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Weekly Wrap 7.24.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Pope Francis Is Making Americans Uncomfortable — Why That’s a Good Thing

According to Gallup, Pope Francis’ favorability ratings have dropped from 76 percent in 2014 to 45 percent in 2015. America magazine writer Kerry Weber explains the pontiff’s recent dips in the U.S. polls.

2. Why Kylie Jenner Gets to Be ‘Just a Kid,’ But Amandla Stenberg Does Not

"America loves to defend those it perceives to be the most vulnerable — i.e. young white girls — at the expense of and detriment to young girls of color. … Though some may say this is just a pointless Instagram beef between children, this mentality of putting white womanhood on a pedestal has violent, real-world ramifications."

3. NASA Finds ‘Earth’s Bigger, Older Cousin’

Wait … what, now? According to NASA, its Kepler spacecraft has identified a planet some 1,400 light-years away — the first "nearly Earth-size planet to be found in a habitable zone of a start similar to our own," according to CNN.

The Middle East’s Mental Health Crisis

Brain Illustration

Brain illustration, Maxim Gaigul / Shutterstock.com

National Minority Mental Health Awareness month is upon us in the U.S., and never has the scope and impact of mental health issues threatened to affect the long-term security of our country and world than now.

This year, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 10.8 million people are affected by the conflict in Syria, with 4 million refugees having fled the country. This is the largest refugee population coming out of any one conflict in over a generation. Similarly, in early 2015, UNHCR estimated that the total population of concern, due to the conflict in Iraq, exceeded 3 million people. Millions of people have experienced the unimaginable trauma of political and religious conflict and persecution in the Middle East, especially women, whom the Iraqi Ministry of Health determined were disproportionately affected by mental health illness due to the recent conflict. The scale and depth of the trauma demands a multi-faith, multi-sector, multi-discipline response, before it is too late.

Hate Breeds Hate

Islamaphobia

Yorda / Shutterstock

IT'S BEEN A difficult few months to be a Muslim living in the United States. Amid the continuing violence in the Middle East and the polarized debate over the Iran nuclear negotiations, Islamophobia in the U.S. is just about as bad as it’s ever been.

While this fear, distrust, and even hatred of Islam and/or Muslims takes many forms and gains traction in a number of ways (as Ken Chitwood explains in his article on page 22), it’s important to understand that Islamophobia gains much of its power and attention from a relatively small number of people who have dedicated their lives and careers to perpetuating a distorted, extreme view of what Islam teaches and what most Muslims believe. It is in fact a tragic irony that professional Islamophobes and Islamic extremists such as the so-called “Islamic State” perpetuate and benefit from a very similar and very warped interpretation of Islam. Both seek to convince the world that many Muslims in the U.S. and around the world either share or should share this radical fundamentalist perspective.

Purveyors of strident hate speech against Muslims and those that embrace violent extremism in the name of Islam actually benefit from each other’s existence and actions. The American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) is the group behind the anti-Muslim ads on public transportation in several major cities. This spring, AFDI sponsored a contest in Garland, Texas, where participants were invited to “draw the prophet” Muhammad. The contest was attacked by two radicalized ISIS sympathizers, who were shot dead by police.

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5 Reasons Why Christians Should Stay in the Middle East

REUTERS / Omar Sanadiki / RNS

An Assyrian woman attends a Mass on March 1, 2015, inside Ibrahim al-Khalil church in Jaramana, eastern Damascus, in solidarity with the Assyrians abducted by Islamic State fighters in Syria. Photo via REUTERS / Omar Sanadiki / RNS

It would be nice to consider emigration as a realistic option. But it is not. I would suggest pundits spend that same time and money fighting for a clear and concrete objective, declaring and defending a safe haven on the Nineveh Plain for Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis.

Yes, there are some high-risk situations that demand emigration. But, in general, Western Christians should think hard about how not to be an accomplice to ISIS.

Weekly Wrap 6.12.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Masculinity Gets Modern Makeover in Latest Getty Images Collection
Tired of seeing stock images that reinforce traditional gender roles? Getty Images is (finally) changing that with the help of Sheryl Sandberg's LeanIn.org.

2. The Human Right to Have a Home
As Congress plans to slash funding for housing assistance programs, Catholic bishops in the U.S. are protesting, arguing "housing is a human right."

3. WATCH: ‘What Are You?’ — Multiracial in America
Listen to how multiracial Americans react when they're asked "What are you?" (Hint: I's usually not well).

Weekly Wrap 6.5.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. I Went to Church with Bruce Jenner, and Here’s What Caitlyn Taught Me About Jesus
Caitlyn knows who Jesus is, and Jesus knows her by name. Whether that sits comfortably on a timeline or blog comment, I know firsthand that Caitlyn has heard the good news. And, Caitlyn has taught me more about Jesus.”

2. And the Award for Trailblazing Feminist Icon Goes to — Miss Piggy
The Sackler Center for Feminist Art awarded the Muppet with its First Award, which recognizes women for being first in their fields and has included the likes of Sandra Day O’Connor, because the character has “qualities that … women need to have to face the world as it is, and she gives us a good smile on top of it all.”

3. In Baltimore Schools, Free Meals for All
"Given the socio-economic status of the city, it's a no-brainer," [parent David T.] Clements said of the program. "Parents can now take that money and apply it to their futures."

4. Study Finds Global Warming Hasn’t Slowed
The latest study, published in Science, reverses previously held thought that global warming was on hiatus. Not so, according to the numbers, which were based on what the scientists say is more accurate land and sea temperature measurements.

Iraq, ISIS, and Our Need for Repentance

DavidTB / Shutterstock.com

DavidTB / Shutterstock.com

What we have yet to hear from Republican presidential candidates or the habitual hawks is the appropriate spiritual response to the war in Iraq — repentance. Instead, we hear this defensive language: “Everybody got it wrong.” Well that’s not true. The people who ultimately made the decision to invade, occupy, and completely destabilize Iraq did indeed get it wrong. But so far, they have been unwilling to admit their incredible mistakes that we all now have to live with: the enormous number of lives lost or permanently damaged; the extremely dangerous exacerbation of the sectarian Sunni/Shia conflict that now rules the entire region; and the creation of the conditions that led to ISIS. Except for Rand Paul, none of the Republican candidates has been willing to admit that ISIS is a consequence of our complete devastation and destabilization of Iraq — leaving us with the greatest real threat the international community has faced for some time. Yet we’ve heard not a word of apology for mistakes or any spirit of repentance from the neoconservative hawks.

Divest from Terrorism: The Achilles' Heel of Terror

THE SO-CALLED WAR on terror has dangerous and shifting financial front lines. Since the 9/11 attacks, a series of “anti-terrorism financing laws” have been enacted that allow the government to designate certain charities as “terrorist” organizations or as financing terror. The government can effectively shut down organizations without ever bringing criminal charges or providing evidence against them, according to the ACLU. “As a result,” it reported, “American Muslim organizations and individuals are unfairly targeted.”

In addition to fostering Islamophobia in the larger society and fear within Islamic and other faith communities, overzealous application of these laws can actually inhibit the war on terror. It risks crippling the very Islamic charities that can effectively combat radicalization in places vulnerable to extremists. Stephen Bubb, head of a charity network in Britain, where financial terror laws are similar to those in the U.S., has emphasized “sensible, credible, proportionate regulation” of Islamic charities. “I have witnessed firsthand the difficulties faced by organizations in Pakistan fighting the same battle that we are: for security, for a better way of life, and for a better future for our children,” said Bubb.

Yet defunding terror groups can be an important strategy in combatting violence. A broad spectrum of groups in the U.S. today is finding ways to “divest from terror.”

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How Fear and Ignorance Keep Working

Image via Suzanne Tucker/shutterstock.com

Image via Suzanne Tucker/shutterstock.com

How does this kind of mentality take hold of a state of nearly 30 million, at least to the point that the governor himself would take official action?

One word: fear. Actually two words: fear and ignorance.

Though it comes off as cartoonish and ridiculous to the typical onlooker, fear and ignorance are, in fact, powerful tools. And using fear based on a broadly shared perception — regardless of actual evidence — is something all too familiar to modern-day Christianity in the United States as well. And the reason it hangs around like heartburn after a double bean burrito is because it works.

Here’s how.

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