An Iraqi Painter Moved to America for a Better Life and Got Robbed Anyway
It’s not often you see a look of total devastation on someone’s face, but that was the expression Bassim Al-Shaker wore when I met him at a bar in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday night. Escaping threats for his life, the Iraqi-born painter fled to Phoenix in July of last year, eventually obtaining refugee status and becoming a permanent citizen earlier this year.
But Bassim woke up Monday morning to discover the door to his downtown studio smashed. Ten paintings were stolen August 18, as well as a couch and some power tools, from Bassim’s studio on Fourth Street and McKinley. Bassim was using the studio space rent-free before the whole block is to be demolished at the end of the year.
Formerly a barber in Baghdad, Bassim was once blindfolded, spat on, and beaten by loyalists of Iraq’s Mahdi Army militia, who left the painter so battered he spent the next two weeks in the hospital. But what had Bassim done to attract their violence? He had drawn sketches of the Venus de Milo as part of an entrance exam at Baghdad University’s College of Fine Arts.
Yeah, that’s right. Some tasteful nude sketches almost got this guy killed.
The Bizarre and Terrifying Propaganda Art of the Children of God
The Children of God movement was founded in 1968 in Huntington Beach, California, by former pastor David Brandt Berg, known to his followers as Moses David, Mo, King David, Dad, and Grandpa. Essentially a communist cult founded around banding together to proselytize the word of Jesus in the streets, the group maintained an “old world” idea of Christianity, which, at least in Berg’s view, centered largely around sex. By the time the organization changed its name to The Family of Love in 1978, Berg had introduced a process called “flirty fishing,” which involved the women of the group recruiting new members by fucking them.
The use of sex within the Family did not end at the recruiting stage. When the group changed its name again, for a second time, in 1987, to simply “The Family,” numerous allegations of abduction, pedophilia, and various sexual abuses were leveled at the group, which by this time had locations in countries all over the world. In 1993, more than 70 percent of the group’s 10,000 members were under the age of 18, operating under a strict and insane set of guidelines laid out by Berg and his wife, Karen Zerby, the latter of whom still heads the organization to this day, under their current moniker, the Family International.
I have paraphrased 20 of the Family’s foundational ideas below.
1. God loves sex, because sex is love.
2. Satan hates sex, because sex is beautiful.
3. Incest is OK, because there’s no better place for a young man to learn about doing it than from his own mother.
4. Eleven-year-olds are capable of becoming pregnant, so why shouldn’t they be having sex?
5. Fucking your grandpa is awesome.
6. Everybody is married to everybody else.
7. Children should have at least an eighth grade education, provided by their parents, and if the children want more education, it is “up to the parents to see if the Home can comply.”
8. Pictures of naked congregation members, referred to as “nudie-cuties,” make good bookmarks for the Bible.
9. It is OK to lie to non-believers in order to protect God’s work.
10. Men should not be gay, but it is hot when women are gay.
For a few years, a young radical group of Israeli settlers in the West Bank have committed random acts of violence and vandalization against Palestinians and their property to make them pay the price for affronting their way of life. They call themselves “Pricetaggers,” and they’ve largely avoided prosecution by Israeli authorities.
VICE News gets rare access to the young members of the Price Tag movement—at the homecoming of Moriah Goldberg, 20, who just finished a three-month sentence for throwing stones at Palestinians. She and her family remain proud of the act, even as the current conflict in Gaza was sparked after an all-too-familiar round of retributive violence.
Two Would-Be Jihadists, Two Very Different Responses from the FBI
One is a 19-year-old citizen from Arvada, Colorado, named Shannon Maureen Conley. The other is a 29-year-old, Pakistani-born permanent US resident who lived in North Carolina named Basit Javed Sheikh. Both—entirely separately—planned to travel to Syria for love and jihad, according to public records, and both came under close scrutiny of the FBI and were eventually arrested.
But in Conley’s case, the FBI gave the would-be jihadist every available out. Overt agents who identified themselves as being from the FBI repeatedly cautioned her against going through with her plans to travel to Syria and join the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS). According to a sworn affidavit, they warned her she would be arrested if she tried to board a plane to the region, but to no avail. Few, if any, targets in federal terrorism investigations have been given such apparently blunt warnings from openly identified agents. “That’s a first as far as I know,” says Trevor Aaronson, author of The Terror Factory: Inside The FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism.
Sheikh, however, wasn’t so lucky. The FBI didn’t openly try to talk him out of boarding a plane allegedly to join Jabat al Nusra, the al Qaeda–linked militant group fighting Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria. Sheikh has even gone so far as to claim that an FBI informant, posing as a nurse in Syria, engaged in a romantic relationship with him, and he was traveling to marry her. An undercover agent—as opposed to an openly identified one, like in Conley’s case—told Sheikh he didn’t have to go through with his plan, something investigators often do to prevent an entrapment defense. Both cases are currently in the pre-trial motions phase.
It’s the second one that everyone is shouting about today, and for good reason. To recap: Hobby Lobby is a chain of craft stores with 13,000 employees, 572 outlets, and billions in annual revenue. It’s run by the Green family, who aren’t exactly shy about their Christianity: According to the company’s website, Hobby Lobby is committed to “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with biblical principles.” After the Affordable Care Act (ACA, a.k.a. ObamaCare) passed, a federal agency ruled that employers were going to have to provide health-insurance plans that offered coverage for a range of birth-control options. A lot of these methods the Greens, like many other devout Christians, have no problems with, but they are super, super upset by techniques that, to quote the Supreme Court’s decision, prevent “an already fertilized egg from developing any further by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus.” (These include Plan B and IUDs, which they think of as being equivalent to abortion.)
Now, a lot of people might find the belief that stopping a man’s sperm from meeting a lady’s egg is fine but stopping a fertilized egg from sticking to the uterus is AWFUL MURDER AND MUST BE STOPPED: a bizarre bit of hair-splitting. Those people might also note, as some have, that the owners of Hobby Lobby aren’t using these devices themselves, and they aren’t even paying for them directly—they’re paying for insurance plans that allow some women to get these horrible, no-good, very bad birth-control options. But the grounds on which the Greens challenged the ACA don’t require them to prove that their beliefs are correct; it’s enough that they feel that paying for certain kinds of plans is a sinful act. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which was passed in 1993 with Democratic support, for what that’s worth) says that laws can’t “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless there’s a “compelling governmental interest” at stake and the law represents “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.. Since corporations count as people (yeah, I know, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯), Hobby Lobby could claim with a straight face that its rights were being violated by the ACA, and the five more conservative justices could with a straight face concur. So presto change-o, the court has decided that companies that really, really want to deny certain types of health coverage to people can totally do that.
This Romanian Priest Blesses Stuff with His Long, Extendable Rod
Romania loves its religion. In fact, over 80 percent of Romanians follow the Orthodox Christian church, meaning its priests have a lot of blessing to do. A few times a year, they’ll go door to door in every village, town, and city, walk through every room and throw holy water at whatever needs blessing with a basil branch—always for a price, of course.
However, sometimes the basil branch just won’t do. The guy poking the TV screens with a paint-roller in the photo above is the resourceful leader of the Romanian church, Patriarch Daniel, who’s become an internet superstar after developing a new blessing technique that involves dipping a paint roller in holy water and using it to bless hard-to-reach surfaces.
Many Romanians were quick to judge, so back in January the church issued a statement defending their “extendable blesser,” instructing journalists to “read more on holy matters before misinforming the public.”
You can do that if you like, or you can scroll through all these photos of Patriarch Daniel using his blessing rod instead.
July 11, 2010 His Holiness blessing a church in the city of Brașov. In this one, another priest is holding something that looks like a pine cone covered in M&M’s. This is presumably helpful in some way.
Here Are Some Great Photos of People Posing Next to a Cardboard Cutout of the Pope
Last September I wrote a blog post about the pope, and to find an image that could go with it I started browsing through Flickr’s Creative Commons library, which is a great place to find images you don’t have to pay for. I didn’t get any particularly good shots of Pope Francis, but my search led me to the Flickr page of Catholic United Financial, an account that has over 6,000 photos—all of them of people posing next to cardboard cutouts of Pope Francis.
Now, I don’t know anything about Catholic United Financial, though I imagine it’s some sort of charity that brings cardboard cutouts of the pope to events. As you scroll through the photos the cutout changes from waving happy Pope Francis to a more serious Pope Francis, so I assume the cutouts get worn out after so much use, but that’s conjecture on my part. I prefer to keep myself ignorant, because adding context to these photos—where they were taken, what events the cardboard pope was attending, why a charity would decide to post them all online—will only detract from the pure joy I get from periodically clicking through that Flickr page.
And for the record, I’m not enjoying these photos on some kind of ironically detached level where I’m pointing and laughing at people in Middle America who like something as old-fashioned as the Catholic Church. The images below are great simply because they show people being happy. Thank you, Catholic United Financial!