Faith Based Racism: Examining the Link Between "Piety and Prejudice"




An intriguing study conducted by USC examined the connection between religious groups and racism, arriving at a provocative conclusion. The analysis was led by Wendy Wood, Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at USC College and the USC Marshall School of Business. The purpose of the study is "a meta-analytic review of past research evaluated the link between religiosity and racism in the United States since the Civil Rights Act." The report observed that "members of religious congregations tend to harbor prejudiced views of other races." The study surveyed over 20,000 white Christians, citing their role as the largest demographic, both in terms of race and religious denomination, in the United States.

I was quite interested in the findings, because as a life-long resident of the South I often witness racist behaviors. I grew up only a few miles from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which often referred to as "the buckle of the Bible belt." In a region so proud of its Christian attributes, this behavior is quite baffling to watch. The study identifies root causes of this racist behavior in religious practitioners as well as speculates on the driving forces specific to Christianity. I want to discuss the report's two main points and postulate how these abhorrent findings can be overcome in the future.
The Exclusivity of Group Identity and In-group Prejudice:
In an interview with USC news, Wood stated that “all religions offer a moral group identity, and so across world religions - including Buddhism, Hinduism, Muslim, Judaism and Christianity - the religious in-group is valued over out-groups.” This notion is perhaps a basic human tendency, to value familiar social constructs over foreign or competing interests, often the driving force in tribalism and nationalism.
The message of Jesus was universal and most certainly did not include racism. One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” I feel this quote more than adequately describes the disparity between Christ's teachings and many of his proclaimed followers. A term commonly thrown around the discourse of perceived attitudes in regards to this Christian community is “holier than thou.” This attitude can best be described as holding an opinion of one’s self that is expressed by asserting their own opinions or actions are superior to another’s.
While Wood points out that this behavior is not exclusive to Christians; the connotation of “holier than thou” is most commonly associated with Christians in the United States. But the question begging to be asked is “what are the origins of this behavior?” The answer can easily be summarized as a side effect of the human condition. When instilled with a confidence that a person holds a truth that another may not be aware of, an air of conceit and arrogance seems to overcome the person holding the alleged ultimate truth. Christians want to be like Jesus because he was such an inspiring figure, however, there is a blatant problem that exists when attempting this emulation. If a person claims to be a Christian, most likely, their belief is that Jesus was part God-incarnate. Since no human will ever be a being of that caliber of supernatural stature, this emulation is inhibited, and presented in the "holier than thou" quandary. So if this truth is what stokes this fire of the human condition, it demands to be examined.
Morality as the key to Group Membership:
Wood also noted that "religion has a downside, like any group membership, particularly [when] a group membership is associated with morality." The logic is that morality and the practice of those tenets, ethics, are what determine a religious denomination. Catholics have their specific morality, while Protestants have theirs. In the context of today's religious plurality and spiritual marketplace, these denominations have more similarities than differences, when say compared to other non-Christian denominations, like Islam or Hinduism.
The study reported that "highly devout groups showed the greatest correlation between religion and racism." In my opinion, an affirmation of specific morality comes from John 14:6 - “Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." More devout and strict adherents would likely hold that the 'correct' morality is limited to their religion, thus increasing the exclusivity of the group's membership. However, all throughout history examples of the existence of the morality and ethics echoed in the New Testament can be found in instances completely uninfluenced by Christian teachings; such as Native American tribes, Buddhist and other eastern traditions, and even in numerous Pagan theologies. The USC article bolsters this relationship between devoutness and racism citing that "her analysis found significantly less racism among people without strong religious beliefs."
Ending the Hypocrisy and Looking to the Future:
The report also uncovered a possibly remedy to the racism issue. Wood found that "people who are religious for conservative reasons [respect for tradition, social conventionalism], they have become less racist in recent years as racism has become less socially acceptable." With a nod to the old adage, 'time heals all wounds,' so too could racism vacate itself from Christianity. As liberalism of previously staunch and harsh social protocols often continue to ease up with future generations, simply put, racism in Christianity could die along with older, more prejudiced generation of practitioners.
According to Wood the report's findings "may ring false to practicing Christians in mixed-race congregations," noting however that "there aren't many churches that practice with a mixed-race congregation." Interaction and exposure to Christians of other races would easily help to eliminate the myths and false notions that fuel racism. What is quite ironic, and even hilarious, is that Christ himself was an Arab Jew, a Levantine native and dark skinned. Reality is quite contrary to the classical image of the white, hunky, and hippie-esque imagery that proliferated in medieval and renaissance Europe and still resonates in the minds of Christians.
USC's study is quite illuminating, but regardless of why these racist sentiments exists or how they are justified, the fact remains that racism must go. I will close this article in the spirit of another quote attributed to Gandhi that easily solves this problem, "be the change you wish to see in the world."

Check out this article also published on PolicyMic!

Human Rights Campaign Graphic for Marriage Equality Goes Viral





I would like to thank everyone that helped share my article, the Human Rights Campaign, PolicyMic, and everyone else who endeavors to put an end to intolerance. Gay rights and marriage equality is the seminal issue for the millenial generation. I stand up for the marginalized, abhorred, and persecuted whether it is in the battle of Civil Rights or the the battle for freedom from a despotic dictator in Libya or Syria.

Originally I wrote this for PolicyMic.com. Often times I will write a piece for TheNolanK.com and then republished it in whole or in part on PolicyMic. However, this time the tables are turned. Here is my most successful article ever:


"You might have woken up this morning to find your Facebook or Twitter news feed covered in a pink and red equal sign and been curious as to the image's origin. Well, here are the details.
The Human Rights Campaign is the nation's largest advocacy group for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities. Their logo is a yellow equal sign set on a blue background. The current incarnation is meant to bring awareness to the cause for marriage equality in light of the Supreme Court hearing arguments for two groundbreaking cases in the fight for marriage equality. For the next two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, proponents of marriage equality are also encouraged to wear red to show their support. Also, using popular Twitter hash tags like #Equality, #UnitedforMarriage, #SupremeCourt, and #Love will help your tweets launch into the discussion taking place on social media.
Personally, I have never understood why a person should have to fight so hard just to be considered equal to the majority. But this view also comes from an American son raised by Canadian parents ... I am lucky to be a dual citizen. LGBT rights in Canada are a model for the world. Canada was the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage and actually the first country in the world to perform a same-sex marriage.
However, if you are in the constantly shrinking minority of those who oppose same sex marriage, then you will go down in history alongside those opposed to gender equality and race equality. Your picture will be in the history books next to those who were assaulting marchers with fire hoses and police dogs. Frankly it does not matter if you view marriage in the context of your theology, the aim of marriage equality is not to influence policy in your church or place of worship.
Rather, the fight for marriage equality is strictly a matter of state or national legal policy and the application of equal protection under the law. To deny a fellow human being the right to express their love for a fellow human being, in an adult and consenting fashion, just because they are a homosexual, is nothing short of hateful and vitriolic. Make no mistake, opposition to marriage equality is nothing short of hate, regardless of how you try and justify it. Opposing homosexuality may be part of your religious beliefs, but you have absolutely no right to make someone else submit to your beliefs in such an arbitrary manner.
Now some pessimists may write this graphic off as nothing more than slacktivism or pointless, but they are completely wrong. The belief is not that doing this will have an effect on the Supreme Court's decision, but rather that it will help sway the general public's opinion. Many people who are ignorant or perhaps just unsure of where they stand on gay rights might be surprised to see everyone dressed in red or may inquire about your new profile picture. This is a great foot in the door for discussing the case for marriage equality.
I myself have already had a few conversations on the topic and have explained the graphics meaning to numerous inquisitive Facebook friends. If people just see how many people support equality and civil rights, they may reconsider their negative views or become involved themselves. Don't believe me? Change your profile picture to this graphic and see how quickly you receive positive feedback and curious inquiries."

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Shortly after I wrote this piece it absolutely caught fire and went viral. My article quickly racked up tens of thousands of views and thousands of shares on social media. The current totals, a whole 48 hours after I originally published this piece on PolicyMic, currently stand at over 568 Tweets, 28,000 shares on Facebook, and over 57,000 unique views.

An Interview with Dr. Joshua Landis: Syria, Assad, and Chemical Weapons



Recent news regarding the Syrian Uprising has once again caught the attention of global media outlets and international diplomats alike. The possible use of chemical weapons being reported in Syria is cause for great alarm. The U.S. has so far declared a firm stance of non-intervention, but with one exception - the use of chemical weapons in Syria. This game changing shift in tactics by the Assad regime is forcing U.S. foreign policy to confront the very real likelihood of intervening in Syria.

Dr. Joshua Landis of The University of Oklahoma
In the wake of these new developments, I contacted an expert on all-things Syria, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, University of Oklahoma Professor, Dr. Joshua Landis. His blog covering Syrian politics, 'Syria Comment' is widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis travels frequently to Washington DC to consult with government agencies and speak at think tanks, like the Woodrow Wilson Institute, Brookings Institute, USIP, Middle East Institute, and Council on Foreign Relations.  He makes regular appearances  as an expert analyst on PBS News Hour, the Charlie Rose Show, al-Jazeera, Frontline, NPR, France 24 and BBC radio. Dr. Landis is frequently published in journals like Foreign Policy, Middle East Policy, and Time Magazine. (Information Courtesy of his OU Faculty Page)

As a current student at OU and an active member in the academic community in Norman, I have had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Landis on multiple occasions. I have sought his counsel on Middle East Politics - like the writing I did covering the  escalation of the Syrian Uprising in early 2012 and previously with my NATO Project. He graciously accepted my request for an interview on these recent developments as well as answering some general questions I had. In our discussion, Dr. Landis provided very illuminating commentary and insight.

U.S. President Barack Obama
What I drew from Dr. Landis is that President Barack Obama is cautiously dancing the U.S. intervention threshold with Bashar Al-Assad as his dance partner. Many thought that the Assad regime would crumble in rapid form, but such is far from the case. Clearly the Assad Regime is willing to burn Syria to the ground as long as the scorched result is still under its control.  So far Assad's strategy of brutal crackdown and responses has proven effective against a fractured and loosely affiliated opposition. Since the inclusion of the Al-Nusra Front in the conflict, rebel victories have begun to tally up and regime air-craft have become vulnerable. This is why Damascus started to use short range Scud ballistic missiles to strike resistance targets - they are considerably cheaper than a multi-million dollar aircraft. Seemingly without hesitation, Assad is prepared to further escalate the brute force being used in the conflict. But along the way President Obama has made forceful threats to Damascus that Assad has included into his calculus. The maneuvering by Assad aims to get as close to the American prohibitions of conduct, without actually crossing the red line.

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad
The Assad regime's recent chemical attack on rebel positions is evidence of this notion for two reasons. As Dr. Landis stated in our interview, "there is no agreed upon definition of how to define Chemical Weapons or what a real "use" is or how many need to be killed before the US intervenes," this ambiguity reflects the on the ground reality of the attack site. Intelligence reports are suggesting that it was not conventional chemical weapons, like poison gases or nerve agents, that were used, but more along the lines of a 'caustic weapon' which just used  chemical exposure, most likely to chlorine, to generate casualties in the affected area. [Link Here] So while Assad has certainly come into contact with President Obama's red line, with this witty maneuvering, he has yet to actually cross the line.

Dr. Landis and I agreed that it appears as if the American general public is either apprehensive or indifferent to the atrocities taking place in Syria. He equated this to "what one might call 'Middle East nation building fatigue'" and cited the report from last fall that "says 75,000 troops might be needed to seize Syria chemical arms." [Link Here] Dr. Landis said this was most likely a scare report meant to deter U.S. intervention. However, I see it as a realistic assessment by the Pentagon because it is better to go in over-prepared, than to go into a country and half-ass something as important and critical as chemical weapons recovery and neutralization. The estimate may be high, but this is more than likely an over estimation so that if this number is reduced, the Pentagon still has their desired sufficient troop commitment.

I concluded our interview with an inquiry regarding the future. I did not ask about the outcome of the raging battle taking place in Syria, but how history will look back on the inaction of the global community. Dr. Landis offered a quite poignant and pointed response, one which made me look at the Syrian Uprising from a slightly different perspective. His response was,
"This is certainly a failure of humans to sort out their affairs in a peaceful way. It is also a failure of world powers to solve the domestic problems of countries that slip into civil war. But it is important to remember that many countries have gone through civil wars on the road to nation building. The US did and American governments killed over 750,000 of their own people. Most Americans would probably say today that they are glad that Great Britain or other World Powers at the time did not intervene. In short, we don't know how Syrians will look back on this period in their history after 100 years."
Throughout this entire conflict, one thing certainly remains true: the following weeks, months, and possibly years are daunting for the people of Syria, with an estimated 80,000 already dead and millions estimated to be displaced.

Here is the full transcript from the interview:

Nolan Kraszkiewicz: Over a year ago, in January 2012, you quite rightly predicted that Bashar Al-Assad was likely to hold power well into 2013. Many who have covered the Syrian Uprising were either quick to claim Bashar al-Assad's fall was imminent or are somewhat surprised that he has managed to remain in power this far into the conflict. Why do you think so many were so quick to come such an erroneous conclusion?

Operation Fallen Void: Covert Action Assassination of Bashar Al-Assad



NOTICE AND DISCLAIMER

The content of this report is pure speculation. This assignment was a project for an intelligence course with the outline of proposing a covert action for an issue facing the world today. Any of the governmental agencies, military assets, or intelligence organizations mentioned are in no way affiliated with this report. The author of this report has no intention to cause harm to any of the targets mentioned, has no intention to become involved in the uprising in Syria, and has no intention of aiding or influencing any parties involved in the conflict. The findings, outlines, and recommendations in this report are pure fiction and should be treated and regarded as such.

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Syria has been in a state of turmoil for the past two years. The Syrian rebels, known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), have led an uprising aimed at removing president Bashar al-Assad from power. The ongoing conflict has resulted in the deaths of over 70,000 Syrians. [Link Here] The internal strife in Syria has threatened the security of Turkey, which shares an expansive mutual border with Syria. As a result, diplomatic relations between the two, once allied, countries has rapidly deteriorated. This constant state of upheaval also threatens the security of Israel and Lebanon, both of which have had a long and complicated history with Syria as well. The consensus of the western world is that Bashar al-Assad has lost all legitimacy as a ruler, expecting his demise and ouster to be forthcoming. However, two major veto-power players in the UN, Russia and China, have been virulently opposed to any call for Assad to step down – or let alone condemnation. The Syrian regime is a valuable business, economic, and defense partner with Russian and Chinese interests. So even amidst that atrocities being perpetrated at the direction of Assad, he has essentially been given a free pass.
The U.S. has actively pursued every diplomatic channel for bringing about conflict cessation in Syria, but to no avail. The U.S. has approached the UN, the Arab League, and NATO entities, but no collective action has been firmly implemented. The public nature of the conflict, as well as the brazen nature of Assad’s response has removed any doubt as to the dire situation facing the future of Syria. Human rights organizations and foreign journalists have documented the constant deterioration of civility expanding throughout Syria. While not officially intervening with boots on the ground in Syria, the U.S. and other regional allies have facilitated support for the FSA. The stagnation of progress to bringing about a peaceful cessation of conflict in Syria is only expanding. Thus the urgency and severity of this conflict demand that there be a military action aimed at ending the brutal crackdown of the Assad regime.

Mission Directive:

The U.S. would provide logistical and strategical support to a limited amount of the resistance elements within the FSA for the explicit purpose of facilitating the targeted assassination of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Assad regime has so far weathered numerous losses in the form of defections and fatalities. However, Assad has been able to retain crucial elements of the Syrian Security Forces. This is due to a unique position that Assad has by virtue of an ethnic identity – being a member of the Alawite minority. Furthermore, the personality cult that surrounds Assad’s brand of authoritarian rule is a remnant of his Father’s, Hafez al-Assad, reign over Syria.

By eliminating Bashar al-Assad from the picture multiple goals could be achieved. Without Assad at the helm, the command structure of the Syrian regime would crumble. This would bring about the swift cessation of government directed attacks against civilian targets. Riding the wave of the Arab Spring, the lack of a head of state in Syria would usher in the much anticipated transfer and restructuring of executive power. Russian and Chinese interests in Syria are centered on the relationship they had with Assad. With him then gone, Russian and Chinese resistance to a regime change would be effectively eliminated. Also, Iran enters the geopolitical implications of Syria. The recent actions of Bashar al-Assad and the repressive rule of the Assad family in Syria has fomented ire and disdain in the Syrian population. With the oppressive figure of Assad gone, the public would be free of that directed threat. The years of pent up angst would manifest itself in opposition to former Syrian allies. This would include Hezbollah, Russia, and Iran. The power vacuum left in the wake of this upheaval would be more favorable to U.S. interests – or at the very least, western aligned interests.

Methodology and Tactics:

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) Logo
The assassination of Bashar al-Assad could easily be achieved by targeted sorties of the Syrian Presidential Palace in Damascus. However, this would be blatantly obvious and remove the plausible deniability of the U.S. So instead the U.S. would utilize opposition elements of the Free Syrian Army to execute the mission. The CIA will provide lethal aid to resistance groups. This can be achieved by outsourcing delivery of goods to Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. This initial step is the base of the overall approach. The better armed the FSA is, the more effective they will be when combatting government security forces. Also, this blanket approach with escalate the conflict, forcing the Assad regime to focus more on internal affairs.

The main component of the covert action consists of two sub-parts. First is the deployment of U.S. Special Forces to southern Turkey to train the FSA elements selected for carrying out the targeted assassination mission(s) aimed at Bashar al-Assad. The second is the enlistment of intelligence and intelligence collection assets. These are needed to fully grasp the security challenges posed by targeting Assad. A wide array of SIGINT assets will be utilized in the Syrian theater. And to a lesser extent, the utilization of HUMINT assets that can be gleaned from Jordanian, Saudi, or Turkish intelligence counterparts. This will provide details as to the location and vulnerabilities of Assad.

For the training of the FSA to carry out a directed assassination, two specialized pieces of the U.S. Army will be needed. The CIA will locate and stage a training area in southern Turkey – with the assistance of the Turkish government. Delta Force will be primarily responsible for the training of the FSA elements with the 101st Airborne Division providing security and general assistance at the camp. The training will have to take place at an accelerated rate, but given the fact that the FSA is comprised of a large number of Syrian Security Forces defectors, the training can be adapted and tailored to incorporate what formal military training they have. The use of these two U.S. Army elements will make the integration of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) easier. In addition, the National Security Agency (NSA), National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) will all be utilized to provide solid, actionable intelligence to the FSA.

Drones in America's Skies: The Policy for Targeting Americans



Amidst the hold up of President Barack Obama's nominee for Director of the CIA, John Brennan, in Congress, opposition Republicans are inquiring about the possibility of armed drones flying in American skies. This might seem like an Orwellian inquiry directed towards the Ministry of Peace, but the notion is not that distant from reality. An American, Anwar Al-Aulaqi, has already been killed by an armed CIA drone in Yemen. Also, UAV's have been authorized to fly over U.S. airspace. Currently, there have been zero missions involving armed CIA drones in the U.S. Regardless, here are the points needing to be addressed.

The Sanctioned Killing of an American Citizen:

Anwar Al-Aulaqi in Yemen (2008)
Anwar Al-Aulaqi was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1971. He was an American citizen from birthright, but did adopt Yemeni citizenship, becoming a dual citizen. He sought to bring destruction and terror to American soil via his involvement with Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP). He eventually became Al-Qaeda's recruiter, having proven contact with Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan and the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab [Link Here]. The Obama administration has authorized the killings of numerous foreign terrorists, but this case specifically deals with an American citizen. The uproar surrounding this has not been in defense of Anwar Al-Aulaqi, but rather concern that a U.S. President, with just a quick signature, can authorize the summary execution of an American once they leave U.S. borders. This notion is entirely false.

Upon learning about the addition of Anwar Al-Aulaqi to CIA and JSOC kill lists without "charge, trial, or conviction," his father, Nasser Al-Aulaqi sued Barack Obama, in his official capacity as President of the United States; Robert Gates, in his official capacity as Secretary of Defense; and Leon Panetta, in his official capacity as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In effect, Nasser Al-Aulaqi's filing of this suit expedited the process by which an American may be targeted. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ultimately dismissed the charges, but the ruling to dismiss included a lengthy justification. On 30 September 2011, Anwar Al-Aulaqi was killed in Yemen by Hellfire missile fired by an Armed Reaper Drone. Interestingly, in Islam, 'Hellfire' is known as 'Jahannam' - a visceral image of hell - which Anwar Al-Aulaqi alluded to when making theological appeals for supporting Al-Qaeda. [Here is the full text for the court case]

The Drones in U.S. Airspace:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Drone
This topic has two separate aspects. The FAA allows private citizens are allowed to fly small unmanned drones in certain conditions. This policy has precipitated such recent events as a pilot of an Alitalia flight reporting the sighting of a drone in dangerous proximity to New York's JFK airport [Link Here]. The small 4 rotor craft was not a government drone. On a technical note, while UAV does stand for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, the U.S. Government refers to its aircraft as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).

As for military grade drones like the MQ-1B Predator, MQ-9 Reaper, and the RQ-4 Global Hawk, the policy is quite different. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency under the Department of Homeland Security, regularly uses 9 unarmed Predator drones for reconnaissance purposes along America's borders [Link Here]. The ethical questions enters the frame due to the lack of an active, hands on pilot, opting instead for a remote controller. Essentially, this is no different from conventional patrol aircraft, like helicopters - save for the fact that agents in conventional aircraft are generally armed.

Recent Developments:

Senator Rand Paul contacted both John Brennan, currently the 'Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism' as well as aforementioned nominee for director of the CIA, and Attorney General Eric Holder to inquire about "the President ha[ving] the power to authorize lethal force, such as drone strikes, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial." Senator Paul published both of the responses he received. An analysis of the documents have yielded important insight into the domestic drone program. John Brennan referred Senator Paul's question regarding the President's power to the Department of Justice.

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