FaithWorld

France takes first step towards banning Muslim face veils

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Camera crews at presentation of the veil commission report in Paris, 26 Jan 2010/Tom Heneghan

The French parliamentary commission studying the issue of full Muslim veils has produced its expected result — a recommendation that the National Assembly denounces these veils as contrary to French values and votes a law to ban them in public. They could not propose a full draft law because there are some doubts about whether a total ban would be constitutional. But the lawmakers made it absolutely clear they wanted to rid France of the veils — known here as “burqas” even though most are Saudi-style niqabs — and the fundamentalist Islam they said the garments represent.

Our news report here gives the main details of the story. At the news conference presenting the report, commission chairman André Gérin was his usual outspoken self, lashing out at “gurus of fundamentalism” who he said were forcing women to wear full veils and warning the veil phenomenon was only “the tip of the iceberg.” The veil hid what he called “scandalous practices of sectarianism and fundamentalism.” His deputy chairman Eric Raoult was more moderate and even defended the commission against charges it was “monomaniac” in its focus on the veil.

While the politicians said France was a welcoming country that did not want to stigmatise any group, the commission’s proposals betrayed a narrow view of veiled women and how to deal with them. The proposals defined veil wearing in the context of pressure on and violence against women. They stressed its foreign nature by suggesting tighter procedures when issuing visas, affording resident status, offering integration courses and granting citizenship through naturalisation. veil shopping

Veiled woman shopping in Leers, northern France, 6 Jan 2010/Farid Alouache

But Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux himself has said that, of the 1,900 women wearing full veils in France, 2/3 are already French citizens and 1/4 of them were actually French converts to Islam. Many of the measures proposed would not really apply to them. In addition, many veiled women say in interviews that they were not forced by male relatives to cover up and decided for religious reasons to do so. One cannot assume that all veiled women wear the garment voluntarily, but assuming they are all forced to do so seems equally one-sided. But that’s the approach underlying the commission’s suggestions.

Text of Mehmet Ali Agca’s letter before release from prison

Following is the full text of an open letter issued on Wednesday in Istanbul by lawyers for Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who shot Pope John Paul in 1981. Agca is due to be released from a Turkish jail on Monday January 18. agca police

Mehmet Ali Agca in Istanbul during short release from jail on 20 Jan 2006/Ahmet Ada

OPEN LETTER 13 January 2010

1 = Terrorism is the Evil of the Devil.

2 = All religions prohibit and condemn Terrorism.

3 = The AL QAEDA is a psychopathic criminal NAZI organization. And remember that the Oklahoma City bomber TIMOTHY MCVEIGH was a NAZI too.

Religion now hottest topic of study for U.S. historians – AHA survey

nypl 1Religion has become the hottest topic of study for U. S. historians, overtaking the previous favourite — cultural studies — and pulling ahead of women’s studies in the latest annual survey by the American Historical Association. Younger historians are more likely than older ones to turn their sights on faith issues.

The proportion of U.S. historians working on religious issues now stands at 7.7%. If that seems low, compare it with the more traditional fields in the study of the past — political history (4.6%), military history (3.8%) or diplomatic history (3.8%). Cultural studies stood at 7.5% and women’s studies at 6.4%.

Among the reasons cited by the AHA were:

    Interest in the rise of “more activist (and in some cases ‘militant’) forms of religion.” An “extension of the methods and interests of social and cultural history.” The impact of the “historical turn” in other disciplines, including religious studies. Increased student demand for courses on the subject.
The AHA report has some interesting quotes from professors in the field:
    “I think the category has become more popular because historians realize that the world is aflame with faith, yet our traditional ways of dealing with modern history especially can’t explain how or why,” said Jon Butler, a professor of history, religious studies and American studies at Yale University. “The ‘secularization thesis’ appears to have failed and so we need to find ways to explain how and why it didn’t die as so much written history suggests.” “I came to recognize that (expressions of faith) were woven into just about every aspect of life, not separate subjects I could leave for another time or someone else,” said  University of California at Berkeley historian William Taylor. “My ongoing research and writing about religious matters continues to be carried out in this spirit—not as a field apart, but as integral to my reckonings with how people then understood their lives and acted upon those convictions.” Jeanne Kilde of the University of Minnesota said “students in the late 1990s began coming to class with questions about religion” due to its influence on recent elections, growing attention in the media and an increase in public displays of religion.
nypl 2Given this blog’s focus in religion in the public sphere, this general trend of growing interest in religion isn’t anything new to us. What is interesting is that this is spreading in academia. A hat tip goes to The Immanent Frame blog, which also ran its own series of reactions from historians to this news. Here’s a sample from David A. Hollinger at Berkeley:  “Religion is too important to be left in the hands of people who believe in it. Finally, historians are coming to grips with this simple truth.” (Photos: New York Public Library, 14 Dec 2004/Mike Segar) Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

French foreign ministry bureau studies faith issues worldwide

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Bernard Kouchner (L) and Nicholas Sarkozy (R), 10 July 2008/Vincent Kessler

France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, one of the original “French doctors” who has been active in humanitarian causes for decades, once said the only major conflict he knew that had nothing to do with religion was the 1969 “football war” between El Salvador and Honduras. With a perspective like that, he naturally asked when he took over the foreign ministry in 2007 where religion figured in its diplomatic analysis and strategy. The answer was that it didn’t really figure in it, at least not in a systematic way. Laïcité — France’s trademark separation of church and state — had created a kind of “we don’t do God” reflex in its diplomacy. Kouchner began a series of internal discussions about the new challenges to diplomacy,  issues such as global warming, terrorism, sustainable development or religion. One of the results was the establishment last summer of a religious affairs bureau at the Quai d’Orsay.

Joseph Maïla, the former rector of the Catholic Institute of Paris appointed to head this bureau, explained the thinking behind this step in an interview that ran on our newswire today. As he explained in that story, the issue has an interesting European dimension, because the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty calls for a regular dialogue with religious groups in Europe. He added that  President Nicolas Sarkozy’s more flexible approach to laïcité also helped bring about a new appreciation of the role religion plays in public affairs. This has nothing to do with any loosening of the actual church-state separation in France, he stressed, but creates an atmosphere in which it’s easier for religious issues to be considered as factors in policy planning. Joseph Maïla, 1 Dec 2009/Tom Heneghan

Joseph Maïla, 1 Dec 2009/Tom Heneghan

Maïla said the bureau’s tasks were to study the links between religion and conflict, follow issues of church-state separation in Europe and advise the ministry on which positions to take on issues where religion is involved. He stressed that France had obviously dealt with international religious issues in the past, when they were clearly relevant to a problem, but didn’t take a systematic approach to faith in public affairs. Now, with a six-person bureau dedicated to the issue, it has one of the largest staffs dealing with the question in Europe. Most other European countries, which don’t have the same traditional reluctance to discuss religion in politics, usually have only one or two diplomats tracking faith issues.

from Felix Salmon:

Christian values, only $25.98

Baptist values are going cheap! They're only $25.27 per share, while Methodist values are $25.55, Lutheran values are $25.56, and Catholic values are $25.98 -- the same price as general Christian values.

All these values are brought to you by the good people at FatihShares ("Invest with Conviction"). I'm seeing a long-Baptist, short-Catholic relative value play here; I'm just sad that I can't get the video of this morning's NYSE bell-ringing to work. I was hoping for something a bit more transcendant than usual.

(Via Crigger)

INTERVIEW-Lisbon treaty to boost EU, church contact-Cardinal Dziwisz

dziwisz 2There was something missing from our post yesterday entitled Pope John Paul remains touchstone for Poland’s Catholic Church — a link to the story Reuters published based on the interview that Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz gave to Gabriela Baczynska and me. Since it hasn’t been posted separately on the web, here’s the story:

KRAKOW, Poland, Dec 16 (Reuters) – The Roman Catholic Church should use the EU’s new Lisbon Treaty to make its voice heard on moral issues in a Europe that has lost its Christian moorings, a leading Polish churchman said.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who spent decades in the Vatican as private secretary to the late Pope John Paul II, also said Poland, still one of Europe’s most devout countries, was helping to shore up the faith by sending priests to several continents.

What were the top religion news stories of 2009?

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Hindu lights Diwali candles in Agartala, India, 17 Oct 2009/Jayanta Dey

It’s Top 10 time again. As 2009 nears its end, Time magazine and the Religion Newswriters Association in the U.S. have produced their lists of the main religion news stories of the year. They take quite different views.

Time‘s list is quite broad, the top three being the advance of secularism in Europe, Pope Benedict’s invitation to conservative Anglicans and President Barack Obama’s decision to expand the faith-based office created by George Bush.

The RNA picked Obama’s Cairo address to the Muslim world as its top story, followed by the role of religious groups in the U.S. health care reform debate and the Fort Hood massacre allegedly carried out by an American Muslim officer.

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.

Pew measures global religious restrictions

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has come out with a new report that tries to measure, country by country on a global level, government and social restrictions on religion. You can see our coverage of the report here and here and can download the whole report here.

The report, which Pew says is the first major quantitative study of the subject on a global level, ranks countries under two indices — one measures government restrictions on religion, the other social hostilities or curbs on religion that stem from violence or intimidation by private individuals or groups. NIGERIA RELIGION

A damaged mosque in Onitsha in southeastern Nigeria

The Government Restrictions Index is based on 20 questions used by the Pew Forum to assess state curbs on religion at the national, provincial and local levels.

GUESTVIEW: European liberals – stand up and speak out in Islam debate

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Posters for minaret ban at Zurich train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Dr H.A. Hellyer is Fellow of the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations, University of Warwick, author of “Muslims of Europe: the ‘Other’ Europeans”and Director of the Visionary Consultants Group.

By Dr H.A. Hellyer

The real inheritors of European liberalism need to stand up and make themselves known because the struggle to maintain pluralism in Europe is only going to get tougher from here on in.

People will differ as to when they started, and why, and who is to blame. But one thing is for sure. The problems in Europe around the Muslim presence are not going to go away – they are going to intensify. And real European liberals are going to have make their voices be counted, or say farewell to a Europe that fought so hard to ensure civil liberties and freedom could find homes on the continent.