Century Marks

Century Marks

Islam and revolution

It's too soon to know what will result from the uprising in Egypt, but Haroon Moghul, a former official of the Islamic Center at New York University, does not think it will be a radical Islamic regime such as emerged in Iran in 1978–79. The Iranian revolution was fueled by grievances against an autocrat who tried to establish a Western-oriented secular society, and it was conducted by people with an authoritarian interpretation of Islam. Though some observers fear that the Muslim Brotherhood will emerge as the chief political power in Egypt, Moghul argues that it doesn't have a specifically political agenda. "Egypt's revolution doesn't have to be Islamic because Islam isn't at the heart of the problem on the ground," said Moghul. Egyptian society and culture are already thoroughly Islamic. The protest is aimed at a brutal dictatorship and economic depravation (ReligionDispatches.org, January 28).

Leaving the past

Knowing the past may give perspective on the present, but it doesn't necessarily help make for peace, argues Aluf Benn, an editor at large of the Israeli daily Haaretz. As long as the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is about grievances from the past or who were the original occupants and who were the intruders, there's not much chance of achieving peace. Benn points to two examples when leaders chose to set aside the past and construct a new relationship: when Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat negotiated a peace deal between Israel and Egypt in the late 1970s and when Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signed the 1993 Oslo Accords (Foreign Policy, January/February).

Aid follows media

There are tens of thousands of humanitarian workers who roam the world responding to natural and human-made disasters. They are backed by an estimated $15 billion each year contributed by governments, foundations and individuals. Remarkably, it wasn't until after World War II that governments and nongovernmental organizations began to launch concerted relief and aid programs. Aid tends to follow media attention: CNN coverage helped an outpouring of contributions to Haiti relief after the earthquake last year. Because the flood in Pakistan didn't get as much media attention, victims there didn't get nearly the aid needed even though the flood affected millions more than the earthquake in Haiti (Christian Science Monitor, January 10).

Tales out of church

The notion that Americans are more religious than people in other developed countries may be about perception as much as reality. Philip Brenner of the University of Michigan conducted a time-use study to determine how often Americans actually go to church. The study indicates that Americans say they go to church about twice as much as they actually do. The gap wasn't nearly as big in European countries or Japan. Ironically, the gap was even larger in Canada, where religious observance isn't as socially desirable as it is in the U.S. (Institute for the Biocultural Study of Religion).

Life after death?

Once dismissed as mere hallucinations, near-death experiences (NDEs) are being taken seriously by researchers. Last year, three medical doctors published books on new NDE research in which they consider what it suggests about consciousness beyond the brain and even the possibility of afterlife. Researchers are identifying patterns that transcend differences based on age, culture and religious backgrounds. The experience of moving through a tunnel, looking down at one's own body, reuniting with predeceased loved ones and being overwhelmed with a sense of love and beauty are among the typical experiences. Some doctors say these perceptions can be traced to a distressed physical condition (RNS).