If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.”

“In Num 31:17-18, God says you can slaughter a city in battle, but spare the virgin women and force them to be your wife: Num. 31:17: “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

“In fact, this one was so popular, the Bible talks about it a second time in Deut. 21:11-14: “Suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, discard her captive’s garb, and shall remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.” But if you are not satisfied with her, you shall let her go free and not sell her for money. You must not treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.”

“So yes,” I continued, “The Bible says that God commanded and/or allowed all these various forms of marriage.”

“Second,” I continued, “That’s exactly what ISIS would say. ‘This is God-ordained. God is OK with this’.”

Some students smiled, recognizing the crux of the lesson I was giving that day. Others sat silently, slowly absorbing the logical paradox and the cognitive dissonance they never before recognized. They saw that what they condemn today in Islam as practiced by ISIS is the very same practice that produced ancient Israel, at least according to the Bible.

Some students refused to see it. Others saw it, but couldn’t believe it. Others understood completely.

And this was the first lesson for the day: that what many condemn as atrocious in other religions, they embrace blindly in their own religion. Sexually abhorrent behavior is condemned when other religions practice it, but is often accepted as normal when it takes place in one’s own religion. We condemn the text of the other religion’s holy Scripture, until of course we realize that the passage is actually from our holy book.


I illustrated a second problem: Fundamentalists of one faith tend to assume that all adherents to other faiths are also literal fundamentalists, and because their Scripture says it, they all practice it to the letter today. This is not the case.

We know this is not the case because very few Christians and Jews are strict literal fundamentalists today. To be sure, there are many Christians and a few Jews who follow a strict, literal fundamentalist view of Scripture (or at least believe themselves to be doing so). But most Christians today do not. Most Christians understand that many biblical commands–many from God’s own mouth like endorsements of slavery and commands of genocide–are simply relics of the past–commands and acts done by a less civilized society thousands of years ago that are simply dismissed by today’s Christians.

Most Jews–specifically Reform Judaism–do not adhere to a strict literalist interpretation of Scripture. They are the first to say, “We know what the Bible says, and we understand that Jews in the past may have practice this, but we have matured as a society and we simply do not do that any more.” And Reform Judaism has a long, beautiful tradition of updating the biblical rules and establishing new moral regulations as society had progressed and become more civilized that do away with much of the abhorrent behavior described (and often commanded by God) in the Bible.

And yet some conservative Christians are strict literalists. They interpret the Bible literally, and believe that every word of both the Old and New Testaments to be the inerrant, infallible, unchanging Word of God. And it is most often these Christians that project their hermeneutic–their way of reading Scripture–onto Muslims, and falsely assume that all Muslims interpret the Qur’an in the same way. They believe that since all Christians should read that Bible fundamentally, all Muslims do read the Qur’an fundamentally.

This is simply not the case.

The fact is most Muslims do not interpret the Qur’an in a strict literalist manner. A majority of Muslims around the world have also updated and adapted their Islamic moral teachings to do away with the most horrific and problematic teachings of the Qur’an–in the very same way that most Jews and Christians have done with their Scriptures.

And yet, there are certain sects of Islam–in our present case, Wahhabi Islamic Militant Jihadists, who comprise the core of ISIS–who want to see the world interpret the Qur’an in the same strict literalist manner that they do. And they want their fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture to be the civil law of the land, governing all peoples, whether they are Muslim or not.

Ironically in America, this is the same desire of strict literalist Christians, who want to legislate their fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible over all Americans, whether they are Christian or not, and turn civil law into the Christian equivalent of Shari’a law.

Christian fundamentalists see all Muslims as Islamic fundamentalists because they don’t know any other way of reading Scripture. And as a nation we cannot allow fundamentalists of any religion to govern our country and turn the United States into ground zero of a religious war.


There was one additional point from the above sex slave exercise that I shared with the class: the reason that sexual misconduct against women is largely dismissed, excused, and tolerated today in this country is that it is interwoven into our predominant religious beliefs. Sexual slavery is part of the Bible. Bigamy. Polygamy. Rape. The taking of prisoners of war (the pleasing virgin ones) as wives. This is part of the Bible. Not only that, this is part of the Bible often commanded and authorized by God.

The rape culture that exists today in the U.S. that terrifies women, and which many men fail to recognize, is the result of a problematic theology that has either accepted, openly or tacitly, or has largely dismissed the problem of the sexual mistreatment of women because of the very unwillingness of many Christians to critique these same practices in the very Scripture that they claim to be their moral authority.

Or put another way, because Christian fundamentalists in America are unwilling to acknowledge that there are horrific, amoral teachings and practices against women in the Bible, they resist addressing, or often even acknowledging, the culture of misogyny that exists in America today. For if they acknowledged the poor treatment of women in America today, they would at some point in the discussion have to question the teachings and practices involving women in the Bible, and fundamentalists are simply never going to do that.

So we get what we get: the belief that if the Bible is OK with the very rape culture it details in verse after verse, and the misogyny, and the suppression of women’s voices, and their authority, and their freedom of expression–and if God inspired his Holy Word–then it can’t be all that bad today. Right?

And this is the problem.

 

On Taxes, Marriage, and the Poor: Lessons from Luke 3:7-11

“John the Baptist Preaching” by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. 1733. Fresco. Cappella Colleoni Gallery, Bergamo, Italy.

Verse of the day:
Luke 3:7-11:

7) “John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8) Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
9) Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’
10) And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’
11) In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.'”

First, I find it fascinating that John chastised people who came to be baptized.

Second, I find it all the more fascinating that his advice was to give of what you have to those who had nothing.

So let’s review:

1) Don’t come to church just for religious rites.
2) Give away what you have to the poor if you want to be a true child of God.

So tell me: which social, religious, or political party, group, or body best encapsulates this very fundamental, very ‘Christian’ teaching of not worrying about the details of religious rituals and rites and doctrines, and instead focuses on giving goods to and caring for the poor?

And if you’re going to argue that biblical Christian principles should not be legislated when it comes to giving your hard earned money away (i.e., taxes and welfare and health care), then why are you arguing that biblical Christian principles should be legislated on other social issues like same-sex marriage?

When Someone Says, “America Should Get Back to ‘Biblical Principles'”

When Someone Says, “America Should Get Back to ‘Biblical Principles'”, this is all too often what they mean:

HT: Joel Watts

dear occupy people, you are now officially off message

The Occupy movement appears to have lost its way.

What began as a protest against Wall Street – the symbol of corporate corruption, greed, irresponsible risk, the exploitation of consumers, and a culture of entitlement resulting in a lack of appreciation for taxpayer-funded bailouts from a government paid for by the very corporations they assist – that protest has turned into a free-for-all.

Even Librarians are angry. That's a bad sign. (Actually, it's a good one.)

Today, rather than sticking to the original core message of rooting out corruption and advocating for corporate (and thereby government) reform, the leaderless OWS movement has devolved into a random mass of hostility and anger. And while hostility and anger are and should be the reaction to the corporate-government two-step of corruption and irresponsibility that has become American capitalism, some OWS protesters, perhaps due to the lack of leadership, a loss of focus, or the simple thrill of being a part of a protest, have quickly crept away from the core message and are now demanding things that make the entire movement look foolish and, well, utterly dismissible.

The Occupy movement has attracted many college students who want to voice their outrage and offer their support to the cause. And while I applaud those with every advantage who stand up for the disadvantaged, it seems that the Occupy movement has unfortunately deteriorated into an inarticulate smörgåsbord of, dare I say, greedy demands from otherwise entitled individuals who want their college tuition paid (without having to serve in the military or Peace Corps in exchange), or see this as an opportunity to demand that their maxed out credit cards be paid off.

Today, many Occupy protesters are arguably spoiled college students with clothes on their backs and bills they don’t want to pay. Somehow they think that by camping out in their own personal Woodstock in between runs to the local indie coffee shop (because Starbucks is corporate), they’re going to accomplish something beyond making themselves look like lazy freeloaders Tweeting in the park while others are out applying for their jobs. And rather than do as many of us have done and go to Junior College, take our pre-reqs, then transfer to a state college, working an entry-level job to make ends meet, they sit and demand free college education at the college of their choosing.

Rather than enlisting in the army and defend this country, or enlisting in the Peace Corps and directly serving an underdeveloped nation where the REAL 99% live, they’d rather demand that someone else do it (as if corporations are ever going to really give a crap about dealing with poverty). Rather than using their hands and feet for physical work and volunteering with worthwhile projects to make the world a better place, many would rather sit on their asses all day and complain about how no one handed them a six-figure salary right out of college. I’d be curious to know how many of those participating in the Occupy protests have ever spent as much time, energy, and Facebook status updates volunteering with a non-profit organization or advocating against something other than a bank to whom they owe money.

Rather than stick to the core message so well articulated in the cartoon to the right, this leaderless revolution has sprawled into lists of ridiculous demands to such an extent that now Stephen Colbert (a supporter of the original movement) is even poking fun at it. The movement seems to be spinning out of control and becoming the second chance for hippie high school seniors and college freshmen like the “elected spokespeople,” Justin Wedes and “Ketchup,” who appear to be bent on making up for the fact they weren’t elected Student Body President. Or to put it as my wife put it, the current wave of OWS protesters:

…are identifying themselves as the “99%”, but are not demanding that the “1%” end world hunger. They are asking for their college tuition to be paid. They are asking for their credit card debt to be forgiven. They are asking for privileges that only the world’s wealthiest 1% enjoy, and they want it for free.

By making demands of “free college education” (elite schools of course, not state schools), “open borders migration (anyone can travel anywhere to work and live),” and “Immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all (Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now! All debt must be stricken from the “Books”),” the OWS movement leaves itself open to ridicule and charges of naïveté, disorganization, idealism lacking practicality, and insensitivity to those who are truly suffering around the world.

The Occupy movement needs a coordinated plan of action and a leader. And before you respond with the typical, “That’s not how this protest works,” let’s take a lesson from the Tea Party. At the other end of the political spectrum, I recall the early, leaderless days of the Tea Party movement. I remember how they held up the example of the starfish – a headless organism that was comprised only of “action arms” – as its model of organizational leadership. I remember NPR’s Steve Inskeep commenting that it was appropriate, as it had neither a brain nor a backbone. Then, I remember the Tea Party getting organized, crafting a message, and ultimately taking the House of Representatives.

Ironically, in spite of its questionable ideology, what the Tea Party wanted most is what the Occupy movement wants most: government-corporate reform. I commented earlier that the first one to see past the oceans of ideological diversity on these polar opposite ends and unify both groups behind the singular message of government/corporate reform wins, and would become the leader of the single greatest revolution in this country since, well, The Revolution.

There should absolutely be reforms. We should let failing businesses fail in a capitalist system; that’s how it works. Banks that took exploitative risks should not (have) be(en) bailed out. And yes, corporations should pay taxes sans loopholes. And no, corporations are not going to do less business if they have to pay more tax. That argument is laughable, albeit threatening. Corporations will expand business and work even harder to make up the difference, because that’s what they do – make money. There should be more corporate responsibility. Corporations that received bailout funds should have imposed upon them salary caps and bonus limits just like in the NFL. And we should demand this and not settle for anything less. Alas, this was the entire point of the initial Occupy Wall Street movement!

But the movement has gotten WAY off message. And now that some of the protests are turning violent, the public is losing its stomach and patience for the cause. And the more ridiculous, off-topic demands that are stacked up and demanded by students who should otherwise be studying for their macroeconomics final, the less the public cares about and supports the cause.

It’s time to get back on message: government and corporate reform. When you have marched as much as Dr. West has marched, and served as much as Mother Theresa has served, and advocated for as many causes as U2 has advocated, then and only then can an upstart movement demand more than one thing at once. Until then, keep it focused and keep it simple.


If you’re looking for activities that are consistent with your core message that will actually get the banks’ attention, try “Bank Transfer Day,” or as I call it, Occupy a Different Bank. I ditched Bank of America three months ago and transferred all accounts (mostly loans) to a local credit union. Pull your money out of their vaults, and you’ll get the reform you’re seeking.

cutthroat or genius? google to index facebook comments

Google vs. FacebookWhen I first read that Google now plans to index Facebook comments so that they will now appear in search results, I thought to myself, “Welp, that’s it. I’m done with Facebook.”

Then I realized, that’s EXACTLY what Google wants me to do.

By announcing that they will begin crawling and indexing Facebook comments, Google has taken the shrewd step of deliberately (but legally) exacerbating the one thing about which Facebook users are most wary: privacy concerns. While Google makes clear that they will only crawl comments on public Facebook “pages” and apps, and not on private user pages, I am still left confused as to whether comments on a “user page” that is visible to the public will be indexed.

Of course, the answer doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that with this simple action, Google will introduce enough additional doubt and fear into the minds of Facebook users (who are already suspicious of privacy measures due to “upgrade fatigue” from Facebook’s seemingly monthly changes to its functionality and user interface), that they will leave Facebook for something else.

And, because the recently introduced Google+ is now a viable alternative with a greater ease of use and superior graphics (now that Facebook has become nearly as painful to the eyes as MySpace once was), more and more Facebookers will be flocking to Google+, where I am guessing public and private comments will not be indexed and available for search.

It may be cutthroat, but it’s also genius, and may be just the thing Facebook needs to get it to stop selling out its existing users in the name of expanding its user base.

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