Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Religious Extremism: Israel's and America's Threat from Within

If ever a prize for and chutzpah and religious hypocrisy were ever awarded, a top contender for first place would be a fanatical Orthodox Jewish extremist group in Israel, the haredim. Members of this sect do not work for a living and instead spend their time in prayer and Torah study. On one hand this fringe group have no problem accepting welfare and financial support from the Israeli government. Yet on the other, they do not recognize the state of Israel because according to their belief, it is only upon the arrival of the Messiah that Israel will become a nation.

In their anti-Zionist zeal, haredim were apparently the ones who went so far last week as to rip out pages from prayer books at the Western Wall that bless the State of Israel and members of the Israeli military--from which by the way haredim are draft-exempt. I'm certainly no fan of prayer, but I find such rudeness detestable. Can you imagine the outrage that would ensue if a secular or atheist Jewish group did such a thing? If such incivility weren't enough, the haredim also have rioted and stoned those outsiders who enter or pass through their neighborhoods on Saturdays and who do not follow haredim rules for observing Shabbat. Also just a few weeks ago, they rallied on Shabbat against the opening of a parking lot in Jerusalem that took place on a Saturday. In other words, these fundamentalist desecrate prayer books in the name of Torah and violate the Sabbath in order to save it.

Women in the Orthodox Jewish world are at best second class citizens. In Israel, on special public transportation bus lines set aside for haredim, women must sit in the back. On Nov. 29, a woman who dared to assert the notion of women's religious equality by donning a tallit (prayer shawl), wearing a kippah (skull cap) and carrying a torah scroll at the Western Wall. According to strict tradition, only men are permitted to perform these rituals. So she was arrested by the police for her act of defiance. These are perfect examples of the disproportionate power being held by the Orthodox minority in Israel.

It's just mind-boggling that the Israeli taxpayers have been putting up with and supporting these radicals, so it's good to see that more rational people there are at the end of their patience and are beginning to push back by staging protests against Orthodox repression. May the day soon come that they take back the legislative power to reign in extremists.


Israel's problems furnish a lesson for Americans: This is what happens when religious fundamentalists are granted special privilege or take power. We had a taste of this scenario under the Bush Administration. For example, during that era, because of Bush's religious beliefs and those of his hack political appointees, life saving stem cell research was almost completely shut down. Significantly, Bush and his Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, justified the war in Iraq as a "holy Christian crusade". The Bush regime also saw an intensification of hostility in the U.S. against teaching the theory of evolution in public schools.

Currently, right wing Christian extremist and far right political groups such as "teabaggers" and "birthers" along with their radio commentator allies are manufacturing outlandish myths about President Obama, and some members of these groups are even praying for his death.

Then there is the prospect of Republican Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee running for president in the 2012 elections. Gov. Huckabee is an unapologetic Christian theocrat who believes that America should be governed according to biblical commandments. And don't even get me started on Sarah Palin, another possible 2012 contender.

In short, at the end of the day, when religious interests take control of a country's government no matter what religion or country, its citizens can kiss freedom good bye.

Addendum: Dec. 14. It turns out that the situation in Israel is even worse than I indicated above. A friend of mine sent me article today that reports Justice Minister is proposing the imposition of Torah "as the binding law of the nation" Click here for the story.