There used to be a television series about the New York Police Department that ended with the voiced-over sign-off: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” We’ve been hearing mostly about only one of the religion stories in New York these days, the controversy surrounding the planned Islamic center and mosque near the World Trade Center site. On a recent visit to New York, I had the pleasure of hearing a very different type of New York story when I interviewed the NYPD officers who led the unusual interfaith tour of the Holy Land described in my feature here.
Britain has removed a blog from the website of its ambassador to Beirut in which she praised Lebanon’s late Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. In her blog, titled ‘The passing of decent men’, Frances Guy wrote that she was saddened by Fadlallah’s death and that the world “needs more men like him willing to reach out across faiths.”
CNN has fired a senior editor for Middle East news after she published a Twitter message that said she respected a Lebanese Shi’ite cleric branded a terrorist by the United States, U.S. and British media said on Thursday. The Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, one of Shi’ite Islam’s highest religious authorities and an early mentor of the militant group Hezbollah, died in Beirut on Sunday.
The 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 Palestinian near the Israeli barrier in the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank town of Bethlehem November 9, 2009/Darren Whiteside)
Alastair Macdonald has been Reuters Bureau Chief in Israel and the Palestinian territories for the past three years. As a foreign correspondent over the past 20, he has previously been based in London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin and Baghdad. As he ends his assignment in Jerusalem, he reflects in the following story on how he has watched people in the region build an array of barriers, both physical and emotional, to cut themselves off from each other.
Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the new general secretary of the World Council of Churches, aims to give the organisation a higher profile as a focus for action by Christian bodies on global issues like humanitarian relief in crises, climate change and the Middle East impasse. But at his first news conference this week since taking over on January 1, the Norwegian Lutheran cleric also made it clear that the constraints imposed by a widely diverse organisation that makes its decisions by consensus limit his options. It’s unlikely we’ll hear him taking a public stand on two of the main issues making religion headlines these days, the sexual abuse charges against the Roman Catholic Church and the disputes over homosexuality straining relations in several Protestant churches.
An innovative campaign to build grass-roots dialogue between Jews and Muslims in North America has crossed the Atlantic and taken off in Europe. The “Weekend of Twinning of Mosques and Synagogues,” which began last year with about 100 houses of worship in North America, expanded this year to include events in eight European countries. The weekend meetings, which have been taking place in November and December, bring together mosque and synagogue congregations to discuss ways of overcoming anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in their own communities.
Many supporters of the Swiss ban on minarets justified it with the argument that limitations on mosques in Europe were permissible because Christians can’t build churches in some Muslim countries. This was also a recurring theme in comments to FaithWorld (see here and here). But doesn’t this tit-for-tat approach simply provide further arguments for Muslim authorities who don’ t want to concede more religious freedom to their Christian minorities?
Eager to attract Middle East investment but uneasy about linking faith and finance, the French parliament has opted for some legislative sleight-of-hand to pass a law allowing the issuance of interest-free Islamic “sukuk” bonds. The move is part of France’s two-year drive to create a new European hub for Islamic finance, whose value globally is estimated at $1 trillion. But instead of introducing a separate bill, which would attract attention to it, the governing UMP party tucked the proposed change of French trust law into a larger bill on financing reform for small and medium-sized companies. And it chose to do this by introducing it as an amendment in the second reading of the bill — the one that usually gets fewer headlines.