FaithWorld

Analysis – Anti-immigrant wave spreads across Europe

immigration (Photo: Women in headscarves shop in Berlin’s Neukoelln district September 6, 2010/Tobias Schwarz)

A little-known Berlin politician named Rene Stadtkewitz, who wants headscarves banned, mosques shuttered and state welfare payments to Muslims cut, is the newest face of a powerful anti-immigrant strain in European politics that is winning over voters and throwing mainstream politicians onto the defensive.

Experts say public concerns about immigration have grown in the wake of the economic crisis and politicians across Europe are scrambling like never before to exploit these fears, breaking unwritten post-war taboos along the way.

“What we are witnessing is not a new trend, but a deepening and acceleration of something that was in place,” said Dominique Moisi of the French Institute for International Relations (Ifri) in Paris. “These politicians are playing with fire, because feelings on this issue run very deep and may not disappear when the economy recovers.”

Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society Institute in Brussels, says more European politicians are realising that by focussing on immigration, they can tap into voter fears about a range of issues — from the economy and jobs, to globalisation, change and an increasingly uncertain future.

“People in Europe have grown comfortable in the decades since World War Two and now they see that level of comfort threatened,” Grabbe said. “The result is that tolerance is no longer held dear as a European value, even in countries that used to be proud of being open and liberal.”

New Russian holiday marked as Kremlin boosts Orthodox Church

russia holiday (Photo: Soldier holds candle at ceremony for adoption of Christianity, in Stavropol, July 28, 2010/Eduard Korniyenko)

Russia marked its adoption of Christianity in 988 on Wednesday with a new public holiday, the latest show of Kremlin support for the Russian Orthodox Church that has grown increasingly powerful since the fall of Communism.

Rights groups have criticized the new holiday, approved by President Dmitry Medvedev, as undermining Russia’s secular constitution and members of the country’s large Muslim minority have complained that it excludes them.

Marking the anniversary Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, held a liturgy in Kiev, the capital of modern Ukraine and mediaeval Kievan Rus, whose leader Prince Vladimir made Christianity the state religion more than 1,000 years ago. Kievan Rus is seen as the precursor of modern-day Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

from Global News Journal:

Religious leaders and the EU take tentative first steps

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Top European Union officials held talks this week with religious leaders, part of a policy of holding consultations with religious groups that was enshrined in the EU's Lisbon reform treaty, which came into force last December. But not everyone supports the move.
 
More than two dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders -- joined by a representative each from the Hindu and Sikh communities -- met  the presidents of the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council on Monday to discuss how to fight poverty and social exclusion.

It was the the sixth such consultation since 2005, but the first to take place in the context of the Lisbon treaty, the EU’s latest collective agreement.  Article 17 of the treaty commits the EU to maintaining "an open, transparent and regular dialogue with ... churches and (non-confessional and philosophical) organisations".

But opponents of the guidance say that because many Europeans are secular and an increasing number practise non-Christian religions, churches should not have special rights.

Strong support to outlaw face veils as France prepares to vote ban

France’s plan to ban full face veils, which comes up for a vote in the National Assembly on Tuesday, enjoys 82% popular support in the country, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. Its neighbours also approve — 71% of those polled in Germany, 62% in Britain and 59% in Spain agreed that there should be laws prohibiting the Muslim veils known as niqabs and burqas in public. burqa 1(Photo: French woman fined for wearing a niqab while driving outside court in Nantes June 28, 2010/Stephane Mahe)

The poll, conducted from April 7 to May 8, did not range further afield, but reports from other countries show support there as well. The lower house of the Belgian parliament has voted for a ban, which should be approved by the Senate after the summer. In the Netherlands, several bills to ban full veils in certain sectors such as schools and public service are in preparation. Switzerland’s justice minister has suggested the cantons there should pass partial bans but make exceptions for visiting Muslim tourists (the wives of rich sheikhs visiting their bankers in Zurich or Geneva?)

The big exception in the Pew poll is the United States, where 65% of those polled disapprove of a ban and only 28% support the idea. The poll did not investigate the reasons for this difference, so we can only assume it has to do with the more widespread acceptance of religion in public life in the U.S. and a more open approach to immigration.

Europe, face veils and a Catholic view of a Muslim issue

burqa 1The French National Assembly begins debating a complete ban on Muslim full face veils in public next week and could outlaw them by the autumn. Belgium’s lower house of parliament has passed a draft ban and could banish them from its streets in the coming months if its Senate agrees. The Spanish Senate has passed a motion to ban them after a few towns introduced their own prohibitions. (Photo: A veiled French woman outside the Belgian Parliament in Brussels/Yves Herman)

Calls to ban “burqas” — the word most widely in Europe used for full veils, even if most full veils seen are niqabs — have also been heard in the Netherlands and Denmark. According to a  Financial Times poll,  the ban proposal also “wins enthusiastic backing in the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany”.

Only a tiny minority of Muslim women in these countries actually cover their faces, but that doesn’t seem to matter. That Switzerland has only four minarets didn’t stop Swiss voters from banning them in a referendum last November (and maybe banning veils next). There seems to be a movement to ban religious symbols that Europeans either reject or fear.

Italy and 10 allies fight Euro rights court’s school crucifix ban

crucifix (Photo: Demonstrator outside European Court of Human Rights with leaflet saying in Italian and French: “Let’s defend the crucifix,” 30 June 2010/Vincent Kessler)

Italy and 10 other European states urged the continent’s top human rights court on Wednesday to overturn its ban on crucifixes in schools, arguing they were signs of national identity and not overtly religious symbols. The alliance of traditionally Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian countries backing Italy’s appeal against the ban which was handed down last November reflected their concern that the court had set a precedent for strict secularism across Europe.

A group of 33 European Parliament members also supported Rome’s appeal against the ban (full text here), which shocked the country and the Vatican at a time when Italy and other European states are debating immigration and religious rights for Muslims.

Most of Italy’s allies are smaller nations — Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, San Marino and Romania — but they also include Russia.  Moscow’s participation reflects the growing activism of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has joined the Roman Catholic Church in denouncing the widespread secularization of a continent once synonymous with the term “Christendom.”

Sex abuse scandals shake Church but not faith

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Catholics at Easter Mass at the Beijing Southern Catholic Church April 3, 2010/Petar Kujundzic

Sexual abuse by clerics and accusations of cover-up have rocked the Roman Catholic Church and disturbed churchgoers around the world, but many believers say the scandals have not shaken their faith.  From Rome to Rio de Janeiro, Paris to Dublin and from Warsaw and Washington, Easter sermons were overshadowed by allegations of priests molesting children, especially in Europe and the United States, and the Church’s mishandling of the crisis.

Across Pope Benedict’s native Germany, hundreds of long-concealed reports of sexual abuse have emerged and shattered a notion abuse was only a U.S. and Irish problem.  “It’s the greatest loss of confidence in the Catholic Church since the Hitler era,” said Christa Nickels, a member of the Central Committee of German Catholics and a Greens party leader.

In Catholic debate on celibacy, “ask about” is different from “question”

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Cardinal Christoph Schönborn addresses a news conference in Vienna November 7, 2008S/Heinz-Peter Bader

Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn set off a storm in a teacup this week when he said the Roman Catholic Church had to ask tough questions about the reasons for the clergy sex abuse cases coming to light now in Europe. “The issue of celibacy belongs to that (questioning) as well as the issue of personality development (of priests). And a large portion of honesty belongs to this too, in the Church but also in society,” he wrote in a newsletter for Vienna archdiocese employees called thema kirche.

In the blogosphere, this somehow got turned into  headlines like  “Schönborn questions celibacy” and speculation that he was somehow challenging this centuries-old tradition. Those comments must have been based on dodgy Google translations from the German, because it’s clear in the original that he never questioned the celibacy rule itself. He said the Church should “ask about the reasons for sexual abuse” (nach den Ursachen sexuellen Missbrauchs fragen) and “celibacy belongs to that” set of issues to ask about. He did not say “put celibacy into question” (in Frage stellen) or “challenge celibacy” (hinterfragen).

Global economic crisis also a values crisis, Davos poll says

wefreportThe World Economic Forum, whose annual Davos summit opening today is a favourite gathering for the rich and powerful, has issued an opinion poll showing two-thirds of those surveyed believe the current economic crisis is also a crisis of values. Almost as many singled out business as the sector that should stress values more to foster a better world. “The poll results point to a trust deficit regarding values in the business world,” the Forum said in a statement.

The fact the Forum conducted this poll may come as a surprise to those who know Davos only from the “CEO in the snow” interviews that flood some cable TV financial broadcasts at this time of year. However, he Forum has widened its scope beyond its initial role as a European management seminar. Since 2001, it has been working with faith communities in inter-faith dialogue, especially between the West and the Muslim world, and more recently a Global Agenda Council on Faith to explore “the challenges that lie in the interactions between religion and society, religion and peacebuilding and religion and business”.

My news story here on the poll gives a summary of its findings. In a few bullet points, they are:

French foreign ministry bureau studies faith issues worldwide

kouchner sarkozy

Bernard Kouchner (L) and Nicholas Sarkozy (R), 10 July 2008/Vincent Kessler

France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, one of the original “French doctors” who has been active in humanitarian causes for decades, once said the only major conflict he knew that had nothing to do with religion was the 1969 “football war” between El Salvador and Honduras. With a perspective like that, he naturally asked when he took over the foreign ministry in 2007 where religion figured in its diplomatic analysis and strategy. The answer was that it didn’t really figure in it, at least not in a systematic way. Laïcité — France’s trademark separation of church and state — had created a kind of “we don’t do God” reflex in its diplomacy. Kouchner began a series of internal discussions about the new challenges to diplomacy,  issues such as global warming, terrorism, sustainable development or religion. One of the results was the establishment last summer of a religious affairs bureau at the Quai d’Orsay.

Joseph Maïla, the former rector of the Catholic Institute of Paris appointed to head this bureau, explained the thinking behind this step in an interview that ran on our newswire today. As he explained in that story, the issue has an interesting European dimension, because the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty calls for a regular dialogue with religious groups in Europe. He added that  President Nicolas Sarkozy’s more flexible approach to laïcité also helped bring about a new appreciation of the role religion plays in public affairs. This has nothing to do with any loosening of the actual church-state separation in France, he stressed, but creates an atmosphere in which it’s easier for religious issues to be considered as factors in policy planning. Joseph Maïla, 1 Dec 2009/Tom Heneghan

Joseph Maïla, 1 Dec 2009/Tom Heneghan

Maïla said the bureau’s tasks were to study the links between religion and conflict, follow issues of church-state separation in Europe and advise the ministry on which positions to take on issues where religion is involved. He stressed that France had obviously dealt with international religious issues in the past, when they were clearly relevant to a problem, but didn’t take a systematic approach to faith in public affairs. Now, with a six-person bureau dedicated to the issue, it has one of the largest staffs dealing with the question in Europe. Most other European countries, which don’t have the same traditional reluctance to discuss religion in politics, usually have only one or two diplomats tracking faith issues.