FaithWorld » 2011 » January » 27 Religion, faith and ethics Thu, 03 Nov 2016 13:40:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 God absent from Russian church’s new spiritual guide Thu, 27 Jan 2011 18:28:46 +0000 God is absent from a new spiritual guide the Russian Orthodox Church is drafting in tandem with Russia’s ruling party, a newspaper said on Thursday. Instead justice, patriotism and solidarity top the list of the guideline, dubbed “Eternal Values: The Foundation of Russian Identity,” which the Church is to publish with the dominant United Russia party, headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

kremlin cathedralThe moral guide lists the values in order of their importance in the eyes of the church and the party, as reported by the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta:

1. justice

2. freedom

3. solidarity

4. unity

5. self-restraint and sacrifice

6. patriotism

7. welfare

8. love

Read the full story by Lidia Kelly here.

(Photo: St Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin on Red Square in Moscow October 14, 2007/Yushko Oksana)

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Will Pew Muslim birth rate study finally silence the “Eurabia” claim? Thu, 27 Jan 2011 15:21:18 +0000 paris prayers

(Photo: Muslims who could not fit into a small Paris mosque pray in the street, a practice the French far-right has compared to the Nazi occupation, December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)

One of the most wrong-headed arguments in the debate about Muslims in Europe is the shrill “Eurabia” claim that high birth rates and immigration will make Muslims the majority on the continent within a few decades. Based on sleight-of-hand statistics, this scaremongering (as The Economist called it back in 2006) paints a picture of a triumphant Islam dominating a Europe that has lost its Christian roots and is blind to its looming cultural demise.

The Egyptian-born British writer Bat Ye’or popularised the term with her 2005 book “Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis” and this argument has become the background music to much exaggerated talk about Muslims in Europe. Some examples from recent weeks can be found here, here and here.

A good example is the video “Muslim Demographics,” an anonymous diatribe on YouTube that has racked up 12,680,220 views since being posted in March 2009. Among its many dramatic but unsupported claims are that France would become an “Islamic republic” by 2048 since the average French woman had 1.8 children while French Muslim women had 8.1 children — a wildly exaggerated number that it made no serious effort to document. It also predicted that Germany would turn into a “Muslim state” by 2050 and that “in only 15 years” the Dutch population would be half Muslim. “Some studies show that, at Islam’s current rate of growth, in five to seven years, it will be the dominant religion of the world,” the video declares as it urges viewers to “share the Gospel message in a changing world.”


The BBC produced its own video entitled “Welcome to Eurabia?” that gave a point-by-point rebuttal of the video’s claims. Watching “Muslim Demographics” and “Welcome to Eurabia?” back-to-back provides a useful lesson in the dark art of twisting statistics. The image at left, shows a fictional flag of “Eurabia” created by Oren Neu Dag.

Articles defending the “Eurabia” claim have often been so shrill that they essentially discredited themselves as serious arguments. But it could be difficult to find a solid statistics that gave an overall view of what was actually happening. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has stepped up with an impressive study entitled “The Future of the Global Muslim Population” (here’s the press release, report and graphics here). As we summarised it in our report Muslim birth rate falls, slower population growth:

Falling birth rates will slow the world’s Muslim population growth over the next two decades, reducing it on average from 2.2 percent a year in 1990-2010 to 1.5 percent a year from now until 2030, a new study says.

Muslims will number 2.2 billion by 2030 compared to 1.6 billion in 2010, making up 26.4 percent of the world population compared to 23.4 percent now, according to estimates by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life…

“The declining growth rate is due primarily to falling fertility rates in many Muslim-majority countries,” it said, noting the birth rate is falling as more Muslim women are educated, living standards rise and rural people move to cities.

peshawar women and children

(Photo: Muslim women and their children in Peshawar, Pakistan, April 26, 2009/Ali Imam. The report says Pakistan will overtake Indonesia as the world's most populous Muslim country by 2030)

The proven demographic fact that birth rates have been falling among Muslim women, both in Muslim majority countries and western countries where Muslims have migrated, is not new. Nor are articles debunking the idea that Muslims will become the majority in Europe (see here and here and here). But my own experience in discussing this with non-Muslims in Europe and the United States says this message does not seem to be getting through. The fact that Muslim birth rates, while still higher than those for non-Muslims, are actually falling seems to surprise people who do not follow these issues closely.

There are many legitimate questions concerning Muslim minorities in western countries. Should Muslim women be allowed to cover their faces in public? Do state schools have to provide halal meals? Does sharia have any place in the western legal system? Should Muslims be allowed to pray in the streets? What does the decline of Christianity in Europe mean for the continent? These issues have to be debated openly —“The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom,” as Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplain at the Catholic university Georgetown in Washington put it at a conference at UNESCO in Paris two years ago. But while citizens have a right to have their own opinions, they can’t just make up their own “facts” and expect to be taken seriously. Twisting statistics only distorts the debate and risks leading to unfounded conclusions.

london sikhs

(Photo: Britain's Prince Charles visits a Sikh temple in Southall, London, June 13, 2003. Sikhism is another world faith the Pew Forum will study in future reports/Max Nash)

This study raises further questions that the Pew Forum cannot yet answer. The report’s preface asks “Is Islam the world’s fastest-growing religion? If Islam is growing in percentage terms, does that mean some of the world’s other major faiths are shrinking? Is secularism becoming more prevalent, or less?” It doesn’t yet have the data, but it plans to issue a similar report on the prospects for Christianity worldwide next year, followed up by others analysing the trends for “other major world faiths, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Judaism. We will also look at the size and growth of the population that is not affiliated with any religious tradition.”

What do you think? Is this report a surprise? Which interesting trends could the other reports bring to light?

UPDATE: In a telephone conference with journalists later on Thursday, Pew Forum researchers commented on the study. I asked what the results said about the “Eurabia” claim.

Senior researcher Brian Grim said: “Across the next 20 years, we’re only seeing a 2 percent rise in the total share of Europe that is Muslim. We’re projecting that the growth rate is slowing. So this rise is very very modest. It’s a relatively small share of the overall population in Europe…  There’s no real scenario that we’ve looked at that this ‘Eurabia’ scenario would come to be.”

Alan Cooperman, associate director for research, said the percentages of Muslims in some European populations would rise from 3 to 5 percent to between 6 and 10 percent by 2030. “Those are substantial increases but they are very far from the ‘Eurabia’ scenario of runaway growth,” he said. “We do not see either wordlwide or in Europe runaway growth. The growth rates are slowing.”

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Nepal Christians threaten ‘corpse’ protest in burial row Thu, 27 Jan 2011 14:35:31 +0000 pashupatinathChristians in Nepal have threatened to parade corpses in the capital to press the government into finding them alternative burial grounds after burials near the country’s holiest Hindu shrine were banned.

Christians account for less than two percent of Hindu-majority Nepal’s 28 million people. Authorities barred them this month from burying their dead in the forested graveyard at Sleshmantak saying the land belonged to the Pashupatinath Hindu temple, a U.N. heritage site in Kathmandu.

(Photo: Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu September 2, 2008/Shruti Shrestha)

“Burial after death is a fundamental human right and the government is violating this by not giving us any place to bury the dead,” C.B.Gahatraj, a senior official of the Committee for Christian Recommendation for New Constitution told Reuters.

“If we don’t get an alternative burial site we’ll be forced to protest with corpses in front of the Singha Durbar,” Gahatraj said referring to the government complex that houses the prime minister’s office and the parliament.

Read the full story here.

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U.S. rabbis protest Fox host’s use of Holocaust imagery Thu, 27 Jan 2011 14:23:50 +0000 beckFour hundred rabbis published a letter on Thursday calling on Fox News to sanction host Glenn Beck for repeated use of Nazi and Holocaust imagery and for airing attacks on World War Two survivor George Soros.

In an open letter to Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp, which owns Fox, the rabbis also demand an apology from Fox News chief Roger Ailes for characterizing Beck’s Jewish critics as nothing more than “left-wing rabbis.”

(Photo: Glenn Beck waves at his rally on the National Mall in Washington, August 28, 2010/Jonathan Ernst)

The letter appeared as an advertisement in the News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal on Thursday for which the rabbis spent more than $100,000, a spokesman said.

“We haven’t seen the ad,” said Joel Cheatwood, Fox News senior vice president of development, “but this group is a George Soros backed left-wing political organization that has been trying to engage Glenn Beck primarily for publicity purposes.”

In the letter, the rabbis cited “unacceptable attacks” by Beck against Soros, a billionaire financier who grew up in Nazi-occupied Hungary and is a frequent target of conservative commentators.

Read the full story here.

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A Republic Day to forget for India’s opposition party Thu, 27 Jan 2011 07:15:08 +0000 As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh watched India’s 61st Republic Day parade in the New Delhi sunshine on Wednesday morning, senior opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were in a Jammu prison, where they had spent a night under arrest.

Detained for attempting to lead thousands of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers into India’s northern state of Jammu & Kashmir to provocatively raise the national flag in the state that has been racked by unrest by Muslim separatists opposed to Indian rule, Swaraj and Jaitley’s politically-driven mission had ended in failure.

Workers of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hold national flags and shout slogans during a protest on a bridge at Madhopur, in the northern Indian state of Punjab January 25, 2011. Thousands of Indian Hindu-nationalist opposition supporters massed on a bridge to the disputed Kashmir region on Tuesday as officials sought to stop a flag-raising ceremony that could spark violence. Police faced off with flag-waving BJP workers as authorities sealed routes into Kashmir to thwart the planned raising of the national flag in the state that has been racked by unrest by Muslim separatists opposed to Indian rule. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

The BJP appear to have thought that the nationalism-drenched plan to hoist the flag in the centre of Srinagar, the state capital, would galvanize their Hindu support base, and show the ruling Congress party as ineffective in defending the disputed state from separatists who rile against New Delhi’s rule.

Thursday’s media post-mortem strongly suggested that they failed on both counts.

“Omar steals a march as BJP flag mission foiled,” summed up Mail Today on Thursday, as the opposition’s plan to paint the Congress-backed state chief minister as a weak leader spectacularly backfired.

The provocative rhetoric that accompanied the march also risked alienating moderate Hindus and a large section of secular voters, as newspaper editors strongly criticized the brazen attitude to stirring tensions in the unstable region where more than 100 people were killed last year.

The Hindu declared that the BJP’s plans appeared “more like an expedition to conquer enemy territory than a march for national unity. The political target was not separatism in Kashmir but the secular foundations of India.”

“Given the sensitive situation in the state, the party’s attitude has been irresponsible,” Mail Today agreed, as the BJP’s main political ally, the similarly Hindu-targeted Janata Dal party, publicly voiced its opposition to the provocative plan

“For all its talk of making corruption and governance the key issues in its poll campaign, the Hindutva party does not seem to tire of working for a Hindu-Muslim polarisation of the vote in its favour,” the Hindu wrote in its Thursday editorial.

“The people and the government of the troubled State of Jammu and Kashmir certainly did not need this disintegrative march by leaders of the country's principal opposition party, who seemed intent on heightening tensions and provoking violence rather than on healing wounds and restoring normality”

Released from prison on Wednesday morning, the leaders conducted a hoisting ceremony before 200 party workers in Kathua, a small border town over 300 kms from Srinagar.

Sushma and Jaitley have vowed to bring up the issue in Parliament, and called it the worst scenario since the Emergency during the 1970s where freedom of speech rights were curtailed.

The Indian flag was hoisted in the state capital anyway, as planned, in a government-sponsored function at a sports stadium in the city, where Abdullah called for separatists to join a peaceful dialogue process.

Bereft of provocative rhetoric, the annual ceremony went without a hitch – which is more than can be said of the opposition party’s upside-down hoist in Orissa.

All round a Republic Day to forget for the BJP, then.

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