FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

Brief encounter with a fleeing Yazidi

Fishkhabour, Iraq

By Youssef Boudlal

I remember the scene well. It was the day that I arrived at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing of Fishkhabour.

With shocked, sunburnt faces, men, women and children in dirt-caked clothes were struggling in temperatures of over 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit), waiting patiently for local Kurdish aid.

At first, I focused my camera on a group of women sitting on the ground, but when I turned away I saw this little girl.

A girl from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, rests at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour

I took one shot of her there and as she saw me, she gave me a smile. I captured another frame of her with her mother.

A displaced family from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing the violence in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, waits for food while resting at the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing in Fishkhabour

I was drawn to her wild beauty in this terrible situation. There is a kind of intensity, distress and sadness in her eyes.

from The Great Debate:

Hitchens was an atheist who believed

By James Ledbetter
The opinions expressed are his own.

It seems entirely possible that Christopher Hitchens will be primarily remembered in America for his public atheism. I suspect Hitchens himself was surprised at how wildly popular God Is Not Great became, giving much-needed voice and ammunition to thousands of godless heathens in the land of the drive-through church.

Yet it's an inadequate way to remember the man, and not because Hitchens did little more in that book than to lay some tracing paper on the Enlightenment's best thinkers and draw giddily (though with acidic and often very funny ink), or because—this is not an exaggeration—the American public regards atheists on about the same level as rapists.

The problem is that splitting the atheism away from the body of Hitchens's work debases it into a kind of rascally parlor trick—"Uncle Christopher, say the mean thing about Mother Teresa again!"—and distracts from the thorny paradox at the heart of Hitchens's thinking. Which is: While certainly an enemy of superstition and an eager chronicler of the sins and idiocies of the world's religions, Hitchens was actually a lifelong believer, if strictly in man-made gods. It is impossible to contemplate his prodigious and passionate writing without recognizing that it was always animated by crusades, holy men, and devils.

Mideast Christians struggle to hope in Arab Spring, some see no spring at all

(A Muslim holding the Koran (top L) and a Coptic Christian holding a cross in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the period of interfaith unity on February 6, 2011/Dylan Martinez)

Middle East Christians are struggling to keep hope alive with Arab Spring democracy movements promising more political freedom but threatening religious strife that could decimate their dwindling ranks. Scenes of Egyptian Muslims and Christians protesting side by side in Cairo’s Tahrir Square five months ago marked the high point of the euphoric phase when a new era seemed possible for religious minorities chafing under Islamic majority rule.

Since then, violent attacks on churches by Salafists — a radical Islamist movement once held in check by the region’s now weakened or toppled authoritarian regimes — have convinced Christians their lot has not really improved and could get worse.

Bahrain crisis could worsen Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian tensions in the region

beirut bahrain

(Rally organized by Lebanon's Hezbollah in front of the U.N. headquarters in Beirut March 16, 2011, in support of Bahraini protesters. Around 2,000 mostly Shi'ite Lebanese demonstrators rallied in central Beirut on Wednesday in support of an uprising by Bahrain's Shi'ite Muslim majority/Cynthia Karam)

A Bahraini police crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, two days after Saudi Arabia sent in 1,000 troops to bolster its longtime Gulf Arab ally, will heighten Sunni-Shi’ite tensions in Bahrain and beyond. At least five people were killed and hundreds wounded when police cleared demonstrators from Manama’s Pearl Square on Wednesday in an attempt to halt weeks of popular unrest.

The violence, so soon after the Saudi-led intervention, will further embarrass Washington, which had urged dialogue to tackle Bahrain’s problems and says Riyadh did not consult it before moving troops to the island where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based. That may be the case, but U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates visited Bahrain at the weekend. To many Arabs the timing smacks of U.S. complicity in King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa’s decision to invite the Saudis in and declare martial law.

U.S. military chaplains air issues

chaplain

(A U.S. army chaplain leads a Sunday service in a chapel in the U.S. forces' camp in Baghdad, January 28, 2007/Erik de Castro)

Chaplains representing every branch of  the U.S. military and many faiths gathered on Wednesday to discuss everything from counseling stressed-out soldiers to a recent lawsuit charging the military neglects a sexually abusive culture.

“Yes, there is sexual abuse. They said it is not attributable to the culture fostered by the Department of Defense, it is attributable to the culture of our society,” said the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance,  who helped lead the discussion held in the House of Representatives’ Cannon Office Building.

Attack fears cloud Christmas for Baghdad Christians

baghdad (Photo: Pictures of victims killed in an attack of Our Lady of Salvation church shown there on Christmas Eve in Baghdad December 24, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

Normally on Christmas Eve, Ban Zaki puts on festive clothes and takes her family to Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation church for lively holiday celebrations.

Not this year.

Dressed in black and fighting back tears, she has brought her three children to the church to honour her late husband, who was killed along with 51 others when Iraqi forces stormed it after militants took hostages during Sunday mass on Oct 31.

“He died on this spot,” 49-year-old Zaki said, pointing to the marble floor of the Catholic church. “This year, there will be no festivities, no celebrations. The images of the attack and how they killed my husband here in this place are still in front of my eyes. Those were four hours I won’t forget for the rest of my life,” she said.

No Christmas festivities for some Iraqi Christians

iraq christmas (Photo: Refugee Iraqi Christians attend a pre-Christmas mass at Chaldean Catholic church in Amman December 22, 2010/Ali Jarekji)

Some church leaders in Iraq have told Christians not to celebrate Christmas except with prayer after lethal attacks and continuing threats by militants against the Iraqi Christian community.

“No Santa Claus, no celebrations, no gifts this year,” Archbishop Louis Sako, chairman of the Chaldean archbishops in Kirkuk and Sulaimaniya, said on Wednesday. “We don’t have the right to jeopardize others’ lives.”

In a new threat published on an Islamist website, the local affiliate of al Qaeda threatened more attacks against Iraqi Christians. Insurgent attacks have panicked Iraq’s minority Christian community. Thousands have fled to the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region or overseas.

Is free Iraq becoming a more Islamic state?

baghdad shi'iteA group of men recently ordered Siham al-Zubaidi to close down her Baghdad hair salon for two months for Shi’ite religious festivities. She had no idea who they were but complied because she feared for her life.

“Can you just tell me who will pay the rent of my shop for these two months? What shall I do to support my family? What is the relation between hair dressing and religious events?” Zubaidi, 40, asked furiously. “This is a new dictatorship. They want Iraq to be an Islamic state. But this is not right. Iraq includes a variety of religious factions … These are alien ideas, not Iraqi.” (Photo: Shi’ites attend Friday prayers in Baghdad’s Sadr City, northeastern Baghdad on March 5, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

Recent efforts by authorities, clergy and unknown bands of neighbourhood enforcers to police morals by shutting nightclubs, bars and other establishments has heightened concerns among academics and intellectuals that Iraq, now emerging from war, is displaying the tendencies of a hard-line Islamic state.

Iraqi Shi’ites mark Ashura without incident, Saudis scuffle in Medina

ashura (Photo: Pilgrims gather between Imam Abbas and Imam Hussein shrines to mark Ashura in Kerbala, December 17, 2010/Mushtaq Muhammad)

More than two million Shi’ite pilgrims in Iraq’s holy city of Kerbala marked Ashura, commemorating the slaying of the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Imam Hussein at the battle of Kerbala in 680, with no major violence reported amid tight security. But Saudi security forces dispersed crowds of Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims after scuffles broke out in the holy city of Medina.

Shi’ites from across Iraq, along with thousands of foreign pilgrims — most dressed in black — streamed into Kerbala for the emotive ritual on Friday in which the faithful beat their heads and chests and gash themselves with chains and swords to mourn the event that defines Shi’ism and its split from Sunni Islam.

“According to official statistics, there are more than two million Iraqi pilgrims and 248,000 foreign pilgrims who have entered Kerbala city,” said Mohammed al-Moussawi, head of the Kerbala provincial council.

Iraqi Christians flee to Kurdish areas or abroad – U.N.

iraq (Photo: An Iraqi Christian refugee lights candles at an Orthodox church in Amman on November 7, 2010 for victims of the attack on Our Lady of Salvation church of Baghdad on October 31/Ali Jarekji)

Thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled their homes to semi-autonomous Kurdish areas and neighbouring countries since a Catholic church in Baghdad was attacked six weeks ago, the U.N. refugee agency has said.

Some 1,000 Christian families, roughly 6,000 people, have arrived in the northern Kurdish areas from Baghdad, Mosul and Nineveh, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. Several thousand have crossed into Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Many spoke of receiving threats or leaving out of fear. Fifty-two hostages and police were killed when Iraqi forces tried to free more than 100 Catholics taken hostage during Sunday mass on October 31.