FaithWorld

Tearing away the veil — French lawmaker explains burqa ban

cope Jean-François Copé on September 5, 2009/Olivier Pon

One of the most frequent questions I get from readers outside of France is how politicians here can justify banning Muslim face veils in public places. Isn’t this a blatant violation of the freedom of religion?  Why isn’t this seen as such an obvious case of discrimination that legislators reject the idea outright?

Jean-François Copé, the majority leader in the French National Assembly, is one of the most outspoken champions of a complete ban on niqabs and burqas in all public spaces in France. An ambitious politician who political junkies here suspect has presidential pretensions, Copé continued campaigning for a ban even after legal experts said it could be unconstitutional. He eventually won out, however, when President Nicolas Sarkozy backed a full ban. The French cabinet plans to review the draft bill on May 19 and then send it to the National Assembly for debate.

Copé has published an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times — Tearing Away the Veil — that clearly explains his position on a veil ban. The column, written for non-French readers, is stripped of some of the political rhetoric that obfuscates the issue here. I recommend it to readers still trying to figure out what France is doing and why.

He seems to have latched onto a popular issue. Most French say they want a ban on full veils, but not all of them say it should be completely outlawed.

Is Copé’s argument convincing? Let us know your opinion.

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NYT’s long paper trail on Rome, Ratzinger and abusive priest

abuse protest

Protesters hold pictures of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Pope Benedict XVI at demonstration against child sexual abuse at the Vatican 25 March 2010/Alessandro Bianchi

The New York Times has unearthed a startling paper trail of 25 letters and memos documenting the way a U.S. priest known to have abused up to 200 deaf boys from about 1952 to 1974 was quietly moved to another diocese and the Vatican resisted attempts to defrock him. Their story on the case of Rev. Lawrence Murphy is here, the paper trail here and our story on the Vatican reaction here. Here’s another story from our Rome bureau on victims demanding that Benedict open all Vatican files on sex abuse cases and defrock all predator priests.

The official Vatican reaction (here in English) is interesting for what it doesn’t say. This is a response to a query from the Times about their story and we don’t know what the questions were. The answers, though, are very narrowly focused. Nowhere is there any reference to the most interesting of the many revelations in the paper trail, i.e. that Pope Benedict, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger heading the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), got at least one letter about this case from the priest’s bishop but apparently didn’t answer it.

Did God stop CERN from discovering the “God particle”?

collider-1The great quantum physicist Niels Bohr once said a colleague’s new theory was crazy, but perhaps not crazy enough to be correct. Two scientists seem to have taken that approach to heart when they speculated that God may have shut down the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva to keep it from discovering the elusive “God particle.” (Photo: Part of the Large Hadron Collider, 22 March 2007/Denis Balibouse)

According to an essay in the New York Times, the scientists are trying to explain why the collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator turned on with great fanfare in September 2008 by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), was closed down for major repairs just over a week later. The 3 billion-euro collider was supposed to track down the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle believed to have given mass to the universe milliseconds after the Big Bang created it some 15 billion years ago.

Physicists think this minuscule speck of matter, if ever found, could explain the mysterious code at the origin of the physical world. To know this would be to “know the mind of God”, as Einstein put it. The Nobel Prize winning physicist Leon Lederman dubbed the Higgs boson the “God particle” in a book of the same name 15 years ago.

Markets and morality: a tale of two uproars

excessThe howls of protest against fat cat bonuses during this financial crisis stem from a deep-seated source of moral outrage. For many people, it just seems like common sense that it’s unfair for Wall Street executives to reward  themselves for creating the mess robbing millions of their savings. (Photos: Protest outside Goldman Sachs in New York, 19 March 2009/Eric Thayer)

Evolutionary biologists and social psychologists believe this moral sense is innate, an instinct for cooperation and fairness that has been honed over millions of years of natural selection into a universal moral grammar that gives us a “gut feeling” about ethical dilemmas.

If we have this moral instinct, it would seem natural for politicians to appeal to it. Some are doing that, while others seem to be missing the mark. The news over the weekend from the United States and France shows the two different approaches in action.

Should Obama address “Muslim world” as a bloc?

President Barack Obama has just pledged to make a new start for United States relations with the Muslim world: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” he said in his inaugural address. “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” (Photo: President Obama delivers his inaugural address, 20 Jan 2009/Jason Reed)

It’s not clear what he plans to do. One idea he’s mentioned is to deliver a major speech in a Muslim country in his first year in office. There’s already a lively discussion on the web about where he should go. During his speech, CNN showed a shot of the crowd with some people holding up signs urging him to deliver the speech in Morocco.

Before this train starts rolling, it might be useful to recall that some Islam experts don’t think it’s a good idea for him to deal with “the Muslim world” as a bloc opposed to the West. Two French experts on Islam, Olivier Roy and Justin Vaisse, argued this in a New York Times op-ed piece last month. Here is the full text and below are excerpts.

Obama wants to address the Muslim world — but from where?

Now here’s an interesting question. The New York Times reports that President-elect Barack Obama wants to make “a major foreign policy speech from an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office.” But from which one? As NYT staffer Helene Cooper explains, it’s a question that’s fraught with diplomatic, religious and personal complications. After a day of calling around Washington, she found a consensus:

It’s got to be Cairo. Egypt is perfect. It’s certainly Muslim enough, populous enough and relevant enough. It’s an American ally, but there are enough tensions in the relationship that the choice will feel bold. The country has plenty of democracy problems, so Mr. Obama can speak directly to the need for a better democratic model there. It has got the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that has been embraced by a wide spectrum of the Islamic world, including the disenfranchised and the disaffected. (Photo: Obama image in Jakarta, 25 Oct 2008/Dadang Tri)

That’s a diplomatic answer, the kind you’d expect to get inside the Washington Beltway. Let’s look at this more from the point of view of religion. If the American president gives a major speech in a Muslim country, it will be seen as an indirect comment on the type of mosque-state relations found in that country. It’s not for him as a non-Muslim to endorse a certain type of Islam over another, say Sunni over Shi’ite. But as a politician from a country where church-state relations are a lively issue, one could expect him to ask what message his choice will send concerning the political relationship with religion in the state he chooses.

Confusion over pope’s letter saying interfaith talks impossible

“Pope questions interfaith dialogue,” read a headline on a New York Times report this morning. “In comments on Sunday that could have broad implications in a period of intense religious conflict,”, it wrote, Pope Benedict said that dialogue between religions was impossible. Before noon, a New York rabbi was urgently appealing to Benedict XVI not to “abandon dialogue between faith communities.”

Readers following the recent upswing in interfaith contacts will recall the last time Benedict’s relations with other faiths were in the news was when he warmly received Islamic scholars on Nov. 6 in Rome and spoke of Christians and Muslims as “members of one family: the family that God has loved and gathered together from the creation of the world to the end of human history.” How could he now suggest that talks across faith lines are useless? (Photo: Pope Benedict greets Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric at the Vatican, 6 Nov 2008/Osservatore Romano)

If these readers wonder what’s going on, they’re not alone. We’ve been getting queries from contacts asking how to read a letter written by Benedict that was published in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera on Sunday and got almost no coverage other than in the New York Times. What’s going on is that the Gray Lady has confused the philosophical precision of a German theologian and the real-world pragmatism of the Roman Catholic Church. That theologian, better known as Pope Benedict, restated his definition of interreligious dialogue in the letter to Italian politician and philosopher Marcello Pena. As the NYT reported, he said that “an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible.” In theological terms, added the pope, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”