Category Archives: Philosophy of religion

Destitute and Displaced: It is all about Pilfering Natural Resources and Strategic Hegemony

Mehran Banaei

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A number of years ago my eyes were badly injured during a recreational soccer game. As a result of this injury, I was temporarily blinded for a few weeks. At the time, I had no idea if I could ever see again. Although this was a traumatic and frightening experience, it was not without its rewards. The whole ordeal was a lesson in blindness. It taught me how I took my vision for granted all along. It taught me empirically what it means to be deprived of one of the most precious senses. Above all, it taught me how easy it is for one to suddenly lose his vision. When I recovered, I began to cherish my eyes and used my sense of vision with a great deal of joy, care and appreciation.

Not long after this ordeal, I found the opportunity to work as a graduate intern at the UNHCR Head Office in Ankara, Turkey. I was responsible to interview asylum seekers and screen them according to the UNHCR’s refugee determination criteria.

This experience was similar to my eye injury, although it was very depressing, it was nonetheless very rewarding. It brought me close enough to witness the plight of those refugees who were in serious financial, psychological and even physical pain. The uniqueness of such an experience is the realization of the same ubiquitous reality that one witnesses night after night on the television screen, but this time perception of this reality is aided with more than one sense. The focus of this perception is on displaced people who are human beings like everyone of us with flesh, feelings and hopes, but are dehumanized by having been turned into file numbers. One of the most unforgettable incidents while I was there took place during an early morning interview. A middle-aged asylum seeker was just admitted to the office for his first interview. Although the man appeared healthy, he was under so much stress that as soon as he started to reveal his grounds for asylum he collapsed with a heart attack. He died in the office, right in front of the legal officer and an interpreter. I was told later that this was “nothing,” incidents such as someone burning himself in front of the UNHCR building or somebody throwing his sick child in front of a vehicle to relieve the child of the pain were common incidents there. The situation at the UNHCR camps was far worse than the Head Office.

My daily experiences were particularly depressing for a new employee who had to face the misery of destitute and then make a yes or no “moral” decision. Indeed, reading Locke, Hume, Hobbes, Kant and all other theoretical writings on ethics meant nothing when it came to a real life situation. It was striking to see that the permanent employees were very accustomed to this operational ennui. It frightened me to think that the same thing could have happened to me if I had stayed there a little longer. There, in the legal unit of the UNHCR, legal officers are involved in making decisions on the future of these applicants. They act like quality control inspectors on an assembly line filtering out unwanted goods. The irony in this process is that the needless determine the fate of the needy in accordance with ethical values which are relative and culturally biased. Being involved in this pedagogical process was indeed my greatest difficulty, especially when the system is known to be deficient from experiences elsewhere.

As one of the consequences of the U.S. rampant jingoistic military intervention in the Persian Gulf, the majority of the refugees coming into Turkey were Iraqis, who were fleeing the severe economic hardship imposed on them by Western economic embargos. The distinction between convention refugee and migrant worker is clear in the UNHCR Determination Handbook, and of course “the UNHCR does not act as travel agency” in population movements. Thus, those who do not fit the convention definition are doomed to be rejected. None of the asylum seekers get any benefit from the UN, unless they are first recognized as a convention refugee. The result is tantamount to a disappointing brush-off for a great number of those who seek asylum.

The standard and ubiquitous cliche: “we regret to inform you that …, thank you for your interest in UNHCR, we hope that you are successful elsewhere in your future objectives” appears in the only correspondence that a refugee receives from the UNHCR. Indirectly, the rejectees are treated as though they are guilty of committing an embarrassing crime like shoplifting or plagiarizing an essay, while their only “misdeed” is trying to provide better living conditions for their family. “You migrant worker, how dare you impersonate a convention refugee.” A “crime” that without any hesitation anyone of us would commit being in their position. Often both the needless and the needy are where they are due to an accident of birth and fate. The needless, seemingly immune from displacement, are indifferent to the needs of the needy. The needless never think that they too may easily become one of the needy, just as we hardly ever consider that we may lose our precious eyesight.

The rejectees often remain in Turkey illegally, hoping to reach their destination through smugglers. The smugglers, who can hardly be trusted, often prey ruthlessly on the vulnerability of these desperate people. They charge as much as U.S.$10,000 to provide them with a forged passport and an airline ticket. While in Turkey, if they are caught, they are subject to prosecution and deportation by the Turkish authorities.

As a result of this obviously faulty process, many NGOs and refugee rights advocates have campaigned for broadening the 1951 UN definition of a refugee. Although concerned for human rights, I personally never favoured the idea of keep changing the “outdated” definition of a convention refugee in order to accommodate the larger number of asylum seekers of 1990s and onwards. That is simply because we should always seek an optimal solution as opposed to a band-aid approach and false comfort. Therefore, we must handle any problems at the foundational level, to see what has caused the cracks in the structure in the first place. Thus, we ought to remove the sources which have generated the defects, rather than just dealing with symptoms. Furthermore, if we try to revise the 1951 definition of refugee in order to accommodate the current situation, then what are we going to do in the next few decades when the 1990s or 2010s definition is once again outdated? We have already tried this approach once in the 1960s through the added rights implementing by the 1967 Protocol and that soon after deemed to be insufficient.

Therefore, it seems that changing the definition every once in a while is far from being an optimal solution or a foundational approach. The curing solution does not lie in allowing more refugees to settle in the West. Our attention, if genuine, ought to be in eradicating the problem from its root, which is indeed viable if our priorities are just and correctly focused. For example, in the case of Iraqi refugees, if the UN enforced economic blockade against Iraq was never imposed, then many of these refugees whom I met in Turkey would not have abandoned their homeland, possessions, culture, way of life, family and beg for membership in a foreign and often hostile society. Why should Western powers punish Iraqi children by putting a ban on exportation of medicine and baby formula? The Iraqi refugees are the victims of the so-called “New World Order”, which evidently breathes disorder.

Three decades have passed; Turkey is once again a major gathering place of refugees from the Middle East. However, this time, they are not the downcast non-convention refugees who are escaping poverty. They are the genuine convention refugees, consisting of Syrians and Iraqis fleeing war zones, an internal war composed and conducted by Western powers.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen are the regional nations that one by one are being destroyed primarily for their natural resources or for their vital strategic location. The Middle East is deliberately destabilized by state sponsors of terrorism run by a bunch of well-groomed psychopathic warmongering criminals to ensure the survival of Israel and cheap oil shipped to the West.

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The democracy loving, human rights loving and freedom loving Neocons have turned the Middle East into an eerie graveyard where the masked scavengers feast. Destruction of properties, environment and human life, nothing seems to stop the perpetrators of these insidious crimes. The heartless imperialist strategy of divide and conquer in the form of “sectarian violence” is in effect to tear apart the Middle East, while cunningly pinpointing the collaborators of this tragedy as the people’s own “antiquated backward” religion. The crisis is painted to look like Arabs are victims of a domestic self-inflected misery. Seemingly, it has nothing to do with the dreadful Western intervention and piracy.

History attests that so long as the causative and interconnected factors for human displacement are left loose, the plight of refugees around the world will continue to persist. So long as there is profit in war and money is the be-all and end-all of human existence, there will never be peace on Earth. In essence, so long as Man refuses to humble himself and does not realize his unique place in the universe, there will always be wars and human misery. Surely, there is no other solution for our interrelated social ills.

Revised and expanded, a shorter version of this article was published in: Refuge, Vol. 13, No. 8, January 1994, pp. 25-26

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God: “The Celestial Dictator”

Mehran Banaei

Richard Dawkins in his book God Delusion perceives the God of the three Abrahamic religions as a monster with psychopathic tendencies. He says:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

His fellow British atheist Christopher Hitchens sees God as a “celestial dictator” who “punishes man for eternity for thought crime.” He has expressed the following view repeatedly both in prints as well as in his lectures and debates:

“Do I think I’m going to Paradise? Of course not. I wouldn’t go if I was asked. I don’t want to live in some F***ing celestial North Korea for one thing, where all I get to do is praise the dear Leader from dawn to dusk.”

There are a few parts of the Old Testament in which God is portrayed in a distasteful manner, however to extend this image of God to all religions and scriptures is a giant erroneous generalization.

In assessing the atheists argument there can be only three possibilities. First is that God does not exist. Second is that God exists and He is not a dictator. Third is what Dawkins and Hitchens suggest: if God exists, He is indeed a fascist dictator. This is a bizarre and absurd idea on the rise gaining popularity day by day. The following section below is the analysis of the atheist argument in light of each possibility.

1. God does not exist

It is suffice to say, that which does not exist, is not worthy of preoccupation. It is puzzling as to why atheists go outside the domains of their expertise to declare an entity, which they claim to know for sure does not exist, insisting publicly and vociferously that it does not really exist. This is perhaps the only movement in the world that identifies itself with what its followers do not believe, rather with what they actually believe. We agree that it would be silly and waste of time to propagate a universal belief in denial of fire-breathing dragon with wings. The same can be said about denial of any other imaginary concept i.e. “God”. Indeed, what is the point of such an obsessive and over-the-top activism? It is more ridiculous to see them audaciously painting a negative image for an entity that is claimed to be nonexistent and fictional, in order to demonstrate that it is non-existent!

2. God exists and He is not a dictator

All dictators enjoy the support of a superpower or each one forms a coalition or treaty with other like-minded dictators without which they cannot last very long. Who is the higher power behind the scene supporting this “celestial dictator”? Unlike the authoritarian Saudi ruling family who unjustifiably claim that everything in their country belongs to them, (even they named the country after their family) everything in the universe rightfully belongs to God. Everything including mankind. His rulership over the universe and ownership over mankind are legitimate.

Moreover, the universe does not indicate that God is a dictator. On the contrary, everything in the universe indicates that God is a Merciful Provider. Life is a joyful experience. The earth is hospitable place with plenty of renewable resources freely available for our consumption. Regular expression of appreciation to the Provider for what is provided is not a sign of bondage. We can never thank Him enough.

Furthermore, everything in the universe indicates that the Creator of this universe is powerful and intelligent. The Being who is powerful and intelligent must necessarily be unequivocally just, loving and forgiving or He is not intelligent at all. So long as one does not engage in overwhelming acts of transgression, and believes in this non-dictatorial Creator but testing Entity, one is assured everlasting peace after death. What could be a better gift given by this most generous Philanthropist?

Therefore, on what grounds is this Ruler perceived to be a dictator? Is anybody here overtaxed, overworked, underpaid, beaten up, chastised, ostracized, persecuted or detained? Does one feel that one lives under Divine Imperialism where one is oppressed, suppressed or depressed? If so, is it God who is responsible for one’s miserable life, or is it because of the ungratefulness, arrogance, irrationality and rebelliousness from His specified correct path as advised peacefully by the prophets and sages over the ages that mankind is suffering without self-reflection?

3. God exists and He is a dictator

If an atheist claims that God is a dictator, then it seems that the issue at hand is not whether there is a God or not. One gets the impression that these atheists already believe that there is a God, but they just do not wish to submit to this God, because they do not like Him. Hitchens in his book: God is not Great, as the title suggests, presents arguments not against God’s existence, but against God Himself. He refuses to bow down to Him. To a believer in the First Cause, the Uncaused Cause, this is a choice made out of arrogance, not out of logic. Further, it is a choice made out of hypocrisy and not intelligence. Many of these individuals who adamantly claim not to believe in God, whenever they find themselves or their loved one in a life-threatening situation, they suddenly start to pray to the rejected God. However, as soon as they reach safety, they quickly retrogress to their normal routine. If that is so, then they are not atheists, a new terminology is needed to refer to the individuals who believe there is God but hate Him and refuse to acknowledge Him as their Lord. ‘Anti-theist’ would perhaps be a more appropriate term to refer to likes of Dawkins and Hitchens.

A dictator is a person who has no legitimacy to the power, but manages to hang on to it by fear-mongering, threats, use of violence, detentions and mass killings. For sake of argument let us seriously assume that the atheist anthropomorphic view of God, as expressed above by Dawkins and Hitchens is indeed correct. It seems that rather than an old man reclining up there in the clouds, we have a dictator in a military uniform up in the clouds, watching over our daily conducts with surveillance cameras. Let us further assume that God is a “celestial dictator” and we are all trapped in an Orwellian forced labour camp on earth to worship Him. I suppose, subjugation of human beings must be vital in the preservation of this Divine totalitarian regime, or his Divine economy will soon collapse. What are our options to end this tyranny?

A question that I would like to put to our smart anti-theists and seek their guidance is: What is the proper course of action we ought to take in order to bring down “celestial dictatorship” and gain our freedom? Talk is cheap, but actions are priceless.

A) Can we go somewhere else to be free and immune from His reach, for instance to seek asylum and protection? No, we cannot apply for refuge status in a different universe. There is no such a place; everywhere is under the sphere of His influence and control.

B) The most frequently attempted method of changing a regime is a coup d’état. Is there any possibility of regime change in Heaven by a coup d’état? No, there are no competent or worthy oppositions in the autocratic celestial system. If the idea was feasible, the Devil who is the most elite rebel against God’s regime would have plotted this a long time ago. If the Devil is not up to the task, there is no chance for the atheist materialists and anti-theists. Furthermore, study of military coups illustrates that in every single case of a coup, nothing actually changes, as one bully manages to replace another bully. Therefore, what is the point of such a change? No coup d’état ever gave birth to an institutionalization of a durable democratic system, just take a glance at the political history of Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

C) Then, are we going to fight Him? What are anti-theists particularly going to do about this “celestial dictatorship”? Can they show us some leadership?

Let us assume that atheism expands from a philosophical ideology into a political ideology. Atheists now from passive observers of the universe change to active revolutionary freedom fighters who are mobilizing the people to resist and fight this unjust dictator. A movement led by contemporary atheists, the four horsemen of atheism: Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett.

Realistically, how do we fight this dictator, and if we find a practical way, can we win it? His power seems endless. If God is a “celestial dictator”, it seems that resistance is futile. Let us be positive and assume that, we can win this fight, and eventually we will.

One hopeful scenario would be that these revolutionary pioneers would be able to educate and unite the masses and successfully get everyone to revolt against God. Atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and secular humanists together form a formidable coalition against God. Boycotts and civil disobedience are the first things to do. No one should engage in acts of worship or attend places of worship. The movement gets hot and popular, and subsequently starts to spread like a wildfire. There will be secular Jihadists ready to give up their lives for a noble cause: Man’s freedom and unholy secular values. After sacrificing the blood of many humanist martyrs, at the end, humanity triumphs. God losses His throne. He is at last overthrown by humanity. Mankind is finally free from Divine subjugation. Individualism prevails, no more “Dos” and “Don’ts”. Envision a world without boundaries, imagine having a lifestyle when you can act as you like, when you are free to follow all your inner desires, when religious decrees can no longer spoil your enjoyments, when you are no longer judged or held accountable, when you are no longer required to pray, fast, go for pilgrimage or pay charitable taxes. Is this humanist idea of utopia worth fighting for?

D) Where is God’s headquarter in this endless universe? Where does He reside? Where can we find Him? Where is heaven, if He is there, how do we get there to arrest Him and bring Him down to justice?

Let us suppose that God is somehow arrested during a routine traffic stop, and charged with planning and conspiracy to engage in the continuous act of Divine terrorism, using weapons of mass destruction i.e. tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcano eruptions and plagues. He is charged with killing of innocent children by injecting them with cancerous cell and viruses. Further charged with failure to help victims of medical complications resulting in death or bodily harm. The list goes on and on. The bottom line is that He is a fake “Mr. Nice Guy”, He had the power to intervene and stop evil, but He chose not to.

The deposed God is brought on live television, interviewed by a panel of humanists. He confesses to His crime and is put on a fair trial. His trial is televised like O.J. Simpson’s trial. He is found guilty by a very objective judge and competent jury in the International Court at The Hague for crimes against humanity.

E) What is next rational step? Are we going to execute Him? The answer should be very obvious: We cannot. This dictator unlike all other dictators is immortal. He has no beginning and no end. He has no head to hang, no body to shoot at. He cannot be electrocuted or terminated by needle injection.

F) If death penalty is not an option, can He be sentenced to life in prison without parole? Once again the answer is no, this dictator’s life expectancy is eternal and never-ending. Furthermore, what if He escapes from prison and tries to regain His throne? For this detainee, the cost of His eternal everlasting escape-proof detention ought to be infinite.

G) Are we going to throw Him out of His domain and send Him off into exile somewhere far away? We cannot. Where to? Everywhere is His domain. That is a serious dilemma. What shall we do with a convicted God? Let us say he is kept in Guantanamo indefinitely until a solution is found. Meanwhile, maybe He will go on hunger strike and dies out of starvation and depression.

I suppose, we shall not be content with our achievement so far on this planet and would like to free the rest of the universe. We shall export our democratic revolution of “by the people, for the people and of the people” to other galaxies to free all other enslaved creatures as soon as we overcome the ‘minor problem’ of attaining warp speed. I suppose, it would free them up and help other lifeforms/extraterrestrials just as it did help the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and tons of other places.

H) Let us say that this guilty God voluntarily gives up His power and somehow wipes Himself out of existence into the realm of Nothingness. Let us suppose when He disappears, His creation will not disappear with Him. What is next? Who is taking over the universe now? Richard Dawkins? Or perhaps the ambitious Lawrence Krauss, or maybe Daniel Dennett since he has more experience. Let us assume there will be no back-stabbing and rivalry among these intelligent men of science for humanity’s intellectual and political leadership and there will never be divisions in this forever-cohesive political movement. But, are there any guarantees that the future leaders are not going to turn into another dictator? I think, human history can convincingly answer this question that power corrupts. In particular some of the worst dictators in human history were atheist revolutionaries, cruel Godless absolutist like Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot and Mugabe. In most human revolutions, the new clique turned out to be more ruthless and more ambitious than the old one, to the extent that soon after the regime change the masses started to regret the loss of the old ruler.

Thus, if all the above options are not a workable solution to deal with a “celestial dictator”, what would be a workable solution? If one somehow rationally comes to this conclusion that God is truly a dictator, this person should also objectively come to the subsequent conclusion that resisting this powerful dictator is futile and suicidal. So, get use to it, this is one dictator that you do not want to mess with. Therefore, the best sound thing for this individual to do is to submit to God as all other options are dead-end. And, if one really wants to gain favors and impresses this “celestial dictator”, it is best to “praise the dear Leader from dawn to dusk” and start reading this Dictator’s handbook on how to gain His favours. This is the only “dictator” worthy of adoration and worship. Hence, it pays off to conform and be submissive than to be a defiant loser.

When you think of it, to surrender to this so-called “dictator” whole heartedly may indeed be a very liberating experience. Is this not what many believers in God voluntarily do with so much pleasure? For example, Muslims willingly submit to Allah from dawn to dusk by not separating “profane” from “mundane”, “sacred” from “secular”. They do not believe the Sustainer of the universe is a ruthless “dictator”.

Can the Creator of the Universe be a “Dictator”?

By looking at the universe there are two things that one can ascertain about its Originator with absolute certainty. One is that the Creator of the universe is Powerful. The one who is truly Powerful lacks no self-esteem, has no need to be admired or acknowledged. His might is self-evident and speaks in volumes. Thus, He has no need for a military parade to showoff His power, to glorify Himself and yearn for human subjugation, otherwise His power is hallow and fake. This is a necessary truth and irrefutable.

Second is that He is Intelligent. The one who is Intelligent must by nature be just, compassionate and merciful, otherwise He is not really Intelligent. This too is a necessary truth and irrefutable. Dictatorship and divinity are mutually exclusive.

In conclusion, the obtuse and appalling idea of a “celestial dictatorship” seems to be deeply flawed and void of basic common sense.

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