FaithWorld

Artist takes on censorship, porn law amid Indonesia restrictions

suwageIndonesian artist Agus Suwage knows what it is like to run up against the religious conservatives. Four years ago, he was hauled into parliament, where lawmakers accused him of blasphemy and of producing pornography dressed up as art. Today, facing an even more restrictive climate in Indonesia, Suwage refuses to be silenced and has made those restrictions the focus of his art.

His latest exhibition, which opened at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute this month, highlights what he sees as a growing conservatism in majority Muslim but officially secular Indonesia. Many of the works probably could not be shown at a big public exhibition space in Indonesia following the passage of a controversial anti-pornography law last year.

“There are more important things to address in law than pornography, like education. But everyone wants to win a political point and on this issue the politics come easily,” Suwage told Reuters in an interview.

Suwage’s latest works are a series of prints of female nudes overlaid with the actual text of Indonesia’s 2008 anti-pornography law, under which a person can be charged for any public activity that “incites sexual desire.”

See the full feature here. (Image: An Agus Suwage print “Behind the curtain” combining the text of Indonesia’s anti-pornography law with a female nude/Agus Suwage collection/Handout)

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U.S. religious conservatives and progressives profiled

The first ever comparative surveys of U.S. conservative and progressive (or liberal) religious activists has just been published by the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron and Public Religion ResearchClick here for a link to the survey.

Many findings of the study – based on a detailed survey answered by 1,866 progressive religious activists and 1,123 conservative ones — will come as no surprise to followers of the U.S. political scene. But they will no doubt be closely scrutinized by both Republican and Democratic strategists.

USA-HISPANICS/ABORTION

Republicans are sure to take note of the fact that religious conservatives are still preoccupied with the issues of abortion rights and gay marriage, which they staunchly oppose. The Democratic Party will note that progressive religious activists care deeply about poverty, health care and the environment.

Why beer doesn’t mix well with mainly Muslim Malaysia

beerBeer, which as an alcoholic beverage is forbidden in Islam to its believers, has long had it easy in mainly Muslim Malaysia. The country’s population of 27 million is made up of about 55 percent Malay Muslims and mainly Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities who practice a variety of faiths including Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism. The personal right of the non-Muslims to drink alcoholic beverages is legally recognised, a sign of tolerance despite the special status of Islam under Article 11 of the Malaysian constitution.  So beer is not difficult to find in convenience stores, supermarkets and entertainment outlets. (Photo: Beer drinkers, 20 July 2009/Nguyen Huy Kham)

But this easygoing attitude towards beer has hit the rocks of late amid what some suspect has been a growing religiosity of the country’s Muslims.  Last month, 32-year old Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarnor very nearly became the first woman to be caned in Malaysia for drinking alcohol under rarely enforced Islamic criminal laws.  Caught drinking beer in a hotel lobby in the eastern state of Pahang by religious enforcement officers, she was sentenced to six strokes of the cane and a fine.  This was possible because Malaysia practices a dual-track legal system. Muslims are subject to Islamic family and criminal laws that run alongside national civil laws.

malaysia-1A Malaysian Islamic appeals court judge ordered a review of Kartika’s sentence, but a public debate is still raging. Opinions are divided even among Islamic scholars with some questioning what the exact punishment for the offence, which isn’t specified in the Quran, should be. Others are in full support and believe that Kartika’s sentence was mild.

India’s defeated Hindu nationalist party faces survival test

advaniRiven by squabbling, India’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be forced to name a new leader in a crisis that could reshape the main opposition party, strengthening the left and hindering government efforts at financial reforms.

An election defeat in May touched off a leadership struggle and a debate over whether its Hindu-revivalist agenda, once its passport to power, was now irrelevant for younger voters. Moves are underway to replace 81-year-old leader L.K. Advani with someone from a younger generation, but the BJP is struggling to find a candidate who balances its pro-Hindu ideology (“Hindutva”) with its history of pro-market reforms. (Photo: L.K. Advani campaigning, 29 April 2009/Jayanta Shaw)

Narendra Modi, the firebrand chief minister of western Gujarat state whose pro-market image saw leading Indian industrialists float his name as a potential future prime minister, appears to be sidelined. That signals the party is worried about losing the middle ground by boosting Modi, accused of turning a blind eye to religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 in which hundreds of people, mainly Muslims, were killed by mobs.

Journalism Italian-style and church-state relations

giornale-aug-28-croppedCall it a case of duelling headlines.

For the past few days, a highly personal and often below-the-sash battle has been waged in Italy between two newspapers — Il Giornale, owned by the family of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Avvenire, the daily of the Italian Bishops Conference.  The generals in the battle, which has riveted Italy and has resulted in one of the worst periods for years in relations between church and state here, are the editors-in-chief Vittorio Feltri of Il Giornale and Dino Boffo of Avvenire.

It all started on Friday, Aug. 28 when Il Giornale published a front-page, banner headline story purportedly revealing that that Boffo had accepted a plea bargain in court in 2002 after being accused of harrasing a woman. The paper said Boffo had a homosexual relationship with her husband. The headline read “The Super-Moralist Was Condemned for Molestation” (see image above). Feltri, one of Italy’s more unorthodox journalists, attacked Boffo because he had written a spate of editorials criticising Berlusconi over the prime minister’s private life. The fact that ultimately Berlusconi’s family is Feltri’s boss was not lost on Italian readers.

Another element in the background was the fact that Berlusconi has been under the spotlight for anything but government recently, including accusations of cavorting with teenagers and prostitutes. For the record, Berlusconi says there was nothing “spicy” in his relationship with an 18-year-old aspriring model and that even if  a call girl spent a night in his house, he never paid for sex in his life. What’s more, Berlusconi is also going through a messy divorce. His wife Veronica says she wanted out because she couldn’t take any more of his “lies”.

Muslims angry at German soccer club over song

German Muslims have inundated one of the country’s top soccer teams, Schalke 04, with complaints about a verse in the club’s anthem which, they say, is disparaging towards the Prophet Mohammad.

The club has its home in Gelsenkirchen in Germany’s industrial heartland and immigrants make up about a third of the town’s population. Most of them have a Turkish background. Germany’s biggest mosque was opened in nearby Duisburg last year and many Schalke supporters are Muslims, as chat rooms like this one point out.

The lines in question are: “Mohammad was a Prophet who doesn’t understand football” although the words that follow seem positive: “But from all the beautiful colours he came up with blue and white.” Schalke’s colours are blue and white.

Southern Baptists (and Republicans): old, white and in decline?

The evangelical Protestant revival has been one of the most dynamic religious and social movements in the United States in the last three decades. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, one in four U.S. adults now count themselves as followers of this faith tradition.

BUSH

So it may come as a surprise to some non-American readers of this blog that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) – with 16 million members, America’s largest evangelical denomination and the country’s second largest after the Catholic Church — is ringing the alarm bells of decline.

Its research arm LifeWay Research released the following projections this week at the convention’s annual meeting in Kentucky:  it said its numbers would fall nearly 50 percent by 2050 “unless the aging and predominantly white denomination reverses a 50-year trend and does more to strengthen evangelism, reach immigrants, and develop a broader ethnic base.”

from Global News Journal:

Austrian far-right leader isolated over Israel stance

Senior figures from across Austria's political spectrum have condemned the head of the far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, over his party's European election campaign directed against Israel and Turkey.

In an advertisement in the newspaper Kronen Zeitung, Freedom opposes the accession of Turkey and Israel to the European Union. Although Turkey is in EU accession talks, Israel is not.

Heinz-Christian Strache prepares for a TV discussion in Vienna, Sept. 17, 2008. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader (AUSTRIA)

Malaysia trying to find its religious equilibrium

MALAYSIA/ Multicultural Malaysia, whose official religion is Islam but which has sizeable numbers of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, has been struggling of late to ensure religious freedoms for its minorities, without offending the sensibilities of majority Muslims.

In the latest case, a Malaysian court granted permission to a Christian to challenge the authorities for seizing religious materials that used the word “Allah”. The government has banned the use of the Arabic word to describe God by all except for Muslims, saying it might confuse Muslims or offend their sensisibilities. (Photo: A Hindu pilgrim outside Kuala Lumpur, 8 Feb 2009/Zainal Abd Halim)

The Catholic Herald, Malaysia’s main Catholic newspaper, has been fighting the government for months over the right to use the word “Allah”. Herald Editor Rev. Lawrence Andrew argues that Malaysian Christians have used “Allah” as their term for God for centuries. In a recent edition, the Herald slammed a new locally produced Bible, which further muddied these troubled waters by using the Hebrew word “Elohim” instead of “Allah” (or God for that matter) for the Almighty.

Holding back the “religion card” in India’s election campaign

india-election-ayodhyaHindu nationalism, Muslim “vote banks”, anti-Christian violence, caste rivalry — Indian politics has more than enough interfaith tension to offer populist orators all kinds of “religion cards” to play. Coming only months after Islamist militants killed 166 people in a three-day rampage in Mumbai, the campaign for the general election now being held in stages between April 16 and May 13 could have been over- shadowed by communal demagoguery. (Photo:Voters show IDs at a polling station in Ayodhya, 23 April 2009/Pawan Kumar)

But in this election, the “religion card” doesn’t seem to be the trump card it once was. It’s still being used in some ways, of course, but the main opposition group, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has played down its trademark Hindu nationalism in its drive to oust the secular Congress Party from power in New Delhi. A BJP candidate who lashed out at the Muslim minority saw the tactic backfire. During a recent three-week stay in India, I found religious issues being discussed freely and frequently in the boisterous election campaign. But they were usually not the main issues under debate and not isolated from the pocketbook issues that really concern voters. Click here for the rest of my report quoted above. advani-waves(Photo: BJP leader L.K. Advani, 8 April 2009/Amit Dave)

This is one of those stories where context is king. Thanks to the internet and India’s lively English-language media, anyone around the globe can find Indian reports highlighting the religion angle. One of the news magazines, The Week, ran an interesting cover story about the “high priests of hate.” On balance, I think it looks a bit overdone — it was written at the height of the Varun Gandhi controversy — but it had this classic anecdote: