FaithWorld

Poland’s cross wars revive debate on role of Catholic Church

cross 2 (Photo: Protesters urging removal of the cross at the presidential palace. The road sign reads “Attention! Cross defenders.” August 9, 2010/Kacper Pempel)

A simple wooden cross honouring victims of a plane crash that killed Poland’s president in April has spurred demands that the influence of the powerful Roman Catholic Church be pared back to forge a more secular Poland.

A scout group set a crucifix outside the presidential palace in Warsaw, which turned into a shrine for the victims. Four months later, the three-meter-high cross is still there, festooned with candles and flowers despite attempts by the state and some clergy to move it to a nearby church. The “cross defenders” stood their ground, squabbling with police.

The cross debate reflects political divisions. It has become a rallying point for radical rightists backed by the main opposition, the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party led by Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw.

“The problem of too close links between church and politics exists here for so long that many people don’t even see it,” said Jacek Kucharczyk, head of the Institute of Public Affairs.

Read the full story by Gabriela Baczynska here.

cross 1 (Photo: The wooden cross in front of Presidential Palace in Warsaw, August 3, 2010/Kacper Pempel)

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Malaysia fines Muslims for brandishing cow’s head in Hindu temple protest

MALAYSIA-POLITICS/TENSIONS (Photo: Protesters stomp on cow’s head, 28 Aug 2009/Samsul Said)

A Malaysian court has sentenced a Muslim to a week in jail and fined 11 others for a brandishing a cow’s head during a protest against the construction of a Hindu temple.

Critics said the light sentences on Tuesday may further strain race relations between Muslims, who make up the majority of the country’s 28 million population, and minority Hindus and Christians who complain of discrimination.

“Going ahead, this will become a political issue for the country’s minorities and further reinforce their unhappiness,” said James Chin, a politics professor at Monash University in Kuala Lumpur.

from India Insight:

Are there too many sacred topics in India?

Protests and television debates on the apex court's decision to OK  the publication of a book on Maratha ruler Shivaji, banned in 2004 by the Maharashtra government, has put India back in the spotlight on the question of freedom of expression.

India is secular and a democracy but a country with a billon-plus population -- consisting of hundreds of tribes, clans and castes following myriad beliefs -- can be pretty fickle when it comes to defining 'sensitive' topics and easily susceptible to parochial politics.

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The list of subjects considered "sacred" in the country include the extended Gandhi family, Ambedkar, Periyar, Subhash Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Veer Savarkar and maybe a few thousand more people, said an editorial in the 'Mint' daily.

French lawmakers vote to ban full face veils in public

national assemblyMuslim women could be fined for wearing full face veils in public in France under a bill approved overwhelmingly on Tuesday by the lower house of parliament. Offenders would be fined 150 euros ($189) or required to take part in a citizenship class. The bill, which critics say stigmatizes immigrants, bans people “from wearing, in a public place, garments designed to cover the face.” (Photo: Veil ban debate in the National Assembly in Paris, July 13, 2010/Benoit Tessier)

Forcing someone to cover their face would be punishable by a one-year prison sentence and a 30,000 euro fine. The law does not apply if the face is covered for carnivals or artistic events.

In the vote, 335 members of parliament approved the ban, with just one against. Opposition socialist and Green lawmakers abstained. The legislation still has to be vetted by the Constitutional Council, France’s highest constitutional authority, and approved by the Senate.

Ethics angle missing in financial crisis debate

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Worried Wall Street traders watch stocks fall on September 29, 2008/Brendan McDermid

In the ongoing financial crisis debate, many people think that unrestricted subprime loans, credit default swaps, astronomical bonuses, huge bank bailouts and other aspects of today’s economy are somehow unfair or wrong. This issue is not only economic or political, it’s also about ethics and morality, these people think. But that view doesn’t get traction in our political discourse. Asking the big question about what is right/fair or wrong/unfair is not really debated. Sure, there are contrary views on this and any debate would be long and lively. But it doesn’t really happen.

Some moral issues do get traction in politics. Look at abortion or same-sex marriage. The forces on both sides of this argument have considerable clout (at varying levels, depending on the country). They hold heated debates over ethical  principles such as the sanctity of human life, the freedom of individual choice or the principle of equality. But those are questions that are not primarily about the economy. When money gets thrown into the equation, there is much more of a tendency to let the market decide. What’s not illegal can’t be unethical, this view seems to argue.

Race and religion pose risks in Malaysian politics

malaypm

Prime Minister Najib Razak (C) leaves Friday prayers at Putra Mosque in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur July 10, 2009/Bazuki Muhammad

Rising political tension in Malaysia over ethnic and religious rivalries and the trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim are key challenges facing the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The National Front ruling coalition’s dominance through 52 years in power was dented by historic losses in 2008 polls, shifting the political landscape and increasing political friction. Many voters, especially the country’s Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities, abandoned the National Front in favour of Anwar’s three-party opposition and show little signs of returning to the coalition.

Muslim Brotherhood to Egypt: Don’t squeeze out moderates

badie

Mohamed Badie in an interview with Reuters in Cairo, 26 Jan/Asmaa Waguih

The new leader of the Muslim Brotherhood has said that  government efforts to squeeze Egypt’s biggest opposition group out of politics would only spur on “deviant” and potentially violent Islamic movements.  Mohamed Badie, 66, told Marwa Awad and Edmund Blair of the Reuters Cairo bureau the group would campaign in this year’s parliamentary election, but a state crackdown would likely prevent a repeat of its success in 2005 when it secured a fifth of the seats.

“The Muslim Brotherhood, which carries the banner of moderate Islam, must be given the chance to teach Egyptian society to benefit the nation and its people,” said Badie, picked as the group’s new leader this month.  “When we were prevented from playing the role of spreading moderate Islam, thorns sprouted in Egypt’s soil and so did terrorism,” he said, adding he rejected “deviant and ‘takfiri’ ideology”, referring to groups that declared people infidels.

Read the whole story here.

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Q+A-The Muslim Brotherhood’s influence on Egyptian politics

badeea Mohamed Badeea at news conference in Cairo 16 Jan 2010/Asmaa Waguih

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s oldest Islamist political group, has named a conservative as its new leader, suggesting that the country’s biggest opposition group may lower its political profile and focus on a social agenda.

Mohamed Badeea’s appointment on Saturday followed a heated debate between conservatives wary of stepping up political activities that have already triggered repression from the state and many from a younger generation seeking more political activism.

The Brotherhood, which seeks to introduce Islamic rule by democratic means, is officially banned but grudgingly tolerated by the state, and took about a fifth of the seats in parliament in 2005 by fielding candidates as independents.

from Raw Japan:

Church attacks shake Kansai

In the minds of many people, religious rivalry could occasionally be expected to  spill over into violence in places as diverse as the occupied West Bank or Glasgow's 'Old Firm' football derby.

Japan's Kansai region, home to the world's most renowned Zen gardens and some of the country's finest cuisine, on the other hand, is not generally seen as a tinderbox of religious tension.

But over the last year a series of mysterious attacks on Protestant churches and other facilities have roiled the area, leaving many churchgoers shaken and perplexed.

Top Japan pol calls Christianity self-righteous, Islam hardly better

japan-buddhistA top politician in Japan’s ruling Democratic Party has praised Buddhism while calling Christianity “exclusive and self-righteous” and Islam only somewhat better.  Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa made the remarks after meeting the head of the Japan Buddhist Federation, a group traditionally close to the rival Liberal Democratic Party, which was trounced by the Democrats in an August election.

Christianity “is an exclusive and self-righteous religion. And society in the United States and Europe, which are based on Christianity, are at a dead end,” the Nikkei newspaper quoted Ozawa as telling reporters after the meeting. “Islam is better, but it is also exclusive.” (Photo:Buddha statue at Todaiji Temple in Nara, western Japan, 29  Oct 2008/Itsuo Inouye)

Ozawa, seen by some as the mastermind behind the Democrats’ election win, had kinder words for Buddhism, which along with Shinto is the dominant religion in Japan, although many people take a mostly secular and eclectic view.  Christians are a tiny minority and Muslims are few in Japan.