FaithWorld

EU pressures Turkey to boost rights for non-Muslims

Turkey has signalled it may soon amend a free speech law that has been a stumbling block in its drive to join the European Union. Justice Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin said this on Tuesday soon after the European Commission issued its annual progress report on Ankara’s membership bid. The interesting angle here for this blog is that the EU criticism singled out not only the much-criticised law on “insulting Turkishness” but also current restrictions on freedom of religion.

Demonstrator wrapped in the Turkish flag at a Brussels protest against the Kurdish PKK, Nov. 3, 2007Releasing the report, Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn noted democracy had prevailed over military meddling in Turkish politics this year. “The new momentum should now be used to relaunch the reforms to improve fundamental freedoms, particularly the freedom of expression and religious freedom, so that they prevail in all corners of the country and in all walks of life,” he said (my emphasis).

The report gave Turkey a mixed review concerning religion. “As concerns freedom of religion, freedom of worship continues to be generally guaranteed,” it wrote. But it added: “Overall, the environment as regards freedom of religion has not been conducive to the full respect of this right in practice. A legal framework has yet to be established in line with the European Convention on Human Rights so that all religious communities can function without undue constraints. No real progress can be reported on the major difficulties encountered by the Alevis and non-Muslim religious communities.”

The ex-Islamist AK Party governing Turkey has argued for more religious freedom in general, seeing this as a way for Muslims to have more rights in the country’s rigidly secularist system. AK leaders have said these freedoms should also apply to the non-Muslim minorities there. But it takes time to translate that into practice. Several European governments are paying particular attention to progress on the religious freedom front, so the pressure is on Ankara to introduce reforms.

Other points in the report include:

– “The Association for Support of Jehovah’s Witnesses has received a final decision from the Turkish authorities confirming that the association is legally registered.”

Muslim scholar questions Vatican understanding of Islam

Cardinal Jean-Louis TauranThe cautious Vatican reaction to the dialogue appeal from 138 Muslim scholars has prompted one of the signatories to question whether the top Catholic official for relations with Muslims understands Islam. More specifically, Aref Ali Nayed has asked how Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran can say that a serious theological dialogue with Muslims is not possible because they will not discuss the Koran in depth. This debate (discussed in an earlier post here) is dense and highly specialised. But it may be at this level that this unprecedented dialogue could take off or fail to ignite.

Nayed, a former professor at the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) in Rome and main spokesman for the 138 scholars, flatly refutes Tauran’s view. He says Muslims have always interpreted the Koran and studied it both historically and linguistically. Their methods were even the forerunners of the “historical-critical” method that Christians use with the Bible, he says. Protestants began applying this “higher criticism” to the Bible in the 18th century and Catholics accepted it only in 1943, making them latecomers to this exercise in Nayed’s view. I am no specialist on these details and will need to hear reactions from Christian theologians.

Readers interested in Nayed’s argument can read it on the website of Islamica magazine or read Cindy Wooden’s story for the Catholic News Service on it. I’ll just quote the crisp conclusion:

Thai Buddhists seek blasphemy law to punish offences against their faith

A Thai Buddhist monk rides an elephant to a protest in Bangkok, April 25, 2007The leading role monks played in the September protests against Myanmar’s military rulers has put the spotlight on the politically active side of Buddhism.

Next door in Thailand, this activism takes a quite different form. Buddhist groups there tried in vain earlier this year to have Buddhism declared the country’s official religion in its new post-coup constitution.

In April, they converged on parliament in Bangkok — some riding into the city on elephants — to highlight their demand.