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from Photographers' Blog:

In the darkest corner of my soul

By Dado Ruvic

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Bosnian war.

I was only three years old when the war broke out. Although I was only a child, I keep the dark images of horror, blood and the suffering inside me, buried deep in the darkest corner of my soul. I was only a child, but the memories of war will never fade away. It is something all of us carry as a burden on our souls, each every one of us in our own way.

Regardless of my memories, I try to do my job impartially and without any influences. I want to see things rationally. I want to cover the stories that matter; the stories that carry the message. I want to say and express what some people dare not say. The photos are not merely photos, they are tears. They are screams of the desolate despair. They are pain.

In Bosnia, more than 10,000 people are still missing and have not been found. These are not only numbers. They are someone's children, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives. Ten thousand people still without a trace; in the darkness. Twenty years after the war, 10,000 is not merely a number. Year after year, I witness the excavation of the new mass graves. And the years go by, as if carried by the winds of sorrow.

The political system in Bosnia makes the process of the excavation even slower and more painful. In the city of Vlasenica, Serb forces killed more than 2,600 people during the war. Some 300 of them were children; 300 innocent souls. Eight mass funerals in all these years covered by the veil of mist and darkness, with only hundreds of bodies found. Will this process continue at this pace? Who knows if the mothers will live long enough to find and bury the remains of their children?

Although I, as a photographer, tend to always remain impartial, the thing that strikes me the most is seeing mothers hugging and kissing their sons' half-empty coffins. These coffins are half-empty because nothing but a few bones of their killed sons have been found. A mother cannot go to eternal rest without burying her loved ones, or at least some of their bones that were found in numerous mass graves, moved several times from one place to another after the crimes were committed.

Guestview: Why “militant Islam” is a dangerous myth

koran kalashnikov

(A Palestinian gunman marches with a Koran and his rifle during a protest in Deir al-Balah September 25, 2002/Magnus Johansson )

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Dalia Mogahed is Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. mogahed

(Dalia Mogahed/ Gallup)

By Dalia Mogahed

Right-wing pundits in the U.S. and Europe sometimes argue that it is misguided to avoid religious language when describing terrorists. They point out that members of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates call themselves “jihadists”, a derivative of the Arabic noun “jihad” meaning a struggle for God. They explain that it is therefore accurate and fair to refer to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates by the same term.

A review of Christian-Muslim conflict and a modest proposal to counter it

conflict 1At a Christian-Muslim conference in Geneva this week, participants agreed to build a network for “peace teams” to intervene in crises where religious differences are invoked as the cause of the dispute. The idea is that religious differences may not be the real problem in a so-called religious conflict, but rather a means to mobilise the masses in a dispute that actually stems from political or economic rivalries. (Photo: Coffins of two of 52 killed in al-Qaeda-linked attack last Sunday on a Baghdad church, 2 Nov 2010/Thaier al-Sudani)

If outside experts could help disentangle religion from the other issues, the argument goes, that could help neutralise religion’s capacity to mobilise and inflame, in the hope of leading to a de-escalation of the crisis.

Is this idealistic? Maybe. However, given the number of crises throughout the world that have religion factored into the equation, it certainly seems worth the effort. Many of these conflicts are not simply battles between religious fanatics, as they may be presented, but calculated agitation by one group against another, usually for political or economic advantage. Some smokescreens are easy to see through, others almost impenetrable.

Christian-Muslim crisis response group to defuse religious tensions

wcc 1 (Photo: Christian and Muslim leaders at Nov 1-4, 2010 Geneva conference/WCC – Mark Beach)

Christian and Muslim leaders agreed on Thursday to set up “rapid deployment teams” to try to defuse tensions when their faiths are invoked by conflicting parties in flashpoints such as Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt or the Philippines. Meeting this week in Geneva, they agreed the world’s two biggest religions must take concrete steps to foster interfaith peace rather than let themselves be dragged into conflicts caused by political rivalries, oppression or injustice.

Among the organisations backing the plan were the World Council of Churches (WCC), which groups 349 different Christian churches around the world, and the Libyan-based World Islamic Call Society (WICS), a network with about 600 affiliated Muslim bodies. They would send Christian and Muslim experts to intervene on both sides in a religious conflict to calm tensions and clear up misunderstandings about the role of faith in the dispute.

“We call for the formation of a joint working group which can be mobilised whenever a crisis threatens to arise in which Christians and Muslims find themselves in conflict,” the leaders said in a statement after their four-day meeting.  “Religion is often invoked in conflict creation, even when other factors, such as unfair resource allocation, oppression, occupation and injustice, are the real roots of conflict. We must find ways to disengage religion from such roles and reengage it towards conflict resolution and compassionate justice,” said the statement issued in Geneva.

Vatican synod to mull Middle East Christian exodus

baghdad churchWith Christianity dwindling in its Middle Eastern birthplace, Pope Benedict has convened Catholic bishops from the region to debate how to save its minority communities and promote harmony with their Muslim neighbours.

For two weeks starting on Sunday, the bishops will discuss problems for the faithful ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and strife in Iraq to radical Islamism, economic crisis and the divisions among the region’s many Christian churches. (Photo: Worshippers light candles after Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Baghdad October 3, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

They come from local churches affiliated with the Vatican, but the relentless exodus of all Christians — Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants — has prompted them to take a broad look at the challenges facing all followers of Jesus there.

from Photographers' Blog:

A job to do on the Srinagar streets

After offering special Eid prayers to mark the end of Ramadan, I got myself ready to cover the large Eid prayer congregation at Eid Gah in downtown Srinagar where senior separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was scheduled to address thousands of Muslims.

Kashmiris attend an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 11, 2010.  REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Soon after the end of Eid prayers, Farooq called for a protest march to Lal Chowk, the heart of Srinagar. Continually shooting pictures I followed the tens of thousands of demonstrators shouting "we want freedom". When they reached Lal Chowk, the shouts turned to violence and I saw protesters damaging the clock tower. Again Farooq addressed the people calling for anti-India protests. I ran to the office nearby to file the pictures.

A protester holds an Islamic flag on Kashmir's clock tower as he shouts anti-India slogans during an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 11, 2010.   REUTERS/Danish Ismail

As I finished filing I received a call from Sheikh Mushtaq, Reuters Kashmir correspondent, he told me protesters had set fire to police and government buildings. I rushed out to take more pictures. By the time I finished transmitting them I had worked 14 hours straight and, having fasted all day, was extremely hungry.

Jerusalem: heart of the Mideast conflict

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Jerusalem, December 8, 2009/Ammar Awad

Next week is the time of year when millions of people around the world look to Jerusalem as the source of inspiration for the Christian festival of Easter and Jewish Passover celebrations. But this week the city is also the recurrent focus of bitter dispute. The United States has directed rare strong criticism at Israel over its plans to expand Jewish settlements there, saying the building undermines U.S. efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

SETTLEMENT2Want to know more? Following are links to a sampling of recent Reuters stories about Jerusalem and a Reuters graphic on new Israeli construction in East Jerusalems:

LATEST NEWS

Israel awaits word, signs are no deal with US

Israel, undeterred, to build in East Jerusalem

FEATURE STORIES

Jerusalem struggle goes on, years after war

Researchers dig up controversy in Jerusalem

ANALYSIS/BACKGROUND

Leaders’ Jerusalem rhetoric mirrors conflict

Q+A-Jerusalem: What’s at stake? Why does it matter?

Jerusalem clashes could signal more trouble

Jerusalem, focus of faith, conflict

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Religion, poverty and strife: what comes first?

An uprising by a radical Islamic sect in northern Nigeria may ostensibly have been about religion, but such bloodletting will recur unless underlying issues of poverty, unemployment and education are addressed.

West African Islam is overwhelmingly moderate and northern Nigeria is home to a powerful political elite, yet militant cleric Mohammed Yusuf was able to establish a cult-like following. Yusuf’s sect, Boko Haram, wanted sharia (Islamic law) more widely applied across Africa’s most populous nation. Its name means “Western education is sinful”.

But the support Yusuf drummed up — from illiterate youths to professionals who quit jobs and families to join him — came as much from frustration with what is seen as a corrupt and self-serving political establishment as from pure religious fervour.

GUESTVIEW: Missing dimension in Middle East peace process

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Rev. Bud Heckman is Director for External Relations at Religions for Peace (New York) and Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York.

By Rev. Bud Heckman and Matthew Weiner

obama-and-muslim-womenIn the foreshadow of President Obama’s much anticipated speech to the Muslim world and on peace this week, there is new hope for peace in the Middle East. Its source is the opposite of what many may think: religion, and the extraordinary promise of principled inclusion of religions in seeking solutions for peace and justice.

Of course, in one sense this is nothing new. Think of the Peace of Westphalia and the political virtue of tolerance developed in response to bloody religious civil wars, which were no less serious than any religious conflict we face today. One difference now — to some degree the result of secularization — is the assumption that the political and public is more frequently separate from the religious. That is to say, an assumption arises that we can do without religion in the public sphere to solve public problems. With this secular mind set, when making a political peace, it is assumed that religion should be sidelined or asked to join only in some superficial way.

Soldier says rabbis pushed “religious war” in Gaza

gazaOur Jerusalem bureau has sent a very interesting report about criticism within the Israeli army of the Gaza offensive in January. What caught my eye was that it brings up the issue of a religious war, a term usually used in relation to Muslims. (Photo: Israeli air strike near Gaza-Egypt border in southern Gaza Strip, 26 Feb 2009/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

The story starts off as follows:

Rabbis in the Israeli army told battlefield troops in January’s Gaza offensive that they were fighting a “religious war” against gentiles, according to one army commander’s account published on Friday.