Liberal Grace

Monday, October 30, 2006

My Own Journey in Spiritual Warfare

Demons, witches, covens and assorted spooks are alive and well in the conservative church.

At Halloween I always reflect on my own personal encounters with the dark side of the spirit world. I was raised in a fundamentalist "bible church" that taught a very literal belief in the spirit world -- especially about demons who could possess or harass you.

It's no surprise, probably, that I had several remarkable "power encounters" with the demon possessed as a young man. Generally put, we believed that moral compromise invited demon possession. The demons generally agreed with us about the most dangerous moral failures: pornography, drugs, ouija boards, rock music, homosexuality, horror movies, etc.

This shaped my view of "spiritual warfare" for about the first half of my adult life. People like Bob Larson and the, now discredited, Satan-Seller reinforced that experience long into adulthood. Plus, well-educated people I respected believed deeply in demonic reality.

If you've somehow missed the "spiritual warfare" movement, I recommend a radio show, rather than a book. Pray by This American Life Especially listen to act one about spiritual warfare at Colorado Springs. Even though they're clearly septics at TAL, it's one of the best efforts I've heard to describe this cultural phenomenon. The shows understands that the spiritual warfare sub-culture has a radically different world view.

Two things really changed my perspective in the second-half of my adult life:

1) The "Powers" books by Walter Wink.

Wink, Professor emeritus at Auburn Theological Seminary, creates an alternative framework for the reality of evil that is both faithful to the bible yet relevant to modern society.

A major problem with the spiritual warfare in most of our churches has that it seems... well... just so plain silly in our modern society.

Believers in spiritual warfare have a way to deal with this -- they believe our modern world is blind to spiritual reality and that this blindness makes the demons work in more covert way. Needless to say, this theory begs a few questions!

When I lived in the developing world we regularly had "prayer walkers" come from America and Canada to directly encounter the spirits of darkness. These conservative spiritual warfare believers have a very territorial view of "the strongholds of darkness" and, as you can imagine, it doesn't get much darker!

Wink accepts much of this same reality, but sends it off into a different framework that you can speak about even with your most secularized friends. But he never discounts God, prayer or the spiritual world. I strongly recommend winks books.

For the serious students there is a trilogy which I've read and highly recommend:

* Volume 1 -- Naming the Powers: The Language of Power in the New Testament
* Volume 2 -- Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence
* Volume 3 -- Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination

For the less ambitious I recommend "The Powers that Be" which is more-or-less a summary of his trilogy:

2) Watching the Movie The Exorcist

Since watching movies could lead to demon possession, I never watched The Exorcist when it came out in 1973. But in 2000, when they re-released it, I saw the film in a theater.

What a revelation! What the church calls "spiritual warfare" is about 80% The Exorcist and about 20% the bible.

After watching the movie, I set out on a personal bible study about all the demonic passages in the New Testament. It was a quite a revelation to realize that the modern spiritual warfare I'd experienced was very similar to The Exorcist and distinctly different than the bible.

Even though I no longer worry about becoming demon possessed through movies, I still generally avoid them as I do all horror films. But I recently saw The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

The directors place the issue of demon possession in a courtroom where the phenomenon can be seen from either the traditional church explanation or from the scientific-world view. This movie does a pretty good job of summarizing my own life-long personal ambivalence and how people of good faith can see the spiritual world very very differently.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Is it the weak will or the strong temptation that's to blame?

This different view of temptation was one of the first things that struck me when I moved to a Muslim-majority culture.

Australian Muslim cleric blames women for rape
Australia's most senior Muslim cleric has been forced to apologize after provoking widespread outrage with a speech in which he appeared to blame women for rape, comparing them with "uncovered meat" that attracts animals.
The Egyptian-born Sheik also appeared to refer to a series of notorious gang rapes in Sydney by a group of Lebanese Muslim men who received long prison sentences. He said there were women who "sway suggestively", and wore make-up and immodest dress, "and then you get a judge without mercy [who] gives you 65 years... but the problem all began with who?"
In my western protestant tradition, we tend to blame the tempted, not the tempter for sin. This tends to be especially true for those of us from the highly pious wings of the church.

Even if a man waves a $100 around in public, I should be strong enough not to snatch it. Even if nude woman wants to have sex with me, I should be strong enough to say no to fornication or adultery. Even if someone hands me some drugs, I should be strong enough not to snort it.

I was raised so steeped in this moral framework that it was quite a revelation to meet people who put the blame on the temptation, not on their own moral weakness of the easily tempted.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Fire Karen Hughes. Hire Alberto Fernandez

For a brief moment the week, America's image in the Arab world improved. Then Fernandez was forced to apologize.

It's not like Fernandez's comments triggered any new feelings about America's arrogance and stupidity in Iraq. That's pretty-much the unanimous sentiment here.

His comments did, for a very short moment, make us think that at least one person in the Bush administration has a clue about the horror and humiliation they have unleashed through their arrogance and stupidity.

Karen Hughes has been given the task of fixing American's image in the Middle East. Mostly her work has backfired because she's also forced to spin the unspinnable, to the great irritation of Middle Easterners who, apparently, follow the news a lot better than Americans do. It's a pisser to be lied to.

All her efforts and her whole budget have done less for America's image than that one little candid admission by Alberto Fernandez.

So, I say: Fire Karen Hughes and hire Alberto Fernandez to tell the truth!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Rare Honesty from a government official

Was it an accidental slip of honesty or some sort of pre-election strategy?

...or maybe this guy wants a job at Al Jazeera. But still, it's worth reading:

Diplomat cites U.S. 'stupidity' in Iraq

Iraq - A senior U.S. diplomat said the United States had shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq but was now ready to talk with any group except Al-Qaida in Iraq to facilitate national reconciliation.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera television aired late Saturday, Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department offered an unusually candid assessment of America's war in Iraq.

"We tried to do our best but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq," he said

"Tried to do their best?" OK, there are limits to even Fernandez's honesty.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Keep watching southern Iraq.

The take-over of Amara is a very bad sign for Iraq.

Back in early September, I said to Watch Southern Iraq as an indicator on whether Iraq has a viable government.

I said
Since we can't trust the Bush administration to give us an honest assessment of how the war's going, I am going to use southern Iraq as my barometer.

The militia take-over of Amara is a very bad sign.

Attack on Iraq City Shows Militia Power

BAGHDAD, Oct. 20 — Hundreds of militiamen linked to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr battled local police and members of a rival Shiite militia in the southeastern city of Amara today, destroying police stations and seizing control of entire neighborhoods, in apparent retaliation for the arrest of one of their fighters.

As of this writing, it seems like Arara has cooled-down and the central government is re-taking control of the city.

Maybe this is a one-off event but I doubt that. I'm no military or Iraq expert but, it seems to me, that southern Iraq seems like a good test case for Bush's goal of Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq will hold as we pull out.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Unveiling my feelings about veils

The Muslim veil is, once again, controversial. As a liberal Christian, I'm surprised at my own ambiguity about it.

Most recently because of statements by Jack Straw. 'Remove full veils' urges Straw

But it's not a strictly Muslim vs west conflict as this article shows;

Muslim preacher threatened with death in veil row

Cairo: A female Muslim preacher has been threatened with death for declaring that the niqab (a veil which covers the whole face except for the eyes) is not obligatory.

Suad Saleh, a famous TV preacher and a professor of Islamic jurisprudence at the University of Al Azhar, infuriated Islamists when she told a television programme that wearing the veil was a Bedouin tradition before the emergence of Islam in the seventh century.

"There is no unequivocal text in the Holy Quran that women must cover their faces," she told the private satellite channel TV Dream.

"Meanwhile, the Sunna [the Prophet Mohammad's (PBUH) traditions] show it is legal for women to uncover the face."

An angry male preacher told a mosque congregation in Giza, south of Cairo, that he was ready to kill Saleh for her claim. The man was arrested and quizzed over his alleged threat.

As I thought about bogging this subject, I surprised myself with my own personal ambiguity about it.

As a liberal, I think people should be able to wear pretty much anything they want, within respect for common decency. So, I think a Muslim woman should be legally allowed to wear a veil and decent citizens should show her no prejudice for doing so.

However, I understand that garb and religious symbols do matter.

I'm not the only one who's divided about this A couple days ago, Gulf News ran a poll which showed that even in a country where veils are normal, the population is divided on what it means.

Is the veil covering the fce a 'mark of seperation'? Even in the Gulf, it's a 50/50 split!

Very often, garb and symbols do separate people from society. It can even be the main purpose. Take tattoos and body piercing - my sense is that people do this to differentiate themselves from mainstream society.

And, despite my liberal tolerance, I believe the veil is a symbol of separation. Wearing a veil puts one in "purda" which, by its very definition, is separation.

It strikes me as contradictory for a woman in purda to also demand full access to all aspects of society.

I believe that legally women should allowed to wear a veil pretty much anywhere that exposure of the face is not needed. I'm also for accommodation of veils in places such as air ports, since it would be a pretty minor thing to have some sort of screen where a female official could check a photo ID with a face.

However, I think it is totally reasonable for businesses to have dress codes that exclude religious or other highly distinctive garb. I think the compromise on this very complex subject is to write dress-code rules so that not just Islam is excluded. As an illustration, I've matched garb from various religions with specific professions.

I think it should be perfecty legal for people to dress according to their religious convictions even if it strikes others as strange or frightening. But it would be very unreasonable to require that businesses be forced to hire them if the garb conflicts with the position.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A quick fact-check on Bush's take on Tet

Was Tet really designed to influence the election as Bush insinuates? Not likely.

In acknowledging a similarity with Tet, Bush sees the parallel as affecting US domestic elections. Bush responded: "He could be right. There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we're heading into an election."

Isn't it just like Bush to spin this back into domestic politics? (ironically, one of the other parallels between Iraq and Vietnam)

My memory was kind of dim about Tet, so I assumed from what Bush said, that Tet was in the fall of 1968, arguably influencing the US elections.

But Tet started in JANUARY of 1968! and was over five months before the election!

Of all the parallels Bush could draw -- he thinks it's about influencing elections!

Why am I surprised that Bush would be both historically ignorant and politically narcissistic?

Bush way behind the curve... as usual

Bush just now acknowledging the similarity between the Iraq and Vietnam fiascos!

I am so tired of having a president who is always behind the curve.

Bush sees possible Iraq-Vietnam parallel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush says he sees a possible parallel in the increase in violence in Iraq and the 1968 Tet offensive that prompted Americans to lose support for the Vietnam War.

But the White House on Thursday said the president had not been making the analogy that Iraq had reached a similar turning point. Instead, he was saying that insurgents were possibly increasing violence to try to influence coming U.S. elections.

Bush was asked in an ABC News interview on Wednesday whether he agreed with an opinion by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that the current violence in Iraq was "the jihadist equivalent of the Tet offensive."

Everyone with even a passing knowledge of Vietnam saw the obvious similarities a couple years ago - long before the eve of this election.

What Bush is spinning as "adapting to win" (bringing US troops back to Baghdad) seems just like retreat.... and a lot like the final years of Vietnam when the insurgency backed our troops into Saigon.

If we were indeed winning, as Bush claims, our troops should be pushing away from the center, not retreating to it! I make no claims to be a military expert but isn't this just obvious?

But it's not just Tet - it's the lies, it's the politically-driven strategy and, above all, it's that Rumsfeld is as horrible as McNamara.

Monday, October 16, 2006

May we call it a civil war, now?

Al Qaeda and allies have set up their own competing government.

Until now, the Bush administration has stubbornly denied that there was civil war in Iraq. While it looks like civil war, feels like civil war, kills like civil war it was not civil war because civil wars have competing governments.

This isn't true, however. Dictionary definitions say something like "a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country" but Bush chose the most narrow of definitions because, I assume, it makes their disastrous Iraq war seem a teeny bit less disastrous.

But now there are warring governments in Iraq, not just citizens.

Militants set up 'Islamic Iraqi state' amid violence

Baghdad: An Iraqi militant group that includes Al Qaida in Iraq announced in a video tape yesterday that it has established an Islamic Iraqi state.

In footage screened by the Arabic news channel Al Jazeera, a spokesman for the council called on Iraq's disenchanted Sunni Arab former elite to "pledge allegiance to the emir of the believers, Shaikh Abu Omar Al Baghdadi," a previously unknown nom de guerre.

The Mujahedeen Shura Council - an umbrella organisation of insurgent groups in Iraq - said the new state was made up of six provinces that have large Sunni populations.

The spokesman said the state would include parts of the mainly Shiite provinces of Babil and Wasit south of Baghdad along with the mixed capital and province of Diyala, and the key northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.

The announcement came as sectarian violence continued to rock the country. Shouting for revenge after the slaying of 14 Shite workers, militias killed at least 31 people in a town north of Baghdad, police, doctors and local residents said. In four car bomb attacks in Kirkuk 10 people were killed.
GulfNews article

So, may we call it a civil war, now, Mr. Rove?

I suppose the Bush administration, true to form, will finally acknowledge a civil war in Iraq after its hopeless to do anything about it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A real conservative speaks about the Religious Right.

Conservatives have changed so much that many previously considered conservative now seem liberal!

I was raised in a fundamentalist church and I've often said that I'm a liberal now because fundamentalism changed, not me. The meaning of fundamentalism and Christian conservatism has shifted so much that it re-defined me.

Liberals like Stephanie Miller say something similar about political conservatism and yesterday I heard her quote Barry Goldwater "I think every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass."

A key person who changed both fundamentalism and political conservatism is one-in-the-same: Jerry Falwell.

So, I went to search for the legitimacy of this quote and learned that Barry Goldwater -- often called the founder of modern conservatism -- did not like the Religious Right one bit at all!

Here's the Wikipedia entry:

After his retirement, in 1987, Goldwater described the conservative Arizona Governor Evan Mecham as "hardheaded" and called on him to resign, and two years later stated the Republican Party had been taken over by a "bunch of kooks." In a 1994 interview with the Washington Post the retired Senator said, "When you say 'radical right' today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye." He said about Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, "I think every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass," in response to Falwell's opposition to the nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court where Falwell said, "Every good Christian should be concerned."
Goldwater at Wikipedia

I found this Goldwater warning, all the back from 1981 when Falwell was just ramping up.

The religious factions will go on imposing their will on others," he said, "unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives...

"We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups and we mustn't stop now," he insisted. "To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic."

"Being a conservative in America traditionally has meant that one holds a deep, abiding respect for the Constitution. We conservatives believe sincerely in the integrity of the Constitution. We treasure the freedom that document protects...."

"By maintaining the separation of church and state, the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars. Throughout our two hundred plus years, public policy debate has focused on political and economic issues, on which there can be compromise...."

"The great decisions of government cannot be dictated by the concerns of religious factions. This was true in the days of Madison, and it is just as true today. We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups and we mustn't stop now. To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic."

-- Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senate Address, September 16, 1981,

I got this quote from Zepp's Political Commentary which has a pretty good page on Goldwater.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bush vs Kim Jong Il -- a formula for disaster.

You go to war with the president you have, not the one you want. So, for the love of America, let's avoid a war with North Korea.

100% - Likelihood that Kim Jong Il is a horrible, evil leader who deserves to be overthrown and punished.

1% - Likelihood that Kim Jong Il will attack America the next two years

90% - Likelihood that a military effort by Bush will backfire, making things worse.

So, considering the odds that Bush will almost surely make things worse, we should absolutely not let Bush go to war with North Korea. Let's hang in there for two more years in hope that our next president isn't such a clueless bungler.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Partition for the historially challenged

I implore the conservatives not to ignorantly stumble into partition like they've done everything else.

In the coming months you'll be hearing more and more about partitioning Iraq.

Peter Galbraith has been the leading proponent of this and the cosnervatives swiftboated him as a "cut and runner" for it.

Rumors are that Bush is going to adopt the partition proposal in the next year. It will certainly become a louder debating point as Iraq continues to spiral into civil-sectarian war, seeming like unplanned partition.

Partitions have always sounded better in theory than in messy reality. I can think of cases where countries were divided up and there has been has been horrific blood letting: Israel out of Palestine; Bosnia out of Yugoslavia; Eritrea out of Ethiopia.

But the granddaddy of them all was Pakistan out of India. I strongly recommend that anyone who is enthusiastic about Iraq's partition, read about India's partition. Not to change your minds but just to understand why America has a moral responsibility to make it go as violence-free as possible.

I suggest Freedom at Midnight for the average person because it reads like a novel. The sections on the violence of partition are vivid and chilling. I've read this book a couple of times.

Probably even better is Liberty or Death - India's Journey to Independence and Division by Patrick French. If you like history written like history (rather than like a novel) this is the better book.

I've had both Indian and Pakistan friends recommend this book which is a good testimony to its balance. In contrast, both my Pakistani and Indian friends dislike "Freedom at Midnight" which, I suppose, is another kind of testimony to its balance.

It seems like partition of Iraq is probably inevitable. The south, oil-rich area will break off into an Iran alliance. The Sunnis will resentfully get their less-rich area. The Kurds will get their slice of the pie, likely drawing Turkey into the fighting. I'm sure the Devil has his plans for Baghdad but I have no idea what will happen to it.

But, just remember, these areas aren't cleanly all Shiite, Sunni and Kurd -- any partition will involve refugee roads, land seizures, soaring unemployment and, yes, the bloodshed of innocents. Let's just hope the Bush administration takes partition seriously and works effectively to keep it minimal. (What are the chances of that?) For starters, I suggest they bone-up on previous partitions.

Never, ever, let any politician convince you that it will be a cake walk.

Is James Baker the right guy for the job? Doesn't seem like it.

"Stay the Course" vs "Cut and Run" aren't the alternatives in the debate. It's just Karl Rove being his usual SOB self.

“I think it’s fair to say our commission believes that there are alternatives between the stated alternatives, the ones that are out there in the political debate, of ‘stay the course’ and ‘cut and run,’ ” Mr. Baker said.
G.O.P.’s Baker Hints Iraq Plan Needs Change

I think it is fair to say that Bush and the Republicans need to start talking straight and stop using irritating, divisive slogans like "Stay the Course" and "Cut and Run."

"Cut and Run" has never been the liberal position... it's only how the conservative media misrepresents us. "Stay the Course" isn't much better since Bush has changed course a bunch of times -- usually for the worse.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hell yes! We libs have a double standard.

When conservatives condemn us liberals for having a double standard between Bill Clinton and Mark Foley, I condemn them for not having one.

Are conservatives brains just wired differently than the rest of us?

It seems perfectly obvious to me that there most certainly should be a "double standard" between Bill Clinton's adultery (morally wrong) and Mark Foley's predatory pedophilia (highly criminal.)

If I was Speaker of the House, I would have ignored any whispering campaigns about Foley being gay. Who cares?

But whispers that he was messing with underage pages? That would have sent off loud alarms and huge red flags, probably involving the FBI. I mean, what the heck is a fifty year old man IM'ing children for? You don't just let that kind of information drop just because you don't have indictable evidence. But that's exactly what the GOP leadership did -- there isn't much debate about that.

What's wrong with the conservatives that they seem incapable of making such a simple and obvious moral distinction?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Church Voting Brochure

Print this brochure and put them on windshields in the parking lots of conservative churches.

Yesterday Al Franken, on his radio show, wished that people would distribute fliers to conservative churches to tell them the real story behind values voting.

So, I made one!

Download your own copy at:
Church Windshield Brocure

Have some fun and do the Lord's work with it.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Disagree with Bush? Up against the car and spread 'em, you terrorist!

This torture bill is horribly un-American... and so typically Bush.

Torture Bill States Non-Allegiance To Bush Is Terrorism

Buried amongst the untold affronts to the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the very spirit of America, the torture bill contains a definition of "wrongfully aiding the enemy" which labels all American citizens who breach their "allegiance" to President Bush and the actions of his government as terrorists subject to possible arrest, torture and conviction in front of a military tribunal.

After five hours of searching through the 80-plus page bill, Alex Jones, who won the 2004 Project Censored award for his analysis of Patriot Act 2, uncovered numerous other provisions and definitions that make the bill appear as almost a mirror image of Hitler's 1933 Enabling Act.

In section 950j. the bill criminalizes any challenge to the legislation's legality by the Supreme Court or any United States court. Alberto Gonzales has already threatened federal judges to shut up and not question Bush's authority on the torture of detainees.

"No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause of action whatsoever, including any action pending on or filed after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, relating to the prosecution, trial, or judgment of a military commission under this chapter, including challenges to the lawfulness of procedures of military commissions under this chapter."

The Bush administration is preemptively overriding any challenge to the legislation by the Supreme Court.

We liberals need to take the government back ASAP so we can overturn un-American legislation like this.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Dem. candidate lost legs in Iraq but Republican still accuses her of "cut and running"

Most cruel talking point EVER!

During an election debate at the weekend in the outskirts of Chicago, Peter Roskam, the Republican candidate for Illinois's sixth district, trotted out the familiar line that his Democratic opponent wanted America to "cut and run" from Iraq.

His opponent, Tammy Duckworth, a former National Guard pilot who lost both her legs in Iraq last year when her helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade, was visibly angry at the exchange. "I just could not believe he would say that to me," said Ms Duckworth, who now walks on artificial legs with the help of a cane. "I have risked my life to serve my country and you cannot question my patriotism."

Democrat brings Iraq experience to poll

Why we need habeas corpus more than ever.

$5,000 guarantees that many perfectly innocent people will be turned in for the cash.

In an economy where the average worker earns a dollar a day, this kind of bounty is going to swamp prisons with people screwed by their neighbors for the money. How many Americans might turn in their neighbors for $550,000 in cash which is the rough equivalent? Especially, if the person just "disappeared?"

Pakistan accused of terror abductions

London: Pakistan has abducted hundreds of people as part of the US-led war on terror, often secretly holding them for months while they are interrogated, the human rights group Amnesty International said on Friday.

Some suspects were held in Pakistani interrogation centres, but many were handed over to US custody and held in Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Airbase or other secret detention facilities, the group said in a report on "enforced disappearances in the war on terror".

"The road to Guantánamo very literally starts in Pakistan," said Claudio Cordone, Senior Director of Research at Amnesty International.

"Hundreds of people have been picked up in mass arrests, many have been sold to the USA as 'terrorists' simply on the word of their captor, and hundreds have been transferred to Guantánamo Bay, Bagram Airbase or secret detention centres run by the USA."

In many cases, US agents paid a bounty of $5,000 to those, usually intelligence agents, who simply declared people terrorists, seized them and handed them over for interrogation with no legal process, Amnesty said.

"Enforced disappearances were almost unheard of in Pakistan before the start of the US-led war on terror - now they are a growing phenomenon, spreading beyond terror suspects," Amnesty researcher Angelika Pathak said.

Freedom of Religion in Qatar!

Yes, we Christians are "free" in most Muslims countries but we're far from equal.

When Muslims claim that they allow freedom of religion in their countries, they are telling the truth. But their definition of "freedom" is nothing like the religious freedom they enjoy in America.

Compare the optimistic headline with the body of the article. Italics are mine.

Religious freedom on the rise

US report praises Qatar for allowing other faiths.

By Barbara Bibbo', Correspondent

Doha: Religious freedom has improved in Qatar, although the Government prohibits proselytizing by non-Muslims and places some restrictions on public worship, according to a US report on religious freedom in Qatar.

The document issued by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor was presented by the American embassy in Doha to the local media.

The report said Qatar's new constitution explicitly provides for freedom of worship, but no foreign missionary groups operate openly in the country. The Government, which maintains an official register of approved religious congregations, has granted legal status to Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Coptic and many Asian Christian denominations.

On the contrary, Hindus, Buddhists, Baha'is, and members of other religious groups do not operate as freely as Christians, because they have not sought official permission from the authorities. However, there was no official effort to harass or hamper adherents of these religious groups in the private practice of their religion.

Despite the recognised congregations being able to perform their religious rites freely within designated spaces, the report said, proselytising is prohibited and religious symbols cannot be exposed.

Criminal code

"In June 2004, a new criminal code was enacted that established new rules for proselytising. Individuals caught proselytising … for any religion other than Islam, may be sentenced to a term in prison of up to ten years. According to this new law, individuals who possess written or recorded materials or items that support or promote missionary activity are imprisoned for up to two years," the report said.

The Government regulates the publication, importation, and distribution of non Islamic books and materials. However the authorities tolerate individuals and religious institutions importing Bibles and other religious items for personal or congregational use.

Islam is the state religion of Qatar, a country with barely 900,000 residents, whose indigenous population is barely 200,000. The majority of the citizens belong to the Wahabi order of the Sunni branch, while only 10 per cent are Shia Muslims, who practice their faith freely. Religion is not indicated on national identity cards, nor is it a criterion for citizenship. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs controls the construction of mosques, clerical affairs, and Islamic education for adults and new converts.

Converting to another religion from Islam is considered apostasy and is technically a capital offence; however, there has been no recorded execution or other punishment for such a crime.

The report said discrimination on a religious basis is uncommon. However, convicted Muslims may earn points for good behaviour and have their sentences reduced by memorising the Quran. It also mentioned that Muslim wives get better treatment in court cases on inheritance than non-Muslims.

However the report did not say that non-Muslim convicts are denied religious assistance by priests or representatives of other religions. Local media reported that many conversions from other religions to Islam occur in prisons .

Representatives of local congregations as well as Qatari officials refused to comment on the report, citing as a justification the current international tension among religious leaders.

Religious freedom on the rise

Many Muslims feel oppressed in the west. I am sympathetic to them. I, as a Christian, denounce any bigotry or special restrictions on Muslims in predominately Christian countries.

I think Muslims should have every right to proselytize, have literature, wear symbols and meet where ever they want, just as Christians do. Christians should be free to convert to Islam and Christian women may marry Muslim men.

Will fair-minded Muslims please speak up and say that Christians in Muslim countries should have these same rights?