Reuters blog archive
Police in Bangladesh Sunday fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse Islamist activists trying to enforce a nationwide strike over the removal of a Muslim phrase in the constitution, and witnesses said around 50 people were injured. The clashes erupted when thousands of bludgeon-carrying Islamists cut off a stretch of highway leading to the capital's eastern suburbs with barricades. The protesters also damaged several cargo trucks before the police crackdown, and some 100 people were detained.
The strike, which began two days after the country emerged from a 48-hour stoppage enforced by the opposition, was called to protest a recent amendment to the constitution which dropped the words "absolute faith and trust in Allah." The Islamists also want to scrap "secularism" as a state principle in the Muslim-majority country.
The strike, which was called for by 12 Islamist parties, was however, largely ignored by most people in Bangladesh, where businesses and transportation was operating as normal.
Pope Benedict warned on Sunday that the traditional family in Europe was disintegrating under the weight of secularization and called for laws to help couples cope with the costs of having and educating children. On the second day of his trip to Croatia, a bastion of Roman Catholicism in the Balkans, the pope said an open-air mass for hundreds of thousands of people and hammered home one of the major themes of his papacy.
France's ruling conservative party held a controversial debate on the practice of Islam on Tuesday, rejecting charges of bigotry and saying that airing the issue could help stem the rising popularity of the far-right. President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the discussion on Islam and secularism to address fears that some overt displays of Muslim faith, including street prayer and full-face veils, were undermining France's secular identity.
Pope Benedict urged French youths on Friday to help put God back into public debate, either as Christians sharing their faith or as non-believers seeking more justice and solidarity in a cold utilitarian world. In a video address from the Vatican to an evening rally outside Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris, the pope also urged them to "tear down the barriers of fear of the other, the foreigner, of those who are not like you" that mutual ignorance can create.
The Vatican has launched a series of public dialogues with non-believers, choosing leading intellectual institutions in Paris to present its belief that modern societies must speak more openly about God.
The decision to start the series in France, where strong secularism has pushed faith to the fringes of the public sphere, reflected Pope Benedict's goal of bringing religious questions back into the mainstream of civic debates.
(Photo: Shadows of protesters on the Tunisian flag, in Tunis January 15, 2011/Zohra Bensemra)
For years they were jailed or exiled. They were excluded from elections, banned from politics, and played no visible role in Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution. But in the brave new world of multi-party politics, moderate Islamists could attract more followers than their secular rivals like to admit.
And the downfall of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's police state may leave Tunisia open to infiltration by extremists from neighboring Algeria, where war between authorities and Islamists has killed 200,000 people in the last two decades.
(Photo: Tunisian protester with political demands on a banner that reads
"No to a government born of corruption" “Ben Ali is in Saudi Arabia and the government is the same (hasn’t changed)” in Arabic and "RCD, clear out!" in French. The RCD is the party of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. In Tunis January 18, 2011/Zohra Bensemra)
The absence of Islamist slogans from Tunisia's pro-democracy revolt punches a hole in the argument of many Arab autocrats that they are the bulwark stopping religious radicals sweeping to power.
Ousted strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali spent much of his 23-year rule crushing Islamist opposition groups who opposed his government's brand of strict secularism: after Sept. 11 2001, he was an enthusiastic backer of Washington's "war on terror".
Former President Pervez Musharraf has said that Pakistan's blasphemy laws could not be changed, but that the man who killed Punjab Province Governor Salman Taseer over his opposition to them must be punished.
Musharraf, who is planning to return to Pakistan to fight elections due by 2013, said blasphemy was an extremely sensitive issue for the people of Pakistan. "Therefore doing away with the blasphemy law is not at all possible and must not be done," he told Reuters in an interview at his London home on Sunday.
(Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near an overcrowded mosque in the Rue des Poissoniers in Paris on December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)
A call to prayer goes up from a loudspeaker perched on the hood of a car, and all at once hundreds of Muslim worshippers touch their foreheads to the ground, forming a sea of backs down the road. The scene is taking place not in downtown Cairo, but on a busy market street in northern Paris, a short walk from the Sacre Coeur basilica. To locals, it's old news: some have been praying on the street, rain or shine, for decades.
But for Marine Le Pen -- tipped to take over from her father this weekend as leader of the far-right National Front party -- it is proof that Muslims are taking over France and becoming an occupying force, according to remarks she made last month.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
For everyone trying to understand the implications of Salman Taseer's assassination, this essay from 2007 is good place to start (h/t Abu Muqawama). "The Politics of God" is about why Europe decided, after years of warfare over the correct interpretation of Christianity, to separate church and state. But it is also relevant to Pakistan, where the killing of the Punjab governor over his opposition to the country's blasphemy laws has shown that what was left of Pakistani secularism, is, if not dead, at least in intensive care.
Read the opening paragraph to understand why it resonates:
"For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us. Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We in the West are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists, we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong."