God and Man at Stanford

Feb. 27 2018

Stanford University, like any other major institution of higher learning in America, prides itself on the diversity of its students. Yet on its campus the devout of any faith are hard to come by, receive few accommodations from administrators, and face the bewilderment of their peers. Ben Simon, drawing on his own experiences as an observant Jew, and conversations with religious students of various faiths, reports:

Though the undergraduate student body comprises just over 7,000 students, one can count on one or two hands the number of religious Jewish undergraduates. . . . The story is similar when it comes to religious Muslim students. . . .

Stanford places a great deal of emphasis on building robust ethnic communities. How many other universities have dorms dedicated to fostering Black or Latino or Asian culture and community? But when it comes to strong traditionally religious communities, save for a slightly larger Christian contingent, Stanford is conspicuously lacking, especially when compared to other top-tier universities. . . . It may be unreasonable to expect a secular institution like Stanford to accommodate fully each student’s religious needs. With that said, Stanford goes far beyond the letter of the law when it comes to ethnic or racial diversity but does little to go out of its way to help religious students. . . .

When it comes to day-to-day interactions between secular and religious students, questions of religious practice and belief are oftentimes avoided. “People are too afraid to ask me about my practices,” says “Fatima,” [a Muslim student] who wears a hijab and prays five times a day. . . . “Rachel,” [an Orthodox Jew], also wishes religious topics weren’t taboo. “It’s obvious that everyone I interact with on a daily basis knows I’m religious, but no one ever really asks about it, except for my closest friends. People always say that diversity is important, but I wish we actually talked about what makes us different.”

Politics can also be a sensitive subject for religious students. Fanny, an evangelical student, recounts a conversation she had with her Catholic roommate about religion and its application to politics. “As soon as we began the subject, both of us glanced at the door, which was open. In a moment of unspoken agreement, I went over and closed the door.” Fanny thinks this incident sums up the challenging parts of being religious on campus. “For a university that champions free and open discourse, it is ironic that there are some opinions that just never make their way out of closed doors.”

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More about: American Muslims, American Religion, Evangelical Christianity, Orthodoxy, Religion & Holidays, University

 

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war