A city terrorized
We’ve all been emotionally moved by the recent terrorist attack in Boston. Indeed, the whole world is sickened by the shocking Boston Marathon bombings which have resulted in the deaths of three people, the maiming and wounding of nearly 200 other men, women and children, the terrorizing of the entire city of Boston and the shooting death of a law enforcement officer.
Most of us have been glued to our TV sets and scouring the internet in search of news and the latest discoveries related to the attack.
There were the typical harsh pronouncements and misstatements that accompany such an event. Some journalists and politicians were quick to comment, making sensational, false statements and assertions.
At first, two Saudi students studying in Boston were arrested. Almost immediately, a FOX News commentator tweeted, “Muslims are evil! Kill them all!” He later deleted the comment when it was found the Saudi students were not involved.
Two brothers accused
The search for suspects eventually zoomed in on two brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his younger brother Dzhokhar, 19.
An aunt said the Tsarnaev family is originally from the southern Russia region of Chechnya, but like other Chechens was forced to leave in 1944 during World War II and relocated to Kyrgyzstan. Chechnya, is a mostly Muslim republic in the North Caucasus, and was the scene of two bloody wars after the breakup of the Soviet Union, as separatists fought Russia for independence before prime minister Vladimir Putin crushed the rebellion in 1999.
Terrorism linked to Chechen fighters included a 2002 attack on a Moscow theater that killed 129 hostages, and the 2004 siege of a primary school in Beslan, near Chechnya, that killed more than 300, about half of them children.
The Tsarnaev family had set about building American lives after seeking political asylum in the US, but the two brothers are said to have been adrift after their parents returned to Russia.
After graduating Cambridge Ridge and Latin School, Dzhokhar enrolled as a nursing student at UMass Dartmouth, becoming an American citizen just last year on 9/11. All who knew him expressed absolute shock, saying he was your typical friendly, loveable American teenager.
Their road to terror?
Tamerlan had once embraced life in the US, even hoping to qualify as an Olympic boxer for his adopted country, but he became ostensibly unhappy in America. “I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t understand them,” he was quoted as saying in a photo caption that appeared in a Boston University student magazine in 2010.
It was during this period that Tamerlan is said to have self-identified as a Muslim. He is quoted as having said he did not drink or smoke: “God said no alcohol.”
A video believed posted on YouTube by Tamerlan, including links to radical Islamist material, told a darker story still, as did the fact that the FBI had interviewed Tamerlan, at the request of a Russian government, over suspected Islamist extremist views, but found nothing alarming.
According to acquaintances at a Boston mosque, Tamerlan was a loner with flashes of anger. People at a Boston mosque on Prospect Street, found him difficult.
Nichole Mossalam, who works for the Islamic Society of Boston, said Tamerlan, on at least one occasion, became outraged during a sermon. “He made a verbal outburst,” said Mossalam, after the person giving the Friday sermon compared Martin Luther King with the Prophet Mohammad.
Another scholar, Juan Cole, offers an intriguing theory of a broken family dynamic, focused around tensions between the two sons and their father. The parents of the two young men, who later returned to Russia, are in disbelief, saying their two sons were simply not capable of such carnage. (Loving, disbelieving parents are often wrong.) The father claims his sons have been framed by the FBI.
Other American relatives living in Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts have also expressed dismay, saying the two brothers never exhibited any signs of anti-America sentiment.
More recently, Tamerlan married. He and his wife Katherine have a young daughter. Katherine Tsarnaev says she has no knowledge of her husband’s terrorist activities. She is sure to be a key witness in the investigation and Dzhokhar’s eventual trial.
Tamerlan dead, Dzhokhar arrested
It’s difficult to understand how people become alienated from family—from other human beings. But that alienation, fueled by feelings of hatred, is a powerful incentive for evil, and in this case, Islamic radicalization.
Whatever finally emerges as the underlying cause which persuaded the two young men to launch their murderous attacks – a sense of alienation, jihadi motivation or just pure evil forged in the midst of the their fraternal relationship or a combination of all three; by last Friday night, Tamerlan would be dead and Dzhokhar surrounded by police in the town of Watertown.
Residents took to the streets with American flags to celebrate the news that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been captured. Dzhokhar is now in fair condition in a Boston hospital — said to be sedated.
US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham grabbed headlines with demands that Dzhokhar, an American citizen, be treated as a high-value suspect and tried as an “enemy combatant.” They wanted no public trial, but a speedy military tribunal. However, the White House insisted that will not be the case. White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “We will prosecute this terrorist through our civilian system of justice. Under US law, United States citizens cannot be tried in military commissions.”
Certainly, more will be revealed during the weeks and months ahead as national and international investigations continue.
Dzhokar’s Twitter account
The media have been picking through statements made by the two young men on their social media accounts. CNN, the BBC, FOX News have examined Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Twitter account, reading what they can into this 19-year-old’s motives.
I, too, was drawn to Dzhokhar’s Twitter messages. I was surprised that no one had picked up on this almost self-fulfilling prophecy. Tweeting as “Jahar,” Dzhokhar sent out the following message on Monday, March 18:
Yes, Dzhokhar, people do come into our lives, some to help and love us, and others to hurt and leave us, but we don’t have to let hurts and disappointments determine our attitudes and future actions.
In some respects, we can all identify with life’s turmoil, hurts and desertions. Many of us have felt forlorn at one time or another. We can all point to many of life’s disappointments and tragedies, ones we’ve personally encountered. We may deem it all horribly unfair. We have become victims, alienated, identifying with the wrongful suffering of our own family or group–even irate with ethnic conflicts that occurred generations or even hundreds of years ago.
Today CNN reported that Dzhokhar began to speak from his hospital bed to police investigators. Dzhokhar is reported to have said there were no international groups involved and that his older brother organized the deadly terrorist attack “to defend Islam.”
(Ed. Note: Well, Dzhokhar, you haven’t defended Islam. You have defamed Islam through your murderous activities. ~ SS)
Thus far, Dzhokhar’s statements suggest that the Tsarnaev brothers were largely self-taught jihadists, having learned how to make a bomb online and by absorbing extremist ideology through the internet. But according to the Associated Press, a local Boston-area convert to Islam — a mysterious figure known only as “Misha.” Misha is said to have played a key role in Tamerlan’s radicalization, suggesting that while online tools may have allowed the brothers to carry out the operation, their radicalization may have occurred within their community in Boston.
Americans not the only victims of terrorism
While we are, indeed, concerned for the well-being of the hundreds of people affected by the Boston bombings, let us also remember that such events happen almost daily in many other nations around the world. We must not become immune to the bombings and mayhem experienced by other people due to terrorism and war. Nigerians, Malians, Somalians, Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Indians — the list goes on.
Wars and conflicts around the world breed violence and violence revenge—and even as we retaliate with navies, armies, missles and drones, innocent men, women and children are caught in the cross-fire.
According to Daniel Benjamin, counter-terrorism specialist, there were more than 10,000 terrorist attacks in some 70 nations, resulting in more than 12,500 deaths. Benjamin says, “The largest number of reported attacks occurred in South Asia and the Near East. More than 75 per cent of the world’s attacks and deaths occurred in these regions.”
Benjamin says, the victims of terrorist attacks remain overwhelmingly Muslim.
Overcoming evil with good
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urges action on behalf of all victims of terror. He says, “Terrorism can affect anyone, anywhere. It targets all ethnic groups, religions, nationalities and civilizations. It attacks humanity itself.”
The US Department of Justice provides sound online help and counseling for victims of terrorism.
Within our Abrahamic faiths, let us learn to be champions of peace, both collectively and within our individual faith communities. As people of faith, let us make a difference in the way we respond to hurt, desertion and violence. We have a higher calling, not to respond hastily with screaming words, insults and false accusations.
We must realize that every person maimed or emotionally damaged by such conflicts is a potential recruit for terrorism. We have a higher calling; we are to be men and women of peace — encouragers of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Truly, no society on earth can exist without justice; however, we are to be known for compassionate justice, and whenever and wherever possible, reconciliation.
Muslims, Christians and Jews—we all have our noisy radicals that make the sensational headlines of nightly news and daily newspapers because of their hatred and killing. But the truth is, such terrorists and preachers of hate are few and far between. They do not represent the overwhelming majority of members within our faith groups. They are noisy, militant, mostly politically-motivated, ungodly minorities who have somehow become detached from the realities of the goodness and mercy of God.
Let us commit to overcoming their evil with good. Let’s find ways to give generously to help victims of terrorism around the world.
Since the Boston bombings, in just one week, more than 200 people around the world have died from terror attacks, and thousands have died from wars and political conflicts. In a Damascus, Syria, neighborhood, in just one day, more than 500 men, women and children were executed or killed in battle with Bashar al-Assad‘s forces. Most of the women and children were shot in the head at close range.
Martin’s dad responds to Dzhokhar’s capture
At the end of this Boston terror spree, young Martin’s dad responded to Dzhokhar’s arrest, “It worked, and tonight, our community is once again safe from these two men. None of this will bring our beloved Martin back or reverse the injuries these men inflicted on our family and nearly two hundred others. We continue to pray for healing and for comfort on the long road that lies ahead for every victim and their loved ones. Tonight our family applauds the entire law enforcement community for a job well done, and trust that our justice system will now do its job.”
Throughout the US, Muslims, Christians and Jews are also expressing solidarity with the people of Boston. Here’s a TV news story about a vigil held by the Council on Islamic American Relations in Arizona:
Sources: CNN, FOX News, NPR News, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker Magazine, BBC, Huffington Post, CBS News, Wikipedia.com, The Telegraph, The Examiner, Slate, AP
Many have inquired
A number of people have asked me about women in Saudi Arabia. Society here is known to be one of the most gender-segregated in the world.
So one might be taken aghast at the recent unofficial revelation that women, under certain circumstances, may now ride bikes!
The Al Yaum daily recently cited an unnamed official from the state’s religious police as saying women can now ride bikes in parks and recreational areas, but they have to be accompanied by a male relative and dressed in the full Islamic head-to-toe abaya.
The article states that women may not use the bikes for transportation but “only for entertainment” and that they should shun places where young men gather “to avoid harassment”!
However, today, even this modest sign of progress may have been an illusion. The pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat spoke to the country’s religious police chief who called the matter “funny,” adding that because riding bikes is uncommon in Saudi society, officials never considered the practice as something to either be banned or allowed for women.
Saudi Arabia follows an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam and bans women from driving cars and trucks.
Some religious leaders have assured me that these gender-segregation laws are in place to protect Saudi women from modern-day decadence and from being subjugated to incessant male sexual harassment.
Major issue of women’s rights
Recently, Dr. Isobel Coleman, noted women’s advocate and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, spoke about her new book Paradise Beneath Her Feet. The author asserts that the pace of change for women in the Arab world and, in particular, Saudi Arabia, is slowly changing.
Coleman says she’s under no illusion about the nature of the challenges facing Arab women, “It’s going to be one step forward, one step back in some cases. It’s just not going to be a straight line change for women.”
But of all of the Islamic countries one might observe, Coleman says, perhaps the progress of women in Saudi Arabia has been the most consistent and the most clear cut. “You just have progress after progress there compared to other countries where you have seen progress and set backs.”
Coleman pointed out that change was the “new Saudi normal,” especially for young people, who are being educated by the hundreds of thousands in western colleges and universities.
She says it’s important to remember that Saudi Arabia has a very young population. “There’s a massive youth bulge coming through the system,” she points out. “The largest cohort in terms of population in Saudi Arabia is in the age group between 10 and 16. This youth bulge is growing up in a world where they now see that women can be on the Shura Council. They see women having more prominent positions in society.”
Coleman says this is going to change the way people think. So even though there are only incremental changes in Saudi Arabia in respect to women’s rights–slow changes that are very disappointing to many people, she says these things will progress more quickly for women as this younger generation grows up in a different environment.
Women appointed to council
Most recently, King Abdullah signaled an easing of its practices of sexual segregation by appointing women to the country’s senior representative state body for the first time.
The Shura Council, which advises the government on legislation, the king says, should have 20 per cent female membership, meaning 30 women will sit on the 150-person council.
In a sign that the change is modest, the decrees require female members to be “committed to Islamic shariah disciplines without any violations” and be “restrained by the religious veil”–a partition that has been installed in the council’s building in the capital city Riyadh. The building is now being altered to install a screen to keep male and female members apart and a communications system to enable them to talk to each other.
Enter a princess–Princess Ameera
For many in the country, these very slow “step by step” changes are not enough.
In 2011, Princess Ameera Al-Taweel sounded a battle cry of sorts when she spoke at a special session of the Clinton Global Initiative titled “Voices for Change in the Middle East & North Africa,” in which she discussed her views on the current movements for change in the region with President Clinton.
The Princess has since frequently appeared as a featured guest on US radio and TV, having appeared on NBC’s Today, CNN, and NPR. She has also been interviewd by Time and Forbes magazines where she has strongly supported both a woman’s right to drive in her country of Saudi Arabia and the broader issue of women’s overall empowerment to head businesses and provide government leadership in a future, more progressive Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
However, the power of conservative religious teaching should not be under-estimated in this the Holy Land of all Muslims around the world. Saudi women, as a whole, do appear to be making significant progress as they campaign for a future that will bring them more freedom and greater respect and increased opportunities.
Here are some recent comments by Princess Ameera in which she talks about here hopes for Saudi women:
Sources: CNN, BBC, The Telegraph, Arab News, Al Jazeerah News, Wikipedia, Saudi Gazette, Clinton Global Initiative, Council on Foreign Relations, Al Yawm
Eve’s tomb in Jeddah
It is believed by some Muslims that Eve, the Mother of Humanity, was buried in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. While there is no absolute archaeological evidence old enough to authenticate the story of Eve’s burial here, the legend persists.
Some say that the city’s name, when pronounced as “Jaddah” — an Arabic word that means grandmother — is a reference to Eve. No one really knows how the story originated, and some in this Red Sea port city dismiss it as merely a myth. However, there is empirical evidence (references) dating back at least 1,200 years.
“It’s a legend, but it is one mentioned by many scholars,” says Sami Nawar, Jeddah’s general director for the city’s Culture and Tourism Department. Nawar, an expert on the history of Old Jeddah, likes to lace a bit of the legend into his presentations on the city to visiting foreign dignitaries and journalists.
The creation story
All Abrahamic holy books (the Torah, the Bible and the Qur’an) say that Adam and Eve were the first members of the human race–created by God to dwell on earth.
In the first book of the Bible one reads, “And God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (Genesis 1:25-28).
Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that Adam and Eve lived in Paradise (the Garden of Eden or heaven) before their fall from grace. After Eve ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree and gave some of the fruit to Adam, who also ate it, then the story goes that “their eyes were opened” so they immediately understood the difference between good and evil. God then banished them from Paradise.
In the Qur’an we read, “And We said, ‘O Adam, dwell you and your wife in Paradise and eat therefrom in [ease and] abundance from wherever you will. But do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers.’ But Satan caused them to slip out of it and removed them from that [condition] in which they had been. And We said ‘Go down, [all of you], as enemies to one another, and you will have upon the earth a place of settlement and provision for a time’” (Al-Baqarah 35 and 36).
Early origins of the legend
It appears that the earliest documented mention of Eve’s tomb being in Jeddah is by the Arab historian and astronomer Abū Muḥammad Al Hamdani (c. 893-945) who states it had been related that Adam was in Mina Valley, to the east of Jeddah, when he felt a yearning to visit Eve–that Eve had come from Jeddah, and that he found her to the East of Mina Valley on Mt. Arafat.
The renowned British explorer, geographer and ethnologist Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821 – 1890) makes mention of Eve’s Jeddah burial site in his English translation of the classic work One Thousand and One Nights (in English most commonly known as The Arabian Nights).
Conservative Islamic influence
Many non-Muslims, especially Jews and Christians, fail to appreciate just how diverse and varied Islam can be. Just as with Christianity or Judaism, there are things you can say that apply to all or most adherents of Islam, but there are many more things which only apply to a particular group of Muslims. This is especially true when it comes to Muslim fundamentalism; because Wahhabi Islam, the primary religious movement behind fundamentalist Islam, includes beliefs and doctrines not found elsewhere.
It would be a mistake and unethical to be critical of all Muslims on the basis of doctrines particular to Wahhabi Muslims. Modern Islamic fundamentalism and movements cannot be explained or understood without looking at the history and influence of Wahhabi Islamic teaching. This means that it’s important from an academic perspective to understand what Wahhabi Islam teaches and why those teachings differ from other branches of Islam.
The First Saudi State was founded in 1744. This period was marked by conquest of neighboring areas and by religious zeal. At its height, the First Saudi State included most of the territory of modern-day Saudi Arabia, and raids by Al Saud’s allies and followers reached into Yemen, Oman, Syria, and Iraq. Islamic Scholars, particularly Muhammad ibn Abdul Al Wahhab (1703 to 1792) and his descendants, are believed to have played a significant role in Saudi rule during this period. The Saudis and their allies referred to themselves during this period as the Muwahhidun (“the unitarians”) or Ahl al-Tawhid (“the monotheists”).
The fundamentalist teachings taught by Al Wahhab positioned him in history as the first modern Islamic fundamentalist. I’m told that Al Wahhab made the central point of his reformation movement the principle that just about every idea added to Islam after the third century of the Muslim era (about 950 AD) was false and should be eliminated. Al Wahhab and his followers taught that Muslims must adhere solely and strictly to the original beliefs set forth by the Prophet Muhammad.
The reason for this extremist stance and the focus of Al Wahhab’s reform efforts, was a number of popular practices which he believed represented a regression to pre-Islamic idol worship. These included praying to saints, making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques, venerating trees, certain caves and stone monuments and establishing certain forms of ritual worship.
The destruction of Eve’s tomb
The February 27, 1928, issue of Time magazine, describes how Eve’s tomb was destroyed: “To His Majesty Ibn Saud, warlike Sultan of Nejd and King of the Hejaz, came tidings last week of his flourishing son the Amir Faisal, 19-year-old Viceroy of the Hejaz. The tidings were conveyed 500 miles by motor caravan from the Red Sea town of Jidda in the Hejaz, to the Sultan’s inland capital, Riyadh, in Nejd.”
It was announced in the 19-year-old’s “tidings,” “There was it made known that the enlightened son & Viceroy had finally caused to be obliterated that notorious imposture, ‘The Tomb of Mother Eve,’ at Jidda (Jeddah).”
By 1975 even the ground of Eve’s legendary burial site was sealed in concrete to prevent pilgrims from paying homage or praying there.
Today, the cemetery is a row of unmarked tombs, and there’s nothing to indicate Eve’s tomb has been there. Wahhabi beliefs forbid the marking of tombs and graves.
William Dever, a professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at the University of Arizona and a prominent U.S. archaeologist, was asked about Eve’s tomb by the Associated Press a few years ago. He said there just is not any archaeological evidence going back far enough to back up the legend of Eve’s burial site.
“There are lots of traditional tombs of saints of various kinds in the Middle East,” he added. “But they are never excavated or investigated scientifically.”
Asked if he had heard of any other final resting place for Eve in the Middle East, Dever said, “No. There are tombs of Abraham all over the place, but I don’t honestly know in Israel or the West Bank or Jordan of any Eve tomb in these places.”
A few pilgrims still come
Pilgrims from around the world continue to visit the graveyard named Ammuna Hawwa (Arabic for “Our Mother Eve”).
As I was standing at the entrance of the cemetery yesterday, two tourist buses pulled up. Tour guides made brief speeches about Eve’s burial place, and the buses pulled away.
Dr. Sami Angawi, an architect and historian in Saudi Arabia who has been a long-standing critic of the lack of preservation of historic artifacts and monuments, says, “Tombs are not preserved in Saudi Arabia, and visiting graves is not encouraged as Wahhabists believe that they could lead to Bedaa – a frowned upon invention that undermines the orthodoxy of Islam.” Dr. Angawi says, during the past 80 years historic artifacts and sites have been dug up and thrown out, not only in Jeddah, but also in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
“Eve’s tomb,” he says, “is now just a flat hole among a graveyard of unmarked tombs.”
“All we have left is the legend,” he says with disappointment. ”But that legend will live on and be passed on to future generations.”
In the following short CNN video, Dr. Angawi says all eyes remain on the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina that are constantly under assault:
Sources: The Bible, The Qur’an, Arab News, Time Magazine, Wikipedia.com, Sir Richard Burton’s English translation of One Thousand One Nights, the Associated Press, The National (UAE), USA Today, CNN International News
God’s awesome grace, mercy and forgiveness
Last night I had an amazing discussion with my Palestinian friend Muhammad al Jishi. I had been studying the subject of “sin and its forgiveness” as understood by Muslims, Jews and Christians.
As I spoke of what I had found, Muhammed eagerly recited a prayer of the Prophet Mohammed that I had not heard. There are several references to the Prophet’s prayer in Islamic hadiths (sayings).
The prayer goes, “O God, I seek refuge with You from laziness (that comes) from geriatric old age, from being in debt, and from committing sins. O God! I seek refuge with You from the punishment of the Hell Fire, the afflictions of the grave, the punishment in the grave, and the evil of the affliction of poverty and from the evil of the affliction caused by Al Masih Ad-Dajjal. O God! Wash away my sins with the water of snow and hail, and cleanse my heart from the sins as a white garment is cleansed of filth, and let there be a far-away distance between me and my sins as You have set far away the East and the West from each other.”
As Muhammed recited this prayer, immediately two scripture passages from the Torah popped into my mind. I had memorized them long ago. I quoted these verses to Muhammad. He, too, was amazed at the close similarities.
Here are the Torah passages: The first is a statement by the prophet Isaiah “‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like (white) wool’” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV). And the second is a passage penned by the prophet King David, “He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions (sins) from us” (Psalm 103:7-12 NIV). In still another Psalm, David cries out to God, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7 NIV).
Now, higher textual critics might try to argue that the Prophet Muhammad had in some way come in contact with a copy of the Torah before he authored his prayer. But there is no evidence that the Prophet ever saw these verses, and it is well known that the Prophet Mohammad was illiterate–not able to either read or write.
My Palestinian friend’s explanation was excitedly clear, “See, Sam! The same God who revealed his words to the prophets David and Isaiah also revealed these same truths to Prophet Mohammad.”
The Antichrist appears
There were four Arabic words in the prayer, however, that I didn’t clearly understand—the words “Al Masih ad-Dijjal.” I recognized al Masih as meaning “the Messiah,” but soon I would realize that when combined with ad Dijjal (“the false”), it would mean the “false Messiah.” I discovered that these words refer to the coming of the Antichrist. In essence, the Prophet Muhammad is saying, “O God, save me from the evil of the affliction that will be caused by the Antichrist.”
Having grown up in evangelical Christian circles, I realize that Evangelicals and Muslims share a common belief in remarkably similar end-time scenarios. According to both faiths, the “end times” are quickly approaching, and soon all humankind will be held accountable.
Eschatology (from the Greek word eskatos which means last) in both Islam and Christianity speak of a coming Day of Resurrection, also known by Christians as the Rapture. There will be a sudden, loud trumpet call from the heavens, when the living and the dead will be gathered to face the al Qiyāmah or Great Judgment.
According to Islam, this will be the day that all humankind, past and present, are presented before the judgment seat of God to answer for their faith or unbelief in God and his revealed word. All men and women will be held accountable for those good and bad things done on earth against God and to others.
The time of the event is not specified, although there are major and minor signs which have been foretold to happen, that will bring about the end of time and judgment. There are many verses in the Qur’an, the Torah and the New Testament that contain information about this impending Day of Resurrection and/or Day of Judgment.
End times and the return of Messiah Jesus
Like Christianity, Islam not only teaches a resurrection of the dead and the Day of Judgment, it also speaks about a final tribulation and eternal division of the righteous and wicked. Islamic apocalyptic literature, as do Christian prophecies, describes a final battle between Satan and God as Armageddon, often known in Arabic as fitnah, malāhim (or ghaybah in Shī‘a Islam). And both Christianity and Islam teach that the righteous will be rewarded with the eternal pleasures of Jannah (paradise or heaven), while the unrighteous are punished forever in Jahannam (hell).
Much of the writing and teaching about the end times is apocalyptic, frightening and threatening. Many mainstream churches will tell you to not take these teachings literally.
A period of tribulation is also described in Qur’anic hadiths with various levels of ecclesiastical veracity, support and enlightenment. But, it’s true the hadiths describe the end times with more specificity than the Qur’an, freely warning of signs that will proceed the end of life as we know it.
The Torah, the New Testament and the Qur’an all describe times of terrible corruption and chaos along with heavenly signs, wars and seismic activity. Messiah Jesus will return, will do battle with the Antichrist or Satan. and will triumph; leading to the liberation of many who have been incarcerated because of fighting against Antichrist. This is said to be followed by a time of serenity with all people living godly values, true to their faith.
This period of peace is referred to by many Christians as the Great Millennium—a thousand years of peace on earth where Christ will rule and every knee shall bow in obedience to him and God (Philippians 2:10).
While there are significant differences in the interpretation of revelation, even among Christians (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox), I was surprised to learn that Muslims, too, eagerly anticipate the return of the Messiah Jesus and are commanded in the Qur’an to listen to his instruction and obey him. “When Jesus came with clear signs, he said: ‘Now have I come to you with wisdom, and in order to make clear to you some of the (points) on which you dispute: therefore fear God and obey me” (Qur’an 43:63).
Anyone who tells you they know who the Antichrist will be, beware! There are millions of fierce opinions out there, and people will fight at the drop of the hat to defend their personal interpretations of the holy books and beliefs. Eschatology easily turns into belligerent, antagonistic squabbling over who has the truth about the future.
In the meantime, I find it much safer to leave the guessing and theatrics to Hollywood or the tabloid news media!
Jesus himself warned us that many false “christs” will come, adding, “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it” (Matthew 24: 26 NIV).
Many have used the notion of the Antichrist to do harm or to pray down the wrath of God on another leader or their political opponents. Remember this bizarre indictment during the 2008 US presidential campaign?
References: Wikipedia, CNN, The Holy Qur’an Text and Commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Bible (New International Version)
German and Saudi rappers mix it up
German Consul General Rolf Theodor Schuster held a “mind-blowing” concert put on by German and Saudi rappers at his residence here in Jeddah on Wednesday evening, January 30. This live performance was given ample coverage in the local Saudi Gazette. I went out to dinner with these rappers and hip hop artists later in the evening.
A “Jeddah Hip Hop Jam,” organized by the German Consulate General in cooperation with Universal Legends Entertainment, was a cross-cultural event which featured well-known German singer and producer Max Herre and Saudi rapper “Qusai.” Qusai has made quite a name for himself, having co-hosted MTV Arabia’s Hip Hop Na music competition back in 2007. Since then, he has hosted the two latest editions of Arab TV’s Arabs Got Talent, and he has won the epithet of “Middle East’s Hip-Hop Ambassador.” Qusai and Herre were accompanied by talented Jeddah hip hop crews “J-FAM” and “Run Junction.”
The Artists channeled a mixture of emotions through their music ranging from concern for the latest social developments in the region to a genuine respect for the traditional Arabic and Muslim culture.
The Saudi Gazette gave an excellent review of the the evening’s music, stating, “The concert showed a rare acknowledgement of Saudi artists’ level of maturity and their ability to portray their exact socio-cultural context without suggesting stereotypical hip-hop rhymes as well as allowing deeper understanding of the German hip-hop tradition which is somewhat influenced by the Middle East.”
Three-day workshop for aspiring Saudi rappers
The live performances were followed by a three-day workshop involving 60 young local aspiring rappers and producers. The workshop enabled the upcoming Saudi musicians a chance to personally meet and share experiences with Qusai, Herre and J-FAM, who recorded a song together, premiering their collaborative work at the event.
The concert was opened by the energetic and Saudi-based acts Run Junction and J-FAM. Both crews paid a musical tribute to Jeddah, creating a pleasant atmosphere, followed by German rapper Herre, who enthusiastically shared information about his 20 years of experience in the music industry.
Herre was greeted enthusiastically by the audience. Responding to his local devotees, he encouraged them to look around them for inspiration. He said, “I find inspiration in personal experiences and the society that surrounds me. The social consciousness demonstrated in these years by young Arab citizens who took action to defend their rights was a great stimulus for my own creativity.”
Herre said he was impressed by the local Saudi talent and encouraged the rappers to come out with their own original stories.
Life’s experiences are their inspiration
Herre was interviewed by The Saudi Gazette, and there he spoke about inspiration that comes from hard times and good times. He said Saudi rap must be about Saudi experiences. “I always tell young talents to talk about their lives and experiences exploiting the lyrical potentialities of their native language instead of imitating American rappers.”
Herre also said networking with other artists was crucial. ”Before competing, it’s important to be united through a common networking platform. It’s fundamental to go on the internet, search for other rap crews from the region, country or town and exploit any networking occasion.”
Qusai entertained the enthusiastic Jeddah crowd with some of his popular hits in both English and Arabic.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Qusai explained the concept behind his latest album, “I believe the millennium is the true change that started in 2011 when Arabs woke up and started to express themselves. And change is certain; it happened, it’s happening, and it will happen. It’s inevitable.”
A big “Hats off!” to the German consulate for their support to these artists!
Here’s one of Qusai’s songs from his album Yalla:
Back in the desert, hunting for quail
Abdullah Al Ghamdi picked me up yesterday afternoon, and we headed for a rendezvous with my Bedouin friends near the Red Sea coast town of Radigh–about 150 miles north of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There we met up with the Olayan brothers Majed and Fahad and their friend Majed Bandar. Abdullah and I jumped into Fahad’s Toyota 4×4 Cruiser, and we drove out over and around the dunes into the Arabian desert.
It led to an afternoon hunting desert quail and remembering how God provided manna and quail to the Children of Israel as they grumbled their way through the Sinai wilderness for some 40 years. Alas, having shot no quail, we set our sights on a few plastic bottles for target practice, and then headed into a nearby town to purchase some fresh red sea fish from a local market. Then we enjoyed an evening of Bedouin music, fried fish, rice and fresh frothy camel milk from a camel that was standing a few steps away!
The majority of Bedouins in the past have traditionally lived a nomadic lifestyle, spreading from the Persian Gulf all the way across northern Africa to the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa, and from the borders of Turkey as far south as Yemen.
The word “bedouin” comes from the Arab word bedou, meaning ”desert dweller.” Estimates today indicate nomadic Bedouins constitute about one-tenth of the population of the Middle East.
In my many meetings with Bedouins it has become all too apparent, that Bedouins regard themselves as the “true Arabs” and the “heirs of glory.” The family I visited yesterday were exultant when they showed me some of their 60 incredible camels and more than 1,000 very well shepherded goats.
I’m very grateful to my Bedouin friends for hosting me for one of the most incredible days of my life.
Life in the desert
Bedouin life is generally pastoral-desert; herding camels, sheep, goats and occasionally, when the climate is not so harsh, cattle. Through the centuries they have migrated seasonally, depending on grazing conditions. In winter, when there is some rain, they migrate deeper into the desert. In the hot, dry summer time, they camp around secure water sources. Bedouins define themselves as members of tribes and families. People are divided into social classes, depending on ancestry and profession. Passing from one class to another is relatively feasible, but marriage between a man and a woman of different meets with difficulty.
Traditionally, the Bedouin’s home, the tent, is divided into three sections by curtains: the men’s section, the family section and the kitchen. In the men’s area, guests are received around the hearth where the host prepares coffee over the fire. This is the center of Bedouin social life. Tea is served as a welcome drink; coffee is usually prepared after the meal and is the last drink before the guest leaves. The serving of food and drink represents the generous hospitality of the host. The men pass the evening trading news and discussing their animals. Separated by a curtain, the women gather in the family area and kitchen along with their small children to bake bread and prepare the main meal. A dinner of rice and chunks of mutton or lamb are usually then served to the gathered guests.
Women occupy a very important position in Bedouin society. Not only do they raise the children, they also share in herding the sheep, milking the animals, cooking, spinning yarn and making family clothes. Some even weave the heavy cloth that constitutes the tent.
Around our fire last evening, the Olayan brothers recited ancient Bedouin poetry and sang, accompanied by traditional percussion drums and cymbals Poetry has been a central cultural form of expression for the Bedouins since ancient times. In the early centuries of Islamic history, I’m told Bedouin poetry represented the ideal standard for other literary achievements, as well as for the refinement of the Arabic language.
To mark the end of the evening, Ali, our host, burned incense in a mabkhara (incense burner) passing it to each of his guests to inhale and fan their clothes.
The traditional Bedouin foods are fresh camel or goat milk and meat. Bedouins usually sell and barter their animals and meat in exchange for fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices from other tribes or village markets.
Bedouin society has a strict code of honor which dictates proper behavior for all members, including children. Because of the demanding nature of the Bedouin lifestyle, children are expected to assume a considerable amount of responsibility in order to help their families survive. Although modernization has changed the Bedouin lifestyle somewhat, emphasis is placed on teaching children to carry on traditional ways of life. While the advancement of modern technology is not considered terribly important to children’s education, as we sat around the fire last evening, I did notice two of the younger boys were captivated by video games they were playing on their dad’s smart phone.
Faith among the Bedouins
Islam’s prophet Mohammed was born and raised in the Bedouin tribe of the Quraish during the 7th Century. The Qur’an, believed to be first revealed to Mohammed by the Archangel Gabriel, was soon after written and compiled in the Arabic language. The first converts to Islam came from the Bedouin tribes living in and around Mecca. Therefore, Islam is embedded and deeply rooted in Bedouin culture.
Although there are pockets of Christians in Middle East Bedouin tribes, especially in Palestine, by and large the word Bedouin is synonymous with being a follower of Islam or a “submitter” to God. Prayer is an integral part of Bedouin life. As there are no formal mosques in the desert, they pray where they are, performing the ritual washing, or with sand where water is not readily available. There they humbly bow their faces to the earth, facing Mecca, five times a day.
Challenges of modern society
In modern Arab states and Israel, Bedouins are faced with many challenges in their lifestyle, as their traditional Islamic, tribal culture has begun to mix with western practices. Men are more likely to adjust and interact with the modern cultures, but in many places women are still bound by honor and tradition to mostly stay within the family dwelling. They have in the past lacked opportunity for education and advancement, but in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Dubai and other more advanced nations, times are changing.
As well, governments have a strong tendency to regulate Nomadic lifestyles since it is only then that taxation works. Providing services for the people also works best in an urban setting. Today, the Arab world has one of the highest rates of urbanization in the world.
As traditional Bedouin lifestyle become less and less attractive, in Saudi Arabia, especially on the steppes many of these desert tribes live on, as tradition has a strong hold. But today, many Bedouins are now bowing to increasing pressure, opting to settle in urban areas. It was at a South Jeddah camel market last June that I met the Olayan brothers.
Today, it is not uncommon to see a young Bedouin family building a house and living in it while their parents pitch their tent in the rear garden, where they will live very happily until the end of their days.
I hope you’ll take a few moments to enjoy this short video of Jordanian Bedouin musicians!
Sources: The Olayan brothers, Wikipedia, YouTube, InterNations, Facts & Details
Riding the dunes near Jeddah
Yesterday my Saudi friend Ra’id Baty came by to pick me up. He said, “Sam, we’re taking you to something really special. We’re going to a car rally in the desert near Mecca.” I really didn’t know what to expect, but I quickly changed into my Saudi thawb and climbed on board.We headed south from Jeddah in Ra’id’s Toyota 4J Cruiser, eventually turning off the road. As we took off directly into the desert, we flew by several other SUVs and suped-up trucks that had stopped to let some air out of their tires in order to get more traction in the sand. We were roler-coastering up and down over several miles of huge sand dunes.
So now I’ve discovered a favorite weekend pastime for many Saudi young people and adults—“dune bashing.”
A very popular desert sport
I was told that in other Arab states there are “dune bashing” tours for tourists, but in Saudi Arabia people take to the desert dunes in their own vehicles. Here you drive your own car, or you rent an ATV from some local Bedouins.
We continued in Ra’id’s Cruiser until we happened on what must have been a thousand other Saudis who were gathered with their 4×4’s of all makes and models, some modified with thousand-horsepower engines.
We drove almost straight up one of the more moderate dunes and parked our 4×4 on top. We got out and joined other onlookers in the swirling Saudi desert sands for an amazing two-hour show.
A tricky sport to master
Ra’id said the soft sands can make driving very complicated, and just having a 4×4 vehicle may not prove to be enough for a successful dune bashing outing. He said knowing how to get unstuck in the treacherous sand is just as important as learning how to drive in the desert.
I found out that getting stuck will not only be hard on your vehicle, but can also possibly leave you stranded in the sand for hours while you wait for help. If you’re driving alone through the dunes (not recommended!), many drivers look for camel manure or hoofprints, as these are said to be sure signs of hard and compacted sand.
A word to my environmentally conscious friends! For any who might be concerned about the environmental degradation of the desert, I assure you that any disturbances to the dunes are quickly corrected, as the dunes are constantly in motion, being pushed along by the desert winds.
Take a second to watch this short clip of a Saudi “dune basher.” This is the kind of extreme competitive rivalry we saw:
Jana, Janulik and I are wishing you all a very merry Christmas!
May your friends and families realize the joy, love and peace of God during this season, and may we all dedicate our lives anew to enlisting in God’s army of peacemakers around the world.
Our gift to you: Take a few minutes to enjoy this contemporary arrangement of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
My work here in the Middle East, in the field of religious reconciliation and Middle East peace continues. This morning I was thinking about all the new friendships I’ve made while being here. I thank God for all these new friends from so many different nations–Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Indonesian, the Philippines, China, Pakistan, Bahrain, Iran, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and, of course, Saudi Arabia. I’ve learned a lot about all the different cultures and faiths here and in other parts of the world, and they are learning about America through me.
All of our peoples face difficult challenges today. There is so much political and economic unrest, but we do not live as those who have no hope!
During the next few days, I hope to join Jana and Janulik in the Carpathian Alps of northern Slovakia for a very white Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Pray that this will be possible.
Despite international wars and conflicts, and despite the tragic gun violence in our own beloved America, we must not lose heart. As we celebrate Jesus’ birth, let us rededicate our lives to the peace work God has commisioned us to do.
To our Jewish, Muslim and Christian friends in America and around the world, we love you, and we thank you for your prayers, correspondence and encouragement during the past year!
May God’s perfect peace be ever present with you and yours!
The whole world mourns
For many of us Americans, Christmas lights celebrating Jesus’ birth will burn a bit brighter this Christmas as we reflect on the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. We’ll continue to remember the twenty-seven victims–20 children ages 6 and 7 , the six school teachers and principal and the shooter’s mother–all gunned down within minutes by a single, crazed gunman.
This Christmas there will, no doubt, be family conversations about the horrendous events that unfolded in Newtown, and we will continue to pray for the families who lost their children and loved ones.
The sadness of this heinous act has been felt around the world. Expressions of concern and solidarity with the Newtown families are coming from many nations. Reports on the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre have appeared in media all over the world. From Australia to England and France, newspapers and TV news programs are reporting the tragedy.
As an expatriate living in Saudi Arabia, I’ve read and heard condolences from several Saudi public officials to the Newtown families. English language dailies The Saudi Gazette and Arab News have reported extensively about the killing of these innocent American school children.
There are now more than 80,000 Saudi students studying in US colleges and universities. I encourage Saudi young people to visit America—to see what is decent about my country—to better understand the prevailing goodness of the American people.
But I’m often asked by moms and dads at our neigborhood mosque, “Do you think it’s really safe for my son (or daughter) to go to an American university?” I try to assure them that all will be okay. I’m hesitant to share with them about my own experiences with guns in the United States.
My own American gun experiences
Gun violence is not new to America. Somehow during my younger years I managed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on five different occasions. That’s right. Before I was 25 years old I had guns pointed at me five times—the first time in 1965, while I was a student at Bob Jones Academy in Greenville, South Carolina.
I joined other students on a weekend “extension” to Charlotte, North Carolina, to pass out evangelistic gospel tracts on Charlotte streets. There we witnessed to strangers about our faith in God. I was just 17-years-old when two guys in their early 20s pulled a pistol on me and took my wallet.
The last time was in January, 1975, in Niagara Falls, New York. I was leaving a neighborhood restaurant when two guys approached me and asked for a ride to the Pine Avenue exit on the Robert Moses Parkway. I agreed to give them a ride.
After they got in my car, one of the men pulled a sawed-off shotgun from under his ski jacket. He cocked it and held it to my head, shouting, “Drive!” They directed me down a dark, winding country road. They asked how much gas was in my car. I realized they wanted my car and that I was dispensable.
Although scared, I somehow managed to contain myself. I remember praying silently and repeatedly, “Oh, God, help me!”
As I continued driving down that road with that shotgun being held to my head, there suddenly appeared the lit up entrance of the Martin-Marietta Small Aircraft Factory. There was a guard at the gate. I turned a fast 90-degree left angle, driving directly through the gate without slowing down. I passed the yelling security guard who was trying to flag me down. I brought my car to a stop, switched off the ignition, and threw my keys out the window. The guard was approaching my car with his gun drawn. I told the two thugs they could get out of my car and make a run for it, and I wouldn’t say anything. They got out of my car and ran back through the gate and into a nearby field.
I later found out from police that these two men had just robbed a bank and were on the run.
Even if I had had a hand gun and tried to use it on any one of these occasions, I most likely would have been shot before I could have pointed the gun at any of these criminals.
My saddest gun experience, however, was in September 1972 and involved my roommate Wei Li at Faith Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
Wei was from Taipei, Taiwan. Two weeks after arriving in the US he got a part-time job at a nearby Chinese restaurant so he could send money back to his wife and two children in Taipei. His second night on the job I received a phone call from the emergency room at Einstein Memorial Hospital. The emergency staff had found my phone number in Wei’s wallet and got in touch with me. I was told to come immediately to the hospital—that Wei had been shot during a robbery.
Wei died before I got to Einstein Memorial.
The Faith Seminary student body and faculty raised money to ship Wei’s body back to his family. We held a memorial service. The incident greatly affected the students and seminary faculty.
Reaction to the Newtown massacre
What is new about US gun violence is the mass killings during the past 20 years.
As Americans we’ve become rather numb to an occasional murder. We’ve even become accustomed to the occasional mall or high school shooting–but it’s this massacre of 6 and 7-year-olds that has shaken our nation to its core. There is now a public outcry to respond more effectively to gun violence in our homeland.
It’s being reported that the overwhelming majority of American gun owners are now supporting thorough background checks on anyone purchasing a gun.
May God give us the wisdom and the fortitude to build on this wave of public concern—to do what’s right. Doing nothing is no longer an option.
You see, it isn’t just about Newtown. There have been 70 shootings in US schools since 1995, and the number of shootings in shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants and even places of worship are known to be numerous. Gun homicides in the US topped 10,000 last year.
The Second Amendment
Now is our time to take a resolute stand against gun violence in the United States. While we will never remove all guns from society, nor do I think we should; however, it is our opportunity to take a look at the Second Amendment and precisely how it should be interpreted in light of modern society.
This amendment to the US Constitution states, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Some have suggested we leave it to the individual states. They ask, why force upon the entire country a law that many don’t want? The Second Amendment, however, is a part of the Constitution. It is federal law and cannot be interpreted arbitrarily by each state. It applies equally to all states and must be interpreted accordingly.
We must acknowledge that times change and there have been incredible advances in the design and manufacturing of firearms. We no longer have the difficult-to-load, flintlock muskets of our forefathers. When authoring the Second Amendment, our Founding Fathers could not possibly have imagined semi-automatic and assault weapons with high-capacity clips (magazines) in the hands of our citizens.
A few years back I joined friends for a late night tour of Washington, DC. One of our stops was at the Jefferson Memorial. It was there I read Thomas Jefferson’s words in panel four of the memorial: “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
For more than 100 years, the Second Amendment’s “right of the people to keep and bear arms” was interpreted as meaning for “a well regulated militia” in defense of the state.
During the past decade, though, the US Supreme Court has given a more liberal interpretation of the amendment that just about any kind of firearm is suitable for personal protection and personal use. The primary US Supreme Court Second Amendment decisions during those years included District of Columbia v. Heller, (2008); and McDonald v. Chicago (2010).
In both Heller and McDonald the U.S. Supreme Court supported the individual rights model, under which the Second Amendment protects the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms in much the same way as the First Amendment protects the right to free speech. It effectively eliminated laws against handguns.
Craig Whitney, former foreign correspondent and editor at the New York Times, has just authored Living with Guns. The book searches for answers while re-examining why the right to bear arms was enshrined in the Bill of Rights and how it has come to be misunderstood today. Whitney looks to colonial times, surveying the degree to which guns were a part of everyday life. Finally, blending history and media reporting, Whitney explores how twentieth-century turmoil and culture war has led to today’s climate of activism, partisanship, and stalemate, in a nation where 60 million gun owners now possess more 300 million guns. I recommend the book to you.
Mental illness a factor
In the wake of the Newtown shooting, is the discourse on gun control being sidelined by a focus on mental healthcare? Some think so.
Robert A. Levy, chairman of the Cato Institute, told The New York Times: “To reduce the risk of multi-victim violence, we would be better advised to focus on early detection and treatment of mental illness.”
But there is overwhelming epidemiological evidence that the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts. Only about 4 percent of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness.
Bold solutions to American gun violence
Many believe semi-automatic weapons, and certainly assault weapons and magazines or clips holding scores of bullets, should be banned all together. Legislation is being prepared by Senator Dianne Feinstein to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.
A Maryland taskforce recommends confiscating guns from individuals considered threats to themselves or others.
A petitions is being circulated to demand that gun manufacturers be held liable for crimes committed by their products.
But, can we do more?
Motor vehicles in the hands of unskilled, untrained drivers can also be deadly. Because of this, we have in all states mandated laws regulating the use of motor vehicles. We are issued title and tag at each point of sale for each vehicle we own. Driver training is required. We’re required to take a written test and pass practical driving test. There are health requirements. Liability insurance is required for each vehicle owned. Then there are renewals and inspections. There are still penalties for operating a vehicle while impaired.
Would any of these requirements be unreasonable for gun owners? Many think not.
Just as driving laws are administered by various state motor vehicle departments, it’s said a national program of gun registration and licensing could be administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Registration and licensing fees would cover the expenses of administering this expanded federal program.
And what about liability insurance for guns? A retired US navy commander has come up with a novel proposal. Gun owners should be required to have liability insurance on every gun owned, and gun sellers should be required to carry insurance on every gun sold.
NRA’s role in violence
The National Rifle Association (NRA), America’s most powerful gun lobby, some believe, bears a lot of responsibility for much of the proliferation of guns and violence in American society. The NRA collects dues from more than 4.3 million members, but most of its $150 million budget spent on lobbying Congress and various state legislatures comes from foreign and US arms manufacturers.
Remington, Smith & Wesson and a plethora of profiteering weapons makers pump money into NRA causes. The industry, in my opinion, let’s their desire for enormous profits supercede their concern for the wellbeing of American men, women and children.
The NRA Political Victory Fund (NRA-PCF) provides massive funding to pro-gun politicians’ campaigns while declaring all-out war on any politician who doesn’t completely agree with NRA positions.
Over the years, the NRA has bullied state legislators and US senators and representatives into weakening gun restrictions. Already mentioned, was the NRA’s legal support in the US Supreme Court’s decisions siding with Heller and McDonald.
The NRA has consistently funded political campaigns such as that of 2012 Iowan Republican congressional candidate Ben Lange. ”Ben Lange supports the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago, which held that the Second Amendment guarantees a fundamental, individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms for law-abiding citizens in Iowa and everywhere in America.” Lange lost.
The NRA spent nearly $19 million in the last federal election cycle. This money is not just spent to defeat Democrats but also to beat Republicans who don’t toe the line.
Tennessee Republican state lawmaker Debra Maggart was a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. She had an A+ rating with the group and even supported allowing guns in bars. But when Maggart decided not to back a bill allowing guns in cars – even on properties where the owners did not want guns, the NRA turned against her. The group did everything in its power to ensure her election defeat by alledging Maggart “supports President Obama.” They succeeded.
The budget of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has been deliberately decimated by NRA lobbyists and their supportive lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Operating now with only a part-time director, ATF is understaffed and has absolutely no ability to track the massive flood of firearms being sold across America.
In an editorial on June 27, 2011, the Washington Post stated, “Concerned to the point of paranoia about the erosion of the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, the National Rifle Association and far too many lawmakers have fought against virtually every proposal to empower the bureau to better track and crack down on illegal firearms.” The editorial further pointed out that NRA pressure on Congress had kept the ATF ”rudderless for the past six years by blocking confirmation of new directors.”
There are now more than 310 million privately owned guns in America—that’s more than one for every man, woman and child. We have many more guns per capita than any other developed nation, and these guns have not made America safer. To the contrary, we have many more violent gun deaths than any other developed nation.
The NRA is last week promised “meaningful contributions” in the current national discussion. But don’t hold your breath in hopes of any NRA substantive cooperation in curtailing American gun violence. It is the belief of many that the NRA is a master of deceit and is proven in the art of psychological warfare, constantly jockeying and repositioning itself with the ebb and flow of changing public opinion–using scare tactics to confuse and frighten people.
On December 22, 2012, Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the gun rights group, showed no willingness to act civily. Instead, LaPierre called for a “plan of absolute protection” which includes a call for more guns–arming teachers and putting “armed police officers” in every single school across America.
New York mayor Michael Bloomberg called LaPierre’s performance a “shameful invasion of the crisis.”
Having armed guards in our school would offer little help. There was an armed guard on duty at Columbine High School, 1999, when two students went on a rampage killing classmates and staff. Still there were 17 dead and 21 students injured, some seriously. And, remember the military chaplain that started firing at soldiers and army personnel on the Fort Hood base. He was on a secure military facility. That lone gunman managed to leave behind 43 casualties and 13 dead.
Now is the time for the NRA to change course, recognizing our nation’s critical state of affairs, working with the President and Congress to implement new regulations and restrictions on American gun use.
Big-city mayors remind us
Throughout the US, city mayors are asking for help in combatting gun violence. They want us to remember that gun violence is not simply about suburban massacres, as alarming as they are, but about daily terror in America’s cities.
In Camden, New Jersey, a city that has already suffered 65 violent deaths in 2012, surpassing the previous record of 58 violent deaths set in 1995, 50 people turned out. Some turned up bearing white crosses, to mourn a homeless woman known affectionately as the “cat lady” who was stabbed to death (50 of the deaths so far this year resulted from gunshot wounds.)
In Philadelphia, on the same Sunday, city leaders came together at a roundtable to discuss their own epidemic of gun violence. The year-to-date total of homicides is 322. Last year, 324 were killed. Of those victims, 154 were 25 or younger. A councilman at the roundtable asked, “How come as a city we’re not in an outrage? How come we’re not approaching this from a crisis standpoint?”
CNN reports that the concerns go far beyond Philadelphia. In the week following the Newtown massacre, there were at least a dozen gun homicides in Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore and St. Louis alone. In a year of highly publicized mass shootings, inner-city neighborhoods that are plagued by gun violence have continued to be neglected and ignored.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, large metropolitan areas account for more than two-thirds of deaths by gun violence each year, with inner cities most affected. The majority of the victims are young, ranging in age from their early teens to mid-20s, and black.
Unfortunately, paranoid extremists among us, in usual fashion, are rushing off to buy more guns and ammo while shouting their enduring mantra “Obama is coming for our guns!”
Bullet Blocker and other US merchandisers are busy hawking bulletproof vests and backpacks for America’s elementary school children. And some are supporting the NRA demand that more guns is the answer–that American school teachers must be armed and calling for armed security guards in every school.
“We the people”
What happens now depends on “we the people.” Will horrific gun violence in America be accepted as the new normal? Or, will “we the people” determine a new course for our nation—one that seeks to minimize gun violence, making mass killings and daily homicides in the US rare and uncommon.
In closing, I want to put a human face on the Newtown tragedy—that of 6-year-old Ana Marguez-Greene. Ana’s dad posted a brief one-minute video on YouTube in Ana’s memory. I’ve included it below. Watch as Ana sings, and then enlist yourself in the change that is needed in our nation and the world.
Information sources: CNN, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Arab News, The Saudi Gazette, International Herald Tribune, The Chicago Tribune, ABC News, YouTube.com, The US Centers for Disease Control, Associated Press, Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein.