Thursday, April 10, 2008

The world’s worse religious leaders

Foreign Policy magazine identifies five clerics of various faiths who go out of their way to promote or otherwise justify violence and hatred in their different corners of the world. Of course, they face no shortage of competition.
Hassan Nasrallah

Religion: Shiite Islam

Who is he?: Secretary-General of Hezbollah

Country: Lebanon

Quote: “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak, and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice I do not say the Israeli.”

Why he matters: Nasrallah and several colleagues formed Hezbollah in the wake of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Since then, the group has become a unique entity in world politics—at once an Islamist political party, a terrorist militia, and a virtual state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah’s 2006 battle with the Israel Defense Forces only boosted its prestige. Nasrallah studied Islam at a seminary in Najaf, Iraq, as a teenager and follows the brand of Shiite Islam developed by Iran’s late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In recent years, as he has emerged as a major power broker within the Lebanese government, Nasrallah has stopped calling for an Islamic revolution and seems willing to work within the state. Nasrallah has not moderated his stance on Israel, though, and still calls for the “Zionist entity” to be wiped off the map.

Joseph Kony

Religion: Christianity/personality cult

Who is he?: Commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)

Country: Uganda

Quote: “[The spirits] speak to me. They load through me. They will tell us what is going to happen. They say ‘You, Mr. Joseph, tell your people that the enemy is planning to come and attack.’ They will come like dreaming; they will tell us everything.”

Why he matters: During two decades of civil war, Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has killed more people than al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah combined. Kony, a former altar boy, aims to overthrow the Ugandan government and establish a regime based on the Ten Commandments. In pursuit of this goal, the LRA has abducted over 20,000 children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves, often forcing them to kill their own parents. Although Kony frequently uses biblical passages to justify his actions and has his child soldiers make the sign of the cross before battle, he mixes Christianity with mysticism and claims to be advised by a “spirit council” from beyond the grave. The LRA is currently in the process of negotiating a peace deal with the Ugandan government, but Kony is reluctant to leave his hide-out while under International Criminal Court indictment.

Yogi Adityanath

Religion: Hinduism

Who is he?: Religious leader and member of parliament from Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous province

Country: India

Quote: “I want Muslim votes, too. But wash them in Gangajal [Ganges water] first.”

Why he matters: Adityanath is an up-and-comer in India’s growing Hindutva—Hindu nationalist—movement. In addition to his membership in the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), he is the founder of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a radical Hindu youth movement that has been implicated in a number of incidents of anti-Muslim violence. In early 2007 he was arrested for his role in fomenting religious riots in the northern city of Gorakhpur. Yuva Vahini activists set fire to multiple vehicles including a train and an ambulance in response to his arrest. Adityanath has been released and remains in Parliament, where he is known for such publicity-seeking antics as breaking down in tears during speeches and making statements critical of Mahatma Gandhi. Adityanath’s extreme views put him at odds with even the BJP, and he is now looking into starting his own party with a strictly Hindutva agenda.

Athuraliye Rathana

Religion: Theravada Buddhism

Who is he?: Monk and member of parliament

Country: Sri Lanka

Quote: “Peace negotiations simply made the LTTE [Tamil Tigers] stronger. We mustn’t talk to them; we can crush the LTTE. It is like surgery.”

Why he matters: Most people didn’t take the Chinese government too seriously when it accused the Dalai Lama of inciting violence in Tibet, but it’s actually not unheard of for Buddhist monks to forgo their traditional pacifism. Sri Lanka’s Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) party is comprised entirely of Buddhist monks from the dominant Sinhalese ethnic group, and its seven members of parliament advocate a militant, ethnonationalist agenda. The party’s leader, Athuraliye Rathana, has been nicknamed the “war monk” for his staunch advocacy of military force against the Tamil Tiger rebels who have fought a 25-year insurgency against the state. (For what it’s worth, the Tigers exhibit some cultlike characteristics as well.) Athuraliye has worked to scuttle a Norwegian-brokered peace settlement, saying that the Tamils should be crushed militarily and that Sri Lanka has always been a Sinhalese kingdom. The JHU has also sponsored legislation in the Parliament that would ban Sri Lankan Buddhists from converting to Christianity.

Dov Lior

Religion: Hasidic Judaism

Who is he?: Head rabbi of Kiryat Arba settlement

Country: Israel

Quote: “A thousand non-Jewish lives are not worth a Jew’s fingernail.”

Why he matters: Lior is the chief rabbi for Kiryat-Arba, a Jewish settlement near the turbulent West Bank town of Hebron, and leads the council of rabbis for the West Bank settlements. He has stated repeatedly that the killing of Palestinian civilians is compatible with Jewish law and that the commandment “thou shalt not kill”applies only to Jews. Rabbi Lior gave a eulogy at the funeral of Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish doctor who gunned down 29 Muslim worshippers at Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994. Lior has also issued a religious ruling forbidding Jews from employing Arabs or renting them property.

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