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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Fighting poachers, going undercover, saving wildlife: all in a day’s work for Arief Rubianto
Mood: a-ok
Topic: environment
Arief Rubianto, the head of an anti-poaching squad on the Indonesian island of Sumatra best describes his daily life in this way: “like mission impossible”. Don’t believe me? Rubianto has fought with illegal loggers, exchanged gunfire with poachers, survived four days without food in the jungle, and even gone undercover—posing as a buyer of illegal wildlife products—to infiltrate a poaching operation. While many conservationists work from offices—sometimes thousands of miles away from the area they are striving to protect—Rubianto works on the ground (in the jungle, in flood rains, on rock faces, on unpredictable seas, and at all hours of the day), often risking his own life to save the incredibly unique and highly imperiled wildlife of Sumatra.

As the current head of the Intelligence and Law Enforcement Unit with the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) on the island of Sumatra, Arief has a life that would a writer on Law and Order jealous. He splits his time between the office and the field: managing anti-poaching operations on the ground while working with government officials, law enforcement officers, and lawyers on locating, catching, and punishing perpetrators of wildlife crime. At stake is the extinction of a number of greatly imperiled animals, some of which are only found on the island of Sumatra.

Arief Rubianto in his Rhino Protection Unit (RPU) uniform on a boat patrol. Photo courtesy of: Arief Rubianto.

He told that “the priority is the rhino [i.e the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)], because the rhino is more endangered than other wildlife in Indonesia. They live solitary in the deep forest with difficulty in breeding. We still lack information about population, behavior etc. We need support from all of stakeholders [if the rhino is to be saved from extinction].”

One of the world’s most elusive mammals—known as being impossible to see in the wild—Rubianto has encountered the Sumatran rhino on a number of occasions including a dying rhino caught in a snare trap when, prior to his current job, he worked as the head of a Rhino Protection Unit (RPU). While snares are rarely meant for rhinos, they pose a particular threat to this species. Rubianto says on one memorable patrol of the forest the team collected 600 snares.

Rubianto does not mince words about the future of Sumatra wildlife: “I believe that only 40 % of Sumatran wildlife will still survive in 10 years time, if us—government and stakeholders—do not change our actions immediately.”

Working closely with local communities to prevent illegal hunting, catch poachers, and support conservation efforts is key for conservation efforts according to Rubianto, who also says that government officials and staff must stop treating the ownership or use of wildlife products as a status symbol.

RPU moving in to arrest suspect on law enforcement operation. Photo courtesy of: Arief Rubianto.

Overall “some [conservation] programs have a good result. [But] most areas are worse if we compare the wildlife population in each since 10 years ago” Rubianto concludes, though this has not dampened his resolve in saving Indonesia’s species.

In a September 2010 interview Arief Rubianto spoke about the daily challenges of fighting poaching in Sumatra, including weak laws, mixed messages from the government, and violent conflict with perpetrators. He also shared a few of his adventures in working to save some of the world’s most threatened mammals.

Rubianto will be presenting at the up-coming Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco on October 3rd, 2010.


Mongabay: What is your background?

RPU demonstrating how to find and disable a snare. Photo courtesy of: Arief Rubianto.

Arief Rubianto: I was schooled as veterinarian. I was born and grew up in Bandung city (capital city of West Java). My father worked as intelligence army. I learned about intelligence from him.

Mongabay: How did you become interested in wildlife?

Arief Rubianto: Since young, I have been farming with many animals. I really like interacting with animals. In 1993 I had the opportunity to join with the UK’s Sumatran Rhino Survey Project. I really enjoy my job.


Mongabay: You’re currently the head of the Intelligence and Law Enforcement Unit with the International Rhino Foundation (IRF). What is a normal day like for you?

Arief Rubianto: 1. Make sure the informant network is still operating in the field. 2. Make sure the patrol unit working effectively on the target area. 3. Cross check information and prepare for special operations to arrest suspects. 4. Coordination with National Park, Forestry and Forest Rangers, police, local government, prosecutors, others NGOs, the press and others. 5. Write reports. 6. Visit field to cross check the latest condition and support to handle wildlife conflict. 7. Visit villagers and farmer groups to gain support from them for long term target of conservation.

Mongabay: Which species do you focus on?

RPU has discussion with local villagers about conservation and agriculture. Photo courtesy of: Arief Rubianto.

Arief Rubianto: The priority is the rhino [i.e the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)], because the rhino is more endangered than other wildlife in Indonesia. They live solitary in the deep forest with difficulty in breeding. We still lack information about population, behavior etc. We need support from all of stakeholders [if the rhino is to be saved from extinction]. Of course elephant, tiger and other wildlife have the same habitat and must be protected too.

Mongabay: What are the greatest threats for the wildlife of Sumatra?

Arief Rubianto: The biggest threat is poaching. [Other threats include] habitat loss or forest conversion to agriculture; decrease of genetic population, in-breeding and unsuccessful breeding; and limited protection program and networking for wildlife of Sumatra.

Mongabay: You work with one of the world’s most endangered and elusive mammals: the Sumatran rhino. Have you ever seen one in the wild, if so will you tell us about the encounter?

Arief Rubianto: Yes, I have seen more than 5 times. 1. 1993 in Kerinci Seblat National Park. The rhino in wallowing. 2. 1997 in Way Kamas NP. The rhino in wallowing. 3. 1998 in Bukit Barisan Selatan (BBS) NP. The rhino in wallowing. 4. 1999 in BBS NP. The rhino in wallowing. 5. 2000 in BBS NP. Male and female rhino walking. 6. 2000 in BBS NP. The rhino dying by snare trap. 7. 2004 in BBS NP. The rhino (Rossa now in Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas NP) always live with us for one and a half years in the jungle.

Mongabay: Before becoming the head of the Intelligence and Law Enforcement Unit for IRF in Sumatra you headed a Rhino Protection Unit (RPU). Do you have any memorable moments from spending so much time trekking in the jungle?

Using motorcycles on hilly roads. Photo courtesy of: Arief Rubianto.

Arief Rubianto: Yes, this like mission impossible. RPU with limited sources must have high spirit and good teamwork to do their duty: many enemies and high risks to building conservation in a developing country. We must know how to touch the feeling of local people/ villagers because they are a big potential power to support conservation. Also, we must support alternative economic means for them.

Yes, [I had] many experience when we live in the jungle. Three times we had to move the camp in one night because of big floods. We crossed unbelievable area where all trees were broken until we passed the sixth hill.

In one trip patrol we find 600 traps. When three of us made a patrol once, we found and fought with seven illegal loggers. We climbed rock faces with limited equipment and with big rucksacks—one of us fell and was injured. Also, [the story of] how we survived for four days not eating because of unpredictable conditions in the field.


Mongabay: Poachers, by their very nature, work secretively in a vast underground network. How do you catch them?

Patrolling in Way Kambas National Park. Photo courtesy of: Arief Rubianto.

Arief Rubianto: 1. We have to know the field situation, habitat, wildlife distribution, law, culture of local village, key person from other institutions of law enforcement, and our resources. 2. Build the informant network that covers all of the habitat. 3. We have to know the networking and people involved in poaching and illegal trade. 4. Cross check this information from other informant or illegal market networking. 5. Observation all of the evidence to support the cases. 6. Prepare the operation and coordinate with other institutions. 7. Build the trust of local villages. 8. Monitoring and support the case after arresting the suspect, prosecution process until punishment.

Mongabay: What technology do you use to help you locate and arrest poachers?

Arief Rubianto: We use the GPS, walky-talky, personal cell phone, camera, and since 2010 we use the camera surveillance in the hand watch.

Mongabay: You’ve gone undercover in your job to infiltrate poaching groups. Have you ever felt in danger?

Arief Rubianto: Yes, many times we must fight with them. Mostly they use the gun and knife. Sometimes we have gun fire in the field.

Sometimes I have to go undercover to do a transaction with broker, but the most danger is when we have to arrest the suspect in their home near the jungle. We have to arrest the suspect from 3-5 AM when they sleep. We use car, motorcycle or boat rental to cross the sea in the night with unpredictable conditions.

Mongabay: Do you believe poaching is getting worse or better in Sumatra?

Rubianto discussing progress on the ground with donors. Photo courtesy of: Arief Rubianto.

Arief Rubianto: I think every area has different situations and the condition is always changing. Some programs have a good result. [But] most areas are worse if we compare the wildlife population in each since 10 years ago.

Mongabay: In your view are the punishments strong enough for convicted poachers?

Arief Rubianto: Mostly the punishments are not good enough. We have experienced that if the cases have good local publication and have support from NGOs, the press, and other institutions, this will increase the punishment for poachers. With the highest punishment [currently in the law], will eliminate the risk of poaching and other illegal activity for next 3 years.

Mongabay: What additional laws would help you and colleagues improve enforcement of wildlife laws in Sumatra?

Arief Rubianto: 1. Punishment and rewards for government staff who do/do not support the cases and conservation. 2. Need higher punishment in conservation law. 3. Like the drug law, with the minimum evidence can bring the suspect to the jail, for example someone who has [possession of a] wildlife body part.

Mongabay: Is the public in Sumatra aware of the dangers to their unique wildlife?

Arief Rubianto: Some of them know about wildlife conservation in Sumatra, but there is not enough action from them. The most important is support and sample action from leader of the government and their staff, because some of them still use the wildlife body parts as a [symbol of] prestige to the public. Some poaching groups and illegal traders have support from government staff. Situation will become worse when the local villages follow that example.


Mongabay: Given the numerous pressures on Sumatran wildlife how optimistic are you that these species will survive?

Using motorcycles increases the RPU’s ability to cover more ground. Photo courtesy of: Arief Rubianto.

Arief Rubianto: I believe that only 40 % of Sumatran wildlife will still survive in 10 years time, if us—government and stakeholders—do not change our actions immediately. For now, only small sources of protection programs for those working in the jungle.

Mongabay: I read in an article that your wife and child live in Java. Is this still the case? How often do you get to see your family?

Arief Rubianto: Since I married in 1996, I have twelve times moved our home in three provinces. Since 2010 my family stayed in Java, because education for our child is important. I am back with my family every one to two months, for seven to eight days, depending on situation.

Ceremonial to destroy 90 illegal gun from local villages and poachers with National Park officials and RPU. Photo courtesy of Arief Rubianto.

RPU begins a patrol. Photo courtesy of Arief Rubianto.

Posted by dmacc502 at 7:52 AM CDT
Tony Curtis Dies
Mood: sad
Now Playing: The Boston Strangler
Topic: media

Hollywood Legend Tony Curtis Dies At Home

Actor Best Known For Role In ‘Some Like It Hot’


POSTED: 3:16 am MST September 30, 2010
UPDATED: 4:41 am MST September 30, 2010


LAS VEGAS — Tony Curtis, the Bronx tailor’s son who became a 1950s movie heartthrob and then a respected actor with such films as “Sweet Smell of Success,” ”The Defiant Ones” and “Some Like It Hot,” has died. He was 85. 

The actor died about 9:25 p.m. PDT Wednesday at his Las Vegas area home of a cardiac arrest, Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said Thursday. 

After a series of frivolous movies that exploited his handsome physique and appealing personality, Curtis moved to more substantial roles, starting in 1957 in the harrowing show business tale “Sweet Smell of Success.” 

In 1958, “The Defiant Ones” brought him an Academy Award nomination as best actor for his portrayal of a white racist escaped convict handcuffed to a black escapee, Sidney Poitier. The following year, he donned women’s clothing and sparred with Marilyn Monroe in one of the most acclaimed film comedies ever, Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot.” 

His first wife was actress Janet Leigh of “Psycho” fame; actress Jamie Leigh Curtis is their daughter. 

In later years, he returned to film and television as a character actor after battling drug and alcohol abuse. His brash optimism returned, and he allowed his once-shiny black hair to turn silver. 

“I’m not ready to settle down like an elderly Jewish gentleman, sitting on a bench and leaning on a cane,” he said at 60. “I’ve got a helluva lot of living to do.” 

He also became a painter whose canvasses sold for as much as $20,000. 

“He was a fine actor … I shall miss him,” said British actor Roger Moore, who starred alongside Curtis in TV’s “The Persuaders.” 

“He was great fun to work with, a great sense of humour and wonderful ad libs,” Moore told Sky News. “We had the best of times.” 

Curtis perfected his craft in forgettable films such as “Francis,” ”I Was a Shoplifter,” ”No Room for the Groom” and “Son of Ali Baba.” 

He first attracted critical notice as Sidney Falco, the press agent seeking favor with a sadistic columnist, played by Burt Lancaster, in the 1957 classic “Sweet Smell of Success.” 

In her book “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” Pauline Kael wrote that in the film, “Curtis grew up into an actor and gave the best performance of his career.” 

Other prestigious films followed: Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus,” ”Captain Newman, M.D.,” ”The Vikings,” ”Kings Go Forth,” ”Operation Petticoat” and “Some Like It Hot.” He also found time to do a voice acting gig as his prehistoric lookalike, Stony Curtis, in an episode of “The Flintstones.” 

“The Defiant Ones” remained his only Oscar-nominated role. 

“I think it has nothing to do with good performances or bad performances,” he told The Washington Post in 2002. “After the number of movies I made where I thought there should be some acknowledgment, there was nothing from the Academy.” 

“My happiness and privilege is that my audience around the world is supportive of me, so I don’t need the Academy.” 

In 2000, an American Film Institute survey of the funniest films in history ranked “Some Like It Hot” at No. 1. Curtis – famously imitating Cary Grant’s accent – and Jack Lemmon play jazz musicians who dress up as women to escape retribution after witnessing a gangland massacre. 

Monroe was their co-star, and he and Lemmon were repeatedly kept waiting as Monroe lingered in her dressing room out of fear and insecurity. Curtis fumed over her unprofessionalism. When someone remarked that it must be thrilling to kiss Monroe in the film’s love scenes, the actor snapped, “It’s like kissing Hitler.” In later years, his opinion of Monroe softened, and in interviews he praised her unique talent. 

In 2002, Curtis toured in “Some Like It Hot” – a revised and retitled version of the 1972 Broadway musical “Sugar,” which was based on the film. In the touring show, the actor graduated to the role of Osgood Fielding III, the part played in the movie by Joe E. Brown. 

After his star faded in the late 1960s, Curtis shifted to lesser roles. With jobs harder to find, he fell into drug and alcohol addiction. 

“From 22 to about 37, I was lucky,” Curtis told Interview magazine in the 1980s, “but by the middle ’60s, I wasn’t getting the kind of parts I wanted, and it kind of soured me. … But I had to go through the drug inundation before I was able to come to grips with it and realize that it had nothing to do with me, that people weren’t picking on me.” 

He recovered in the early ’80s after a 30-day treatment at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage. 

“Mine was a textbook case,” he said in a 1985 interview. “My life had become unmanageable because of booze and dope. Work became a strain and a struggle. Because I didn’t want to face the challenge, I simply made myself unavailable.” 

One role during that era of struggle did bring him an Emmy nomination: his portrayal of David O. Selznick in the TV movie “The Scarlett O’Hara War,” in 1980. 

His health remained vigorous, though he did get heart bypass surgery in 1994. 

Curtis took a fatherly pride in daughter Jamie Leigh’s success. They were estranged for a long period, then reconciled. “I understand him better now,” she said, “perhaps not as a father but as a man.” 

He also had five other children. Daughters Kelly, also with Leigh, and Allegra, with second wife Christine Kaufmann, also became actresses. His other wives were Leslie Allen, Lisa Deutsch and Jill VandenBerg, whom he married in 1998. 

He had married Janet Leigh in 1951, when they were both rising young stars; they divorced in 1963. 

“Tony and I had a wonderful time together; it was an exciting, glamorous period in Hollywood,” Leigh, who died in 2004, once said. “A lot of great things happened, most of all, two beautiful children.” 

Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx in 1925, the son of Hungarian Jews who had emigrated to the United States after World War I. His father, Manny Schwartz, had yearned to be an actor, but work was hard to find with his heavy accent. He settled for tailoring jobs, moving the family repeatedly as he sought work. 

“I was always the new kid on the block, so I got beat up by the other kids,” Curtis recalled in 1959. “I had to figure a way to avoid getting my nose broken. So I became the crazy new kid on the block.” 

His sidewalk histrionics helped avoid beatings and led to acting in plays at a settlement house. He also grew to love movies. “My whole culture as a boy was movies,” he said. “For 11 cents, you could sit in the front row of a theater for 10 hours, which I did constantly.” 

After serving in the Pacific during World War II and being wounded at Guam, he returned to New York and studied acting under the G.I. Bill. He appeared in summer stock theater and on the Borscht Circuit in the Catskills. Then an agent lined up an audition with a Universal-International talent scout. In 1948, at 23, he signed a seven-year contract with the studio, starting at $100 a week. 

Bernie Schwartz sounded too Jewish for a movie actor, so the studio gave him a new name: Anthony Curtis, taken from his favorite novel, “Anthony Adverse,” and the Anglicized name of a favorite uncle. After his eighth film, he became Tony Curtis. 

The studio helped smooth the rough edges off the ambitious young actor. The last to go was his street-tinged Bronx accent. His diction became a Hollywood joke, as when he uttered to Piper Laurie in a medieval potboiler “The Prince Who Was a Thief”: “Yonder lies the castle of my fodder.” 

Curtis pursued another career as an artist, creating Matisse-like still lifes with astonishing speed. “I’m a recovering alcoholic,” he said in 1990 as he concluded a painting in 40 minutes in the garden of the Bel-Air Hotel. “Painting has given me such a great pleasure in life, helped me to recover.” 

He also turned to writing, producing a 1977 novel, “Kid Cody and Julie Sparrow.” In 1993, he wrote “Tony Curtis: The Autobiography.”


Associated Press writer Bob Thomas in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


Posted by dmacc502 at 7:03 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, 30 September 2010 7:06 AM CDT
Tuesday, 28 September 2010
How to Spot a Terrorist
Mood: a-ok
Topic: global

How to Spot a Terrorist

Victor Kerlow
Published: September 27, 2010


A YOUNG man walks into a Home Depot and buys a large quantity of acetone. Later, a young man walks into a beauty supply store and buys hydrogen peroxide. Still later, a young man is observed parked outside a nondescript federal building in a rented van, taking photographs.

Victor Kerlow


No crime has been committed. But should any of these activities (acetone and hydrogen peroxide can be components for explosives) be reported to and evaluated by law enforcement officials? If they are reported, the government may infringe on privacy and civil liberties. If they are not, we might not know until it’s too late whether it was the same young man in each instance. We might miss the next Timothy McVeigh.

This dilemma was at the heart of hearings before the Senate Homeland Security Committee last week, in which several federal officials warned that “homegrown terrorists” represent the nation’s greatest emerging threat. According to the F.B.I. director, Robert Mueller, Al Qaeda “has looked to recruit Americans or Westerners who are able to remain undetected by heightened security measures.” This reality has led Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, to conclude that “homeland security begins with hometown security.” And hometown security begins with locally based observations of “suspicious” activity. So, can we encourage such observation without also encouraging a disregard for privacy and constitutional rights?

We may get our answer from a project now being undertaken by the Justice Department called theNationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative. Federal, state and local law enforcement officials have set up “fusion centers” for the program in about a dozen cities, including Boston, Chicago and Houston, where reports of suspicious activities made by citizens and the local police are collected and analyzed for disturbing patterns.

Suspicious Activity Reporting begins at the troubling intersection where law enforcement meets intelligence. Its premise is that if potential attacks are to be prevented, and not merely responded to, law enforcement must focus on precursor conduct — surveillance or “casing” of bridges or train stations, for instance — that may not itself be criminal, but may signal a coming attack.

One need only look to the events of the past year — the shootings at Fort Hood, Tex.; theattempted bombing of a jetliner on Christmas Day; the Times Square bombing attempt; the New York subway plot — to see the point. Each of these attacks and attempted attacks was preceded by “precursor conduct,” legally protected actions like chatting on the Internet or purchasing legal chemicals or applying for a visa, that combined with other information might have tipped off law enforcement agents to the intended act of terrorism.

The Suspicious Activity Reporting program recognizes both the necessity for a focus on precursor conduct and the potential for abuse. It strikes a balance by establishing a uniform process for gathering and sharing information. It seeks to avoid racial profiling and other law enforcement excesses by requiring that the reports be based on the evidence of suspicious conduct, not on what the person looks like or where he comes from.

The government consulted with civil liberties groups as it devised the initiative, and they secured changes in the program to assure that the threshold for criminal conduct would not be lowered and that individual privacy would not be violated by the willy-nilly entry of innuendo into a government record. As Michael German, the security policy counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union and a former F.B.I. special agent, put it last year, “The revised guidelines for suspicious activity reporting establish that a reasonable connection to terrorism or other criminal activity is required before law enforcement may collect Americans’ personal information and share it.”

Nonetheless, the A.C.L.U. is now taking issue with the program, saying that it “increases the probability that innocent people will be stopped by police and have their personal information collected.” Mr. German worries that an effort like this “moves the police officer away from his core function, to enforce the law, into being an intelligence officer gathering information about people.”

At bottom, whether the civil liberties risks posed by the reporting program are justified turns on whether the administration’s claims about the evolving threat are true. The attacks of the last year suggest that they are. As for the idea that it will bring police departments into new territory, surely police officers have always been on the lookout for precursor conduct — burglars casing a home or bank, for instance. The difference here is one of degree.

Paradoxically, perhaps the biggest hurdle the initiative faces is not civil liberties worries but the age-old barrier between federal law enforcement and its state and local counterparts. The F.B.I. has raised concerns about sharing intelligence with state law enforcement because some states’ open public records laws might result in the bureau having to make public some of its data. And, in a time of shrinking budgets, turf battles between the fusion centers and federal law enforcement are a certainty.

Civil liberties and bureaucratic concerns are legitimate. But this initiative represents the administration’s first thoughtful steps in fulfilling President Obama’s commitment to defining a lasting rule of law for this brave new world. We must make it work.


John Farmer Jr., a former senior counsel for the 9/11 commission, is the dean of the Rutgers School of Law-Newark and the author of “The Ground Truth.”


Posted by dmacc502 at 9:12 AM CDT
Monday, 27 September 2010
Where did the peace sign come from?
Mood: a-ok
Topic: media

peace symbol
(Photo: Getty Images)


By Melissa Breyer

Posted Mon Sep 20, 2010 4:22pm PDT

Related topics: , ,

More from Care2 Green Living blog.It is instantly recognizable as a sign of peace, but what is the symbolism behind the peace sign? 

The olive branch came from ancient Greece, the dove from the Bible … but where did that circle with the chicken-footprint come from?

Rewind back to 1958 when London textile designer, Gerald Holtom, wanted to create a symbol for marchers to carry on banners and signs at a “Ban the Bomb” march planned by the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC). The event was Britain’s first major demonstration against nuclear weapons — a 52-mile march from London to the town of Aldermaston, home to an A-bomb research center.

Members of the DAC came to the march emblazoned with Holtom’s circle-with-lines symbol; but to bystanders, its meaning was a mystery.

Nowadays we all know what the symbol stands for, but what is the meaning behind the design? Holtom created the symbol by combining flag semaphore signals, an alphabet signalling system where flags are waved in a particular pattern to symbolize different letters. The system was used in the maritime world in the 1800s to convey information at a distance.

Holtom used the signals for the letters “N” for nuclear and “D” for disarmament and put them in a circle. The symbol is essentially a logo for the concept of nuclear disarmament! Such graphic elegance.

semaphore N semaphore D

Later the symbol was adopted by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). In 1960, the peace sign was imported to the United States via a peace sign button brought from the U.K. to the U.S. by Philip Altbach, a freshman at the University of Chicago.

The symbol had shown up here and there in the U.S. prior to that, but when Altbach convinced the Student Peace Union to adopt the sign as its symbol, the popularity of the peace sign grew immensely. By the late 1960s, the peace sign had become an international symbol adopted by anti-war protesters, and it doesn’t seem to be losing steam any time soon.

Posted by dmacc502 at 3:53 PM CDT
Friday, 24 September 2010
Jesus and Strangers: What the Bible Teaches About Christian-Muslim Relations
Mood: a-ok
Topic: religion

Richard T. Hughes

Distinguished Professor of Religion, Messiah College; author, ‘Christian America and the Kingdom of God

Posted: September 23, 2010 09:05 PMHostility toward Muslims is so pronounced in this country that a headline on a recent cover of Timevirtually screamed off the page, “Is America Islamophobic?” But if the 83 percent of the American people who claim to be Christian were to take the teachings of Jesus seriously, this headline, and the story it referenced, could never have been written. 

Jesus never mentioned Muslims for one very good reason: he lived almost 600 years before the birth of Islam. But he had much to say about “strangers.” Throughout the biblical text, the term “stranger” refers to people who stood outside the dominant social and religious norms: people who practiced other religions, who came from different nations, or who, because they were “different” in other ways, were often despised and rejected in the public square. By that criterion, Muslims are clearly among the “strangers” in America today, and the hostility directed toward Muslims in recent months has only accentuated that reality.

Jesus never suggested that his followers should fear “strangers,” hate them, or reject them, even if those strangers practiced a different religion, and even if they were perceived as enemies. Instead, he pointedly told his followers to welcome them, love them, and care for them. Regarding enemies, real or perceived, Jesus plainly said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Regarding those who practiced other faiths, the gospel of John (4:7-30) tells about a Samaritan woman whom Jesus befriended. Samaritans in the ancient world practiced a religion that was related to Judaism but that the Samaritans claimed was superior to Judaism. In return, many Jews treated Samaritans with contempt. No wonder, then, that when Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water, the woman was shocked and put this question to him: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” And his disciples were shocked that he would even talk with a woman — any woman — regardless of race or religion. But by promising the woman “living water,” Jesus offered his disciples a lesson on how to treat “the stranger.”

Again, in a world that routinely viewed the poor, the lame, and the blind as “the stranger,” Jesus offered this counsel: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or our kinsmen or rich neighbors … but when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, [and] the blind” (Luke 14:12-14). And in his most pointed teaching regarding “the stranger,” Jesus received the righteous into eternal life because, as he put it, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” But to the others he said, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for … I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.”

In the past few weeks, stories that center on fear and even hatred of Muslims have dominated the American press. But there are other stories, far more important stories, that deserve to be published around the globe.

In Tennessee, for example, construction of the Memphis Islamic Center was not complete, so the Heartsong Church, an evangelical Christian community in Cordova, Tennessee, offered its sanctuary to members of the Islamic Center for their nightly Ramadan prayers. Steve Stone, pastor of that church, explained to a reporter from local television station WREG, “They’re our neighbors across the street, and we follow Jesus, who teaches us to love our neighbors.” Stone would have been equally correct had he told the reporter that “Jesus teaches us to love ‘the strangers.'”

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the Rt. Rev. Nathan D. Baxter, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, issued a pastoral letter to Muslims in that region on the very day that a pastor in Florida, Terry Jones, had threatened to burn copies of the Holy Quran. Regarding that burning, Baxter wrote, “Please know that we deplore such an act of disrespect. With many other area churches, the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania stands firmly in caring and support of you. … We are all member communities in the family of God.” As a black man, Bishop Baxter knows from experience what it means to be a “stranger,” and so his words carry added weight.

The profoundly Christian words and actions of Pastor Stone and Bishop Baxter are regional steps, but important steps, toward resolving the tensions between Muslims and Christians in this country. The Christian community in the United States could make great strides toward healing relationships with their Muslim brothers and sisters if they would only practice on a broader scale what Jesus taught about how to treat “the strangers” in our midst.


Posted October 20, 2010 by dmacc502 in Uncategorized

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