FaithWorld

European push to ban burqas appalls Afghan women

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Afghan widows line up during a cash for work project in Kabul January 6, 2010/Ahmad Masood

A firm believer in women’s rights, the only thing Afghan lawmaker Shinkai Karokhail finds as appalling as being forced to wear a burqa is a law banning it.

Karokhail is one of many Afghan women who see a double standard in efforts by some European nations to outlaw face veils and burqas — a move they say restricts a Muslim woman’s choice in countries that otherwise make a fuss about personal rights.

“Democratic countries should not become dictatorships and Muslim women should not be deprived from all kinds of opportunities. It should be their choice,” said Karokhail.  “Otherwise, what is the difference between forcing women to wear a burqa and forcing them not to? It is discrimination.”

France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, as well as Italy and Belgium are considering proposals to ban all-enveloping burqas and face veils called niqabs. Many in the West see them as a symbol of the subjugation of women.

Belgian committee backs banning Islamic face veil in public

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Muslim women protest against a ban on headscarves in some schools, 4 Feb 2004/Yves Herman

A Belgian parliamentary committee voted Wednesday to ban the full Islamic face veil, a move that, if ratified, could make Belgium the first country to enforce such a ban.

The lower house of parliament will vote on the bill on April 22 and it could enter into law in June or July.

New Catholic archbishop of Brussels raises hackles in Belgium

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Archbishop Léonard and Cardinal Danneels at news conference in Brussels 18 Jan 2010/Thierry Roge

The long-awaited announcement of the successor to the retiring Catholic archbishop of Brussels, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, has sparked an unusual outcry in Belgium. The new archbishop, André-Mutien Léonard, is sometimes called  “the Belgian Ratzinger” for his conservative views. Danneels ranks as one of the last liberal prelates in a Church hierarchy that has turned increasingly traditional under Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict.

Léonard has been a controversial figure in Belgium for his critical stands on homosexuality, same-sex marriage and condom use. He has been an outspoken opponent of abortion and euthanasia, both of which are legal in Belgium, and criticised the Catholic universities of Leuven and Louvain for their research into assisted reproduction and embryonic stem cells.

Monks take back seat in Trappist beer success story

BELGIUM-BEER/TRAPPISTSIt came as a surprise to discover that monks were no longer involved in the beer-making at Trappist brewer Westmalle during a visit to research for a feature of Trappist beers. With the exception of small-scale Westvleteren that is pretty much the case at all seven Trappist breweries in Belgium and the Netherlands.
It is largely the result of demographics – the average age of monks at many monasteries in western Europe is up in the 50s, 60s or 70s, hardly an age to be pushing around barrels. The modern brewery is also very much automated, requiring fewer people on the factory floor, but a number of trouble-shooting experts – a monastery has no guarantee of having an brewing engineer in its flock. 
Monks at Koningshoeven Abbey in the Netherlands do still prepare gift packages of its La Trappe beer. It helps that their average age is just below 60. “We are a bit lucky,” admitted brewing chief Gijs Swinkels.
So what makes a Trappist beer different from any other brew? It’s not the taste, the colour or even the strength – from 5 percent Achels to the 11.3 percent alcohol of the Rochefort 10.
The answer is threefold and applies to other Trappist products such as cheese, biscuits and chocolate: 1. It must be made within the walls of a Trappist monastery; 2. It must be controlled by monks; and 3. The profits must be used for upkeep of the monastery and its community and for its charitable projects.Worker at bottling plant of Westmalle Brewery
Sure enough monks do take key decisions on investment, production size and the limited level of marketing.
However, the very ageing that has forced monks to cease day-to-day tasks raises questions about the future of the beers — the pinnacle of brewing to some beer connoisseurs, but just a means to an end for the monks.
Trappist monks accept that some communities may die out, while others emerge. Will some of the Trappist beers die out too?

Belgian court to rule on headscarf ban in Flemish schools

belgian-scarf (Photo: Muslim women with Belgian flag protest against headscarf bans, 4 Feb 2004/Yves Herman)

A Belgian court is due to rule next week on a ban on the Muslim headscarf at two schools in Dutch-speaking Flanders, an issue that has led to a death threat for one school principal and graffiti sprayed on walls. The schools in Antwerp and nearby Hoboken introduced the ban at the start of the school year last week, arguing that Muslim girls were being pressured to wear headscarves by their families and peers.

Angry pupils have staged protests outside the school and one girl filed a complaint with the Belgian Council of State to contest the ban. The court will rule on the matter next week and one of its chief advocates has already advised it to overturn the ban. The advocate’s advice is followed in 90 percent of cases.

“The advocate said that such a ban is not lawful, and that only the umbrella organisation of state schools can decide on whether or not to introduce such a measure,” a court spokesman said.

“Sister Smile” film tells sad story of the Singing Nun

singing-nun-posterRemember the Singing Nun? If you’re old enough to recall the song “Dominique”, you might want to see a new Belgian film“Soeur Sourire” (“Sister Smile”) about the nun whose hit song topped the charts in Europe and North America in 1963. Then again, you might not … The song was far more upbeat than the sad story behind it.

Jeanine Deckers, or Sister Luc Gabrielle — better known by her pseudonyms Singing Nun in English and Soeur Sourire in French — was a Belgian Dominican sister who scored a one-hit wonder with “Dominique” in 1963. The record was released under her pseudonym. But the song became such an international hit that she finally went public and even appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in the United States She never had another hit and the 1966 film “The Singing Nun” starring Debbie Reynolds ended with her giving up music to work in Africa. Deckers later described that film as “fiction”. “Soeur Sourire” sticks closer to the facts (Photo: film poster for Soeur Sourire/Ocean Films)

As the film depicts it, the rebellious Deckers enters the convent to find refuge from her heartless mother and her youthful confusion at advances by male and female admirers. She has trouble adjusting to convent life but her singing catches the attention of Belgium’s Catholic television and her mother superior is persuaded to let her record “Dominique.” Celebrity goes to her head, she leaves the convent and moves in with Annie, the female admirer. When she tries to launch a new career, she cannot not use the pseudonym Soeur Sourire because it belongs to her order.