Archive for the 'Religion' Category

Missing the glaring similarities

March 23rd, 2009

It’s sometimes surprising just how narrow the focus of some people can be, when they compare themselves, or a group they identify with, to people who aren’t them.

People will tend to expect others to see them in a much better light than they would themselves see other people placed in the same situation. Or than how they would expect other people to see other people in the same situation.

An obvious, and loaded, source for examples around here (Israel) is how many Israeli citizens see the neighbouring Arabs and Muslims. All too many times people react quite severely to bad/improper/unacceptable behaviour from them, while fully admitting they’d behave very similarly in the same situation. And they don’t see a problem, because it’s different. Somehow. In a way they can rarely articulate.

I’ll probably, laziness permitting, write a lot more about quite a few conversations like this that I had in the past. But this particular post is about a single issue, though I did talk with several different people who feel the same as the single example I’ll present here.

This one is not about any issue specific to Israel, but rather about the rise in Islam, or in the amount of Muslims, in Europe.

I was talking with this person, an Israeli Jew, and he mentioned reading about the “problem” of Muslims in Europe. He kept on for a while about how the Europeans[1] are having a problem, how it’s becoming a large issue there, and how it’s going to end in riots and violence.

So far nothing you can’t find in the headlines of a lot of newspapers, though his opinion was certainly on the anti-Muslim side.

Then he went on to explain that he completely understands why the Europeans don’t like the Muslims . It’s because they live in their own segregations, keep their own different culture and their own different customs, dress differently, and generally try to keep themselves different and unique instead of trying to completely blend in and assimilate themselves in the local culture of the country.

Funny that. Seems to be nearly identical reasons for Anti-Semitism against Jews. Let’s say circa World War II ? Separate communities? Check. Keeping their own different culture? Different religion? Different rituals, special days, behaviour codes? Check. Different cloths? Check[2].

But according to him (another reminder, this “him” is actually several people), not liking Muslims because of these reasons is fine and understandable. Not liking Jews because of these reasons, though, was/is bad, racist, and completely unjustifiable.

I was already staring incredulously while listening to this, when I was exposed to another gem. It’s not just that these Muslims keep themselves different, you see. It’s that they plot to make everyone be like them, to take control of Europe by any means necessary, and then take over the rest of the world.

Seriously? All these people, many regular everyday people, all planning together to control the world?

No, I was told. Of course it’s not all of them. But they do what their elders and religious leaders tell them to. And those, who lead them, they have a plan, and are driving towards it.

Ahem. Right. I heard about that somewhere. A while ago. I think it was a little bit different when I heard about it, though. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, anyone?

After being persecuted and attacked by people believing such nonsensical hoaxes, I’m talking to Jews (some religious, some old enough to have personal experience) who have no problem believing the same things, based on the same proof (none whatsoever), because it is about some other group that they don’t like.

And no, I was told, of course it’s not the same. How isn’t it the same? Because The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are vicious lies, but these Muslim leaders really are out to control the world.

I admit that as a Jew living in Israel I’m not feeling very happy about growing percentage of Europe’s population being Muslim. Especially since the lack of love really does go both ways, and most of them are maybe being taught to hate me a lot more than I personally don’t like them. But this sort of tortured logic (or lack thereof), wild accusations, and outright hypocritical nonsense… appals me.

You don’t like people because of who they are, or what they believe? Fine, that’s your right. But be frank about it. And stop it there. For someone who has been, or whose parents have been, in the exact same situation, and thought it horrible, to now be on the complete other side? And to feel fine and justified about it? Not to notice the similarities? Not even after they’re pointed out to you, though it’s obvious enough that it shouldn’t be required? Enough to get me depressed about humanity.

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  1. Ignoring the fact that these Muslims are Europeans, and citizens of their respective countries. None of the people I talked to seemed to pay attention to this apparently minor fact.[back]
  2. In many places, though not all. Which I suppose is the same for the Muslims.[back]

Flat Earth – the second largest geographical method in the world

February 23rd, 2009

It’s very easy to be the second-largest anything in the world, when the first largest group is defined as everything that’s actually relevant, and you’re defined as everything else.

A very large forum/bulletin-boards website here in Israel, Tapuz (Hebrew only), recently opened a new forum about Classical Homoeopathy.

That by itself is fine. I mean, they do discuss pure nonsense in the forum, even dangerous nonsense given that they recommend to people not to take proper medical care for their problems, but a forum about homoeopathy can be expected to discuss homoeopathy.

What amused me was the launch publication they did in their other forums. They posted links to this new forum, with a text that can be roughly translated as:

Want to be exposed to the wonders of homoeopathy, the second largest healing method in the world?

And, well, technically it’s pretty correct. There’s the first largest healing method, being science-based medicine, that covers all sub-healing-methods that can be proven to work and heal people. And then there are the other healing methods, in this case grouped under the term Homoeopathy[1], the ones that give people a healing chance which is equivalent to the random chance of spontaneous recovery, or to the healing from a placebo effect.

Since all you have are the two options, it’s pretty obvious that the second is, by definition, the second largest of its kind in the world.

Being technically correct doesn’t make that statement semantically correct, though.

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  1. Yes, I’m aware that Homoeopathy is just one kind of woo pretending to be medicine, and not the whole basket of them. In this case, however, the forum seems to happily deal with the others as well, and they clearly refer to it as anything besides actual medicine[back]

The Gregorian New Year’s Eve in Israel

January 3rd, 2007

A few days ago was the new year’s eve, by the Gregorian calendar. These days the Gregorian calendar is very common, so I expect it merited some new year’s eve celebrations even in places that officially go by other calendars.

Like here in Israel, where there’s the Jewish calendar. Officially, anyway. The Gregorian calendar isn’t official, but it is the de-facto calendar used almost anywhere. Large parts of the public sector (Meaning anything government related) use the Jewish calendar on official documents, but even those usually come with the Gregorian dates.

Because hardly any person uses the Hebrew calendar, or care about it, for any reason beyond knowing when the holidays are, or for religious purposes. It may not be very politic to say so, but that’s the case. Almost anything and everything goes by the Gregorian calendar.

One of the dates which people do notice in the Hebrew calendar is our very own new year’s, “Rosh HaShana”, for the start of the Hebrew calendar. So people feel very uncomfortable calling December 31st the new year’s eve. It’s the new civic year’s eve, or something like that. The new tax year’s eve, if you’re an accountant with a sense of humour.

Many people don’t bother celebrating. Many more do celebrate, but like to pretend they don’t. It’s not really celebration, just a special meal, or meeting with a few friends for a party and drinks. Not a celebration at all. Honest.

It can be quite amusing.

What is stranger is another term for the evening. Sylvester. Which has a very curious position here.

Globally it’s not a very common name for new year’s eve these days. It is named after pope Silvester I, who died on December 31st.

But that term is currently popular, as far as I know, in only two places. Germany is one. And Israel is the other.

And what makes it so strange that his name is used to refer to the new year’s eve in Israel? Beside the (not insignificant) fact that Christianity isn’t a big religion here, it’s the fact that pope Silvester was a very big anti-semite who was responsible for a large amount of prosecutions of Jews.

Not the kind of person who usually get happy events celebrated in his name. Not in a country mainly full of Jews, anyway

So the name always strikes me as peculiar. If it was the common term world-wide, that would be obvious. But it’s not. Ask most Americans, or most non-German Europeans, about Sylvester, and they won’t have a clue what is it that you refer to.

That’s not hyperbole. I tried. I also know Israeli people who wished friends abroad a happy Sylvester, only to be met with a question of what is it exactly.

And the name is so prevalent here that it always surprises people. That is what people here know as the term, the only official term, for the Gregorian new year’s eve. So when you wish a foreigner to have a happy foreign holiday, by the name of that foreign holiday, you expect to be understood. And you rarely are.

It also causes problems, of course. Because enough people here actually know who pope Silvester was, and so refuse to celebrate Sylvester. An understandable enough position.

Which can be seen expressed in different ways. Some just refuse to treat the new year’s eve as if something happened. These are the same ones who actually don’t celebrate it at all, not even with a token nod, or a happy new year’s wishes. Others just make doubly sure that they always use the full title of “new civic year” whenever they mention it, emphasising the civic, as if it makes the distinction itself rather than mentioning the new year instead of the name of Silvester.

The large waves of immigration from former USSR countries also drastically increased the scope of the celebrations of new year’s eve. Here it was given token celebrations, while there it was celebrated full-scale. And since the celebrations are, in a large sense, civic and not religious, people keep celebrating it here with the same enthusiasm.

Though there is one problem with this that I never managed to get a good explanation of. The main calendar in most USSR countries when these people emigrated was the Julian one. But here they celebrate on the Gregorian one. Doesn’t it feel like they’re holding the celebration a few days too early? Sure, the Gregorian calendar is the one used here. But by this logic the Jewish calendar is the one used here, so why not celebrate new year’s eve together with Rosh HaShana? It seems inconsistent.

Then again, celebrations and holidays don’t have to be consistent, do they?

Another important aspect of the new year’s eve celebrations, as in many other places in the world, involves drinking a lot of alcohol. That is true for a very large percentage of all those who celebrate. Any excuse for a party. Which makes January 1st one of the non-holiday (officially acknowledged holiday, anyway) days with the highest work absence level in the year.

Quite a lot of people take a vacation, because it’s either that or get to work late with a killer hangover. My office was half deserted when I came to work, and that was the general case throughout the country.

Also, this year a lot more people celebrated new year’s eve than in the previous years. It’s a bold statement, I know. But I base it on facts. Well, on deductions from fact. Mainly, on the fact that the cellular telephony networks were unable to cope with the amount of “Happy new year” SMS messages that were sent close to midnight. Almost anyone I spoke to, and who tried to send such messages, reported getting back a notice that the messages were not sent, and had to retry.

Make me wonder how the systems will cope with wide scale messaging in cases of emergency. Not so well, I believe. Oh, well, here’s a wish for the new year then: May there be no large scale emergencies.

There, that should cover that.

Oh, right, new year’s resolutions. A widespread tradition, where people make bold statements on what they want to do differently, and better, next year. And which people rarely follow through, and usually sheepishly renege on but promise to do better next year. Hmm… OK, new year’s resolution: Not to make any new year’s resolutions I will fail to follow through on. Heh, I think I finally succeeded. Cool.

Warm welcome for ‘Playboy’ in Indonesia

June 16th, 2006

An Islamic group in Indonesia decided to aggressively object the publication of a local Playboy Magazine edition.

Two policemen were injured Wednesday when about 100 demonstrators, most of them Islam Defenders Front (FPI) members, attacked the Playboy Indonesia editorial office in South Jakarta.

Protesters pelted the building with rocks, shattering windows and panicking the tenants.

A very violent reaction. And while 100 aren’t that large a group in general, it’s a very large group if they’re all actually taking part in the riot and not just standing and looking.

There are legitimate ways to object to things you don’t like, but this sort of violence isn’t one of them. If they think there are legal issues, and they claim they do, then they should have used the courts. If they object to the content they should avoid buying the magazine, and encourage others to do the same.

The demonstrators earlier visited National Police Headquarters to complain about the publication of the magazine. They made a bonfire of about 100 copies of the magazine.

Burning about a 100 copies of the magazine is also not the way. And not only because book (and by extension magazine) burning is bad in general. It’s also because in order to create a bonfire of a 100 magazine they had to first purchase those 100 magazines.

This happened before the riot. So these weren’t copied found in the offices by someone breaking in.

Buying the magazine is a good way to encourage publication. It’s demand. Playboy doesn’t care if people read the magazine, or burn it. They earn the same amount of money either way. And either way they can claim the buyers think it’s hot (OK, lousy pun there, sorry).

Plus, imagine how this looks like in the organization’s expense account. Going over the general ledger of an Islamic organization and finding a purchase order for 100 Playboy magazines is bound to make some accountant giggle.

Imagine that, since it’s related to the organization’s goal, they ask the Indonesian equivalent of the IRS for a tax refund…

The Independent Journalists Association (AJI) condemned the attack. AJI secretary-general Abdul Manan said

“According to press regulations, the FPI could face a maximum Rp 500 million fine,” he said.

500 million Indonesian Rupiahs are a little less than $53,000. On the one hand it seems like a small amount of money compared to the damage described. On the other hand in local terms it may be quite a lot, I’m really not sure.

I’m also not sure why someone from a journalistic association is a reliable source in determining the maximum fine the organization may receive for the damages they caused. Even if the lawsuit for damages will be done by the AJI, and not directly by Playboy Indonesia, or the country (remember, policemen were hurt), their lawyer should make these kinds of comments, and preferably base them on what they request in the lawsuit. This, however, just seems pulled out of nowhere.

And just how seriously do these guys take it? Was that just a one-time riot because people got in a frenzy? Well, no, it’s more serious to them than that, according to their leader:

“If the magazine continues to be distributed, the FPI is ready to go to war,” he said

Of course, saying war when you’re an organization, rather than a country, carries a different meaning.

Still, it’s a shame that people can actually consider going to what they consider war for a purpose as important and crucial as preventing publication of a magazine.

Chief editor of Playboy Indonesia Erwin Arnada said

“Playboy Indonesia is in full compliance with Indonesian law and does not, and will not, contain any nude photography. We have also …

What was that? Playboy Indonesia magazine will not contain any nude photography? Hmm…

I never actually opened an issue of Playboy, but aren’t these things supposed to kind of be about… nude photography? Isn’t that like the whole point?

Or is this supposed to be the version where people finally, finally, actually mean it when they say they only read it for the articles?

That’s one way to convince yourself God doesn’t exist

June 11th, 2006

Some guy in Kiev found a unique way to show, or maybe test, his faith in God. He went into the lion’s den in a zoo, expecting God to save him:

“The man shouted ‘God will save me, if he exists,’ lowered himself by a rope into the enclosure, took his shoes off and went up to the lions,” the official said.

The result was not a big surprise. Expect, perhaps, to the man himself:

“A lioness went straight for him, knocked him down and severed his carotid artery.”

I’m not exactly sure what was it supposed to prove. If the guy believed God existed, and that God would protect him, he should have said that instead of an “if he exists”.

Because even assuming God does exist, and is actually bored enough to bail stupid people out of lions’ dens (Mind you, there’s only recorded case, Daniel, and that poor sap didn’t exactly venture into one of his own free will, or solely in order to see if God will save him. Even if you accept that biblical case as fact, a single instance is still a long way from proving God will save anyone going in front of a bunch of lions), this sounds more like a challenge by a sceptic. So it would be perfectly understandable if God would decide to let someone like that become a meal.

Another option is, of course, that God exists, but is the God the lioness believed in. It can be rather safely argued that when you’re stuck in a middle of a large cage, it would actually take an act of God to get an extra-large protein-pack jump in and walk towards you while making loud noises.

Then again, maybe God doesn’t exist. In that case the events that took place also make perfect sense. It just begs the question of why did the idiot jump in there, if he wasn’t sure himself. Him being killed doesn’t prove the point one way or the other.

Actually, him not getting killed wouldn’t have proven the point either. But it might have had a stronger case if he walked in there claiming his belief in God, instead of merely claiming it was an option he was testing.

In addition to the story itself the article provided some background information that I found to be of… questionable value:

The incident, on Sunday evening when the zoo was packed with visitors, was the first of its kind at the attraction.

So normally people don’t jump into the Lion’s den at that zoo claiming God will save them if he exists? Good to know. Still, the lion’s God be willing, maybe it will be the beginning of a trend.