FaithWorld

Boycott and protests set stage for French Islam debate

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(Muslims demonstrate against the debate about secularism and Islam proposed by the UMP party, April 2, 2011. The placard reads,"French and Muslims, where is the problem?"/Benoit Tessier)

France’s ruling conservatives are pressing ahead with a public debate on Islam and secularism on Tuesday despite criticism that it is an excuse to pander to far-right voters ahead of a general election next year. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party said in December that it would host a public forum to address fears about Islam’s role in French society, following controversy over Muslim street prayers, halal-only restaurants and full-face Islamic veils.

But a hail of criticism from religious leaders and some party members has forced the UMP to downsize the event and fight off accusations that a focus on Islam will provide cover for the airing of anti-Muslim prejudices among the French.

“They can’t cancel it now,” said Jean-Francois Doridot, an analyst at the Ipsos polling agency. “It’s a sort of trap that is closing around the UMP, and they are trying to get themselves out of it one way or another.”

Amid sharp criticism from religious leaders, party officials have bickered over the need to hold a debate at all, France’s largest Muslim group has announced a boycott, and Prime Minister Francois Fillon declined his invitation to attend.

U.S. rabbis protest Fox host’s use of Holocaust imagery

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.

Anti-Muslim bias now the social norm, UK cabinet minister says

warsiPrejudice against Muslims has “passed the dinner-table test” and become socially acceptable in Britain, says the Conservative Party’s chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

Warsi, a Pakistan-born minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, will say in a speech at the University of Leicester on Thursday evening that dividing Muslims into “moderate” and “extremist” fuels intolerance, according to prepared remarks published in the Daily Telegraph. (Photo: Baroness Warsi at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, October 3, 2010/Toby Melville)

“It’s not a big leap of imagination to predict where the talk of ‘moderate’ Muslims leads; in the factory, where they’ve just hired a Muslim worker, the boss says to his employees: ‘Not to worry, he’s only fairly Muslim,’” according to the first Muslim woman in a British cabinet. “In the school, the kids say: ‘The family next door are Muslim but they’re not too bad’. And in the road, as a woman walks past wearing a burka, the passers-by think: ‘That woman’s either oppressed or is making a political statement.’”

Does FRC index underline weak link between faith and family?

The conservative Christian, Washington-based Family Research Council (FRC) has just released its first “Annual Index of Family Belonging and Rejection.” You can click here to see its full details.

The “Index of Belonging” is 45 percent and that of “Rejection” is 55 percent. The report’s author, Patrick Fagan, who heads FRC’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute, says the following:

“Only 45 percent of U.S. teenagers have spent their childhood with an intact family, with both their birth mother and their biological father legally married to one another since before or around the time of the teenager’s birth … 55 percent  of teenagers live in families where their biological parents have rejected each other. The families with a history of rejection include single-parent families, stepfamilies, and children who no longer live with either birth parent but with adoptive or foster parents.”

Family Research Council to issue “Index of Family Belonging and Rejection”

Indices are all the rage these days. In his recently published and thought-provoking ”Why the West Rules — For Now,” historian Ian Morris has created an “index on social development” which, among other things, attempts to measure the West and East’s “energy capture.”

There are of course plenty of other examples (and future historians will no doubt see it as a sign of our times — as Morris notes, ages get the “thought they need”). The latest addition to this swelling modern family of indices will come on Wednesday when the conservative, Washington-based Family Research Council (FRC) releases its  first annual “Index of Family Belonging and Rejection.” The index is a product of its Marriage and Religion Research Institute.

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The details of the index will be released at 10:00 EDT on Wednesday but FRC has already made public the fact that it finds that “less than 50 percent of American children have spent their childhood belonging in an intact family.” It defines an “intact family” as one where “a child’s birth mother and biological father (were) legally married to one another since before or around the time of the child’s birth.” The study will also rank all 50 states and America’s 25 largest cities.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and abortion at U.S. military bases…

One little-reported aspect of the political wrangling around attempts to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bans gays from serving openly in the U.S. military was how the religious right tied it to another hot-button cultural issue: abortion.

This would certainly have caught the attention of socially conservative Republicans who were instrumental in defeating a measure aimed at its repeal in the U.S. Senate on Thursday night.

Many if not most conservative U.S. evangelicals were already strongly opposed to allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military — a point underscored by a Pentagon study unveiled at the end of November that found that military chaplains were strongly opposed to ending “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Lively debate among Catholics interpreting pope’s condom remarks

papaPope Benedict’s surprising view that condoms can sometimes be used to fight AIDS has kindled a lively debate among Roman Catholic theologians and commentators about whether this amounts to a change in Church thinking.

His comments and a Vatican clarification that expanded on them seem to leave no doubt that Benedict has spoken with unprecedented frankness for a pontiff and shifted the focus a bit from the Church’s rejection of condoms to avoid disease. (Photo: Pope Benedict at his weekly audience 24 November 2010/Alessia Pierdomenico)

But the format of his remarks — in a book of interviews with a German journalist rather than an official Vatican document — and some confusion over translations have opened a gap allowing divergent interpretations.

Guestview: Why has Pope Benedict chosen a European strategy?

Pope Benedict will boost the European majority among the men due to elect his successor when he creates 24 new cardinals at the Vatican on Saturday. The nominations are part of a wider strategy by the German-born pope to strengthen Roman Catholicism in Europe. The following is a guest contribution and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Jean-Marie Guénois is deputy editor-in-chief of the Paris daily Le Figaro and a specialist on religion. The article first appeared in French on his Religioblog.*

pope 1By Jean-Marie Guénois

We always knew that Benedict XVI is a European pope, but lately he’s been proving this more and more clearly. In this phase of his five-year papacy, the the old continent is clearly his priority. For the past two years, the European destinations have taken  precedence over all his travel (France, Czech Republic, Malta, Cyprus, Portugal, United Kingdom). Twelve of his 18 international trips have also been devoted to Europe. As for the visits due next year, they will all be in Europe: Croatia, Spain and Germany (his third visit there as pope). (Photo: Pope Benedict with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as King Juan Carlos looks on in Barcelona November 7, 2010/Albert Gea)

The choice of these medium-haul flights could be explained, of course, by his age. At 83-1/2, Benedict takes it slow and easy. Must we recall the health of John Paul II at the same age, six months before his death in 2005? But the real explanation for these short-distance, time-saving trips is surely elsewhere. How can we best explain this? It can be done explicitly, through the speeches the pope delivered in those countries. But also implicitly, through the diagnosis bishops bring to Rome on the state of the European churches.

from Afghan Journal:

Saudi Arabia spot on UN women agency triggers outcry

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The United Nations has set up a new super agency to better fight for the rights of women around the world including Afghanistan. This week UN Women, as the new body is called, held elections to choose countries to sit on the board and the results have triggered a storm of criticism even before the new agency formally comes into being next January. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia were in the running for a seat, and while Iran got displaced at the last minute in the vote, the Saudis are through.

And that has provoked the wrath of rights activists and commentators.  The idea of the conservative desert kingdom, where women cannot drive or take significant decisions without the permission of a male  relative or work as supermarket cashiers, leading a global fight for the promotion of women's rights is hard to accept, they say. How can you take the UN seriously, asks Greg Scoblete in a short piece on  Real Clear World's Compass blog headlined  : Saudi Arabia bastion for women's rights.

When the results of the vote were announced, the United States warmly welcomed the defeat of Iran, saying it would have been an inauspicious start to the board, had  they won. But what about the Saudis, asks Ami Horowitz, a documentary film-maker, in an article in The Huffington Post. How can Washington or the UN justify their leadership of a high-powered body set up to promote gender equality and empower women.

Allah’s tailors gaining profile in Turkey with chic headscarves

headscarves (Photo: Women in headscarves in the Taksim area of Istanbul July 13, 2008/Morteza Nikoubazl)

Along Istanbul’s busy Eminönü waterfront, women swathed in dark coats and scarves knotted once under the chin jostle past others clad in vivid colors and head coverings carefully sculpted around the face. Two decades ago such a polished, pious look scarcely existed in Turkey. But today it has the highest profile exponents in First Lady Hayrünnisa Gül and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s wife Emine, and the brands behind it plan ambitious expansion.

The headscarf remains one of Turkey’s most divisive issues. Everything from the way it is tied and accessorized, to the poise and demeanor of the wearer, is laden with meaning in this majority Muslim but officially secular country of 74 million. From a simple headcovering, stigmatized in the early days of the Turkish Republic as backward and rural, it has become, in the last decades, a carefully crafted garment and highly marketable commodity, embodying the challenge of a new class of conservative Muslims to Turkey’s secularist elites.

“It was hard to find anything chic for the covered women 10 years ago, but fashion for pious women has made huge progress in the last 6-7 years,” said Alpaslan Akman, an executive in charge of production and marketing at Muslim fashion brand Armine.