In the News: Pamela Gellar, Prophesy, PEN, and more!

"Black Muslim Women, Chicago, Illinois, 1963" by Gordon Parks

“Black Muslim Women, Chicago, Illinois, 1963” by Gordon Parks

Welcome to the new, weekly, religion and media news round-up! 

First up, a high stakes showdown over the legacy of Cornel West:

Many of you have probably already read Michael Eric Dyson‘s stinging rebuke of his former friend and mentor, “The Ghost of Cornel West,” in The New Republic. If not, we recommend you do. But then, we also strongly suggest that you read West’s response and Dyson’s response to West’s Response. Whether you delve deeper into the debacle after that is up to you. But if you find something good, tweet it at us, won’t you?

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From Kunta Kinte to Aasif Mandvi, this week’s installment of Islam in America:

Six authors (Francine Prose, Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Taiye Selasi, and Peter Carey) are declining to help host the annual PEN Foundation gala after learning that the foundation will present an award to Charlie Hebdo. According to the president of PEN,  Andrew Solomon:

“This issue has nothing to do with an oppressed and disadvantaged minority. It has everything to do with the battle against fanatical Islam, which is highly organised, well funded, and which seeks to terrify us all, Muslims as well as non Muslims, into a cowed silence.

“These six writers have made themselves the fellow travellers of that project. Now they will have the dubious satisfaction of watching PEN tear itself apart in public.”

While, according to Salman Rushdie, they are:

“…just 6 pussies. Six Authors in Search of a bit of Character.”

While in France, itself, “French School Deems Teenager’s Skirt an Illegal Display of Religion.”

Her case points to the difficulty in enforcing the French policy of laïcité — roughly, secularism — which strives to keep religion strictly out of government and the public sector. It has been invoked in recent years to restrict the places where Muslim women can wear clothing concealing their bodies or faces.

The case also illustrates the gap between the ways French officials and Muslims have understood the secularism rules.

And then there’s Pamela Geller whose “Pro-Israel” ads will soon start appearing on New York City buses despite a great deal of protest and have prompted a full ban on political ads by the MTANegin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah are fighting bigotry with humor and sweetness in their counter-campaign, “The Muslims Are Coming!


Nevermind the fact that Luz, the french cartoonist who drew the first post-attack Hebdo cover says that drawing The Prophet no longer interests himPamela Geller isn’t stopping with our buses, though. She wants more, so gave her what she wanted. “Pam Geller Wanted Us to Draw Muhammed. So We Did.

In response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year, Pam is hosting “The Inaugural Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest” in Texas on May 3, 2015. She wants to display all the most offensive Muhammad cartoons she can get her hands on. And she’s calling on the public to compete in who can be more offensive to the Islamic religion. …

So, we thought, why not push back against the hate — with love?

Muhammad is the most common name in the world. Chances are that all know a Muhammad. So, let’s draw Muhammad. Let’s honor his diversity. Let’s celebrate his many different faces. Let’s elevate his humanity. In a bleak world where the Pamela Gellers are the ones with the mic, let’s shine some light on the good.

While The Atlantic shares videomaker Nushmia Khan answer to the question, “What does it mean to be fashionably modest?

And Peter Beinhart writes about “The New Enemy Within: Some Republican politicians see sympathy for Islam as a liability. Why?

This is strange. Why are conservatives more hostile to Muslims and Islam today than they were in the terrifying aftermath of 9/11? And why have American Muslims, who in 2000 mostly voted Republican, apparently replaced gays and feminists as the right’s chief culture-war foe?

In a more philosophical and historical direction, Muna Mire moves “Towards a Black Muslim Ontology of Resistance” in The New Inquiry.

At the turn of the 20th century, Du Bois mapped a conceptual understanding of the Black American subject: “One ever feels his twoness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” Double consciousness signifies a subjecthood, a self whose several identities are at odds with one another. To be Black and Muslim in America today is to live a sort of Du Boisian double consciousness with an added dimension of dissonant interiority.

While Uzma Kolsy voices some reasonable concerns about “The Qu’osby Show” in The Atlantic. 

But in its effort to address years of misunderstanding, the show risks further cementing the very stereotypes it’s ostensibly trying to deconstruct. In going to great lengths to prove they’re just like every other American, Mandvi’s characters obscure their Muslim identity in the process and dilute the otherwise positive efforts of the project.

Lastly, “Swiss Artist Plans a Mosque Installation for Venice Biennale” reports Randy Kennedy for The New York Times.

“The Mosque: The First Mosque in the Historic City of Venice,” as the project is titled, will serve as the official pavilion for Iceland, where Mr. Büchel has lived for many years. The mosque installation, created in collaboration with several groups of Islamic Venetians as well as Islamic leaders in Iceland, is intended to highlight the fact that, unlike most prominent cities in Italy, Venice – whose architecture and art have been shaped over centuries by Islamic commerce and culture – has never had a mosque in its historic heart.

From the boxing ring to the Vatican: Global Christianity this week:

Jesus Never Tapped Out” according to Kelly J. Gannon‘s review of “Fight Church” for Sacred Matters. 

This idea of not being pushed around, whether by Satan or a person, is a theme that runs throughout the interviews shown in the film. Although the pastors legitimize their fighting clubs as an evangelizing mechanism (the mantra “Tough guys need Jesus too” is constantly repeated), the programs are also intended to help men defend themselves. “There is nowhere in the Bible where [God] says ‘I want you to be a punching bag for the rest of your life,’” states Burress.

"Punch Thy Neighbor"

“Punch Thy Neighbor”

According to Robert P. Jones at The Atlantic, Religious Americans Support Gay Marriage.”

Over the last decade, though, the debate has shifted from one between religious and non-religious Americans to one that primarily pits older, conservative Christians against moderate, progressive, or younger Christians, Jews, and the religiously unaffiliated.

What do the Catholic Church and the Chinese Communist party have in common? More than you’d think, argues Jeffrey Wasserstrom in “The People’s Pope and the Chairman of Everything” for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

When I arrived in Rome early in April this year, I couldn’t help but recall my last trip to China in late January. In China, the reminders and images of the Chairman of Everything were everywhere. In Rome, the likenesses of the current Pope were just as ubiquitous — and not just when I visited Vatican City late in the week. At souvenir carts and in shop windows near tourist areas linked to ancient Rome, Francis’s face appeared on refrigerator magnets, calendar covers, even atop bobble head dolls. In photographs, he is shown giving a thumbs-up sign to the viewer, reinforcing the notion that “Papa Francesco” is an informal man of the people. This imagery of a religious leader sometimes called “The People’s Pope” matches some of the portrayals of his Chinese counterpart, a man often referred to now as “Xi Dada” (Big Papa Xi).

In Rome, writes Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig for The New Republic, “The Vatican’s Solution to Climate Change: Take from the Rich, Give to the Poor

As planned, the workshop concluded with a joint statement “on the moral and religious imperative of dealing with climate change.” If the contents of that statement are any indication of the kind of thought that might be contained in Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on the environment, then we may well be awaiting the Pope’s most emphatic assault on global capitalism yet.

And while he’s at it, “Pope Francis calls for equal pay for women.”

Francis said the “radical equality” that Christianity proposes between husband and wife must bear new fruit.

“We should support with decisiveness the right to equal pay for equal work,” he said. “Why is it a given that women must earn less than men? No! They have the same rights. The disparity is pure scandal.”

Meanwhile, Nathan Schneider makes a call to “Occupy the Vatican” on #GritTV.

East, West, and all sorts of in between:

Ishaan Tharoor has helpfully shown how un-helpful (nevermind colonialist, racist, imperialist, etc.) definitions of “East” and “West” are in his “Map: Where the East and the West meet” for The Washington Post.

The map below is WorldViews’ attempt at mapping places in the world that have at some point been considered “where East and West meet” or “crossroads between East and West.” The length of the list says less about the places in question and more about the flimsiness of East and West as cultural constructs.

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Patricia J. Williams writes powerfully about “The American Ritual of Racial Killings” for The Nation.

What strikes me most about the recent videos of black men dying and dying and dying is the repetition. They all seem familiar—as in: We’ve heard it before, and before, and then well before even that. The scenes splashed across the news have become almost ritualistic, prayerful; they have a narrative potency that seems to move of its own accord, an agency exceeding that of the humans involved, whether police or suspects, victims or bystanders. We all know the words, we all sing along. In North Charleston, South Carolina, the death of Walter Scott began with a litany like so many before it: He reached for my weapon, a struggle ensued, I feared for my life, the weapon discharged. Amen.

Rachel Elizabeth Jones argues that “memorial altars in Los Angeles offer resistance to the digital” and includes a beautiful series of altar photographs in “A Form of Faith” for The New Inquiry. 

The tempting slippage between altar and alterity has been expanded upon by at least one scholar. As a condensed, physical unit of curation, the altar can be seen as a passive disruption in the mechanisms of capitalist visuality, one that paradoxically expresses faith in the unseen while worshipping visibility itself.




In “Confront Death by Avoiding Fritos: The Gluten Lie, Fad Diets, and Foodie Faith” religion professor Alan Levinovitz explains the religious origins of food fads to Michael Schulson, of Religion Dispatches. 

You’re a scholar of classical Chinese religions. How’d you end up writing about gluten?

Over two thousand years ago, there were these proto-Taoist monks in China who advocated strongly for a grain-free diet. [They claimed that] you could live forever. You could avoid disease. You could fly and teleport. Your skin would clear up.

I saw this countercultural rejection of grains, and then I saw almost the exact same thing, with the same kinds of hyperbolic claims, happening again with books like Grain Brain and Wheat Belly. And I thought to myself, you know, it’s funny, people are trying to debunk these fad diets with scientific evidence, but what they’re not realizing is that really these beliefs aren’t scientific at all. They’re wrapped in scientific rhetoric, but ultimately they’re quasi-religious beliefs that are based on superstition and myth.

Adam Brereton argues for the idea of “Anzac Day as Australian religion: can bloody defeat ever really be sacred” in The Guardian.

Our politicians talk about our defeat there in religious terms: as a so-called sacred sacrifice, a baptism of fire or a crucible for a newly federated nation. Perhaps religious language is the only way to properly express the scale of suffering experienced during the first world war; more cynically, to sacralise Gallipoli is to give it scale and moral significance it perhaps does not deserve, and to place it outside criticism. As the poet Les Murray says, when we glorify Gallipoli we find ourselves as the celebrants at a human sacrifice. In one of his war poems, The Muddy Trench, he puts this whole theology in the mouth of a terrified soldier: “The true god gives his flesh and blood. Idols demand yours off you.”

Molly Solomon reports for NPR, “Construction of Giant Telescope in Hawaii Draws Natives’ Ire.”

In Hawaii, a battle is going on over the future of a mountaintop. Native Hawaiians say it’s sacred ground, while astronomers say it’s the best place in the world to build a massive, 18-story telescope.


While on another mountaintop, “Tea Tuesdays: Tea, Tao and Tourists – China’s Mount Hua is Three-Part Harmony.”

Most tourists come to scale the precipitous peaks and take in the views. But that hasn’t abated Mount Hua’s religious significance. Its five peaks create the shape of a lotus flower, revered by Taoists for its wisdom and openness. The mountains, which were a place for pilgrimage for emperors of past dynasties, are still dotted with several influential temples. Mount Hua is one of the five sacred mountains in China, and it is the site of many legends involving deities and immortality.

Jassim Matar of Al Jazeera reports on “Siberia’s resurgent shamanism.”

“When the USSR collapsed, a lot of different religions revived and Tengerism – our religion – was among them,” said Barir Djambalovich, head shaman of the Circle of Tengerism, an organisation comprising more than 100 shamans in Ulan Ude, a city 5,600km east of Moscow.

And, lastly, Rembert Browne “Going Way Too Deep Down the Rabbit Hole With Nicki Minaj’s Recent Bar Mitvah Appearance” in Grantland. 

You’ve had 18 months to prepare for the moment when it’s NBD to hold Nicki’s hand. In a matter of months, you will be at the bottom of the food chain, as a ninth-grade boy, so these are your glory days. And you know every action you take, the younger boys will watch, will be amazed by, will talk about, indefinitely.



Still not feeling fully caught up on what’s been happening? Past links round-ups can be found here:

Talal Asad, Taylor Swift, Turbans, and more! (April 2015)

Passover, Prison, Pop Music, and more! (March 2015)

The Crusades, Anti-Vaxxers, Chocolate Gods, and  more! (February 2015)

Paris, Witches, the CNN Apocalypse, and more! (January 2015)

#black lives matter, #Illridewithyou, TL;DR Bible Stories, and more! (December 2014)

Hasidim, Mormons, Borges and more! (November 2014)

Wicca, Climate Change, Gaza, and more! (August 2014)

Prison Churches, Museums, and, of course, Hobby Lobby (July 2014)


-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer

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