FaithWorld

from The Great Debate UK:

Britain counts cost of Benedict’s visit

OUKTP-UK-POPE-BRITAIN

- Terry Sanderson is  President of the National Secular Society. The opinions expressed are his own.-

When the Government is about to announce a 25 percent cut in public spending, the tens of millions of pounds showered on Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain seem like real papal indulgence.

The government contribution to this religious jamboree is currently £12 million (up from £8 million), but what we haven’t been told is how much the over-the-top security operation wil cost.

We have tried through Freedom of Information requests to get some idea, but so far we’ve been stonewalled.

Now the chief constable of South Yorkshire, who is co-ordinating the four police forces who are looking after the visit, says his best guess is around £1.5 million.

Muslim states seek UN Human Rights Council action on West’s “Islamophobia”

human rights council (Photo: Delegates at the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva on March 22, 2010/Denis Balibouse)

Muslim states that say what they call “islamophobia” is sweeping the West and its media have demanded that the United Nations take tougher action against it.  Delegates from Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Egypt, told the United Nations Human Rights Council this week that treatment of Muslims in Western countries amounted to racism and discrimination and must be fought.

Pakistan, speaking for the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), has tabled a resolution at the council instructing its special investigator on religious freedom “to work closely with mass media organisations to ensure that they create and promote an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for religious and cultural diversity”.

Diplomats say the resolution, which also tells the investigator to make recommendations to the Human Rights Council on how its strictures might be implemented, is bound to pass given the majority the OIC and its allies have in the body.

Pakistani law fuels hatred of Ahmadis, prompts attacks: UN experts

ahmadiOfficial discrimination in Pakistan against the Ahmadi Muslim sect fuels hatred of the community and prompts violent attacks against them, according to three U.N. human rights investigators.

In a statement issued by the United Nations in Geneva following deadly bombings last Friday of two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, the three said the authorities had failed to head off the attacks despite many signs that they were coming. (Photo: Ahmadis bury attack victims in Chenab Nagar,  northwest of Lahore on May 29, 2010/stringer)

“Members of this (Ahmadi) religious community have faced continuous threats, discrimination and violent attacks in Pakistan,” said the experts, who included Pakistani human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir.

Support lower for Muslim-backed U.N. text on defamation of religion

UNGA

United Nations General Assembly, 24 Sept 2009/Ray Stubblebine

The U.N. General Assembly condemned defamation of religion for the fifth year running on Friday but support continued to erode for a resolution Western countries say threatens freedom of speech.

The assembly passed the Islamic-sponsored resolution with 80 votes in favor, 61 against and 42 abstentions. That compared with 86 votes to 53 against with 42 abstentions for a similar text last year and figures of 108-51-25 in 2007, the last time the measure commanded an absolute majority of U.N. members.

The nonbinding resolution has gone through every year since it was prompted in 2005 by a row over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that appeared in a Danish newspaper, sparking bloody protests by Muslims around the world.  The only religion the resolution specifically names as a target of defamation is Islam.

Obama’s Nobel citation speaks of shared values – is hope on top?

obama-at-unThe statement announcing the Nobel Peace Prize for U.S. President Barack Obama says that “his diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population”. (Photo: Obama at the United Nations, 23Sept 2009/Kevin Lamarque)

Is there actually a set of values and attitudes shared by most people around the world? It would be interesting to know exactly what the Norwegian Nobel Committee meant by this. Are they talking about some vague form of world political consensus or even global ethics? The citation text mentions Obama’s “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons” and his preference multilateral diplomacy, dialogue and negotiations. But none of these efforts has yet borne much fruit.

The citation also mentioned the “hope for the future” it said Obama has given the world. Hope is a powerful force, both in personal and political life. In the Christian tradition, it’s a theological virtue as important as faith and love. And it is a key element of the Obama “yes we can” message.

Killing of women and child “witches” on the rise, U.N. told

ojhaMurder and persecution of women and children accused of being witches is spreading around the world and destroying the lives of millions of people, according to United Nations officials, civil society representatives from affected countries and non-governmental organization (NGO) specialists working on the issue.***
(Photo: An ojha, or witch doctor, in India’s northeastern state of Assam, 7 Sept 2006/Utpal Baruah)

***“This is becoming an international problem — it is a form of persecution and violence that is spreading around the globe,” Jeff Crisp of the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR told a seminar organized by human rights officials of the world body in Geneva.******Aides to U.N. special investigators on women’s rights and on summary executions said killings and violence against alleged witch women — often elderly people — were becoming common events in countries ranging from South Africa to India. And community workers from Nepal and Papua New Guinea told the seminar, on the fringes of a session of the U.N.’s 47-member Human Rights Council, that “witch-hunting” was now common, both in rural communities and larger population centres.******Read the whole story here.******Click here for a statement to the meeting by the International Humanist and Ethical Union.******Following are three Reuters videos about children and women beaten and killed on suspicion of practicing witchcraft. These are disturbing documents but they provide background to the issue being debated at the United Nations in Geneva.******The first video (12 Sept 2008) shows the fate of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo accused of sorcerery and bringing bad luck to their families:************This video (22 May 2008) reports on eleven mainly elderly people suspected of being witches being burned to death in western Kenya:************In thisvideo from Bihar state in India (28 March 2008), a woman accused of witchcraft is tied to a tree and beaten in her village:*********

Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

A new blasphemy law … in Ireland?

kabul-blasphemy-demoWhen we hear about blasphemy these days, we usually think cases brought in Muslim countries or efforts by Muslim states to have defamation of religion banned in resolutions at international meetings such as the recent “Durban II” session in Geneva. The issue, which sparked violent protests in the Muslim world in 2006 after a Danish newspaper printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, has been presented as a kind of cultural dividing line between “the West” and “the Muslim world.” It’s not that simple… (Photo: Kabul protest against blasphemy death sentence for Afghan journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, 31 Jan 2008/Ahmad Masood)

Just look at what’s happened in Ireland this week. The government proposed a new law against “blasphemous libel,” provoking criticism that the move would be old-fashioned at best and an outrageous curtailment of free speech at worst.  Were the traditionally Catholic Irish taking a page from the diplomatic strategy of Muslim countries? Were the bishops trying to flex their dwindling muscles?  The Irish Times story reporting the plan gave no motive for it but wrote: “At the moment there is no crime of blasphemy on the statute books, though it is prohibited by the Constitution.

Not surprisingly, Roy Brown, chief representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union in Geneva, reacted by saying it was “totally mind-boggling that a European government should even consider such a dangerous idea given that EU countries — now supported by the United States — have for years been fighting tooth and nail at the United Nations in Geneva and New York against almost  identical proposals from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to get a global ban on ‘defamation of religion’.”

Can the United States fix Durban II?

The United States has decided to participate in planning meetings for the United Nations Conference on Racism in April in order to influence its final declaration. The conference, a follow-up to the 2001 meeting in South Africa that the U.S. and Israel walked out on because the draft declaration called Israel racist (that language was later dropped). Israel and Canada have already announced they would boycott “Durban II,” as the conference is being called, and the Bush administration was opposed to the conference. But the Obama administration has decided to wade into the debate in the hopes of getting a better result. (Photo: United Nations General Assembly, 26 Sept 2008/Eric Thayer)

Apart from the expected criticism of Israel, this conference in Geneva is also due to be a showplace for a drive by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to have the U.N. condemn defamation of religion. The U.N. General Assembly voted for just such a condemnation last December, for the fourth year running. While the non-binding resolution urged member states to provide “adaquate protection against acts of hatred, discrumination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general,” the only religion it mentioned by name was Islam. Western countries opposed that resolution as contrary to the basic rights of free expression and opinion.

In statements in December, the freedom of expression rapporteurs of the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) have called on the United Nations not to issue any such resolution.

Policy adrift over Rohingya, Myanmar’s Muslim boat people

The Rohingyas, a Muslim minority fleeing oppression and hardship in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar, have been called one of the most persecuted people on earth. But they have seldom hit the headlines — until recently, that is. More than 500 Rohingyas are feared to have drowned since early December after being towed out to sea by the Thai military and abandoned in rickety boats. The army has admitted cutting them loose, but said they had food and water and denied sabotaging the engines of the boats. (Photo: Rohingyas in immigration area in soutwestern Thailand, 31 Jan 2009/Sukree Sukplang)

The Rohingyas are becoming a headache for Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia where they have washed up. Indonesian authorities this week rescued 198 Rohingya boat people off the coast of Aceh, after three weeks at sea. Buddhist Thailand and mostly Muslim Indonesia call them economic migrants looking for work at a time when countries in the region, like everywhere else, are in an economic downturn. But human rights groups such as Amnesty International are calling on governments in the region to provide assistance to the Rohingyas and let the UNHCR  have access to them.

Myanmar’s generals have a shabby enough record with their Buddhist majority. The brutal suppression of monk-led protests that killed at least 31 people in September 2007 and the continued detention of opposition icon and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi bear witness to that. But their treatment of ethnic minorities, including the Muslim Rohingyas and the Christian Chin people in the mountainous Northwest — where insurgents have been fighting for autonomy — have been especially brutal. They are not oppressed because of their faith alone, but their faith and ethnicity make them targets. The military government does not recognise them as one of the country’s 130-odd ethnic minorities. They are forbidden from marrying or traveling without permission and have no legal right to own land.

Cardinal Martino does it again

Cardinal Renato Martino, the papal aide who angered Israel and Jews by comparing Gaza to a “big concentration camp” is no novice at being outspoken or controversial. The southern Italian cardinal speaks his mind, loves to talk and sometimes has had to pay the price. Martino, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (effectively its justice minister), has a laundry list of people and governments with whom he has clashed. But that hasn’t stopped him. (Photo: Cardinal Martino at the Vatican, 12 April 2005/Tony Gentile)

Perhaps his most famous remark came in December, 2003 when, shortly after U.S. troops captured former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Martino told a news conference at the Vatican that U.S. military were wrong to show video footage of Saddam. “I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures,” he said at the time.

The “treated like a cow” remark was heard around the world and, needless to say, was not very appreciated in the White House. The Vatican had opposed the U.S.-invasion of Iraq in March of that year. In fact, a certain chill developed between Martino and then U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson, a Vietnam veteran who later went on to become Bush’s Secretary for Veteran Affairs.