The Conversation – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Mon, 20 Sep 2021 04:10:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Yes, Australia is buying a fleet of nuclear submarines. But the future of Electricity is Renewables, not Polluting Nuclear Mon, 20 Sep 2021 04:10:03 +0000 By Ian Lowe | –

The federal government on Thursday announced a landmark defence pact with the United States and United Kingdom that involves this nation acquiring nuclear-powered submarines. The question of nuclear submarines in Australia has been bubbling along for some time – and with it, whether we should also develop a nuclear energy sector.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted the defence deal did not mean Australia would look to develop a civil nuclear capability.

But there is strong support within Coalition ranks for a homegrown nuclear power industry. And the Minerals Council of Australia on Thursday quickly pointed out the “opportunity” the submarine announcement created for expanding nuclear technology in Australia.

The submarine announcement is sure to trigger a new round of debate on whether nuclear energy is right for Australia. But let’s be clear: the technology makes no sense for Australia, economically or politically, and would not be a timely response to climate change.

A twin discussion

The topics of nuclear submarines and nuclear energy are often discussed in tandem.

The technology is similar: the energy source for a nuclear submarine is basically a miniature version of that for a power station. And a similar supply chain is needed for mining and processing uranium, fuelling the reactor and managing waste. That also means both technologies require similar skills and regulatory frameworks.

The Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Tania Constable on Thursday responded to the submarine announcement, pointing out the apparent synergies with nuclear power:

This is an incredible opportunity for Australia’s economy – not only will we develop the skills and infrastructure to support this naval technology, but it connects us to the growing global nuclear power industry and its supply chains.

Now that Australia is acquiring nuclear submarines which use small reactors, there is no reason why Australia should not be considering [small modular reactors] for civilian use.

A former commander of Australia’s submarine force, Denis Mole, in April also questioned why Australia doesn’t have a larger and more diverse nuclear industry.

Mole argued that of the top 20 world economies, all have nuclear power except Australia, Italy and Saudi Arabia. And as nations commit to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 “it’s noteworthy that no major economy intends doing so without nuclear power in the mix”, he said.

And in February this year, Lindsay Hughes, a senior analyst in the Indo-Pacific program of research organisation Future Directions International, also suggested Australia should develop a nuclear power sector to support a nuclear submarine fleet.

Hughes argued a nuclear power sector would provide skills that could be transferred into the military domain, including nuclear-powered submarines, saying:

A nuclear power sector would demand university graduates with skills in engineering, physics and mathematics, the same skills and skill levels that the US Navy requires to operate its nuclear submarines. Australian graduates with similar skills could be employed on Australian nuclear-powered submarines.

Hughes conclude a nuclear power sector ought “could potentially provide much of the foundational skills required to maintain and operate a nuclear-power submarine fleet”. That really is the military tail wagging the electricity industry dog.

Nuclear power is not the logical next step

Even if there’s agreement Australia needs nuclear submarines patrolling the South China Sea, there is no logical jump for a nuclear power sector to support that activity.

In an opinion piece in March this year, former defence minister Christopher Pyne wrote that without nuclear energy, Australia could not support nuclear submarines – but establishing the former would be difficult. He went on:

Australia does not have a nuclear industry. One cannot be created overnight. Even if there was the political will to create one, which there isn’t, what political party is going to waste its political capital on creating a legislative framework for a nuclear industry that can sustain nuclear submarines, that has zero chance of passing any Upper House in any jurisdiction in Australia.

A nuclear industry in Australia would need a solution for the safe storage and disposal of high-level radioactive waste – this appears unlikely, given the public opposition to establishing a site to dispose of even low-level nuclear waste in Australia.

And research suggests there would be little community support for nuclear power – especially following the Fukushima disaster – let alone a community willing to host a reactor.

The decision to build nuclear submarines raises a new set of issues about uranium processing, fuel fabrication and waste management. The Morrison government needs to tell the community how these will be managed.

What’s more, while nuclear power may have once been cheaper than wind or solar, the economics have since changed dramatically.

Nuclear power plants are very expensive to build and the economics of nuclear power are getting steadily worse. By contrast, renewables continue to come down in price.

As I wrote in my new book Long Half-life: The Nuclear Industry in Australia, global average prices for new power last year were 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour for large solar, 4.1 cents for wind, 11 cents for coal and 16 cents for nuclear.

It would also take at least ten years to build one nuclear plant in Australia. So it’s clearly not an adequate response to the urgent challenge of climate change.

And the water use of a nuclear power industry, needed for cooling, would be a fundamental issue on the driest of all inhabited continents.

Over the past 20 years, new nuclear reactors have struggled to establish a business case in any OECD country, with the potential exception of South Korea. The world has obviously made its decision on nuclear: last year 192 gigawtts of renewables came on line, compared with a net 3 gigawatts of nuclear power.

The future is renewables

Australia’s 2009 Defence White Paper noted the federal government had ruled out nuclear propulsion for submarines. Now the federal government will outlay huge amounts of money establishing the framework for the technology.

However, the massive public subsidy of this project must not be used to justify the much greater risks of nuclear power.

Australia is blessed with a bounty of sun and wind, and is well on the way to achieving 50% renewable energy by 2030, even without government help. No matter which way you look at it, nuclear power in Australia makes no sense at all.The Conversation

Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor, School of Science, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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ABC News Australia: “How nuclear-powered submarines work and how they compare to other types of submarines | The World”

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What does the future hold for Middle Eastern states? Sun, 19 Sep 2021 04:02:48 +0000 By Mohamad Moustafa Alabsi | –

From independence until the advent of the Arab Spring, Middle Eastern states have suffered due to their constituting principle, a notion that can be traced back to the motivations and arrangements of former colonial powers.

Independence may have satisfied the demands of the region’s inhabitants for autonomy, Arabness and sovereignty, but for citizens, elites and leaders alike, these states have served as little more than artificial entities created and divvied up haphazardly by Western diplomats.

The region’s recent history has then been marked by the consequences of wars between Arabs and Israelis, particularly by the plight of the Palestinian people. A situation that dates back to the Sykes-Picot Agreement and Balfour Declaration which, over time, have turned the Arab cultural renaissance into a nationalistic and ideologically driven enterprise.

The impact of decades of Arab nationalism

Arab nationalism has been a major obstacle to achieving political diversity and civil debate within the region. Many countries have essentially used war with Israel as an excuse to justify multiple coups d’État and a military stranglehold on public life and constitutional affairs.

The most radical and totalitarian experience was that of the Ba’athists in Iraq and Syria, particularly following the rise to power of Hafez al-Assad (1970) and Saddam Hussein (1979). The Ba’ath Party took on a mission to deconstruct the Iraqi and Syrian states for more than three decades. In their schoolbooks, and even in the Constitution, citizens and students were taught that the Arab states were illegitimate, temporary, and doomed to oblivion.

Alongside this deification of political figures and the promise of Arab unity through Ba’athist revolution came a denial of minority rights, especially the Kurds. This denial culminated in thousands of Kurdish villages being levelled in northern Iraq during the First Gulf War, as well as mass killings by chemical weapons committed under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

In Syria, the Kurdish population still has no recognized cultural rights, despite changes to the constitution in 2014, part of an attempt to re-legitimise the Assad regime during the ongoing civil war.

It appears unlikely that a territorial status quo can be installed to preserve the existing states while also helping regimes to evolve and establish pluralistic, inclusive systems. Even post-Arab Spring, with all its social and post-ideological assertions, the current situation remains one of stagnation and corresponds more to a post-state indecision.

The relationship between regime and state

The Syrian crisis began in 2011 with mass protests for political reform under the Bashar al-Assad regime. The demands were not concerned with identity or Syrian national borders. Rather, the revolutionary nature of these protests was defined by their social, post-ideological conscience, and a constitutionalist mindset for the state.

In the Middle East, there are no intra-state governments but rather regime-states. Within the various monarchies of the region, the monarch does not constitutionally stand for unity among his people, but bestows his subjects with their name and nationality. Such is the case of Arabia, whose various peoples are known as “Saudi” referring to the sovereign power of the Saud family. This flaw is less obvious in other Gulf regimes, but these countries are no less bound by the rules of absolute monarchy, an outdated political regime with no judicially secure future. Similarly, under the region’s “republican” regimes, states are not made to serve citizens but are instead driven solely by ethnic hierarchy: Jewish nationalist state, Arab nationalist state and, soon, perhaps, Kurdish nationalist state.

In other words, any normative homogeneity is totally lacking and all conflict is fated to bypass the dialectics of justice vs. injustice, freedom vs. tyranny or people vs. political regime. To date, there is no finalised state apparatus under the authority of which political views could oppose each other. This is because the issue of political legitimacy focuses on the nature of the state rather than the social and political struggles occurring within it.

The opening up of the Syrian-Iraqi domain to regional and international influences is the best proof of this, particularly when we consider the surprising emergence of various nascent statelets.

The Turkish, the Qataris and the Muslim Brotherhood did not generally aspire to constitutional, pluralistic democracies in Syria or elsewhere in the region. They sought instead to establish constitutional law upon electoral majorities, following the constitutional practices under the likes of Morsi in Egypt, Erdogan in Turkey or Putin in Russia. According to a number of Syrian opponents, the Muslim Brotherhood’s sponsors have managed to monopolise and hijack the representative bodies of the Syrian opposition, both in diplomacy and on the war field.

Meanwhile, Iran and Hezbollah enjoy a very vocal presence in Syria and Iraq, proclaiming revolutionary Shia Islam and the political system of mullahs and ayatollahs. They prey upon minorities in the region, steering conflicts into the area of irreconcilable opposition between Shias and Sunnis. Daesh first belonged to the same category as the Saudi medieval absolute monarchy; it then added to the mix the religious duty of jihad and territorial expansion. Then we have the Kurds, who have copied and continue to copy the Arab and Jewish mistake of a nationalist, monolithic state – and so the story goes on.

Normative homogeneity means judicial security. When applied to the Middle East, this can be viewed as a two-fold concept. It is both philosophical (the contract), as any political system is bound by legitimacy from the people, and legal (the Constitution), as state institutions are bound by the supremacy of law and human rights.

If regime change were to occur today in a Middle Eastern state, it could lead to the overhaul or even destruction of the said state, followed by a multitude of unpredictable territorial shifts and transformations. The legal existence of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq or the state of Israel could all very easily be called into question. And the constituent alternatives to these states are as varied as the number of minorities and ethnicities present across the region (Kurds, Palestinians, Druzes, Shias and so on).

Questions for the future

Initially, the Arab Spring offered a glimpse into the possibility of states moving away from identity-based ideologies and political regimes toward an institutional foundation and a more constitutionalised system. If this idea is still alive and if we want to ensure that it is nurtured to fruition, we must consider the following issues:

  • What was the circumstantial history of the right to self-determination? Was it an illusory-but-necessary ideal in achieving emancipation from The 19th century’s European empires? In this century, should the state still be defined as an exclusive identity-based expression?

  • Is there sufficient space or demographic homogeneity to territorially and constitutionally satisfy all the identities of the region? Where does the individual stand in all this, with their personal identities and social and political rights?

  • Should the Kurdish and Palestinian peoples continue their fight in pursuit of self-determination and independence, or should the future of the region be thought of through the lens of pluralistic, democratic states that serve all their residents and citizens? Would this not also resolve the existential issues of certain emerging minorities, such as Alawis in Syria, Sunnis in Iraq, and Shias in Lebanon and elsewhere?

  • Have we thought about emerging and urgent questions for the region’s future, such as environmental challenges, sustainable management, and fair distribution of natural resources between states? Would the appearance of multiple new states not represent an even more serious threat in this regard than in matters of identity-based conflicts?

  • Finally, what solutions should civil and private initiatives offer in response to the ethical challenges of technology, online spread of radical ideologies, and limited access to education and information among millions of refugees? How can a socio-digital power be formed that operates beyond borders and regimes, contributing to civil and civilian representation in political affairs?

These are just some of the many necessary questions that will require answering in the coming years.

This article is published as part of Transition from Violence: Lessons from the MENA, from the International Panel on Exiting Violence (IPEV).

Translated from the French by Enda Boorman for Fast ForWord.The Conversation

Mohamad Moustafa Alabsi, Chercheur postdoctoral au Mellon Fellowship Program, Columbia Global Centers, Amman, Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (FMSH)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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Habib Satire and Marvel Superheroes: Using Comedy to Combat Stereotyping of Arabs Sat, 18 Sep 2021 04:02:32 +0000 By Safiyya Hosein | –

As a researcher of Muslim superheroes, I’ve learned about the many ways Islamophobia manifests. Because Islam is racialized in the west, Arab Christians, Hindus and Sikhs have been implicated in Islamophobic political discourses, making them victims of Islamophobia.

Many of these issues can be traced back to a strange convergence of stereotypes that became heightened after 9/11. Immediately following 9/11, but also in the years since, there has been a backlash that has negatively and urgently affected Muslim, Arab and brown communities.

This is especially concerning for many people in Canada amid recent hate crimes, such as the terror attack against a Muslim family in London, Ont.

The number of police-reported hate crimes in Canada increased by 47 per cent to 2,073 incidents in 2017, which included the attack on the Québec City mosque where six Muslim men were killed. While the number of incidents remained comparable in 2018, there was a 10 per cent increase in police reported hate crimes motivated by hatred of a race or ethnicity from 2018 to 2019, most targeting Arab or West Asian and Black people.

There continues to be an urgent need to combat Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism. In July 2021, the Canadian government convened a national summit on Islamophobia, and commissioned eight anti-racism projects. This included providing $184,000 in funding to the Canadian Arab Institute to combat anti-Arab racism with “myth-busting videos and shows.”

Popular culture and Arab talent

When we consider the portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in popular culture, it should be no surprise that members of these groups in post-9/11 North America have turned to creative approaches to help change the narrative.

One recent example is a mock trailer for a fictional superhero film project called Habib, by Wishful Genies. The Toronto-based comedy duo consists of writer, actor and comedian Rob Michaels and comedian and actor Fady Ghali.

Wishful Genies: “Habib – Marvel’s First Arab Superhero – OFFICIAL TRAILER HD”

The Habib trailer playfully contests long-held stereotypes of Arabs, which in turn makes a powerful statement on anti-Arab racism. The trailer has had over 80,000 views on YouTube since its upload in March and Wishful Genies also has a popular Tik Tok account.

Michaels and Ghali grew tired of “orientalistrepresentations of Arabs in popular culture.

Michaels, who is Iraqi-Canadian, admitted that when he wrote the script he based a lot of it on his life growing up, including random security checks he experienced.

Both Ghali and Michaels are Christian, and Michaels mentioned how people are often surprised by that fact. Non-Arabs in the west frequently assume that Arabs are Muslim and vice versa, when in fact fewer than 15 per cent of Muslims globally are Arabs and the Arab world is diverse with different dialects, religions, cultures and customs.

Unsettling villainous depictions

Arabs have long endured demeaning representations as Hollywood’s go-to villains as seen in films like Rules of Engagement (2000) and True Lies (1994). Such depictions became more commonplace in post-9/11 cinematic representations like the 2014-16 television show Tyrant and films like The Hurt Locker (2008) and American Sniper (2014).

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee documented “hundreds of violent messages targeting Arab and Muslim Americans” from people who had seen the film American Sniper on social media.

Ghali and Michaels may be seen alongside a wave of other Arab and Muslim creators in the west who use comedy and satire genres to engage stereotypes and expose social ills. In the tradition of stand-up comedy or satire, they use those apparently light-hearted genres to comment on, destabilize and challenge mainstream views.

Superhero needs back-up plan

What makes Habib work is its use of satire to contest racist views of Arabs. Habib appears to be a mash-up of Arab stereotypes: his costume, for instance, includes a keffiyeh and fez, which have different cultural and geographical connotations.

The trailer starts off with Habib fighting off a bad guy with pita bread and a sword. What proceeds are comic scenes with shisha, clueless S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and overbearing immigrant parents.

When Habib reveals his superhero identity to his family, his father rebukes him by telling him that he still needs to get a real job, “in case this superhero thing doesn’t work out.”

Most tellingly, when the Arab supervillain Wahish arrives on the scene, people start screaming, “He’ll blow himself up!” Wahish retorts in frustration: “I’m a supervillain! Not a terrorist!”

When I asked Michaels about that line, he stated, “I felt that was appropriate commentary to have him immediately labelled a terrorist just because he’s Arab, regardless of what he does. White people get the luxury of being supervillains, but in the media, Arab equals terrorist.”

Making fun of orientalist tropes

Arab creators are also relying on comedic effect in their depiction of superheroes. After seeing the Habib trailer, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to Marvel’s new Arab-American superhero, Amulet, who was introduced last year in The Magnificent Ms. Marvel series. Comics produced in the west have historically generated Arab villains like Batman’s nemesis Ra’s Al-Ghul.

In the issue that introduced Amulet (No. 13), the Arab-American writer Saladin Ahmed chose to include a laugh-out-loud scene with an Arab fortune teller dressed like a bellydancer.

In the case of Habib and Amulet, the focus is on Arab identity and not on the character’s religion.

Michael hopes Habib will further challenge generalizations about the Arab world and stereotypes propagated in popular culture if it ever makes it to film. When we consider how widespread those stereotypes are, and the urgent need to interrupt Islamophobic and anti-Arab racism and its harms, it feels like our world is due for a superhero-sized film like this.The Conversation

Safiyya Hosein, PhD Candidate in Communication and Culture, Ryerson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Human Activity is Threatening 1/3 of Tree Species with Extinction Fri, 17 Sep 2021 04:02:48 +0000 By Adrian Newton |

One in three of the world’s tree species are at risk of becoming extinct, according to a recent report by the Global Tree Assessment – the first attempt to estimate the conservation status of all of Earth’s trees.

Well-known species, including magnolias, oaks and maples are among those at risk. More than 400 species have fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild, and 142 tree species are already extinct. Human activity is the overwhelming culprit, especially forest clearance for farming, logging for timber and the spread of invasive pests and diseases.

When myself and colleagues first came up with the idea of a worldwide assessment of tree species in 2015, it seemed like an impossible task. Back then, nobody even knew how many there were, let alone how they were all faring. The first task was to make a list of all tree species that have been described in scientific literature. It turns out there are nearly 60,000, most of which live in tropical forests, and scientists continue to describe new species each year.

We then had to determine which of these are under threat of extinction. Given the huge number of species, this was a much bigger task than any conservation assessment undertaken previously. We created a global network of more than 500 experts, each assessing the species they were most familiar with, and the report is the result of that enormous collaborative effort which took five years to complete.

There are twice as many threatened tree species globally than threatened mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles combined. But trees are also food and habitat for at least half of the Earth’s known land-based plants and animals. Losing tree species can cause cascades of extinction among the many species that depend on them.

Trees are very valuable to people too. More than one-fifth are used as a source of food, fuel, timber or medicine. Others have important cultural and religious value. Worryingly, some of the most useful and significant species are among those facing extinction. Here are five of them.


Dipterocarps belong to a large family of timber trees, comprising 680 species, most of which are found in the tropical forests of south Asia. Related to hibiscus plants, most dipterocarps are tall with evergreen leaves and winged seeds. They are often the most abundant trees in the canopy of forests where they occur.

These trees possess high-quality timber, worth around US$170 per cubic metre (£123). Over US$3.5 billion worth of dipterocarp timber is exported each year from the island of Borneo alone, where 182 species are threatened with extinction, including the tallest known tropical tree, Shorea faguetiana.


Agarwood is fragrant and produces a highly valuable resin called aloes, used in perfumes and incense. It is one of the most valuable raw materials in the world, worth up to US$100,000 a kg and with a global trade valued at valued at US$200 million, but overharvesting has meant this species is threatened throughout its range in central and southern Africa.


Swietenia macrophylla is one of the most valuable tropical hardwoods, valued for making furniture and musical instruments such as guitars. Mahogany wood is durable and has a beautiful colour. A single tree can be worth many thousands of dollars.

Native to the tropical forests of the Americas, mahogany was one of the first trees to be listed as an endangered species, owing to widespread illegal logging.

Pacific yew

Taxus brevifolia is the source of the anti-cancer drug Paclitaxel, which has a global trade worth over US$100 million. Native to the Pacific Northwest of North America, this evergreen conifer is now categorised as Near Threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), primarily because of logging. Other yew species, which are also a source of this drug, are even more threatened, such as Taxus contorta in the Himalayas.

While individual trees are important for both humans and wildlife, the collective value of forest ecosystems is far higher. Forests cover approximately 31% of the world’s land surface and their total economic value has been estimated at around US$150 trillion. Forests contain around 50% of the world’s terrestrial carbon and help provide 75% of its accessible freshwater. These benefits could be lost if tree species go extinct.

As well as supporting wildlife and people, tree diversity can help forests cope with disturbance. For example, having a diverse range of tree species in a forest reduces the damage that plant-eating insects can do, and makes the ecosystem more resilient to drought.

As tree species die out, forest ecosystems are placed at greater risk of collapse. Conserving both forests and the tree species they contain can combat climate change and preserve biodiversity. The world must urgently protect threatened trees, restore degraded forests and ensure that the harvesting of useful tree species is sustainable.The Conversation

Adrian Newton, Professor in Conservation Ecology, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Critical race theory is an important tool in better understanding how religion operates in America Thu, 16 Sep 2021 04:02:24 +0000 By Tiffany Puett | –

( The Conversation) – The debate over critical race theory has played out in TV studios, school board meetings and state legislatures across the U.S. It has also found its way into churches.

The theory comprises a set of concepts that frame racism as structural, rather than simply expressed through personal discrimination. Scholars point to racial discrepancies in educational achievement, economic and employment opportunities and in the criminal justice system as evidence of how racism is embedded in U.S. institutions.

But as its critics tell it, critical race theory is a divisive ideology that has infiltrated classrooms and needs to be stopped. By and large, such depictions of critical race theory are inaccurate and misconstrued, perhaps at times even intentionally so. But they have nonetheless made critical race theory a “culture war” issue.

Religious voices, particularly among white evangelical Christians, were among the earliest and loudest in calling for critical race theory to be stopped. Conservative evangelical bloggers warned against the supposed dangers of the theory “infiltrating the churchback in 2018.

And in 2019 – before the anti-critical race theory movement gained widespread attention – the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical group in the U.S., passed a resolution criticizing the theory as a problematic secular ideology that conflicts with the authority of Scripture. A push by conservative Southern Baptists to again reject CRT by name failed at this year’s convention, but a resolution was passed against any theory that frames racism in a way other than its being “a sin” to be resolved by redemption through Christ.

These resolutions reflect a common evangelical ideology. Essentially, evangelical morality sees social problems such as racism as the result of sinful individuals, not larger structures or institutions. In the words of evangelical pastor and theologian Voddie Baucham: “Critical race theory is at odds with Christianity because it takes the problem of racism out of the individual heart and puts it out there somewhere in systems and structures.”

Such views from evangelicals laid the groundwork for the uproar over CRT in recent months.

Rhetoric aside, it’s worth noting what critical race theory actually is: a complex body of scholarship that reflects the efforts of legal scholars to analyze how race functions in American society. As legal scholars Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller and Kendall Thomas explain in their introduction to a key collection of writings on the topic, it explores “how a regime of white supremacy and its subordination of people of color have been created and maintained in America.”

As a scholar of religious studies, I frequently use critical race theory as a tool to better understand how religion operates in American society. While critical race theorists initially focused on how race has been embedded in our legal system, the theory can also help us think about how race is entrenched in religious institutions.

It helps move beyond the idea of religion’s being primarily a matter of individual belief to seeing religious institutions and identities as shaped by larger social structures and movements.

In the U.S., race and religious institutions have been intertwined from the beginning. Early U.S. leaders used language that described a “true” American as essentially both white and Protestant. And many Protestant churches supported white supremacy through rhetoric from the pulpit, interpretations of the Bible and policies of segregation.

Critical race theory sheds light on the ways that religious institutions and rhetoric have helped justify and reinforce white supremacy.

And the Southern Baptist Conventions’s resolution against critical race theory is an example of this. Denying the existence of structural racism takes away the opportunity to assess its presence in education, housing, the legal system and religion. It also makes it harder to conceptualize new, more equitable policies.

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As such, theological arguments rejecting critical race theory can reinforce white supremacy by refusing to acknowledge the role racism has played in U.S. institutions. It is much akin to the ways that proponents of “colorblind” approaches to racism, in which people claim not to see race, may unwittingly reinforce racism.

While some religious organizations may see critical race theory as incompatible with their ideology, the theory provides an important framework for analyzing the seen and unseen ways that race operates within all institutions and structures of American society – and that includes organized religions.The Conversation

Tiffany Puett, Adjunct Professor of Religious and Theological Studies, St. Edward’s University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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Harvard Divinity School: “What Do We Really Know about Evangelicals and American Politics?”

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Western fires are burning higher in the mountains and at unprecedented rates as we heat the climate Wed, 15 Sep 2021 04:04:33 +0000 By Mojtaba Sadegh, John Abatzoglou and Mohammad Reza Alizadeh | –

The Western U.S. is experiencing another severe fire season, and a recent study shows that even high mountain areas once considered too wet to burn are at increasing risk as the climate warms.

With more than 5 million acres already burned by early September, the 2021 U.S. fire season is about on pace with the extreme fire season of 2020. This summer has been the hottest on record and one of the driest in the region, with 80% of the Western U.S. in severe to exceptional drought. That combination of heat and dryness is a recipe for disastrous wildfires.

In a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences released in May 2021, our team of fire and climate scientists and engineers found that forest fires are now reaching higher, normally wetter elevations. And they are burning there at rates unprecedented in recent fire history. Two fires burning in northern California in 2021 – the Dixie and Caldor fires – are examples: They were the first and second wildfires on record to cross the Sierra Nevada crest and burn on both sides.

While historical fire suppression and other forest management practices play a role in the West’s worsening fire problem, the high-elevation forests we studied have had little human intervention. The results provide a clear indication that climate change is enabling these normally wet forests to burn.

As wildfires creep higher up mountains, another tenth of the West’s forest area is now at risk, our study found. That creates new hazards for mountain communities, with impacts on downstream water supplies and the plants and wildlife that call these forests home.

Rising fire risk in the high mountains

In the new study, we analyzed records of all fires larger than 1,000 acres (405 hectares) in the mountainous regions of the contiguous Western U.S. between 1984 and 2017.

The amount of land that burned increased across all elevations during that period, but the largest increase occurred above 8,200 feet (2,500 meters). To put that elevation into perspective, Denver – the mile-high city – sits at 5,280 feet, and Aspen, Colorado, is at 8,000 feet. These high-elevation areas are largely remote mountains and forests with some small communities and ski areas.

The area burning above 8,200 feet more than tripled in 2001-2017 compared with 1984-2000.

Our results show that climate warming has diminished the high-elevation flammability barrier – the point where forests historically were too wet to burn regularly because the snow normally lingered well into summer and started falling again early in the fall. Fires advanced about 826 feet (252 meters) uphill in the Western mountains over those three decades.

The Cameron Peak Fire in Colorado in 2020 was the largest fire in the state’s history, burning over 208,000 acres (84,175 hectares), and is a prime example of a high-elevation forest fire. The fire burned in forests extending to 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) and reached the upper tree line of the Rocky Mountains.

We found that rising temperatures in the past 34 years have helped to extend the fire territory in the West to an additional 31,470 square miles (81,507 square kilometers) of high-elevation forests. That means a staggering 11% of all Western U.S. forests – an area similar in size to South Carolina – are susceptible to fire now that weren’t three decades ago.

Can’t blame fire suppression here

In lower-elevation forests, several factors contribute to fire activity, including the presence of more people in wildland areas and a history of fire suppression.

In the early 1900s, Congress commissioned the U.S. Forest Service to manage forest fires, which resulted in a focus on suppressing fires – a policy that continued through the 1970s. This caused flammable underbrush that would normally be cleared out by occasional natural blazes to accumulate. The increase in biomass in many lower elevation forests across the West has been associated with increases in high-severity fires and megafires. At the same time, climate warming has dried out forests in the Western U.S., making them more prone to large fires.

By focusing on high-elevation fires in areas with little history of fire suppression, we can more clearly see the influence of climate change.

Most high-elevation forests haven’t been subjected to much fire suppression, logging or other human activities, and because trees at these high elevations are in wetter forests, they historically have long return intervals between fires, typically a century or more. Yet they experienced the highest rate of increase in fire activity in the past 34 years. We found that the increase is strongly correlated with the observed warming.

High mountain fires create new problems

High-elevation fires have implications for natural and human systems.

High mountains are natural water towers that normally provide a sustained source of water to millions of people during dry summer months in the Western U.S. The scars that wildfires leave behind – known as burn scars – affect how much snow can accumulate at high elevations. This can influence the timing, quality and quantity of water that reaches reservoirs and rivers downstream.

High-elevation fires also remove standing trees that act as anchor points that normally stabilize the snowpack, raising the risk of avalanches.

The loss of tree canopy also exposes mountain streams to the Sun, increasing water temperatures in the cold headwater streams. Increasing stream temperatures can harm fish and the larger wildlife and predators that rely on them.

Climate change is increasing fire risk in many regions across the globe, and studies show that this trend will continue as the planet warms. The increase in fires in the high mountains is another warning to the U.S. West and elsewhere of the risks ahead as the climate changes.

This is an update to a story published May 24, 2021.

[Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversation’s science newsletter.]The Conversation

Mojtaba Sadegh, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, Boise State University; John Abatzoglou, Associate Professor of Engineering, University of California, Merced, and Mohammad Reza Alizadeh, Ph.D. Student in Engineering, McGill University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why the Hazara Minority of Afghanistan is now Imperiled Tue, 14 Sep 2021 04:08:03 +0000 By Iqbal Akhtar | –

The land we now call Afghanistan has been a place of constant migration through its mountainous passes. Its linguistic, cultural and religious diversity is a result of millennia of trade along the Silk Road. More than a dozen ethnic groups are mentioned in the country’s constitution.

Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban means that some minorities are again at heightened risk of persecution.

As a religion and politics scholar focused on the Khoja – Shiite Muslim communities originally from India but now scattered across the globe – I have studied the precariousness of being a religious and ethnic minority in the region.

Among the Afghans who have the most to lose today, I would argue, are groups with a different interpretation of Islam – particularly the Shiite Hazara community, the nation’s third-largest ethnic group, who have faced discrimination for more than a century.

In July 2021, nine Hazara men were killed by Taliban fighters in southeastern Afghanistan, according to a report by Amnesty International – echoing previous periods under the Taliban when the Hazara were targeted.

Rich history

The Hazara’s roots in South Asia go back centuries. Their ancestors are said to include Mongol troops, and recent genetic analysis has confirmed partial Mongol ancestry.

Today, the Hazara comprise 10%-20% of the national population of Afghanistan, where their traditional homeland is in a central region called Hazarajat. This makes them an important minority in a country of 38 million.

There are also significant Hazara communities in Pakistan, as well as a
Western diaspora in such countries as the United States and the U.K. Many Hazara outside Afghanistan fled during the violence of the past five decades, from a coup in 1973 and the Soviet invasion to the Taliban’s rise and the U.S.-led war.

Frequent targets

While most Hazara are Muslim, the majority belong to the minority Shiite tradition. Most Muslims around the world follow the Sunni tradition, which recognizes Muhammad’s companion Abu Bakr as his rightful successor. Shiite Muslims like the Hazara, however, believe that the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, should have succeeded Muhammad after his death in A.D. 632.

In Afghanistan, as elsewhere, tensions between the majority Sunni Muslim population and Shiite Muslims has been a source of steady conflict. The Hazara continue to be targeted and brutally murdered by the Taliban in Afghanistan and its associates in Pakistan. Islamic State-affiliated groups have also targeted Shiite communities in South Asia, including the Hazara.

The community has long been among Afghanistan’s poorest and faces daily harassment, including in finding jobs.

Not just religion

The Taliban idealize a particular vision of Islamic “purity” and seek to impose it through their strict rules.

To understand the Taliban only as Muslim extremists, however, is to miss the political and economic reality of why and how they operate in Afghanistan. Afghanistan produces the vast majority of the world’s opium, which is used to make heroin, and the Taliban control much of those profits. Violence in the name of religion also helps the group expand its territory and enforce control.

From this perspective, minorities like the Hazara pose a twofold threat to the Taliban.

First, their different traditions challenge the Taliban’s authority to claim religious truth. Their presence is a testament to an indigenous, pluralistic tradition of Islam that has accommodated multiple faiths over centuries, despite periods of brutal persecution. For example, the famous Bamiyan Buddha statues in the heart of Hazara territory were respected for centuries by the surrounding community, until they were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

Second, Afghanistan is a weak state where many tribes and communities cooperate or compete for power. Long-standing ethnonationalist conflict makes it in the Taliban’s interests to keep dissent to a minimum.

The Hazara’s security represents something bigger: the possibility of a pluralistic and multiethnic nation. Since the American withdrawal, however, thousands of Hazara who withstood years of hardship and violence have sought refuge in Pakistan. For now, they and other minorities fear a period of increased oppression and dislocation under the Taliban.

[This week in religion, a global roundup each Thursday. Sign up.]

Read all six articles in our Understanding Islam series on, or we can deliver them straight to your inbox if you sign up for our email newsletter course.The Conversation

Iqbal Akhtar, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Florida International University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CBC News: “Afghanistan’s Hazara minority fear renewed massacres under Taliban”

9/11: how politicians and the media turned terrorism into an Islamic issue Mon, 13 Sep 2021 04:04:03 +0000 By Jared Ahmad | –

As we mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, it is important to reflect on the legacy that event – and the “war on terror” more broadly – has had for the way news media cover terrorism. Though we should be clear that terrorism as we define it now predates the attacks by well over a century, what is significant about the events of 9/11 is the way they turned terrorism into a near-constant feature of the daily news cycle.

Scholars have long-argued that there is a symbiotic relationship between the news media and terrorism. For journalists, terrorist violence fulfils core news values that help attract and secure large audiences. For terrorists, news coverage provides a sense of legitimacy and the oxygen of publicity vital to their cause. No event illustrates this relationship more than 9/11.

Timed to coincide with morning news schedules across America, the attacks on the World Trade Center factored in a 17-minute delay between the two aircraft hitting the buildings to help maximise drama and ensure that network camera crews had time to focus on events. In some cases, news networks reported non-stop for nearly 100 hours to millions around the world.

In interviews for my book on the BBC’s portrayal of the al-Qaida threat during this time, one journalist recalls how monumental that day was:

It’s hard to emphasise now the way it made the world stop. And it did that in a way that hardly any other event had ever done before in my lifetime. It was staggering … watching the horror of what had happened, the number of people killed, and then watching the collapse of those iconic towers.

In the years since, the number of newspaper articles featuring the words “terrorism” or “terrorist”, both in the United States and Britain, have increased exponentially. This was despite the fact that terrorist attacks in Europe and North America were much more common during the 1970s and 1980s. These were typically carried out by left- or right-wing nationalist organisations.

Whose views make the news?

Aside from the drama and newsworthiness of the 9/11 attacks, a major reason why terrorism dominated headlines was because politicians and other “elite” figures began talking about terrorism. A lot.

Political communications scholarship has long noted the influence of powerful sources over the news agenda. Yet studies reveal how, in the days, weeks and months after 9/11, politicians and security sources (often anonymous and unnamed) dominated the news of the terror threat during this period and helped encourage an atmosphere of patriotic fervour. It has also been claimed that politicians adopt more emotive language when talking about terror threats, further increasing the news value of such information.

As the “war on terror” expanded, terrorists themselves emerged as a key source of news. The rise of the internet and the emergence of social media, meant that terrorist groups had far greater access to the news media than ever before. Over time, grainy, homespun propaganda images transformed into spectacular, Hollywood-style exercises in terror PR which could be instantly shared with a global audience of supporters.

But despite the presence of such imagery in western news coverage, media reports often failed to include detailed explanations for why terrorists sought to adopt violent tactics. Findings indicate that western media typically omit the political dimension of terrorist propaganda videos, but retain the more threatening, often exotic, aspects.

The Islamisation of terrorism

Perhaps the most damaging legacy of 9/11, however, has been the homogenisation and Islamisation of the terror threat. This has resulted in the conflation of Islam and Muslims with terrorism in much news coverage.

In the UK, for instance, research shows that news audiences saw a dramatic increase in news about Islam and Muslims in the years after the 9/11 attacks, with peaks in 2001 and 2006. While not always negative in tone, media reports indicate a thematic focus on terrorism, violent extremism and the cultural difference of Muslims.

In America, moreover, scholars have shown how terrorist attacks involving Muslim perpetrators tend to receive around 375% more attention than when the culprit is a non-Muslim.

But despite a fascination with Islamic terrorism, the Global Terrorism Index reminds us that only 2.6% of attacks and 0.51% of deaths by terrorism occur in western nations. The vast majority of such attacks tend to be motivated by ethno-nationalist causes, rather than Islamist. What is more, the five countries most affected by terrorist violence (Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria and Somalia) are countries which are predominantly made up of people who identify as “Muslim”.

Lessons learned?

The 9/11 attacks ushered in a new age of terrorism. Those events, and the resulting “war on terror”, profoundly increased the value of terrorism as a newsworthy topic. The attacks also made sure that the groups who have a vested interest in exaggerating terror threat levels, such as politicians or members of the security services, remain the major voices shaping news coverage. And, for those groups, only one type of “terrorism” was deemed important.

Recent comments by the former UK prime minister Tony Blair about the existential threat posed by what he refers to as “Islamism” to western nations shows that reductive rhetoric about “good” and “bad” Muslims still captures the attention of news media. This is the case even when campaigners warn of more localised dangers.

If the media are to learn anything from two decades of the “war on terror”, therefore, it is to better understand the lessons that where so powerfully demonstrated on 9/11. That means finding ways of reporting terrorist events that do not sensationalise or overstate terrorist violence. It means challenging the simplistic way politicians tend to frame the issue and contextualising events as they happen. And, finally, it involves recognising and combating the entrenched stereotypes that demarcate “us” from “them”.

If not, the news media will continue to be “hijacked” by terrorism.The Conversation

Jared Ahmad, Lecturer in Journalism, Politics and Communication , University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

MSNBC: “American Muslims Share Post 9/11 Experiences With Islamophobia”

How social media – aided by bots – amplifies Islamophobia online Sun, 12 Sep 2021 04:08:38 +0000 By Saif Shahin | –

( The Conversation ) – In August 2021, a Facebook ad campaign criticizing Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the United States’ first Muslim congresswomen, came under intense scrutiny. Critics charged that the ads linked the congresswomen with terrorism, and some faith leaders condemned the campaign as “Islamophobic” – that is, spreading fear of Islam and hatred against Muslims.

This was hardly the first time the pair faced Islamophobic or racist abuse, especially on the internet. As a communications professor who studies the politics of race and identity online, I have seen that Omar is often a target of white nationalist attacks on Twitter.

But online attacks on Muslims are not limited to politicians. Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks, stereotypes that associate Muslims with terrorism go far beyond depictions in newspapers and television. Recent research raises the alarm about rampant Islamophobia in digital spaces, particularly far-right groups’ use of disinformation and other manipulation tactics to vilify Muslims and their faith.

Amplifying hate

In July 2021, for example, a team led by media researcher Lawrence Pintak published research on tweets that mentioned Omar during her campaign for Congress. They reported that half the tweets they studied involved “overtly Islamophobic or xenophobic language or other forms of hate speech.”

The majority of offensive posts came from a small number of “provocateurs” – accounts that seed Islamophobic conversations on Twitter. Many of these accounts belonged to conservatives, they found. But the researchers reported that such accounts themselves did not generate significant traffic.

Instead, the team found that “amplifiers” were primarily responsible: accounts that collect and circulate agents provocateurs’ ideas through mass retweets and replies.

Their most interesting finding was that only four of the top 20 Islamophobic amplifiers were authentic accounts. Most were either bots – algorithmically generated to mimic human accounts – or “sockpuppets,” which are human accounts that use fake identities to deceive others and manipulate conversations online.

Bots and sockpuppets disseminated Islamophobic tweets originally posted by authentic accounts, creating a “megaphone effect” that scales up Islamophobia across the Twitterverse.

“Cloaked” accounts

Twitter has a little over 200 million daily active users. Facebook, meanwhile, has nearly 2 billion – and some use similar manipulation strategies on this platform to escalate Islamophobia.

Disinformation researcher Johan Farkas and his colleagues have studied “cloaked” Facebook pages in Denmark, which are run by individuals or groups who pretend to be radical Islamists in order to provoke antipathy against Muslims. The scholars’ analysis of 11 such pages, identified as fakes, found that organizers posted spiteful claims about ethnic Danes and Danish society and threatened an Islamic takeover of the country.

Facebook removed the pages for violating the platform’s content policy, according to the study, but they reemerged under a different guise. Although Farkas’ team couldn’t confirm who was creating the pages, they found patterns indicating “the same individual or group hiding behind the cloak.”

These “cloaked” pages succeeded in prompting thousands of hostile and racist comments toward the radical Islamists that users believed were running the pages. But they also prompted anger toward the wider Muslim community in Denmark, including refugees.

Such comments often fit into a wider view of Muslims as a threat to “Western values” and “whiteness,” underscoring how Islamophobia goes beyond religious intolerance.

Dual threats

This is not to suggest that “real” Islamist extremists are absent from the web. The internet in general and social media in particular have long served as a means of Islamist radicalization.

But in recent years, far-right groups have been expanding their online presence much faster than Islamists. Between 2012 and 2016, white nationalists’ Twitter followers grew by more than 600%, according to a study by extremism expert J.M. Berger. White nationalists “outperform ISIS in nearly every social metric, from follower counts to tweets per day,” he found.

A more recent study of Berger’s, a 2018 analysis of alt-right content on Twitter, found “a very significant presence of automation, fake profiles and other social media manipulation tactics” among such groups.

Social media companies have emphasized their policies to identify and stamp out content from Islamic terror groups. Big Tech critics, however, argue that the companies are less willing to police right-wing groups like white supremacists, making it easier to spread Islamophobia online.

High stakes

Exposure to Islamophobic messages has grave consequences. Experiments show that portrayals of Muslims as terrorists can increase support for civil restrictions on Muslim-Americans, as well as support for military action against Muslim-majority countries.

The same research indicates that being exposed to content that challenges stereotypes of Muslims – such as Muslims volunteering to help fellow Americans during the Christmas season – can have the opposite effect and reduce support for such policies, especially among political conservatives.

Violence toward Muslims, the vandalization of mosques and burnings of the Quran have been extensively reported in the U.S. over the past 20 years, and there are indications that Islamophobia continues to rise.

But studies following the 2016 election indicate Muslims now experience Islamophobia “more frequently online than face-to-face.” Earlier in 2021, a Muslim advocacy group sued Facebook executives, accusing the company of failing to remove anti-Muslim hate speech. The suit claims that Facebook itself commissioned a civil rights audit that found the website “created an atmosphere where Muslims feel under siege.”

In 2011, around the 10th anniversary of 9/11, a report by the Center for American Progress documented the country’s extensive Islamophobia network, especially drawing attention to the role of “misinformation experts” from the far-right in spreading anti-Muslim propaganda.

Five years later, the entire country was awash in talk of “misinformation” experts using similar strategies – this time, trying to influence the presidential election. Ultimately, these evolving strategies don’t just target Muslims, but may be replicated on a grander scale.The Conversation

Saif Shahin, Assistant Professor in School of Communication and Faculty Affiliate with Antiracist Research and Policy Center, American University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

ABC News: “Islamophobia in America 20 years after 9/11”