FaithWorld

Iraq pres rejects Aziz death order, partly because he is Christian

azizIraqi President Jalal Talabani said on Wednesday he will not sign an execution order for Tareq Aziz, the former deputy of dictator Saddam Hussein sentenced to death last month for crimes against humanity.

“No, I will not sign the execution order for Tareq Aziz, because I am a socialist,” Talabani told French television France 24 in an interview. “I sympathize with Tareq Aziz because he is an Iraqi Christian. Moreover he is an old man who is over 70.” (Photo:  A video grab of former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz listening to the court verdict in Baghdad March 11, 2009/Iraqiya TV via Reuters TV)

Iraq’s high tribunal passed a death sentence on Aziz, once the international face of Saddam’s government, in October over the persecution of Islamic parties in Iraq during Saddam’s rule. The Vatican and Russia both called on Iraq not to carry out the death sentence on humanitarian grounds, noting his age and health problems. The Vatican said mercy would help the war-torn country make progress toward reconciliation, peace and justice.

It was not clear whether Talabani’s opposition to signing the death sentence would prevent it from being carried out.

Aziz, a Christian, was well known in foreign capitals and at the United Nations before Saddam’s downfall. The U.S. government did not join the appeals to spare Aziz’s life. Analysts said that was partly because the United States itself carries out the death penalty and also possibly because it did not consider his hands to be entirely clean.

Sharia law threatens Moscow control in Muslim Chechnya

grozny mosqueAspects of sharia law imposed in Muslim Chechnya in recent months are inching the republic closer to autonomy and posing a renewed threat to Kremlin control, analysts say. The Kremlin relies on its hardline Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, to maintain order in the violent region in the North Caucasus, where separatists were driven from power a decade ago after two wars.

Analysts say Kadyrov’s methods to tame the region include a crackdown on opponents and imposing his radical vision of Islam, which could push Chechnya again towards separatism. (Photo: The main mosque in Grozny, May 17, 2008/Said Tsarnayev)

Kadyrov, who fought Russian forces during the first Chechen separatist war in the early 1990s but switched to Moscow’s side when the conflict reignited in 1999, says the claims are an attempt to blacken his name.

from Photographers' Blog:

Amid fires the air is thick with prayers

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, wearing headphones, sits in the cockpit of a firefighting plane in Ryazan region August 10, 2010.   REUTERS/Ria Novosti/Pool/Alexei Nikolsky

The Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin occupied the nation's TV screens while reports of his bravado in fighting forest wildfires littered the media. The rest of the country were dead on their feet, choking with smoke as they fought the disaster.

Residents attempt to extinguish a fire near the village of Polyaki-Maydan in Ryazan region, some 380 km (236 miles) southeast of Moscow, August 9, 2010.  REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Unable to depend upon Putin, government authority or new luxury equipment for assistance, locals grew weary as they defended their houses using an arsenal of tractors, farm equipment and shovels.

A man drinks water as he tries to extinguish a forest fire near the village of Polyaki-Maydan in Ryazan region, some 380 km (236 miles) southeast of Moscow, August 9, 2010.   REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Some relied on their prayers.

A priest blessed firefighters in the village of Berestyanka before they continued on. Local residents conducted religious services asking God for rain to prevent new wildfires like the one that partially destroyed the village of Kriusha on August 5.

New Russian holiday marked as Kremlin boosts Orthodox Church

russia holiday (Photo: Soldier holds candle at ceremony for adoption of Christianity, in Stavropol, July 28, 2010/Eduard Korniyenko)

Russia marked its adoption of Christianity in 988 on Wednesday with a new public holiday, the latest show of Kremlin support for the Russian Orthodox Church that has grown increasingly powerful since the fall of Communism.

Rights groups have criticized the new holiday, approved by President Dmitry Medvedev, as undermining Russia’s secular constitution and members of the country’s large Muslim minority have complained that it excludes them.

Marking the anniversary Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, held a liturgy in Kiev, the capital of modern Ukraine and mediaeval Kievan Rus, whose leader Prince Vladimir made Christianity the state religion more than 1,000 years ago. Kievan Rus is seen as the precursor of modern-day Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Moscow art curators anger Russian Orthodox church but escape jail

moscow artTwo art curators have been found guilty in Moscow of inciting religious hatred in a case that has highlighted the growing influence of the Russian Orthodox church and its links to the Russian government.

Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev must pay fines of 200,000 roubles ($6,477) and 150,000 roubles, respectively, to the state for their 2007 Forbidden Art exhibit, which mixed religious icons with sexual and pop-culture images.  (Photo: Yuri Samodurov leaves the courtroom, July 12, 2010/Denis Sinyakov)

Among the art on display in the exhibit were works depicting an Orthodox icon adorned with Mickey Mouse, a Russian general raping a soldier, and a Soviet-era Order of Lenin medal over Christ’s head. Leading cultural figures had appealed to President Dmitry Medvedev to drop the charges, saying it heralded a new era of censorship.

Chechnya’s leader hails paintball attacks on women without headscarves

kadyrovThe Kremlin-backed head of Russia’s Muslim Chechnya region has praised assailants who targeted women with paintball pellets for going bareheaded, prompting outrage from rights activists.  Eyewitnesses have said men in camouflage, often worn by police and security forces in the volatile region, fired paintball guns from cars about a dozen times last month at women who were not wearing headscarves. (Photo: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, dressed in the national costume,  in Grozny on April 25, 2010/Denis Balibouse)

“I don’t know (who they are), but when I find them I shall announce my gratitude,” Ramzan Kadyrov said in a weekend interview on the state-run regional television channel Grozny.  He called the victims of the paintball attacks “naked women” who had most likely been forewarned.  “Even if they were carried out with my permission, I wouldn’t be ashamed of it,” he said of the paint-pellet attacks.

The attacks highlighted tension over Kadyrov’s efforts to enforce Muslim-inspired rules that in some cases violate Russia’s constitution.  The Russian rights group Memorial, which has blamed the attacks on law enforcement officers, said in a statement on Thursday: “Kadyrov’s interview clearly demonstrates the restriction on women’s rights in Chechnya — he openly defends unlawful acts.”

Russia’s Muslim south triples sharia bride price as Islamic law advances

brideThe pricetag on a bride in Russia’s Ingushetia province has been tripled by the regional government, in a sign the Muslim North Caucasus region is slipping out of Kremlin control as sharia eclipses Russian law.

Against the backdrop of a bubbling Islamist insurgency, the revival of Islam in the North Caucasus following the break-up of the Soviet Union almost 20 years ago has brought sharia law to the region, revered by both rebels and ordinary citizens alike. ((Photo: Zalikhan, 16, going to her wedding in a Chechen refugee camp in  Ingushetia, August 7, 2000/stringer)

The issue of the ‘kalym’, a price paid by a groom to the family of the woman he chooses to marry, is the latest example of a broader trend that has troubled the Kremlin.

Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholic churches eye major reconciliation

krakowRussia’s Orthodox Church and Poland’s Roman Catholic Church have pledged to help their nations overcome a painful shared past and move towards reconciliation.  The two churches, very influential in their own countries, agreed at a rare meeting of senior clergy to draw up a joint document that will express their Christian vision of how the two Slavic neighbours can come together.

“The idea is to look at the history of our nations from our Churches’ point of view. During the history of our nations we
have experienced glorious moments but also very painful ones,”
Stanislaw Budzik, a Polish bishop, told a news conference on Thursday.   “As Christians we should reflect on the history of our nations and call for mutual love and cooperation,” said Budzik, general secretary of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. (Photo: Saint Mary’s Basilical in Krakow, 18 april 2010/Pawel Kopczynski)

Conflicts between Russia and Poland stretch back centuries. Soviet Russia joined Nazi Germany in 1939 in carving up Poland and Josef Stalin ordered the murder of 20,000 Polish officers in 1940 in Katyn forest. After World War Two, Moscow imposed an atheistic communist regime in Poland that lasted until 1989.

Chechen women say police paintball them for not covering hair

chechenWomen in Russia’s volatile Muslim Chechnya region say that police have targeted them with paintball pellets for not wearing headscarves, outraging rights activists.  The attacks highlight tension over efforts by Chechnya’s firebrand Moscow-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, to enforce Muslim-inspired rules that in some cases violate Russia’s constitution. (Photo: Chechen women voting near Grozny, November 27, 2005/Eduard Kornienko)

“A car carrying men in military uniform slowed down to approach us, one started filming on his mobile phone, and when they sped away we noticed paint all over our clothes,” a woman in the Chechen capital Grozny said on Friday  on condition of anonymity.

Several witnesses told Reuters that men in camouflage, which is worn by many Chechen police and security officers, had fired paintball guns at women from cars with tinted windows in multiple incidents this month. Critics say that in return for keeping relative calm in Chechnya, site of two separatist wars with Moscow since the mid-1990s, the Kremlin allows Kadyrov to run it like a personal fiefdom and lets him impose his vision of Islam.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Jerusalem Power

holy fireTo spend the past few days in the crowded, narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City, among the multilingual throngs marking Passover or Easter, was to get an unforgettable sense of the power this place has over the minds of millions. It also gives an insight into some of the ways Jerusalem, and control of access to its holy sites, plays into global power politics.

For the majority of Palestinians who are Muslim, as well as for the Islamic world beyond, the Jewish state of Israel's hold on the city since its capture from Jordan in the 1967 war is a deep grievance. Sporadic violence around the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque has flared again this year.

But with the confluence this year of the Easter calendars of both Western and Eastern churches, as well as the Jewish Passover celebrations, it was the issue of Christian access and the competing claims of different Christian denominations to the holy sites of Jerusalem, that was particularly in focus this past week. And if it was American-accented English that dominated among the visiting Jewish families crowding towards prayers at the Western Wall and which served as a reminder of the powerful alliance Israel enjoys, despite current turbulence, with the United States, it was the Russian spoken by many of the Christian pilgrims which indicated one of the main trends changing the balance of power within that fractured religious community.