Possessed by demons? Satan got ya? Who ya gonna call?

Well, you might start with your local Catholic church.

The Vatican has recently ordered bishops to form teams of priests in each diocese trained to fight demonic possession.

However, it has not been confirmed that the Pontiff also plans to renounce Galileo and re-establish the Church's belief in the geocentric model of the universe.

Vatican Exorcist-in-Chief, 82-year-old Father Gabriele Amorth announced the new initiative.

"Thanks be to God, we have a Pope who has decided to fight the Devil head-on," he said.

"Too many bishops are not taking this seriously and are not delegating their priests in the fight against the Devil. You have to hunt high and low for a properly trained exorcist.”

He said that Benedict XVI wants to restore a prayer seen as protection against evil that was traditionally recited at the end of Catholic Masses. The prayer, to St Michael the Archangel, was dropped in the 1960s by Pope John XXIII.

The Vatican is particularly concerned that young people are being exposed to the influence of Satanic sects through rock music and the Internet

The Catholic Encyclopedia defines exorcism as:
(1) the act of driving out, or warding off, demons, or evil spirits, from persons, places, or things, which are believed to be possessed or infested by them, or are liable to become victims or instruments of their malice; (2) the means employed for this purpose, especially the solemn and authoritative adjuration of the demon, in the name of God, or any of the higher power in which he is subject.

In 1999 the Vatican issued its first update to the exorcism ritual since 1614 in an effort to bring the church up to date with modern science and urged church-approved exorcists to consult with modern medicine where needed. At the time it was made clear that belief in the devil was not optional. Belief in Satan is a tenet of the Catholic faith.

Modern medicine asserts that the behaviour of those termed “possessed” by the unsophisticated and superstitious is caused by identifiable physical and mental conditions. Prominent among them is Tourettes Syndrome (TS). Initial symptoms of this malady are involuntary facial “tics,” grimaces and upward eye rolling progressing to spontaneous vocalizations such as throat clearing, grunts, growls, shrieks and barks.

About 60% of TS cases exhibit verbal outbursts of sexual, scatological or blasphemous nature. “Forbidden” sexual, aggressive or sacrilegious thoughts intrude – all the symptoms portrayed so convincingly by actress Linda Blair in the wildly popular 1973 William Friedkin film “The Exorcist” based on William P. Blatty’s novel of the same name. (of which more in a moment)

Other possibilities are epilepsy, schizophrenia and migraine.

Psychological issues like low self-esteem and narcissism can cause a person to act out the role of "possessed person" in order to gain attention. According to sociologist William Cuneo in his study “American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty” a remarkable increase in reported cases of supposed demonic possession and a resulting demand for exorcism was observed after the release of the Friedkin film.

Successful exorcisms where the patient is “cured,” and there are some, are said to be the result of a placebo effect.

With all the scientific evidence regarding the physical and psychological causes of “possession,” why then the current emphasis on traditional possession and exorcism by Benedict XVI?

It appears that Benedict XVI, a conservative cleric if there ever was one, may be attempting to slow or even halt the movement to a more liberal and contemporary church initiated by Pope John XXIII with Vatican II in 1962.

He is said to be a firm believer in the existence of evil ever since he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the oldest Vatican department that deals with promoting and safeguarding Roman Catholic beliefs.

Also, statistics show that the Church is losing membership (and priests) in industrialized countries. In order to maintain numbers it must seek recruits in those areas where the population is still susceptible to magic and superstition – Central and Latin America and particularly in Africa where witchcraft, spiritual possession and exorcism are already established as part of folk religion.

In the meantime, you may want to make sure that your neighbourhood priest has his crucifix, bible and aspergillum at the ready. Just in case you have to call him.

References:
Barry L. Bayerstein – Dissociative States: Possession and Exorcism
Barry L. Bayerstein - Neuropathology and the Legacy of Spiritual Possession


Update: According to UPI, either the Vatican is doing a complete about face or the good Father Amorth has a few mea culpas in his future.

Vatican denies exorcist expansion

Published: Dec. 29, 2007 at 9:33 AM
VATICAN CITY, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- The Vatican is denying reports it plans to install more exorcists around the world so possessed people can get help quickly."Pope Benedict XVI has no intention of ordering local bishops to bring in garrisons of exorcists to fight demonic possession,'' Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters in Rome Friday.

On Thursday, the Roman Catholic Web site Petrus said the pope planned to install more exorcists in every diocese next year and reintroduce a prayer during mass to St. Michael the Archangel, believed to be the prime protector against evil, The Telegraph in Britain reported Saturday.

Paolo Scarafoni, a priest at Vatican University who teaches how to recognize and expel Satan, said exorcists increasingly are in demand because devil worship has become so common, reported ANSA, the Italian news agency. "Priests are being bombarded," Scarafoni told ANSA.
© 2007 United Press International. All Rights Reserved.

The Islamist War on Muslim Women

While I normally much prefer to post original material to The View from Here, I feel strongly that the following op/ed piece from The Boston Globe deserves a much wider audience than it may be receiving locally. My thanks to Jeff Jacoby for his permission.

The Boston Globe, USA
Dec. 23, 2007
Opinion
Jeff Jacoby

The “Quatif girl” won a reprieve last week. On Dec. 17, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah pardoned the young woman, who was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison after she pressed charges against seven men who had raped her and a male acquaintance in 2006.

Two weeks earlier, Sudan’s president extended a similar reprieve to Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher convicted of insulting Islam because her 7-year-old students named a teddy bear Muhammad. Gibbons had been sentenced to prison, but government-organized street demonstrators were loudly demanding her execution.

In January, Nazanin Fatehi was released from an Iranian jail after a death sentence against her was revoked. She had originally been convicted of murder for fatally stabbing a man when he and two others attempted to rape her and her niece in a park. (Had she yielded to the rapists, she could have been flogged or stoned for engaging in nonmarital sex.)

The sparing of these women was very welcome news, of course, and it was not coincidental that each case had triggered an international furor. But for every “Qatif girl” or Nazanin who is saved, there are far too many other Muslim girls and women for whom deliverance never comes.

No international furor saved Aqsa Parvez, a Toronto teenager, whose father was charged on Dec. 11 with strangling her to death because she refused to wear a hijab. “She just wanted to look like everyone else,” one of Aqsa’s friends told the National Post, “and I guess her dad had a problem with that.”

No reprieve came for Banaz Mahmod, either. She was 20, a Kurdish immigrant to Britain, whose father and uncle had her killed last year after she left an abusive arranged marriage and fell in love with a man not from the family’s village in Kurdistan. Banaz was choked to death with a bootlace, stuffed into a suitcase, and buried in a garden 70 miles away.

More than 25 such “honor killings” have been confirmed in Britain’s Muslim community in recent years. Many more are suspected.

There has been no storm of outrage about the intimidation and murder in Basra, Iraq, of women who wear Western-style clothing. Iraqi police say that more than 40 women have been killed so far this year by Islamists; the bodies are often left in garbage dumps with notes accusing the victims of “un-Islamic behavior.”

By Western standards, the subjugation of women by Muslim fanatics, and the sometimes pathological Islamist obsession with female sexuality, are unthinkable. Time and again they lead to shocking acts of violence and depravity:

In Pakistan, a tribal council ordered a woman to be gang-raped as punishment for her brother’s supposed liaison with a woman from another tribe.

In San Francisco, a young Muslim woman was shot dead after she uncovered her hair and put on makeup in order to be a maid of honor at a friend’s wedding.

In Tehran, a father beheaded his 7-year-old daughter because he suspected that she had been raped; he said he acted “to defend my honor, fame, and dignity.”

In Saudi Arabia, the Islamic police prevented schoolgirls from leaving a burning building because they were not wearing headscarves and abayas; 15 of the girls died in the inferno.

The president of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, a renowned center of Islamic learning, described the proper method of wife-beating in a television interview: “It’s not really beating,” Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb explained on Egyptian television. “It’s more like punching.”

When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996, the repression of women was among their first priorities. They issued a decree forbidding women to leave their homes, with the result that work and schooling for women came to a halt, destroying the country’s healthcare system, civil service, and elementary education.

“Forty percent of the doctors, half of the government workers, and seven out of 10 teachers were women,” Lawrence Wright observed in “The Looming Tower,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of Al Qaeda. “Under the Taliban, many of them would become beggars.”

Women are not the only victims of this rampant misogyny. Mohammed Halim, a 46-year-old Afghan schoolteacher, was dragged from his family and horribly murdered last year - disemboweled and then dismembered - for defying orders to stop educating girls.

All these are only examples - the tip of a dreadful iceberg that will never be demolished until Muslims by the millions rise up against it. As for the rest of us, we too have an obligation to raise our voices. It took a worldwide outcry to spare “Qatif girl” and Nazanin. But there are countless others like them, and our silence may seal their fate.

On Trial - Freedom of Speech in Canada

Canadian Muslims are using Canada’s democratic principles to further their own non-democratic agenda.

Responding to complaints by the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC), the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) and the British C0lumbia Human Rights Tribunal have launched proceedings against author Mark Steyn and Maclean’s Magazine over an excerpt from Steyn’s book “America Alone” which appeared in the magazine.

The “offending” article can be read here.

According to the CIC, the article was “flagrantly Islamophobic” and “subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt.”

Flagrantly Islamophobic? Based on demographic studies, the article forecasts a number of possible results - some of which have already begun to become apparent - of the declining world population of those with Western values while the same studies show that the Muslim population is skyrocketing.

“Every Western woman in the EU is producing an average of 1.4 children. Every Muslim woman in the same countries is producing 3.5 children."

That Islam has a non-democratic agenda is clear and has been expressed quite succinctly by many Muslim leaders including Libya's Colonel Moammar Gadhafi.

“There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe -- without swords, without guns, without conquests. The fifty million Muslims of Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades."

This is exactly Steyn’s contention.

As for "hatred and contempt," one has only to open a newspaper or turn on the television news to quickly realize that Muslims the world over are doing a superb job of bringing hatred and contempt upon themselsves. Nothing Steyn writes could make a more negative impression.

The problem lies not with Steyn or Maclean’s. The problem lies with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The mandate of the CHRC is not to prosecute hate crimes. It was originally set up to investigate complaints regarding infractions of laws regarding unfair employment and rental practices etc. based on race or colour. That the Commission sees the CIC’s complaint as having merit and has accepted it is absurd. Nonetheless, should they stupidly go through with the case and convict Steyn, the conviction will no doubt be overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada on appeal as a violation of section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – Freedom of Expression.

Even the 1985 conviction of the infamous anti-Semite and holocaust denier Ernst Zundel for publishing “a statement or tale, namely, "Did Six Million Really Die?" that he knows is false and that is likely to cause mischief to the public interest in social and racial tolerance, contrary to the Criminal Code." was overturned by the Supreme Court as a violation of the Charter.

All this is not to say that we should ignore Steyn's situation. The use of hate and human rights laws to stop honest comment regarding any identifiable group is a perversion of the law’s intent. Protests regarding the CHRC action should be lodged in the strongest possible terms with the Prime Minister, Members of Parliament as well as the Human Rights Commission itself. Freedom of expression is too precious a right to ignore.

Karma and Other Nonsense


The inevitability of death, as well as the possibility that there is no afterlife, are difficult pills for most of us to swallow. As a result, we look for evidence, no matter how unsubstantiated, that this is not the case. Complying with consumer demand, every religion contains teachings of a life after death, be it in paradise with 72 virgins, in heaven with mom and dad and the puppy you had when you were ten or in nirvana, a state of ultimate bliss. (Whatever that is.)

It’s unfortunate that current criticism of religion in this regard is limited almost entirely to the three Abrahamic religions - Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Certainly, Eastern beliefs are fair game, or should be, and offer much that deserves to be criticized.

Karma, for example, as a tenet of four major Eastern faiths - Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism, is well worth examining in the light of reason. As a former devout Tibetan Buddhist, my opinions are possibly not unbiased, but do have the advantage of coming from first hand experience.

The word “karma” means action and while there are some differences in the concept of karma between the four traditions, the basic idea is the same. Our actions create our life, past, present and future, making us each responsible for our own life and its effects on others. Religions that incorporate reincarnation, and Buddhism is one of them, believe that karma affects not only this life but future ones as well. However, this does not represent an endorsement of predestination in Buddhism. It is possible to improve regardless of one’s past with the ultimate object of paying off one’s karmic debt and, as a result, being freed from the “endless round of birth and death” Samsara.

Therefore, if you were born with a hideous deformity, into an abusive family situation or suffer a terrible accident etc. - cheer up. It will only affect you for life and besides, you must have deserved it for some negative karmic action committed in a past life. Remember, you’re paying off your karmic debt. (Hmm, I wonder who’s keeping score? Sam Harris’ cosmic accountant, perhaps.)

The concept of karma is intimately connected to that of rebirth. Tibetan Buddhism teaches that depending on our karma at the moment of death we end up in one of six states of rebirth or realms – deva (god), asura (demigod), human being, animal, hungry ghosts (unable to enjoy food or drink) and hell being (subject to incredible suffering – burning, freezing, being continually hacked to pieces etc.) Some interpret these as mental conditions only, while more fundamental believers see these as actual situations. Either way, the prospects are terrifying.

Some would like to believe that we live in an ultimately just and fair universe. Good people are rewarded, though perhaps not it this life – the bad guys get their comeuppance. The vector through which this moral equilibrium functions is karma. This is wishful-thinking. There is no evidence that the universe is just or fair and no rational reason that it should be.

Two years ago I questioned an on-line Tibetan Buddhist discussion group regarding the karma of the 225,000 people who died in the Dec. 26, 2005 Asian tsunami plus that of the millions left destitute. The answer – this was a result of group karma! All these unfortunate people had the same karma. No doubt this warped reasoning can be extended to account for the deaths in the 9/11 World Trade Centre attack and other disasters as well.

Think about it. The sheer idiocy of this concept is mind boggling.

Clearly, karma is another irrational religious belief offering nothing of substance.

The Deadly Face of Muslim Extremism

Two courageous Muslims who have it right. Let's hope this serves as a wake-up call to the danger in our midst.

Tarek Fatah and Farzana Hassan,
National Post
Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The tragic death of a Mississauga, Ont., teenage girl -- allegedly at the hands of her own traditionally minded Muslim father -- has sent shock waves across the world. Canadians are justified in raising concerns as to whether this is a sign of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in their own backyard.

Aqsa Parvez, a sprightly 16-year-old, beloved of her friends and peers at Applewood Heights Secondary School, was only trying to be herself, was only wishing for a normal adolescence amid Canada's rich cultural mosaic. Her father has now been charged with murder, and his son with obstruction, while a young life has been snuffed out -- likely in the name of honour and Islam.

Radical Muslim men consider themselves ultimately responsible for the conduct of the womenfolk. This outlook is rooted in a medieval ethos that treats women as nonpersons, unable to decide for themselves what they should wear, where they must go and what they must accomplish in life. If their conduct is seen as contravening this austere religious outlook, they are invariably subjected to abuse.

The hijab in particular has become a thorny issue among Muslim families. It has been elevated as a sort of "sixth pillar of Islam" among militant sects. Young teenage girls are often lectured over the virtues of the hijab by their family members. Once they hit puberty, compliance is deemed a non-negotiable religious requirement.

Yet none of this is actually mandated by the Koran. The Qur'an, while speaking generally of modesty in dress and demeanour, falls short of specifying the details of that modesty. Scripture also makes allowances for non-compliance of religious edicts if the environment is not conducive to their observance.

The Qur'an exhorts compassion upon parents, caretakers and guardians of young girls. Yet some families instead exhibit a strict conformity to doctrine and dogma, which in turn leads to violence, bigotry and intolerance of alternative understandings of faith.

There is much discussion in Canadian society about the religious freedoms of those who choose to wear the hijab. We hear relatively little about the oppression of young girls who make the opposite choice. Seldom is their oppression from within their own community, or even their own family, cast as a human rights issue.

If convicted, Aqsa's father and brother must be handed the strictest penalty available under the law. As for the imams and clergy of Canada's mosques, who constantly berate young women for not wearing the hijab or snub them for "violating Islam," they need to reflect on the consequences of their sermons.

Consider, as an example, the Montreal mosque that recently posted on its Web site a warning to the effect that if young girls took off their hijab, they could end up getting raped and having "illegitimate children." Other proffered risks included "Stresses, insecurity and suspicion in the minds of husbands" and "instigating young people to deviate towards the path of lust."

As if the threat of rape and the fear of illegitimate children were not enough, these pre-teen girls were told that if they took off their hijab, they would cease to be Muslims: "By removing your hijab, you have destroyed your faith. Islam means submission to Allah in all our actions." Little wonder then, that Canadian girls walk away from sports tournaments rather than remove their hijabs.

Muslims need to stand up to this sort of emotional and religious blackmail by imams who spread the competing agendas of Saudi Arabia and Iran into Canada. Young Aqsa Pervez's death cannot be reversed. But in her memory, we can at least challenge those whose message leads to rage and madness.

-- Tarek Fatah is author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, to be published by Wiley & Sons in March, 2008. Farzana Hassan is author of Islam, Women, and the Challenges of Today. Both are members of the Muslim Canadian Congress (mcc@muslimcongress.ca).

The New Atheists

If you’re a reader of books, and likely even if you’re not, the term “New Atheists” immediately brings to mind four names, that of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett and Christopher Hitchens. Books by all four have appeared at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list – a remarkable achievement in a country where 80% of the population claims to believe in God. Over the past two years, through their books and personal appearances, sometimes together, they have made a withering attack on religion and religious belief.

Sam Harris, a graduate in philosophy from Stanford University and holder of a doctorate in neuroscience from the University of California, started the assault with the 2004 publication of “The End of Faith – Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason” written in response to the World Trade Centre attack of 9/11/2001. Citing several pages of violent quotations from the Qur’an as evidence, Harris contends that, rather than the result of Islamic extremism or the anti-American sentiment prevalent in the Middle-East at the time, 9/11 was at heart a product of the inherently violent nature of Islam itself and the Muslim belief in the virtues and consequent desirability of martyrdom.

Christianity does not get off lightly in “The End of Faith.” Harris devotes an entire chapter to the horrors of Christian history – the Inquisition, the witch hunts, anti-Semitism – “some of the terrible consequences that have arisen, logically and inevitably, out of Christian faith.”

For Harris, moderation in religion “offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence… Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance… By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray both faith and reason equally.”

“Thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible. How do I know this? The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse.”

Thus begins Harris’ second book “Letter to a Christian Nation” in which he sets out and brilliantly succeeds “to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms.”

Harris’ website is located at: http://www.samharris.org/

More from Sam Harris is available at:
http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/sam_harris/

Because of his aggressive and sometimes acerbic dismissal of religion and its beliefs, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is often seen as the leader of the “new atheist” movement. Certainly, he gave the atheist message renewed impetus plus, as a highly respected scientist and writer, additional legitimacy with the publication of his controversial “The God Delusion” in 2006

For those unfamiliar with Dawkins, his description of the God of the Old Testament from chapter two of the book as “arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully” will give some indication of his attitude and style.

While agreeing that it may be impossible to prove with certainty the existence or non-existence of God, Dawkins is not among those who subscribe to Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA assertion – that religion and science are non-overlapping magisteria. He believes that the religion and faith are fair subjects for scientific investigation.

From this perspective, with reason and wit, he proceeds to destroy arguments for God’s existence, assess the probability of His existence (much less than 50%) and examine the roots of religion and morality. He makes short work of the argument often posed by the religious “We need God in order to be good.”

In much the same manner as Sam Harris, Dawkins also presents a litany of absurdities and horrors resulting from both Christian and Muslim beliefs.

Of particular concern to Dawkins is the forcing of religion on children by their parents, a practice which he feels approaches abuse. “It is their privilege to decide what they want to think, and not their parents’ privilege to impose it by force majeure.” He finds it “grotesque” that young children are labeled as Christian or Muslim. “A child is not a Christian child, not a Muslim child, but a child of Christian parents or a child of Muslim parents”

"I doubt that religion can survive deep understanding. The shallows are its natural habitat. Cranks and fundamentalists are too often victimized as scapegoats for religion in general. It is only quite recently that Christianity reinvented itself in non-fundamentalist guise, and Islam has yet to do so (see Ibn Warraq's excellent book, Why I am not a Muslim). Moonies and scientologists get a bad press, but they just haven't been around as long as the accepted religions. Theology is a respectable discipline when it studies such subjects as moral philosophy, the psychology of religious belief and, above all, biblical history and literature. Like Bertie Wooster, my knowledge of the Bible is above average. I seem to know Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon almost by heart. I think that the Bible as literature should be a compulsory part of the national curriculum - you can't understand English literature and culture without it. But insofar as theology studies the nature of the divine, it will earn the right to be taken seriously when it provides the slightest, smallest smidgen of a reason for believing in the existence of the divine. Meanwhile, we should devote as much time to studying serious theology as we devote to studying serious fairies and serious unicorns."

Richard Dawkins’ website may be accessed at: http://richarddawkins.net/

Using a much softer approach than both Harris and Dawkins, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett of Tufts University attempts to demonstrate that religion is a natural evolutionary development in the human animal and, as such, can and should be made available to scientific investigation. In his book “Breaking the Spell” (2006) he examines the question of how ideas, religious and otherwise, are developed in the first place and why some individuals devote their entire lives to furthering the interests of an idea.

He claims the spell that must be broken is the taboo against scientific inquiry into the nature of religion even at the cost of breaking a more serious spell – the enchantment of religion itself.

Dennett examines religion as a biological and cultural phenomenon governed by the processes of evolution and natural selection similar to, and possibly concurrent with, the development of language. Borrowing from Richard Dawkins “The Selfish Gene” he also discusses the possibility of religion as a meme – an idea that persists solely for the purpose of self replication. Any benefits accruing to humans, and there are some, are accidental.

His most popular concept and one that is repeated over and over again in discussions on atheism is that of “belief in belief.” For example, many of us believe in democracy and recognize that the security of democracy in the future depends critically on maintaining the belief in democracy.

He observes that more people likely believe in the belief in God than actually believe in God.

“Belief in belief in God makes people reluctant to acknowledge the obvious: that much of the traditional lore about God is no more worthy of belief than the lore about Santa Claus or Wonder Woman.”

“The belief that the belief in God is so important that it must not be subjected to the risks of disconfirmation or serious criticism has led the devout to ”save” their beliefs by making them incomprehensible even to themselves.”

In considering the pros and cons of religious adherence, Dennett observes that it does seem to provide some health benefits, “but it is too early too say whether there are other, better ways of delivering these benefits, and too early to say if the side effects outweigh the benefits.”

Daniel Dennett’s Tusk University website is located at: http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/incbios/dennettd/dennettd.htm

More from Daniel Dennett can be found at: http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/daniel_c_dennett/

Author, journalist and literary critic Christopher Hitchens is the most recent and arguably the most articulate writer to condemn religion in all its aspects. In his “God is Not Great” (2007) an obvious allusion to the Muslim takbir “Allāhuh Akhbar” usually translated as God is great, Hitchens brings an historical and highly literary perspective to the discussion.

In the chapter entitled simply “Religion Kills,” he enumerates a number of crimes perpetrated in the name of religion, many of which he has observed personally – the “troubles” of Northern Ireland – the persecution of non-Hindus in Bombay in the 1990’s – the anti-Muslim “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslavia – the present sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite in Baghdad.

Anyone familiar with Hitchens’ work knows that he is as master of sarcasm. A typical example occurs in the chapter on “Arguments from Design:

“There is a central paradox at the core of religion. The three great monotheisms teach people too think abjectly of themselves, as miserable and guilty sinners prostrate before an angry and jealous god who, according to discrepant accounts fashioned them either out of dust and clay or a clot of blood. The positions for prayer are usually emulations of the supplicant serf before an ill-tempered monarch. The message is one of submission, gratitude and fear. Life itself is a poor thing: an interval in which to prepare for the hereafter or the coming – or the second coming- of the Messiah.

On the other hand, and as if by way of compensation, religion teaches people to be extremely self-centred and conceited. It assures them that god cares for them individually, and it claims that the cosmos was created with them specifically in mind. This explains the supercilious expression on the faces of those who practice religion ostentatiously: pray excuse my modest and humility but I happen to be busy on an errand for god."

Thus, through nineteen chapters, with great skill, Hitchens ridicules and denounces religious faith of all persuasions both Western and Eastern.

More recently Hitchens has introduced and edited a new volume “The Portable Atheist” which contains selected writings from some of the “old” atheists such as Hobbes, Spinoza and Hume as well as more contemporary works.

Hitchens’ website containing writings on a number of subjects including religion can be found at:
http://www.hitchensweb.com/

This is Toronto, Halima, T-O-R-O-N-T-O, not Mogadishu


Skirt too long to please employer
Muslim airport worker, laid off after altering uniform, takes case to rights commission
The Star
November 17, 2007
John Goddard, Staff Reporter

A few inches of skirt length have led to an airport security guard's suspension. The skirt is too long – not too short – to please the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.


Halima Muse, a practising Muslim, has been laid off without pay until she agrees to wear a standard uniform that includes either slacks or a skirt falling at the knee. Instead, she has filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission saying she is the target of religious discrimination, as Islam instructs that she dress modestly in a way that covers the body and conceals its curves.

"My skirt is not that much different – it's a bit longer," she said yesterday from her home not far from Pearson airport, where she has worked for more than five years. "It's not about style, it's about my dignity."

Muse, 33, is the single mother of one teenage son. She came to Canada from Somalia in 1989 and says she enjoyed working at the airport and never had problems with her immediate employer, Garda of Canada.

"I love my job," said Muse, who scanned passengers and luggage in the security area. "I like the people working with me. All the managers are nice to me. Most of the travellers are nice. We meet lots of different kinds of people ...

"It's flexible," she also said. "I pray five times a day for five minutes."

Until February of this year, Muse wore slacks with her uniform but never liked them, her brief to the commission says. They showed the shape of her body. She asked the Garda employee in charge of uniforms for a skirt longer than the standard one. No such skirt existed, she was told, but she negotiated a solution. Matching colour and material, she made her own skirt that reached the ankle.

For six months all went well, Muse said in the interview. Then a Garda manager said she must conform to regulations.

"The regulations are established by (the air transport security authority)," said Garda communications director Joe Gavaghan.

"We neither set those requirements nor can we interpret them ...

"We immediately went to (the federal authority) indicating what the situation was and asking them to please direct us as to what we could do. They came back and had made the decision that there are two alternatives: Women can wear a skirt that is knee length or they can wear pants."

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority will take questions next week, a spokesperson said.

Muse's suspension from work happened in stages. On Aug. 11, Garda suspended her one day for wearing the ankle-length skirt. On Aug. 15, she was suspended for three days. On Aug. 22, the penalty became five days. On Aug. 29, she was sent home indefinitely.

"I am talking for all women who would like to wear a long skirt – practising Christians, Jewish, Muslim, all of them," Muse said.

Taking a stand has already cost her, she said. Out of work nearly three months, she is running up debt on a credit card and borrowing money from her brother.

The federal employment insurance agency has refused to qualify her, she said, because she is not officially unemployed – she can go back to her job if she conforms to regulations she considers to violate her religious rights. The welfare department has similarly denied her application, she said.

Uniform
Adjective: 1. Always the same, as in character or degree; unvarying.
2. Conforming to one principle, standard, or rule; consistent
3. Being the same as or consonant with another or others.
4. Unvaried in texture, color, or design.
Noun: 1. A distinctive outfit intended to identify those who wear it as
members of a specific group.
2. One set of such an outfit.
The American Heritage® Dictionary

Let us begin by clearing up one significant issue. Ms. Muse’s wardrobe choice is a cultural belief, not a religious one. The Qur'an enjoins women (and men) to dress modestly only. Nowhere is it mandated that they must cover their bodies almost completely from head to toe (actually an Arab tradition.)

“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their chastity; that is purer for them. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity, and not to make a display of their beauty except what is apparent, and let them cast a cover over their bosoms.... And turn to Allah (God) altogether, O believers, in order that you might succeed” (Qur'an 24: 30-31)

“O prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and the wives of the believers that they shall lengthen their garments. Thus, they will be recognized and avoid being insulted. God is Forgiver, Most Merciful.” ( Qur'an 33:59)

These two short passages are the total dress instruction in the Qur'an. Ms. Muse may be alluding to the latter which mentions lengthening garments. However, no instruction is given regarding how long or, for that matter, which garments should be lengthened.

Ms. Muse comes from a society where “modestly” has long been interpreted as fully covered by some of the most strict, fundamentalist, hardline, male Islamic clerics on the planet. In the Canadian cultural context, a knee length skirt or slacks are considered modest dress.

Ms. Muse, who “loves her job,” has worked at the airport for over five years and has worn slacks during this time apparently without complaint. She was no doubt made aware of the conditions of employment when she accepted the position. Why the discomfort now?

Her employer, Garda of Canada, a Montreal based international security firm, does not dress their employees in a uniform for frivolous reasons. As a security organization it is essential that employees present to the public an appearance of competence and near-military efficiency. A standard uniform helps to produce that impression.

A popular buzzword regarding immigrants with respect to their culture and religion is “reasonable accommodation.” Garda have certainly been reasonable in allowing Ms. Muse time to pray. Prayer is religious. Dress is not. Expecting Garda to make exceptions to company dress policy is not reasonable.

This is Canada. On her own time, Ms. Muse is free to go about in a burqua, should she choose to do so. On company time, she is obliged to conform to the company standard.

Canada Employment Insurance and the local welfare office have made the correct decision in this instance.

Update: A Very Canadian Resolution to the Problem

TORONTO (Reuters) Nov.21,2007 - A Muslim airport screener who was suspended from her job at Toronto's Pearson airport because her skirt was too long has been allowed to return to work under a compromise with her employer.

The security company, Garda of Canada, has offered the worker, Halima Muse, a full-time administrative job that will allow her to wear civilian attire instead of the uniform required in her previous role, the Teamsters union said in a statement on Wednesday.

Muse's employer had suspended her for wearing a skirt longer than the knee-length garment the company had issued her. She wanted to wear the longer skirt to conform with the Islamic dress code.

The union, which represents security workers at Pearson airport, said Muse would also receive back pay for the three months she was on suspension.

Muse said she is content with the ruling as long as her salary stays the same.

Under the agreement, Muse will stay in the administrative position until the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) can evaluate its policies, which required Muse to choose between a shorter skirt or pants, neither of which she deemed modest enough. Garda of Canada said it had to follow CATSA's guidelines.

Benny Hinn - What a Friend He Has in Jesus

It’s been two decades since the TV demise of pioneer televangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart amid charges of sexual impropriety and fraud. While still in business, neither command the millions of followers they once did. In their place a new generation of TV preachers has arisen to tap the pockets of the vulnerable.

Foremost among them is Benny Hinn. His current television show “This is Your Day” is available several days a week on a number of networks. The program features highlights of his “Miracle Crusade” in which the diminutive and dapper Hinn, along with a television crew, travels the world preaching in a decidedly flamboyant style and supposedly “curing” fervent attendees of a variety of ailments. Due to his popularity, these events are usually held in large stadiums.

The crusade events begin with the singing by Hinn and the choir of a simplistic religious song which, by means of endless repetition, turns into a mesmerizing chant. Meanwhile, the camera focuses on certain audience members, arms raised heavenward, seemingly undergoing a tearful religious experience. Next is the faith healing segment.

There is, of course, a great deal of controversy concerning faith healing ranging from unquestioned acceptance to complete dismissal as charlatanism. Although spontaneous remission of a disease such as cancer is not unknown, despite his claims to the contrary there is no evidence authenticated by an independent medical agency of any lasting cure by Hinn or others of his kind. More likely, when a person has a strong belief that a healer is able to create a cure, a “placebo effect” can temporarily make the person feel better. Critics also suggest that someone believing in faith healing is unlikely to seek proper medical attention, perhaps endangering their life.

In combination with his “healing” devotees experience being “slain in the spirit” during which, after a laying on of hands by Pastor Benny, they appear to lose all motor control of their body and topple backwards, sometimes repeatedly, to be neatly fielded by assistants before reaching the floor. This startling phenomenon is, of course, attributed to the power of God. However, reason would attribute it to the hyper-suggestible believer, already in a hysterical state as a result of the intensity of the situation, experiencing at Hinn’s touch an emotional reaction similar to fainting, perhaps including a drop in blood pressure. The power of suggestion is another possibility as the devoted subject would certainly know what is expected of him/her. Whatever the reason, it is nonetheless a very impressive piece of theatrics which is not lost on the audience.

During the final ten minutes or so of the program, from a studio, Hinn exhorts television viewers to accept Christ while at the same time interjecting a series of names or locations of people implying that they are being cured even as he mentions them:

“There’s a lady named Barbara with lung disease. The Lord has cured her. Thank you, Lord.”
“George in Cincinnati has a heart condition. He is cured. Thank you, Jesus.”

Needless to say, there is no proof that Barbara or George exist.

At this point he asks for a “donation” in exchange for a booklet or a religious trinket

His very slick website is worth examining. Almost every page is devoted to selling something – books, courses, or simply asking for a donation. He touts the benefit of a tithe (minimum $5.00 – maximum $6000.00) on the page labeled “Your Life.” It is also possible to become a “Covenant Partner” for $30.00 per month. The advantages are:

“Your seed, sown in the soil of this ministry, will bring a harvest to your life over and over again as you please our precious Master, Jesus, by helping to win the lost of this world.”

Although not apparent from the telecasts that I viewed, Benny Hinn is a proponent of the Prosperity Gospel movement. Under this teaching, supporters believe that faith works to create miracles and that it is through their faith that they can obtain anything they want – such as health, wealth, or any form of personal success. According to Pastor Benny if a person expresses their faith by sowing a sufficient monetary seed into his ministry - that person will be granted divine benefits. With several million adherents – well, you do the math.

This is no less than the granting of indulgences, the ancient practice of the Catholic Church extending merits from its Treasure House of Merit based on the accumulated good deeds of the saints. Used for the forgiveness of sins and granting of privileges, these merits could be bought and sold. Supposedly ended in the sixteenth century with the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther, indulgences appear to have survived albeit in contemporary form.

Benny Hinn Ministries does not belong to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) a watchdog organization which attempts to develop and maintain standards of accountability regarding fund raising of religious organizations. Hinn is currently under investigation by the United States Senate Committee on Finance. Depending on the results of the investigation, he could lose his IRS Tax Exempt status.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that Hinn is the lowest form of con man, exploiting the emotional and spiritual needs of the desperate, viewers, many of whom can ill afford it, will no doubt continue to donate millions of dollars annually in the hope of realizing some small improvement in their lives.

Watch the CBC’s Fifth Estate documentary “Do You Believe in Miracles.”

Are Our Muslims Like Their Muslims?


After a misinterpretation by Elections Canada officials of federal election laws passed this spring allowed Muslim women to vote in three Quebec by-elections without removing their veils for identification purposes, the federal government has tabled new legislation requiring all voters to reveal their faces before being allowed to vote. It is expected that the new legislation will be supported by all parties. The Quebec provincial government is expected to follow suit within the next few days.

While the incidents of the Quebec by-elections were minor and certainly had no effect on the ultimate results, they did highlight a potential future problem which Canada must be prepared to face. Are we required to accommodate religious and cultural beliefs of immigrant groups and if so, to what extent?

The 750,000 Muslims in Canada, slightly over 2% of the total population, present the country with a situation which it has never been forced to acknowledge before. Previous influxes of immigrant groups have been essentially from secular countries. Muslims, of which over 90% are first generation Canadians, come largely from religion based, although not necessarily theocratic, societies. Malaysia, for example, has a Muslim population that represents 52% of the total, although officially a secular state – a legacy of 150 years of British domination.

A SES poll conducted this past September and reported in the Oct. 22nd issue of Maclean’s Magazine is summarized as follows:
“…. by significant majorities in Canada as a whole, and by overwhelming majorities in Quebec, Canadians and Quebecers declare limits to reasonable accommodation. When asked whether it was reasonable to accommodate religious and cultural minorities or whether immigrants should fully adapt to culture in Canada, only 18.0 percent of respondents said reasonable accommodation best reflected their personal views, as opposed to 53.1 percent who thought immigrants should fully adapt, and 21.3 percent who agreed with neither statement.”

Also, as reported in Maclean’s, there is considerable concern in this country about European Muslims, particularly those of the Netherlands – that “our Muslims are like their Muslims.” However, an examination of the origins and circumstances of the Dutch experience indicates that current conditions in the two countries are not at all similar. That is not to say that Canada could not inherit some of the same problems in the future should government not approach immigrant policy in a rational and intelligent manner.

The roots of the Dutch situation can be traced back to the 1960’s when thousands of unskilled immigrants came to the country as part of a “guest worker” program for jobs in the textile, ship building and mining industries. Initially from Italy and Spain and later from Turkey and Morocco, they were expected to stay a few years and then return home. Many did indeed leave, but many more did not. Government policy at the time was essentially one of liberal multiculturalism and encouraged people to be educated in their own language and culture. Continuing to turn a blind eye to reality, it was assumed that these workers would assimilate and seek relationships among the existing Dutch population. They didn’t, and were then allowed to sponsor relatives and potential spouses from their own countries.

As the needs of industry evolved from unskilled labour to a high tech workforce Holland found itself divided into essentially two societies – a highly skilled affluent group and an unskilled, impoverished, mostly Muslim underclass with little motive to assimilate.

The 1990’s saw a further influx of immigrants as refugees from countries such as Somalia. Today, Muslims constitute 5.5% of the total population of the Netherlands.

Large, mainly Muslim ghettoes developed in major cities. Satellite television antennae sprouted from the rooftops of state housing projects tuned, not to programs supporting Western values, but to programs from their homeland often featuring inflammatory anti-Western rhetoric of extremist clerics.

In her autobiography “Infidel” Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes the existing situation. “As I went on doing research, it became painfully apparent that of all non-Western immigrants in Holland, the least integrated are Muslims. Among immigrants, unemployment is highest for Moroccans and Turks, the largest Muslim groups, although their average level of skills is roughly the same as all the other immigrant populations. Taken as a whole, Muslims in Holland make disproportionately heavy claims on social welfare and disability benefits and are disproportionately involved in crime.”

The murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004 by a young, alienated jihadist served to alarm the country to the danger inherent in many Muslim populations - the existence of an Islamic extremist element. Although some factions continue to call for a continuance of liberal policies, strong efforts are being made to curb immigration from Islamic countries as well as to reform internal educational and cultural policy. Unfortunately, these efforts may have come too late.

The life of Muslims in Canada bears little resemblance to that of Dutch Muslims, with the exception of their faith.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada accepts applications for potential immigrants in two basic categories – Skilled Workers and Professionals and Investors, Entrepreneurs, and Self-Employed Persons, both of which have very stringent standards based on education, skills, language ability and financial viability. Applicants can also be nominated by individual provinces again providing they qualify. All applicants must pass health, security and criminal record checks. There are additional requirements to sponsor family members by permanent residents. There is no “guest worker” program. As a result of these standards Canadian Muslims, having qualified for immigration to Canada, begin their new life with a substantial investment in achieving success.

On average, Canadian Muslims are younger and more educated, and are not ghettoized, as are their European counterparts. However, as the newest ethnic group they suffer a higher rate of unemployment compared to other groups while those with employment initially tend to be in jobs in which their skills are not fully utilized such as Sales and Services. Some see this as a result of discrimination and there is no doubt some truth in this. It must be added that better Canadian jobs often require a year or two of Canadian experience which can sometimes only be gained in these relatively low-skill areas.

As a rule, Canadian society is comparatively more tolerant and there have not been serious confrontations between the Muslims and the rest of the society and the government. Nonetheless, most Muslims in Canada have no doubt experienced at least some form of racism or “Islamophobia”. Historically, all new cultures have had initial negative reaction from a minority of biased “native” Canadians – the Italians after WWII, East Indians and currently, the Chinese, although racism against the latter is declining rapidly as they assimilate. In time Muslims will receive similar acceptance depending, of course, on their willingness to adapt to their new environment.

Officially designated as a “multicultural” society in 1971, over the years Canada has developed a singularly Canadian culture which is recognized and respected world wide. While remaining sympathetic as far as possible to the needs of its diverse population, Canada remains firmly entrenched in Western Enlightenment values – respect for the individual, freedom, democracy, rationalism and British Common Law. In the past, there have been challenges to these values by various ethnic groups usually based on religious grounds – the failed effort in 2004 to have Sharia law accepted by Ontario family courts and more recently, an equally unsuccessful attempt to initiate public funding for faith-based schools. Nonetheless, where it is in their interests, accommodation is being made voluntarily by a number of organizations, public and private, for Islamic religious practice during work hours.

Canada has the opportunity to avoid the social and political problems currently being experienced by the Dutch. However, to do so, we must remain vigilant lest our liberal policies be used against us by those who may neither understand nor accept the values from which these policies have emerged. To “over-accommodate” would be a serious mistake.

Submission - Women Of Islam

For the three people in the world who may not as yet have seen it, here is “Submission”. A collaborative effort between Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh and writer Ayann Hirsi Ali, the film focuses on the abuse of women in Islamic societies. Verses from the Qu’ran are painted on the women’s bodies.

As a direct result of making this film on November 2, 2004 van Gogh was assassinated in Amsterdam by Mohammed Bouyeri who left a note affixed to van Gogh’s chest with a dagger linking him to the film and his views on Islam. Addressed to Ms. Hirsi Ali, it called for jihad against the unbelievers and the death of Ms. Hirsi Ali herself.

As a result, Ms. Hirsi Ali lives with a full time bodyguard. She continues to work from an undisclosed location in the Netherlands.


Is Islam Compatible with Liberal Democracy? (2007)

February 14, 2007
BOOKS OF THE TIMES
No Rest for a Feminist Fighting Radical Islam
By WILLIAM GRIMES

INFIDEL
By Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Illustrated. Free Press. 353 pages. $26.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali came to the attention of the wider world in an extraordinary way. In 2004 a Muslim fanatic, after shooting the filmmaker Theo van Gogh dead on an Amsterdam street, pinned a letter to Mr. van Gogh’s chest with a knife. Addressed to Ms. Hirsi Ali, the letter called for holy war against the West and, more specifically, for her death.
A Somali by birth and a recently elected member of the Dutch Parliament, Ms. Hirsi Ali had waged a personal crusade to improve the lot of Muslim women. Her warnings about the dangers posed to the Netherlands by unassimilated Muslims made her Public Enemy No. 1 for Muslim extremists, a feminist counterpart to Salman Rushdie.
The circuitous, violence-filled path that led Ms. Hirsi Ali from Somalia to the Netherlands is the subject of “Infidel,” her brave, inspiring and beautifully written memoir. Narrated in clear, vigorous prose, it traces the author’s geographical journey from Mogadishu to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, and her desperate flight to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage.
At the same time, Ms. Hirsi Ali describes a journey “from the world of faith to the world of reason,” a long, often bitter struggle to come to terms with her religion and the clan-based traditional society that defined her world and that of millions of Muslims all over.
Ms. Hirsi Ali, now 37, belongs to the Osman Mahamud subclan of the Darod clan. Its members, by tradition, are born to rule, which may explain the author’s self-possessed, imperious gaze on the cover of her book. Her mother came from a family of nomads, and Ms. Hirsi Ali grew up listening to desert folk tales narrated by her grandmother, who, like many Somalis, followed a “diluted, relaxed” version of Islam that included traditional magic spirits and genies. It also required that young girls undergo genital mutilation, which Ms. Hirsi Ali, a victim of the practice, describes in horrific detail.
Somalia’s troubled politics provided Ms. Hirsi Ali with an eventful childhood. Her father, an opponent of the country’s Soviet-backed dictator, spent years in prison. The family, living on clan charity, moved to Saudi Arabia, where Ms. Hirsi Ali recoiled at the local interpretation of Islam, and later to Ethiopia and Kenya, where Ms. Hirsi Ali added Swahili and English to her growing list of languages. Without knowing it, she was becoming a permanent outsider, a misfit wherever she traveled.
The family was politically liberal but pious, with one foot in the remote past and the other in the modern world. In Nairobi, her grandmother kept a sheep in the bathtub at night and herded it during the day. Ms. Hirsi Ali, at her English-language school, devoured Nancy Drew mysteries and English adventure series, “tales of freedom, adventure, of equality between girls and boys, trust and friendship.” She eventually became a woman very like one of George Eliot’s heroines — earnest, high-minded and ardent, forever chafing at the limits imposed by her religion and her society.
Rebellion came slowly. Ms. Hirsi Ali, under the spell of a kindly Islamic evangelist, passed through a deeply religious phase. She describes, quite persuasively, the attractions of fundamentalism and the growing appeal of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in disintegrating societies like Somalia’s. But nagging questions disturbed her faith, especially as she encountered inflexible doctrines on the role of women, and their need to submit to men.
“Life on earth is a test, and I was failing it, even though I was trying as hard as I knew how to,” she writes of her anguished, questioning adolescence. “I was failing as a Muslim.”
In 1992, in her early 20s, Ms. Hirsi Ali made a dash for freedom. Instead of joining her new husband in Canada, she bolted to the Netherlands. There, she pretended to be fleeing political persecution, and the authorities granted her refugee status. She had brought shame on her family and her clan, but the order and rationality of the Netherlands intoxicated her, right down to the houses “all the same color, laid out in rows like neat little cakes warm from the oven.” She could not imagine what the Dutch had to vote about, since everything seemed to work perfectly.
Ms. Hirsi Ali’s struggles to gain a toehold in her new country, and her perceptions of the West, told through innocent eyes, put flesh and blood on an immigrant story repeated countless times throughout Western Europe. Alienation, dislocation and the burden of too many choices warp the lives of people rooted in traditional societies based on clans and tribes. Ms. Hirsi Ali’s own sister, who joins her in the Netherlands, sinks into deep depression and psychosis.
Fluent in English, and determined to learn Dutch, the highly adaptable Ms. Hirsi Ali makes her way, first as a translator for various social services, then as a political researcher for the Labor Party, and eventually as a political candidate with uncomfortable views on Islam, immigration and assimilation.
Ms. Hirsi Ali, disturbed at the economic and social plight of Muslims, warned the Dutch that their liberal policy of helping immigrants create separate cultural and religious institutions was counterproductive. She deplored the crimes of violence against Muslim women committed daily in the Netherlands, to which the authorities turned a blind eye in the name of cultural understanding. After the 9/11 attacks, she was vocal in insisting that, despite well-meaning assurances to the contrary, there really was a meaningful link between the Muslim faith and terrorism.
“Holland was trying to be tolerant for the sake of consensus, but the consensus was empty,” she writes. “The immigrants’ culture was being preserved at the expense of their women and children and to the detriment of the immigrants’ integration into Holland.”
Ms. Hirsi Ali’s provocative comments on Islam and on the need for Muslim women to reject their traditionally submissive role (the subject of a short film she made with Mr. van Gogh) channeled mounting Muslim anger directly at her.
Death threats have since driven Ms. Hirsi Ali to the United States, where she has accepted a fellowship at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group.
This is a pity. As a politician, she focused Dutch minds on a subject they steadfastly ignored. In her brief career, she forced the government to keep statistics on honor killings, in which enraged family members murder sisters or daughters believed to have brought shame on the family or clan. Much to the surprise of the Dutch, it turned out that there were a lot of them. Unfortunately, Ms. Hirsi Ali is no longer in the Netherlands to point out these things.

NB: Oct. 24, 2007 - Ms. Hirsi Ali has since returned to the Netherlands where she continues to work from an undisclosed location.

"Chicago School" Economics Are Alive and Well in Columbia


Defying Threats, Thousands Take to the Streets
BOGOTA, Oct 12 (IPS) - Arbitrary arrests, menacing warnings from the army and harsh crackdowns on protesters did not daunt the tens of thousands of Colombians who took to the streets over the last three days to protest against the rightwing government of Álvaro Uribe.

The Democratic Coalition, which groups trade unions, student groups, and associations of blacks, peasants and indigenous people, called the nationwide protests, which began on Wednesday and continued Thursday and Friday. Activists and human rights groups denounced threats and abuses by military and paramilitary groups. The organisers said Thursday that seven protesters were injured when the police tried to break up the demonstrations, and the press reported Friday that a total of 15 people were wounded.

The organisers also reported the arrest of community leader Isaac López, who was accused of ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the main rebel group involved in Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict. López, the leftwing Alternative Democratic Pole candidate for mayor in the town of Cartagena del Chairá in the southern department (province) of Caquetá, was arrested Wednesday on his way to the local protest, said the organisers.

In September, leaflets were circulated by the army urging people not to take part in the planned protests: "Do not participate in acts of terrorism. Do not let them continue to use you as cannon fodder. Do not go to the FARC demonstration. Do not be an accomplice to terrorists and murderers."

Agriculture Minister Andrés Felipe Arias accused the demonstrators of links to the FARC. "That claim is aimed at diverting attention from the real aims of the national campesino (peasant farmer) mobilisation," Diana Nocua, one of the organisers of the nationwide demonstrations, told IPS. "We are independent, and we are defending the rights of the victims of persecution and anti-democratic measures."

The demonstrators protested the free trade agreement negotiated with the United States, the privatisation of water utilities and the health and education systems, the current labour legislation, and incentives offered to foreign companies and investors, which they described as "a disgraceful giveaway of national sovereignty." They also took aim at cuts in funding for health and education in rural areas, demanded the repeal of the government’s "national development plan", land laws and mining code, and called for the cancellation of concessions granted to foreign extractive companies since Uribe became president in 2002. (emphasis mine)

In addition, the Democratic Coalition called the demobilisation of the ultra-rightwing paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) a "farce" and demanded respect for the collective land rights of black and indigenous communities. In response, Minister Arias told the media that in the southwestern department of Cauca, 12,000 hectares of land have been distributed to indigenous communities. But the Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC) replied in a communiqué that land assigned to 12 displaced families formed part of an indigenous reserve and had been claimed by the Kokonuko native community for more than 25 years. Arias, meanwhile, said three more purchases of land for rural families had been suspended until the demonstrations came to a halt, and warned that the protesters would not be allowed to block roads "because the security forces will enforce respect for public spaces."

The organisers of the protests issued a communiqué with the names of seven people -- one woman, five men and one minor -- who were injured. "Civilians who gathered peacefully in Mondomo, Cauca, were attacked by the military police and counterinsurgency forces, who sprayed tear gas and ground glass, used explosives and fired shots," said the statement.

Similar crackdowns by the police and anti-riot police (ESMAD) were reported in areas near Cali, in the western department of Valle del Cauca, which affected children and elderly persons, and led to the arrests of 11 people.

In the central department of Huila, two military trucks parked across a highway blocked 1,200 campesinos from marching to the provincial capital, Neiva. According to the Rural Press Agency, Jorge Garzón said the campesinos were organised and ready to join the demonstration in the city, "but they are not letting us pass."

In Ibagué, the capital of the central department of Tolima, some 4,000 campesinos gathered in parks and public spaces around city hall. "They came in on Tuesday from different municipalities where they face serious persecution and arrest. But their health conditions are beginning to worry us," said Diana Nocua.

There have been similar demonstrations and complaints of harsh police action in most of Colombia’s regions over the past three days. The "Black Eagles", the largest paramilitary group made up of "demobilised" members of the AUC, which took part in a high-profile but controversial demobilisation process, were reportedly involved in some of the violent incidents.

The precedent for the current nationwide demonstrations dates back to 1996, when coca growers protested the start of aerial spraying of their crops in the southern departments of Caquetá, Putumayo and Guaviare. At the time, the farmers stressed that they did not grow coca out of choice, or under pressure from the guerrillas, but because they had no other way to earn an income.

Over time, the campesino mobilisation expanded to other regions, where the demonstrators have traditionally been the target of harsh crackdowns. "We have suffered 30 arbitrary arrests in the last two months" in the municipalities of Tolima, Cauca and Santander, Aydeé Moreno, another of the organisers, told IPS.

One case occurred on Sept. 29, when state security agents raided the offices of the Campesino Association of the Valle del Río Cimitarra (ACVC) in the northeastern city of Barrancabermeja, and arrested four of the group’s members. And on Oct. 5, in the town of Yondó in Antioquia in the northwest, army troops tore down posters publicising the coming protests and warned local residents, according to the ACVC, that they would "burn down houses if they found new posters, because the order is to not allow the protest to be held in the region."

The same day, in Planadas in the west-central department of Tolima, campesino leader Hernando Soto was arrested by the army. Three days later, in the town of Rioblanco in the same department, two young men were seized by an infantry battalion.

The Committee of Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) said that on Tuesday a bus was blocked from carrying food supplies for the demonstrators from the town of Rovira to Playarrica, and troops stopped another bus in Chaparral (in Tolima) that was carrying campesinos. The organisations denounced that campesinos were seized and "disappeared", and that others were murdered. The victims were later accused of belonging to leftist insurgent groups, especially the FARC.

The Shock Doctrine - Naomi Klein

Among Ms. Klein's talents as a journalist is an uncanny ability to find connections between seemingly unrelated events - the Chilean coup of 1973 - the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989 -the tsunami of 2005 - 9/11 - Hurricane Katrina and most recently, the American invasion of Iraq. In The Shock Doctrine she documents the deliberate imposition of unpopular economic measures by right wing governments and dictatorships in the aftermath of such disasters, natural or man-made, relating them directly to the 1950's neo-liberal economic philosophy of the University of Chicago School of Economics and its best known advocate, Milton Friedman.

"The core of such sacred Chicago teachings was that the econmic forces of supply, demand, inflation and unemployment were like the forces of nature, fixed and unchanging. In the truly free market imagined in Chicago classes and texts, these forces exist in perfect equilibrium, supply communicating with demand the way the moon pulls the tides. If economies suffered from high inflation, it was, according to Friedman's strict theory of monetarism, invariably because misguided policy makers had allowed too much money to enter the system, rather than letting the market find its balance. Just as ecosystems self regulate, the market, if left to its own devices, would create just the right number of products at precisely the right prices, produced by workers at just the right wages to buy those products - an Eden of plentyful employment, boundless creativity and zero inflation." - Klein

Under the "free market" or laissez faire economic policies of the "Chicago School" all government regulation of industry, working conditions and the professions would be abolished. Schools, highways, federal parks, the post office and publicly operated services such as water supply and transportation would be privatized. The welfare system including social security would end. All government efforts to stabilize the economy through fiscal and monetary policies, public works or other means would be terminated.

Friedman and his associates were well aware that these policies were unlikely to be adopted democratically even in countries with the most conservative administrations. However, the strategy they developed for new administrations, elected or imposed, was simplicity itself. Wait for a major crisis. Sell off state-owned assets to private interests while citizens are still trying to recover. Then quickly write the changes into law.

The psychological roots of this strategy can be found in the infamous (and highly unethical) experiments conducted at McGill University by Ewen Cameron under the sponsorship of the C.I.A. and the Canadian Government. Patients, suffering from mental disorders, were subjected to electroshock treatment and a variety of drugs as well as sensory deprivation techniques with the object of reducing them to a "blank state" of infantile helplessness after which they could be reprogrammed minus their mental disorders. The experiments were singularly unsuccessful in achieving the desired results, succeeding only in destroying the lives of the unfortunate subjects. Cameron's methods, however, were identified as torture techniques in the Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation handbook and were disseminated throughout Latin America by the C.I.A.

Thus, in Chile in 1973, the first test of Chicago School economics, citizens were subjected to a three pronged attack - The military coup against the Socialist government of Salvador Allende by General Augosto Pinochet - the implementation of economic reform with the aid of the Chicago Boys, and for anyone foolish enough to protest - the threat of torture and death. Disappearances were common.

The success of the Chilean coup was followed by similar events in Uruguay (also 1973) and Argentina (1976).

Klein documents the implementation of Chicago School economics in Latin America , with particular emphasis on the resultant devastating social impact, ranging from massive unemployment as employers were allowed to fire workers at will, increased food costs as price controls were lifted, the loss of state owned businesses to the private sector, the transfer of wealth from public to private hands and the transfer of private debt to public hands. Throughout the Southern Cone torture and "disappearance" remained the de rigeur methods to discourage protest.

video
Since the seventies attempts have been made to emulate the initial "success" of free market economics in the wake of disaster by a number of governments around the world including Poland, Russia, Korea, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and, oddly enough, communist China. Elements can be found in the economic policies of Margaret Thatcher who, along with Ronald Reagan, was a great admirer of Milton Friedman. (Thatcher was also an admirer of Augosto Pinochet.)

Klein is most effective in the latter chapters of her book wherein she describes contemporary situations of which she has first-hand knowledge: Iraq and New Orleans.

In Iraq, she exposes the rush by the Bush administration to privatize two hundred essential state-owned companies as new laws were passed to attract foreign investors. At the same time, reconstruction of the country was contracted solely to American corporations -Blackwater, Bechtel, Parsons and, most famously, Halliburton. Iraqis were excluded and stood by helplessly as foreign workers were imported at low wages. Resistance to the occupation continues to be suppressed by increasingly brutal methods.

Within three weeks of Katrina, George W. Bush announced several new "hurricane relief" measures as proposed by the Heritage Foundation, among them: "automatically suspend Davis-Bacon wage laws in disaster areas," - "make the entire affected area a flat tax free-enterprise zone," - "make the entire region an economic competitiveness zone" (tax incentives and waiving of regulations.) Parents were given vouchers for use at newly founded charter schools.

The reconstruction of New Orleans was contracted by the Bush administration to - wait for it - Blackwater, Bechtel, Parsons and Halliburton all of whom, as in Iraq, were reluctant to hire local workers.

Again, to quote Klein:"The Chicago Boys' first adventure in the seventies should have served as a warning to humanity: theirs are dangerous ideas. By failing to hold the ideology accountable for the crimes committed in its first laboratory, this subculture of unrepentant ideologues was given immunity, freed to scour the world for its next conquest. These days, we are once again living in an era of corporate massacres, with countries suffering tremendous military violence alongside organized attempts to remake them into model "free market" economies; disappearances and torture are back with a vengeance. And once again the goals of building free markets, and the need for such brutality, are treated as entirely unrelated."

Klein sees mounting world-wide opposition to neo-liberalism, much of it coming, appropriately, from Latin America. Leading this movement is thrice democratically elected Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. With its high oil revenues, Venezuela has become a lender to other developing countries allowing them to avoid entering into agreements with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank both of which demand draconian economic reform in exchange for loans.

My initial impression of The Shock Doctrine was "What we have here is a 500 page recipe for paranoia." However, Klein connects the dots in her thesis so carefully that one cannot avoid the conclusion that some governments are indeed utilizing Friedmanite methods to enrich themselves and their friends by deliberately destroying the economic welfare of their respective citizenry. That being the case, perhaps the most important lesson to be drawn from The Shock Doctrine is that, without vigilance, our freedom and quality of life can be quickly compromised by rampant, uncontrolled government imposed greed in the guise of free market capitalism.

Future crises will no doubt emerge. We must learn to recognize them calmly and the possible dangers lurking in their aftermath.

The Dalai Lama and I

The following is an essay I wrote after a very emotional meeting with His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. Inspired, within a month I took refuge, (a short ceremony, usually but not necessarily, conducted by a lama, by means of which one formally becomes a Buddhist) and became deeply involved in Tibetan Buddhist practice which I found both comforting and rewarding. Yet, only two years later I was to drop all religious belief and become a firm atheist. “Just a small glance is enough for us,” said Tsering Yanchen, a 29 year old who was in the crowd with her 13-month-old daughter, Tenzin. “We feel fortunate and peaceful just to see him.” Toronto Star, Sunday, April 25, 2004

Admittedly my motives were not entirely altruistic when I volunteered to help during the Dalai Lama’s visit to Toronto for the Kalachakra 2004 celebration at the National Trade Centre. I wanted desperately to see at least once, the person I most admire in the world and who influenced my life so profoundly in bringing me to Tibetan Buddhism through his books. Volunteering to work the Kalachakra celebration might be the only opportunity I would ever have to see the His Holiness in person, albeit only at a distance.

Thus, I arrived at the National Trade Centre at 10:30 AM to start my scheduled 11 o’clock assignment at the main doors. However, before reaching my post I was requested by a event organizer to join eleven other early arrivals to load a van with plants and flowers and be transported to the Skydome to aid in decorating the stage for the Dalai Lama’s appearance there later in the afternoon.

Disappointed, my first reaction was, “Rats, I’m not going to see him today,” as I had not planned on attending the Skydome event and if I were to attend, there would be a lengthy wait there until His Holiness arrived at 4:30 PM. For a moment I considered ducking out on the Skydome mission altogether in the hopes of seeing him up close as he left the Trade Centre. That, however, was really not an option. So reluctantly, I joined the others, helped load the van and set off for Skydome.

It took very little time to get the greenery up on stage where a professional florist did the final arranging. As anticipated, there were still several hours until His Holiness would arrive. I had just made the decision to leave for home when the woman in charge of the Skydome preparations asked me and a couple of others to stay in case she needed help – to run errands, keep the musicians and dancers organized with backstage passes and to assist in any other exigency that might occur. Trapped again! And again, I couldn’t refuse. However, now armed with a backstage pass, I began to think my chances of seeing the Dalai Lama might be improving. My hopes were beginning to rise.

The Skydome began filling very slowly because of security precautions that required all attendees to be scanned with a metal detector and all bags and purses to be opened for inspection. It soon became apparent that the event would be late in starting. The performance by the Tibetan musicians was cancelled. Finally, still some twenty minutes behind schedule, the program began with the dancers and a documentary film about the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Absorbed in watching the latter from behind one of the large screens positioned on either side of the stage engrossed in trying to read the titles backwards and from right to left, I failed to notice the entrance of His Holiness until he was just a few feet from me. With my head bowed and my hands assuming the “namaste” position in front of my heart, I stood frozen. Peeking from behind a large policeman, His Holiness, looking somewhat amused, smiled and waved to me. I think I waved back.

Because of the delay, His Holiness was asked to wait backstage until the end of the preliminary part of the program. Without a murmur, he sat down quietly a few feet from me on one of a number of folding metal chairs placed along the wall behind the stage. I realized that, aside from two or three security people some distance away, I was alone with the Dalai Lama. I was alone with the Dalai Lama!

Again with my palms together and head bowed, I stood there paralyzed – not knowing what to do. Seeing my indecision and obvious emotional state he nodded and, smiling warmly, gently patted the seat of the chair beside him, beckoning me to sit down.

Unable to believe my good fortune, I sat down gingerly and as I did so he grasped my right hand. Overcome with emotion, my eyes filled with tears, I was only able to mumble “We love you, sir.”

“Thank you,” he replied, squeezing my hand gently.

We sat there for a minute or two, the fingers of his left hand interlocked with those of my right, neither of us speaking. Then His Holiness asked me where I was born? (here in Toronto), where were my parents born? (mother in England, father in Canada), did I have children? (no), did I speak other languages? (yes, Spanish). Still scarcely able to speak, I answered the questions as best I could. I also told him of my companion animals and he was interested to know if the dogs and the cat get along together (they do).

Again, we both fell silent. Then, seeing a security officer nearby, the Dalai Lama laughed and spoke to him, “See us? We have never met before, but we are friends.” He laughed again and turning, touched his forehead to mine, an overwhelming and totally unexpected blessing.

As we sat quietly, neither of us speaking, he gently stroked the back of my hand. I could feel the atmosphere of peace, wisdom, love and compassion that surrounds this extraordinary man, this "simple monk.”

A few minutes had passed when we were approached by a young Chinese man who, kneeling, earnestly asked forgiveness of His Holiness for the actions of the Chinese government in Tibet. For the first time the Dalai Lama let go of my hand and clasped those of the young man. Speaking quietly, he said that he felt conditions were slowly improving and that patience was necessary. Clearly moved by the experience, the young man thanked His Holiness, stood, and slowly backed away, palms together.

A sound technician came to attach a microphone to the Dalai Lama’s robe remarking as he did so that he had performed the same operation some years ago during a previous visit by His Holiness. After a few more quiet moments it was time for him to make his stage appearance. Aided by his translator, Thupten Jinpa, he slowly ascended the steps to be greeted by a crescendo of applause as the crowd of nearly 30,000 caught sight of him.

Seated in the large white wing-backed chair we had placed there earlier, Jinpa at his side, the Dalai Lama gave his lecture on “The Power of Compassion”. Lost in thought, I heard practically none of the speech. Had I missed an opportunity? Should I have asked His Holiness a question about my practice? I’m sure he would have answered. But then I realized how inappropriate and selfish that would have been under the circumstances and I was glad that I had made no demands of him. Perhaps, I conjectured, I might have even been giving to him in that, as I quietly kept him company, he was able to relinquish for a few minutes the pressures of his incredibly hectic schedule. I hope so.

From backstage I could not see the proceedings. So, it was only as His Holiness, having concluded his talk, descended the steps, audience applause still sounding, that I awakened from my reverie. This time we were not alone. Surrounded by uniformed and plain clothed police plus his personal Tibetan “men in black,” he stopped only for a moment or two to shake hands with some local Tibetan dignitaries before being whisked to a waiting limousine. I followed to the motorcade parking area and stood there hoping to catch a final glimpse of His Holiness. As his limousine started to move, he rolled down the window. Our eyes met and he waved goodbye to me. My eyes again filling with tears, I waved back.

Follow-up: Public Funding of Faith Based Schools

Looks like John Tory has shot himself in the foot. So much for the Regressive Conservatives this time 'round.

Conservative insiders lament leader's missteps in Ontario election campaign

Fri Oct 5, 2:35 PM
By Chinta Puxley, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - With election day in Ontario just days away, frustrated insiders close to the beleaguered Progressive Conservatives - rattled by fallout from the religious school funding firestorm - are laying the blame for the party's campaign-trail struggles squarely at the feet of their leader.

John Tory, long billed as the man who would rescue the Conservatives from the lingering memory of the Mike Harris era, has instead become the party's biggest liability, they say, thanks to a single issue: his ill-advised proposal to fund faith-based schools.

And as the vote draws closer, at least two veteran caucus members fear the Conservatives no longer have a chance to form even a minority government. As a result, the party is asking itself some tough questions.

How, they wonder, could Tory - a veteran of Ontario's political backrooms since the days of Bill Davis and the Conservative dynasty known as the Big Blue Machine - fail to anticipate the ensuing controversy and how it would play into the hands of the incumbent Liberals?

Did he genuinely expect, after weeks of staunchly defending the proposal, that giving his caucus members the freedom to effectively kill it by voting it down in the legislature would undo the damage wrought by months of sustained criticism and media attention?

"People thought John Tory was going to be the new guy - they all believed in him and they had a lot of faith in him," said one veteran Conservative caucus member.

"Nobody wanted to vote for McGuinty. But this just turned it around. I just can't believe it."

One frustrated Conservative member said it will take a "miracle" for Tory - who also has to worry about a difficult battle against Education Minister Kathleen Wynne in his hand-picked riding of Don Valley West - to win his seat, let alone become premier.

While strategists within the Tory campaign say the leader's free-vote strategy did mitigate the damage somewhat, others remain baffled about why the policy was adopted in the first place and why it took so long for Tory to distance himself from it.

Although Tory spent months defending his plan as a "matter of principle," of equity and fairness, his hands were tied three years ago when he promised to address the issue when he ran for the party leadership.

Under pressure from right-wing opponents Frank Klees and Jim Flaherty, who wanted to restore the unpopular private-school tax credit axed by McGuinty, Tory said he agreed to offer some form of support to private schools.

"That is a commitment that I honoured because I believe that when you make these kinds of commitments, it is important to honour them," he said earlier this week.

Those schools would have to be faith-based, teach the provincial curriculum, hire accredited teachers and administered standardized tests, he said. Given that prominent Liberals like McGuinty and Wynne have in the past espoused similar views, Tory felt it wouldn't be a tough sell, insiders say.

Months before the writ was dropped, Tory tried to soften the idea by announcing he would form a commission headed up by former premier Davis, his mentor and close friend, to study the issue.

But the Liberals had already come out swinging. McGuinty called the plan a "segregation" of children and said Tory planned to take $400 million out of existing public schools to fund the religious institutions.

"It's like starting a forest fire and it caught on very quickly," another Conservative veteran said.

At the same time, Tory was being warned that the policy could torpedo his chances in an election that was widely considered his for the taking. Prominent political historian Michael Bliss wrote to Tory several times during the summer, warning him he was "sleepwalking towards electoral disaster."

Bliss never received a reply.

He said Tory surrounded himself with "young smart-asses" who denied him the sense of history that makes it clear it's a mistake to mess with people's public schools or to advocate crossing the streams of church and state.

"The McGuinty government dug itself into so many holes, this election was Tory's for the taking," said Bliss, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. Tory, he said, has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

"This was suicide," Bliss said. "I've never seen a more suicidal campaign."

The party tried to douse the controversy early, the week before the writ was dropped, by holding an event at a Jewish school so Tory could highlight the policy early.

Instead, his musings that creationism could be taught in Christian schools on top of evolution and "other theories" just added fuel to the fire.

As the days went on, "no matter what we did, that was the focus each day," said one of Tory's top advisers.

Concern about the issue was "growing in intensity" - something that wasn't lost on any of Tory's advisers, caucus members or candidates.

"We're not stupid," the adviser said. "We weren't sitting here saying, 'It's okay, carry on.' . . . It was frustrating. It became the elephant in the room."

Veteran caucus members began to mutiny, privately warning Tory they were going to speak out against the policy to ease the concerns of their own constituents unless something changed.
Polling in those ridings found the policy to be just as unpopular as the caucus members had warned. All the while, Tory continued to pound the pavement with the media in tow, getting a tongue-lashing from voters about the issue at virtually every stop he went to.

Yet he stuck to his guns, convinced voters would embrace his mantra that "you can't go wrong doing the right thing." (John, John, John, you've got it backwards. That is, if you want to win an election.) A few days after maverick Conservative Bill Murdoch openly opposed the policy and said he would vote against it, Tory finally seemed to see the light.

He attributed his change of heart to the upbraiding he received from voters, but party insiders say he knew he had no choice. He spent days huddled with advisers, trying to work out how to maintain his staunch support for the policy while giving his caucus some badly needed breathing room.

In conference calls with his caucus and candidates, Tory said he was urged to drop the policy entirely or put it to a referendum. Minority rights shouldn't be decided by the majority, Tory said, nor was he interested in killing a policy he believed in.

The free vote was a "logical conclusion for John to reach," said one Conservative caucus member. "We (had) to . . . allow the dust to settle on this."

Tory gave his war room the go-ahead to book the economic club for Monday, Oct. 1. They wanted to explain the "significant decision" on his terms, in a detailed speech without the hurried nature of a press conference or scrum.

"This was never the most important issue to me nor is it to the people of Ontario," Tory told reporters after the speech. "I'd like to move on to discussing some of the real issues."

The about-face - party spin-doctors vehemently insisted it wasn't a flip-flop - was a "big gamble," said pollster Greg Lyle. But the Conservative hand was forced when Tory's strong, poised performance in the televised leaders' debate failed to move the polls, he said.

"The status quo wasn't really an option," said Lyle, of Innovative Research Group. "The numbers were simply too strong to ignore."

Tory's top advisers admit they could have offered a free vote earlier, but say the impact of the Oct. 1 announcement has been palpable. Phone calls have started coming in, requesting signs and donating money. Volunteers are more enthusiastic and optimistic.

"The phone calls turned 180 degrees from negative to positive," said one of Tory's top advisers. "I've never seen anything like it."

Others feel the fight has already been lost. A longtime party stalwart grumbled that the flip-flop has breathed new life into the divisive issue, allowing it to continue dominating headlines.

"It doesn't look too good. He may not even win his seat," said one caucus veteran, adding the faith-based issue remains top of mind for voters when he goes door-to-door.

"It's still out there."

Final Note: Election results - Liberals 71 seats
P.C.'s 26
N.D.P. 10

John Tory failed to win the riding he was contesting.