The Washington Times

Is the (refreshingly) modest Aladdin movie a marketing tool for the Muslim world?

Is the  (refreshingly) modest Aladdin movie a marketing tool for the Muslim world?

I took my daughter to see the new “Aladdin” film on Wednesday. I know it’s been panned by some reviewers, but we enjoyed it.

The costumes were gorgeous but hard to place. They were an Indo-Persian mix with actresses in sari-like bodices and petticoats but also wearing head scarves that drape but don’t conceal their hair.

Turns out there may be a religion story in all that costuming but if so, reporters missed it. Folks did notice that the female heroine Jasmine was more covered up than in previous incarnations.

USA Today suggested that was no accident.

Jasmine's signature outfit from the animated "Aladdin" is iconic. You know the look: low-riding turquoise harem pants paired with a tiny off-the-shoulder top that leaves the princess' belly button out in the open.

That is not an outfit that exists in the new world of Disney's live-action "Aladdin."

"The (animated) movie was done in 1992. We wanted to modernize the movie, and some things are inappropriate these days for families," says "Aladdin" producer Dan Lin.

So there was a rule on the "Aladdin" set to make sure the movie achieved that goal: "No midriff," Lin says.

And … why? Since when has Hollywood embraced modesty? Oh, yes, when money is involved. And since the movie has that Middle Eastern setting and might appeal to audiences in that neck of the world, we can’t have anything too racy, can we?

I’m only guessing, but this is a good time to ask if Hollywood has actually gotten serious about marketing realities in the Muslim world.

Fans of elaborate costume design will likely support the filmmakers' decision to keep the famous princess more covered up. Instead of wearing monochrome bra tops and baggy pants, Jasmine is dripping in sumptuous gowns with gold detailing, elaborate trains and vibrant jewels that highlight her regality over her sexuality.

Again, huh. I’ve just finished watching the final episodes of “Game of Thrones” and “regality over sexuality” was not emphasized there. Hollywood doesn’t embrace restraint unless forced to.

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Finally: A decent mainstream news article about the Southern Poverty Law Center

Finally: A decent mainstream news article about the Southern Poverty Law Center

Well. Finally someone wrote a realistic, balanced piece about the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Washington Post Magazine staff writer David Montgomery put together a (roughly) 6,700-word piece that asks whether the SPLC is what it pretends to be — the ultimate (and accurate) judges of hate in America.

It gave ample voice to several of the SPLC’s most prominent critics, including one mainstream evangelical Christian organization that narrowly missed being in a bloodbath because of being labeled a hate organization.

See that speck there?” retired Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin says, directing my gaze to the ceiling of the Family Research Council’s lobby in Washington. I spy a belly-button-size opening in the plaster. “That’s a bullet hole.” … Fired on August 15th, 2012, by Floyd Lee Corkins.” …

Asked by an FBI agent how he came to single out the FRC, Corkins replied: “Southern Poverty Law lists anti-gay groups.” The gunman, who was found to be mentally ill, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

“He came in here to kill as many of us as possible because he found us listed as a hate group on the Southern Poverty Law Center website,” continues Boykin, FRC’s executive vice president, who is dressed today in a leather vest over a shirt and tie. “We and others like us who are on this ‘hate map’ believe that this is very reckless behavior. … The only thing that we have in common is that we are all conservative organizations. … You know, it would be okay if they just criticized us. … If they wrote op-eds about us and all that. But listing us as a hate group is just a step too far because they put us in the same category as the Ku Klux Klan. And who are they to have a hate-group list anyhow?”

The piece then switches venues to Montgomery, Ala., headquarters of the SPLC, which began in 1971 as a legal aid group, then expanded in the 1980s to monitor Klan groups.

Then the SPLC began widening its definition of hate and extremism.

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And journalists yawned: Trump hosts state-like White House dinner for 100 evangelical leaders

And journalists yawned: Trump hosts state-like White House dinner for 100 evangelical leaders

President Donald Trump hosted a "huge state-like dinner" — as the Christian Broadcasting Network described it — for 100 evangelical leaders invited to the White House on Monday night.

What, you didn't hear about it?

Apparently, the event was not considered particularly newsworthy by major news organizations — which is surprising to me given how often Trump's evangelical supporters make it into headlines. (Hey, did you know that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for the brash billionaire?)

Is what the president of the United States says to some of his strongest and most influential supporters not worthy of prominent ink? 

When I looked this morning, I saw mainly stories from conservative media, from Breitbart to the Washington Times.

The Washington Times characterized the dinner this way:

President Trump hosted a dinner of Evangelical leaders at the White House Monday night and told them that he has delivered “just about everything I promised” on policies of religious liberty and defense of life.

“The support you’ve given me has been incredible,” Mr. Trump told the group. “But I really don’t feel guilty because I have given you a lot back, just about everything I promised.”

Among those attending the event were the Rev. Franklin Graham, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Pastor Paula White, a prominent spiritual adviser to the president.

Mr. Trump said under his administration, “the attacks on the communities of faith are over.” He cited actions to defend the religious conscience of health-care workers, teachers, students and religious employers; executive branch guidance on protecting religious liberty, and proposed regulations to bar taxpayer money from subsidizing abortion.

“Unlike some before us, we are protecting your religious liberty,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re standing for religious believers, because we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life. And we know that freedom is a gift from our Creator.”

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God, guns and grace: Sun Myung Moon's sons put their spin on dad's religion

God, guns and grace: Sun Myung Moon's sons put their spin on dad's religion

One of the benefits of working at the Washington Times –- as I did for more than 14 years -– was watching the soap opera that was the family of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, which through its subsidiaries owned the Times.

Not that I ever got to see much of Moon's 14 children. But I sure heard about them, especially when their infighting led to massive budget cuts at the Times in 2009.

One of the older daughters and several of the sons all had similar Korean names (which were anglicized to Preston, Sean, Justin and Tatiana), but it was clear they all had designs on their father’s vast empire.

It was also clear they were going to reinvent the theology that undergirded the Unification movement and create their own religion. What sort of religion that may be comes out in a recent Washington Post Magazine piece on a church pastored by one of the younger sons; a church that encourages members to bring automatic rifles to church services. (By the way, I've also written for the same magazine rather recently). 

Sanctuary Church — whose proper name is World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, but which also goes by the more muscular-sounding Rod of Iron Ministries — stands inconspicuously on a country road that winds through the village of Newfoundland, Pa., 25 miles southeast of Scranton. The one-story, low-slung building used to be St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. Before that, it was a community theater, which is why there are no pews, only a semicircle of tiered seats facing the old stage, now an altar.

On a Sunday morning in late February, 38-year-old Pastor Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, entered stage right wearing a white hoodie and cargo pants…One tenet of the Sanctuary Church is that all people are independent kings and queens in God’s Kingdom — a kind of don’t-tread-on-me notion of personal sovereignty. Hence, symbolic gold and silver crowns bobbed on row after row of heads.

Anyone who’s watched any Unification Church ceremonies knows these folks seem to have a fixation with robes and crowns. Sean Moon wears a literal crown of golden rifle shells. Photos show a congregation in white robes and scarves with guns cradled in their arms. 

A key pillar of Sanctuary dogma is the importance of owning a gun, particularly the lethal, lightweight AR-15 semiautomatic, which the National Rifle Association has proclaimed “the most popular rifle in America.” Last fall, Pastor Sean had studied the Book of Revelation. It makes multiple references to how Christ one day will rule his earthly kingdom “with a rod of iron.” Although Revelation was written long before the advent of firearms, Pastor Sean concluded that “rod of iron” was Bible-speak for the AR-15 and that Christ, not being a “tyrant,” will need armed sovereigns to help him keep the peace in his kingdom.

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What drives hard choices made by ex-Muslims? BBC coverage stays on the surface

What drives hard choices made by ex-Muslims? BBC coverage stays on the surface

Years ago, I did a lengthy news piece on Muslims who leave Islam for other religions. Most of the ones I met turned to Christianity but there was a respectable amount who believed in nothing at all.

Most of these sources were afraid for their lives, so I had to stage cloak-and-dagger encounters in places where no one would spot us talking.

Shariah law decrees that leaving Islam is a punishment worth of death and that it’s incumbent on the observant Muslims to carry this out. There are, of course, different forms and interpretations of Shariah law, but the pattern is harsh punishments and death threats for ex-Muslims.

So it’s amazing that BBC found enough people to go on the record about their lives as ex-Muslims in the United States. Granted, the venue was a tour of several college campuses, but it is tough under any circumstances to get anyone in this movement to let their names be used on the record. BBC reported:

Muslims who leave the faith often face abuse and violence - but a grassroots group that's touring American colleges is trying to help.
Ten years ago, Muhammad Syed became an ex-Muslim. Born in the US, he grew up in Pakistan believing "100 per cent" in Islam. 
"You don't encounter doubt," he says. "Everyone around you believes it."
And then, in 2007, he realised something. He didn't believe at all.

The piece details more of Muhammad’s spiritual journey and then:

Muhammad calls his family "relatively liberal". "Mom in particular was very open-minded," he says. So he decided to tell them he was an ex-Muslim. Not immediately, but "within a few weeks, certainly a month or two".
And what did they say? "They were obviously traumatised and shocked," he says.

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Embattled evangelical judge in Oregon gets mixed coverage -- with little religious content

Embattled evangelical judge in Oregon gets mixed coverage -- with little religious content

Not many readers may have heard about Marion County (Ore.) Judge Vance Day and his chapter on America's current religious liberty wars -- but you may soon.

Reading a piece about him in Williamette Week, a venerable alternate newspaper based in Portland, the first thing I noticed was a piece of art showing the judge hiding behind a statue of Jesus.

I thought: A religion story for sure.

Instead, the piece complained about how the judge was using all sorts of out-of-state funds for his legal war chest. For instance:

Day has achieved a lot of firsts. He's the first judge that Oregon's judicial fitness commission has recommended for removal from the bench in more than 35 years. He is the first judge ever to use Oregon's decade-old law allowing embattled public officials to establish legal trust funds. And Day has raised far more with his fund -- at least a half-million dollars -- than other elected officials who have established such funds.
Although Day's ethical and legal troubles have been well-documented over the past two years, the details of how he's used his defense fund to harness a political movement have not previously been reported.
Day has turned his proposed expulsion from the bench into a cash cow -- using his fund to hire big-name lawyers, rake in money from an enigmatic conservative foundation, and cozy up to permanently outraged right-wing culture warriors.

Hmmm. Reading further, I learned that it’s legal to have such a trust fund. Meanwhile, one thing Day has refused to do is same-sex marriages. In blue-state Oregon, that’s blasphemy.

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Why is the Bladensburg Peace Cross case important? The New York Times spells it out

Why is the Bladensburg Peace Cross case important? The New York Times spells it out

When I lived in Maryland and commuted a few miles to my Washington Times job, I often drove by a huge World War I memorial known as the “Peace Cross.” Every so often I thought: I wonder if someone is going to file a lawsuit against the monument, claiming to be offended by it.

It’s true that the Supreme Court has said there’s no legal basis in removing a monument simply because one person is offended by it -- but these are strange times. Look at what the new iconoclasm is doing to some Civil War monuments and could do to others.

In fact, one legal group posted a blog item suggesting that if the Ten Commandments offend you, don’t visit Washington, DC. And yes, there is now an effort to remove the peace cross.

Here is the top of the New York Times report on this controversy. The key: Try to find information stating why someone -- right now -- is offended by this old monument.

BLADENSBURG, Md. -- Five miles from the United States Supreme Court, a 40-foot-tall World War I memorial in the shape of a cross has stood for nearly a century. Now, it is at the center of a battle over the separation of church and state that may end up on the court’s docket.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit declared this month that the Peace Cross, which sits on state-owned land in Maryland and has been maintained with public funds, was unconstitutional, a ruling that supporters of the monument warned could result in a “cleansing” of memorials on public grounds across the country…
The Peace Cross, which commemorates 49 fallen soldiers from Prince George’s County, looms over the knotted intersection of Maryland Route 450 and United States Alternate Route 1 in this old port town of 10,000 people. ... The monument was erected in 1925 with funding from local families and the American Legion, but the state obtained title to the cross and land in 1961, and has spent at least $117,000 to maintain them.
In a 2-to-1 ruling, the three-judge panel declared that the Peace Cross violated the First Amendment by having “a primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government and religion.”

Reading that, I wondered if these circuit judges had ever driven past that cross every day to work. It’s in a roundabout more noted for honking horns than holiness.

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Are conservative news media downplaying the brutal crackdown against Egyptian gays?

Are conservative news media downplaying the brutal crackdown against Egyptian gays?

Depending upon your point of view — and in their purist iterations — demands for equal rights for gay people are either about justly extending social and legal parity, or a moral struggle to uphold traditional religious doctrine and cultural ideas about sexuality and gender.

Either way, homosexuality is one of the three biggest culture war issues dividing Americans, along with questions about abortion and the legal parameters of religious freedom.

It's also a prime issue internationally. Globalization has fostered the spread of contemporary Western liberal values. That, in turn, has prompted push back in some non-Western nations enmeshed in the global market’s whirlwind of change.

Some of the more recent stories referencing the issue have come out of Egypt, where homosexuality, while not explicitly outlawed, is harshly condemned by the majority Muslim and minority Coptic Christian religious establishments.

Every so often Egypt’s authoritarian government, led by President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, appears to use the issue as a political cudgel to bolster support among Muslim and Christian traditionalists, who together comprise the vast majority of the nation’s population.

Click here for a recent Washington Post piece summing up the situation.

The story begins thusly:

CAIRO -- A crackdown on gay people in Egypt intensified in recent days as security forces raided cafes in downtown Cairo and courts delivered harsh prison sentences, further driving the nation’s LGBT community underground.

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Mirror image time: Zero news about Catholic nominee for federal court being grilled on her faith?

Mirror image time: Zero news about Catholic nominee for federal court being grilled on her faith?

So, did you read all the stories about the liberal Episcopalian who was nominated to a federal appeals court seat, only to be grilled about her religious beliefs -- with subtle references to her same-sex marriage -- by evangelical Protestants, Mormons and Catholics in a U.S. Senate hearing?

I mean, one senator called her a Communist because of her decision to speak at a meeting of the American Civil Liberties Union. One conservative Anglican on the committee questioned whether her vocal support for her church's doctrine should block her appointment to a federal court. Another conservative Anglican asked her point blank: "Are you a liberal Episcopalian?”

Wait, you didn't see coverage of that story by journalists at major newspapers and cable networks?

Right, I made that up. But can you imagine the mainstream press failing to spotlight a story in which fundamentalist yahoos did something like that to a liberal religious believer?

Me either. So did I miss something when we had that story in reverse? I searched all over for mainstream coverage of this real story, including at the newspaper of record. Scan this simple Google News search and tell me if I blinked and missed something important.

Now let's turn to alternative, "conservative" media outlets and look at this real story -- only reversed in a journalistic mirror. In the real world, we have a pro-Catechism Catholic nominee, a Notre Dame University law professor and mother of seven, facing a liberal Catholic senator. The consistently #NeverTrump National Review reported:

... [D]uring a confirmation hearing for 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein attacked the nominee for her Roman Catholic faith.
Barrett is a law professor at the University of Notre Dame who has written about the role of religion in public life and delivered academic lectures to Christian legal groups. ...
“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said.

At another point in this drama:

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