FaithWorld

Security over Pope’s Lourdes visit trips up hunters

La Depeche du Midi, 13 Sept 2008Arriving in Lourdes a few hours before Pope Benedict, I promptly picked up the local newspapers to see how they were covering the story. His visit was naturally the lead story. What interested me more, though, was the second most prominent story in two regional newspapers here: “Pope hunts the hunters … Pope’s arrival upsets hunters’ high mass … Opening of hunting season delayed in 39 towns.”

It seems this weekend is the opening of the hunting season in southwestern France, but some towns around Lourdes had to put it off until next weekend due to the security for Pope Benedict. Hunting and fishing are big around here — they even have a right-wing political party called Hunting, Fishing, Nature and Tradition. One daily, La Dépêche du Midi (above), led its front page with the headline “Benedict XVI in the steps of Bernadette.” Just below that was the headline “The day of the hunters.” An article inside the paper said deer and izard — a kind of “goat antelope“– should be plentiful this season but there will be fewer wild boar than usual. When the hunters get to go out to hunt them, that is…

Prince Ghazi fears the worst if interfaith tensions flare

“Christians and Muslims routinely mistrust, disrespect and dislike each other, if not popularly and actively rubbish, dehumanize, demonize, despise and attack each other.”
Hmmm … this doesn’t sound like your usual speech at a conference on Christian-Muslim dialogue.

“With such an explosive mix, popular religious conflicts, even unto genocide, are lurking around the corner.” Um, er … the gloves are really off.

“God forbid, a few more terrorist attacks, a few more national security emergencies, a few more demagogues, a few more national protection laws, and then internment camps, if not concentration camps, are not inconceivable in some places.”

New book on Republicans adds to U.S. “culture war” debate

Grand New PartyA new book on the U.S. Republican Party sets out an agenda that its authors argue will help weld working class voters — who have bounced between political allegiances over the decades — to the party as the foundation for the next conservative majority.

Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, by Ross Douthat, a senior editor at The Atlantic, and Reihan Salam, an associate editor at the same magazine, is already making some waves.

What readers of this blog may find most interesting is some of its comments on religious conservatives, a key Republican Party base, and its contribution to the growing debate about America’s “culture wars.”

Danish artist aimed turban bomb cartoon at “spiritual dynamite”

“I have no problems with Muslims. I made a cartoon which was aimed at the terrorists who use an interpretation of Islam as their spiritual dynamite.”

Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, Sept. 2006 file photo/Preben Hupfeld/ScanpixKurt Westergaard, the Danish artist who drew the “turban bomb” cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad that sparked violent protests across the Muslim world, says he has no regrets about the caricature that changed his life. He lives under death threats that seem to be more than just words; last month, the Danish Security and Intelligence Service arrested three men suspected of planning to kill him. But, as he told our Copenhagen senior correspondent Kim McLaughlin, the cartoons sparked off a debate that Muslims must face if Islam is to integrate into western societies.

Read the whole interview here. Is this the way to view this issue — a turban bomb cartoon against the “spritual dynamite” of radical Islamism?

Andi versus al Qaeda — in Germany

Andi comic coverIt seems a bizarre tool in the hands of security officials, but German authorities believe a cartoon comic strip can help them get their message across to young people who might be tempted to flirt with militant Islamism. The unusual experiment in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany’s most populous state, has stirred international interest from as far away as the United States and Japan, according to the team behind the idea.

The comic is aimed at 12-16 year-olds and has been distributed in mosques and to every secondary school. “The reactions are almost entirely positive,” said Thomas Grumke, the interior ministry official who first thought up the hero Andi, his Muslim girlfriend Ayshe and the rest of the characters, including a militant imam and two young men who fall under his influence.

The story, which can be downloaded here in German, is interspersed with short passages of text addressing key issues and terms like sharia, jihad and the difference between Islam and Islamism. On that last point, it says: “Islam is a monotheistic religion (a belief in one all-embracing God), which is closely related to Judaism and Christianity. By contrast, Islamism is a political ideology which poses as ‘true Islam’ and wants to realise this as a binding, guiding principle for state and society. This ideology is directed against the free democratic order and thus is unambiguously extremist.”

Ramadan wants Muslims to ignore far-right Dutch film on Koran

Logo for Fitna movieAs the premiere of the long-awaited Koran film by far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders nears, it’s not uncommon to hear Muslims call for some way to censor what they expect to be a blistering condemnation of their faith.

But not all see the film — now expected to be broadcast by the end of this month — as an opportunity to revive the polarisation of the Prophet Mohammad cartoons clash in 2006, when freedom of expression and respect for faith were presented as implacable opposites.

Tariq Ramadan, one of Europe’s most prominent Muslim intellectuals, has never shied from confronting the critics of his faith. But his approach to the Wilders film aims to avoid a repeat of the cartoons controversy. At a recent conference in Sweden, he told Reuters that people could not be prevented from publishing material like the Wilders film and the Danish newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that triggered protests across the Muslim world.

Influential Muslim seminary brands terrorism un-Islamic

Darul Uloom Deoband, India/official photoOne of the most influential Islamic seminaries in one of the world’s most populous Muslim states has issued an important statement denouncing terrorism as un-Islamic. The statement is all the more interesting for the fact that it comes from an institution often linked in the media to the Taliban. But the seminary is hardly known to non-Muslims and the country is not an Arab state, not even a real “Muslim country” as such. So the statement, which was backed by several thousand Islamic scholars, looks like it will end up like the tree that falls in the forest with nobody around to hear it. It got some good coverage in its home country (like here and here and here) , but little anywhere else.

The seminary is Darul Uloom Deoband, a 150-year old institution in northern India that is the spiritual home for the arch-conservative Deobandi school of Islam. Its influence spreads across the subcontinent, into Afghanistan and into Muslim communities abroad, such as in Britain. Its link to Afghanistan’s radical Islamists goes through the madrassas in Pakistan that are considered to be “Taliban nurseries.” Most of them are Deobandi schools. Many of the pro-Taliban Islamist parties in Pakistan are Deobandi. General Zia-ul-Haq, who began Pakistan’s Islamisation drive in the 1980s that helped spread those madrassas, was Deobandi. Etc, etc, etc. Darul Uloom Deoband has always denied any connection with the Taliban and there is no reason to think it had any direct links. Its denunciation of terrorism will probably not influence the men with guns along the Afghan frontier, but it might carry some weight with the Islamist parties and madrassa directors further inland in Pakistan.

A madrassa near the Afghan border where Pakistani troops arrested suspected al Qaeda-linked militants, 15 Sept. 2005/Anjum Naveed/PoolThe declaration saysIslam sternly condemns all kinds of oppression, violence and terrorism. It has regarded oppression, mischief, rioting and murdering among severest sins and crimes.” Maulana Marghoobur Rahman, the ageing rector of Darul Uloom Deoband, told our New Delhi bureau: “There is no place for terrorism in Islam.” Our bureau saw his comments as a sign of deep sense of anxiety among India’s 140 million Muslims that a violent interpretation of Islam was finding root in the country and tarnishing the reputation of the entire community. Indian Muslims were implicated in bomb attacks on packed commuter trains in Mumbai in 2006 and in a failed attack in Britain last year.

Is it time to scrap the term “jihadist”?

Filipino Muslim shouts “jihad” at ant-U.S. protest, 9 Oct. 2001/stringerAt a conference on terrorism in Brussels this week, debate on how to tackle al Qaeda was punctuated by repeated arguments over the terms “jihad” and “jihadist”.

The terms have became synonymous in the West with “holy war” and “holy warrior” against the West, and al Qaeda itself has used it in that sense. But for most Muslims, as our Security Correspondent Mark Trevelyan points out, it originally means a spiritual struggle and they don’t want it hijacked anymore.

Now to call jihadists as terrorists is either reflective of …lack of understanding of Islam, or it is I must say an intended misuse, which again is unfortunate,” General Ehsan Ul Haq, former chairman of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff, told the annual conference of the EastWest Institute think-tank. “It might have been somewhat excusable in the trauma post-9/11 but I don’t think it is any more.”

Q&A: Karen Armstrong on Pakistan, Islam and secularisation

Karen Armstrong at an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, 3 Feb. 2008/Mian KursheedKaren Armstrong, the best-selling British writer and lecturer on religion, has given a long interview to Reuters in Islamabad after addressing a conference in the Pakistani capital. A former Catholic nun who now describes herself as a “freelance monotheist,” she has written 21 books on the main world religions, religious fundamentalism in these faiths and religious leaders such as Mohammad and Buddha. Her latest book is The Bible: A Biography. The short version of what she said is in the Reuters story linked here. We don’t publish the Q&A text of our interviews on our news wire, but we can do it here on the blog.

Q:You were last in Pakistan in 2006. What brought you back this time?

A: There is a really poignant hunger here, as well as in other parts of the Muslim world, to hear a friendly Western voice speaking appreciatively of Islam. It is a sad thing for me that this should be such an unusual event, but given the precarious state of relationships between so-called Islam and the West it seems something that is important to do.

Q: Pakistan seems to be a crucial place for the future of Islam at the moment. How do you see the impact of events in Pakistan in terms of developments in Islam as a whole?

Pakistan’s “Mother Teresa” detained by U.S. immigration

Abdul Sattar Edhi holds baby recovered from human smuggling ring, 15 March 2002

(Update: Edhi returned to Karachi on Feb. 4.)

When U.S. immigration officers question an arriving Pakistani for eight hours and seize his passport, they presumably suspect some kind of link to Islamist terrorism. Abdul Sattar Edhi, 79, “has links” to some horrifying violence, so to speak, but it’s hard to imagine they’re the kind that immigration officers may have suspected when they detained him at New York’s Kennedy Airport on Jan. 9.

Edhi and his colleagues care for — and, when necessary, bury — the victims of violence in his native city Karachi. His private Edhi Welfare Trust foundation runs an extensive ambulance service, buries unclaimed bodies and maintains centres for orphans, the homeless, the addicted and the mentally ill. In a country where state-run welfare services are basic or non-existant, his charity work is so unusual and prominent that he is often called “Pakistan’s Mother Teresa”.

When a bomb blast in Karachi last October killed 139 supporters of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto (herself later assassinated), Edhi ambulances were among the first helpers to arrive at the scene. One report noted the trust collected 110 of the victims, and washed and wrapped them in shrouds according to Muslim custom at its morgue so relatives could claim them.