In the News: Paris, Witches, the CNN Apocalypse, and more!

Happy New Year, Dear Readers! So much has happened since the last weeks of 2014 that we decided we needed to set up a slightly new format for “In the News.” Below you’ll find thematic sections for what’s been happening. The whole first part of this month’s round-up is about the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, that’s followed by stand-alone sections on Israel, India, and New York, as well as ones for Catholicism, Sikhs, Iceland, witches, a few remembrances, some work we think will be of general interest, and a short update on work by some of our religion writer friends. Can’t wait to read about witches or Iceland? Click on any of the links up here and you’ll be taken straight to that section. 


If you read only one article about the attacks in Paris, please make it Teju Cole‘s New Yorker piece, “Unmournable Bodies.”

But it is possible to defend the right to obscene and racist speech without promoting or sponsoring the content of that speech. It is possible to approve of sacrilege without endorsing racism. And it is possible to consider Islamophobia immoral without wishing it illegal. Moments of grief neither rob us of our complexity nor absolve us of the responsibility of making distinctions. …

The scale, intensity, and manner of the solidarity that we are seeing for the victims of the Paris killings, encouraging as it may be, indicates how easy it is in Western societies to focus on radical Islamism as the real, or the only, enemy. This focus is part of the consensus about mournable bodies, and it often keeps us from paying proper attention to other, ongoing, instances of horrific carnage around the world: abductions and killings in Mexico, hundreds of children (and more than a dozen journalists) killed in Gaza by Israel last year, internecine massacres in the Central African Republic, and so on. And even when we rightly condemn criminals who claim to act in the name of Islam, little of our grief is extended to the numerous Muslim victims of their attacks, whether in Yemen or Nigeria—in both of which there were deadly massacres this week—or in Saudi Arabia, where, among many violations of human rights, the punishment for journalists who “insult Islam” is flogging. We may not be able to attend to each outrage in every corner of the world, but we should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others.”

Excerpt of a cartoon by Joe Sacco

Excerpt of a cartoon by Joe Sacco

If you’d like to read what cartoonists have to say, we’d suggest:

First, you can see and hear the murdered cartoonists themselves in this short documentary, “Charlie Hebdo, Before the Massacre,” about Charlie Hebdo made in 2006 by Jérôme Lambert, from The New York Times. 

Then you might want to check out the opinions and cartoons of:

Art Spiegelman

Robert Crumb

Joe Sacco

Albert Uderzo (Asterix)

Olivier Cyran (worked at Charlie Hebdo from 1992-2001)

Lastly,  Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept published a serious of “blasphemous and otherwise offensive” cartoons in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo.

If you are interested in the history and present of satire, we recommend: 

In The New York Times, Jennifer Schuessler, interviews cartoonists such as Joe Sacco  and Marjane Satrapi and reports that the “Charlie Hebdo Attack Chills Satirists and Prompts a Debate.”

Such debates unfold differently in different countries. But the conversation could be especially acute in the United States, where sensitivities to racially tinged caricatures may run higher than in places like France, where historically tighter restrictions on speech have given rise to a strong desire to flout the rules.

At NPR, Neda Ulaby explains that “Satire in the Muslim World [is] a Centuries Long Tradition.

“Can’t they take a joke?” That’s the question that came up after the 2005 Danish cartoon controversy and now, again, after the massacre at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The suspected killers obviously reflect a tiny minority of extreme religious fanatics, but the question made us wonder: What is the role of satire in the Muslim world

Former features editor at The Onion, Joe Garden,”In Defense of Offense” in Vice. 

Obviously, no one should die over such images, even if reasonable people might doubt that they need to be put out into the world. And in fact, if someone wants to publish images like that, it’s important—vitally important—that they do so.

In The Atlantic, Debra Kamin, shares the story of “Fake News from the Holy Land.”

But the way Israel’s new web satirists describe it, their goal is less to lampoon fundamentalists than to get their friends and neighbors to lighten up. The subjects in the news here—terrorism, extremism, and the endless replay of the same grinding war—are deadly serious. The specter of loss follows everyone. That’s precisely why it’s important to keep laughing, the editors say.

Are you Charlie?

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic, I Might be Charlie.

Scott Long, “Why I Am Not Charlie on his blog, Paper Bird. 

Umut Ozkirimli and Spyros A. Sofos‘ “#QuiSommesNouse? A Socratic dialogue on ‘L’Affaire Charlie Hebdo on Open Democracy.

And more from:

Mehran Kasana‘s “Dubout and Hebdo

Max Fisher and Amanda Taub at Vox, Vox got not threats for posting Charlie Hebdo cartoons, dozens for covering Islamophobia.”

Thomas Chatterton Williams in n+1, “Equal in Paris?

Juan Cole, “Charlie Hebdo: A Clash of Extremisms, not Civilizations” on his website, Informed Comment.

Jon Canfield, “In the Wake of Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech Does Not Mean Freedom from Criticism” on his blog, Hooded Utilitarian.

Leshu Torchin, “Why Context Matters.” in Soucient.

Mark LeVine argues “Why Charlie Hebdo attack is not about Islam in Al Jazeera.

Jackie Rowler has Marine Le Pen weighing in: “Q&A: Marine Le Pen on France and Islam,” also on Al Jazeera.

And, bien sur, Monsieur Zizek has a question to contribute, “Are the worst really full of passionate intensity?” in The New Statesman.

Aussi bien sur, Michel Houellebecq, “Before Paris Shooting, Authors Tapped Into Mood of a France ‘Homesick at Home” by Rachel Donadio for The New York Times. 

And, lastly, Religion Dispatches‘ “Interview With a Muslim,” by Haroon Moghul.


Meanwhile, “Tens of thousands of Muslims flee Christian militias in Central African Republic,” by Sudarsan Raghavan in The Washington Post. 

Tens of thousands of Muslims are fleeing to neighboring countries by plane and truck as Christian militias stage brutal attacks, shattering the social fabric of this war-ravaged nation.

Carole McGranahan writes “For Tsepey Who Self-Immolated in TIbet Six Hours From Now” in Savage Minds.

It is 8:00 in the morning in Colorado. On the other side of the world a young Tibetan woman self-immolated at 2:00 pm today, Monday the 22nd of December 2014. Her name was Tsering Dolma (and her nickname was Tsepey). She was twenty years old. She was the 141stTibetan to self-immolate in recent years.

China has just banned the burqa in its biggest Muslim City reports Lily Kuo in Quartz.

A blogger posts a photo of a sign in Kashgar discouraging Uighur from wearing Islamic dress. (Weibo)

A blogger posts a photo of a sign in Kashgar discouraging Uighur from wearing Islamic dress. (Weibo)

Chinese authorities have banned women in Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang—an autonomous western region where Muslims account for almost half of the population—from wearing burqas in public, according to a brief article on a government-run website, Tianshan News. Local legislators for Urumqi proposed the ban in December, and now the regional legislature has approved it.

For more about Xianjiang, its worth a look back into the recent past for Umar Farooq‘s “Turning the Uyghur East” which ran in the October 2014 issue of The Revealer. 

Fortunately, “No, Argentina’s president did not adopt a Jewish child to stop him turning into a werewolf” reassures Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in The Guardian.

Nope. Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has not become godmother of a Jewish baby to stop him from becoming a werewolf – despite what you may have read in multiple news reports.

And, The Guardian reports that “Muslim Drag Queens: ‘the clubs are busier than ever” in this video.

Meet Ali, a gay Pakistani asylum-seeker preparing for his first performance as a drag queen. Ali fled Pakistan, where he was persecuted for being gay, but now faces abuse from his neighbours in London. Mentored by Asifa Lahore, the UK’s first Muslim drag queen, Ali is determined to overcome his fears and express himself in a dance performance at the UK’s biggest ‘gaysian’ club night


Liam Hoare of The Forward, reminds us that once upon a time, (okay, 1973), Susan Sontag made a documentary about Israel. It’s worth watching. “Susan Sontag’s Panned and Banned Israel Documentary.”

 “‘Promised Lands’ hardly tells all the truths there are about the conflicts in the Middle East, about the October War, about the mood of Israel right now, about war and loss and memory and survival,” Sontag said in a 1974 article for Vogue published about the making of the movie. “[B]ut what the film does tell is true. It was like that. To tell the truth (even some of it) is already a marvelous privilege, responsibility, gift.”

Ishaan Tharoor explains how “This image sums up the U.S.-Israeli relationship.”


Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel

According to Ali AbunimahIslamophobia bankroller behind organizer of Israel junket for US ‘Muslim Leaders at Electronic Intifada. 

The Shalom Hartman Institute bills itself as “a center of transformative thinking … that addresses the major challenges facing the Jewish people and elevates the quality of Jewish life in Israel.” In practice, it is a major contractor for the Israeli military and works closely with the Israeli government’s efforts to combat the Palestine solidarity movement.

For the perspective of one of the Muslims who attended this convention, check out “What a Muslim American Learned from Zionists” by Rabia Chaudry (of recent Serial fame) in Time.

And finally, “Let’s Make 2015 the Year of the Arab Jew” calls Sigal Samuel in The Forward.

Call it a confirmation bias. Everywhere I turned this year, I saw a new expression of Arab Jewish identity. The revival seems to be happening across all fields — literature, food, music — yet somehow nobody’s talking about it.


Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi

Tanya Basu asks “Who Owns Yoga?” in The Atlantic.

Nailing a headstand in yoga class is already pretty difficult—it’s a balancing act that takes many people years to master. But if one of India’s recent initiatives is realized, perfecting the pose might become that much harder: The nation’s government is quietly wondering if someday it will be able to dictate what can be called “yoga” and what can’t.

Rhitu Chatterjee at NPR tells the story of “India’s New Comic Book Hero Fights Rape, Rides on the Back of a Tiger

We are playing with the metaphor of Parvati riding the tiger. But in our comic book, the tiger represents Priya’s shakti, her power. And she travels on the tiger, back to her community that threw her out and ostracized her, and starts challenging those patriarchal views. Like Gandhi [did on his] Salt March, she travels around India and starts gaining momentum.


In “The Carnival of Confession” in which Kyle Gautrea, “An ex-Jesuit asks: can this sacrament be liberated?”

He asks, “When’s the first time you spoke to God?” I recoil at the question. When have I spoken to God? What sort of question is that? Who answers such a question? Yet I answer the question, in a moment of guttural anxiety detached from previous mental gymnastics. “When I came out to God.” The confession startles me. I shudder a little in the chair, my feet firmly secured on the floor.

Nathan Schneider announces “A Global Catholic Climate Movement, None Too Soon,” in America Magazine.

Today marks the beginning of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, a coalition of Catholic organizations determined to work together to confront the climate crisis. It includes groups like the Franciscan Action Network, the USCCB’s Catholic Climate Covenant, the U.S. branch of Catholic Charities, and the Jesuit European Social Center. On the occasion of Pope Francis’s visit to the Philippines, the group will be presenting a statement today to Cardinal Tagle of Manila.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 2.49.10 PM

Over on The New Emangelization,  you can read “Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke on the Catholic ‘Man-crisis’ and what to do about it 

Unfortunately, the radical feminist movement strongly influenced the Church, leading the Church to constantly address women’s issues at the expense of addressing critical issues important to men; the importance of the father, whether in the union of marriage or not; the importance of a father to children; the importance of fatherhood for priests; the critical impact of a manly character; the emphasis on the particular gifts that God gives to men for the good of the whole society.

The goodness and importance of men became very obscured, and for all practical purposes, were not emphasized at all. This is despite the fact that it was a long tradition in the Church, especially through the devotion of St. Joseph, to stress the manly character of the man who sacrifices his life for the sake of the home, who prepares with chivalry to defend his wife and his children and who works to provide the livelihood for the family. So much of this tradition of heralding the heroic nature of manhood has been lost in the Church today.

Then you might want to check out Kaya Oakes asking, “Does Catholicism have a ‘man crisis,’ or is Cardinal Burke paranoid?

The problem with Burke’s idea of manhood is that it is oversimplified and based on antiquated notions of gender. Men, according to Burke, have “particular gifts,” they “make sacrifices” and defend their families with “chivalry.” They are “heroic” and should demonstrate a “manly identity” and “manly virtues.”

Women are “wonderful,” but that’s just about the only compliment Burke manages to pay them before he trashes the presence of altar girls in favor of Knights of the Altar who will “defend Christ” with their “chivalrous service.”

Not done reading about gender and the Church? Check out Mary E. Hunt‘s “American Nuns and the Vatican: More Pain Than Promise” in Religion Dispatches.

I would have hoped, naively to be sure, for a robust apology on the part of the Vatican officials, a gracious but cautious acceptance of it on the part of the women religious, offer of restitution by the men, and a common plan to make sure that no such egregious act is ever perpetrated again. Nunca mas, or so I dream. Nevertheless, this formula—used so effectively in dealing with abusers and abused—is the most relevant parallel I can find to understand what occurred in this case.

Instead, the two prelates delivered themselves of sonorous but largely vapid discourses. The Prefect acknowledged that some institutes chose “not to collaborate fully in the process” (maybe more than you will ever know, Cardinal Braz de Aviz), but called for the whole church to engage in “full reconciliation, which will offer a radiant and attractive witness of fraternal communion to all.”


You may already be familiar with one Sikh super-hero, but Eileen Alden has started to campaign to create a “Kids comic book featuring Super Sikh aka Secret Agent Deep Singh.” You can check out her Kickstarter here.

Deep Singh

Secret Agent Deep Singh

Reddit did something good! “Reddit User Needs Hot Meal – Finds Sikh GenerosityAlison Lesley Reports in World Religion News.

Reddit has been known for its heartless trolls and comments that can be downright cruel. However, a surprising thing happened when Tommy Castelli of Vancouver asked the users of the social media giant for help. A heartwarming response poured out and people began to drop off sacks of groceries, a few home-cooked meals and other miscellaneous items to help him get by. Castelli was impressed and humbled by the response, but he was perhaps most surprised by a conversation about Sikhism spawned by his request for a safe place to find a hot meal.


Mark Oppenheimer on “The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side” in The Atlantic.

In this country, we have learned the hard way that religiosity is no guarantor of morality. But many Americans still imagine that Buddhists are the good kind of religious people—or that they are not religious at all, just “spiritual.” … It can be especially hard to face demons in a tradition that promises that there are none.


Len Berk

Paul Berger at The Forward made a great video called “Lox Me Tender” which profiles Len Berk, “Zabar’s 84-Year-Old Lox Cutter [Who] Says He’s Still Trying for the ‘Perfect Slice.'” Here is one of Berk’s poems:

Me and My Salmon

Chaos surrounds me.
The world is in turmoil.
Palestinians and Israelis can’t negotiate peace though they have sought it for 100 years.
(Or have they?)
My friends inhabit the various stages of dying from Alzheimer’s, from Parkinson’s, dementia, cancer and other forms of impending death.
Between me and my salmon there is peace.
I gaze down on it, I slice it and nothing else exists.
Nothing but me and my salmon.


Yeah, Iceland! Big news from Iceland. Okay, no, not news so much as Björk, but shouldn’t anything and everything Björk does be news? We think so.


Bjork, age 11.

Watch an 11-Year-Old Björk Read the Nativity Story” invites Fact Mag. Thanks, Fact Mag!

Back in 1976, an 11-year-old Björk read the nativity story in a Christmas special for Icelandic TV station RUV, accompanied by music students from the Reykjavík Children’s Music School

Also, Pagans! Pagans and Björk! I wonder if that Groupon is still available…

Construction of a pagan temple to begin in Reykjavik next month” reports the staff of Iceland magazine.

Plans to begin construction of a heathen temple in Öskjuhlíð hill, Reykjavík, have been set in motion. This will be the first heathen temple to be built in the Nordic countries in nearly a thousand years, said the alsherjargoði Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, head priest of the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélag, in an interview with RÚV


A Village Possessed by ‘Witches’: A Mixed-Methods Case-Control Study of Possession and Common Mental Disorders in Rural Nepal” by Ram P. Sapkota, Dristy Gurung, Deepa Neupane, Santosh K. Shah, Hanna Kienzler, and Laurence J. Kirmayer.

In Nepal, spirit possession is a common phenomenon occurring both in individuals and in groups. To identify the cultural contexts and psychosocial correlates of spirit possession, we conducted a mixed-method study in a village in central Nepal experiencing a cluster of spirit possession events.

An ordinary girl born into a family of witches” from Diana Wagman in Salon.

I’m not a witch.  I’m not crazy either.  But the fear of being ordinary wakes me in the middle of the night.  

Read too many articles about witches and now you’ve been accused of witchcraft? No worries, Lapham’s Quarterly has you covered with this chart.



Ronit Y. Stahl considers “The privilege of spirit: The liberal concern with religious liberty claims” for The Immanent Frame. 

When liberals object to the use of the profit-making corporation to pursue religious ends, they are recognizing the ways in which doing so reflects privilege and bespeaks power. If, as scholars of religion, we can see how religion infuses daily life far beyond the institutional structure of the church (or synagogue, or mosque, or gurdwara, etc.), we can also recognize the ways in which infusing arenas that are not obviously religious with religion can be exclusionary, discomfiting, and discriminatory—to believers and non-believers alike.

According to Esther Inglis-Arkell at I09, “This Early Computer Was a Christianity Conversion Machine.”

One of the most unlikely harbingers of the computer age was a Christian mystic. After getting his ass kicked by Muslim scholars, he thought up a device that would let him win any argument, answer any question, and convert all people to the one true faith.

strange-angelsGeorge Pendle has the story of “The Last of the Magicians” for Motherboard.

Just think about that for a second: one of the top minds driving America’s early rocket program, a program that helped fuel the space race and the Cold War, was at the same time a leading figure in the world of the occult. By day he built rockets for the government, by night he emerged from a coffin to perform sex magic with his followers.

Revelation Rock OperaLast January, singer-songwriter Mike Doughty wrote a creative New Year’s resolution: to write a rock opera based on the Book of Revelation.  “It is an absolutely terrifying, monster-movie, psychedelic tale of destruction, and the language is so beautiful, it is so bizarre and wonderful,” Doughty told Kurt Andersen. Studio 360 held Doughty to his promise and the result is Revelation. You can see the show at at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in New York for its world premiere:

Over at Jezebel, Anna Merlan wants you to know about some”Manly Christian Bros” who ” ‘Apologize” for Letting Their Women Get Abortions.

A pro-life media group has released a new video called “The Apology,” in which square-jawed, manly Christian bros apologize somberly to the camera for allowing women they were sleeping with to have an abortion. “I should have manned up and fought for you,” one says, referring to the fetus.

Michael Balaban  at Jalopnik has done all of us the favor of unearthing the “TURNER DOOMSDAY VIDEO,” a video produced in 1980 to be played if/when the apocalypse struck.

So when Ted Turner said that CNN was going to be playing “Nearer My God To Thee”—the song the band supposedly played when the Titanic went down—as the heavens opened up, as the fiery finger of God rained salt and brimstone from the sky, as the Earth beneath our feet opened from below and swallowed everything above, as the last CNN employee, in the last surviving CNN studio in the world, witnessed the end of existence before them, he meant it.

Meredith Haggerty works more Internet magic over at “TL;DR” with a podcast profile of Will Rogers, a non-believer who ventured into GodTube with the best of intentions. Here‘s her show and here is Will Rogers telling his story himself over at The Kernel, Confessions of a  Former Star.”

Like my Facebook friends who watched the video and commented, I thought this whole thing was ridiculous—literally, worthy of ridicule. We LOL’d together. “Isn’t it hilarious what the Christians are doing now? Oh man…”

Unlike my Facebook friends, though, this wasn’t the first time I’d seen a Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort video. I grew up in a church that subscribed to Comfort’s ideas, that non-Christians are lost and eternally doomed, and that Jesus — and only Jesus — can save a non-Christian from a life of utter meaninglessness.



Upon the death of Maria CuomoSam Roberts wrote in the New York Times that the, “Former Governor Spoke Willingly of his Religion and Politics.”

“It’s always been safer not to talk about religious beliefs because religious beliefs are so personal that they tend to antagonize,” Mario M. Cuomo once cautioned. Never one to dodge a debate, though, he predictably, and dramatically, rejected his own advice and tackled the issue.

Julie Bindel remembers theologian and feminist philosopher Mary Daly in The Guardian. 

The phrase that sums Daly up most succinctly is probably this, written by her in 1995: “There are and will be those who think I have gone overboard. Let them rest assured that this assessment is correct, probably beyond their wildest imagination, and that I will continue to do so.”

Also being remembered recently was “Dr. Maher Hathout: ‘Father of American Muslim Identity.”

Born in Egypt in 1936, Hathout moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s after having lived in New York and quickly became involved in the city’s religious landscape. He began volunteering at the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC) as Chairman and Spokesperson and went on to work with the center’s founders on several initiatives, including the first-ever co-ed Muslim Youth Group, the Islamic Information Service, The Minaret magazine and the New Horizon School system


Longreads interviewed Kiera Feldman about her work as a journalist on the religion beat: “Kiera Feldman on Oral Roberts, God, and Journalism.

I’m drawn to stories about places that are worlds unto their own. I’m fascinated by institutions and the things that happen behind closed doors, especially within a cultural context that requires some translation for outsiders. I’m a bit of a moralist at heart: I suppose I like feeling like I’m going into the belly of the beast to serve some greater good. 

Have you been keeping up with our friends over at Killing the Buddha? If not, here’s a handy and enticing year-end round-up of their work in 2014: “New Year’s Horn Tooting.”


-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer

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