Forensic Theology, Ideological Surveillance
Would Osama bin Laden call his enemies foreign “agents” or “infidels”? Would he speak of 9/11 as an “event” or a “raid”? Would Abu Musab al-Zarqawi quote the 13th Century anti-Shiite religious leader, Ibn Taymiyya, in a screed against the United States? The Atlantic Monthly’sStephen Grey reports on the growing importance of religion scholars and theological expertise in fighting terrorism, wherein theological experts are called upon to authenticate terrorist documents, help identify perpetrators, suspect religious groups, and targets for surveillance based on a familiarity with “the trademarks of extremist thought.”

Taking a cue from France, where religion experts last year identified three Muslim clerics as likely extremists based on their sermons (they were confirmed and deported as such after a subsequent police investigation), the Washington D.C. Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has employed religion experts to judge the authenticity of statements supposedly released by al-Qaeda; to identify suspicious mosque names; and, effectively, find grounds for wiretapping and other surveillance operations. Other avenues where MEMRI could see religion scholars being useful include monitoring publications — including school publications — for religious references or quotations that could ideologically link students with jihadis a world away.

The clues are in the details; details experts can pick up. There are also differences there though, as Alistair Crooke, former E.U. negotiator to Hamas and other radical Islamic groups, hopes to emphasize. Crooke is working on a project to familiarlize Western policymakers with Islam, and the difference ideology makes between a blow-hard statement — like Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi’s declaration, “‘God declared war against America, Bush, and Sharon’”; a statement unsupported by al-Rantissi’s own religious ideology, which rejects worldwide jihad — and a real threat. “‘The biggest mistake the West makes is to disregard these differences and to demonize almost the entire spectrum of political Islam,’” says Crooke.

Freestyle Agnostics?
Gustav Niebuhr wonders which candidate will court the agnostic vote.
Hamas Relief
Press release: The Simon Wiesenthal Center asks Canada and the U.S. to suspend payments to the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees until an investigation is made into the agency’s hiring of Hamas members. A UN representative defended the hirings, saying not all Hamas members were militants, and that the agency did not politically vet its employees, but demanded neutral behavior from all.
Lord of the Hanging Chads
The Rev. Walter Humphrey, a pastor of two mostly black churches, has “serious doubts” about how Bush “won” Florida in 2000. But that won’t stop him for voting for Bush. “‘I don’t view that as an election that was stolen’ he said. ‘I see that as the providence of God.’” More from the NYT’s “conservative” beat reporter David D. Kirkpatrick and the awesome, interventionistLord of the Hanging ChadsWorth noting: Kirkpatrick tells this story of the “black church” based entirely on interviews with political operatives and the pastors who are expected to direct their congregations’ votes. In other words, none of the people expected to do the actual voting.
Evangelical Sniper
Evangelical apologist Francis Schaeffer, writes Patton Dodd, “sits atop the Fortress of Reason like a Christian sniper, his scope trained on everything in sight, taking down enemies with precision. Hegel, Picasso, Bergman, and infinite others receive the Schaefferian rapid-fire hit and, at least within the airtight pages of his books as I understand them, don’t get back up.” Of course, that was then — when Dodd was an undergraduate at Oral Roberts U. — and this is now, when the above passage comes from Revealer contributor Dodd’s new book, My Faith So Far, excerpted at The New Pantagruel.
Rumi, American Poet
Every year, millions of Americans continue to swoon and sigh over the verses of a “fundamentalist” Muslim. Cat Stevens, AKA Yusuf Islam? Nope. A devout Muslim mystic born eight centuries ago in Afghanistan — Maulana Jelaluddin Rumi…
What secular media?
NPR religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty explores Bush’s faith by… profiling an evangelical mission for drug addicts in Washington, D.C. Gospel music and testimonies by former addicts become the voice of the president, who did not actually grant Hagerty an interview. “This is language that George W. Bush would embrace,” Hagerty announces. Her evidence? Bush hagiographer David Aikman, author of A Man of Faith, says so. Of course, Aikman also says that we can see the profundity of Bush’s faith in the fact that he’s a jogger, which, he claims, proves that Bush views his body as a temple. Hagerty proceeds to pinball between pro- and con voices talking about faith-based initiatives. But the piece falls firmly on one side of the debate. Although Hagerty acknowledges that there is, to date, no evidence that faith-based initiatives are more effective than other approaches, addicts, she says, “don’t need hard statistics.” A cleaned-up junkie gets pushed before the mike to announce that he don’t know nothing about guv’mint, but he sure knows what works. Fade to gospel close-out music: “When I see Jesus…”