Euro 2008: do Catholic countries have the edge?

The Euro 2008 flag flutters near Zurich’s Grossmünster church, 25 May 2008/Arnd Wiegmann“Do Catholic countries have better football players?”

I was surprised to see this headline on the Austrian Catholic website today… and even more surprised to see they seemed to mean it seriously.

“A look at the participants in the final round of the European football championship in Switzerland and Austria suggests this,” writes in a report from Vienna. “In seven of the 16 participating countries, Catholics are clearly in the majority: Poland (95 percent of the population), Spain (92 percent), Italy (90 percent), Portugal (90 percent), Croatia (77 percent), Austria (69 percent ) and France (51 percent). Only one Protestant stronghold confronts them, Sweden. Of the 8.8 million inhabitants of the northern European country, 80 percent are Lutherans.”

Poland’s team with coach Leo Beenhakker (C) attends Mass in Bad Waltersdorf, 6 June 2008/stringerThere’s no hint of analysis of why this should be relevant, or mention of the personal faith — or lack thereof — of the players on these national teams. This purely statistical view (sports fans love stats, don’t they?) goes on to point out which participating countries have large numbers of both Catholics and Protestants (Germany, Switzerland and Netherlands).

The article notes that only 32 percent of all Czechs call themselves Christians, making the Czech Republic the most “de-churched” participating country, i.e. the country where religion has retreated the most. Even there, though, the Catholics make up the largest group among the believers (26.5 percent of the population). So maybe they still have a chance after all.

No religion story in Europe is complete without a mention of Islam, so the Vienna-datelined article ended up with a comment about Turkey. The Turkish team, by the way, beat Austria’s co-hosts Switzerland 2-1 on Wednesday in Basel and face the “de-churched” Czechs on Sunday in Geneva, aka “the Protestant Rome”.

Dutch play probes “mercy killing” as euthanasia deaths fall

Alzheimer’s patient in Dutch nursing home, 7 May 2008/Michael Kooren“The Good Death,” a play about euthanasia, has brought the issue of “mercy killing” to Dutch theatres at a time when such deaths are falling. They dropped to 2,325, or 1.7 percent of all deaths in 2005, from 2.6 percent in 2001. Playing to packed houses throughout the Netherlands, which legalised euthanasia in 2002, the play shows the law has not removed the moral dilemma for many involved.

In fact, part of the reason for the drop in euthanasia deaths could be that agonised doctors are opting to give patients heavy sedation until they die, rather than putting an end to their lives. Even some patients who have asked for euthanasia are given continuous deep sedation instead. This feature by our Netherlands chief correspondent Emma Thomasson looks at the issues involved.

This raises the question of whether deep sedation, while being presented as palliative care that is ethically acceptable for many faiths, is not in fact “euthanasia lite.” Or at least whether it is being used as such. The British Medical Journal has suggested this in a report that prompted an editorial and a lively reader discussion. “Although the exact cause of this trend is unclear, there are indications that continuous deep sedation may in some cases be being used as a substitute for euthanasia,” a report in Science Daily said.

Egyptian scholar Nasr Abu Zayd looks back without rancour

“Religion has been used, politicised, not only by groups but also the official institutions in every Arab country … Nearly everything is theologised — every issue society faces has to be solved by asking if Islam allows it. There is no distinction between the domain of religion and secular space.”

Ulema (Muslim scholars) are too keen to deliver rulings on economic, social or even medical issues like organ transplants: “You’ll hardly find any scholar who says, ‘I’m very sorry, but this is not my business, go consult a doctor’.”

Nasr Abu ZaydNasr Abu Zayd was declared an apostate, divorced from his wife by court order, threatened with death by Islamists and forced to flee his native Egypt in 1995. Now a professor of humanism and Islam at the University for Humanistics in Utrecht in the Netherlands, he has lost none of his critical perspective. But he looks back on his case, a major human rights issue at the time, without rancour.

Dutch relieved but cautious after “Fitna” causes little strife

Malaysian students protest against Fitna film in Kuala Lumpur, 4 April 2008/Zainal Abd HalimThe Netherlands has breathed a sigh of relief at muted reaction at home and abroad to a film critical of the Koran that seems to have done more for the standing of the prime minister than the populist who made it.

But there is still a sizeable audience in the country for the kind of anti-Islam, anti-immigration rhetoric first popularised by maverick politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 that is likely to keep Dutch politics fragmented and unstable.

One week after Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders posted his film “Fitna” on the Internet, read the analysis of the reaction by our chief correspondent in the Netherlands, Emma Thomasson.

How Dutch Muslim leader reacted to Wilders anti-Koran film

“Our goal is nothing other than working peacefully for our society’s future, the future of our children, but also the future of the Netherlands. Muslims in the Netherlands love this country — they of course criticise some developments, as any citizen. The Netherlands is our country and we will try together with our compatriots to find the right tone … to finally get away from the ongoing polarisation in society, so that we can finally get on with our daily lives and don’t have to be afraid of each other.” — Mohammed Rabbae, Chairman of the National Moroccan Council of the Netherlands

Logo for Fitna movieThe day after Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders showed his anti-Koran film on the Internet, warning of Islam as a threat to Western civilisation, Dutch-Moroccan leader Rabbae had separate messages for his compatriots in the Netherlands and for fellow Muslims abroad. Speaking to Dutch and foreign journalists in the El Ouma mosque in Amsterdam, he sought to assure the Dutch that Muslims considered themselves part of society, had no sympathy for violent extremism and respected the law and the constitution. “What people feel threatened by also threatens us. What threatens Westerners also threatens us. There is no difference,” he said.

He urged Muslims abroad to respect this. “We want to tell our Muslims brothers and sisters abroad, in the Middle East, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia etc, that we as Muslims in the Netherlands are best positioned to analyse the situation in the Netherlands, and to determine the response to Wilders and others … I am appealing to our brothers and sisters abroad to follow our strategy, not to frustrate our strategy by any violent incidents or an attack to a Dutch embassy,” he said.

Drumroll grows louder before Wilders’ Koran film

Logo for Fitna movieGeert Wilders certainly knows how to get maximum publicity for his views. Nobody has seen his film “Fitna” about the Koran yet, but the expectation that it will be scathing about Islam and its holy book means it’s being talked about from the Netherlands to Indonesia. I just did a search for Reuters output on it to catch up on the story (see below) and was surprised to see how strong the drumroll preceding it has become just since the beginning of March. And we still have until the end of the month before it comes out… Do you have any predictions on what impact it will have?

March 19: Danish PM condemns views of Dutch film-maker

March 19: Dutch brace for movie backlash (video)

March 18: NATO seeks Afghan support on anti-Koran film

March 18: Dutch anti-Islam filmmaker refuses to be silenced

March 17: Ramadan wants Muslims to ignore far-right Dutch film on Koran

March 14: Indonesia says Dutch anti-Koran film threatens harmony

March 14: Dutch warn EU of possible anti-Koran video backlash

March 14: Dutch draw on past crises to deal with Islam film

March 12: Iranian minister urges Dutch to ban Koran film

March 10: Cartoonist says Dutch must show anti-Koran film

March 9: Afghans threaten attacks on troops over cartoon

March 6: Dutch raise threat level ahead of anti-Koran film

March 6: Cartoon and Koran film part of “Crusader war:” Taliban

March 6: Dutch fear terrorism ahead of new Koran film

March 5: Dutch PM seeks French help over anti-Islam film

March 5: Anti-Koran Dutch film “propagates hate” -Pakistan

March 5: Dutch want Koran film shown but fear reactions: poll

March 3: Dutch cabinet may seek ban for Koran film – paper

Ramadan wants Muslims to ignore far-right Dutch film on Koran

Logo for Fitna movieAs the premiere of the long-awaited Koran film by far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders nears, it’s not uncommon to hear Muslims call for some way to censor what they expect to be a blistering condemnation of their faith.

But not all see the film — now expected to be broadcast by the end of this month — as an opportunity to revive the polarisation of the Prophet Mohammad cartoons clash in 2006, when freedom of expression and respect for faith were presented as implacable opposites.

Tariq Ramadan, one of Europe’s most prominent Muslim intellectuals, has never shied from confronting the critics of his faith. But his approach to the Wilders film aims to avoid a repeat of the cartoons controversy. At a recent conference in Sweden, he told Reuters that people could not be prevented from publishing material like the Wilders film and the Danish newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that triggered protests across the Muslim world.

How should the media handle the Dutch anti-Koran film?

Geert Wilders, pictured during an interview with Reuters television in 2005Geert Wilders doesn’t do things by halves. The anti-Koran film that this far-right politician has been working on in recent months will be finished very soon. He doesn’t know if any Dutch broadcaster will touch it because of the controversy it has already stirred up. So he has arranged to have “Fitna” put out as a webcast as well. That should ensure that the film can be seen all around the world and not just in the Netherlands.

“It is very good news,” Wilders told us , adding that the film would “definitely be finished this week.” After that, he has to negotiate with Dutch television programmes to see who — if any — will broadcast it. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende appealed last month for restraint over the film and Iran has urged the Netherlands to prevent this “provocative and satanic act on the basis of European Convention on Human Rights.”

The Dutch foreign and justice ministers met Wilders on Wednesday to warn him of the possible consequences of showing his film, including possible charges against him for hate speech. According to the Volkskrant daily and NOS television, Wilders called the meeting “one hour of pure intimidation” and left it determined to work “full speed ahead” on his project.

“Burkini” banned from Dutch swimming pool

Trainee lifeguard Mecca Laalaa runs along a Sydney beach, 13 Jan. 2007/Tim WimborneRemember the “burkini”? This cover-all swimsuit made a big splash in Australia last year when its introduction allowed Muslim women to stay covered but swim and even become lifeguards. The lycra suit looked like an ingenious adaptation of tradition and technology that could help integrate Muslim women more into Australian society. Our story from January 2007 said about 9,000 had been sold so far.

Its debut in the Netherlands has not been as successful. A young woman was ordered out of an indoor pool in the northeastern city of Zwolle last Thursday after only five minutes in the water with her two-year-old son. The pool manager said users found burkinis objectionable so the woman — a convert named Liselotte Buitelaar — should swim only in special hours set aside for separate groups. Like the obese, who have their own special hours, he told the daily Dagblad van het Noorden (English here). The manager said he was afraid other swimmers would stop coming if they saw a burkini there. “It costs me clients. Money is money,” he told the daily Trouw. Woortman Sportswear burkini ad

Trouw said the burkini figured in The Hague’s parliamentary question time last month and Jet Bussemaker, state secretary for sport, said he thought it helped integration. In the Zwolle local council, the Socialists and Greens have protested against the ban, saying people should be able to decide themselves what kind of swimsuits they wear.

Iran wants European law to squelch anti-Koran film

European Court of Human RightsIran has urged the Netherlands to block a planned anti-Koran film, citing Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights as the legal basis for doing so. This is the latest twist in the saga surrounding the controversial film by far-right leader Geert Wilders (we’ve blogged on this before). In the letter, Iran’s Justice Minister Gholamhossein Elham asked his Dutch counterpart Ernst Hirsch Ballin to use European human rights law to stop a European from exercising one of those most basic rights. Freedom of expression has been the rallying cry of those who defended the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten for publishing the Mohammad cartoons — and republishing the most controversial one (the turban bomb) this week after a death threat against the artist who drew it.

Protesters set fire to Danish consulate in Beirut, 5 Feb. 2006/Mohamed AzakirThis also raises the question of whether any protest against purported blasphemy against Islam this time might not turn out to be on the streets, as after the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, but in the courts. European Muslim organisations brought court suits against the cartoons in Denmark and in France but lost their cases — thanks to the principle of freedom of expression. Will the Iranian letter inspire any to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg? Nota bene — Danish imams preached calm at Friday prayers, in contrast to the imams who went to the Middle East to rally opposition to the cartoons when they first came out.

On Friday, Iran’s news agency IRNA reported on the letter, which the Dutch government told NRC Handelsblad it had not yet received. IRNA wrote the following (quotes from Elham in italics):