EU must open doors to avoid Syrian refugee catastrophe, says UN

The Guardian reports: The crisis posed by millions of refugees from Syria’s civil war flooding into neighbouring countries is becoming a humanitarian and political catastrophe that can only be eased if Europe opens its doors, the UN and European commission have warned.

More than 2.1 million refugees have been registered by the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) in Syria’s four neighbouring states; hundreds of thousands more are known to be living outside Syria’s borders without access to aid.

The scale of the crisis is perhaps the most acute since the end of the second world war. David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), described the ever-deteriorating situation in Syria as “the defining humanitarian crisis of our time”.

The UNHCR, European commission and British Refugee Council have urged EU leaders to acknowledge the exceptional crisis posed by the Syrian civil war and accept the temporary settlement of Syrian refugees inside their borders – relaxing “fortress” policies designed to keep migrants out of Europe.

The UN has issued an urgent call to resettle 30,000 of the most vulnerable Syrians worldwide – a call that remains unmet as the exodus from Syria into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq fast outpaces the capacity to provide for them. The UK government has refused to take part in the resettlement scheme, calling the idea tokenistic and stressing the importance of the £500m of aid it has sent to the region. [Continue reading...]

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Why non-believers need rituals too

Suzanne Moore writes: The last time I put my own atheism through the spin cycle rather than simply wiping it clean was when I wanted to make a ceremony after the birth of my third child. Would it be a blessing? From who? What does the common notion of a new baby as a gift mean? How would we make it meaningful to the people we invited who were from different faiths? And, importantly, what would it look like?

One of the problems I have with the New Atheism is that it fixates on ethics, ignoring aesthetics at its peril. It tends also towards atomisation, relying on abstracts such as “civic law” to conjure a collective experience. But I love ritual, because it is through ritual that we remake and strengthen our social bonds. As I write, down the road there is a memorial being held for Lou Reed, hosted by the local Unitarian church. Most people there will have no belief in God but will feel glad to be part of a shared appreciation of a man whose god was rock’n'roll.

When it came to making a ceremony, I really did not want the austerity of some humanist events I have attended, where I feel the sensual world is rejected. This is what I mean about aesthetics. Do we cede them to the religious and just look like a bunch of Calvinists? I found myself turning to flowers, flames and incense. Is there anything more beautiful than the offerings made all over the world, of tiny flames and blossom on leaves floating on water?

Already, I am revealing a kind of neo-paganism that hardcore rationalist will find unacceptable. But they find most human things unacceptable. For me, not believing in God does not mean one has to forgo poetry, magic, the chaos of ritual, the remaking of shared bonds. I fear ultra-orthodox atheism has come to resemble a rigid and patriarchal faith itself. [Continue reading...]

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How can a better understanding of sacred values help us resolve intergroup conflicts?

Scott Atran writes: Humans define the groups to which they belong in abstract terms. Often they strive for lasting intellectual and emotional bonding with anonymous others, and make their greatest exertions in killing and dying not to preserve their own lives or to defend their families and friends, but for the sake of an idea—the transcendent moral conception they form of themselves, of “who we are.” This is the “the privilege of absurdity; to which no living creature is subject, but man only’” of which Hobbes wrote in Leviathan. In The Descent of Man, Darwin cast it as the virtue of “morality … the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy” with which winning groups are better endowed in history’s spiraling competition for survival and dominance. Across cultures, primary group identity is bounded by sacred values, often in the form of religious beliefs or transcendental ideologies, which lead some groups to triumph over others because of non-rational commitment from at least some of its members to actions that drive success independent, or all out of proportion, from expected rational outcomes.

For Darwin himself, moral virtue was most clearly associated not with intuitions, beliefs, and behaviors about fairness and reciprocity, emotionally supported by empathy and consolation—which constitute nearly the entire subject matter of recent work in the philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience of morality—but with a propensity to what we nowadays call “parochial altruism”: especially extreme self-sacrifice in war and other intense forms of human conflict, where likely prospects for individual and even group survival had very low initial probability. Heroism, martyrdom, and other forms of self-sacrifice for the group appear to go beyond the mutualistic principles of fairness and reciprocity.

Whether for cooperation or conflict, sacred values, like devotion to God or a collective cause, signal group identity and operate as moral imperatives that inspire non-rational exertions independent of likely outcomes. In interviews, experiments, and surveys with Palestinians, Israelis, Indonesians, Indians, Afghans, and Iranians, my research with psychologists Jeremy Ginges and Douglas Medin finds that offering people material incentives (large amounts of money, guarantees for a life free of political violence) to compromise sacred values can backfire, increasing stated willingness to use violence toward compromise. This research, supported by the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation, shows that backfire effects occur both for sacred values with clear religious investment (Jerusalem, Shariah law) and those with initially none (Iran’s right to nuclear capability, Palestinian refugees’ right of return). [Continue reading...]

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“I am both Muslim and Christian”

“I am both Muslim and Christian”

Shortly after noon on Fridays, the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding ties on a black headscarf, preparing to pray with her Muslim group on First Hill.

On Sunday mornings, Redding puts on the white collar of an Episcopal priest.

She does both, she says, because she’s Christian and Muslim.

Redding, who until recently was director of faith formation at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, has been a priest for more than 20 years. Now she’s ready to tell people that, for the last 15 months, she’s also been a Muslim — drawn to the faith after an introduction to Islamic prayers left her profoundly moved. [continued...]

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