Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Beheading Hatred and Extremism

By Bob Ferris

Though of differing religions and sects these protesters seem to be more alike than different and that is important to note as we try to move forward and beyond extremism.
This past weekend I was treated to seeing a post on Facebook of a decapitated woman wearing a black bra and blue jeans.  The picture was on a site associated with an organization known as Rescue Christian Missions run by Keith Davies (1,2,3) and Walid Salameh (AKA Walid Shoebat) who are trying to raise money to rescue persecuted Christians from places like Egypt and Pakistan through an umbrella organization called the Forum for Middle East Understanding (FFMU).

The person who posted this message was reacting mainly to the gruesome image of this woman and the narrative that she was an Egyptian Muslim who fell in love with a Coptic Christian, converted to Christianity and was later killed in this bloody manner by her family.  (Note: Even Shoebat admits the picture in question is not really of this woman which is eerily similar to the "using an unrelated photo to evoke emotion" story around the fake Planned Parenthood abortion videos).  My Facebook friend’s posting comment focused on the tragedy of someone being killed like this in the name of God. But then the thread got ugly and very anti-Syrian refugee quickly with some “Christians” saying that this type of behavior was going to happen in the US if the Syrians were allowed to immigrate and that the Muslim religion was really nothing but a "cult."

I share this episode for a couple of reasons.  The first reason is that those who are fomenting this type of hatred and bigotry frequently lack credibility and mostly have alternative motivations for stirring folks up like money or power. In this Walid Salameh seems a perfect example.  Little of what he says in terms of establishing his credentials as a former Muslim PLO terrorist and now conservative Christian truly checks out and the list of those calling him on his misstatements and fabrications is long and varied in this country and others (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9).  Yet as we can see from the two included videos Mr. Salameh (Shoebat)—who appears to be a poster child for an IRS audit (see below)—seems to have fooled folks at the Air Force Academy (for more on why the Air Force Academy is vulnerable see here), Department of Homeland Security in South Dakota (see video) and elsewhere into paying him to promote his world views including the tacit and sometimes explicit superiority of Christianity over Islamic beliefs in an apparent violation of the 1st Amendment.

This 2013 IRS form 990 shows Walid Salameh, along with his wife and son, among the board members of Forum for Middle East Understanding. This form shows that he derives no income from this organization which seems inconsistent with his statements made elsewhere (see above videos).  In the 2014 filing Mr. Salameh claims nearly $88K and his son Theodore $32K (see below videos) in reportable income, but there is very little in here that addresses some of the issues raised in the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation about compensation to board members, self-dealing and conflict of interests. 
FFMU granted nearly $200,000 in 2103 to the Rescue Christian Missions which is a project of FFMU under their non-profit status with no indication how this money was spent or for what purposes.  In 2014 this number jumps to $506,250.
Mr. Salameh speaks regularly for FFMU and its project Rescue Christian Missions.  In the 2013 IRS 990 form there are more than $36,000 in speaking fees and more than $86,000 in travel expenses in addition to the $105,739 in speaking fees identified above.  In other words, nearly half the organization budget went to speakers fees or travel in 2013 and the forms claim that none of that went to Mr. Salameh or his family.  
The second reason I relate this story is that we should all be concerned about how much mass media, inter-personal discussions, and our political system are being dominated by the extremes rather than the middle were most of us should reside.  Why, for instance, does this religious dialog often become a debate about whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic extremists are more violent now and historically instead of a collaborative discussion on how we can all work to end extremism?  I can understand why Mr. Salameh wants me to be morally outraged by this poor woman in Egypt and reach for my wallet, but it becomes hard to focus there and remain in the Jesus corner when I also see the Christian home-schooler in this country who apparently beat his poor child to death and then fed the 7-year old to the hogs.  (And before the righteous among you jump to the defense of your particular religion or sect know that extremists from all persuasions commit or enable atrocities—that is why we do and should call them extremists.)

So now we go back to the illustration at the beginning of this piece showing the striking similarities between Christian, Jewish and Islamic protesters.   My sense is that it was easy for Mr. Salameh to switch from Islamic to Christian extremism because they are so psychologically fungible being less about content or contrast and more about the isolation and reason-suspending methodology that actually creates these extremists.  Some proof of this also comes from his son Theodore Shoebat's "enlightened" rants about women in politics (above) or an inquisition for gays (below) that with minor adjustments could have come out of the mouth of any adherent to pretty much any fundamentalists sect.

In this it is no surprise that some are calling on mental health professionals to look at what is being called religious trauma syndrome (RTS) and a few are starting to explore the psychological damage caused by religious immersion and experiences of this nature (see also here). The existence and further definition of RTS (1,2,3,4) is helpful particularly when we scratch our heads and ask why someone says something or takes an action that is illogical or that seems contrary to the philosophies of their own professed religion such as espousing hatred, killing others, or telling obvious lies.

In closing, I know that some will take offense at the title of this piece and my use of the word “beheading” because it bespeaks of a violent and repugnant act that they (and I) do not endorse.  I will admit that I use that word both for its shock value and metaphorically because the solution to this involves a drastic removal of extremism as a dominant force in our society.  To be honest I do not know exactly how we will accomplish that given the pervasiveness and the massive efforts to keep it so, but I do know that we must radically divorce ourselves from both the products of this abusive methodology and the methodology itself.  And that is tough in a society rightfully based on the tolerance of all religious and their free practice.  But we must figure out a way to get rid of the extremist befouled bath water and keep the precious baby of religious freedom if we want this great nation to survive.

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