FaithWorld

from John Lloyd:

Russia’s scorning of Europe

After a quarter of a century of claiming to be a part of Europe, Russia has ceased to regard it as a goal. As tension over Ukraine remains taut, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has confirmed a new line. He no longer wants Russia to be thought of as “European.” Europe and Russia, he now says, are in separate moral spheres.

When I first began visiting Russia in the Soviet Union in the eighties and eventually lived there, it marked itself as a different political, economic and social world system. What struck the Western visitor most was that it wasn’t a consumer society. There were no advertisements; the shops, largely empty of goods, were overstaffed by women who ignored you or were rude; the restaurants sold greasy, lukewarm and sometimes uneatable food. Hotel rooms were bare, with tepid water, cracked ceramics and bad smells. Most people -- even young women -- were dowdy. And that was Moscow. Outside the capital, it was often worse.

One could say -- as I did -- that these things were superficial. Soviets may have argued that they aimed for modesty of living; they were attempting to make citizens more or less equal in plainness, directing them to political or intellectual interests and satisfying the mind rather than the tastes for comfort.

To be sure, Soviet Russia was a reading society. Metro passengers were accompanied by books, magazines and newspapers. The books were often the Russian classics. Once I had some language and could make friends, a world of warmth, curiosity and hospitality opened. It was demanding but rewarding.

The eternal conversation that Westerners had about Russia was: Are Russians Europeans? I would have said: Of course they are.

Brunei adopts sharia law, others in Southeast Asia consider it

(Bruneian Muslims pray during mass prayers for the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 at Jame'asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan March 13, 2014. Malaysian authorities said on Thursday there was no evidence that a jetliner missing for almost six days flew for hours after losing contact with air traffic controllers and continued to transmit technical data. REUTERS/Ahim Rani )

(Bruneian Muslims pray during mass prayers at Jame’asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan March 13, 2014.REUTERS/Ahim Rani )

The sultanate of Brunei this week becomes the first East Asian country to introduce Islamic criminal law, the latest example of a deepening religious conservatism that has also taken root in parts of neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia.

Brunei, a tiny former British protectorate of about 400,000 nestled between two Malaysian states on Borneo island, relies on oil and gas exports for its prosperity, with annual per capita income of nearly $50,000 (29,715 pounds). It is the first country in east Asia to adopt the criminal component of sharia at a national level.

Secularist underdogs fight to be heard in Iraq’s national election

(A fully-veiled woman walks after marking her ballot at a polling booth during a parliamentary election in Baghdad April 30, 2014. Iraqis headed to the polls on Wednesday in their first national election since U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki seeking a third term amid rising violence. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani )

(A fully-veiled woman walks after marking her ballot at a polling booth during a parliamentary election in Baghdad April 30, 2014.REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani )

“I am Iraqi, so do I exist?” is the question posed on the Civil Democratic Alliance’s Facebook page.

The coalition of 10 liberal and secular parties aims to be an alternative to the communal politics defining Wednesday’s national vote, aimed at people who feel so marginalised by Iraq’s politics that they are hardly counted.

Cobblestones to remember murdered Jews multiply in Berlin

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(A memorial stone commemorating Holocaust victims Karl Bukofzer and Alfred Koh in front of their former home in Berlin, November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Peter )

Veronika Houboi watched as a man in a cowboy hat and clogs wielded a sledge hammer to smash up and remove a dozen small cobblestones from a Berlin pavement.

He quickly filled the resulting hole with two identical blocks of concrete capped with inscribed square brass plates.

Nigeria’s surging Christian-Muslim bloodshed strains ‘marriage of irreconcilables’

(The leader of the displaced Fulani herdsmen Haruna Usman in Barkin Kogi, Zango Kataf, Kaduna State March 22, 2014. Picture taken March 22, 2014. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde)

When Fulani raiders carrying rifles, machetes and clubs stormed his village one night last month, Pius Nna was stunned to see his teenage nephew among them.

“He was leading them and telling them to check very well, because my house would have a lot of people in it and they would be sure to find someone to kill,” said Nna, a tall farmer in his mid-60s who said he escaped by fleeing into the bush.

Israeli forces demolish West Bank mosque as peace talks deadline passes

(A Palestinian man holds damaged loudspeakers belonging to a mosque after it was demolished by Israeli bulldozers in Khirbet Al-Taweel village near the West Bank City of Nablus April 29, 2014. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)

Israeli forces demolished several structures, including a mosque, in a Palestinian village on Tuesday, the day a deadline for a deal in now-frozen peace talks expired.

A Reuters correspondent saw several hundred soldiers deployed in Khirbet al-Taweel, in the occupied West Bank, around daybreak. They guarded six bulldozers that reduced to rubble buildings that were constructed without Israeli permits. Palestinians say such documents are nearly impossible to obtain.

Two U.S. soldiers lose bid to dress according to religious custom

(U.S. army soldiers are seen marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri )

The U.S. Army has denied requests by two soldiers to dress and groom themselves according to their religious beliefs under a revised Pentagon policy, a spokesman said on Monday.

The policy approved on January 22 was mainly expected to affect Sikhs, Muslims, Jews and other groups that wear beards, long hair or articles of clothing such as turbans and yarmulkes. It also could affect Wiccans and others who obtain tattoos for religious reasons.

‘Rebel priest’ in Ukraine prays for pro-Russian gunmen but denies covert support

(A pro-Russian armed man stands guard at a barricade near the state security service building in Slaviansk, April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

Father Vitaly says he prays every day for the armed men who now wield power in Slaviansk, stronghold of pro-Russian separatists who have seized key buildings in a dozen towns across eastern Ukraine this month.

“There’s a point at which you just can’t take it anymore and you have to pick yourself up and stand up for yourself,” the bearded, broad-shouldered Orthodox priest said of his hostility to the Ukrainian leadership which has taken power in Kiev.

Turkey’s Erdogan calls on U.S. to extradite rival cleric Fethullah Gulen

(Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen is pictured at his residence in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Selahattin Sevi/Zaman Daily via Cihan News Agency )

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he would ask the United States to extradite an Islamic cleric he accuses of plotting to topple him and undermine Turkey with concocted graft accusations and secret wire taps.

Such a move against Fethullah Gulen, whose followers say they number in the millions, would be possible only if Turkey first issued an arrest warrant and produced evidence of a crime, according to one legal expert.

Hungarians march against anti-Semitism after far-right poll gains

(People participate in the annual “March of the Living” walk in remembrance of the more than half million Hungarian Jews who died in the Holocaust during World War Two, in Budapest, April 27, 2014. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo)

Tens of thousands of Hungarians joined a protest march on Sunday against anti-Semitism, three weeks after the far-right Jobbik party won nearly a quarter of votes cast in a national election.

Budapest’s annual ‘March of the Living’ has drawn an increasing number of participants in recent years to commemorate the deaths of around half a million Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust in World War Two.