FaithWorld

from John Lloyd:

Modi: Democrat or divider

India’s 815 million voters started the five-week voting cycle earlier this week. It’s already being celebrated as a triumph just for taking place -- “the largest collective democratic act in history,” according to the Economist.

The winner will matter. India now punches far below its demographic weight -- its 1.24 billion people are served by just 600 diplomats, about the same number as the Netherlands. The United States, with 314 million people, has 15,000. But that apparent lack of interest in making a mark on the world seems about to end.

What had seemed a likely victory for the first minister of the northwestern state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, has now hardened into a near certainty -- at least for much of the Indian media. Modi, self-made, ambitious and energetic at 63, has the ability to project India’s latent power. He wants growth, which India greatly needs to raise more of its citizens out of poverty and to provide jobs for its expanding population.

That could be a cause for fear -- first within, and then outside of, India. For Modi is marked by a dark shadow that he cannot -- and perhaps has no wish to -- shake. His political affiliation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and his membership in the right-wing , paramilitary Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) signals he may have less loyalty to the multi-ethnic country that is India and more to the dominant ethnicity: the Hindus.

The charge against Modi that casts the longest shadow involves days of mob violence in Gujarat in 2002. A train caught fire in a town called Godha, causing 59 deaths -- and rumors quickly pointed to Muslim extremists. In revenge, Hindu extremists slaughtered between 1,000 and 2,000 Muslims. There is no final clarity to this incident. A local commission has, 12 years later, yet to publish a final report on the train fire. Another commission, set up by the central government, concluded the fire was accidental.

from Reihan Salam:

Are we having the wrong marriage debate?

The marriage debate is entering a new phase. As recently as 1996, a Gallup survey found that 68 percent of Americans opposed civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. On May 8 of this year, Gallup released a report which found that only 48 percent were opposed to same-sex marriage while 50 percent were in favor. The next day, in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News, President Barack Obama announced that he too favored the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, a move that delighted social liberals, many of whom believed that the president’s previous tepid opposition was rooted in political concerns rather than real conviction.

Even in the months since, the legal and political ground has continued to shift in favor of same-sex marriage. Just this week, a divided panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a law that limits federal recognition of marriages to couples consisting of one man and one woman, is unconstitutional. Meanwhile, ballot initiatives aiming to uphold laws authorizing same-sex civil marriage are leading in Maine, Maryland and Washington. Perhaps most strikingly, a re-energized Romney campaign has made little effort to capitalize on opposition to same-sex marriage.

Opponents of the practice have no intention of throwing in the towel; nor is it inevitable that the legal and political efforts of advocates will continue to succeed. In November, Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and Ryan T. Anderson are releasing What Is Marriage?, a vigorous intellectual critique of the case for same-sex civil marriage that has attracted wide attention in traditionalist circles. Moreover, opponents have achieved a number of political victories at the state and local level, most notably in North Carolina in May of this year.

from Bernd Debusmann:

America’s Republican extremists

The United States is in grave danger from domestic enemies:  Infiltrators from the Muslim Brotherhood have wormed their way into sensitive government positions, Communists wield influence in the House of Representatives, and President Barack Obama hates America and is trying to dismantle, brick by brick, the American Dream.

The first two assertions - Muslim infiltrators and Communists in Congress - come from Republican members of Congress. The third comes from the host of the radio talk show with the biggest audience in the United States. All three merit pondering about the current state of the Republican Party, a mainstay of American democracy for more than 150 years.

A brief look at the details of the claims first. In June, Michele Bachmann, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a radio interview that "it appears there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood." In letters that came to light in mid-July, she asked the inspectors general of four government departments to launch inquiries into the depth of Muslim penetration.

from Tales from the Trail:

Washington Extra: Sayonara Santorum

Former presidential candidate and Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is featured on a button by a supporter who also wore the politician's trademark vest in this January 14, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Jason Reed

It began and ended at a kitchen table in Pennsylvania. Rick Santorum's improbable and surprisingly long run for the White House is over. But the Republican Party will feel the effects of this game-changing gambit cooked up in a kitchen for some time to come.

Santorum offered disgruntled voters true conservative credentials. He brought social issues and religious freedom to the forefront of the national debate. He made Mitt Romney work much harder for the nomination than expected, and lurch to the right in the process. His supporters may not go away quietly or fall behind Romney in lockstep.

from Bernd Debusmann:

Obama and the American fringe

The prospect of President Barack Obama winning another four-year term in November is swelling the ranks of anti-Muslim activists and groups on the extremist fringe of American society. Their growth has accelerated every year since Obama took office in 2009.

So says a new report by a civil rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center, that has tracked extremist groups for the past three decades and found that last year alone, the number of anti-Muslim groups tripled, from 10 to 30.

Between 2008 and the end of 2011, according to the center, there was an eight-fold increase in the number of militias and "patriot" groups whose members inhabit a parallel universe where the federal government wants to rob them of their guns and their freedom.

from Tales from the Trail:

Romney’s religion still an issue for many Republicans

Mitt Romney might be looking to open up an unassailable lead over rival Rick Santorum in the 10 "Super Tuesday" nominating contests, but he still faces questions among many of his fellow Republicans about his Mormon religion, according to recent NBC/Marist poll results.

NBC/Marist found that large numbers of Republicans voters -- a range of 37 to 44 percent -- in two of the states holding primaries on March 6 - Ohio and Virginia - and others that voted last week - Michigan and Arizona  - do not believe that Mormons are Christians, or are unsure whether they are.

The percentages were the same in Virginia, Ohio and Michigan, where 44 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they did not believe that Mormons are Christians or were not sure, and 56 percent said they do believe a Mormon is a Christian, according to the polls. Polling was done in all of the states before they held their primaries.

from Tales from the Trail:

Contraception question booed at Republican debate

A question about contraception caused a flareup in the culture wars during the last Republican presidential debate before next week's Arizona and Michigan primaries and "Super Tuesday."

The question drew boos from the audience and impassioned statements from the four candidates on the stage in Mesa, Arizona, last night.

"Since birth control is the latest hot topic, which candidate believes in birth control, and if not, why?" was the question posed via cnnpolitics.com.

from Tales from the Trail:

Santorum explains “phony theology” comment

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum says he wasn't questioning Barack Obama's faith on Saturday when he said the Democratic president's agenda was based on "some phony theology."

Santorum explained his comments during an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday, saying he was questioning the president's world view -- not his faith.

"I accept the fact that the president's Christian," Santorum said. "I just said that when you have a world view that elevates the earth above man says that, you know, we can't take those resources because we're going to harm the earth by things that are frankly just not scientifically proven."

from Tales from the Trail:

Rick Santorum: birth control ruling has nothing to do with women’s rights

Forcing religious organizations to provide contraceptives has nothing to do with women's rights, Republican presidential contender and vocal Catholic Rick Santorum said on Thursday.

The comment aligned Santorum with a lineup of conservative critics bashing Democratic President Barack Obama's rule requiring religious institutions -- but not churches -- to provide health insurance plans that cover birth control.

The rule, announced in January, covers religious-affiliated groups like charities, hospitals and universities. The Catholic Church opposes most methods of birth control and conservatives have painted the rule as an attack on religious freedom from a secular president.

from Tales from the Trail:

Santorum courts Texas conservatives

By Judy Wiley

Roughly  1,000 supporters filled the Fairview Farms Corral Barn in Plano, Texas and spilled out the door  of the party hall where they'd come to see the man in the day's political spotlight -- Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum.

Those who stood outside in the cold could only hear bits and pieces of Santorum's talk, but that didn't stop them from cheering after he raised his voice to declare, "Now is the time for America to rise up and say, "Enough!"

They took up a chant of "We pick Rick," after he asked, "Are you going to give me the opportunity?"