الاثنين، 6 سبتمبر، 2010

An Open Response to “The Ten Reasons to Burn a Qur’an

If They Can Burn It, We Can Read It.
A UCC Minister’s Response to Burning the Qur’an.
The Creative Seminole

Larry Reimer, a minister of the United Church of Gainesville, has decided to read scripture from the Qur'an in worship service in response to a local Qur'an burning.
There are some things that really get under my skin. One of those things is religious intolerance, be it from Christians, Muslims, Jews, Agnostics, Pagans, Pastafarians, or the like.
It’s good to know that I’m not the only one, then, who sees Gainesville, Florida’s Dove World Outreach Center’s plan to burn as many copies of the Qur’an as possible a stab in the heart to groups of religious followers that care about tolerance. Larry Reimer is a minister at the United Church of Gainesville, a deep advocate of civil rights, and the man responsible for what seems to be a very intelligent response to Dove’s outlash at Islam.
“If they can burn it, then we can read it,” said Reimer from an armchair across from mine in his office, lined with bookshelves and photos from many events canvassing the years. On a side table next to me, there’s a statue of the Buddha, along with various other spiritually-themed trinkets that seem to indicate that this office does not belong to a spiritually firm-handed man.
Reimer, along with other Gainesville religious leaders, will read scripture from the Qur’an as part of worship services on Sunday, September 12.
When asked about how he came about with the idea, “Almost right away, members of the congregation here asked me, ‘what are we going to do about this?’ Originally, I had the intention of giving [Dove Center] no more attention in the media. But as I thought about it, I asked myself what we could do that would be effective and proactive in promoting cooperation among our religious relatives.”
I prodded further about religious relatives. “Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all part of the Abrahamic tree of faith. We all believe in the same God, and in many aspects we are all trying to accomplish the same goals. And in Islam, there are things that I think any follower of any other religion could learn from. Take prayer, for example. In Islam, one prays at least five times a day. The discipline to do that? Few of us have it. And like Christianity and Judaism, there is a strong call to love God and your neighbor.”
We chat on for a bit about the differences and similarities that each of the Abrahamic religions have when he says to me, “You know, we learn best from our rival siblings. We might not always agree with them, but they always point out our shortcomings. And in the end, we have the most in common with them. We pull from one another and make each whole.
“Look at FSU and UF, or Michigan and Ohio State. All students who grew up together, went to the same high schools, and in reality should be the most understanding of one another. Now that they’re on opposite sides of the stadium, they act like they have nothing in common. But they do, and if each member stopped for a minute and thought about it, they would realize they’re the same students, with the same dreams, looking and hoping to do the same things when they graduate.”
Then I ask him why he thinks these negative attitudes toward Islam exist. “The average American inherently assumes that Islam is violent and decidedly anti-American because we haven’t taken the time to experience Islam from an individual perspective or as a faith up close. A friend of mine was in Egypt when news of Dove Outreach’s Qur’an burning hit, and he told me that it was represented as mainstream Christianity, much in the same way that the violent acts we hear about here are represented as mainstream Islam. Here, Islam is still associated with terrorism. The acts of September 11th were not acts that were Islamic in nature. They were acts of fanatical extremists. And fanaticism is not confined to any one faith. I think that there’s no better time than September 12th to remind ourselves of this, and to read from Qur’an in worship to point out how much we really do have in common.”
Then I asked him the big one. If you could preach to the members of Dove Outreach Center for even five minutes, what would you say? “The danger to our faith comes not most from outside, but from the shadows within. We must pay attention to our neglect to look at ourselves, instead of automatically pointing the finger elsewhere. God’s call is for constant opening.”
Already, Larry has been interviewed for the New York Times. As of now, Fifteen religious leaders in Gainesville have agreed to share verses from the Qur’an on Sunday, September 12th. And he thinks that more will follow. “I’m not trying to make this a national or international event, but I feel that those who understand that allowing [the Qur'an burning] to pass silently by allows Dove Outreach to win in the fight against tolerance and religious compassion will stand up and share scripture from the Qur’an.”
Not a moment too soon. In the words of German poet Heinrich Heine written in 1820, now enshrined on a plaque at the site of Nazi Propoganda Minster Joseph Goebbels’ book burnings, “There, where they burn books, they will in the end burn people.”

Catholics, Muslims, and the Mosque Controversy

Catholics, Muslims, and the Mosque Controversy

John T. McGreevy and R. Scott Appleby
The New York Review of Books
August 27, 2010

"The American River Ganges," Thomas Nast's 1875 cartoon
showing Catholic priests as crocodiles attacking the
United States to devour the nation's school children

As historians of American Catholicism, and Catholics,
we are concerned to see the revival of a strain of
nativism in the current controversy over the
establishment of an Islamic center some blocks from
Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

For much of the nineteenth century Catholics in America
were the unassimilated, sometimes violent "religious
other." Often they did not speak English or attend
public schools. Some of their religious women--nuns--wore
distinctive clothing. Their religious practices and
beliefs--from rosaries to transubstantiation--seemed to
many Americans superstitious nonsense.

Most worrisome, Catholics seemed insufficiently
grateful for their ability to build churches and
worship in a democracy, rights sometimes denied to
Protestants and Jews in Catholic countries, notably
Italy. In the 1840s and 1850s these anxieties about
Catholicism in American society turned violent,
including mob attacks on priests and churches as well
as the formation of a major political party, the
American Party, dedicated to combating Catholic
influence. This led to novel claims that the US
constitution demanded an absolute separation of church
and state--claims that stem not from Thomas Jefferson
and George Washington but from nineteenth-century
politicians, ministers, and editors worried that
adherents of a hierarchical Catholicism might destroy
the hard-won achievements of American democracy. In
1875, a decade after accepting General Lee's surrender
at Appomattox, President Ulysses S. Grant publicly
warned that Catholicism might prove as divisive in
American society as the Confederacy.

Like many American Muslims today, many American
Catholics squirmed when their foreign-born religious
leaders offered belligerent or tone-deaf pronouncements
on the modern world. New York's own Bishop John Hughes
thundered in 1850 that the Church's mission was to
convert "the officers of the navy and the Marines,
commander of the Army, the legislatures, the Senate,
the Cabinet, the president and all." The Syllabus of
Errors, promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1864 denied that
the Church had any duty to reconcile itself with
"progress, liberalism, and modern civilization."

But a Catholic president was elected in 1960, and today
Catholics hold more seats in Congress than any other
religious body. The Vice-President and Speaker of the
House are Catholics, as are six of the nine Supreme
Court justices.

It took Catholics more than a full century to attain
their current level of acceptance and influence, and
they made their share of mistakes along the way,
occasionally by trying too hard to prove their
patriotic bona fides. (Exhibit A: Senator Joseph
McCarthy, whose name is now, paradoxically, a synonym
for "un-American activities.") But they earned their
place, over the course of many decades, by serving (and
dying for) their country, and building their own
churches, schools and health care systems alongside
public counterparts, which they also frequented and
supported with their taxes.

Meanwhile, American Catholics helped transform parts of
their own church that seemed at odds with the American
freedoms they had come to cherish. An American Jesuit,
John Courtney Murray, was decisive in shaping
Dignitatis Humanae (1965)--the Declaration on Religious
Liberty, in which the Second Vatican Council endorsed
religious freedom for all people. In this sense, the
American acceptance and encouragement of Catholic
parishes and schools once seen as threatening, reshaped
an international religious institution. The late
Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington once
commented on how ironic it was that the papacy had
become the greatest global champion of religious
freedom in the final quarter of the twentieth century.

Historical comparisons are bound to be inexact; but
American Muslims, like American Catholics, are now
building their own religious and cultural institutions,
and they are seeking guidance from a wide variety of
religious sources--some few from jihadists, most from
accommodationists.

Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam at the center of the New
York controversy, is an accommodationist. He claims,
correctly, that the vast majority of the nation's
Muslims abhor al-Qaeda. Moreover, Rauf seeks to
demonstrate that Muslims are no less Americans than are
their Christian and Jewish counterparts. They, too,
pray for (and were among) the victims of the September
11, 2001 terrorists and beg God's forgiveness for
atrocities committed in his name.

Is it imprudent for Rauf and his supporters to locate
the proposed Islamic center so close to the site of
terrible violence against Americans committed in the
name of Islam? In fact the fault lies less with Rauf
than with a debased effort to whip up partisan fervor
around the issue. Must Muslims unequivocally reject all
forms of terrorism--especially those Muslims who wish to
promote full Muslim participation in American society?
Of course. But if the Catholic experience in the United
States holds any lesson it is that becoming American
also means asserting one's constitutional rights, fully
and forcefully, even if that assertion is occasionally
taken to be insulting. The genius of the American
experiment in religious liberty is precisely this
long-term confidence that equal rights for all
religious groups builds the loyalty every democratic
society needs. Certainly American Catholics learned
that lesson long ago.

R. Scott Appleby is the John M. Regan, Jr. Director of
the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at
Notre Dame. John T. McGreevy is the I.A. O'Shaughnessy
Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the
University of Notre Dame.

German Left Party discussion: Capitalism and the State

German Linke discussion: Capitalism and the State
September 2, 2010
by Michael Heinrich
http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/heinrich020910.html

DIE LINKE (the Left Party) has initiated a debate on its
draft party program, which it wishes to officially adopt
in Autumn 2011. Neues Deutschland is joining this
debate with a series of articles. In the Neues
Deutschland article published on 9 August 2010, Michael
Heinrich tackles the issue of the relationship between
capital and the state and asks whether the "system
change" proclaimed in the draft program is meant
seriously. -- Ed.

In the last century, the development of leftist parties that
once wished to transcend capitalism was one big tragedy.
Either they increasingly moved away from their original
critique, like the Social Democratic parties, becoming
simply managers of the political apparatuses and endeavoring
to secure a frictionless accumulation of capital, or like
most Communist parties they retained their critique of
capitalism while committing themselves completely to the
defense of an authoritarian and extremely repressive model
of socialism, which could not be subject to even the most
rudimentary criticism. But those parties that held onto a
radical critique of capitalism as well as of "really
existing socialism" usually withered into political
irrelevance, if they ever managed to escape that state of
irrelevance to begin with.

Given this history, there are good reasons for the
skepticism about and detachment from left parties exhibited
these days by trade union and social movement activists.
So, it is anything but insignificant that in its draft
program DIE LINKE on the one hand rejects all authoritarian
socialisms while on the other hand clearly declaring: "we
struggle for a system change, because capitalism . . . is
based upon inequality, exploitation, expansion, and
competition" (page 3 -- all page references according to the
supplement to the 27-28 March 2010 issue of Neues
Deutschland).

Against Which Capitalism?

However, the rest of the program is not so unambiguous. The
last passage of the draft is only directed against
"unbridled capitalism" (18), while in between it is
primarily "financial market capitalism" (7) which comes up
for criticism. At the beginning of the section "Democratic
Socialism in the 21st Century," the program states that
"capitalism is not the end of history" (8), but shortly
after that it states that DIE LINKE seeks an economic system
in which various forms of property have their place, "state
and municipal, social and private, cooperative and so on"
(9).

But DIE LINKE does not have to strive for this mix of
property forms as a distant goal: it has already been found
in really existing capitalism for quite some time. And the
fundamental anti-capitalist orientation is outright
repudiated with this sentence: "the private pursuit of
profit can promote productivity and technological renewal,
as long as no firm is strong enough to dictate price and the
extent of supply" (10). Has the criticism of capitalism
formulated at the beginning of the draft program already
found its fulfillment in a tightening of anti-trust
legislation? The idea that the small capitalism of
productive competition will save us from the large
capitalism of unproductive monopolies has long been part of
the credo of liberalism and neoliberalism.

The same is the case with the fourth section under the
heading "Left Reform Projects": "social inequalities of
income and wealth are only justified if they are based upon
differences in performance or are necessary as an incentive
for the accomplishment of societal tasks" (12), which any
neoliberal would agree with from the bottom of his heart.
DIE LINKE probably wants to implement different criteria for
performance than neoliberal ones, but not much remains of
Marx's insight that wages and profits have little to do with
performance and much to do with the reproduction of the
wage-dependent class (also necessary for capital) on the one
hand and with the exploitation of precisely those wage-
laborers on the other hand.

So as to avoid any misunderstanding: the point is not any
doctrinal purity, but rather simply the question of what DIE
LINKE regards as the central object of criticism: capitalism
as an economic and social system or merely a few outgrowths
of this system. The criticism of "predatory capitalism" and
the banks' "unbridled pursuit of profit" already belongs to
the standard repertoire of conservative presidents in the
Federal Republic of Germany.

Maybe this vacillation is not just the result of political
indecisiveness, but rather of an analytical deficit. An
analysis of the systemic logic of capitalism remains
considerably underdeveloped in the entire draft program.
Capitalism appears to be primarily a problem of too great an
influence exerted by owners of capital and large
corporations.

Right at the beginning, the program emphasizes that DIE
LINKE does not wish to submit to the "wishes of the
economically powerful" (3); more than once the "extortionate
power of large corporations" (4) is pointed out, as well as
the "aggressive claims of owners of capital" (6). That
capitalism is based upon a systemic imperative, the
maximization of profit, is not so clearly stated. This
principle of profit maximization does not arise from the
greed of individual capitalists, but is rather imposed upon
them by competition: only those who participate in the
struggle for the highest profits have a sufficient
foundation for the investments necessary to remain in the
next round of competition at the national and international
level.

With Which State?

This personalized conception of capitalism is contrasted
with the state, which according to the draft program should
be the representative of all that is good and noble, but
which unfortunately isn't, due to the power of capitalists
and the reluctance of the ruling politicians. "The
possibility of democratic influence and participation
disappears to the extent that the power of the corporations
and finance moguls increases" (7), states the program under
the heading "The Erosion of Democracy."

One would naturally like to know in what Golden Age
democracy was less eroded: in the 1960s, before "financial
market capitalism" really took off and the extra-
parliamentary opposition protested against the German
Emergency Acts as well as the state's support of the Vietnam
War and the Shah regime in Iran? Or under the repressive
anti-Communism of the Adenauer era? The difficulties of
locating this Golden Age in which democracy was not yet
eroded suggests that the actual relationship between the
state and capital might look a bit different than the
picture sketched out in the draft program.

Apparently, the draft program imagines the power of
"corporations and finance moguls" as being inverse to the
power of the state: if the power of one side increases, the
power of the other side decreases. Consequentially, the
demand is raised to push back the power of corporations,
which is to be realized inter alia through the
nationalization of private banks (11) and structurally
decisive large enterprises (9). However, during the
financial crisis, the state-owned Landesbanken did not cut a
better figure than the private banks. In a few passages of
the program, it is mentioned that public property is not a
"guarantee" (10) for a different economic order, but it is
still assumed to be a precondition.

However, the program remains vague as to what measures have
to be introduced so that enterprises can start to conduct
economic activity differently. Using various inflections,
the program constantly stresses that the influence of
capitalists has to be pushed back and that of the public
hand extended. But when the issue is what to do with this
increased influence, the program only offers the same magic
formula of "democratic control." Everything should be
subject to democratic control: the European Central Bank,
energy companies, public services, and finally even the
regulation of markets and the media.

What should all that look like? Should the parliaments take
a vote on changes concerning the utility companies or of key
interest rates? Should the elected government exercise
influence on the personnel and content of the media (as the
conservative former minister-president of Hesse Roland Koch
did with regard to the public television channel ZDF)? One
gets the impression that, whenever it isn't so clear what
should be done, the catchphrase "democratic control" is
pulled out of a hat like the proverbial rabbit. If
"democratic control" is not to become merely an empty
phrase, one has to at least suggest who should exercise
control in what way and according to which criteria.

If an attempt were made to argue more concretely, it might
become clearer that the relationship between the state and
capital cannot be reduced to the influence of various groups
of people (capitalists upon the state, politicians upon the
economy). The state and capital exist in a structurally
rooted relationship of mutual dependency, which also exists
even without any personal exertion of influence. Capitalist
production in many respects has the state as its necessary
precondition: as a guarantor of property and adherence to
contracts, but also as an instance that furnishes those
material prerequisites that capital either cannot produce
itself or can do so only insufficiently, such as for example
various infrastructures, but also the educational system
that supplies properly educated forces of labor, a health
care system that makes damaged forces of labor once again
fit for valorization, etc.

The state for its part is dependent upon a functioning
accumulation of capital, since only then can sufficient tax
receipts be generated and social expenditures held in check.
Even without a direct exertion of influence by "corporations
and finance moguls," every government is therefore forced to
take into consideration the systemic imperatives of capital
valorization in one way or another. For that reason it is
often the case that leftist parties, once they assume
governmental power, continue the policies of their
predecessors in essential respects.

This is not to deny that there are quite different forms of
capitalism and different possibilities for political
planning. The fact that the state as "ideal total
capitalist" (Engels) has to provide the formal
organizational framework as well as those material
prerequisites of capital accumulation that capital itself
cannot provide does not at all mean that the best way of
accomplishing these tasks is obvious in every situation.
That in recent times the political personnel, up to and
including the German president, have started to warn against
unbridled capitalism and excessive power on the part of
banks underscores the fact that at the moment it is not at
all clear how much regulation is necessary or what weight
the banking sector should have in relation to industrial
capital. But these debates revolve around a recalibration
of the general political framework of capitalism and are in
no way the beginning of its end.

A Keynesian Wish List

If DIE LINKE enters into such debates, it should at least
render an account of their character and think about its own
goals: making an ailing capitalism once again fully
functional, or using this weakness in order to gain
concessions for the subaltern classes, which makes life
easier for them in the short term as well as improves the
conditions for future struggles.

The latter necessarily presupposes a willingness to engage
in fundamental conflicts. But in many passages the draft
program reads like a Keynesian wish list addressed to Santa
Claus: as if by means of sufficient regulation as well as a
nationalized financial sector (under "democratic control,"
of course) a capitalism can be created that reconciles all
contradictions. Whoever succumbs to this illusion will no
longer be able to perceive the differences in purpose behind
political intervention. And whoever does so will be sure to
misunderstand the significance of extra-parliamentary
movements: the draft program mentions that left politics has
to be supported by extra-parliamentary pressure from trade
unions and social movements (18), but these appear as merely
the auxiliary forces for parliamentary politics.

If the goal is really the "system change" announced at the
beginning of the draft program, then extra-parliamentary
movements critical of capitalism are not mere auxiliary
forces, but rather the main actors upon which a left party
is dependent, like it or not. That these movements hardly
play a role in the draft program, that the question of how a
movement for the desired system change can be permanently
mobilized and supported is not even posed, throws doubt upon
how seriously this system change is actually meant.
However, the draft program is supposed to be subject to
debate for a while longer.

[Michael Heinrich is editor of PROKLA, journal of critical
social science. Heinrich is also a collaborator on the
MEGA-edition (Marx-Engels- Gesamtausgabe). His Kritik der
politischen ??konomie. Eine Einf??hrung (Critique of
Political Economy: An Introduction) is now in its 8th
printing, and an English translation has been recently been
completed.]