Protect the religious rights of Muslims. They are your rights, too.
We should care about constitutional rights for all, says lawyer and religious freedom scholar Asma T. Uddin. If they are denied for some, history demonstrates how they may be at risk for us all.
- Islam is being challenged as a religion in America today. Opponents claim it is not a religion, but a dangerous political ideology.
- Lawyer and religious freedom scholar Asma T. Uddin challenges that view and explains why it is a threat to the religious liberty of all Americans, not just Muslims.
- In U.S. history, Catholics, Jews, and Mormons have all been "denationalized" as Americans and persecuted for their beliefs. This destructive precedent is a threat to all Americans, across all belief systems.
Dressed in an all-white suit with a white tie, attorney Joe Brandon, Jr., paced back and forth in the county courthouse in Rutherford County, Tennessee, in 2010, peppering witnesses with incendiary questions. During some of the proceedings, Brandon wore brightly colored ties with checkered shirts and checkered suits. In all of his looks, he channeled the brash comedians from the 1950s and 1960s—except that Brandon's stage was an American courtroom, and in this courtroom, Islam was on trial.
"Isn't it true that in the Qur'an, Mohammad had a six-year-old wife that he had sex with … Is that your idea of what a religion is?"
"Sharia law includes instruction on how to beat your wife … How is Sharia law going to affect our society, our jobs and our freedoms?"
"How can something be called a religion that promotes the abuse of women?"
"Do you believe in having sex with children?"
Brandon represented four residents who were challenging the county's issuance of a construction permit to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro to build a mosque. The residents' concern was that the county had treated mosques like any other house of worship, and Islam like any other religion, when in fact, in their view, Islam was not a religion at all. They believed Islam was actually a dangerous political ideology that posed security threats to the local community and to America. This, precisely, is what Brandon argued in court.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Tennessee.
Photo: Saleh M. Sbenaty/Wikimedia Commons
The "circus," as a county attorney called it, went on for six days. It troubled me then, and continues to trouble me today, and not just because I am an American Muslim. It troubles me because I value and seek to protect all Americans' religious liberty. I see, perhaps more clearly than many others, that the claim used against Islam in Murfreesboro can be used against followers of any other religion, too.
In fact, historically, it has been used against other groups. In 19th-century America, nativists resented the new influx of Catholic immigrants. The anti-Catholic animosity was so strong that, on more than one occasion, it resulted in mass violence. As with anti-Muslim claims today, American nativists claimed that the Catholic Church acted as a foreign entity with monarchical tendencies, portraying the Catholic Church as incompatible with American democracy and calling into question the loyalty of Catholic citizens. Even as recently as John F. Kennedy's run for the presidency in 1960, prominent Americans claimed that the Vatican would exert nefarious political influence if a Kennedy, a Catholic, won the White House.
Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and his brother, Hyrum Smith, were killed by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844.
Lithograph source: Library of Congress
None of this is new. A few decades before Kennedy's campaign, Henry Ford distributed the tract, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," an anti-Semitic fabrication that falsely claimed to detail meetings of Jewish elders seeking to control the press and the world economies. Mormons, or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, have also faced immense persecution in the United States. In 1838, Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs issued an expulsion and extermination order directing Missourians to treat Mormons as "enemies" who "must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary." In 1883, Mormons faced what many have called a precursor to President Trump's travel ban. That year, President Grover Cleveland asked Congress to find a way to "prevent the importation of Mormons into the country." And in 1903, after the election of US Senator and Mormon apostle Reed Smoot, the U.S. Senate subjected Smoot's faith to a four-year proceeding because it feared Smoot's role as an apostle in the Mormon Church made him loyal to the Church over U.S. laws.
In each of these cases, the marginalized religious community has experienced what Yale historian Timothy Snyder calls "denationalization." This, he says, means, "You take people who are your neighbors and you define them not primarily as your neighbors and fellow citizens but primarily with some larger world community, all of whose members hold the same views." Today, Muslims are the ones denationalized, in some of our laws and in our public perception of Muslims' rights. But while Muslims are the latest victims, the attacks on their rights impacts all Americans.
Again, history bears out this point. When hostility against a specific group results in particular laws targeting them, those laws may later impact a much broader group. For example, the denationalization of Catholics in the 19th century culminated in the formation of a political party, the Know-Nothing Party, which sought a type of political purity and advocated for laws that banned public aid to parochial schools and prohibited public school teachers from wearing religious garb. The anti-garb statutes targeted Catholic nuns, and both sets of laws sought to limit Catholic influence over American public life. While these laws are rooted in anti-Catholic animus, today they impact people of every religion. Pennsylvania uses the religious garb ban against Sikh teachers in turbans and Muslim teachers in headscarves. And the ban on aid to parochial schools is used by many states against religious schools of all types.
"I see, perhaps more clearly than many others, that the claim used against Islam in Murfreesboro can be used against followers of any other religion, too."
In today's context, if we cede power to the government to regulate Muslim religious practice more heavily than it regulates other religious practices, we create a precedent that will ultimately limit all Americans' liberty. For example, if courts and legislatures are empowered to accept Brandon's claim that Islam is not a religion and Muslims do not have religious freedom, they can accept those claims about every other religious group the majority may fear or hate. If, as some prominent individuals want them to, courts start to parse Islamic doctrine to decide which parts are acceptable or likeable and which aren't, they open the door to courts parsing the beliefs of every other religious group, too.
This is not to say that all religious acts are protected—those that pose serious risks to life, safety, national security, and other government interests the law calls "compelling," can be legitimately restricted. But what Brandon sought when he tried stopping the construction of a mosque, what 19th century nativists sought when they wanted to keep nuns out of public schools, and what the U.S. Senate sought when it grilled Senator Smoot, is much broader. It has nothing to do with pragmatism and the protection of compelling interests, and everything to do with a fear and hatred that is capable of subsuming all Americans' rights.
How imagining the worst case scenario can help calm anxiety.
- Stoicism is the philosophy that nothing about the world is good or bad in itself, and that we have control over both our judgments and our reactions to things.
- It is hardest to control our reactions to the things that come unexpectedly.
- By meditating every day on the "worst case scenario," we can take the sting out of the worst that life can throw our way.
Are you a worrier? Do you imagine nightmare scenarios and then get worked up and anxious about them? Does your mind get caught in a horrible spiral of catastrophizing over even the smallest of things? Worrying, particularly imagining the worst case scenario, seems to be a natural part of being human and comes easily to a lot of us. It's awful, perhaps even dangerous, when we do it.
But, there might just be an ancient wisdom that can help. It involves reframing this attitude for the better, and it comes from Stoicism. It's called "premeditation," and it could be the most useful trick we can learn.
Broadly speaking, Stoicism is the philosophy of choosing your judgments. Stoics believe that there is nothing about the universe that can be called good or bad, valuable or valueless, in itself. It's we who add these values to things. As Shakespeare's Hamlet says, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Our minds color the things we encounter as being "good" or "bad," and given that we control our minds, we therefore have control over all of our negative feelings.
Put another way, Stoicism maintains that there's a gap between our experience of an event and our judgment of it. For instance, if someone calls you a smelly goat, you have an opportunity, however small and hard it might be, to pause and ask yourself, "How will I judge this?" What's more, you can even ask, "How will I respond?" We have power over which thoughts we entertain and the final say on our actions. Today, Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
Helping you practice StoicismCredit: Robyn Beck via Getty Images
One of the principal fathers of ancient Stoicism was the Roman statesmen, Seneca, who argued that the unexpected and unforeseen blows of life are the hardest to take control over. The shock of a misfortune can strip away the power we have to choose our reaction. For instance, being burglarized feels so horrible because we had felt so safe at home. A stomach ache, out of the blue, is harder than a stitch thirty minutes into a run. A sudden bang makes us jump, but a firework makes us smile. Fell swoops hurt more than known hardships.
What could possibly go wrong?
So, how can we resolve this? Seneca suggests a Stoic technique called "premeditatio malorum" or "premeditation." At the start of every day, we ought to take time to indulge our anxious and catastrophizing mind. We should "rehearse in the mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck." We should meditate on the worst things that could happen: your partner will leave you, your boss will fire you, your house will burn down. Maybe, even, you'll die.
This might sound depressing, but the important thing is that we do not stop there.
Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
The Stoic also rehearses how they will react to these things as they come up. For instance, another Stoic (and Roman Emperor) Marcus Aurelius asks us to imagine all the mean, rude, selfish, and boorish people we'll come across today. Then, in our heads, we script how we'll respond when we meet them. We can shrug off their meanness, smile at their rudeness, and refuse to be "implicated in what is degrading." Thus prepared, we take control again of our reactions and behavior.
The Stoics cast themselves into the darkest and most desperate of conditions but then realize that they can and will endure. With premeditation, the Stoic is prepared and has the mental vigor necessary to take the blow on the chin and say, "Yep, l can deal with this."
Catastrophizing as a method of mental inoculation
Seneca wrote: "In times of peace, the soldier carries out maneuvers." This is also true of premeditation, which acts as the war room or training ground. The agonizing cut of the unexpected is blunted by preparedness. We can prepare the mind for whatever trials may come, in just the same way we can prepare the body for some endurance activity. The world can throw nothing as bad as that which our minds have already imagined.
Stoicism teaches us to embrace our worrying mind but to embrace it as a kind of inoculation. With a frown over breakfast, try to spend five minutes of your day deliberately catastrophizing. Get your anti-anxiety battle plan ready and then face the world.
A study on charity finds that reminding people how nice it feels to give yields better results than appealing to altruism.
- A study finds asking for donations by appealing to the donor's self-interest may result in more money than appealing to their better nature.
- Those who received an appeal to self-interest were both more likely to give and gave more than those in the control group.
- The effect was most pronounced for those who hadn't given before.
Even the best charities with the longest records of doing great fundraising work have to spend some time making sure that the next donation checks will keep coming in. One way to do this is by showing potential donors all the good things the charity did over the previous year. But there may be a better way.
A new study by researchers in the United States and Australia suggests that appealing to the benefits people will receive themselves after a donation nudges them to donate more money than appealing to the greater good.
How to get people to give away free money
The postcards that were sent to different study subjects. The one on the left highlighted benefits to the self, while the one on the right highlighted benefits to others.List et al. / Nature Human Behaviour
The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, utilized the Pick.Click.Give program in Alaska. This program allows Alaska residents who qualify for dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a yearly payment ranging from $800 to $2000 in recent years, to donate a portion of it to various in-state non-profit organizations.
The researchers randomly assigned households to either a control group or to receive a postcard in the mail encouraging them to donate a portion of their dividend to charity. That postcard could come in one of two forms, either highlighting the benefits to others or the benefits to themselves.
Those who got the postcard touting self-benefits were 6.6 percent more likely to give than those in the control group and gave 23 percent more on average. Those getting the benefits-to-others postcard were slightly more likely to give than those receiving no postcard, but their donations were no larger.
Additionally, the researchers were able to break the subject list down into a "warm list" of those who had given at least once before in the last two years and a "cold list" of those who had not. Those on the warm list, who were already giving, saw only minor increases in their likelihood to donate after getting a postcard in the mail compared to those on the cold list.
Additionally, the researchers found that warm-list subjects who received the self-interest postcard gave 11 percent more than warm-list subjects in the control group. Amazingly, among cold-list subjects, those who received a self-interest postcard gave 39 percent more.
These are substantial improvements. At the end of the study, the authors point out, "If we had sent the benefits to self message to all households in the state, aggregate contributions would have increased by nearly US$600,000."
To put this into perspective, in 2017 the total donations to the program were roughly $2,700,000.
Is altruism dead?
Are all actions inherently self-interested? Thankfully, no. The study focuses entirely on effective ways to increase charitable donations above levels that currently exist. It doesn't deny that some people are giving out of pure altruism, but rather that an appeal based on self-interest is effective. Plenty of people were giving before this study took place who didn't need a postcard as encouragement. It is also possible that some people donated part of their dividend check to a charity that does not work with Pick.Click.Give and were uncounted here.
It is also important to note that Pick.Click.Give does not provide services but instead gives money to a wide variety of organizations that do. Those organizations operate in fields from animal rescue to job training to public broadcasting. The authors note that it is possible that a more specific appeal to the benefits others will receive from a donation might prove more effective than the generic and all-inclusive "Make Alaska Better For Everyone" appeal that they used.
In an ideal world, charity is its own reward. In ours, it might help to remind somebody how warm and fuzzy they'll feel after donating to your cause.
The 'Monkeydactyl' was a flying reptile that evolved highly specialized adaptations in the Mesozoic Era.
- The 'Monkeydactly', or Kunpengopterus antipollicatus, was a species of pterosaur, a group of flying reptiles that were the first vertebrates to evolve the ability of powered flight.
- In a recent study, a team of researchers used microcomputed tomography scanning to analyze the anatomy of the newly discovered species, finding that it was the first known species to develop opposable thumbs.
- As highly specialized dinosaurs, pterosaurs boasted unusual anatomy that gave them special advantages as aerial predators in the Mesozoic Era.
A newly discovered flying dinosaur nicknamed "Monkeydactyl" is the oldest known creature that evolved opposable thumbs, according to new research published in Current Biology.
The 160-million-year-old reptile is officially named Kunpengopterus antipollicatus. Discovered in China, the dinosaur was a darwinopteran pterosaur, a subgroup of pterosaurs, which first appeared 215 million years ago during the Triassic Period. Pterosaurs, like the pterodactyl, were the first vertebrates to evolve the ability of powered flight.
But unlike other pterosaurs, the Monkeydactyl was the only species in its group known to have opposable thumbs. It's a rare adaptation for non-mammals: The only extant examples are chameleons and some species of tree frogs. (Most birds have at least one opposable digit, though that digit is usually classified as a hallux, not a pollex, which means "thumb" in Latin.)
To analyze the anatomy of K. antipollicatus, an international team of researchers used microcomputed tomography scanning, which generates images of the inside of the body.
"The fingers of 'Monkeydactyl' are tiny and partly embedded in the slab," study co-author Fion Waisum Ma said in a press release. "Thanks to micro-CT scanning, we could see through the rocks, create digital models, and tell how the opposed thumb articulates with the other finger bones."
"This is an interesting discovery. It provides the earliest evidence of a true opposed thumb, and it is from a pterosaur — which wasn't known for having an opposed thumb."
As a tree-dwelling reptile, the Monkeydactyl probably evolved opposable thumbs so it could grasp tree branches, which would have helped it hang, avoid falls, and obtain food. This arboreal (tree-dwelling) locomotion would help the Monkeydactyl adapt to its home ecosystem, the subtropical forests of the Tiaojishan Formation in China during the Jurassic Period.
The researchers noted that the forests of the Tiaojishan Formation were likely warm and humid, thriving with "a rich and complex" diversity of tree-dwelling animals. But while the forests were home to multiple pterosaur species, the Monkeydactyl was likely the only one that was arboreal, spending most of its time in the treetops, while other pterosaurs occupied different levels of the forest.
K. antipollicatus and its phylogenetic position. (A and B) Holotype specimen BPMC 0042 (A) and a schematic skeletal drawing (B). Scale bars, 50 mm.Credit: Zhou et al.
This process — in which competing species manage to coexist by using the environment in different ways — is called "niche partitioning."
"Tiaojishan palaeoforest is home to many organisms, including three genera of darwinopteran pterosaurs," study author Xuanyu Zhou said in the press release. "Our results show that K. antipollicatus has occupied a different niche from Darwinopterus and Wukongopterus, which has likely minimized competition among these pterosaurs."
In general, pterosaurs are a prime example of how animals can evolve remarkably specialized adaptations. As pioneers of vertebrate flight, pterosaurs had strong and lightweight skeletons that ranged widely in size, with some boasting wingspans of more than 30 feet. The largest pterosaurs weighed more than 650 pounds and had jaws twice the length of Tyrannosaurus rex.
Unlike birds, which jump into the air using only their hind limbs, pterosaurs used their exceptionally strong hind limbs and forelimbs to push off the ground and gain enough launch power for flight. That these massive dinosaurs managed to fly, and did so successfully for about 80 million years, has long fascinated and puzzled scientists.The recent discovery shows that pterosaurs developed even more remarkable adaptations than previously thought, suggesting there's still more to learn about the "monsters of the Mesozoic skies."
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