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Americans are always Shouting About Religion But Don’t Know Much About It

September 30th, 2010 Comments off

Did you ever wonder how all that hysteria got going in August and September about mosque-building in the United States, in which Americans demonstrated themselves mostly ignoramuses about Islam and behaved often in an un-Christian manner toward their fellow Americans?

The Pew Charitable Trust has done a poll, the results of which demonstrate that most Americans don’t know very much about the world religions, and indeed very large numbers of them don’t even know very much about Christianity.

So there you have it. We could have that circus, provoked by rightwing politicians like Rick Lazio and Newt Gingrich, only because they and most of their followings did not have the faintest idea what they were talking about. Religion is important in America in a way it is not, in say, France. But I guess it is only the idea of religion that matters– it isn’t necessary to actually know, like, facts.

Only about half of Americans even know that the Quran (Koran) is the holy book of Muslims! Almost no one has ever heard of Maimonides or can place him as a great medieval Jewish thinker.

Less than half can name the four Gospels, or know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist. Over a fourth don’t know that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt or that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Among Christians, Evangelicals and Mormons scored highest on knowledge of the Bible and Christianity, but they didn’t know much about the other world religions (a.k.a. for many of them “works of the devil”).

Those who did best on the quiz across the board were Jews, atheists and agnostics. They didn’t know quite as much about Christianity as the Evangelicals and Mormons, but they knew as much or more than mainstream Christians, and then they knew way more about the world religions and about the place of religion in American life according to the constitution.

It isn’t odd that atheists and agnostics know a lot about religion. They’ve looked into it in order to come by their doubts honestly. People willing to inherit their religion and just quietly accept tradition typically don’t need to do much active searching or studying. Atheists and agnostics are more educated than the general run of the public, and so would know more about a lot of subjects. The same is true of Jewish Americans, who are typically highly educated. Moreover, since holding on to one’s religious beliefs as a minority is tough, according to the American Religious Identification Survey, [pdf] many Jewish Americans are atheists or agnostics, so that is another way that they overlap with those groups. (The number of self-reported believing adult Jews in the US has shrunk from an estimated 3.1 million in 1990 to 2.6 million in 2008, with many in the younger generation losing faith; there are about 6.5 million ethnic Jewish Americans).

The proportion of Americans in general who say that they have “no” religion [pdf] has gone from 8 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008, so they are a growing group (though the growth slowed in the zeroes). So on the one hand Americans are getting less religious, and on the other hand the more irreligious they get the more they seem to know about religion.

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"Elliott Abrams? worse than disingenuous. Dishonest!"

September 30th, 2010 Comments off


The problem with Abrams’ op-ed is in his sourcing. He writes:

The World Bank reported this month that “If the Palestinian Authority (PA) maintains its current performance in institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well-positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future.” The West Bank’s economy will grow 8% this year, said the bank. Meanwhile, tax revenues are 15% above target and 50% higher than in the same period last year.

 

Good news, right? Absolutely. But Abrams left out one of the other major findings of the report (.pdf) – the one that undermines his entire op-ed:

Sustainable economic growth in the West Bank and Gaza, however, remains absent. Significant changes in the policy environment are still required for increased private investment particularly in the productive sectors, enabling the PA to significantly reduce its dependence on donor aid. 

h. The obstacles facing private investment in the West Bank are manifold and myriad, as many important GoI restrictions remain in place: (a) access to the majority of the territory’s land and water (Area C) is severely curtailed; (b) East Jerusalem — a lucrative market — is beyond reach; (c) the ability of investors to enter into Israel and the West Bank is unpredictable; and (d) many raw materials critical to the productive sectors are classified by the GoI as “dual-use” (civilian and military) and their import entails the navigation of complex procedures, generating delays and significantly increasing costs. … Unless action is taken in the near future to address the remaining obstacles to private sector development and sustainable growth, the PA will remain donor dependent and its institutions, no matter how robust, will not be able to underpin a viable state.

The point of the whole friggin’ World Bank report was that the very real economic gains we have witnessed in the West Bank over the past few years will turn out to be ephemeral if they are not followed by a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Abrams continues:

Regarding security, cooperation between Israeli and PA forces has never been better. This month the International Crisis Group acknowledged that “In the past few years, the Palestinian Authority (PA) largely has restored order and a sense of personal safety in the West Bank, something unthinkable during the second intifada. Militias no longer roam streets, uniformed security forces are back, Palestinians seem mostly pleased; even Israel — with reason to be skeptical and despite recent attacks on West Bank settlers — is encouraged.”

Again, nothing wrong with that paragraph, and you can read that report as well. But again, Abrams doesn’t mention a key finding ofthat report:

The undeniable success of the reform agenda has been built in part on popular fatigue and despair – the sense that the situation had so deteriorated that Palestinians are prepared to swallow quite a bit for the sake of stability, including deepened security cooperation with their foe. Yet, as the situation normalises over time, they could show less indulgence. Should Israeli-Palestinian negotiations collapse – and, with them, any remaining hope for an agreement – Palestinian security forces might find it difficult to keep up their existing posture. … Without a credible Israeli-Palestinian peace process or their own genuine reconciliation process, Palestinians will be stuck in their long and tenuous attempt to square the circle: to build a state while still under occupation; to deepen cooperation with the occupier in the security realm even as they seek to confront it elsewhere; and to reach an understanding with their historic foe even as they prove unable to reach an understanding among themselves.

The Crisis Group report that Abrams cites, like the World Bank report, only supports the thesis of Abrams’ op-ed if you very selectively cut and paste from the reports. Otherwise, the reports he cites actually undermine the central argument of his op-ed. (And it goes without saying that Abrams did not similarly endorse this Crisis Group report. Or cite the 2009 address by Keith Dayton to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (.pdf) in which Dayton similarly warned that security gains in the West Bank were ephemeral absent political progress.)

Abrams has to know this. I mean, even assuming Abrams did not himself read the entire Crisis Group report, that bit above was from the executive summary….

I have heard from many people I admire and trust that Abrams is one of the most brilliant people in Washington. But this is the kind of stuff that gives think tank researchers a bad name. I simply cannot believe that Abrams was not aware of the conclusions of the reports he cites when he cited them. Not mentioning those conclusions in his op-ed, then, is worse than disingenuous….

  

“Welch & Abrams meet Siniora … “The Dishonorablly Dishonest & Disingenious Club!” 

The point of this post is that unlike most readers of the Wall Street Journal, those paid to study security issues in the Middle East for a living (and are thus familiar with the sources Abrams cites) know when an author is selectively sourcing his argument and deliberately avoiding evidence or conclusions that might weaken his thesis. Again, this is worse than disingenuous. This is dishonest.”

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‘Two more days’ in order to get ‘Sixty more days’ in order to get ……. skewered!

September 30th, 2010 Comments off

“…The meeting of the League’s committee on the peace process had been scheduled for Monday Oct 4 but one Arab League source said it was now postponed until Wednesday Oct 6. That would give Mitchell a precious two days more to try to bridge the negotiating gap. … An Arab League member nation diplomat tells me that while there has been some talk of postponement, he’s not aware of any final decision on this….”

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Karzai brother & the Kabul Bank

September 30th, 2010 Comments off

“…Sources told Al Jazeera that Farnood made loans worth $90m to his airline Pamir Air and $70m to natural gas operations of Hasseen Fahim, the brother of Afghanistan’s first vice-president Mohammad Qasim Fahim. Those figures are in addition to the $160m spent on properties in Dubai, the sources said …”

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Mitchell: intensive efforts to save Mideast peace talks (AFP)

September 30th, 2010 Comments off

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell (L) speaks with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat (R) following a meeting with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Mitchell said he would maintain intensive efforts to salvage peace talks with Israel.(AFP/Abbas Momani)AFP – US envoy George Mitchell said on Thursday after crucial talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas he would maintain intensive efforts to salvage peace talks with Israel.

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Rights activists share Alternative Nobel (AP)

September 30th, 2010 Comments off

This is an undated image released Thursday Sept. 30. 2010 by Right Livelihood Award  showing  2010 prize winner  Nigeria's Nnimmo Bassey, 42, chairman of Friends of the Earth International and director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria, was honored for standing up 'against the practices of multinational corporations in his country and the environmental devastation they leave behind.' (AP Photo/Right Livelihood Award, Ho)  **  EDITORIAL USE ONLY  **AP – Activists from Nepal, Nigeria, Brazil and Israel were named the winners Thursday of this year’s Right Livelihood Award, also known as the “alternative Nobel,” for work that includes fighting to save the Amazon rain forest and bringing health care to Palestinians cut off from services.

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Egypt targets $10 billion in outsourcing exports

September 30th, 2010 Comments off

Egypt hopes to see a tenfold increase in exports from its growing outsourcing industry by 2020 and will boost its focus on information technology entrepreneurship and co-ownership of intellectual prop…
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Egypt's Orascom Telecom faces new $230 million tax bill from Algeria operations

September 30th, 2010 Comments off

CAIRO – Egyptian telecom giant Orascom Telecom said Thursday its Algeria unit has been hit with a US$230 million preliminary tax reassessment, marking a new and increasingly acrimonious chapter in the…
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Bid to save Mid-East peace talks

September 30th, 2010 Comments off

US and EU envoys hold crisis talks in the Middle East amid fears that the relaunched peace talks could collapse over the settlement issue.
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Iran delays nuclear plant start

September 30th, 2010 Comments off

The head of Iran’s atomic agency says power generation from its first nuclear plant will probably begin in January, two months later than announced.
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