FaithWorld

from John Lloyd:

The coming clash of civilizations over gay rights

Supporters of gay rights have been protesting in Western cities this past week, picketing in front of Russian embassies and consulates. They’re protesting the passing of a law in the Russian parliament that bans "homosexual propaganda" directed at under 18-year olds -- which if interpreted strictly, bans all public demonstrations and much public and private discussion on the issue.

Not so long ago how a country’s administration handled its ‘homosexual problem’ would be thought of as its business. Many still think that way. But most Western democracies don’t. They haven’t just adopted legislation that enjoins equality of treatment for all, irrespective of sexuality. They have taken seriously, for the most part, the claims made by gay organizations for many years: that discrimination against gay men and women is an affront to civil liberties, and that when some states pursue discriminatory policies, those who do not should make their disapproval clear. Gay rights are now part of the world’s clash of cultures.

This is presently true most clearly in the United States and the U.K., not because they have been ahead of the pack in equality -- they have lagged a bit behind Canada and the Scandinavian states, ever the pioneers in such matters -- but because they have had, and still have, the most contentious relations with Russia.

In the U.K., Stephen Fry, a British TV star, wrote an impassioned letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, likening Russia's treatment of gays to Adolf Hitler's treatment of Jews, and begged him to order British athletes to boycott the Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi in February next year. In an interview for a TV series on the treatment of gays with Vitaly Milonov, a designer of Russia’s anti-gay platform, Fry was told that Britain was being destroyed by the kind of liberalism that encouraged homosexual behavior. Milonov, a city councilor, was the author of a St. Petersburg law that was the model for the national anti-gay propaganda legislation: he intends to pray for Fry, but believes he is morally and terminally "sick.”

President Barack Obama has also shown some passion on this. Appearing on Jay Leno’s talk show, Obama said that he had “no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them,” adding that he spoke out because "making sure that people are treated fairly is what we (Americans) stand for." In his August 9 press conference, Obama hoped U.S. athletes would bring back medals -- but didn’t believe he should call back the American athletes already out there “training hard.”

from John Lloyd:

After the U.S. fades, whither human rights?

The shrinking of U.S. power, now pretty much taken for granted and in some quarters relished, may hurt news coverage of human rights and the uncovering of abuses to them. But not necessarily. Journalism is showing itself to be resilient in adversity, and its core tasks – to illuminate the workings of power and to be diverse in its opinions – could prove to be more than “Western” impositions.

When the British Empire withdrew from its global reach after the World War Two, the space was occupied, rapidly and at times eagerly, by the resurgent United States, at the very peak of its relative wealth and influence in the immediate postwar years. What it brought with it was a culture of journalism that was increasingly self-confident in its global mission: not just to describe the world, but to improve it. Some European journalism had that ambition too, but these were nations exhausted by war. The Americans, at the peak of their influence in the postwar years, had the power, wealth, standing and cocksureness to project their vision of what the world should be.

Now, American power too will shrink, and the end of U.S. hegemony (it was never an empire in the classic sense) will mean that there will be a jostling for power, influence, and above all resources by getting-rich-quick mega-states like China, India and Brazil. They will project their view of what the world should be -- they have already begun, some (China) more confidently than others (India, Brazil).

Russia’s Muslim Chechnya to ban energy drinks

Russia’s Muslim Chechnya region is planning to ban the sale of non-alcoholic energy drinks such as Red Bull to under 18s, saying they are un-Islamic and dangerous, health officials said.

The ban would be the latest restriction from authorities in Chechnya, where shops can only sell alcohol during a small morning time frame, eateries are shut during the Ramadan fasting month and women must wear headscarves in state buildings.

“Energy drinks are comparable to beer,” the deputy minister of health in Chechnya, Rukman Bartiyev, told Reuters, adding that they were harmful to health.

Top Kremlin aide says Putin is God’s gift to Russia

(Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lights a candle as he attends an Orthodox Christmas service in the XIX century church of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God in Turginovo village, about 160 km. (100 miles) northwest of Moscow January 7, 2011/Alexander Zemlianichenko )

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was sent to Russia by God to help his country during one of its most turbulent times, the Kremlin’s chief political strategist said on Friday in rare public remarks. “I honestly believe that Putin is a person who was sent to Russia by fate and by the Lord at a difficult time for Russia,” Vladislav Surkov, a staunch Putin supporter and one of Russia’s most powerful men, was quoted by Interfax news agency as telling state-run Chechen TV.

“(Putin was) preordained by fate to preserve our peoples,” said Surkov, who is also the Kremlin’s first deputy chief of staff.

Russian Muslims ask Moscow to lobby Saudis for increased haj quota to Mecca

(Muslims attend Friday prayers under a snowfall at the Central Mosque in Almaty February 5, 2010/Shamil Zhumatov)

Spiritual leaders from Russia’s large minority of Muslims asked President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday to press Saudi Arabia to increase the number of worshippers allowed to perform the annual Haj pilgrimage. Almost three million Muslims flock to Mecca every year for Haj, a duty every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must perform at least once in their lifetime. Riyadh allocates quotas for Muslims around the world.

Russia, home to 20 million Muslims, or around one seventh of the population, is allowed to send 20,000 Muslims a year for Haj, Mufti Ismail Berdiyev told Medvedev. They were attending a meeting with other Muslim leaders in Kabardino-Balkaria’s capital Nalchik in the mainly Muslim North Caucasus.

Moscow’s “Holy Rus” religious art show spotlights sacred Russia

(A member of gallery staff passes an exhibit at the Holy Rus exhibition at the Central House of Artists in Moscow May 25, 2011/Denis Sinyakov)

Russia opened an unprecedented exhibit of religious art pulled from across the country and abroad at Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery on Thursday, in a show of Kremlin support for an Orthodox Church growing more powerful since the fall of Communism.

The state-sponsored exhibit “Holy Rus” displays art works from the Old Eastern Slavonic state, which existed in the middle ages and united the lands of modern Belarus, Ukraine and the European part of Russia, with its capital in Kiev.

Vladimir Putin is saint and saviour for Russian cult

(Svetlana Frolova pauses during a service at her sanctuary at Bolshaya Yelena, a village near central Russia's city of Nizhny Novgorod May 15, 2011/Natalia Plankina)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin cultivates the image of a bare-chested macho man, but a nun-like sect in central Russia thinks actually he’s the reincarnation of St. Paul, the apostle. Or, if not that, he may in a past life have been the founder of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“I say what the Lord has revealed to me,” the sect’s leader, former convict Svetlana Frolova, said.

Russian Church: Ditch beer for books in nightclubs

(A man walks across Red Square near the GUM state department store (L) and St Basil's Cathedral on a rainy day in Moscow, November 26, 2007/Oksana Yushko)

Russian revelers can now swap vodka and dancing for tea and reading at new “spiritual nightclubs” being set up by Orthodox Church, media said quoting a top religious official. In the latest suggestion by the increasingly powerful Church, youths will be able to “have the opportunity for serious dialogue, reading, unhurried conversation so they can have a cup of tea,” said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin.

“A nightclub does not have to be a place where debauchery, boozing and drug addiction reign,” said Chaplin, who added that the Church-inspired clubs will stay open till 5 a.m. like most of Russia’s drinking holes.

Russia’s Muslim elite vows to tackle Islamist extremism

russia muslim 1

(Russia's chief Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin in Moscow February 10, 2011/Sergei Karpukhin)

Russia’s Muslims on Thursday set up a council of experts to devise ways to tackle extremism, two weeks after a suicide bomb attack on the country’s busiest airport killed 36.  Earlier this week Islamist leader Doku Umarov said he had ordered the devastating attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo airport.

“People need to be protected from extremism and terrorism, and educated away from this,” said Ravil Gaynutdin, the chief Mufti of Russia, which is home to some 20 million Muslims, or a seventh of the population. “These experts will play a very important role towards making things better… for Muslims to be more involved in Russian society,” Gaynutdin, clad in a flowing black robe and crowned by a silk white hat, told Reuters in an interview before chairing the council’s first meeting.

Islamist rebels take aim at Russia ahead of election year

chechen

(Doku Umarov (C) with Chechen rebels in an undated video/www.kavkazcenter.com/Reuters TV)

A suicide attack on Russia’s busiest airport shows Islamist rebel leader Doku Umarov is serious about inflicting “blood and tears” on the Russian heartland ahead of the 2012 presidential election. Umarov, a 46-year-old rebel leader who styles himself as the Emir of the Caucasus, claimed responsibility for the January 24 attack that killed 36 and said he had dozens of suicide bombers ready to unleash on Russian cities.

Russia is struggling to contain a growing Islamist insurgency along its southern flank nearly 12 years after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rose to popularity by leading Russia into a second war against Chechen separatists.