Dec 29, 2015

Esoteric “Messiah” figure inherits bulk of woman’s million-dollar estate

December 29, 2015


Founder of the Australian-based esoteric healing group Universal Medicine, Serge Benhayon, will inherit the bulk of a female devotee’s million-dollar estate after her adult children failed in a challenge to her will. Judith McIntyre died in June 2014 at 66 from breast cancer. A month before she died, she made a will leaving AU$250,000 ($181,590) each to her daughter Sarah, 34, and son Seth, 41, with the remainder of her AU$1.1 million estate bequeathed to Benhayon. She also gave him AU$800,000 three days after executing her will, to create a teaching hall on a rural property he owns.

Sarah and Seth told the New South Wales Supreme Court they each needed AU$550,000, as they were on low incomes, wished to buy homes in Sydney and each had dependents. During a December hearing, the court heard that Judith had a long history of devotion to various gurus and that her children had understood her intention to leave money to Benhayon, and had promised not to challenge her will. However, they had not understood how much her estate was worth.

Justice James Stevenson said he had watched a video Judith made two months before she died. “No one watching that video could fail to see the state of peace and serenity with which the deceased faced her passing,” he said in a judgment handed down on Christmas Eve. “The evidence points strongly to the conclusion that the deceased attributed that state of being to the teachings of Mr Benhayon.”

Sarah described the judgment as “devastating.”

Universal Medicine reportedly offers a range of unconventional treatments including “esoteric breast massage,” “ovarian readings” and “chakra puncture,” based on the occult teachings of early 20th-century theosophist Alice A. Bailey. Adherents claim that esoteric breast massage — administered, the group says, by women — can heal a range of maladies, including breast cancer, but the practice has been roundly dismissed by the medical community. Benhayon is called the “new Messiah” by his students.

Dec 24, 2015

Feds: Polygamous Group's Kids Worked Regularly on Pecan Farm

ABC News

December 24, 2015

A Utah contracting company frequently used kids from a polygamous group as unpaid workers on a pecan farm during school hours, according to federal labor lawyers pushing back against the company's contention that the hours were legal because the kids were home-schooled.

The U.S. Labor Department attorneys argue in new court documents that children worked long days harvesting nuts for years, and also did pruning, trimming and watering of the trees and cleaning of the fields.

"Instead of going to school, hundreds - if not over one thousand - of children were performing the duties related to Paragon's contract," federal labor lawyers say in court documents. "Some children were taken out of school to perform these duties on a year-round basis to prepare the ranch for the harvest. Other children were taken out of school for weeks at a time to perform these duties during the actual harvest."

The agency wants a judge to order Paragon Contractors to pay back wages and stop the practices described by alleged former child workers and captured by news cameras during a harvest in 2012. A hearing in the case is set for Jan. 25.

Paragon denies doing anything wrong. They say that the harvest manager invited families from the group led by Warren Jeffs to gather nuts left on the ground after the mechanized harvest was done and keep half of what they gathered for their own use.

They have said the work wasn't forced, and the women and children were not employees.

Farm work is generally exempt from child labor laws in Utah as long as it's done outside of school hours, and Paragon says the 2012 pecan harvest can't be considered a school day because children in the group are homeschooled and minors who worked on the farm were with their parents.

Federal attorneys disagree. In court documents filed Tuesday, they say that under the law, it doesn't matter whether the children were taught at home, they still shouldn't have been working during public school hours.

A lawyer for Paragon didn't immediately return messages Thursday seeking additional comment.

Pointing to sworn statements from adults who say they worked on the farm when they were children, the government says children as young as 6 years old worked on the ranch for long hours, got sick from crawling over the damp ground and were sent to work with the nuts even if were allergic

Federal lawyers say the company violated a 2007 order involving underage labor and should be held in contempt for failing to pay 1,400 workers — including 175 children— who worked at the direction of church leaders who told parents to take days off from homeschooling during the 2012 harvest.

Paragon and several members of the polygamous group have already been fined a total of $1.9 million after a labor investigation found that sect leaders directed the harvest that took place in Hurricane, about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Authorities say those leaders are loyal to Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life prison sentence in Texas after being convicted in 2011 of sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides. Members of his sect, a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.

Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, the mainstream church and its 15 million members worldwide abandoned the practice more than a century ago.

Dec 23, 2015

Psychic 'scammed more than $200,000 from 22-year-old heiress to Lacoste fashion empire after claiming she needed the money to buy gold coins for occult rituals'

  • Becky Ann Lee, 32, charged with felony theft in a scam against Victoria Lacoste 
  • Lacoste, a college sophomore majoring in theater, allegedly paid Lee more than $200,000 over the past year for her services as a spiritual adviser 
  • Lee was supposed to use the money to buy gold coins to be used in rituals, but police say the psychic pawned off the coins
  • Lee allegedly warned Lacoste that 'evil spirits' would overcome her if she stopped working with her on 'Chakra balancing' 
Associated Press and
December 23, 2015 

A Colorado psychic is accused of swindling more than $200,000 out of a member of the French family that founded the high-end Lacoste clothing company.

Becky Ann Lee, 32, has been charged with felony theft in a scam against Victoria Lacoste, a student at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

According to police, Ms Lacoste, 22, started seeing Lee for Tarot card readings last year and eventually gave the would-be soothsayer more than $200,000, much of which Lee spent buying gold coins. She is the owner of the Psychic Chakra Spa in Boulder.

Lee didn't respond when asked for comment last week at a court hearing, where she was charged and later released on bond. She is due back in court in February.

According to an arrest warrant obtained by Daily Times-Call, at some point during the past year, Lacoste, a sophomore majoring in theater, had hired Lee as her 'spiritual adviser’ to work on her Chakra balancing.'

The 32-year-old medium allegedly told Lacoste she needed to buy gold coins to be used in her occult rituals. Instead, according to documents, Lee sold the coins to pawn shops and kept the proceeds for herself.

The Boulder-based clairvoyant also convinced the college student to buy her gift cards, which she used to purchase various items and then returned them for cash.

The affidavit states that Lee warned Lacoste that should she stop working with her, 'evil spirits' would overcome her.

The suspected charlatan allegedly pressured Lacoste to lie to her parents about why she kept asking for money, and when police contacted the young heiress in August asking about Lee, the woman urged her to keep mum, lest she gets her in trouble.

The following month, the affidavit alleges, Lee made Lacoste sign a contract outlining her services as a life coach. The document allegedly stated that Lee and Lacoste would together decide what to do with the gold coins.

Authorities suspect that there might be more victims out there. Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett urged people who may have been conned by Lee to come forward.

Lee' past criminal record includes convictions for DUI, assault and reckless endangerment, reported the Times-Call. In addition, the 32-year-old seer also has a warrant out of for her arrest on forgery charges in Arizona.

Ms Lacoste is a scion of the eponymous fashion house, which was founded in 1933 in Troyes, France, by legendary tennis player Rene Lacoste and Andre Gillier, the owner of France's largest knitwear manufacturing outfit at the time.

The company specializes in casual, high-end clothing, particularly tennis shirts, as well as leather goods, shoes, and perfumes.

All of the products sold under the Lacoste brand feature the company’s iconic 'green crocodile' logo.

Dec 22, 2015

In Israel, former ultra-Orthodox Jews demand basic education

December 22, 2015

BEERSHEBA, Israel (AP) — When Avihay Marciano completed his schooling, he didn't know how to use a computer or speak English and had only elementary math skills. Now, Marciano and 50 others who left the insular ultra-Orthodox community are suing the state, claiming they were denied a basic education and left lagging far behind secular Israelis.

The case has shined a light on Israel's separate education system for the ultra-Orthodox, which experts say is keeping a sizeable chunk of Israelis from integrating into the workforce and is a ticking time bomb for the country's long-term economic health.

"The state has abandoned us," said Marciano, 26. "I sat for years in a yeshiva, I studied day and night, and at the end of the day I left empty-handed."

Israel's cloistered but politically powerful ultra-Orthodox community has for decades maintained a separate education system, where boys and girls study holy texts and secular studies take a distant back seat. Boys study secular subjects less than their non-Orthodox peers and only through seventh grade. Girls spend more time on secular studies, but aren't taught skills needed for work.

The government, historically dependent on ultra-Orthodox kingmakers to form government coalitions, allowed the community to establish the separate, state-funded school system. It also gives generous welfare payments to thousands of ultra-Orthodox men who shun work, spending their days instead immersed in religious study.

Steep unemployment, believed to hover around 50 percent, coupled with a high birthrate has fueled deep poverty among the ultra-Orthodox as well as bitterness among the secular Jewish majority. With families of eight to 10 children commonplace, more than a quarter of all Israeli first graders today are ultra-Orthodox.

They make up about 10 percent of Israel's 8 million citizens and are among the country's fastest-growing populations. Their numbers are expected to swell to more than a quarter of the population by 2059, according to the Shoresh Institution, a think tank.

The lawsuit includes 53 plaintiffs, all educated under the ultra-Orthodox system but who have since become secular and don't have the skills to earn a university degree or find a decent paying job. In the secular world, these young adults are often shunned by their parents and are forced to fend for themselves financially while studying.

They are demanding that the state compensate them for their struggle to catch up to other Israelis. They also want the state to create and fund a program for Israelis who leave the Orthodox world, estimated to number between hundreds and tens of thousands, allowing them to fill in their educational gap. Such a program currently exists for ultra-Orthodox men and women who have remained in the community but want to beef up their educational credentials.

Marciano said he spent more than two years trying to brush up on his studies, one working full-time so he could finance his education and the other studying physics and math. At 26, Marciano is finally pursuing a university degree in computer science and communications.

Yossi Klar, a spokesman for Out for Change, the group leading the lawsuit, said the state shirked its responsibility to provide a basic education to all.

"If they want to go study and make a living, without math and English and basic subjects, it's very difficult. And the state is aware of this and chooses to ignore it because of political pressure," said the 23-year-old Klar, who is now completing courses so he can attend university.

The ultra-Orthodox fiercely oppose attempts at reform. A law passed by the previous government to speed up ultra-Orthodox enlistment into Israel's military, from which many were exempt from compulsory service, is slowly being undone by the current government, which is propped up by two ultra-Orthodox parties. Greater participation in the military is seen by many as a way to fast track the ultra-Orthodox into the workforce.

Experts have long warned that a separate education system and the absence of the ultra-Orthodox in the workforce threaten Israel's long-term economic prospects.

"If we'll leave the situation as it is, when these people are not being educated, they are not contributing enough to Israeli security and to Israeli society, and to Israeli economy, we are facing quite a problem in the near future," said Yedidia Stern, an expert on religion and state at the Israel Democracy Institute think tank. He called the plight of the former ultra-Orthodox a "tragedy," saying they are forced to start their lives "not from zero but from minus."

Ultra-Orthodox leaders say any changes to the inward-looking education system would threaten a centuries-old way of life and disrupt a tradition that has served as the very bedrock of Judaism for thousands of years. Ultra-Orthodox legislators declined to comment.

Shmuel Poppenheim, an ultra-Orthodox activist, said the case could force the community to ask itself tough questions about the way it educates its children.

"We are saying that we are teaching values, a conservative way of life, tools that will bring a person to the heights of traditional Jewish morals and values. And all of a sudden there is a public, a large community of people that is saying that the values we are talking about don't help them," he said. "It's a dilemma."

The Education Ministry was expected to file a response to the lawsuit in the coming weeks, likely sending it to court.

Klar said he expects the lawsuit will face vehement opposition from ultra-Orthodox leaders. But he said helping ultra-Orthodox youth study secular subjects can only benefit Israeli society.

"If it will teach English and basic studies to people who are interested to go out into the workforce, they could go out and earn a living respectably and become productive citizens," said Klar. "Give people the tools they need so they won't be poor."

Head of extremist Jewish group calls Christians ‘blood-sucking vampires’

By Times of Israel staff
December 22, 2015

A religious rights organization on Monday called on the police to investigate the head of an extremist anti-assimilation group after he published an op-ed branding Christians "blood-sucking vampires" and calling for them to be expelled from the country.

Bentzi Gopstein, leader of the Lehava organization, penned an article published on the ultra-Orthodox Kooker website last week decrying the "lack of spiritual security" he's felt in Jerusalem of late because of "our deadly centuries-old enemy — the Christian church."

Last month, a dozen Lehava protesters headed by Gopstein demonstrated outside a Christmas event at Jerusalem's YMCA, decrying what they termed the "murder" of Jewish souls.

Shouting, "You murdered us in exile," and condemning European blood libels and historical persecution of the Jews, the small group waved Israeli flags and sang Hanukkah songs outside the venue, with some signs urging all the "impure" Christians to leave the Holy Land.

In his Kooker article published December 17 in Hebrew, Gopstein called the establishment of the State of Israel in the mid-20th century "the most ringing slap in the face the church ever received" after centuries of failed attempts to eliminate the Jews. Since violent methods failed, he writes in his diatribe, "it was decided to invest billions of dollars over the years in order to gain a foothold in the Holy Land and disseminate spiritual poison" through missionary work.

"The Christian is no longer considered a threatening vampire, rather a pleasant, friendly tourist and partner in the Western culture that dominates our lives," he said, blaming the Israeli education system for not instilling enough Jewish education in students. "The vampires can send a message of thanks to the government of Israel for making their work much easier."

He called on all willing Jews to raise a cry "and fight the devious phenomenon," referring to Christianity as "that accursed religion."

"Christmas has no place in the Holy Land," he concluded. "Missionary work must not be given a foothold. Let's throw the vampires out of our land before they drink our blood again."

Approximately 160,000 Israeli citizens, or 2 percent of the population, is Christian, and a considerable number of Israel's foreign tourists are adherents to the faith as well.

In response to Gopstein's remarks, the Israel Religious Action Center called on Israeli legal authorities to launch a criminal investigation into what it deemed to be the Lehava leader's incitement to violence against another religious group.

"Bentzi Gopstein is capable of doing anything in order to incite against anyone not like him — Arab Muslims, Christians and others, while using blunt language and calling to violence," Orly Erez-Likhovski said in a statement posted on the group's Facebook page.

"Unfortunately, against this blatant incitement, accompanied by unruly violence, there's deafening silence by law enforcement," she said, calling on Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to put Lehava leaders and others who incite to violence in the dock.

Lehava was established as an organization aiming to prevent marriage between Jews and Arabs, which is prohibited according to religious Jewish law. The group has become identified with the extreme Jewish right and its members have been seen patrolling downtown Jerusalem on some evenings, looking, they claim, for mixed couples.

Their vigilante patrols have often degenerated into scuffles, and there were several instances over the past year where members of the organization have beaten Arabs. Most of the organization's members are teens.

Some Israeli politicians have been calling on the government to outlaw the group, whose members have been implicated in several hate crimes.

Dec 21, 2015

Teen Mania is Officially Dead

DECEMBER 21, 2015

It was only a matter of time and that time has finally come. Besieged by at least three different lawsuits, an arrest warrant in Colorado and hundreds of refund requests after cancelling Acquire the Fire Events, Teen Mania can no longer operate. These are the results of Ron Luce’s absolutely epic financial mismanagement.

From the World article:

In a statement posted on Acquire the Fire’s website, Luce said the organization will file bankruptcy to liquidate remaining ministry assets “in an attempt to
satisfy vendors.” Luce told Christianity Today he’s doing everything he can to “make it right with youth groups and churches.”

Calvin Edwards, founder of an Atlanta-based consulting
firm that has evaluated hundreds of nonprofits—including Teen Mania—in
more than 50 countries, told me most people should not expect to receive

“Obligations to creditors (accounts payable, debt,
LOC, etc.) and to donors (funds given but not spent as designated) both
create liability and risk, but there is virtually nothing a disgruntled
party can do,” Edwards told me via email. “Once the assets are gone,
there is no recourse.”

Edwards’ company led a comprehensive audit of Teen Mania in 2011 and made 32 recommendations, but “it was met with strong opposition from Ron Luce, who sought to maintain the status quo.”

“[There is] really no excuse for the mess,” Edwards said.

Unsurprisingly,  it appears that Ron is already planning his next venture and has filed paperwork for the name “Generation Next.” In a couple of years he will probably be back on the scene raising money to support his lavish lifestyle while pretending the money is used on missions. Hopefully, this time people will be less likely to fall for his charisma and more likely to research the man who headed the fifth most insolvent charity in America.

The yoga guru turned company boss

Yogita Limaye
BBC News, Mumbai
December 21, 2015

Baba Ramdev is arguably India's most famous yoga guru, well known for his TV exercise shows. But now he's using his brand to sell everything from shampoo to cereal, and detergent to instant noodles.

Patanjali, the company he founded, claims to have had sales of more than $300m (£200m) in the past year, and is one of India's fastest-growing consumer goods firms.

Dressed in saffron robes, long hair tied up in a loose knot, flowing beard, wooden slippers and a cloth bag slung over his shoulder, Baba Ramdev looks every bit like a traditional yoga guru.

For more than a decade he's demonstrated exercises in front of massive crowds, instructing them on how to breathe in and then exhale, impressing them with his knowledge of ancient yogic asanas (poses).But as he shows me around his factory in the northern Indian city of Haridwar, he seems equally familiar with modern business and marketing concepts.

He's surrounded by a large group of armed guards and plain-clothes policemen who make up his security cover. Some workers rush to touch his feet, considered a sign of respect in India.

his name teaching yoga on television

Baba Ramdev and his aide Acharya Balkrishna set up Patanjali about 10 years ago.

"In India, food, cosmetics and medicines are mostly made and sold by foreign multinational companies that take the country's money abroad," Baba Ramdev says.

"They invest less money, but their profits are huge, which they take overseas. We want that India's money should stay here."
Brand building

Made in India - or as the labels on his products read, Made in Bharat, using the Hindi language name for the country - is what Baba Ramdev hopes to be the biggest selling point for his a wide range of products

The products are also made with traditionally Indian ingredients, he claims. And while the best-selling item - ghee or clarified butter, made from cow's milk - is Indian, Patanjali makes a wide range of products, including a foreign dish, muesli.

At one of its shops in Mumbai, customers are happy to talk about why they buy the products.

"I'm buying a hair oil for my husband, because he's losing hair and wants a natural way to stop it," Shikha Jethwani says.

"I, as well as my in-laws and my parents, do really believe these products are genuinely herbal and have no side effects," she adds.

Nazir Ahmed has been using Patanjali's toothpaste for a year now. "Baba Ramdev has such a big name, so I think the products must be pure and not adulterated. I have full trust in them," he says.

"Brand Baba Ramdev has been in the making for a while now," says Dheeraj Sinha, author of India Reloaded, a book that offers insights into the Indian consumer market.

"Through yoga, political platforms and associated movements, it's been carefully crafted over the past 10 years. What he's done, cleverly, is selling consumption on the back of spiritualism."
Pricing advantage

The yoga guru has millions of ardent followers, and many of them might be easily convinced to buy his products.

What may also be a draw, though, is that they are significantly cheaper than the competition. How does that work financially for the company?

"The main reason we can afford that is because our top management doesn't take any salary," says Baba Ramdev.tant noodles launch turned out to be controversial

"I am the main brand ambassador and I don't take a single rupee from the company. Neither does Acharya Balkrishna, who owns 93% of the company."

Mr Ramdev also says advertising budgets are far lower than other consumer goods companies.

But while he's keen to project Patanjali as a service rather than a business, the company has had more than 100 cases registered against it, accusing it of tax evasion and grabbing land, among other allegations.

"Not even one court has given any order against us. Whatever were the cases filed, we have answered the government departments," says Baba Ramdev.

"As far as the question of land is concerned, we have around 1,000 acres in different parts of the country. We have not been able to use this land yet, so why should we forcibly acquire someone else's land?"a techniques to vast crowds

Patanjali's latest product - instant noodles - also landed it in hot water. India's food safety authority said the company did not have the licence to make it. Baba Ramdev says it does have one and has sent a reply to the authority.

Unfazed, his company is already gearing up for the next launches - skin creams, baby care products and a drink mix for children.

"Baba Ramdev has had a fantastic launch platform, but in India, having a good launch doesn't ensure a profitable and long run. I would be wary of quality monitoring and there has to be a plan for how you will differentiate the product," says Mr Sinha.

The sales target next year is $750m. Baba Ramdev, the businessman, is moving at a breathless pace, quite like some of the yoga exercises for which he is so well known.

Jehovah's Witnesses leaders say they don't protect sexual abusers

Trey Bundy
December 21, 2015

In the face of evidence that the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Australia failed to report more than 1,000 allegations of child sexual abuse, the religion’s leaders say they’re doing a great job of protecting children.

The response comes from a 141-page document filed by the Witnesses to an Australian government commission investigating rampant child sexual abuse within the religion. It provides an uncommon look into the reasoning of an organization that has come under fire on at least three continents for shielding child abusers from prosecution.

“It is quite apparent that Jehovah’s Witnesses have for at least the last 65 years taken a proactive role in investigating and documenting such abuse and taken action against proved abusers,” the filing reads.

In recent years, Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders have worked to avoid answering for their policies by shutting out the media, withholding documents under subpoena and, in some cases, refusing to testify in court.

Now the Witnesses have lashed back. In their rebuttal, they paint attorneys in the case as inexperienced, witnesses as unreliable, the criminal justice system as ineffective and the commission as overstepping its mandate.

They say they don’t protect abusers, don’t endanger children and don’t break the law. At issue are policy directives originating from the religion’s world headquarters in New York. Among them:
Elders are to report every allegation of child sexual abuse to headquarters, but not to secular authorities unless required by law.
Elders are not to take action against an accused child abuser without a confession, or two witnesses to the crime.
Elders are not to announce to the congregation that child abuse has occurred, even when the abuser is allowed to remain a member.

Here’s a brief look at some of the arguments put forth in the Witnesses’ response.

Child safety is the organization’s top priority: “The safety of the victim and other children in congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the first concern of elders, the Australia branch and the Governing Body.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses comply with secular laws: “So long as there is not a violation of the secular law, the handling of the sin of child abuse by Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot be faulted from a secular point of view.”

Most sexual assault cases are not prosecuted anyway: “In other words, resorting to the criminal justice system is not a ‘cure-all’ of the problem.”

The two-witness rule cannot be changed: “Jehovah’s Witnesses consider that the requirement for two witnesses is not a matter for debate as it is based on Scriptural requirements found in the Mosaic Law and reiterated by Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses monitor sexual misconduct by young members to prevent child abuse: “Elders are instructed to call the branch office if they learn that a minor is involved in “sexting.’”

Elders may punish child abusers, even if they don’t call the police: “The elders may warn the accused or place restrictions on his contact with children; and subsequently disfellowship the accused for breaching those restrictions.”

Not all abusers reoffend:

 “The mere presence of an offender within a congregation does not necessarily entail that other children in a congregation or the community are at risk.”

Repentance goes a long way:

 “If a person is truly repentant, then, by definition they are asserting that they are unlikely to sin again because they have an understanding of their wrongdoing and do not want to repeat it.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses can gauge an abuser’s risk of reoffending as well as anyone: “Further, neither psychiatrists, nor psychologists, have a monopoly on the prediction of human behaviour. Indeed, every day of the week, ordinary people predict with some accuracy the behaviour of others and, by and large, our daily experiences demonstrate the accuracy of such predictions.”

For more, read:

The Witnesses’ full rebuttal.
The Australian commission’s findings.
How the religion shields sex abusers in the United States.
The story of how it kicked one alleged victim out of the religion.

Dec 20, 2015

In Sunni 'Cult' Fight, Turkey Guns For America's Richest And Most Politically Connected Cleric

Kenneth Rapoza , CONTRIBUTOR
December 20, 2015

The Turkish government wants revenge against a group of Sunni “conspirators” that tried to overthrow it. It thinks it can find it in a court house in the Poconos.

On center stage is one Muhammed Fethullah Gulen, a 75 year old Turk who has been living and preaching his brand of Islam from a multi-million dollar 26-acre compound in Saylorsburg, Pa since the late 1990s. Gulen isn’t the type of cleric Americans get the shivers about. He’s more peace and love than Shariah law vigilante. At least here.

A year ago, The Los Angles Times visited him and couldn’t get a word out of him. Now, American attorneys for three Turkey citizens with help from the government want to pry something out of him using the long arm of the law. And the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who used to trust Gulen, wants him extradited where he will surely face conspiracy charges. It’s a tricky call. The legal battle really pits one man, Gulen who is deemed the best type of Muslim — a tolerant one — with Erdogan by default. And Erdogan, while outwardly important to Washington’s battle with jihadis in Syria, is also a supporter.

Erdogan used to view Gulen in a more positive light. He was a promoter of good things in Turkey. Now the official view is that Gulen is out to promote his own, more-Islamist vision of Turkey and is using his collection of media outlets –TV, radio, newspapers, magazine – to do it. He has used them to challenge a small, rag-tag group of Sunnis who have taken him to task. Gulen doesn’t like the competition.

Some within his group of 10 million followers orchestrated a witch hunt against Erdogan’s government and anti-Gulen Sunnis all the way from the United States, according to a team of lawyers going after the man from Washington.

A case was filed against Gulen on Dec. 7 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania under a statute allowing foreigners allegedly harmed by individuals residing in the U.S. to face civil trial.

Gulen is no slouch. But he is a man of mystery. And in these times, a man of mystery of the Muslim faith is a man of interest.

According to the case filing, Gulen affiliated businesses are valued between $20 billion to $50 billion worldwide. It’s not that he owns them. It’s more likely that he does not, but that his followers do, or are in director positions there. His U.S. based organizations, most of them philanthropic, are donors to or initial backers of 120 charter schools spread out across the U.S.

FORBES reached out to two of them in Massachusetts. One responded. Harun Celik from the Hampden Charter School of Science in Chicopee said, the school “has no connection whatsoever to the Gulen movement. There are no financial connections, and no influence on our curriculum.” He did not want to discuss Gulen with me.

Since the lawsuit was filed last week, the charter schools have been all over the news, generally being investigated for the misuse of public funds. Anaheim put a temporary ban on new charters because the California city is investigating a Gulen funded one called Magnolia Science Academy. The schools are not part of the suit. Most are squeaky clean and high performers, according to local media articles by education reporters.

His non-profits, including the schools, also make political donations. If they do not do so directly, then movement followers do instead, including to presidential campaigns on the Democratic side.

Many politicians have been on the receiving end of funds and free trips to Turkey. It made sense. Gulen was viewed by Ankara and Washington as Turkey’s biggest adman, trying his best to win hearts and minds, some say for nefarious ends.

Gulen is pragmatically pro-American. He has been quoted saying he wouldn’t do anything to undermine America’s interests in the Middle East, or its relationship with Turkey. He is suspicious of Russians and Iranians, which makes him an automatic friend of both parties in Congress. Moreover, his religious followers hold positions of power in Turkey. On one hand, it is plausible that some in the U.S. government see him as a person of interest, not a loner in the Pennsylvania mountains. On the other hand, Erdogan is the leader of Turkey. These two don’t like each other.

Turkey’s Most Wanted?

Here is the story. When it comes to Turkey politics, peace and love Gulen is no live-and-let-live Sunni Muslim, if there is such a thing. Gulen is a Sunni guru from the so-called Nur Movement, named after the long deceased anti-communist, anti-secular cleric Said Nursi. Nursi was a Kurd by the way, not an ethnic Turk, which for Turkey watchers says a lot because Erdogan is decisively anti-Kurd, a population the U.S. military counts as allies in Iraq.

The Nur movement splintered in the 1970s and 1980s, with Gulen’s branch being the most popular and “cult-like.” They run the organizations and businesses. They have one religious opponent, a 70 year old blind man named Mehmet Dogan and his followers which number in the few hundreds.

A former Gulen movement follower who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity likened the group to a cross between Islam and Scientology. He said he was part of the group since Middle School but left it in college because he was too busy to adhere to the group’s objectives of volunteerism and fund-raiser events.

“They’re goal is to indoctrinate the best and the brightest who will eventually get careers in law, or in the military, or in politics. They’re too new in the United States to have gotten that far,” he told me, adding that he feels Gulen is non-threatening.

But in Turkey, the Gulen movement is a force to be reckoned with. His most vocal opponents with the Dogan movement have been hounded, rounded up, and jailed. Three of them, including media owner Bunyamin Ates, spent up to 20 months in jail for allegedly being part of a terrorist organization. They were arrested by Gulen followers in the police. They were recently freed from trumped up charges against them.

Lawyers for Ates, Turgut Yildrim and Murat Ozturk claim that Gulen used his media powers to call them Al Qaeda terrorists. He got his followers inside the judicial system in Turkey to launch the so-called Sledgehammer trials of 2010-12. Back then, judges charged military officers with planning a coup. Gulen had already been formally charged and acquitted back in 2008 for infiltrating key state institutions in order to overthrow the government; an innocent man. But Turkey isn’t giving up on him.

Erdogan wants the U.S. to hand him over to face trial. This lawsuit is like a campaign in making that happen, but it will be hard to imagine the U.S. shipping a political fundraiser and “moderate Muslim” to Turkey. They know he would be getting thrown to the wolves.

According to the case file, Gulen and as many as 50 other John Does not named in the docket, are being accused of six counts of persecution, unlawful arrests and one civil conspiracy charge.

“I can’t read the man’s mind, but it is clear that Gulen is after power in Turkey,” says Andrew Durkovic, an attorney with Amsterdam & Partners in Washington. Durkovic was in Turkey last week meeting with the plaintiffs when he spoke with me.

The cult-like status of Gulen is problematic for Turkey’s ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP). The AKP, of which Erdogan is the star power, is moderate Islamic, but Gulen is not as moderate, according to them. That doesn’t make him a jihadi. It just makes him not as open to Erdogan’s interpretations of the separation of church and state. To Gulen’s followers, the man might be the “12th Imam” – basically the Second Coming that will unite all of Islam. If Gulen’s words weren’t so peaceful, the wealthy businessman-preacher would be just as much as a worry here as he is in Erdogan’s Turkey.

The FBI said it could not confirm nor deny investigations into Gulen or his movement, which is standard.

“Money is also a motivation. In 2013, the Texas charter schools alone Gulen’s groups over $200 million in revenue,” says Durkovic, who will try to convince a judge that that money is used, in part, to bribe and coerce a sovereign nation from here.

“It’s hard to say precisely what Gulen thinks of Erdogan, except that the two men are at political odds. He would like to overthrow Erdogan,” says Durkovic. “The recent seizure of purported Turkish weapons at the Syrian border, for example, was orchestrated by Gulenists inside the Turkish government, and begs the question of how the entire confrontation was caught on video.”

Judge Robert Mariani said he would meet with the lawyers on both sides within four months to decide where the case goes from there. No trial date has been set, if this ever goes to trial.

Banned in Russia

Gulen has operations in over 100 countries. They have been watched closely by the militant jihadi-fearing Russian government for over 10 years.

In Russian Chechnya and Dagestan regions, both locations of fanatical Muslims since 1991, Gulen-backed schools were banned by Putin.

The Russian government also banned Gulen schools and the activities of the Gulen-linked Nurcu sect in Russia, devotees of Said Nursi’s teachings on Islam. Over 20 Turkish followers of Gulen were deported from Russia in 2002-2004. Pakistan is now watching it closely, reported the secularist Hurriyet newspaper.

Like Nursi, who was persecuted and jailed most of his life for advocating against secularism, and a kindler, gentler Islam, one where power is taken slowly and not by force, millions of Turks have found Gulen to be a hero.

The problem is he is being accused of trying to overthrow a sovereign state at a time when the U.S. seems convinced Turkey is a partner in its fight against terrorism.

Erdogan likes to think he has Obama fully on his side. In some respects, he does.

“I told Obama that the person who is responsible for the unrest in Turkey lives in your country, in Pennsylvania,” Erdoğan said during an interview on private broadcaster ATV in March of 2014. “I told him ‘I expect what’s necessary to be done.’ You have to take the necessary stance if someone threatens my country’s security,” Erdogan reportedly said. He put Gulen on Turkey’s most-wanted and terrorist watch list in October. Regarding Obama and Gulen: “He looked at it positively,” Erdogan said, adding Obama’s reply was, “We got the message.”

Can brain science tell us more than the Quran about why young, non-religious Somali Americans would want to kill and die in Syria for ISIS?

December 20, 2015 

What do Tylenol, schoolyard bullies, chocolate and our self-image have to do with young Somali-Americans from Minnesota ending up in Syria fighting for ISIS, or our ability to prevent a Paris-like terrorist attack from happening in the U.S.? According to social psychology and the brain science that supports it, the answer is, quite a lot.

Until the terrorist attacks in Paris, and the more recent killings in San Bernardino, California, shifted media and law enforcement attention away from the Somali-American community in Minnesota, this Muslim enclave received by far the most scrutiny of any Islamic population in the U.S. In 2013, the FBI stated that for several years, preventing the potential radicalization of Somali-American youth has been its highest priority in Minnesota. Given the continued marginalization of Somali-Americans in the U.S., this community remains a bellwether for trends in Islamic radicalization and how to prevent ISIS from fomenting terrorism in the U.S.

But why would mostly non-religious Somali-American adolescents and young adults want to kill and die in Syria for ISIS? Many pundits and politicians in the U.S. have posited that it is fundamentally the fault of the Islamic faith. They claim that the apparently violent teachings of the Quran have led directly to Somali-Americans becoming terrorists. But despite these assertions, a look at the human brain through the lens of social psychology, and the supporting brain science, can probably provide us with a much better understanding of why young Somali-Americans would want to become jihadists than the pages of the Quran.

What social psychology tells us is that the problem that we face in the Somali-American community in Minnesota is largely an issue of disconnected youth in the midst of an acute crisis of social identity rather than one of widespread religious fanaticism or economic frustration. In their search for identity and a group that will accept them, young Somali-Americans have been falling prey to sophisticated recruiters who have been selling them a lie about their religion.

Social psychology also makes clear that our sense of self is largely a product of our social and cultural groups, which gives us as a society more power than we might think to remedy the problem of homegrown Islamic terrorism in the United States and to prevent a repeat of the Paris attacks on American soil.

So what is social psychology? It is the study of how our thoughts, feelings and, ultimately, our actions and identities, are influenced by our social interactions and the people around us. Within this field, the supporting brain science looks at the actual functioning of the brain to provide a more complete understanding of how it chemically responds to the same inputs.

Social psychology and the supporting brain science show us that over millions of years, the human brain has been hard-wired for contact and connection with other people, not as a luxury, but as an absolute necessity for survival. In effect, the human brain has developed to become a social organ. The connection between mother and infant forms the basis for our social bonds, and it all grows from there.

As humans evolved, our brains developed certain mechanisms and survival strategies that prompt us to form and maintain social connections and to try to avoid their loss. In terms of our brain chemistry, we are programmed to feel discomfort and distress when we lose social connections and to experience contentment, happiness and security when we have positive interactions or form new bonds.

Almost all of us know the sorrow, pain and grief that we feel when an important person in our lives passes away, or a relationship ends. This is nature’s way of letting us know that social loss is potentially dangerous to us. It is also meant to motivate us to try to form new social connections and bonds to replace the ones that have been broken. But it isn’t just the loss of a loved one, or a failed relationship, that can hurt. As we all know, a condescending glance from a stranger — real or imagined — is often enough to ruin the day.

Why would the perception of rejection by a stranger upset anyone? It isn’t because we are being oversensitive or immature; it is because our social brains are programmed to respond to even meaningless instances of real or imagined rejection as a significant threat to our place in the group, and therefore as a painful event. This is how important social connections are to us on a biological level, and have historically been for our survival. The pain and happiness that we feel because of positive or negative social interactions is evolution at work, making sure that we are safe within our group and are not left to fend for ourselves.

Given that we are designed to experience pain as a result of even minor negative interactions, it should come as no surprise that our response to much more direct and potentially threatening instances of rejection can leave us with deep and lasting trauma. Schoolyard bullying is one of the most studied and best understood examples of direct social threat. This kind of attack represents a grave danger to our place in our group and our sense of self because our brains perceive the non-intervention of others as a rejection by them.

For creatures that are built to connect and to develop an identity through our interactions with others, an attack of this kind can be incredibly painful and potentially devastating for our self-image. On a repeated basis, this type of negative feedback about a person’s identity can have tremendous repercussions. This is why, as social psychologist Matthew Lieberman notes, children who are routinely bullied are seven times more likely to be depressed as adults and four times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

But perhaps the most important point that social psychology makes about how our brains register positive or negative interactions with others is that they aren’t just experienced as passing or illusory emotional responses. Social interactions and signals about our standing in our group are experienced in a real, physical and lasting way. Research has proven that on a chemical level, positive social interactions register in the brain in the same manner as eating chocolate and that negative social interactions are experienced in the same way as physical pain. The corollaries for our brains are so strong between social and physical experiences that taking Tylenol can actually relieve social pain, such as rejection or loss. In effect, the same medicine that helps us get over a headache can also help us get over a broken heart and that bar of chocolate really can make us feel better.

But social experiences don’t just cause pain or happiness, they actually help form our identities. To a greater extent than we might like to admit, we use what other people think about us to develop our self-image. Reflected Appraisal Generation, as this phenomenon is known, is one of nature’s ways of ensuring our survival. It uses our very sense of self, along with the pain and happiness that we experience through our social interactions, to ensure that we maintain good standing in our group. Whether we like it or not, we are social, group-oriented creatures by design.

If we apply what we have learned from social psychology to the situation that young Somali-Americans face in this country, we can start to form some valuable and useful insights that can potentially help us stop their radicalization, and by extension, possibly prevent a Paris attack on our soil.

We know from their families and friends, that for the most part, the Somali-Americans who tried to join ISIS were fairly normal adolescents and young adults. But something made them embrace radical Islam. What was it? Looking at the current environment that Muslim-Americans face in the U.S., along with what we have learned about the brain from social psychology, can help answer this question.

On an almost daily basis, religious, political and cultural leaders across the spectrum openly state, or tacitly imply, that they view Islam as a backward and potentially dangerous religion, and that most Muslim-Americans are probably potential suicide bombers.

Recent statements like those by Republican presidential candidates, Ben Carson and Donald Trump, that Muslims are not fit for the presidency, or that we should “look into” expelling them from the United States, have raised many eyebrows. But this kind of anti-Muslim rhetoric has been a mainstay in our political discourse for close to 15 years and has only increased in amplitude and ugliness.

Long before Trump or Carson’s anti-Muslim statements, many Republican politicians were attacking or questioning the loyalty of Muslim-Americans. In 2001, Rep. Peter King of N.Y. claimed that fundamentalists controlled 85 percent of mosques in the U.S. In 2011, he effectively implied that Muslim-Americans cannot be considered American during times of war. The same year, former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich advocated treating Muslims in the U.S. like Nazis or Communists of bygone years in an effort to stop would-be saboteurs and bombers. Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain stated during the 2012 race for the GOP nomination that he believed that the majority of Muslim-Americans were extremists and that he would institute a loyalty test for any Muslim serving in his administration. The next year, former governor of Arkansas and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee claimed that that Muslim-Americans wanted to see their Christian neighbors “obliterated.”

Statements and claims of this nature by Republican leaders have been given a certain moral credence and authority by conservative religious leaders, such as Franklin Graham, who said in an interview with Fox News “we have to be careful of the Muslims in this country,” and that for them, “there is no hope outside of jihad.”

While anti-Islamic rhetoric is more pronounced on the right of the political and cultural divide, the left tends to be little more hospitable toward Muslim-Americans. Led by New Atheists, such as Bill Maher and Sam Harris, liberal political commentators have condemned Islam just as harshly as have conservatives. Maher has basically implied that Islam is the root cause of terrorist acts committed by Muslims while Sam Harris has unabashedly called for profiling of anyone who even looks Muslim.

What little may have been left unsaid within the political arena about Muslims has almost certainly been covered by professional Islamophobes, such as Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes who have created a business out of maligning Islam and Muslims with articles, books, billboards, bus ads, rallies and “draw Mohammed” contests.

But perhaps more damaging than anything said or done by politicians, commentators or professional agitators are the portrayals of Muslims in television and film. Some of the highest-rated television programs and most popular films of the last two decades, such as “24,” “Homeland,” “Lost,” “Taken,” “The Siege,” “Executive Decision,” “Rules of Engagement” and “American Sniper” raise questions about Muslim sleepers and the loyalty of Muslim-Americans or play to base stereotypes about Muslims being inherently violent.

News coverage of Muslims only exacerbates an already bad situation. Studies by groups such as MediaTenor show that news programming about Muslims and Islam is almost exclusively negative and has become much more so in the past few years. More disturbing is MediaTenor’s finding that negative news coverage of Muslims garnered much higher ratings than positive stories about Islam and its adherents.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the constant barrage of negative images and statements about Muslim-Americans and Islam, the data show that we tend to hold fairly unflattering views about our Muslim neighbors. The Pew Research Center’s Warmth Thermometer, which measures positive feelings toward different religious groups by political party affiliation, shows that Muslims rank dead last for Republicans and third from the bottom for Democrats who hold atheists and Mormons in slightly lower esteem.

The Pew findings make clear that to some degree the “schoolyard bullies” like Trump, Carson, Maher, Harris, Geller and others really do speak for the rest of us. We know from the brain science research that this type of societal, or group rejection, is deeply painful and can have a devastating impact on a person’s sense of self when it is experienced on a repeated basis, which is what we see happening to young Somali-Americans.

Devaluing of this kind, or identity destruction of the type that is occurring in the U.S., represents one of the gravest threats to an individual´s social brain, which interprets these signals as meaning that he or she has no group or identity, and has been left alone in a dangerous world. This is the very situation that millions of years of evolution have programmed us to avoid. When society is telling young Somali-Americans that they have no place in our country and to go away, what are they to do besides reach for the Tylenol?

The answer is that they will most likely seek to develop new connections and to find groups where they will be accepted and valued. In other words, they will look for a community that will give them a new, positive, social identity. Driven by our social brains, this is what we, as humans, are hard-wired to do.

But why would young Somali-Americans seek connections within the fold of jihadists when Islam wasn’t really that important to most of them? The answer, again, lies in part in the science of the brain as a social organ. With remarkable consistency, we see the same response in young, secular Muslims who have been drawn from across Europe and other parts of the developed world to radical Islam and jihad.

One of the best records of how a young, disaffected, secular Muslim can be seduced by extremist Islamism is Maajid Nawaz’s autobiography, “Radical.” Nawaz makes clear in his story that his initial embrace of Islamism was not because of any religious conviction, but more out of a desire for identity and respect within the world of suburban Britain, where as a Pakistani child and adolescent, he acutely felt the pain of discrimination, social rejection and lack of identity. As he puts it:

“When the racism kicked in, (I) became part of a West Indian group. I didn’t really feel affiliated with England or Pakistan, and I knew I was not West Indian. So there was a real vacuum in my identity, which was the ideal place for someone to be before recruitment to an Islamist organization. They were able to offer me an identity that had previously been absent.”

In social psychological terms, Nawaz was looking for a way to alleviate the pain of social rejection and for an identity that would give him value. His description of the moment that he decided to embrace the Islamist path confirms that this wasn’t a religious awakening, but a step up the ladder of street gang dynamics from the rap-infused and graffiti-strewn rebellion of his teen years, to the infinitely more powerful and consuming identity of radical, political Islamism.

“I was desperately looking for answers. But it was that afternoon…I realized that Islamism could give me the respect that I’d craved since primary school.”

In radical Islamism, Nawaz found the answer that he was desperately seeking. It gave him purpose, identity, respect and deep connections. In other words, he achieved exactly what our brain is programmed to want on the most fundamental level: social connections, an identity of belonging within a group that will protect us, and recognition from our peers.

Going back to the Somali-Americans adolescents in Minnesota, we effectively see the same longing for identity that Nawaz felt and an environment similar to the one that he encountered.

Within the Minnesota school system, anti-Somali and anti-Muslim discrimination have been rampant. In 2010, the Department of Education began an investigation because of the level of animosity toward Somali-American students in certain Minnesota school districts.

In the communities where the Somali-American population is concentrated in Minnesota, Somali-owned businesses, homes and religious centers have all been vandalized. The same message that has been spray-painted on the property of Somali-Americans, “GO HOME,” has been repeated dozens more times on locally hosted websites and blogs that state with more vitriol the same sentiment, “Can we please just deport these savages back to Africa?”

If we take into account the general anti-Muslim sentiment expressed in the political space, the overwhelmingly negative images of Muslims portrayed on television and in film, and the realities of everyday life for young Somali-Americans in Minnesota, it becomes clear why many would be looking with the same desperation as Nawaz for some kind of relief from the pain of their environment and for a new sense of self. Fine, but why ISIS? Why not the Cripps or one of the many Somali-American street gangs that could provide effective protection and sense of respect?

Again, Naawaz provides a partial answer to this question. Basically, in his situation, the other gangs were more afraid of a potential suicide bomber than another knife-wielding teenager. More important, a street gang didn’t fill the identity void for him.

But there is also another more fundamental element that unlocks the rest of the riddle. The missing piece is a basic ignorance of Islam. As Nawaz states, “it might sound strange, given how committed I was to Islamist ideology, but I had never properly studied Islam or the Quran.” In other words, he didn’t have any great religious awakening or thirst for knowledge about Islam when he became an Islamist radical – he knew as little about his professed faith after joining an extremist group as he did before.

Not knowing about their faith, but desperately seeking an identity, probably in the only community that they feel will accept and truly empower them, young Somali-Americans are embracing a false Islam as the real thing because they don’t know any better. For adolescents craving a sense of meaning for their lives, as well as connections, recognition, respect and identity, what could be more intoxicating than to be told that they can become freedom fighters battling injustice in the name of truth? And this is exactly the language that is being used by the seducers and the seduced.

Twitter and blog posts from Abdi Nur, who traveled from Minnesota to join ISIS, read more like they are from a video gamer than a dedicated terrorist. In March 2015, the New York Times reported that he posted a picture on Facebook of several Beretta pistols, with the text, “How Sweet Does That Look.” In August 2015, he wrote, “Never Felt So Hyped,” about going to fight Kurdish forces. These sound less like the words of a religious fanatic, than someone about to play an intense game of “World of Warcraft.”

And this is exactly what is being sold. In one of the most infamous recruitment videos, American-turned-jihadist Troy Kastigar exhorted Somali-Americans to join the Islamist fight in Somalia, stating, “If only you knew how much fun we have over here! This is the real Disneyland!” Fun, power and purpose, what could be better?

In websites, tweets and blog posts, using rap lyrics and professionally edited videos, sophisticated recruiters are successfully preying on the pain of rejection, lack of social connection, and identity deprivation, that many Somali-American teenagers acutely feel. The recruiters have been so successful in their endeavors that a State Department document made clear that ISIS has them beaten in terms of the effectiveness of their social media campaigns.

The jihadist recruiters are selling a fantasy in which young Somali-Americans will be at the vanguard in building a new society based on “pure” Islam, as defined by ISIS. For teenagers with little understanding of their religion, the sense of importance, mission and power conveyed by this message represents everything that we are hard-wired to want. As Jay Kumar, a professor of brain science, public policy and religion, puts it, “These marginalized youth don’t yearn for wealth or independence. Ultimately the currency most valuable to them is societal acceptance. It’s precisely what our social brains crave above anything else–the need to feel valued and recognized by others.” If you’re a Somali-American teenager seeking acceptance and recognition, all you have to do is leave behind a society that has already made clear that it doesn’t want you anyway. On the other side is fantasy becoming reality, everything the brain craves. Disneyland.

How do we begin to respond to all of this? How do we counter golden-tongued recruiters who are preying on desperate and vulnerable teenagers and young adults? The best answer is that we start to accept the truth and stop believing in the monster living under the bed. If we can accept reality, then science is on our side and we can likely rid ourselves of the scourge of homegrown terrorism, blunt the larger ISIS message and prevent blood being spilled on our streets by American-born jihadists.

A quick review of the facts should help shed some light on the current situation in the U.S. At present, there are approximately 2.8 million Muslim-Americans in the United States, so they make up a little less than 1 percent of the population. Within the American-Muslim community, there have been approximately 250 individuals who have joined jihadist groups in Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan and other places where Islamist groups have been engaged in armed struggles. Roughly 30 more have tried to leave the country to fight for extremist groups, but have been stopped. This means that one-hundredth of 1 percent of Muslim-Americans have joined, or tried to join, violent Islamic groups.

At the same time, Pew Research Center polls show that the majority of Muslim-Americans believe that they should assimilate into mainstream American society and culture. Almost two-thirds see no conflict between living in a modern society and being Muslim. Further, most Muslim-Americans tend to be middle-class and content with their lives in the U.S. Seventy-two percent say that their communities are good or excellent places to live and 71 percent believe that with hard work they will succeed in the U.S.

More important for the purposes of dispelling the false notion that most Muslim-Americans are closet-case jihadists, according to Pew, the overwhelming majority rejects suicide bombings and violence in the name of religion as never justified (83 percent) and is deeply concerned about terrorist threats. Muslim-Americans also tend to be the most vocal in criticizing their religious leaders and holding them to account, despite the perception that they are not doing enough to counter the message of the extremist recruiters.

What the data makes clear is that Muslims in this country make up a tiny percentage of the overall population and share many of the same values as the rest of us – but perhaps most important, the majority of them want to be more American and more a part of our social fabric and group, if only we would let them.

The notion that a group that is solidly middle class, and in many respects believes more deeply in the American Dream than the general population, secretly wants to kill Christians, or supports ISIS, borders on the level of absurdity of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Yes, there are sad and true bases for such beliefs about Muslim-Americans, but they are attributable to one-hundredth of a percent of the population. This is tantamount to blaming all Christians for the acts of Timothy McVeigh, or for that matter all atheists for the blood spilled by Pol Pot. It would have been far more plausible to label all Irish-Americans as terrorist sympathizers because of the monetary support that a significant portion of this population provided to the IRA than to suspect all Muslim-Americans of jihadist leanings. We need to see discrimination against Muslim-Americans for what it is – prejudice based on an irrational fear.

But within the data, there is a paradox. Why are Muslim-Americans so content in the U.S. when they are held in such low esteem and widely suspected of terrorist inclinations? Ironically, in seems that mainstream Islam probably provides the answer to this question. Given the numbers, we can speculate with a high degree of confidence that there is likely a large overlap between those Muslim-Americans for whom Islam is an important part of their lives, and those who believe in the American Dream.

Applying the lens of social psychology, it appears that Muslim-Americans who embrace mainstream Islam likely find the social connections and recognition that they need within their religious communities and families and have no need of radical Islam for identity. They already know who they are – Muslims building a better life for themselves and their children in the U.S. So rather than maligning Islam, it would seem that supporting our Muslim neighbors in their faith, especially in the proper religious education of their children, could be one of the best countermeasures to the jihadist recruiters’ message.

There are issues that we can take with Islam, as there are with all religions, but we need to see our Muslim-American neighbors for who they are – people pretty much like the rest of us. If we can accept this truth, then we can make great inroads against the creeping extremism that seduces the most alienated among us.

Everything that we know about the Somali-Americans who have been falling prey to the jihadist recruiters indicates that they would much rather be part of American society than go to Syria or kill their fellow citizens.

So where does this leave us? Probably in a better position than we would have imagined. Science and the truth about our Muslim-American neighbors are on our side.

If we can begin to accept Muslim-Americans within our society, then we can start to eliminate much of the alienation and concurrent identity deprivation that is causing the deep pain upon which jihadist recruiters are capitalizing. Further, if we can start to encourage a better understanding of Islam among Muslim-American youth, then we can likely eliminate much of the religious ignorance upon which they depend for their words to find fertile ground.

Further, the benefits of this kind of shift would reach far beyond our shores. Gallup and other polling sources make clear that it matters deeply to Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere how their co-religionists are treated in the U.S. and Europe. The latest numbers show that the majority feels that Muslims in the West are second-class citizens. The same data also show that an improvement in the perceived treatment of Muslims in the West would go a long way in terms of improving views about the U.S. and Europe in the Muslim heartland.

Many articles that have been published in the aftermath of the Paris attacks by Middle East and ISIS experts confirm the Gallup findings. They make clear that the Islamic State fears the unity of the West and its possible embrace of Muslims more than all the force of arms that we can bring to bear in Syria. ISIS counts on its actions to stoke Islamophobia and a backlash against Muslims in Europe and the United States. Discrimination and anti-Muslim sentiments in the West play directly into the ISIS narrative. Given this reality, if Muslim-Americans were truly embraced as part of the fabric of American society, it is entirely possible that the U.S. would enjoy much more support in the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world, which could drastically alter our position with respect to ISIS.

There was a time when Jews, Catholics and other religious and ethnic groups were considered incapable of holding democratic values because of their beliefs, which were more alien to most Americans in the 19th and early 20th century than Islam is to us today. The loyalty of these same groups to the U.S. was also considered highly suspect. Many pundits at that time predicted that the influx of such peoples would eventually lead to the demise of the democratic experiment in America, not unlike what we currently hear about the purported threat posed by Muslim immigrants to the future of the United States.

We need to see the present situation with respect to Muslim-Americans as no different than that of any other group that has come to America with the fervent desire to become part of the fabric of American society and that has successfully assimilated and enriched our culture. If we can move beyond our prejudices and allow Muslim-Americans to fully become part of our society and to develop their identity within it, then we will likely discover that they have, and are contributing, much to our country.

In all probability, we can stanch the trickle of misguided youth flowing to Syria, while greatly improving our standing within the Muslim world and drastically decreasing the likelihood of a Paris-like attack in the United States. Brain science and millions of years of human development are on our side. So, too, are the basic precepts of the rich faith traditions that have guided much of this nation’s history and that demand that we welcome the stranger as a basic measure of our belief. This requires the courage to overcome our fears, but this is certainly a goal worthy of America.

Dec 19, 2015

Canadian who stabbed Cambridge graduate to death in self-defence in Peru because he thought he was the devil during 'bad trip' is released

Daily Mail
December 19, 2015

  • Canadian Joshua Stevens, 29, reportedly stabbed the Briton in self-defence
  • Fight occurred after Gomes took hallucinogenic plant brew at spirit retreat
  • It is believed that Gomes attacked Mr Stevens believing he was the devil 

A Canadian acted in self-defence when he knifed a Cambridge graduate who believed he was the Devil after taking a mind-bending drug, police investigators confirmed today.

Detectives said Joshua Stevens, 29, had been released from custody after being quizzed over the fatal stabbing of former Goldman Sachs worker Unais Gomes, 26, at a spiritual retreat in the Peruvian Amazon.

Witnesses told police Unais, from London, grabbed a kitchen knife and went for the Canadian tourist during a 'bad trip' after consuming a mind-bending brew called ayahuasca.

But conflicting local reports said Joshua attacked Unais first after hallucinating his wife had cheated on him with the Briton.

One Peruvian paper even reported today the tragedy occurred during a fight around 11pm on Thursday night after Unais tried to have sex with Joshua.

The tragedy happened at an alternative health hotel popular with foreign tourists called the Phoenix Ayahuasca retreat centre near Iquitos.

Normando Marquez, head of Iquitos' Criminal Investigation Department, confirmed today: 'All the evidence we have passed on to prosecutors points to the Canadian acting in self-defence when his own life was in danger.

'He has been freed from custody while his fate is decided as part of an ongoing judicial investigation.

'The dead man had consumed ayahuasca which is a hallucinogenic drug.

'It made him regard the Canadian man as a sort of devil and lead him to attack him.

'Two workers at the retreat tried to stop him but they were very slightly-built and couldn't control him.

'He got hold of a knife and the Canadian wanted to avoid being attacked. He got another knife and the knife broke, it was that sort of chaos.

'There's no evidence to suggest the Canadian was the aggressor and he doesn't appear to have taken ayahuasca.

'I'm from the Iquitos area and I've never consumed ayahuasca. It's something that foreigners consume more than the locals. It's a tourist thing more than anything.

'We've had problems in the past.

'I remember a girl a few years ago who couldn't sleep or even close her eyes for six or seven days because every time she did she saw the Devil coming.

He added: 'The Canadian man has been freed from custody and may end up being acquitted of any crime on the grounds he acted in self-defence which is a legitimate defence under Peruvian law.

'In many cases where there is sufficient evidence to show a person acted in self-defence when he kills another, he's not even charged and there's no court case.


Ayahuasca, or yage, contains Dimethyltryptamine, known as DMT.

Used in South America, especially in the Amazon basin, Ayahuasca is a drink produced from the stem bark of the vines Banisteriopsis caapi and B. inebrians.

It is said to have healing properties and bring inner peace by purging toxins and can produce reactions including vomiting.

Psychedelic experiences last six to 10 hours and are guided by experienced shamans in the South American countries where ayahuasca is legal and native to consume.

'Here though we're talking about a case involving a foreigner so there's likely to be a trial.

'But all the evidence is that he did not intend killing his victim and he's acted in self-defence and there's witnesses to back him up along those lines.

'I can't speak for the prosecutors but it wouldn't be surprising if this case is dealt with within the next fortnight by way of a speedy trial.

'Whether he's allowed out of the country in the meantime is up to the state prosecution service.'

The whereabouts of Mr Stevens was unclear today. Phone calls to the retreat centre went unanswered.

Mr Gomes graduated in 2010 from the University of Cambridge with a 2.1 in economics.

He was a member of the rowing team at the prestigious university and belonged to the Cambridge Investment Club according to his Linkedin website profile.

He went on to work at Goldman Sachs and joined Citigroup on its graduate programme, before moving to San Francisco around a year ago to set up his own company.

Phoenix Ayahuasca, run by Australian brother and sister Mark and Tracie Thornberry, bills itself on its Facebook site as a 'safe and supportive place to experience plant medicines and explore the true nature of the self.'

It describes ayahuasca as a purgative psychedelic that removes spiritual and emotional blockages.

The drink is a hallucinogenic brew containing an Amazonian vine and dimethyltryptamine, a compound common in its natural form in both plants and animals.

It is used in shamanic rituals by indigenous peoples across much of the Amazon region.

Mr Gomes's family are originally from Kyrgyzstan but live in St Johns Wood, north London, where he was raised.

His family declined to comment in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy although his brother Ulugbek Pessoa invited friends and colleagues to send in tributes via Facebook.

Former neighbour Connie Glynn, a retired spiritual healer, said: 'Unais used to be really into meditation and he was very spiritual.

'I would not have thought he was into drugs. He is definitely not a violent chap, he was very peaceful.'

In 2012, 18-year-old American Kyle Nolan died at an ayahuasca retreat in the Peruvian Amazon and the shaman leading the ceremony buried his body in an attempt to cover up the death. Last year, 19-year-old Henry Miller from Bristol died after consuming the drink in Colombia.

In September this year, New Zealander Matthew Dawson-Clarke, 24, died after taking ayahuasca in the same town as Mr Gomes. TV explorer Bruce Parry also drank the brew as part of his BBC series Tribe.


'My first time was a magical experiences. It was like being in the most exquisite, cosmic, carnival ride in the universe. I laughed with wonder, I cried with an open heart, I wanted to do more…,' author Carina Cooper writes for High50, adding that the experience turned sinister the second time

'I had a vision of a drawer opening out from under my heart. In this drawer was a heart with all its tubes etc pulsating. An angelic voice said to me in a gentle whisper, 'You are now going to feel all the pain you have shut away.'

'I sobbed for about five hours (ceremonies generally start around 8pm and can go on until dawn) deep guttural, physical sobs.'

Ted Mann wrote in a Vanity Fair article about his experience in 2011, detailing his vivid visions and experience.

'Every detail of a vast cliff face, an open-pit mine, composed of copulating salamanders, is presented and recognized and responsive to sound continuously evolving, by what seems like a logical progression, into the detailed hues of the internal organs—this makes me vomit.

'The visions resume with newcomers, self-dissecting aliens presenting themselves, and their internal anatomy, in the turning pages of an abnormal-physiology textbook, published on sheets of fundamental matter, quarks and gluons, massless constituents of the infinitesimal, actually becoming the things they appear to represent.

'My visions continue for several hours, and I await with trepidation further instruction, a formal conclusion, or some apocalyptic visionary summation. I am not disappointed when, instead, I realize it's over.'

Dec 18, 2015

Day in History, Dec. 18, 1940: Three Jehovah Witnesses' convicted of belonging to an illegal organization

December 18, 2015

An Edmonton couple and a second man were convicted in Edmonton police court of belonging to an illegal organization.

Jean Van Oene, Garrett Van Oene, and John W. Ketter, a steam engineer, were fined $50 and costs or two months in jail. The same charge against Wardman Langstroff was dismissed.

All four were arrested and charged by city police on Nov. 17, 1940, under Defence of Canada regulations, after leaving the pamphlet, End of Nazism, on the doorsteps of south-side residents. The pamphlets were said to contain material similar to that circulated by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which had been declared an illegal organization by the Canadian government on July 4, 1940, under the War Measures Act, because of their antiwar attitudes and refusal to take part in military service. The sect was also banned in Canada during the First World War.

“Before passing sentence, Magistrate Millar stated he ‘can’t understand the attitude’ of the accused. He said the sentence would be heavier but it was his belief ‘that the majority of people would pay no attention to the pamphlets you have been distributing and would regard them as those of some religious crank,'” the Journal reported.

Millar said it was his view that “the people of Canada elect representatives to carry on the government but you people seem to insist on carrying out your beliefs despite the government.”

Donald and Dale Van Oene, teenage sons of the accused, were called as Crown witnesses against Ketter and Langstroff, and the younger boy (Dale) buried his had in his arms and sobbed when the Crown Prosecutor began questioning him, the story said.

Jean Van Oene was called from the back of the courtroom to comfort her son, but when he continued to cry, she told the magistrate, “I think it is a shame having a child his age brought into court to testify against anyone.”

After a five-minute adjournment, Dale testified that he had accompanied Langstroff when they went to deliver the pamphlets, but he wasn’t sure if Langstroff had delivered any pamphlets.

Donald Van Oene testified that Ketter “had delivered some pamphlets” the morning Ketter was arrested.

“I can’t understand you people who profess religion as you do and then take young boys out in the middle of the night to distribute such pamphlets,” the magistrate said.

During the trial of four Edmonton Witnesses, RCMP arrested four men and a woman for distributing End of Nazism pamphlets in Fort Saskatchewan.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to ignore the government’s ban of their religion. Witness children who refused to sing the national anthem and salute the flag during patriotic exercises in public schools were often expelled from class. The ban was lifted in 1943.

Dec 17, 2015

Pastafarian marriages approved in New Zealand

Helena Horton
December 17, 2015

Ever wanted to get married while wearing a colander on your head?

Move to New Zealand - they just gave the right to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to perform marriage ceremonies.

Members of the church call themselves Pastafarians and believe that the world was created by an airborne spaghetti and meatballs-based being, although its own website notes that some followers consider it to be a satirical organisation.

The announcement that the church is now allowed to perform weddings was made on the government gazette.

Registrar-general Jeff Montgomery defended the decision, saying that it was made on the basis that the organisation promotes religious beliefs.

He said that it is not based on how valid the religious claims the organisation are.

The registrar-general told that the request was valid because the purposes set out by the church were educating and training people, particularly atheists and superstitious people, about Flying Spaghetti principles and practices.

He said: "In considering the matter I have referred to the Objects of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, reviewed material available online about this organisation and considered other organisations already able to nominate marriage celebrants.

"A review of media and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster's international website show a consistent presentation of their philosophies. While some claim this is a 'parody organisation', members have rebutted this on a number of occasions."

The church's anonymous leader, who asks to be referred to as the Top Ramen, told Radio New Zealand that the next step is to nominate a marriage celebrant for approval. "We are a bona fide church, and our people do like to get married, some of them several times," she says, adding that Pastafarian wedding attire can range from pirate outfits to the traditional colander headgear. "We can wear the pirate gear, we can wear the pasta gear, we're quite flexible."

'Pastafarians' are earning legitimacy around the globe. Recently, a Massachusetts woman earned the right to wear a colander on her head as a 'religious accessory' in her driving license.

The woman, Lindsay Miller, said: "As a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I feel delighted that my Pastafarianism has been respected.

"While I don’t think the government can involve itself in matters of religion, I do hope this decision encourages my fellow Pastafarian Atheists to come out and express themselves as I have."


The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

  • It came into being in 2005 after an open letter was published aimed at the Kansas school board, asking for the church to be taught just as Christianity was taught in local schools. They argued that the church was just as legitimate as any other religion.
  • They claim that they have millions of followers
  • Many think that the church is a thought experiment or satire, and has been used as such in Richard Dawkins' book 'The God Delusion'
  • They say on their site: "We believe religion – say Christianity, Islam, Pastafarianiasm – does not require literal belief in order to provide spiritual enlightenment. Much of the transcendent experience of religion can be attributed to the community. And while some members of religion are indoctrinated True Believers, many are not. There are many levels of Belief and each is no more or less legitimate than the other."That is to say, you do not have to Believe to be part of our Church, but we hope in time you will see the Truth. But skeptics, as well as members of other religions, are always welcome."
  • Their heaven apparently contains a 'Beer Volcano' and a 'Stripper Factory'.
  • They ask their female members to dress as 'Pirate Wenches' and to send pictures to the church of themselves dressed as such
  • Their official headgear is a colander

India reopens the Beatles’ ashram in Rishikesh to tourists

The National
December 17, 2015

NEW DELHI // Just over forty years ago, the Beatles descended upon an ashram in the Himalayan town of Rishikesh, spending weeks meditating and writing songs, and bestowing pop-culture fame upon their guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

The ashram was abandoned in 1997, when the last disciples of the Maharishi’s order left. The Maharishi himself had moved to Europe in the late 1970s, where he stayed until his death in 2008.

But last week, the Uttarakhand state government opened the spruced-up ashram as a tourist site, hoping to lure Beatles fans from around the world.

“This is our state’s treasure, and its opening is an important landmark for us,” Dinesh Aggarwal, Uttarakhand’s minister for forests, said at the inauguration of the renovated ashram on December 10. “Our aim is to ensure that visitors don’t come for the Beatles connection but to learn the magic of nature, meditation and yoga.”

The ashram, named “Chaurasi Kutiya” (or “84 huts”), sits in a corner of Rajaji National Park, a tiger reserve that sprawls over 820 square kilometres. Before renovations began late last year, its huts and assembly hall were being slowly submerged by the park’s vegetation.

The Maharishi began touring India with his trademark transcendental meditation technique in the mid-1950s. He rented the land from the state government in 1957 and completed the ashram in 1963.

He then embarked on a decade of international preaching, visiting Myanmar (then called Burma), Singapore, Hong Kong, and various European countries. In the United States, he appeared on The Tonight Show and was featured on the cover of Time magazine.

But even this renown paled in comparison to the fame that followed when the Beatles arrived in Rishikesh in February 1968.

The Fab Four had already met the Maharishi in the United Kingdom the previous year, having developed an interest in meditation.

In August 1967, their manager, Brian Epstein, died. “It was as though, with Brian gone, the four needed someone new to give them direction, and the Maharishi was in the right place at the right time,” Cynthia Lennon, John Lennon’s wife at the time, wrote in her 2005 book John. Her husband, she said, “was evangelical in his enthusiasm for Maharishi”.

The Beatles came to Rishikesh with a large entourage: spouses and girlfriends, friends, and colleagues. Their cottages were given special decorations, with mirrors, better mattresses, and carpets.

Individually, the musicians’ reactions to the ashram varied. Ringo Starr left after 10 days. His wife hated the teeming insect life, and he couldn’t take the food, finding himself “allergic to so many different things”. Paul McCartney stayed for five weeks.

Lennon and George Harrison remained for nearly two months. Harrison said he found peace there. “We have all the money you could ever dream of,” he told Paul Saltzman, the author of The Beatles in Rishikesh. “But it isn’t love. It isn’t health. It isn’t peace inside, is it?”

During their stay, the group wrote roughly 30 songs. Many of these became hits such as Back in the USSR, Dear Prudence, and Revolution. They were released on major albums such as The White Albumand Abbey Road. Others appeared on solo records such as Lennon’s Imagine and Harrison’s Gone Troppo.

Harrison and Lennon eventually left the ashram on bad terms with the Maharishi, unhappy that he constantly asked them for money and that he was allegedly in sexual relationships with some of his young female disciples. Lennon would go on to say: “We believe in meditation, but not the Maharishi and his scene.”

Harrison later repaired relations with the Maharishi, particularly after the guru moved from India to Europe, where he died in 2008.

Between 1997 and 2014, the ashram was left abandoned and neglected. But even during this time, straggling tourists still found their way to the site, wandering around with little supervision.

Three years ago, a troupe of artists painted murals of the band members and lyrics of their songs on the walls of the main yoga hall.

Following last week’s opening, Beatlemaniacs can now wander the refurbished ashram for a fee of 150 rupees (Dh8.3 for Indian tourists and 600 rupees for foreigners, said DVS Khati, Uttarakhand’s chief wildlife warden.

“Earlier, visitors who liked the Beatles were just landing up at the ashram in a disorganised manner, and of course they were entering for free,” Mr Khati told The National. “There was a lot of graffiti work going on, so it was necessary for us to step in and regulate it.”

The state’s forestry department renovated the ashram only minimally, Mr Khati said. Rubbish was cleared, bushes were pruned, and trails were marked.

The minister said he hoped that the ashram’s new visitors would enjoy the wooded calm as much as Lennon and Harrison did, adding that there were no plans to pipe the band’s music through the site.

When asked if he was a Beatles fan himself, Mr Khati laughed.

“I don’t listen to the Beatles very much,” he said. “I prefer Abba and Boney M.”