Date: Sat, 31 Aug 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 31, 1996 A M E
Date: Sat, 31 Aug 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 31, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
# 143 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 8/31/96 (Nightowl Edition)
In This Issue...
* Mideast Peace Process Threatened?
* Church Accused Of Partisan Politics
* Will Pope Downsize His Job? Nessie Insulted...
* About This List...
MIDEAST PEACE THREATENED BY RELIGIOUS DOGMAS
Is Netanyahu's Hardline Strategy Unraveling?
Religious extremism is once again threatening the precarious truce in
Israel and occupied territories between Jews and Palestinians. Relations
between the two sides continue to deteriorate, and the ultimate winners may
be the fringe religious movements. Both Muslim and Israeli fundamentalists
have stepped up their activities.
On the Palestinian side, any collapse of the peace process compounds
errors made by PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who late last week called for a
general strike and prayer protest in Jerusalem. Arafat is facing an erosion
of confidence in his leadership, and once again the power vacuum could be
filled by militant Islamic fundamentalists including the Hamas movement.
In Israel, the new coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces
increased activity from Orthodox fundamentalists, and a collapse of its own
hard-line strategy with the Palestinians. In the last several days:
* Palestinians, frustrated by what they perceive to be renewed attacks by
Israelis have staged limited strikes and focused international attention on
the situation in the occupied areas.
* Syrian President Assad informed diplomats that he would not resume any
negotiations with Netanyahu, a key element in the Likud strategy.
* Jordan spoke out against Israel's continued expansion of Jewish
settlements in the Gaza and West Bank.
Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea commented that "The mistakes of recent
weeks do not stem from ideology. They stem from the government's arrogance,
its thickheadedness, its blindness."
But ideology may be a more important factor than generally admitted.
Netanyahu managed to win a tight race with former Prime Minister Shimon
Peres only by gaining the support of the country's rightwing religious
fundamentalist groups like United Torah, National Religious Party and the
Shas movement. Their pricetag for support has been important ministry posts
and a new, aggressive round of settlement construction in occupied lands.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu's lieutenants have made major stragegic blunders, such
as ordering the demolition of a Palestinian youth center in east Jerusalem,
and refusing to let Arafat's helicopter land in the West Bank. By
undercutting Arafat's strategy of engagement, Israeli policy may be playing
into the hands of more militant Islamic groups like Hamas.
Up to now, Hamas has been held in check partly by Arafat's Palestinian
Authority and the prospect of a negotiated peace. But like Netanyahu, Arafat
has made his own series of blunders, including shutting down Hamas-linked or
independent newspapers in the area under his control, and cracking down on
protest directed at the Authority.
The Hamas Movement
Hamas is the Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement. In the
occupied territories of "greater Israel," it has emerged as the major rival
for Arafat's Paletinian Liberation Organization (PLO). While the PLO has
sought to establish an independent, secular Palestinian state, Hamas seeks
the creation of an Islamic Republic modeled after its major benefactor, Iran.
Analysts say that Hamas enjoys the support of 15%-30% of Palestinians; it
is strongest in impoverished areas of the West Bank and settlement camps,
areas with high unemployment, desperate living conditions, and where youth
see little prospect for a normal life. Hamas also has another layer of
support, though, from some merchants and small landowners, and has made
inroads into academic institutions.
The movement is run by a council, most of whose members live outside the
territories. A key player is Ayatollah Ali Fallahian, Chief of Intelligence
for Iran. Hamas receives about $30 million a year from various sources,
including Iran, gulf states and Saudi interests; it has also gotten military
training from the Muslim Brotherhood operating out of the Jordan, the group
which is fighting to overturn the Egyptian government and establish an
Islamic Republic there.
Within Hamas, there are splits between the military wing known as Izzedine
al-Qassam, and its political spokesmen. The former has been known to act
independently for short-term gains, a problem which is compounded by the fact
that Hamas is far from a centralized entity. Indeed, attacks by Hamas --
especially on civilian targets in Israel like buses -- have widened the gap
between Iran and leaders like Yasser Arafat.
Earlier this year, observers noted that at least two military wings of
Hamas were operating. The new group is known as Pupils of Ayyash, named for a
master bomb builder known as "The Engineer" who was killed in January when a
cellular telephone blew up in his face. Some Palestinians suspect that plot
was engineered by the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.
Arafat has never succeeded in bringing Hamas into either the peace process
or the Palestinian Authority. Now, with the ongoing failure of a peaceful
dialogue with the Israeli's, Hamas and other groups are capitalizing on
Arafat's loss of prestige and effectiveness in dealing with leaders like
Disagreement In Israel
As of Thursday night, opposition leaders were warning Netanyahu that his
failure to negotiate promptly with Arafat and the Palestinian Authority was
leading Israel toward another round of violence. Reuter news services noted
that the sides "have been sliding back into a pattern of confrontation and
suspicion after four years in which (they)had been trying to build trust."
Whereas in the past Arafat and former Prime Minister Peres representated
relatively secular impulses working on behalf of a negotiated, peaceful
compromise, religious elements are once again motivating many of the players.
Orthodox and other religious hardliners in Israel used the recent elections
to call for a giant expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied areas.
Meanwhile, Hamas and other groups advocate the destruction of Israel and the
establishment of a regional Islamic theocracy.
POPE READY TO QUIT? REPORTS COMPARED TO LOCH NESS MONSTER
Would Nessie be insulted?
Perhaps she would if she existed, especially after another Vatican denial
of reports which suggest that Pope John Paul II is considering abdication in
view of failing health. Archbishop Jean-Francois Arrighi, a spokesman for
the Vatican curia, told The London Times that rumors of early papal
retirement were like the famous Loch Ness monster -- "It is a creature which
does not exist, but now and then someone appears who swears he has seen it."
But that newfound skepticism has done little to silence reports appearing
last week in the French magazine L'Express, which featured a cover story
titled "Should John Paul II Abdicate?" According to that article and other
sources, there is growing concern over the pope's unexpected visit recently
to a hospital because of "abdominal pains." Vatican watchers also note that
John Paul's health has declined considerably since his election as pope in
1978 at the age of 58. Once a fairly robust hiker and mountain climber, he
now suffers from memory loss, and appears to walk with considerable
difficulty. His left hand trembles, and at times the pontiff -- said to be
the representative of god on earth -- appears to lack focus and awareness.
Other medical problems have plagued the pope; he was shot in the stomach
in 1981, and in July 1992 he underwent surgery where doctors removed a tumor
from his colon. The following year, he broke his shoulder and in May, 1994
broke his hip.
Press reports say that the pontiff is determine to lead the Roman Catholic
Church into the 21st century, and considers the onset of the new millennium
as a significant eschatological-religious event. One of John Paul II's goals
for the year 2000 is reportedly a unification of major Protestant
denominations under the umbrella of the Catholic church, and unification
between the Vatican and Orthodox religious sects based in Greece, Istanbul
Despite the stories about declining health, the pontiff is reportedly
intending to keep a series of scheduled visits to Hungary and France in the
ANOTHER CHURCH ACCUSED OF OVERT POLITICAL CAMPAIGNING
A complain has been filed against yet another "mega-church" for partisan
political activity. Last week, Americans United for Separation of Church and
State filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service charging that the
Second Baptist Church of Lake Jackson, Texas, had mailed out 7,000 letters to
officials nationwide urging them to vote against any candidate who supported
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told The Houston
Chronicle that "Partisan politicking by religious groups violates federal
law." The complaint against this church comes four months after a similar
charge over the political antics of a Houston congregation. AU is conducting
a campaign it calls "Project Fair Play," which is directed specifically at
religious groups that violate IRS rules barring partisan political activism.
Lynn maintains that churches which engage in such campaigning "should give up
their tax-exempt status."
The "New" and "Mega" Church ~ A Dangerous Trend
The Second Baptist Church of Houston was described as "a textbook example
of the phenomenon known as the 'mega church' and a 'political machine' in a
May, 1996 story in Church & State Magazine. Mega Churches have also been
the subject of recent articles in the nation's press, including the
prestigious Atlantic Magazine; these congregations are usually characterized
as "full services" churches which offer an array of activities for members.
The Houston church, for instance, featured gyms, racquetball courts and a
bowling alley for its 22,000 congregants.
Not all of the "mega" churches engage in the overt political activity
which Second Baptist of Houston did. The church printed up pamphlets urging
members to vote for a specific slate of candidates during the March 12
presidential primary elections as part of what it called The Nehemiah
Project; it also hosted meetings for those active in the local Republican
The latest suit highlights growing concern about the activities of
religious groups which cross the line separating discussion of issues (such
as abortion) from partisan political campaigning.
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