FaithWorld

Religion-themed films take top prizes at Cannes Film Festival

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Apichatpong Weerasethakul (in white) and cast member Wallapa Mongkolprasert at the screening of ''Lung Boonmee Raluek Chat'' (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives) in Cannes on May 21, 2010/Yves Herman

A Buddhist-inspired Thai film has won the coveted Palme d’Or for best picture at the Cannes film festival. “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” a mystical exploration of reincarnation as a well-to-do farmer confronts his imminent death, was directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Xavier Beauvois’ “Of Gods and Men,” based on the real-life story of seven Catholic monks murdered during unrest in Algeria in the 1990s, took the runner-up Grand Prix award at the closing session on Sunday.

“I would like to thank all the spirits and all the ghosts in Thailand who made it possible for me to be here,” Apichatpong, who has won other prizes in Cannes before, said after receiving the award.  He said during the festival that his thoughts were mainly on violence back home between government forces and protesters in the “red shirt” movement. cannes 2

Director Xavier Beauvois (2nd L) and cast members arrive for the screening of the film "Of Gods and Men" in Cannes on May 18, 2010/Christian Hartmann

Cannes film follows French monks killed in Algeria

beauvois Xavier Beauvois at the Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2010/Vincent Kessler

The unsolved murder of seven French monks in Algeria during the brutal civil conflict of the 1990s is recounted in “Of Gods and Men,” a sombre and reflective entry at the Cannes film festival.

The seven members of a Trappist order, who lived in a monastery in Tibehirine south of Algiers, disappeared in 1996 during a savage wave of killings by both Islamist militants and government forces.  Only their severed heads were ever recovered and the exact circumstances in which they died are unclear.

Director Xavier Beauvois takes no side in the controversy over who to blame, focussing instead on the unhurried rhythms of life in the monastery and ending the film as they disappear with their captors up a snowy mountain path.

France’s burqa debate stokes passions in North Africa

Anne, an assumed name, a 31-year old French woman who has been fined for wearing a niqab while driving, speaks to the media during a news conference with her husband Lies Hebbadj in Nantes, western France, April 26, 2010.  REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/Files

Veiled French woman Anne (an assumed name) fined for wearing a niqab while driving in Nantes meets journalists on 26 April 2010/Stephane Mahe

A French proposal to ban full face veils has stoked debate in Europe and also provoked strong reactions across the Mediterranean in North Africa, where many of France’s Muslims trace their origins.

Former French colonies Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are still tied to France by history, language and migration, so their views on the “burqa” issue could have a direct influence on how Muslims inside France react to a ban.

Headscarf row re-opens old wounds for Algerians

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Algerian women walk past an election poster of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Batna, 500 km (311 miles) east of Algiers, March 19, 2009/Louafi Larbi

A decision by Algeria’s government that women should pose for passport photographs without their Islamic headscarves has re-opened wounds still raw after nearly two decades of Islamist militant violence.

Algeria’s secular-minded government says that as part of the introduction of new biometric passports, all women should be photographed without the veil, a requirement that has angered the country’s influential religious traditionalists.

Amid the prayers, some haj pilgrims talk football

mecca-mosqueThe haj is supposed to be a spiritual highlight in a Muslim’s life, but everyday issues can sometimes intrude. In between prayers and visits to various sites, pilgrims often discuss all kinds of current issues. Among Algerians and Egyptians on the haj here this year, the buzz is about the public row sparked by a soccer game to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Algeria won that match 1-0. (Photo: Haj pilgrims at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, 24 Nov 2009/Caren Firouz)

The football rivalry has caused considerable bad blood between the two countries. Egypt has recalled its ambassador from Algiers after the play-off, accusing Algerian fans of post-match thuggery at the game’s venue in Khartoum. Egypt had earlier complained when Algerian fans trashed the Algiers headquarters of Egypt-based Orascom Telecom’s Djezzy mobile subsidiary. Before that, Algeria was irked after Egyptian fans pelted the Algerian team’s bus with stones and some fans were hurt in scuffles on game-day in the first round of the qualifier in Cairo.

“We are brothers … This should have never happened and I blame the media in the two countries for instigating ill feelings among the most foolish of us,” said Khaled Salam Abdallah from Cairo.

Algeria also opts for “Sufi card” to fight Islamist extremism

algeria-sufi (Photo: Sufi at festival in southern Algeria, 24 March 2008/Zohra Bensemra)

FaithWorld recently ran a post about Pakistan considering playing the “Sufi card” in its campaign against Islamist militants. The idea is that promoting this mystical and tolerant school of Islam could counteract the influence of more radical readings of the faith. It looks like they’re not the only ones considering this:

After using police raids, arrests and gun battles in its fight against Islamist insurgents, Algeria is now deploying a new, more subtle weapon: a branch of Islam associated with contemplation, not combat.

The government of this North African oil and gas producer is promoting Sufism, an Islamic movement that it sees as a gentler alternative to the ultra-conservative Salafism espoused by many of the militants behind Algeria’s insurgency.

Shock cover-up charges about slain French monks in Algeria

monks-graveThe 1996 murder of seven French Catholic monks in Algeria, called the Martyrs of Atlas because of the Atlas mountains where their monastery was located, was not the work of Islamist militants as officially stated at the time, according to testimony by a retired French general to an inquiry into the killings. (Photo: Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin — with red sash — visits monks’ graces, 20 Feb 2007/Larbi Louafi)

In fact, he told a closed-door inquiry in Paris, Algerian troops in a helicopter inadvertently gunned down the Trappists when they strafed an isolated camp they believed belonged to the radical Armed Islamic Group (GIA) that was battling the Algerian state at the time. When they landed to inspect the scene, the troops found the bullet-ridden bodies of the monks who had been kidnapped two months beforehand. Algeria then concocted the story that the Islamists had slit the monks’ throats to hide their fatal blunder.

The inquiry also heard from a Trappist who went to Algeria to identify the bodies. He said he had to insist on having the sealed coffins opened so he could identify the bodies. When his wish was finally granted, he found the coffins contained only the men’s heads and was urged by the French embassy not to divulge this. He told the inquiry he suspected the bodies were disposed of to hide the evidence they had been gunned down.

Could Williamson end up as a bishop in cyberspace?

What should be done with Bishop Richard Williamson? In the wave of protests following his denial of the Holocaust, many critics argued he should have no place in the Roman Catholic Church. He gave them more ammunition over the weekend by telling Der Spiegel that he would have to study the historical evidence before deciding whether to publicly recant, as the Vatican has demanded. But he and his three fellow rebel bishops from the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) have already been let back into the Church thanks to Pope Benedict’s decision to lift their excommunications. They now have to find an official niche in the Church to occupy. (Photo: Bishop Richard Williamson, 28 Feb 2007/Jens Falk)

It’s not clear when the SSPX bishops will begin negotiating their rehabilitation with the Vatican, partly because we don’t know how long Williamson will take for his new history assignment. But whenever those talks get under way, one of their goals will be to find a role for the four men who, although illicitly ordained, are valid bishops. And if they are rehabilitated, they will have to be bishops of somewhere or something. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it, bishops “are appointed for the government of one portion of the faithful of the Church, under the direction and authority of the sovereign pontiff, who can determine and restrain their powers, but not annihilate them”.

The operative word here is “restrain”. SSPX leader Bishop Bernard Fellay could be made bishop of a personal prelature, on the model of Opus Dei, but that still leaves the other three without official positions. The two others — Alfonso de Galarreta and Bernard Tissier de Mallerais — haven’t received too much media attention yet and it’s not clear what they might end up doing. But Williamson looks set for the sidelines even if he pops up on YouTube doing penitential readings from Saul Friedländer‘s books.

Christian missionaries stir unease in north Africa

“A new breed of undercover Christian missionary is turning to Muslim north Africa in the search for new converts, alarming Islamic leaders who say they prey on the weak and threaten public order,” writes our Rabat correspondent Tom Pfeiffer. (Photo: Foreign Christians worship at Saint Peter’s Cathedral, Rabat, 12 Nov 2008/Rafael Marchante)

His feature (read it here) says missionary groups estimate the number of Moroccan Christians has grown to 1,500 from 100 in a decade and that Algerian Christians number several thousand, although no official figures exist. It quotes Moroccan converts from Islam who fear persecution,  an American missionary who works undercover, Muslim officials who denounce this evangelising and local Roman Catholic bishop who will not baptise Moroccans because it’s against the law.

The growth of evangelical missionary work in Muslim countries in recent years presents a dilemma for Christians.  Jesus told his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” and these missionaries are doing that. But in the process, at least some are endangering the lives of their converts, breaking local laws and creating tensions that can lead to a backlash against all Christians, including long-established local churches who have come to a modus operandi with Muslim authorities.

See how and why France’s Muslim Council doesn’t work

CFCM leaders representing (from left) Muslims from Turkey, mixed groups, Morocco and Algeria, 22 June 2008/Gonzalo FuentesAs the official umbrella group for Europe’s largest Muslim minority, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) should play an important role in integrating Islam into French society. In fact, it hardly has any influence at all. The CFCM is so split by internal differences that it can hardly agree on when Ramadan should start or end. The link above is to the Wikipedia entry on the CFCM because the council has not been able to get its act together sufficiently to produce its own website.

France 24, the all-news TV station Paris launched two years ago as a kind of “French CNN,” has produced an excellent report on the CFCM — “Divisions within French Islam deepen at Ramadan.” It zooms in on the rivalry between Algerian and Moroccan Muslim groups that has crippled the council from the start. In one of the France 24 logomost telling scenes in the report, the Algerian and Moroccan groups meet separately at the (Algerian-run) Grand Mosque of Paris before a joint session where they argue about how to decide when Ramadan ends. The discussion got so heated that journalists were asked to leave the room.

The report also has interviews with leading figures in the CFCM as well as observers and critics. In all, an insightful report into the politics of Islam in France today.