egpyt's presidential elections and liberal activists

As mentioned in the New York Times, the presidential elections in Egypt have seen the Muslim Brother candidate Mohamed Morsi and old Mubarak-apparatchik Ahmed Shafik emerge as the two leading candidates; as a result, a runoff will be held to determine Egypt's first democratically elected President. More interesting (at least to me), is the reaction of the liberal wing of the Egyptian revolution who are piqued at the thought that either a Muslim Brother or Mubarak stalwart will lead the country.

Other moderate and liberal candidates like Amr Moussa, the Nasserite Hamdeen Sabahi, and the former Muslim Brother Aboul Fotouh did not gain enough votes to proceed to the runoff. Indeed, the two former frontrunners of the race, Moussa and Fotouh, are now out of the race. In the case of Fotouh, it seems liberal support for the candidate eroded with the Salafists endorsement of his candidacy. Thus, liberal support buoyed Sabahi's candidacy to propel him to be on par with that of Fotouh. And while the combined votes of Fotouh and Sabahi would put them in a clear plurality of the vote, the Egyptian voting system doesn't care for such ad hoc rationalizations.

Moderate and liberal voices were overshadowed by the organizational skill of the Brotherhood should not come to anyone's surprise. As mentioned by this special from Al Jazeera, this Muslim Brotherhood has had organizational success in parliamentary elections since the beginning of Mubarak's regime. And they are the most organized and largest non-state actor in Egypt. And while the revolution itself was led by liberal and leftist activists, the inability of these activists to speak in a single voice like the Brotherhood doomed their candidate(s) of choice.

However, the success of Shafik may come as a surprise since the revolution sought to remove the ancien regime of Mubarak. But this is not that surprising once you think about it. It was never clear if the majority of the Egyptian people actually supported the revolution. Not to mean they thought Mubarak was awesome, but that they were neutral with regards to the revolution. The revolution has had an economic and social cost to Egypt: the lost of tourism has sunk an already beleaguered economy, and the constant protests, clashes, and riots of the past year and a half has created a yearning for "normalcy" on the part of many Egyptians. They want security and jobs, and the revolution-as-a-phenomenon has created a situation counter to that. This is the situation that Shafik tried to tap into by stating that the "revolution is over". The chaos of the revolution has ended.

Of course, the dictates of the second-place candidate does not end a revolution. It'll be interesting to see how far Morsi goes if he does win the run-off vote. If so, the Muslim Brotherhood will now control the presidency and parliament, able to pass any legislation they will wish to pass. How they interact with the military (much less the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) is to be determined.

So what's next of Egypt's liberal activists? Well, the defection of many Fotouh supporters to Sabahi has led to Shafik being the second-place winner. Assuming that this election fosters a new era of Egyptian democracy, and not a continuation of autocratic rule, liberal and leftist activists should follow the example of the Brotherhood and do a better job at organizing at a political level. Yes, the liberal activists were at the forefront of the revolution, with the Brotherhood joining the protests once Mubarak's power became untenable. But as seen in the parliamentary elections, liberals and the left could not even hope to compete against the Brotherhood. And the decision to boycott the election proved to be disastrous. Yes, they showed their displeasure at Islamists controlling the legislature, but they don't have any say in the matter. What did that accomplish?

Let this election be a lesson to the Egyptian left. Hopefully, next time (if there is a next time), some semblance of unity can emerge to actually shift the course of the election. In the meantime, they will need to decide if either Morsi - the Islamist - or Shafik - the face of the old regime - is the lesser to two evils.

jesus denial

In the atheist/"freethought" movement, there exist a growing subset of activists who voice the belief that Jesus (aka "Christ") never existed. The proponents of this idea make arguments, that, on the surface,  appear to be valid to ask:

  • There are no documentation to suggest Jesus existed up until the writings of the Gospels
  • The divine characteristics attributed to Jesus (e.g. the virgin birth, resurrection, his miracles) are found again and again throughout the mythologies of other people in the Near East and the wider Greco-Roman world.
  • The imagery used to depict Jesus during early Christian era varies depending on the culture Jesus is worshiped in: as Apollo-like in Greece, to a black man in Ethiopia, to the bearded man we know emerging from Byzantium
  • The myriad of contradicting texts that does not give a clear picture on the life of Jesus

I will admit that when I first became an atheist (which is more me leaving the Catholic church than anything else), I was kinda swayed by these arguments.  Thinking back on it now, I was so enthused about discovering I was not alone  in having non-beliefs that I jumped right into the exact counter of what I used to believe: from believing in the divinity of Christ to the rejection of the existence of Jesus.  People tend to over indulge on a new found belief more out of validation and insecurity than anything else...

But enough of that tangent, back on topic:

These arguments against the historicity of Jesus, as I said, sound good, at first blush.  In fact, most of these arguments are true.  The deities worshiped in the ancient world did have many of the attributes that Jesus is said to have had. Not only that, many so-called "prophets" went around preaching their own ideas and wowing audiences with supposed "miracles". Much of the arguments and rationalizations of Jesus deniers is true that it is kind of hard to disprove them wrong.  And there lies the problem with the premise of the jesus deniers.

The deniers do not contend that he is not divine or endowed with supernatural powers; rather, they insist that Jesus/Yeshua never existed.  That's the claim they make, not that he was a mortal, but that the idea of Jesus as both a man and as the messiah were concocted by the leaders of the early church.

Let me just get this out of the way: I do not believe that Jesus is the messiah or a prophet from God.  Rather, he was just one of many apocalyptic preachers roaming around Roman Judea foretelling an end of the Roman occupation and the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel on earth.  Obviously, I believe that Jesus was a historical person, if not a deluded person.  But a person nevertheless.

The Jesus deniers will respond to any criticism of their views by asking for evidence of the existence of a person called Jesus.  It seems like a reasonable proposition to make; the burden of proof lies on the claimant, right?  Yes, but only insofar as the claim is beyond belief.  For example, if I claim I saw a cat running across the street on my way home, no one would ask me to prove my claim, as it is not much of an extraordinary claim to see a random cat.  However, if I claim instead that I saw a pride of lions chasing an emu on my drive home, then yes, it is perfectly reasonable for someone to ask me for evidence.  It is the degree of ridiculousness of my claim that warrants proof.  So it is perfect admissible to ask for evidence and proof on the claim of the divinity/sanctity of this Jesus fellow; however, the fact we know that there were many self-proclaimed prophets in Judea during the rule of Augustus is not far fetched at all.  There really is not reason to deny the existence of this Jesus fellow, especially when the initial followers of Jesus would interact with historical documented individuals like Saul of Tarsus, not to mention the accounts of Tacitus and Josephus on the existence of the Jesus movement spreading around the Roman world as early as the reign of Nero.

As for Josephus' documentation during the First Jewish War (circa 70 CE): while it is popular for Jesus deniers to claim that Josephus' writings on the "followers of Christus" is a medieval forgery, there is no actual debate among classicists and historians as to the validity of this claim. In this case, the burden of proof does lie with the Jesus deniers to prove.

The insistence of the Jesus deniers to ask for proof of Jesus' existence is spurious.  If I were to ask for proof of Socrates existence, then other than the writings of Plato and a handful of writings from other Athenians, there is no physical evidence that Socrates existed.  Hell, if I want to ask for proof of Phillip II of Macedon's existence or the existence of Scipio Africanus, then you'd be hard pressed to find any physical proof of the existence of these persons.  Rather, such pressing for evidence would seem absurd and paranoid; why would I doubt the existence of these ancients figures to begin with?

My own personal opinion is that many proponents of Jesus denialism do so out of a sense of vindication of their newly found non-belief and non-theism.  If Jesus never existed, then the rejection of a long-held belief is even more justified.  The uncertainty of leaving a previously held worldview is diminished if the central figure of that worldview is just a myth.  The anger in believing in a falsehood can be directed at the creators of the Jesus myth rather than one's own incredulity for believing in the divinity of a jewish carpenter.

Jesus denialism, then, is more about combating one's own insecurity with their newly found conversion story rather than any meaningful or substantive historical debate.

alone in kyoto

As with many things, I'm late in discovering the musical talents of AIR.  I'm instantly hooked to this vid.  Very beautiful imagery and music. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJ4Pm0N8s78&fmt=18]