Tag Archives: religion

With sea levels rising, why don’t more Indonesians believe in human-caused climate change?

Are humans to blame for climate change? A full 97 percent of climate scientists say yes. But if you ask Indonesians, a whopping 18 percent would say no, a new survey from YouGov and the University of Cambridge reveals. Of the 23 countries surveyed, Indonesia had the biggest percentage of climate deniers, followed by Saudi Arabia (16 percent) and the U.S. (13 percent). What’s up with that?

Indonesia has a lot to lose to climate change. Capital city Jakarta is basically going to be underwater by 2050 thanks to a combination of rising sea levels and aquifer overuse. Plus, the country, which occupies just over 1 percent of the Earth’s land area, contains some of the world’s richest ecosystems. Its islands are home to 10 percent of the world’s flowering species, 12 percent of mammals, 17 percent of amphibians and reptiles, and 17 percent of birds.

All this, and yet Indonesia is the fifth largest carbon emitting country, largely due to deforestation. It is the world’s largest supplier of palm oil. Between 2001 and 2017, more than 92,000 square miles of the country’s forests, an area roughly the size of Michigan, were cut down, mainly for palm oil plantations. And Indonesia also has plans to further expand its palm oil industry, in addition to doubling domestic coal consumption by 2027 for power generation.

As Indonesia’s middle class quickly expands, its cities are becoming increasingly dependent on cars to get around. In the next decade, energy is expected to overtake deforestation as Indonesia’s No. 1 source of carbon emissions.

So why are many Indonesians are skeptical of the human causes of climate change? Religion is one factor. Both Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, the countries that topped the climate denial list, are places where religious belief is “particularly strong,” Jeffrey Winters, author of Power in Motion: Capital Mobility and the Indonesian State, explained to Grist via email. In a Pew Research Center poll from 2018, more than 90 percent of Indonesians said that religion is “very important.”

“We know that religious beliefs and supernatural ideas in general conflict with evidence-based modes of thought,” said Winters, political science department chair at Northwestern University. “We would, therefore, expect that societies where religious thought is highly influential would be more likely to deny scientific arguments about climate change.”

Another factor in the country’s high rate of climate denial could be the role of media and education. While there are efforts to add climate change into Indonesian education, climate education is not recognized in the national education system, so a majority of the population gets information about climate from public television and radio.

As for the media, a study by the British Council looked at keywords in Indonesia’s most popular newspaper, Kompas, and found that the number of articles containing ‘climate change’ ranked far below ‘corruption,’ ‘terrorism,’ and ‘election.’ Even in the articles that mentioned climate change, it was often not the main focus.

Indonesia promised to reduce carbon emissions by 29 percent by 2030 in accordance with the Paris climate accord, but it has done little to reach this goal. (To be fair, most countries are failing to meet their Paris goals.) It even threatened to pull out of the agreement when the E.U. brought up the possibility of phasing out palm oil as a biofuel. Various Indonesian officials have referenced the lack of repercussions that the U.S. faced in leaving the Paris agreement.

“The U.S. not taking climate seriously gives a big excuse for the Indonesian government to not take it seriously either,” Jonathan Busch, an environmental economist at the Earth Innovation Institute, told Vox in December. “They have lots of other domestic concerns.”

The country’s forests and peatland store huge amounts of carbon. To keep them from being destroyed and releasing that carbon into the air, experts say that wealthier countries should take the lead in supporting conservation efforts in Indonesia. Norway, for instance, has pledged $1 billion to protect Indonesian forests.

It’s unclear whether Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s current president, intends to address his country’s big carbon footprint. While he placed a moratorium on new palm oil plantations in 2011, he has since threatened to revoke the moratorium and has expressed interest in initiating unregulated, unsustainable palm oil sales to China and India. Ah, politics.

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With sea levels rising, why don’t more Indonesians believe in human-caused climate change?

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To Explain the World – Steven Weinberg


To Explain the World

The Discovery of Modern Science

Steven Weinberg

Genre: History

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: February 17, 2015

Publisher: Harper


A masterful commentary on the history of science from the Greeks to modern times, by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg—a thought-provoking and important book by one of the most distinguished scientists and intellectuals of our time. In this rich, irreverent, and compelling history, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg takes us across centuries from ancient Miletus to medieval Baghdad and Oxford, from Plato’s Academy and the Museum of Alexandria to the cathedral school of Chartres and the Royal Society of London. He shows that the scientists of ancient and medieval times not only did not understand what we understand about the world—they did not understand what there is to understand, or how to understand it. Yet over the centuries, through the struggle to solve such mysteries as the curious backward movement of the planets and the rise and fall of the tides, the modern discipline of science eventually emerged. Along the way, Weinberg examines historic clashes and collaborations between science and the competing spheres of religion, technology, poetry, mathematics, and philosophy. An illuminating exploration of the way we consider and analyze the world around us, To Explain the World is a sweeping, ambitious account of how difficult it was to discover the goals and methods of modern science, and the impact of this discovery on human knowledge and development.

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To Explain the World – Steven Weinberg

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Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine – Alan Lightman


Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine

Alan Lightman

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $12.99

Publish Date: March 27, 2018

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

From the acclaimed author of Einstein's Dreams, here is an inspires, lyrical meditation on religion and science that explores the tension between our yearning for permanence and certainty, and the modern scientific discoveries that demonstrate the impermanent and uncertain nature of the world. As a physicist, Alan Lightman has always held a scientific view of the world. As a teenager experimenting in his own laboratory, he was impressed by the logic and materiality of a universe governed by a small number of disembodied forces and laws that decree all things in the world are material and impermanent. But one summer evening, while looking at the stars from a small boat at sea, Lightman was overcome by the overwhelming sensation that he was merging with something larger than himself—a grand and eternal unity, a hint of something absolute and immaterial. Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine is Lightman's exploration of these seemingly contradictory impulses. He draws on sources ranging from Saint Augustine's conception of absolute truth to Einstein's theory of relativity, from the unity of the once-indivisible atom to the multiplicity of subatomic particles and the recent notion of multiple universes. What he gives us is a profound inquiry into the human desire for truth and meaning, and a journey along the different paths of religion and science that become part of that quest.

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Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine – Alan Lightman

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Look at the Difference in Trump and Obama’s Notes for Israel’s Holocaust Memorial

Mother Jones

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Before leaving Israel’s Holocaust museum Yad Vashem Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump continued the tradition of US leaders who have visited the memorial before him, including former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, by writing a message in the Book of Remembrance.

“It is a great honor to be here with my friends!” Trump’s signature read. “So amazing and will never forget!”

The president’s note quickly attracted criticism for its strangely upbeat tone, with many mocking the message for appearing out of step with the memorial’s somber setting, especially when compared with former president Barack Obama’s 2008 message when he was still a senator.

The note on Tuesday is the latest in a series of awkward moments for Trump during his first overseas trip as president. The day before, while addressing reporters at a press conference alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump appeared to inadvertently confirm that Israel was the source that provided the intelligence he shared with high-ranking Russian officials in the Oval Office last week.

Trump’s unusually lighthearted Book of Remembrance message is only the most recent example of tone deafness coming from the administration regarding the Holocaust. In February, the administration sparked by the ire of Jewish groups when it released a statement commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day that failed to mention the word Jews. White House press secretary also once called Nazi concentration camps “Holocaust centers” while positively comparing Adolf Hitler to Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad.

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Look at the Difference in Trump and Obama’s Notes for Israel’s Holocaust Memorial

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Trump Is Speaking at Jerry Falwell’s University This Weekend. Let the Craziness Ensue.

Mother Jones

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In a January 2016 speaking appearance at evangelical Liberty University, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump memorably flubbed a biblical reference and ventured, “There’s nothing like it, the Bible.” Despite an instantaneous round of Twitter eye-rolling, Trump soon picked up the endorsement of Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr. And on Saturday, Trump will return to Lynchburg, Virginia, as the first sitting president since George H.W. Bush to give the school’s commencement address.

The son of Jerry Falwell Sr.—the Moral Majority firebrand and Liberty founder who once hoped for an end to public education and blamed abortion providers, feminists, and gay rights supporters for secularizing the nation and paving the way for 9/11—Falwell Jr. has long been outspoken in his support of Trump. Way back in 2012, he brought Trump to campus to give a convocation speech and praised him as “one of the most influential political leaders in the US”—the person who’d “single-handedly forced President Obama to release his birth certificate.”

The lovefest continued at last year’s Republican National Convention, when Falwell called Trump “America’s blue-collar billionaire.” He defended the candidate in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in October, writing that he was “more concerned about America’s future than Donald Trump’s past” and calling him a “changed person.” Their alliance prompted considerable backlash from Liberty students, alumni, and even his father’s former chief of staff, Mark DeMoss, who later resigned from the university’s board of trustees after publicly criticizing Falwell’s endorsement.

Since the election, Falwell has continued to find his way into the headlines, telling the Associated Press in November that he was offered the education secretary position before Betsy DeVos but turned it down for personal reasons. He then told the Chronicle of Higher Education in January that Trump asked him to oversee a federal task force aimed at paring back “overreaching regulation” and giving “more leeway” to colleges and accrediting agencies. As of Friday, however, the administration had yet to officially announce such a task force, and a Liberty spokesperson said the school would not make Falwell available for comment about it until an announcement came from the White House.

Trump has lauded the 54-year-old Falwell as “one of the most respected religious leaders” in the country. Like his father, though, Falwell has a flair for outlandish, divisive remarks—as evidenced by these outrageous moments from the past several years:

“We could end those Muslims…”

Two days after the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 dead, Falwell encouraged his students to get gun training and concealed-carry permits. “If some of those people in that community center had what I have in my back pocket right now…” Falwell said, referring to the pistol he was carrying. “I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them.”

Soon after, Liberty ended a policy that prevented students from bringing firearms into residences. Since 2011, students and faculty with proper state permits have been allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus, a measure meant to enhance campus safety. “If something—God forbid—ever happened like what happened at Virginia Tech, there would be more than just our police officers who would be able to deal with it,” Falwell told an NBC local affiliate at the time. This fall, the university will open a shooting range on campus.

“Democratic voter indoctrination camps”

During his RNC speech last year, Falwell urged for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which prevents tax-exempt charitable organizations from engaging in political activity. The law’s elimination would open the door for churches and religious charities to make political contributions to campaigns, blurring the lines between church and state and emboldening the religious right’s political influence.

“Authorities have too often turned a blind eye to liberal groups, including universities where left-wing ideology is so pervasive that they have in effect have become Democratic voter indoctrination camps,” Falwell said. Getting rid of the Johnson Amendment “would create a huge revolution for conservative Christians and for free speech.” Trump said at the National Prayer Breakfast in February that he was determined to “get rid of and totally destroy” the law.

“This whole videotape thing was planned”

In October, when the “grab-’em-by-the-pussy” tape emerged, Falwell suggested that certain Republicans conspired to leak the footage. “I think this whole videotape thing was planned. I think it was timed,” Falwell told journalist Rita Cosby on her podcast. “I think it might have even been a conspiracy among the establishment Republicans who’ve known about it for weeks and who tried to time it to do the maximum damage to Donald Trump.”

He went on to say that Trump’s remarks weren’t “defensible” and added that Trump apologized for them. “I don’t think the American people want this country to go down the toilet because Donald Trump made some dumb comments on a tape 11 years ago,” Falwell said. Later, on Lou Dobbs Tonight, Falwell called leaking the tape “despicable” and that it “rises to the level of criminal behavior.”

As the tape saga unfolded, an editor at Liberty’s school paper wrote a column condemning what Trump dismissed as “locker room talk.” But Falwell pulled the column in favor of another piece, claiming he thought the column was “redundant.”

“A godly man of excellent character”

Falwell has been open about his desire to build Liberty’s football program into a powerhouse. On November 28, the school announced it would hire Ian McCaw, who served as the athletic director at football-crazy Baylor University for 13 years—and who resigned in May following the school’s wide-ranging sexual-assault scandal.

According to a May report prepared by the law firm Pepper Hamilton, Baylor athletic department personnel and football coaches “affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence”; in one case, the university revealed that officials, including McCaw, failed to report an alleged gang rape by five football players. Baylor fired head football coach Art Briles in late May, and university president and chancellor Ken Starr resigned shortly after. McCaw was put on probation and reprimanded following the report’s release, and he stepped down after Briles’ termination. (The university has since been the subject of lawsuits from former students and employees over its handling of sexual assaults.)

Following McCaw’s hiring, Falwell called him “a godly man of excellent character.” Falwell doubled-down when criticized, saying on November 29 that McCaw “is a good man who found himself in a place where bad things were happening and decided to leave.” “We concluded after our investigation that Ian McCaw did not attempt to hide the sexual assault that was reported but, instead, had one of his coaches report it to Judicial Affairs at Baylor in 2013, in accordance with Baylor’s policies and procedures at the time,” he said in an FAQ on Liberty’s site. Falwell added he couldn’t think of an athletic director “who is more sensitized to the importance of complying with the intricacies of Title IX” than McCaw.

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Trump Is Speaking at Jerry Falwell’s University This Weekend. Let the Craziness Ensue.

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Bill Nye’s "Sick Ice Cream Orgy" Is Causing a Conservative Meltdown

Mother Jones

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Earlier this week, everyone’s favorite childhood “science guy” debuted his new show: Bill Nye Saves the World, an unabashedly political Netflix series for adults that aims to debunk anti-scientific claims. Nye has come back into the national spotlight with force in recent years, vocally supporting scientific realities that shouldn’t be controversial but for some reason are, namely climate change and evolution. He’s become a favorite of the left thanks to nostalgia and his support of, well, science. Last week, Nye protested against the Trump administration as one of the public faces of the March for Science, telling the crowd that “science must shape policy.”

Nye may be a beloved cultural figure, but reviews of his new show have characterized it as mediocre at best, with some arguing that it’s too preachy and heavy-handed. In a Gizmodo review, Maddie Stone pulls no punches. “Like Nye, I’m outraged to see anti-science beliefs promulgated at the highest levels of our government,” she writes. “Nye and I are on the same team—and yet I still felt like I was being talked down to throughout his show. How will the average viewer feel?”

While parts of the show seem to be missing that mark, not all criticisms of it are equally valid—and there have certainly been some high points. Nye truly seems to delight in provoking conservatives, and there’s one episode in particular, titled “The Sexual Spectrum,” that has caused right-leaning commentators to lose their collective minds.

“This is the episode where Bill Nye jumps off the deep end into the leftist view on gender, an empirically bankrupt position only defended by postmodernists and social theorists,” writes a Breitbart columnist.

So what has conservatives so riled up? The episode, which comes across as something of a gender and sexuality 101 workshop, explains that—in contrast to what many of us grew up believing—gender really isn’t binary. “There are people who identify as both genders or neither gender or a combination of the two,” Nye points out. He even goes on to explain how gender identity isn’t necessarily static. “By 3 or 4, most kids identify with a gender, and it doesn’t always match the sex they were assigned at birth, and a person’s gender identity may change over their lifetime,” he explains.

In a particularly charming segment being denounced as a “Sick Ice Cream Orgy” that promotes lust as a virtue, the show takes aim at conversion therapy—the discredited practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity through counseling. In the segment, a vanilla ice cream cone tells all the other ice cream flavors they need to become vanilla, too. “I just think if you want to get right with the big ice cream in the sky, change your flavor by wishing to be vanilla,” it says. (Oh, and there actually is an ice cream orgy—so enjoy!)

Conservative bloggers are especially horrified by what’s been dubbed a “vulgarity-laced, transgender manifesto,” sung by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom. The freakout over Bloom’s supposed “transgender anthem” is doubly bizarre, because it’s a clear misunderstanding of her lyrics; the song is about sexual preference and doesn’t really mention gender identity. “This world of ours is so full of choice,” sings Bloom. “But must I choose between only John or Joyce? Are my options only hard or moist? My vagina has its own voice.”

To be fair, it’s a pretty terrible song, and the segment is hard to watch without cringing. But after reading all the moral panic, it’s become even harder to watch without laughing.

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Bill Nye’s "Sick Ice Cream Orgy" Is Causing a Conservative Meltdown

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Rabbi Jack Moline’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are picks from the Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance.

Latest book: Growing Up Jewish
Reading recommendations: I can’t avoid including the Book of Psalms. Aside from the fact that it is the only book in the Jewish Bible that is of undisputed human authorship, it is a collection of essential yearnings and gratitudes that give me a sense that our current troubles, existential and political both, are neither new nor permanent. In addition, the melodies to which so many of the psalms have been set are inseparable from the words. And how can I not also hear Leonard Cohen in every “hallelujah.”

Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours probably makes me sound like a poetry buff, which, alas, I am not. But Rilke’s extraordinary talent for combining deep spiritual sensitivity with intuition about the human condition can rescue me from almost any funk. I feel the same way about Israeli poet Dan Pagis.

I remember reading Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale when it first came out. I can remember where I was sitting as I read each chapter. The early chapters that almost breezily describe how quickly an inclusive society can collapse into a corrupt theocracy and, most impressively to me, the epilogue in which future academics look back with disdain and incredulity on the dark age of female servitude still inspire me never to give up resisting injustice and never to give up hope that the moral arc of the universe…well, you know. These two features, by the way, are what make this book a better choice right now than Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America.
So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Bill McKibben, Rabbi Jack Moline, Karen Russell, Tracy K. Smith. (New posts daily.)

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Rabbi Jack Moline’s Resistance Reading

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I Underwent Genital Mutilation as a Child—Right Here in the United States

Mother Jones

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Last week, an Indian American doctor was arrested in Michigan, charged with performing female genital cutting on two seven-year-old girls. As the story hit the local press and then the New York Times, and as it was shared by George Takei and Nicholas Kristof, my phone kept blowing up with breathless messages and links from childhood friends across the country.

“This story isn’t going away,” said one friend over the phone. We both grew up in the same controversial, secretive South Asian Muslim sect as the doctor, a 44-year-old emergency room physician named Jumana Nagarwala who was born in Washington, DC. “This time, the community can’t just pretend it’s not happening.” Just today, two more followers of the sect were arrested in connection with the case.

Our sect is known as the Dawoodi Bohras, a Shiite branch of Islam based in Gujarat, India, with an estimated 1.2 million followers around the world and thriving outposts across America. Some Bohras and others say the sect has veered toward a cult of personality and away from Islamic principles; it’s ruled by a well-heeled clergy of “totalitarian kings” with unusually wide-reaching control over their followers. (The Bohra clergy did not respond to Mother Jones‘ request for comment.)

Federal officials believe Nagarwala may have been clandestinely cutting girls since at least 2005. It’s the first case of its kind in the United States, where female genital cutting is a criminal sexual act and has been illegal since 1996. The practice is widely seen as an attempt to curb women’s sexuality by making sex less enjoyable, even painful.

Nagarwala admits she performed a procedure on the two seven-year-old girls, but says she didn’t cut them—she merely wiped away a mucous membrane and gave the gauze to the parents, who would bury it in keeping with Bohra tradition. She told investigators she’s not aware of anyone in her community who practices cutting.

As little girls, nearly all my female Bohra friends and I underwent khatna, the sect’s term for this practice. None of us remember being “wiped.” We were cut. Some of us bled and ached for days, and some walked away with lifelong physical damage. In interviews with investigators, one of the girls Nagarwala performed on said the procedure hurt so badly that she screamed in pain and “could barely walk afterward.” She drew a picture of the room where it happened, and marked an “X” to show where she bled on an exam table. Medical examinations show that both girls’ genitals have been altered.

While news coverage and the federal case focus on Nagarwala, khatna has been a mandatory religious practice inflicted on Bohra girls all over the world for generations, often in knowing violation of local laws. Bohras are the only Muslims in India who enforce female genital cutting; it’s not a common practice among South Asians or Muslims worldwide, and it’s not mentioned in the Koran. Privately, many Bohras have been praying for the clergy to end this practice for years, even decades. More than one mother I know wept when she learned she was bearing a girl, dreading what she might have to do to her child.

“Maybe this is the case that finally scares them into stopping it,” another friend messaged me. Her khatna happened during a family vacation in India. Mine took place in the bedroom of a family acquaintance in New Jersey in the late ’80s.

I buried the memory until I was 13, when my freshman year social-studies teacher put on a video about female genital mutilation in Africa. As I watched a young girl, dark-skinned like me, being prepared by village elders for her mutilation, I suddenly flashed back to a dim, chilly house my mother took me to when I was about seven. Two Indian aunties I had never seen before held me down on a mattress and pulled down my underwear as I squirmed to get free. One of them held a small pair of silver scissors, like the ones my dad used to keep his beard trimmed. Then, the sudden sensation of a tight, mean little pinch between my legs.

The memory exploded in my head in the dark, quiet classroom, and suddenly, a recurring nightmare I’d had for years made sense. In those dreams, the lower half of my body was made of kid’s construction toys, and pieces kept breaking off as I frantically tried to keep myself together. I began sobbing at my desk. The teacher kindly told me to catch my breath in the hallway; she thought I was upset over the images I was seeing in the video. Later, at lunch, my white girlfriends talked about being relieved that sort of thing doesn’t happen in America.

But it does. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that half a million girls in the United States were affected by or at risk for mutilation in 2012. I know of dozens of Bohra women whose parents had them cut in America over the last 30 years, from New York City to Houston to Chicago. Others were taken out of country to have the procedure done, a practice called “vacation cutting” that’s now also illegal in the United States.

We’re the first generation of Bohras born in America. Our parents began settling here after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which brought a wave of South Asian engineers, doctors, and other professionals to America. In our teens and 20s, my friends and I who underwent khatna assured each other the practice would die out as Bohras assimilated. We’re now in our 30s, and it hasn’t stopped. Some women our age and younger are still arranging or considering khatna for their own daughters.

“Nothing is going to change,” sighed the friend who called me to discuss the Nagarwala case. She spoke with a bitterness I could almost taste in my own mouth. “They’ll use this one doctor as a scapegoat, let her take the heat, and pretend it never happened.”

In 2015, the Australian Supreme Court handed down the first-ever conviction for a Bohra engaged in khatna. Many Bohras opposed to the practice hoped this was finally khatna‘s death knell. The Bohra clergy takes pains to maintain good relations with political leaders around the world; a guilty verdict in an affluent, English-speaking country seemed disastrous, especially in an increasing atmosphere of global Islamophobia.

Instead, the head cleric, Mufaddal Saifuddin, 70, seemed to double down on the practice during a cryptic sermon delivered last year in Mumbai. Congregations in the United States and elsewhere were sent letters instructing them to follow local laws, but some reading between the lines heard different instructions: Go underground, and don’t get caught. The parents in the Michigan case traveled with their daughters from Minnesota in February; community members tell me it’s become harder—but not impossible—to find Bohras willing to perform the procedure.

The task of getting a young girl’s khatna done falls on adult female relatives; men often don’t know it’s happening, or even that the practice exists at all. Girls are told to keep the procedure a secret after it’s performed, and they usually do. “For the longest time, I didn’t even know other people had this done, too,” one friend from the community told me. “I thought it was something my mom only did to me, and I didn’t know why.”

In the vacuum of secrecy, and with very little official guidance from Bohra leadership, there are wide variations in how khatna is performed. The seven-year-old girls in the Michigan case were allegedly cut by a licensed medical professional in an unnamed medical clinic. (Nagarwala’s employer, Henry Ford Hospital, says it did not happen on their grounds.) In other cases, the cutting is performed by laypeople with no medical training in unhygienic conditions.

There’s also little consensus about how the actual procedure is supposed to work; it’s often up to the interpretation of whoever is wielding the blade. In some cases, like mine, a “pinch of skin” from the clitoral hood is cut away, leaving no lasting physical trauma. Sometimes the entire clitoris is removed, or surrounding tissue is also damaged. Last year, writer Mariya Karimjee went on This American Life to tell the story of her cutting, which was performed in Pakistan and left her unable to have sex without unendurable pain.

Bohras even disagree on why khatna is performed. The prevailing view is that it keeps girls and women from becoming sexually promiscuous. Others say it has something to do with “removing bad germs” and liken it to male circumcision, which is widely (though not universally) believed to have hygienic benefits. The World Health Organization says female genital mutilation has no known health benefits and “violates the rights to health, security and physical integrity of the person, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”

Despite the prevalence of khatna among generations of Bohra women around the world, there has been almost no public conversation about it until just a few years ago. Speaking out about any of the numerous issues the clergy has come under scrutiny for—khatna, multiple lawsuits over alleged abuses of power, “big brother”-style surveillance of everyday Bohras—is seen as unacceptable. Dissidents can face excommunication and social boycott. The threat extends to family members, whose businesses often depend on Bohra financing, or who may not be allowed to marry within the community or be buried in a Bohra cemetery unless the rebellious relative is quieted.

I’m already estranged from my family because of disagreements over Bohra customs. Like a few of my friends, I’ve tried to bring up khatna to my parents, mostly my mother, with little progress. As in many rigid orthodoxies, the burden of social policing in the Bohra community falls largely on women, who have the most to lose from rocking the boat and who are often suffering from unacknowledged personal trauma of their own.

That’s why it’s remarkable that so many Bohra women have started speaking up over the last few years, from the explosive This American Life story to a documentary film, interviews with major news outlets in India and the United States, and a Change.org petition calling on the Bohra clergy to end the practice that’s been signed by 150,000 supporters. In 2015, five young women started a Bohra anti-FGM group called Sahiyo (Gujarati for “friends”) and conducted the first large-scale, global research study on the practice of khatna among Dawoodi Bohras. Nearly 400 Bohra women took the online survey, mostly from India and the United States and between the ages of 18 and 45. Eighty percent said they would like the practice of khatna to end.

None of this has moved the clergy to unequivocally end it.

One of the girls in the Nagarwala case in Michigan was temporarily taken away from her parents, an act that’s sure to cause additional trauma. Nagarwala could be sentenced anywhere from five years to life in prison for the assortment of charges she faces, though she’s just one of an untold number of khatna practitioners around the country. Bohras opposed to the practice now find themselves rooting against those who are arguably fellow victims.

“It’s feels sick to be happy about all this punishment,” said one of my friends the other night. “But I just don’t know how else to make them listen.”

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I Underwent Genital Mutilation as a Child—Right Here in the United States

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Obama Issued Nowruz Greetings Every Year. Will Trump?

Mother Jones

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Every year while in office, former President Barack Obama crafted an annual address to mark Nowruz, the Persian New Year, and sent his greetings to the millions of people of Iranian descent celebrating in the United States and abroad. The messages gained even greater significance over the past several years, as they came amid ongoing negotiations over what would eventually become a historic nuclear deal.

But as White House press secretary Sean Spicer warned in February, “there is a new president in town,” one that has consistently pushed anti-Muslim rhetoric into the mainstream, supports banning Muslims from immigrating to the United States, and has threatened to dismantle the same nuclear agreement Obama said he hoped to achieve in his Nowruz messages.

It’s been more than 24 hours since the start of this year’s celebration, and President Donald Trump has yet to issue a message of his own. When asked Tuesday whether Trump planned to issue Nowruz greetings similar to Obama’s, White House press secretary Sean Spicer demurred, saying he would get back to reporters on the issue. The absence of such remarks would come on the heels of a bungled Black History Month and the administration’s failure to mention Jews in its Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.

As a recent Times op-ed explained, Nowruz is a holiday rooted in hope—something many Americans could likely use amid the current political climate. “So America, please find an Iranian and, for a moment, forget about the headlines that divide us,” writer Firoozeh Dumas said. “Ask about Nowruz.You might be surprised to find out that we have more in common than you think. That should give us all hope.”

Until Trump weighs in, here’s a look back at some of Obama’s past Nowruz remarks:

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Obama Issued Nowruz Greetings Every Year. Will Trump?

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Eliminating One Constitutional Right Does Not Make All the Rest Fair Game

Mother Jones

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Timothy Edgar—former national security counsel for the ACLU, former deputy for civil liberties in the George Bush administration, and the first-ever director of privacy and civil liberties under President Obama—says that using terrorist watchlists to ban gun sales doesn’t pose a civil liberties problem. After all, we already use these lists to prohibit people from boarding airplanes:

According to the Supreme Court, both the right to keep and bear arms and the right to travel are fundamental liberties. The right to travel is exercised far more frequently. While there were 23 million gun sales requiring a background check in 2015, there were almost 900 million travelers on domestic and international flights serving the United States in the same year.

….While using the terrorist watch list to prevent gun sales would inconvenience those who may be on the list by mistake, there is no reason to fetishize the 2nd Amendment over other rights. The no-fly list causes inconvenience and hardship, but not even the ACLU thinks it should be abolished because it understands the need to keep terrorists from boarding airplanes. Preventing terrorists from buying weapons is just as necessary.

This is a rather cavalier description of the ACLU’s stand on no-fly lists:

We filed a landmark challenge to the No Fly List in which a federal judge struck down the government’s redress process, ruling that it “falls far short of satisfying the requirements of due process” and is “wholly ineffective.”…A bloated, opaque watchlisting system is neither fair nor effective. A system in which innocent people languish on blacklists indefinitely, with their rights curtailed and their names sullied, is at odds with our Constitution and values.

“Due process” is the key phrase here: the US government should never be able to revoke fundamental liberties based on mere suspicion. This doesn’t necessarily mean that suspects are entitled to a full-on court hearing, but due process does mean something substantive, speedy, and fair. An appeal to the same agency that took away your rights in the first place doesn’t count in my book—especially when that agency is literally bound by no rules about what it does and doesn’t have to tell you about why you’ve been blacklisted. That’s how the no-fly list works, and the appeal process in Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s proposed ban on gun purchases would be at least as bad.

In any case, I have a question for Edgar and other proponents of both the no-fly list and the gun ban: what other fundamental liberties should the government be able to ignore in the name of fighting terrorism? This isn’t a frivolous question. If these two rights can be taken away, what’s the argument for not restricting the right to free speech of people on terror watchlists? Or fair trials? Or self-incrimination? Or freedom of religion? Or cruel and unusual punishment?

This kind of question is too often treated as nothing more than the juvenile hysteria of civil liberties purists who see fascism around every corner. But think about where we are. The right to travel freely has already been effectively eliminated. Eliminating the right to bear arms has a pretty good chance of passing Congress. George Bush plainly had no qualms about cruel and unusual punishment, and there’s no telling if he ever got close to allowing the torture of American citizens. Donald Trump gets loud cheers when he proposes substantial infringement on Muslim freedom of religion. Warrantless surveillance is now so normal it barely merits a yawn. And we hear endlessly these days about jihadist recruiting via social media, which suggests—to use Edgar’s phrasing— that preventing terrorists from using Facebook might be just as necessary as keeping them off airplanes.

We’re not close to fascism. But when a former counsel for the ACLU argues that taking away a constitutional right is OK because we’ve already taken away another one, it’s not very hard to see the slippery slope in action. By that logic, there’s literally no right that’s safe for anyone who’s ever been investigated for terrorist connections by the FBI. As tempting as it is for frustrated liberals to exploit a horrific massacre in order to pass something—anything—related to gun control, this is the wrong way to go about it.

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Eliminating One Constitutional Right Does Not Make All the Rest Fair Game

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