FaithWorld

CNN fires veteran Mideast editor over tweet on respect for Fadlallah

fadlallah picCNN 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. (Photo: Supporters of Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah hold posters after his death in Beirut, July 4, 2010/Khalil Hassan)

Octavia Nasr, a 20-year CNN veteran based in Atlanta, wrote on Twitter: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” Some supporters of Israel saw the Twitter posting almost immediately and took issue with it, the New York Times said.

The Times cited Parisa Khosravi, the senior vice president for CNN International Newsgathering, as saying in an internal memorandum that she “had a conversation” with Nasr and that “we have decided that she will be leaving the company.”

Nasr tried to explain the tweet in a CNN blog post, saying:  “Reaction to my tweet was immediate, overwhelming and a provides a good lesson on why 140 characters should not be used to comment on controversial or sensitive issues, especially those dealing with the Middle East.  It was an error of judgment for me to write such a simplistic comment and I’m sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah’s life’s work. That’s not the case at all.”

Read the full story here.

What do you think? Was it right for CNN to fire Nasr over a tweet?

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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.

Witness – Writing on the walls in the Holy Land

bethlehem wall 1 (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.

With one last exit stamp in my passport, I end a three-year reporting assignment in the Holy Land that has been marked by images of frontiers, by a sense of walls going up and fewer and fewer people finding a way through.

From the minefields of Israel’s frontlines with Syria and Lebanon to the fortified fences around the West Bank and Gaza Strip — much in this month’s headlines — to the walls, old and new, of Jerusalem, physical barriers shape the lives of the 12 million people cut off here in what was once called Palestine.

New WCC head aims at global issues, skirting some hot buttons

tveit

WCC General Secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, 22 Feb 2010/WCC-Peter Williams

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.

Tveit left no doubt that the 349-member WCC, which groups many of the world’s Christian churches but not the Roman Catholics, will not join in widespread criticism of the Roman Catholic Church for its continuing problem with clerical sexual abuse of children. These have surfaced most recently in Ireland and Germany.

“That is a burden all of us have to bear. It is a burden that is carried by the Roman Catholic Church, and they have to deal with it. It is not our role to make it worse,” the 48-year-old Tveit told journalists on Monday at the Geneva Ecumenical Centre, where he has his office and which serves as the effective headquarters of the WCC.

from Summit Notebook:

Fatwa shopping? Not for Barclays

The limited number of Sharia scholars has meant the same
group of men are on various advisory boards which has led to criticism
that people can go "fatwa shopping" and that scholars are in it for the money.

Not so, says Harris Irfan, head of Islamic products at
Barclays Capital.

"We're not out fatwa shopping," he said at the Reuters
Islamic Banking and Finance Summit. "We want to work with the
scholar who's willing to say 'no' (to non-Sharia products)"

A study last year by Funds at Work, a consultant for the
fund industry, looked at scholars' engagement by financial firms
in the Gulf Arab region. It found the top 10 scholars hold about
46 percent of all available positions in the region.

Mosque-synagogue twinning drive crosses the Atlantic

Schneier & Imams

Rabbi Marc Schneier with French imams, 8 Dec 2009/Rafi Fischer

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.

To get an idea of how these meetings go, here are reports on twinning events in … New YorkNew OrleansBuffaloTorontoMinneapolisParis

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding who initiated this outreach to Muslims, met with his European partners at a dinner in Paris on Tuesday evening. The twinning drive took off most successfully in France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish minorities. The Jewish-Muslim Friendship Society of France (AJMF), whose leader Rabbi Michel Serfaty had already created a Muslim-Jewish  network with a “Friendship Bus” that tours France promoting dialogue, brought together 30 synagogues and 30 mosques. There isn’t any comparable network elsewhere in Europe, but several congregations organised similar twinnings this year  in Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland.

Bishop of Arabia dismayed by minaret ban in Swiss homeland

minarets-trainMany 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? (Photo: Posters for “yes” vote to minaret ban in Zurich train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

One man uniquely placed to judge this is the Swiss-born Roman Catholic Bishop Paul Hinder. Based in Abu Dhabi, he is at the frontline of the “reciprocity” debate on treatment of Christian minorities in the Middle East. In an interview in today’s French Catholic daily La Croix, Hinder says he was “dismayed” that the minaret ban passed in a referendum last Sunday. “For us Christians in Arabia, it will certainly not make our work easier, although some might think they have done us a favour by saying yes to this initiative,” he said.

“Nobody can deny that the ban on minarets punishes a specific religious community, whose members in Switzerland have done nothing wrong,” he added. “I certainly understand the irrational fears of many Swiss faced with the heightened visibility of religion that they previously knew only by hearsay but now find right at their doorsteps or in the apartment next door.”

France opts for legislative juggling to allow Islamic finance

assemblee-nationaleEager 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. (Photo: French National Assembly, 15 Sept 2009/Charles Platiau)

Sounds confusing? That seems to be exactly what the legislators wanted. As my colleague Tamora Vidaillet wrote here in an earlier post entitled “France courts Islamic finance, as long as it’s not too obvious,” bankers, politicians and goverment officials are clearly uneasy about promoting Islamic finance in France. “There is a clear sense of apprehension over how Islamic finance would fit into French society, where the policy of laïcité – the strict separation of church and state — tries to keep anything religious out of the public sphere as much as possible,” she wrote. “Many admit that French companies and banks may hesitate to do anything that uses the label Islamic as this could highlight sensitivities over social and cultural divides.”

The opposition Socialist Party opposed and attacked the change. “We are introducing Islamic law into the French legal framework. This deeply shocks us, it is unacceptable.” said Socialist MP Henri Emmanuelli. “When Muslims are rich, we try to attract them. When they’re poor, we expel them.”

France courts Islamic finance, as long as it’s not too obvious

eiffel-towerIn researching an article on what lay behind government plans to develop France as a European hub for Islamic finance, I was struck by the uneasy atmosphere surrounding the subject. On the one hand, the government sees it as a way to attract Middle Eastern money and wants to push the idea. But on the other, there is a clear sense of apprehension over how Islamic finance would fit into French society, where the policy of laïcité – the strict separation of church and state — tries to keep anything religious out of the public sphere as much as possible. (Photo: Eiffel Tower in Paris, 20 Nov 2007/Mal Langsdon)

The bankers, lawyers, government officials and Islamic finance specialists trying to get Islamic finance off the ground in France speak publicly about the bright prospects they see for the market. France has the biggest Muslim population in Europe at over five million. The government is pushing the idea hard. There is a huge need for financing of future projects.

But privately, many admit that French companies and banks may hesitate to do anything that uses the label Islamic as this could highlight sensitivities over social and cultural divides. Ever since the French Revolution, France has upheld the idea that its people are all individual and equal citizens and not members of regional, ethnic or religious minorities. Stressing membership in a sub-group is considered divisive. The French frequently point to the multicultural approach taken in Britain and the United States as the source of political and social problems — such as ethnic or religious “ghettoisation” and “identity politics” — that they want to avoid.

Waiting in France for a fatwa against forced marriages

dioufIt’s Ramadan and on a bustling shopping street on the fringes of northern Paris, the holy month is in full swing. Bearded men in long robes collect alms, women in headscarves sell sweet pastries. But the period of fasting and charitable acts has little impact on the work of activist Christine Jamaa, whose office is in a secret location not far from the busy street market.

Jamaa, who heads the Voix de Femmes (Women’s Voice) group helping victims of forced marriage,  met me there last week for a interview for my feature “New school year puts French on forced marriage alert.” In the feature, another activist, Fatou Diouf (pictured above in a photo by Jacky Naegelen), told of her family’s attempt to kidnap her and force her into marrying her uncle in Senegal at the age of 18.

While I was in Jamaa’s office, her phone was constantly ringing with emergency calls from threatened girls and women – most of them Muslims of Africa, Asian or Middle Eastern descent. Jamaa herself is a Muslim, like many of the activists who help victims of forced marriage here, and she keeps telling the families and the women at risk that Islam bans forced marriage.