FaithWorld

French “virginity lie” couple lose appeal, remain married

A court has declared France’s “virginity lie” couple to be legally married, despite their appeal to annul their nuptial vows because the wife turned out not to be the virgin she had claimed to be. The case caused an uproar a few months ago because they were initially granted an annulment on the grounds that she had lied about an “essential quality” necessary for the marriage contract. The case was argued as if the issue were simply about a business contract where one party had lied about the goods being delivered, and the first court accepted it on those grounds.

But the background — that the two were Muslims of North African origin and the man considered her virginity a condition for marrying the woman — sparked off a loud debate about whether the court was allowing Muslim traditions or sharia provisions to creep into French jurisprudence. “A real fatwa for women’s liberation … (like) a ruling handed down in Kandahar” was a memorable comment from Fadela Amara, the state secretary for urban affairs who comes from an Algerian Muslim family.

After initially supporting the couple, Justice Minister Rachida Dati — who is herself from a North African Muslim background and had a marriage annulled years ago — came under political pressure to oppose it and finally asked the public prosecutor to lodge an appeal against the annulment. This appeal against the annulment is what was upheld in the court in Douai in northern France on Monday. So the couple, who split up on their wedding night when the husband walked out on her and told the story to guests still partying at the reception downstairs, remains married despite their efforts to be unmarried. They will now have to go through the normal divorce procedure to undo what was effectively a marriage of only a few hours.

The court argued as follows: “A lie that does not pertain to an essential quality is not a valid reason to annul a marriage. This is particularly the case when the supposed lie concerns the past private life of the future bride and her virginity, which is not an essential quality in that its absence has no impact on married life.”

An interesting twist to this saga was that both the man and the woman agreed they wanted the annulment. She was initially against it, but quickly agreed to it because there was no way that marriage would work out. The husband’s lawyer denounced the decision to overturn the annulment, saying the court had allow the public prosecutor to “control souls and consciences.”

Headscarves new target for Austrian far right

It’s already been a big theme in Germany, FranceTurkey and the Netherlands, and now the Austrian far right is asking: Should public employees be allowed to wear Muslim headscarves at work?

 

Two women have become the first schoolteachers in Vienna to wear headscarves while teaching.

 

One is also a local centre-left Social Democrat politician.

 

Teachers in other parts of the country already wear headscarves, and there is no law banning public employees from wearing such items as there is in some other European countries.  

Does Sony need a religious affairs adviser?

Box art for LittleBigPlanet/Sony handoutDoes Sony need a full-time religious affairs adviser? Someone who says “that’s OK” or “whoa, don’t go there!” It looks like they could use one, judging by its decision to recall and remaster its Playstation 3 video game LittleBigPlanet because it might offend Muslims. LittleBigPlanet was supposed to be one of the biggest releases of the season. And then Sony found out some background music had a few phrases from the Koran in it and they decided to replace the disks with different music. An in-house religion maven who does some “content debugging” would cost much less than this embarrassing exercise.

Sony isn’t the only company to trip over religious sensitivities. Microsoft had to withdraw its Xbox fighter game Kakuto Chojin; Back Alley Brutal in 2003 because of Koran verses chanted in the background. Back in 1998, Muslims accused Nike of sacrilege for selling sneakers bearing a logo showing the word “air” written in fiery letters that looked like the Arabic word “Allah.” Nike ended up withdrawing the shoes, giving sensitivity training to employees and building playgrounds at several mosques in Virginia.

Muslims haven’t been the only ones complaining. A French jeans poster showing women imitating Jesus Christ and his apostles in the Leonardo da Vinci painting, “The Last Supper”, was banned in France and Italy after Catholics there complained. A leading anti-Semitism watchdog howled last spring when a South Korean cosmetics company advertised a skin lotion with a picture of a young woman sporting what appears to be a Nazi officer’s hat.

See how and why France’s Muslim Council doesn’t work

CFCM leaders representing (from left) Muslims from Turkey, mixed groups, Morocco and Algeria, 22 June 2008/Gonzalo FuentesAs the official umbrella group for Europe’s largest Muslim minority, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) should play an important role in integrating Islam into French society. In fact, it hardly has any influence at all. The CFCM is so split by internal differences that it can hardly agree on when Ramadan should start or end. The link above is to the Wikipedia entry on the CFCM because the council has not been able to get its act together sufficiently to produce its own website.

France 24, the all-news TV station Paris launched two years ago as a kind of “French CNN,” has produced an excellent report on the CFCM — “Divisions within French Islam deepen at Ramadan.” It zooms in on the rivalry between Algerian and Moroccan Muslim groups that has crippled the council from the start. In one of the France 24 logomost telling scenes in the report, the Algerian and Moroccan groups meet separately at the (Algerian-run) Grand Mosque of Paris before a joint session where they argue about how to decide when Ramadan ends. The discussion got so heated that journalists were asked to leave the room.

The report also has interviews with leading figures in the CFCM as well as observers and critics. In all, an insightful report into the politics of Islam in France today.

Gays and divorced need not apply as ambassador to Vatican

Pope Benedict and President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, 12 Sept 2008/Jacky NaegelenFor a country keen to improve relations with the Vatican, France has made some surprising faux pas this year. Things have been going well on the surface. President Nicolas Sarkozy has sung the praises of religion in public life several times this year. Pope Benedict was warmly welcomed during his visit to Paris last month. But behind the scenes, Paris has apparently flubbed what should be a routine procedure — naming a new ambassador to the Holy See.

The Foreign Ministry refuses to comment on ambassadorial nominations until they are accepted by the country involved. But with the post open for an unusually long period of 10 months, newspapers in Paris and Rome have begun writing about the delay. Even the Paris Catholic daily La Croix got into the story today. It seems Paris has been rebuffed twice for proposing a gay candidate and a divorced one. The Argentinians could have told Paris to play safe with a solid family man.

The problem began when the former ambassador,  Bernard Kessedjian, died on 19 December 2007, one day before Sarkozy delivered a speech in Rome defending France’s Catholic heritage.  Sarko’s first choice to replace him was Max Gallo, a popular historian and novelist who stresses the Christian roots themes dear to Pope Benedict. Not a diplomat, but a leading intellectual and an interesting choice. Gallo said thanks but he preferred to stay in Paris.

Where does religion have its strongest foothold?

Indonesian Muslims pray at Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque during Ramadan, 5 Sept 2008/Supri SupriThe answer is Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. At least that was the conclusion of the latest Pew Research Institute survey of attitudes about religion around the world — a look at 24 countries based on thousands of interviews. Indonesia came in first with 99 percent of the population rating religion as important or very important in their lives — and it topped everyone else in the “very important” slot at 95 percent. Beyond that 80 percent of those surveyed in Indonesia say they pray five times a day every day — adhering to one of the five pillars of Islam.

Indeed Islam is well represented in the top five countries where religion is valued in life — with Tanzania, Jordan, Pakistan and Nigeria following Indonesia.

At the bottom of the chart was France, where only 10 percent saw religion as very important and 60 percent said they never pray.

Pope lays down the law to French Catholic bishops

Pope Benedict in Lourdes, 15 Sept 2008/Regis DuvignauPope Benedict’s speech to France’s bishops at Lourdes was a classic example of an “iron first in a velvet glove” address. Delivered calmly and in elegant French, it basically laid down the law to a group that has been among the most critical in the Church of his turn towards traditional Catholicism. It was billed as a meeting but was in fact a monologue. He read it out without hardly ever looking at the 170 cardinals and bishops before him and left right after finishing the text.

“Benedict XVI gave the bishops a veritable road map to help them trace the paths of the future for the church in France,” wrote Jean-Marie Guénois, religion correspondent of Le Figaro. “He wanted this meeting. It’s the only one he imposed on the organisers. Which shows the importance, in his eyes, of what he wanted to tell them.”

The most striking part was his call to the bishops to make more place for traditionalists. The French bishops lobbied the Vatican last year before Benedict liberalised the use of the Tridentine Latin Mass, arguing that giving the traditionalists too much leeway would undermine the authority of the bishops. The “tradis” are especially strong in France, both in the form of those loyal to Rome and those who have broken with it. The culture war between them and the majority church is deeply rooted and mutual suspicion is strong. Bishops worry that traditionalists want to form a “church within a church” if given the slightest chance. Among mainstream Catholics, that can translate into a high sensitivity to anything seen as rolling back the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Paris Muslims break Ramadan fast in soup kitchen

Volunteers distribute soup at Paris Ramadan soup kitchen, 12 Sept 2008/Benoit TessierPARIS (Reuters) – It’s sunset in the French capital, and hundreds of hungry people are poised to begin their meals at the sounding of a Muslim call to prayer.

Elsewhere in the world, the call rings forth from the minarets of mosques, but inside a tent in a gritty part of north Paris, it comes from a tinny radio speaker.

For the holy month of Ramadan, a soup kitchen has opened outside Cite Edmond Michelet, a tough public housing project in Paris’ notorious 19th arrondissement. On the menu is a traditional dinner, starting with yoghurt and dates.

Security over Pope’s Lourdes visit trips up hunters

La Depeche du Midi, 13 Sept 2008Arriving in Lourdes a few hours before Pope Benedict, I promptly picked up the local newspapers to see how they were covering the story. His visit was naturally the lead story. What interested me more, though, was the second most prominent story in two regional newspapers here: “Pope hunts the hunters … Pope’s arrival upsets hunters’ high mass … Opening of hunting season delayed in 39 towns.”

It seems this weekend is the opening of the hunting season in southwestern France, but some towns around Lourdes had to put it off until next weekend due to the security for Pope Benedict. Hunting and fishing are big around here — they even have a right-wing political party called Hunting, Fishing, Nature and Tradition. One daily, La Dépêche du Midi (above), led its front page with the headline “Benedict XVI in the steps of Bernadette.” Just below that was the headline “The day of the hunters.” An article inside the paper said deer and izard — a kind of “goat antelope“– should be plentiful this season but there will be fewer wild boar than usual. When the hunters get to go out to hunt them, that is…

Regensburg watch over, pope raps Biblical fundamentalism

Pope Benedict delivers speech on faith and culture, 12 Sept 2008/poolAs Pope Benedict delivered his major speech on faith and culture in Paris today, some of those listening in the medieval hall and in the press centre listened closely to hear what he would say about … Islam. The Muslim faith was by no means the subject of the lecture addressed to 700 French intellectuals. But two years ago to the day, the former theology professor gave a similar lecture in Regensburg and, seemingly out of nowhere, quoted a Byzantine emperor saying that Islam was violent and irrational. The reaction in the Muslim world back then was violent and irrational. So would he make another gaffe?

France is the European country with the largest Muslim minority. Eight Muslim leaders were especially invited to the speech because time constraints made it hard to fit in a meeting with them at any other time. It seemed so unlikely that Benedict would say anything controversial that it hardly seemed worth looking out for. But in the speech, he warned about “fundamentalism” and “fundamentalist fanatacism.” As soon as it was over, journalists wondered whether this referred to Islam. Editors checked with correspondents. Was this Regensburg redux?

No, it wasn’t — it was actually a B16 shot across a different bow. The context of the speech makes clear that his first reference to fundamentalism meant Christian fundamentalists. It was a clear statement that the Bible cannot be read literally, without any reference to its context and history. Why he chose to say this now is not clear. The Vatican has just announced it would hold a conference next March on Darwin and evolution, a subject it said has caused many “emotional and ideological reactions.” Could he be thinking of creationists?