Welcoming The Charedi Spring – Um, excuse me!!

Update: To add fuel to the fire, see this post at Failed Messiah. If all the judge gives this person is house arrest with Yeshiva privileges, what recourse is left to fight the problem of tznius patrols.

I don’t often get into these debates with others, but this post truly makes me cringe. I am glad everyone is finally speaking up. All the Orthodox rabbinic organizations, RCA (their statement will be ready soon), Agudat Israel, and IRF (I don’t want to here comments about whether it is Orthodox or not), are making statements condemning religious extremist violence in Beit Shemesh. The Belzer Rebbe also alluded to the violence according to this piece. Yet, I wonder if perhaps it is another case of too little, too late. Religious violence in Israel has been there for years. And sure, for every stone thrower, there is a Rabbi who says it is not appropriate. Yet, you only hear about that years later. And even in this, while all the organizations are talking, who is to say the zealots are listening.

Now, don’t get me wrong, talk we must, but let’s not get carried away and make declarations like R. Adlerstein is, that this is the beginning of an “Charedi Spring.” I find the usurping of that term preposterous, as while I hope this event does cause a change, to equate it with what is going on in the rest of the Middle East is absurd. Besides, the Arab Spring upon which this is predicated upon is, by many accounts, turning into an Islamic winter.

To me, the violence should have been condemned and punished years ago. But when there was public silence against protesting Shabbat desecrators, all it did was embolden some of them to take their violence to another level. And to top it off, unless one of their grand Rebbes comes out and says the violence is not allowed, which most likely will not happen because of their own fear of their followers, I don’t see much in the way of curtailing it. And should the Israeli government step in and arrest some of the more egregious men who are attacking and cursing young girls, I have a hard time believing the more mainstream Haredi world won’t be up in arms to an extent.

To conclude, we should all hope that this violence will end as it is making us all look bad as well as proving Hillary Clinton correct to an extent when she sparked her own controversy with her comments about gender bias in Israel. To outsiders, it is no different, even if on the inside we can try to find the subtleties. I pray that these men find some seichel (intelligence) and stop this disgusting display of zealotry in a time when we need to be banding together as one nation.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring | Cross-Currents.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring

The Charedi Spring may have finally arrived. Eight year old Naama Margolese may do for Israel what a Tunisian street vendor did for the Arab world. The wave of revulsion for the behavior of the extremists, if sustained and channeled into focused police work, may release the Israeli public – both secular and charedi – from the tyranny of fanatics whose thuggery and primitivism ran unchecked in Meah Shearim for years.

The price we pay for it is a massive chilul Hashem, as hundreds of millions of people equate Torah with Taliban. The only partial antidote is for the genuine Orthodox world to do what Muslims do not do to their extremists. We must condemn with passion, conviction and without qualification.

As the numbers of Meah Shearim-grown extremists increased, they sought space in other communities. (It was not only a matter of space. They were repudiated by many in their own neighborhood, including the Edah Charedis, which was still unable to rein them in.) Large numbers settled upon the Beit Shemesh area. Their growing enclave in RBS-Bet gradually spread out, to the point that they found themselves in close proximity to existing neighborhoods of dati Leumi and conventional charedim. Ongoing clashes came to a head with the opening of a frum girls’ school on land the extremists coveted in the dati Leumi neighborhood of Scheinfeld. While the dispute has been going on for months, and while violently imposing their requirements on local businesses has taken place for years, the issue exploded upon the national and international scene through a clip from Israel’s Channel Two that has gone viral. Listening to an Anglo girl dressed in long sleeves and a skirt speak about her fears in simply crossing the street and having to run a gauntlet of taunts, curses, and spittle from bearded adults has turned out to be the impetus to galvanize a country – including many charedim – into taking action. Contrasting her angelic demeanor with the ugly rhetoric of one of the tormentors who is particularly honest about their objectives to take over the entire contributed to the mood of resistance.

Both the Prime Minister and the President spoke about the video. (Netanyahu was particularly gracious. “”We must beware of generalizing an entire population, because the vast majority of the Haredi public combines an adherence to Jewish tradition and a complete respect of the law”). Thousands came to Beit Shemesh and help stand up against the extremists. Groups of Knesset members are scheduling visits. Most remarkably, Haaretz reported that journalists were getting plenty of lip from charedim – but not to complain as usual about unbalanced treatment of their community. Rather, charedim were turning to them in person and by phone to implore them to keep the heat on through their coverage, so that the government will have no choice but to take firm action against the zealots who make life miserable for them as well. Haaretz even had to concede a difference between a minority population of out of control extremists and a “mainstream charedi” population.

To anyone not familiar with the history and dynamics of the charedi communities of Israel – and the century-and-a-half-long kulturkampf that created it, there is nothing in the pictures coming from Israel to differentiate the mobs in Beit Shemesh from those in Pakistan or Iraq. No amount of casuistry will put a dent in the plain truth: the behavior of many people who are seen as frum is a massive chilul Hashem of epic proportions.

Rabbinic and communal organizations are readying statements denouncing the barbarians at the gates of Beit Shemesh. This is necessary and good. It is probably not good enough. The extremists are not the equivalent of the poor, semi-literate unwashed masses in the Muslim suburbs of Paris. They were the recipients of many years of Torah chinuch. They studied, to some degree, the same seforim as the rest of us.

Even after we protest, the world will want to know what makes us more authentic than them. Why are they not the “real” Jews, and we are the reformers? How do we demonstrate that they are the imposters, that their understanding of Yiddishkeit is foreign to its genuine spirit? It is simply insufficient to say that we are right and they are wrong, or that our rabbis and leaders are greater than theirs. We dare not leave the very definition of Yiddishkeit to a he says, she says competition.

It is not enough to unequivocally denounce them. We must explain to the world – and fully and confidently to ourselves – why the extremists are a foreign, sickly weed, not another shitah among many. Where do we find within our mesorah the confidence to see these people as outside of it? We must be able to point not just to a collection of their terrible actions, but to fundamental themes in their lifestyle that make them different – and that we can package simply and reinforce in our children and students.

I have nothing magisterial or even particularly insightful to offer. A few thoughts, however, do come to mind.

How do I reject thee? Let me count the ways…

1) The dignity of everyone possessed of a Tzelem Elokim. We take it seriously; they don’t. You can’t take it seriously and still bring children to tears. You could never smear feces on the property of others. You could never spit at someone, rather than engage in discourse. You would see in all of this a belittling of the tzelem Elokim – the image of G-d vested in Man – not only of the other person, but of yourself. The imposition of one set of standards on others who are not willing (e.g. removing public benches so that women will not sit on them in public) is not only theft of the public, it is a denial of their Tzelem Elokim that allows them to choose their own decisors. Claiming that all other decisors but their own are wrong is a fatal distortion of halachic process.

2) Hakoras HaTov According to Chovos HaLevavos, owning up to the obligation to reciprocate what others have benefited you (even when done for the wrong reasons) is the key to any growth in serving Hashem. Closing their eyes to the benefits they have received from the State – the blood that has been spilled defending them in every war since ’48; the subsidies that feed their children and pay for their medical care – is so profoundly un-Jewish that it should be sufficient cause to call them opponents of Torah. All the mental gymnastics applied by them to prove to themselves that they owe nothing to anyone (i.e., if it weren’t for everyone else’s sins, the Arabs would be our peaceful and loving neighbors) should only prove that they can compound lack of hakoras hatov with distortion of sechel. R. Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l used to ask every year during Neilah that people daven for the soldiers of Tzahal. “Those who don’t understand why are fools.”

3) The simplest one, and the one that works the most for me: The proper way, we are told in Avos, is one that brings honor to Hashem and honor to the one who follow it. It should be simple enough to argue that a lifestyle that brings nothing but contempt upon Torah cannot legitimately be Torah! Discounting the small percentage of Israelis who truly hate Torah, the rest of Israeli society cannot be written off the same way. Where they should see the ahavas Yisrael of the R Aryeh Levin they remember a generation ago, they see nothing in the video clip but unvarnished hatred. Where they should see a lifestyle to admire, they see a community that cannot support itself, covers up its misdeeds, and shows itself entirely unsuitable to face challenges of real life. They react – and indeed often overreact – with contempt. But at least part of their contempt is understandable. It certainly means that the extremists are not bringing honor to anyone.

This alone proves that their way cannot be Torah. Everything else is commentary.

Religious Isolationism and Pearl Harbor

I realize this is a few days late, but I used this article in a discussion group yesterday and found it to be thought provoking.  As you read, you will recognize how religion as influenced by society often establishes and dismisses beliefs as deemed appropriate.  Additionally, one can see some interesting parallels between then and today, even within the notion of religious isolationism. 

 

Religious Isolationism and Pearl Harbor

By on 12.7.11 @ 6:07AM

The pacificism of the post-World War I era would no longer do.

In the American psyche there’s never been an event like Pearl Harbor, 70 years ago this week. Of course, 9/11 comes closest, but it followed decades of America’s strategic involvement in the world as a superpower, including the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, and later the Persian Gulf War and Balkans’ conflicts, among others.

Pearl Harbor followed two decades of virtual U.S. strategic isolation from most of the world’s great conflicts. Most Americans had recoiled from World War I by firmly adhering to isolationism, non-interventionism, pacifism, or various combinations of all three. Clergy of the dominant Mainline Protestant churches, post-WWI, flocked to pacifism, reinforced by the liberal, utopian, “Social Gospel” theology then ascendant in the churches. A 1931 survey showed 54 percent of nearly 20,000 clergy rejecting war. A 1934 survey showed nearly 70 percent doing the same, with Methodists the most pacifist.

Methodism was then America’s largest Protestant denomination and closely followed this trend. After enthusiastically backing WWI, the church in 1924 declared war the “supreme enemy,” while insisting “selfish nationalism, economic imperialism, and militarism must cease.” Methodist bishops visiting President Calvin Coolidge in 1926 urged “avoiding military alliances of a political and military character.” In 1928 the church renounced “war as an instrument of national policy.” 

A prominent dissenter to Methodism’s increasing pacifism in the 1920s wondered if Britain’s hypothetical intervention on behalf of massacred Armenians under the Turks might be a “high act of ethical devotion.” This clergy also suggested “to allow atheistic Russia to overthrow American civilization would be a worse crime than war.” But this view was in the minority for church elites. In 1936 Methodism declared it did “not endorse, support, or purpose to participate in war.” The bishops confidently asserted that any objector to the church’s anti-war stance had “none other refuge” within Protestantism.

In a 1939 message to the Methodists, President Franklin Roosevelt noted the “trampling under foot of the sacred right of freedom of conscience” around the world while pledging the U.S. would continue to “sustain before all the world the torch of complete liberty.” At the church’s governing General Conference that year, FDR’s 1936 presidential opponent, Republican Alf Landon, a Methodist and delegate, condemned FDR’s step away from neutrality and recommended “further discussion” with Hitler. Landon warned: “Let’s stop fooling the people that economic quarantines and economic assistance mean anything other than sending American boys into the cockpit of Europe to fight.” But Landon, a non-interventionist who was not a pacifist, angrily disagreed with most delegates who endorsed conscientious objection to U.S. military service. In 1940, even as Hitler was overrunning France, Methodism, reiterated it “will not officially endorse, support, or participate in war.”

The most prominent Methodist and churchman of that time was the Rev. E. Stanley Jones, long-time distinguished missionary to India, friend to Mahatma Gandhi, and best-selling author, whom Time magazine later recalled as the best known American preacher other than Billy Graham. Jones had loudly denounced Japan’s invasion of China while also frenetically negotiating to prevent U.S. war with Japan. His solution: give imperial Japan the island of New Guinea to compensate for her withdrawing from China and to accommodate Japan’s “surplus population.”

New Guinea, Jones argued, had only 600,000 people but could fit 20 to 40 million. It was then evenly divided between the Dutch and Australia, “neither of whom needed it,” and whom America would financially compensate. Himself an international celebrity, Jones marketed his novel idea to prominent officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson and the Dutch and Australian ambassadors to the U.S. He claimed he found a “good deal of sympathy,” though the Dutch ambassador insisted “no part of the Dutch Empire is for sale!” The Australian ambassador politely noted his country would fear Japan’s being at its border.

Later, Jones advocated a partial lifting of the U.S. oil embargo against Japan to induce negotiation. Ostensibly the British ambassador, Lord Halifax, was receptive and even “threw me a kiss” as Jones watched Halifax head to a meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State. Jones also met with the Chinese and Japanese ambassadors to the U.S., who were mostly respectful but noncommittal. On December 3, 1941, he met with FDR at the White House, passing along the counsel of the Japanese ambassador that the President appeal for peace directly to the Japanese emperor. The delighted Japanese then promised Jones a dinner party on December 8 and added: “The Embassy is your home.”

Japanese Ambassador Kichisaburō Nomura told Jones, as Jones recalled: “Thank you for what you are doing. Those who try to reconcile others are doing the work of Heaven for it is Heaven’s work to reconcile us.” After the December 7 Pearl Harbor attack, Jones faulted the U.S. for giving Japan an ultimatum to withdraw from China without a quid pro quo, such as New Guinea.

“Japan is the immediate cause of this war,” Jones concluded. “But America has her responsibility in the remote causes that led up to it.” Oddly, years after the war, Jones was still pushing the idea of giving defeated Japan New Guinea. He claimed that Douglas MacArthur and John Foster Dulles, when he met them, were receptive. More likely, they were polite.

Of course, Japan invaded New Guinea, with the rest of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, after Pearl Harbor, inflicting untold savagery everywhere. In his new book, Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945, British journalist Max Hastings reports that more than 1 million Vietnamese were starved to death during their own Japanese occupation. Japan starved all its territories to ship food to the homeland. Elderly Vietnamese told him those several years were worse than subsequent decades of war with the French and U.S. They represented only a tiny percentage of imperial Japan’s millions of victims.

In 1944, Methodism’s governing General Conference revoked its pacifism. Noting over 1 million Methodists were in the U.S. armed forces, it declared: “We are well within the Christian position when we assert the necessity of the use of military forces to resist an aggression which would overthrow every right which is held sacred by civilized men.” But the motion passed the clergy delegates by only 1 vote.

Religious pacifists in the innocent years before Pearl Harbor imagined the world, like their then well-run denominations, was innately orderly and susceptible to good will and reason. They had forgotten the savage power of human evil. Pearl Harbor reminded America then, as it should today, especially religious utopians, that peace and decent order are the hard exceptions rather than the rule for our fallen world.

The Hillary Moment

I just couldn’t resist posting this op-ed piece from Monday’s WSJ.  It is quite fascinating to see many in the Democratic world thinking that Obama is not the strongest candidate that they could nominate for 2012.  To me, it goes back to something I said in 2008.  At the time, I argued with many that the Democratic party made a strategic error by running Obama.  The chronology shoud have been Hillary in 2008 with Obama as VP.  Then, a hoped for second term in 2012.  By 2016, Obama would have had 8 years of experience as VP, which would have been enough time to learn the ropes of Washington.  Of course, history didn’t play out this way, so now many in the Democratic party are clamoring for Hillary. 

The Hillary Moment
President Obama can’t win by running a constructive campaign, and he won’t be able to govern if he does win a second term.
By PATRICK H. CADDELL
AND DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN

When Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson accepted the reality that they could not effectively govern the nation if they sought re-election to the White House, both men took the moral high ground and decided against running for a new term as president. President Obama is facing a similar reality—and he must reach the same conclusion.

He should abandon his candidacy for re-election in favor of a clear alternative, one capable not only of saving the Democratic Party, but more important, of governing effectively and in a way that preserves the most important of the president’s accomplishments. He should step aside for the one candidate who would become, by acclamation, the nominee of the Democratic Party: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Never before has there been such an obvious potential successor—one who has been a loyal and effective member of the president’s administration, who has the stature to take on the office, and who is the only leader capable of uniting the country around a bipartisan economic and foreign policy.

Certainly, Mr. Obama could still win re-election in 2012. Even with his all-time low job approval ratings (and even worse ratings on handling the economy) the president could eke out a victory in November. But the kind of campaign required for the president’s political survival would make it almost impossible for him to govern—not only during the campaign, but throughout a second term.

Put simply, it seems that the White House has concluded that if the president cannot run on his record, he will need to wage the most negative campaign in history to stand any chance. With his job approval ratings below 45% overall and below 40% on the economy, the president cannot affirmatively make the case that voters are better off now than they were four years ago. He—like everyone else—knows that they are worse off.

President Obama is now neck and neck with a generic Republican challenger in the latest Real Clear Politics 2012 General Election Average (43.8%-43.%). Meanwhile, voters disapprove of the president’s performance 49%-41% in the most recent Gallup survey, and 63% of voters disapprove of his handling of the economy, according to the most recent CNN/ORC poll.

Consequently, he has to make the case that the Republicans, who have garnered even lower ratings in the polls for their unwillingness to compromise and settle for gridlock, represent a more risky and dangerous choice than the current administration—an argument he’s clearly begun to articulate.

One year ago in these pages, we warned that if President Obama continued down his overly partisan road, the nation would be “guaranteed two years of political gridlock at a time when we can ill afford it.” The result has been exactly as we predicted: stalemate in Washington, fights over the debt ceiling, an inability to tackle the debt and deficit, and paralysis exacerbating market turmoil and economic decline.

If President Obama were to withdraw, he would put great pressure on the Republicans to come to the table and negotiate—especially if the president singularly focused in the way we have suggested on the economy, job creation, and debt and deficit reduction. By taking himself out of the campaign, he would change the dynamic from who is more to blame—George W. Bush or Barack Obama?—to a more constructive dialogue about our nation’s future.

Even though Mrs. Clinton has expressed no interest in running, and we have no information to suggest that she is running any sort of stealth campaign, it is clear that she commands majority support throughout the country. A CNN/ORC poll released in late September had Mrs. Clinton’s approval rating at an all-time high of 69%—even better than when she was the nation’s first lady. Meanwhile, a Time Magazine poll shows that Mrs. Clinton is favored over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 17 points (55%-38%), and Texas Gov. Rick Perry by 26 points (58%-32%).

But this is about more than electoral politics. Not only is Mrs. Clinton better positioned to win in 2012 than Mr. Obama, but she is better positioned to govern if she does. Given her strong public support, she has the ability to step above partisan politics, reach out to Republicans, change the dialogue, and break the gridlock in Washington.

President Bill Clinton reached a historic agreement with the Republicans in 1997 that led to a balanced budget. Were Mrs. Clinton to become the Democratic nominee, her argument would almost certainly have to be about reconciliation and about an overarching deal to rein in the federal deficit. She will understand implicitly the need to draw up a bipartisan plan with elements similar to her husband’s in the mid-to-late ’90s—entitlement reform, reform of the Defense Department, reining in spending, all the while working to preserve the country’s social safety net.

Having unique experience in government as first lady, senator and now as Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton is more qualified than any presidential candidate in recent memory, including her husband. Her election would arguably be as historic an event as the election of President Obama in 2008.

By going down the re-election road and into partisan mode, the president has effectively guaranteed that the remainder of his term will be marred by the resentment and division that have eroded our national identity, common purpose, and most of all, our economic strength. If he continues on this course it is certain that the 2012 campaign will exacerbate the divisions in our country and weaken our national identity to such a degree that the scorched-earth campaign that President George W. Bush ran in the 2002 midterms and the 2004 presidential election will pale in comparison.

We write as patriots and Democrats—concerned about the fate of our party and, most of all, our country. We do not write as people who have been in contact with Mrs. Clinton or her political operation. Nor would we expect to be directly involved in any Clinton campaign.

If President Obama is not willing to seize the moral high ground and step aside, then the two Democratic leaders in Congress, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, must urge the president not to seek re-election—for the good of the party and most of all for the good of the country. And they must present the only clear alternative—Hillary Clinton.

Election 2012’s great religious divide

The issue of religion and politics continues to be a hot button item during elections.  Whether it is the question of Obama’s religious ties or Romney and his Mormonism, people want to know what drives a candidate.  I do think certain situations might warrant Americans to be wary of voting a particular candidate in.  Nevertheless, most of those running for the presidency tend to be more aligned with the expediency of one’s political views than one’s religious beliefs.  Having said that, I know most Americans do care about a candidates religion, though usually when there is a fear of negative influence.  We have seen people scared off by Bush’s evangelical, born-again rhetoric, as well as others who were/are fearful of the unknowns of Obama’s religious beliefs (which is not the subject of this piece).  In the following Washington Post op-ed, the author appears to want to question the candidates about belief might influence policy.  For Conservatives, this piece does leave a bad taste as it seems the issue is only an issue because of the Republican primaries, when in 2008, when Obama’s religious affiliation came up, it was ignored by the same writers as are asking about it now. 

Election 2012’s great religious divide

We have embarked on yet another presidential campaign in which religion will play an important role without any agreement over what the ground rules for that engagement should be.

If you think we’re talking past each other on jobs and budgets, consider the religious divide. One side says “separation of church and state” while the other speaks of “religion’s legitimate role in the public square.” Each camp then sees the question as closed and can get quite self-righteous in avoiding the other’s claims.

Anyone who enters this terrain should do so with fear and trembling. But a few things ought to be clear, and let’s start with this: The Mormon faith of Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman should not be an issue in this campaign. Period.

In the United States, we have no religious tests for office. It’s true that this constitutional provision does not prevent a voter from casting a ballot on any basis he or she wishes to use. Nonetheless, it’s the right assumption for citizens in a pluralistic democracy.

All Americans ought to empathize with religious minorities because each of us is part of one. If Mormonism can be held against Romney and Huntsman, then everyone else’s tradition — and, for nonbelievers, their lack of religious affiliation — can be held against them, too. We have gone down this road before. Recall the ugly controversy over Catholicism when Al Smith and John F. Kennedy sought the presidency. We shouldn’t want to repeat the experiences of 1928 or 1960.

But to say this is not the same as saying that religion should be excluded from politics. The test should be: To what extent would a candidate’s religious views affect what he or she might do in office?

Many beliefs rooted in a tradition (the Virgin Birth, how an individual keeps kosher laws, precisely how someone conceives the afterlife) are not relevant in any direct way to how a candidate would govern. In the case of Mormonism, those who disagree with its religious tenets are free to do so but they should argue about them outside the confines of a political campaign.

Yet there are many questions — and not just concerning abortion — on which the ethical and moral commitments that arise from faith would have a direct impact on what candidates might do in office. Those should be argued about. My own views on poverty, equality and social justice, for example, have been strongly influenced by Catholic social thought, the Old Testament prophets and the civil rights preachers. Religious conservatives have arrived at convictions quite different in many cases from mine, after reflection on their own faith and their traditions.

Neither they nor I have a right to use the state to impose such views on religious grounds. That’s the essence of the pluralist bargain. But we can make a religious case for them if we wish.

This leads to a conclusion that the philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain reached some years ago: “Separation of church and state is one thing. Separation of religion and politics is something else altogether. Religion and politics flow back and forth in American civil society all the time — always have, always will.”

That is entirely true. It’s also not as simple as it sounds. For if religious people fairly claim that faith has a legitimate place in public life, they must accept that the public (including journalists) is fully justified in probing how that faith might influence what they would do with political power.

Religious people cannot have it both ways: to assert that their faith really matters to their public engagement, and then to insist, when it’s convenient, that religion is a matter about which no one has a right to ask questions. Voters especially have a right to know how a candidate’s philosophical leanings shape his or her attitudes toward the religious freedom of unbelievers as well as believers.

And here’s the hardest part: We all have to ask ourselves whether what we claim to be hearing as the voice of faith (or of God) may in fact be nothing more than the voice of our ideology or political party. We should also ask whether candidates are merely exploiting religion to rally some part of the electorate to their side. The difficulty of answering both questions — given the human genius for rationalization — might encourage a certain humility that comes hard to most of us, and perhaps, above all, to people who write opinion columns.

The Arab Spring is not about Western Democracy

I saw a piece, Did the Libyan Leadership Deceive the West, which implies that we didn’t realize what was going on in Libya.  It saddens me to think how many people really did believe that what we were witnessing was the beginning of a complete change in the Western sense.  I am not saying that certain leadership needed to stay in power, but to assume rioting means more freedoms is naive.  We don’t learn from history.

Did the Libyan Leadership Deceive the West?

Jonathan D. Halevi

  • On October 23, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC) that is the temporary power in Libya replacing the Gaddafi regime, announced: “We, as an Islamic state, determined that Islamic law is a major source for legislation, and on this basis any law which contradicts the principles of Islam and Islamic law will be considered null and void.”
  • The NTC has the support of the West and NATO countries, which helped it militarily to bring down the Gaddafi regime, hoping to establish a democratic regime in Libya.
  • In early October, Dr. David Gerbi, who was born in Libya and fled to Italy in 1967, arrived in Tripoli and asked to repair the synagogue. The NTC was quick to remove him, while demonstrations were held in Tripoli calling to prevent any Jewish presence in Libya or the establishment of synagogues. The NTC did not condemn this expression of anti-Semitism, nor was there any objection by any other political factions in Libya.
  • NTC and Western officials have already stated their growing concerns that Qatar is trying to interfere in the country’s sovereignty, and the rebels are said to have received about $2 billion from the Qatari government. Qatari involvement is likely to produce a regime in Libya that follows the political orientation of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, thereby giving the Muslim Brotherhood an open door in the new Libya.
  • The political debate in Libya will be within an essentially Islamist universe, with different leaders distinguished by the degree to which they seek to implement their Islamism. It seems that the strategy of the democratic states that trusted the promises of the rebel forces to adopt and implement the principles of democracy has collapsed, and that Western aid to overthrow Gaddafi’s tyrannical regime prepared the groundwork for the establishment of an Islamic state, which eventually may become hostile to the West.

The Supremacy of Islamic Law

Libya is opening a new page in its history after the execution of former leader Muammar Gaddafi. At a ceremony in Benghazi on October 23, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Chairman of the National Transitional Council, which is the temporary power in Libya replacing the Gaddafi regime, announced the completion of the “liberation of Libya” and outlined the characteristics of the new government, which adopts Islamic law (Sharia) as a major source for legislation. That means Libya’s transformation into an Islamic state.

In his victory speech, Abdul Jalil said: “We, as an Islamic state, determined that Islamic law is a major source for legislation, and on this basis any law which contradicts the principles of Islam and Islamic law will be considered null and void. As an example of such laws I will mention the law of marriage and divorce which limited polygamy. This law is contrary to Islamic law and its application is suspended.” Abdul Jalil added that the new regime intends to base the banking system on legislation consistent with Islamic law that prohibits interest, which he described as fundamentally evil and corrupt. As an immediate measure to realize this intention, Abdul Jalil announced an exemption from interest for bank loans up to ten thousand dinars, and in the future, he said, interest will be cancelled completely in accordance with Islamic law.

The National Transitional Council has the support of the West and NATO countries, which helped it militarily to bring down the Gaddafi regime, hoping to establish a democratic regime in Libya. NATO’s political, military, and economic support of the rebels played a decisive role in breaking the yoke of the Gaddafi regime. This included economic sanctions, military attacks on targets in Libya, enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, and intelligence assistance.

The Democratic Vision of Libya

The West’s basic assumption was that the leadership of the National Transitional Council would remain faithful to its promises and commitment to the implementation of democracy in Libya, protecting human rights, and fighting terrorism. The message conveyed by the National Transitional Council was clear, as reflected in its platform published in the Council’s official website. The section “The Democratic Vision of Libya” reads as follows:

The National Transitional Council presents the vision to building a democracy in Libya….There is no alternative to building a free, pluralistic and democratic society, a unified state based on the rule of law, human dignity, and protecting human rights and formation (of these rights)….We recognize without reservation our duty and our commitment as follows:

Formulation of a national constitution…keeping a civil constitutional state which will ensure ideological and political pluralism…protecting freedom of expression…promising that the state will draw its power from the provisions of religion which teach of peace, right, justice and equality…applying a political democracy and the principles of social justice, including…

A constitutional civil state which respects the sanctity of faith and condemns fanaticism, extremism and violence…a country to which we aspire that condemns violence, terrorism, fanaticism and cultural isolation, seeing how it respects human rights and the foundations and principles of citizenship and the rights of minorities and weaker groups. Every person shall enjoy the full rights of citizenship regardless of color, sex, race or social status.

The building of a democratic Libya which bases our foreign relations and relations with regional countries on (the following principles): establishing democratic values ​​and democratic institutions that honor our neighbors, that build partnerships and recognize the independence and sovereignty of other countries…a country which will promote the values ​​of international justice and citizenship and will respect international humanitarian law and human rights conventions…a country that will join the international community in the opposition and condemnation of discrimination, racism and terrorism and will strongly support peace, democracy and freedom.

The National Transitional Council emphasized the words “democracy,” “pluralism,” “civil rights,” “justice,” and “equality,” but their meanings in its eyes are quite different from those of the Western democracies that supported it and actually enabled its rise to power in place of Gaddafi. Like the Muslim Brotherhood, the National Transitional Council subjects “democracy” to Islamic law (Sharia), and actually drains it of its contents by stating that Islamic law is the source of legislation and that all laws that contradict it are null and void.

The declaration by Mustafa Abdul Jalil of an Islamic Libyan state was not received with any opposition from members of the National Transitional Council and the Libyan public, and it apparently expresses the dominant mood within the public, which tends to accept Islamic rule.

No Tolerance for Jews

One can learn about the atmosphere on the Libyan street from the hostile and anti-Semitic public reaction to the arrival of Dr. David Gerbi in Tripoli in early October. Gerbi, who was born in Libya and fled to Italy in 1967 out of fear of harm to the Jewish community after the Six-Day War, visited the synagogue in Tripoli and asked to repair it. Upon learning of the synagogue visit, the National Transitional Council was quick to remove him from the synagogue, arguing that he was not authorized to enter the complex, which is under the authority of the Department of Archaeology. At the same time, many demonstrations were held in Tripoli calling to prevent any Jewish presence in Libya or the establishment of synagogues in the country. The National Transitional Council did not prevent this expression of anti-Semitism and did not condemn it, nor was there any objection to this by other political factions in Libya.

Key Islamic Figures

A central force of power in the National Transitional Council is Abdelhakim Belhadj, commander of the military forces in Tripoli who led the campaign to remove the Gaddafi regime and occupy the presidential compound in Bab al-Azizia. Belhadj, who was appointed by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, has an extensive jihadist background. He fought alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan against Soviet forces and was a senior member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a radical Islamic terrorist organization, which until recently held a world view rather similar to that of Al-Qaeda. The Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported that nearly 800 soldiers from the LIFG were involved in the fighting in Tripoli, some of them former combatants in Afghanistan and Bosnia.

In September 2010, a former leader of the LIFG and colleague of bin Laden in Afghanistan, Noman Benotman, addressed an open letter to bin Laden, calling on him and al-Qaeda to “abandon armed struggle,”stating that “Your actions have harmed millions of innocent Muslims and non-Muslims alike. How is this Islam or jihad? For how much longer will al-Qaeda continue to bring shame on Islam, disrupt ordinary Muslims’ lives, and be the cause of global unrest?1

Just a year earlier, the LIFG published a very long, revisionist document to repudiate al-Qaeda’s ideology of global jihad. This was part of a more comprehensive deal, orchestrated by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was interested in promoting his planned reforms and the leadership of the LIFG and other imprisoned Islamist groups, to release them from prison in return for their reintegration into society and abandonment of terror.2 The document, however, did not mean that the LIFG was to abandon its Islamist tendency. Indeed, it was mainly endorsed by senior scholars close to the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology like Saudi Sheikh Salman al-Awdeh.

In addition to Benotman, Libyan Sheikh Ali al-Salabi, who until recently resided in Qatar, served as the intermediary between Saif al-Islam and the LIFG leadership. Salabi is a member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS),3 a global umbrella group headed by Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the Qatar-based leader of the Muslim Brotherhood on a global scale. Even though he had no official position in Libya at the time, Salabi had already won the title of the “spiritual guide of the Libyan revolution,”4 and was also described by the New York Times as someone who may well be the most important politician in the new Libya.5

A few weeks ago, Salabi called on the top leadership of the NTC to resign, saying that they supported the West’s agenda and interest in taking control over Libya’s resources.6 Salabi further stated that the rebels had received about $2 billion from the Qatari government,7 and indeed, NTC and Western officials have already stated their growing concerns that Qatar is trying to interfere in the country’s sovereignty, bypassing an internationally-agreed assistance strategy for Libya to throw its support behind individuals and factions contributing to the continuing political instability.8 Qatari involvement is likely to produce a regime in Libya that follows the political orientation of Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, thereby giving the Muslim Brotherhood an open door in the new Libya.

In North Africa, Libya is emerging as a very different country from Morocco or Algeria, for, unlike its neighbors, Libya is headed towards the establishment of an Islamic state.  The political debate in Libya will be within an essentially Islamist universe, with different leaders distinguished by the degree to which they seek to implement their Islamism.  We already can see that many of its new leaders are far from the values ​​of democracy and human rights as understood in the West. It seems that the strategy of the democratic states that trusted the promises of the rebel forces to adopt and implement the principles of democracy has collapsed, and that Western aid to overthrow Gaddafi’s tyrannical regime prepared the groundwork for the establishment of an Islamic state, which eventually may become hostile to the West.

*     *     *

Notes

 1. http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/index.php/component/content/article/690

2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/wikileaks-files/libya-wikileaks/8294845/QADHAFI-FOUNDATION-CONTINUES-DIALOGUE-ON-RELEASE-OF-FORMER-LIBYAN-ISLAMIC-FIGHTING-GROUP-MEMBERS.html

3. http://www.iumsonline.us/ar/default.asp?ContentID=1039&menuID=13

4. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2011/0903/1224303431024.html

5. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/15/world/africa/in-libya-islamists-growing-sway-raises-questions.html?_r=1&ref=global-home&pagewanted=all

6. http://almoslim.net/node/153294

7. http://www.elkhabar.com/ar/monde/266747.html

8. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/04/qatar-interfering-libya

Shalit chronicles

I realize I am late to the party.  Part of this was purposeful in that I felt others had captured much of what was out there regarding the release of Gilad Shalit.  Yet, I came across three pieces over the weekend that made me decide it would be good to at least offer up some of the material online regarding how we should think about and react to his freedom.  Here are a couple of the more fascinating pieces I found (for some other headlines, check out Bruce’s Mideast Soundbites).

A Mother’s Pain – Sherri Mandel

Why are we against the exchange that allows murderers to go free? Because we know the suffering that they leave in their wake.

Why is it that terror victims are seemingly the only ones against the prisoner exchange? While other Israelis are rejoicing, we are in despair.

Arnold and Frimet Roth circulated a petition against the release of Ahlam Tamimi, an accomplice in their daughter Malki’s murder at the Sbarro pizza shop.

Tamimi says she is happy that many children were killed in the attack. Meir Schijveschuurder, whose family was massacred in the same attack, filed a petition with the high court and says he is going to leave Israel because of his feelings of betrayal. The parents of Yasmin Karisi feel that the state is dancing in their blood because Khalil Muhammad Abu Ulbah, who murdered their daughter and seven others by running them down with a bus at the Azor junction in 2001, is also on the list to be released. Twenty-six others were wounded in that attack.

Why are so many of us against the exchange that allows murderers and their accomplices to go free? Because we know the suffering that these murderers leave in their wake.

Yes, I want Gilad Schalit released. But not at any price. Not at the price we have experienced.

My son Koby Mandell and his friend Yosef Ish Ran were murdered by terrorists 10 years ago when they were 13 and 14 years old. They had been hiking in the wadi near our home when they were set upon by a Palestinian mob and stoned to death. It was a brutal, vicious murder.

We now run the Koby Mandell Foundation for terror victims’ families. We direct Camp Koby, a 10-day therapeutic sleep away camp for 400 children who have lost loved ones, mostly to terror. We also run mothers’ healing retreats and support groups.

MOST PEOPLE don’t understand the continuing devastation of grief: fathers who die of heart attacks, mothers who get sick with cancer, children who leave school, families whose only child was murdered. We see depression, suicide, symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. You wouldn’t believe how many victims’ families are still on sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication. We see the pain that doesn’t diminish with time. We literally see people die of grief.

Bereaved families face acute psychological isolation.

Nobody understands us, they often complain.

They mean that nobody understands the duration or the severity of their pain and longing. In the aftermath of a prisoner exchange, this isolation will only be exacerbated.

So will the feeling that our children’s deaths don’t matter.

When people tell me that my son Koby died for nothing, I always used to say: No, it is our job to make his death mean something.

But now I am not sure. It seems that the government is conspiring to ensure that our loved ones’ deaths were for nothing.

Cheapening our loved ones’ deaths only enhances the pain. If Israel is willing to free our loved ones’ murderers, then the rest of the world can look on and assume that the terrorists are really freedom fighters or militants. If Palestinians were murdering Jews in cold blood without justification, surely the Israeli government wouldn’t release them.

No sane government would.

When we were sitting shiva for Koby, a general in the army told us: “We will bring the killers to justice.” I believed him. I took his words to heart. Today I am thankful my son’s killers have not been found. So are my children. Of course, I don’t want the terrorists to kill again. But if they were to be released in this prisoner exchange, I don’t think I could bear it.

We don’t want other families to be put in our situation.

We don’t want terrorists to be free when our loved ones are six feet underground. Ten years after my son was beaten to death, the pain often feels like a prison. In many ways, I am not free.

We don’t want other terrorists to be emboldened because they know that even if they murder, they may not have to stay in prison. President Shimon Peres says he will pardon but he will not forgive. Terrorist victims’ families will not pardon or forgive the government for this release.

We have been betrayed. To pardon terrorists mocks our love and our pain.

Furthermore, terrorism aims to strike fear in an entire society, to bring a whole populace to its knees. During the intifada, the terrorists did not succeed in defeating Israeli society. But to release prisoners now signals to Hamas that their strategy of terror was correct, effective.

They will celebrate wholeheartedly because they have won.

And as a result of prisoner exchanges, the Israeli justice system can only be seen as a joke, a mockery, even a travesty of justice.

It provides no deterrent and no retribution. It’s as if our government says to the killers: Come hurt us again. We’ll be happy to release you one day. We’ll let you go when you demand it.

I want Gilad Schalit home.

We need to protect our own soldiers. But not with a wholesale prisoner exchange. I wish that I could rejoice with the Schalit family. But I can’t.

The price is too high.

The writer is the mother of Koby Mandell, who was stoned to death near his home in Tekoa in 2001.

‘Shalit release like resurrection of the dead’

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef expresses joy over kidnapped soldier’s return, says it illustrates what Jewish people should expect at End of Days by Kobi Nahshoni

Shas‘ spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, says the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is a sort of “preview” for the resurrection of the dead.

In a sermon delivered Tuesday night ahead of the holiday of Simchat Torah, the rabbi explained that the joy over Gilad’s return to his family illustrates what the Jewish people should expect at the End of Days, when the dead will rise out of their graves and return to life.

Yosef concluded his sermon by stating that “this is a great day of joy for all the people of Israel for Gilad Shalit’s return.”

“Every day we say (in a prayer), ‘Blessed is God, the resurrector of the dead’ – what a great joy we’ll experience. We are being described what will happen.”

According to the rabbi, the entire world was excited about the soldier’s release from captivity after five years, and in the future the dead will return to their families even decades after being taken away from them.

In a bid to demonstrate the great joy in the days of the Messiah, Rabbi Yosef explained that it would be like a multitude of weddings, as each person returning to life will have to remarry his widow in order to live with her again.

“Everywhere you go – a chuppah. This one’s wife has been resurrected, and that one’s wife has been resurrected – what a joy it will be!”

 

Rabbi Yosef followed Shalit’s return home on Tuesday, after being involved in the early stages of the prisoner exchange deal – offering support and encouragement. The rabbi stayed at home as usual and continued his Torah studies, but asked his family members to update him on every development.

Upon hearing that the soldier’s physical and mental condition was satisfactory, he excitedly recited the “Blessed is God that redeems and saves” prayer and said Jews must continue praying for his full recovery.

A Mitzvah Behind the Price of a Soldier’s Freedom By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN

On the Sabbath morning of Nov. 5, less than three weeks after the release of Sgt. First Class Gilad Shalit in a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas, Jews in synagogues throughout the world will read a Torah portion concerning Abraham’s early journeys. The text recounts how invaders conquered the city of Sodom, taking Abraham’s nephew Lot as a captive, and the way Abraham raised an army to rescue him.

The timing of this Torah reading is an absolute coincidence, an unplanned synchronicity between the religious calendar and breaking news. Yet the passage also offers an essential explanation, one almost entirely ignored in coverage of the Shalit deal, for Israel’s anguished decision to pay a ransom in the form of more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, including the perpetrators of terrorist attacks on civilians.

The story of Abraham saving Lot represents the earliest of a series of examples of the concept of “pidyon shvuyim” — redeeming the captives, invariably at a cost — in Jewish Scripture, rabbinic commentaries and legal codes. That concept, absorbed into the secular culture of the Israeli state and the Zionist movement, helped validate the steep, indeed controversial, price of Sergeant Shalit’s liberation.

Far from being some abstruse, obscure point of theology, pidyon shvuyim is called in the Talmud a “mitzvah rabbah,” a great commandment. The Shulhan Arukh, a legal code compiled in the 16th century, states, “Redeeming captives takes precedence over sustaining the poor and clothing them, and there is no commandment more important than redeeming captives.”

So while journalists, analysts and scholars have offered various motivations for the disproportionate deal — the effect of the Arab Spring, the institutional culture of the Israeli Army to never leave behind its wounded, the symbolism of Sergeant Shalit as everyone’s child in a country of nearly universal military service — the principle of pidyon shvuyim preceded all those factors.

“For most people in Israel, it doesn’t translate directly as a mitzvah, because even if they’re attached to Jewish tradition, they’re not halakhic,” said Noam Zohar, a professor of philosophy at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, using a term for following religious law. “But the underlying values — solidarity and the high value of every individual life — are part of our public ethos. The same values informed the high urgency of pidyon shvuyim.”

Moshe Halbertal, a philosophy professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, framed the issue similarly. “Those things are in the DNA of the culture,” he said of the religious teachings about ransoming captives. “It’s a sentiment that can’t be measured in exact legal or judicial terms. It plays a role in those moments of perplexity. You fall back on your basic identity. As a Jew, as an Israeli, what do I do?”

From its initial depiction in Genesis, the admonition to redeem captives reappears in the books of Leviticus and Nehemiah, as well as in the Talmud, Shulhan Arukh and writings of Maimonides. Among the ancient commentators, as well as among Israelis today, debate has persisted over whether pidyon shvuyim is an absolute value.

A passage in the Talmudic volume of Gittin, anticipating the recent voices of Israelis critical of the Shalit deal, cautions, “We do not redeem captives for more than their worth, so that enemies will not dedicate themselves to take other people captive.”

The traumas of Jewish history have provided innumerable opportunities for reconciling the tension between redemption and extortion. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews who traveled as merchants and traders were frequently kidnapped by pirates or highway bandits. During the Holocaust, German forces routinely threatened to destroy Jewish communities unless the residents paid a pre-emptive ransom.

As Bradley Burston wrote last week in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, over the past 54 years, the nation has freed a total of 13,509 Arab prisoners in exchanges that brought home 16 captive Israeli soldiers — a ratio of roughly 800 to 1.

With such an imbalance, pidyon shvuyim has been both a cherished and a contested belief. A prominent German rabbi taken captive in the 14th century, Meir ben Baruch, instructed his followers not to pay a ransom, which he feared would be onerously high, and ultimately was killed. Israel was torn apart in the 1950s by a libel trial involving Rudolf Kasztner, a Jewish activist in Hungary who had paid cash, gold and jewels to the Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann in 1944 to save about 1,600 Jews headed for death camps. So controversial were Mr. Kasztner’s actions that he was assassinated by a fellow Israeli more than a decade after the war.

While Israelis have widely believed that sovereignty and military might ended the need for paying ransoms, the Shalit deal has proven otherwise. It was approved by a prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who had repeatedly written against what he termed “terrorist blackmail” earlier in his political career.

“The Zionist diagnosis, the post-Holocaust diagnosis, was that powerlessness invites victimization,” said Michael Berenbaum of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, a prominent Holocaust historian. “What’s intriguing here is that power has not resolved Israel’s vulnerability.”

Indeed, as the Jewish ethicist Elliot N. Dorff pointed out, contemporary Israel is vulnerable in ways that the small, scattered communities of the Diaspora were not. It has its own enemy prisoners to be demanded in a trade. The Shalit negotiations took place in a constant media spotlight, tracking not just five years of failed deal making between Israel and Hamas but the tableau of Sergeant Shalit’s parents sitting in a protest tent outside Mr. Netanyahu’s office.

For all the practical, pragmatic, geopolitical calculations that went into the final deal, it also benefited from the endorsement of a leading Sephardic rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas Party. With his approval, the Shas members in Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet voted for the deal. And, in an unspoken, little-noticed way, religious tradition informed a real-world decision.

“The whole issue of redeeming captives,” as Mr. Dorff put it, “has not been a theoretical one.”

Should a candidate’s faith matter?

Robert Jeffress offers an op-ed in which he argues that we in America need be concerned by a candidate’s faith in making a decision about voting for the individual. I tend to think differently, and I assume many others I know would agree.  We do want to be aware a person’s faith.  However, the only time an issue of faith becomes an issue is when it is of a radical nature.  A candidate coming from a fringe movement that would want to fundamentally change this country would be dangerous.  However, someone who is Mormon, while seen as outside the pale by many, is not something to be feared.  Besides, considering the challenges this country faces, this issue seems somewhat unimportant.

Hearing Mitt Romney’s surrogate Bill Bennett refer to me as a bigot and Jon Huntsman call me a “moron” last week after my controversial comments on Mormonism, amid calls for civility and tolerance in public discourse, reminds me of the exclamation: “We will not tolerate intolerance!” But beyond the personal insults, I am concerned that these men are attempting to prematurely marginalize religion as a relevant topic in elections.

Utilizing such incendiary rhetoric against those of us who dare bring up a candidate’s spiritual beliefs cuts off discussion about religion before it begins. However, polls continue to reveal that a large segment of the population does care about a candidate’s faith. Voters who embrace any faith — or no faith — should consider the following:

First, discussion of a candidate’s faith is permissible. Over the past several days, talk show hosts have lectured me about Article VI of the Constitution, which prohibits religious tests for public office, as if considering a candidate’s faith is somehow unconstitutional, un-American or even illegal. How ludicrous. This is a not-so-subtle attempt to eliminate through intimidation religion as a suitable criterion by which to choose a candidate. The Constitution is referring to religious litmus tests imposed by government, not by individuals.

Interestingly, John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court and co-author of the Federalist Papers, thought a candidate’s religious beliefs should be a primary consideration in voting. Jay wrote, “It is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” According to Jay, preferring a Christian candidate is neither bigoted nor unconstitutional.

Second, discussion of a candidate’s faith is relevant. During a time of rising unemployment, falling home prices and massive deficits, it is easy to relegate religion as an irrelevant topic. Yet our religious beliefs define the very essence of who we are. Any candidate who claims his religion has no influence on his decisions is either a dishonest politician or a shallow follower of his faith.

Those on the left and right have been disingenuous in suddenly claiming a candidate’s faith is off limits. Just a few months ago, David Gregory of “Meet the Press” asked candidate Michele Bachmann how her religious belief about submission to her husband would affect her performance if she were president. That was a fair question: If she had to choose between obeying her husband or obeying the Constitution, what would she do?

Conservatives spent most of the 2008 election calling for an investigation of Barack Obama’s religious beliefs in relationship to his membership in the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church. Did he embrace the views of his pastor? Again, a fair question because no religion I’m familiar with allows for a separation of faith from behavior. The question is not whether personal spiritual beliefs shape a politician’s values and policies, but what spiritual beliefs mold those values and policies.

Finally, discussion of a candidate’s faith is multifaceted. I believe I have been misquoted repeatedly as telling the GOP not to vote for Romney. I have never made such a statement; I realize I might very well end up voting for Romney if he is the Republican nominee. While I prefer a competent Christian over a competent non-Christian, religion is not the only consideration in choosing a candidate. Frankly, Christians have not always made good presidents. We must also consider whether a candidate is competent to lead and govern according to biblical principles.

During this firestorm I’ve reignited over the role of religion in politics, some have quoted Martin Luther as saying he would rather be governed by a competent unbeliever than an incompetent Christian. Yet evangelicals should remember that the purpose of the primary process is to keep us from having to make such a choice. At this point we have the opportunity to select both a competent leader and a committed Christian.

I predict secularists are going to be continually frustrated over the next 13 months as religion continues to be a part of the national political debate. America is filled with religious people, and to religious people, religion matters.

Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, is the author of the forthcoming book “Twilight’s Last Gleaming: How America’s Last Days Can Be Your Best Days.” His e-mail is pastor@FirstDallas.org.