Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — Twelve people were killed Friday in an attack on a U.N. compound in northern Afghanistan that followed a demonstration against the reported burning last month of a Quran in Florida, authorities said.
The fatalities comprised seven U.N. workers and five demonstrators, officials said.
Another 24 people were wounded, said Abdul Rauof Taj, security director of Balkh province.
Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the police in Mazar-e-Sharif, told reporters that a number of suspects “who might be the main organizers” had been arrested.
U.N. Peacekeeping Director Alain Le Roy said the seven U.N. fatalities were international staffers — three civilians and four international security guards. No Afghan U.N. staff members were among the dead, he said.
“I understand there were hundreds, if not thousands, of demonstrators. Some of them were clearly armed and they stormed into the building.”
He said the security guards tried their best to halt the demonstrators’ advance, but were overwhelmed.
Le Roy said it was not clear that the United Nations was the target. “It happened to be the U.N. because the U.N. is on the ground.”
Five demonstrators were killed in the violence; one person’s throat was cut, he said.
A U.N .source said the dead included four Nepalese security guards as well as U.N. workers from Norway, Sweden and Romania.
The U.N. Security Council met Friday and issued a statement condemning the attack, which occurred at the operations center of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and calling on the Afghan government to investigate.
Haji Sakhi Mohammad, a businessman in Mazar-e-Sharif, said that the incident began after Friday prayers, when many people joined a protest against the burning of the Quran. People calling “Death to America” marched to the U.N. compound and broke in, he said. At that, gunfire broke out and “I saw protesters shot to death.”
A student in Mazar-e-Sharif said he and his friends joined the protesters, who numbered in the hundreds. “When we reached the UNAMA office, we came under gunfire by Afghan security guards. Protesters became angry and stormed the building.”
The student said some of the protesters found several loaded AK-47s and used them to kill security guards and other people inside the building.
The attack followed a demonstration against the reported burning of a Quran by Florida pastor Terry Jones, who gained international attention last year when he announced that he was planning to burn a Quran, the U.N. source with knowledge of events said.
Jones is the pastor of the 60-member Dove World Outreach Center church near Gainesville. Last year, after an outcry followed his announcement of plans to burn a Quran on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he canceled them. Last month, however, he reportedly did burn Islam’s holy book.
The church says on its website that it planned to put the Quran on trial on March 20, and, “if found guilty of causing murder, rape and terrorism, it will be executed!” Another post on the website, which uses an alternative spelling for the book, says “the Koran was found guilty” during the mock trial and “a copy was burned inside the building.”
On Friday, Jones said in an e-mailed statement that the attack in Afghanistan shows that “the time has come to hold Islam accountable.”
“We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities,” he said.
Atta Mohammad Noor, the governor of Balkh province, said the attackers had used the protests against the burning “as a cover for this violence.”
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai called the attacks “an act against Islam and Afghan values.”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the victims were only trying to help the Afghan people.
“In targeting them, the attackers have demonstrated an appalling disregard for what the U.N. and the entire international community are trying to do for the benefit of all Afghans,” he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama also condemned the attack. “We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue,” he said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said he would not speculate on the motivation behind the attack, but added that it was “in no way justified, regardless of what the motivation was.”
The Council on American Islamic Relations also released a statement condemning the attack. “Nothing can justify or excuse this attack,” said the group, which describes itself as America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.
On behalf of Christopher Hitchens, who thinks all of this skydaddy talk is ridiculous, thanks to all of you who wrote in to Goldblog to report that they would be praying for him as he undergoes treatment for esophageal cancer (you can hear him talk about his current predicament here). I would like to reiterate, of course, that Hitchens is still solidly atheist (strike that “still,” actually, because it implies his mind will change, which I don’t think will happen, at least, as he says, in reference to the mind we know today as Hitchens’s mind—what medicine does to his mind is a different story), but nevertheless I can report that he does not mock those who say they are praying on his behalf. What you could really, do, of course, if you’re interested in making Hitch happy, is buy this book.
As for the few of you who wrote to Goldblog to say they were praying for Hitch’s death, I can say that he does not care one way or another what you do or think or pray, but on behalf of myself and the entire team here at The Atlantic, let me just say, Go fuck yourselves.
I believe God will forgive me for that one.
Oct. 16, 2009 | It’s been a rather big year for Charles Darwin. 2009 is the bicentennial of the man’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of “The Origin of Species,” and the explorer and naturalist has been the subject of books (including a graphic novel adaptation of “The Origin of Species”), a movie starring Jennifer Connelly (with its own ensuing controversy), and even a viral video hit starring “Growing Pains” actor Kirk Cameron. Given that evolutionary biology is Richard Dawkins’ area of expertise, it’s unsurprising that the British scientist, atheist and controversial author of “The God Delusion” has also gotten on the bandwagon — in rather ambitious fashion.
In “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Dawkins has written what is essentially a layperson’s primer for the theory of evolution. Dawkins aims to explain to the everyday reader why evolution isn’t a “theory” but a fact and that we need only look around us to find evidence of its existence — from continental drift to the reproductive habits of wasps. Dawkins uses simple language, elaborate metaphors and color photographs to make his point, and the result is a convincing, if occasionally dry, overview of evolutionary biology. It’s also clear, from the book’s first pages, that Dawkins isn’t very tolerant of his creationist opponents (the book includes a memorably confrontational encounter with Wendy Wright, the creationist president of Concerned Women for America).
Salon spoke with Dawkins via Skype about creationism’s popularity in America, its connection with religion, and how he feels about his own notoriety. A video excerpt of the conversation is posted below.
First of all we have to believe the Gallup polls, and I suppose we do. I mean we believe Gallup polls about other things. You’re asking me a question about sociology and comparative religion in different countries. I’m not an expert in that, it’s not really up to me to say why the United States and Turkey should be way out ahead or behind in this particular case. It does seem to be the case that of all advanced Western nations the United States is more religious than any other.
Quick question: if the Bible is the word of god, why are there different versions of it? Why does the book of Mark make no mention of the resurrection? Is it not completely obvious that this book has been modified and re-written numerous times, each subsequent version being more and more self aggrandizing in order to serve those peddling it? ‘Word of god”, my ass.
More than 800 surviving pages and fragments from the The Codex Sinaiticus, which was written in Greek on parchment leaves in the fourth century, have been reunited.
Last year The British Library put The Book of Psalms and St Mark’s Gospel online, and now the remaining pages have been made free for public use for the first time.
Along with the Codex Vaticanus, the Codex Sinaiticus is considered the oldest known Bible in the world. Originally more than 1,460 pages long and measuring 16in by 14in, it was written by a number of hands around the time of Constantine the Great.
It offers different versions of the Scriptures from later editions of the Bible, notably in St Mark’s Gospel which ends 12 verses before later versions, omitting the appearance of the resurrected Jesus Christ.
The reunification of the book is the culmination of a four-year collaboration between the British Library, Leipzig University Library in Germany, the Monastery of St Catherine in Mount Sinai, Egypt, and the National Library of Russia in St Petersburg, each of which hold different parts of the manuscript.
They hope that by bringing together the digitised pages online, the project will help scholars worldwide to research in depth the Greek text, which is fully transcribed and cross-referenced.
“The Codex Sinaiticus is one of the world’s greatest written treasures,” said Dr Scot McKendrick, Head of Western Manuscripts at the British Library.
“This 1,600-year old manuscript offers a window into the development of early Christianity and first-hand evidence of how the text of the Bible was transmitted from generation to generation. The project has uncovered evidence that a fourth scribe – along with the three already recognised – worked on the text; the availability of the virtual manuscript for study by scholars around the world creates opportunities for collaborative research that would not have been possible just a few years ago.”
To mark the reunification, the British Library is also holding a new exhibition, open today that tells the story of the book.
Professor David Parker from the University of Birmingham’s Department of Theology, who directed the team which made the electronic transcription of the manuscript said the four-year process was a “huge challenge”.
“The transcription includes pages of the Codex which were found in a blocked-off room at the Monastery of St Catherine in 1975, some of which were in poor condition,” he said.
“This is the first time that they have been published. The digital images of the virtual manuscript show the beauty of the original and readers are even able to see the difference in handwriting between the different scribes who copied the text. We have even devised a unique alignment system which allows users to link the images with the transcription. This project has made a wonderful book accessible to a global audience.”
ROME – A Vatican cardinal said Tuesday that the Catholic Church does not stand in the way of scientific realities like evolution, though he described as “absurd” the atheist notion that evolution proves there is no God.
Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reiterated church teaching about faith and science at the start of a Vatican-sponsored conference marking the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.”
Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Levada said the Vatican believed there was a “wide spectrum of room” for belief in both the scientific basis for evolution and faith in God the creator.
“We believe that however creation has come about and evolved, ultimately God is the creator of all things,” he said.
He said that while the Vatican did not exclude any area of science, it did reject as “absurd” the atheist notion of biologist and author Richard Dawkins and others that evolution proves there is no God.
“Of course we think that’s absurd and not at all proven,” he said. “But other than that … the Vatican has recognized that it doesn’t stand in the way of scientific realities.”
The Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI has been trying to stress its belief that there is no incompatibility between faith and reason, and the five-day conference at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University is a key demonstration of its efforts to engage with the scientific community.
Church teaching holds that Catholicism and evolutionary theory are not necessarily at odds. But the Vatican’s position became somewhat confused in recent years, in part because of a 2005 New York Times op-ed piece written by a close Benedict collaborator, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.
In the piece, Schoenborn seemed to reject traditional church teaching and back intelligent design, the view that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone, and that a higher power has had a hand in changes among species over time.
Vatican officials later made clear they did not believe intelligent design was science and that teaching it alongside evolutionary theory in school classrooms only created confusion.
The evolution conference will explore intelligent design later this week, although not as science or theology but as a cultural phenomenon.
In his remarks, Levada referred to both Dawkins and the debate over teaching creationism in schools in the United States. He declined to pinpoint the Vatican’s views, saying merely: “The Vatican listens and learns.”
Should you read the Bible? You probably haven’t. A century ago, most well-educated Americans knew the Bible deeply. Today, biblical illiteracy is practically universal among nonreligious people. My mother and my brother, professors of literature and the best-read people I’ve ever met, have not done much more than skim Genesis and Exodus. Even among the faithful, Bible reading is erratic. The Catholic Church, for example, includes only a teeny fraction of the Old Testament in its official readings. Jews study the first five books of the Bible pretty well but shortchange the rest of it. Orthodox Jews generally spend more time on the Talmud and other commentary than on the Bible itself. Of the major Jewish and Christian groups, only evangelical Protestants read the whole Bible obsessively.
Maybe it doesn’t make sense for most of us to read the whole Bible. After all, there are so many difficult, repellent, confusing, and boring passages. Why not skip them and cherry-pick the best bits? After spending a year with the good book, I’ve become a full-on Bible thumper. Everyone should read itâ€”all of it! In fact, the less you believe, the more you should read. Let me explain why, in part by telling how reading the whole Bible has changed me.
When I was reading Judges one day, I came to a complicated digression about a civil war between two groups of Israelites, the Gileadites and the Ephraimites. According to the story, the Gileadites hold the Jordan River, and whenever anyone comes to cross, the guards ask them to say the password, shibboleth. The Ephraimites, for some unexplained reason, can’t pronounce the sh in shibboleth and say “sibboleth” instead. When an Ephraimite fails the speech exam, the Gileadites “would seize him and slay him.” I’ve read the word shibboleth a hundred times, written it a few, and probably even said it myself, but I had never understood it until then. It was a tiny but thrilling moment when my world came alive, when a word that had just been a word suddenly meant something to me.
And something like that happened to me five, 10, 50 times a day when I was Bible-reading. You can’t get through a chapter of the Bible, even in the most obscure book, without encountering a phrase, a name, a character, or an idea that has come down to us 3,000 years later. The Bible is the first source of everything from the smallest plot twists (the dummy David’s wife places in the bed to fool assassins) to the most fundamental ideas about morality (the Levitical prohibition of homosexuality that still shapes our politics, for example) to our grandest notions of law and justice. It was a joyful shock to me when I opened the Book of Amos and read the words that crowned Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Just as an exercise, I thought for a few minutes about the cultural markers in Daniel, a late, short, and not hugely important book. What footprints has it left on our world? First, Daniel is thrown in the “lions’ den” and King Belshazzar sees “the writing on the wall.” These are two metaphors we can’t live without. The “fiery furnace” that Daniel’s friends are tossed into is the inspiration for the Fiery Furnaces, a band I listen to. The king rolls a stone in front of the lions’ den, sealing in a holy man who won’t stay sealedâ€”foreshadowing the stone rolled in front of the tomb of Jesus. Daniel inspired the novel The Book of Daniel and the TV show The Book of Daniel. It’s even a touchstone for one of my favorite good-bad movies, A Knight’s Tale. That movie’s villain belittles hero Heath Ledger by declaring, “You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting”â€”which is what the writing on the wall told Belshazzar.
While reading the Bible, I often felt as if I had finally lifted a veil from my eyes. I learned that I hadn’t known the true nature of God’s conflict with Job, which is the ur-text of all subsequent discussions of obedience and faith. I realized I was ignorant of the story of Ruth. I was unaware of the radical theology of Ecclesiastes, the source of so many of our ideas about the good life. I didn’t know who Jezebel was, or why we loathe her, or why she is the painted lady, or even that she was married to Ahab.
Not to sound like a theocratic crank, but I’m actually shocked that students aren’t compelled to read huge chunks of the Bible in high school and college, the way they must read Shakespeare or the Constitution or Mark Twain.
That’s my intellectual defense of Bible reading. Now a more personal one. As a lax, non-Hebrew-speaking Jew, I spent my first 35 years roboting through religious rituals and incomprehensible prayers, honoring inexplicable holidays. None of it meant anything to me. Now it does. Reading the Bible has joined me to Jewish life in a way I never thought possible. I trace this to when I read about Jacob blessing his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh at the end of Genesis. I suddenly realized: Oh, that’s why I’m supposed to lay my hand on my son’s head at Shabbat dinner and bless him in the names of Ephraim and Manasseh. That shock of recognition has been followed by many moreâ€”when I came across the words of the Shema, the most important Jewish prayer, in Deuteronomy, when I read about the celebration of Passover in the book of Ezra, when I read in Psalms the lyrics of Christian hymns I love to sing.
You notice that I haven’t said anything about belief. I began the Bible as a hopeful, but indifferent, agnostic. I wished for a God, but I didn’t really care. I leave the Bible as a hopeless and angry agnostic. I’m brokenhearted about God.
After reading about the genocides, the plagues, the murders, the mass enslavements, the ruthless vengeance for minor sins (or none at all), and all that smitingâ€”every bit of it directly performed, authorized, or approved by Godâ€”I can only conclude that the God of the Hebrew Bible, if He existed, was awful, cruel, and capricious. He gives us moments of beautyâ€”such sublime beauty and grace!â€”but taken as a whole, He is no God I want to obey and no God I can love.
When I complain to religious friends about how much He dismays me, I usually get one of two responses. Christians say: Well, yes, but this is all setup for the New Testament. Reading only the Old Testament is like leaving halfway through the movie. I’m missing all the redemption. If I want to find the grace and forgiveness and wonder, I have to read and believe in the story of Jesus Christ, which explains and redeems all. But that doesn’t work for me. I’m a Jew. I don’t, and can’t, believe that Christ died for my sins. And even if he did, I still don’t think that would wash away God’s crimes in the Old Testament.
The second response tends to come from Jews, who razz me for missing the chief lesson of the Hebrew Bible, which that we can’t hope to understand the ways of God. If He seems cruel or petty, that’s because we can’t fathom His plan for us. But I’m not buying that, either. If God made me, He made me rational and quizzical. He has given me the tools to think about Him. So I must submit Him to rational and moral inquiry. And He fails that examination. Why would anyone want to be ruled by a God who’s so unmerciful, unjust, unforgiving, and unloving?
Unfortunately, this line of reasoning seems to leave me with several unappealing options: 1) believing in no god; 2) believing in the awful, vindictive God of the Bible; or 3) believing in some vague “creator” who is not remotely attached to the events of the Bible, who didn’t really do any of the deeds ascribed to Him in the book and thus can’t be held responsible for them.
The Bible has brought me no closer to God, if that means either believing in a deity acting in the world or experiencing the transcendent. But perhaps I’m closer to God in the sense that the Bible has put me on high alert. I came to the Bible hoping to be inspired and awed. I have been, sometimes. But mostly I’ve ended up in a yearlong argument with God. Why would He kill the innocent Egyptian children? And why would He delight in it? What wrong did we do Him that He should send the flood? Which of His Ten Commandments do we actually need? Yet the argument itself represents a kind of belief, because it commits me to engage with God.
As I read the book, I realized that the Bible’s greatest heroesâ€”or, at least, my greatest heroesâ€”are not those who are most faithful, but those who are most contentious and doubtful: Moses negotiating with God at the burning bush, Gideon demanding divine proof before going to war, Job questioning God’s own justice, Abraham demanding that God be merciful to the innocent of Sodom. They challenge God for his capriciousness, and demand justice, order, and morality, even when God refuses to provide them. Reading the Bible has given me a chance to start an argument with God about the most important questions there are, an argument that can last a lifetime.
Nothing like keeping an open mind amongst religious schools. I guess a school is no place to learn, right?
BURLINGTON, Ontario, Canada (AP) — A Roman Catholic school board in Ontario ordered the popular fantasy book “The Golden Compass” taken off library shelves at dozens of schools Thursday after receiving a complaint about the author referring to himself as an atheist.
Similar concerns prompted a Catholic organization in the U.S. to urge parents to boycott a movie version of the book starring Nicole Kidman.
The board for Catholic schools in Ontario’s Halton region said a complaint was lodged after British author Philip Pullman stated in an interview that he is an atheist.
“We have a policy and procedure whereby individual parents, staff, students or community members can apply to have material reviewed. That’s what happened in this case,” said Rick MacDonald, the board’s superintendent of curriculum services.
The board, which oversees 43 Catholic elementary and secondary schools, has not released the identity of the complainant. It also removed two other books in Pullman’s “Dark Materials” trilogy as a precaution.
While “The Golden Compass” was first published in 1995, attention was drawn to the book by the film, which opens next month, MacDonald said.