FaithWorld

U.S. eyes Egypt Islamists as extremist fears fester

egypt flag

(An Egyptian flag with a peace sign at a rally in Trafalgar Square, in central London February 12, 2011/Luke MacGregor)

U.S. officials are concerned that Islamic extremists may try to exploit Egypt’s upheaval but are not yet convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s most influential Islamist opposition group, is necessarily a threat.

The toppling of President Hosni Mubarak on Friday marked the beginning of a new, uncertain era in Egypt that promises to empower Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, long viewed with deep suspicion in the West.  Al Qaeda is widely seen as weak in Egypt thanks partly to Mubarak, and his departure is raising fears in the U.S. Congress that the rise of even moderate Islamists may give radical elements more room to operate.

James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, sought to play down fears about the Muslim Brotherhood this week, saying it “has eschewed violence and has decried al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.”

“They have pursued social ends, betterment of the political order in Egypt, et cetera,” he told lawmakers on Thursday.

Will Pew Muslim birth rate study finally silence the “Eurabia” claim?

paris prayers

(Photo: Muslims who could not fit into a small Paris mosque pray in the street, a practice the French far-right has compared to the Nazi occupation, December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)

One of the most wrong-headed arguments in the debate about Muslims in Europe is the shrill “Eurabia” claim that high birth rates and immigration will make Muslims the majority on the continent within a few decades. Based on sleight-of-hand statistics, this scaremongering (as The Economist called it back in 2006) paints a picture of a triumphant Islam dominating a Europe that has lost its Christian roots and is blind to its looming cultural demise.

The Egyptian-born British writer Bat Ye’or popularised the term with her 2005 book “Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis” and this argument has become the background music to much exaggerated talk about Muslims in Europe. Some examples from recent weeks can be found here, here and here.

WikiLeaks bares even tiny Vatican’s diplomatic soul

vatican (Photo: Vatican City with St. Peter’s Basilica at left and the square Apostolic Palace — home of the pope and many Vatican offices — to the right and the long Vatican museum in the background, April 6, 2005/stringer)

The Vatican may be the world’s smallest state but even its diplomatic soul has been laid bare by WikiLeaks cables covering everything from sex abuse and media blunders to old “technophobic” cardinals. Cables sent from the U.S. embassy to the Vatican to the State Department depict Pope Benedict as sometimes isolated as aides try to protect him from bad news, and say his number two is seen as a “yes man” with little credibility among diplomats.

The cables were published by the Guardian newspaper, one of several news organizations with have been given access to the leaked cables from U.S. embassies around the world.

A long cable in February 2009, though couched in diplomatic language, reads like a scathing criticism of the Vatican’s internal and external communications structures, which are held responsible for some of Pope Benedict’s biggest public mishaps. “The Holy See’s communications operation is suffering from ‘muddled messaging’ partly as a result of cardinals’ technophobia and ignorance about 21st century communications. Only one senior papal advisor has a Blackberry and few have e-mail accounts. It has led to PR blunders on issues as sensitive as the Holocaust,” a U.S. diplomat writes.

GUESTVIEW: The Qur’an cannot be burned!

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Aref Ali Nayed is Director, Kalam Research & Media, Dubai.

koran

By Aref Ali Nayed

Years ago, in Toronto, I read on the concrete walls of a highway bridge the following bold and sacrilegious message: “God is dead! Signed: Nietzsche,” and under it “Nietzsche is dead! Signed: God!” (Photo: A woman reads the Koran in Srinagar , India, September 11, 2009/Fayaz Kabli)

Silly as the street message may be, it brings home a simple fact: God cannot be killed! Even as all else, including Nietzsche, dies, God remains. This is because for all theists, to put it starkly: God is God. God lives. Man dies.

Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew meets Obama on U.S. visit

bartholomewGreek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the “green patriarch” who leads 300 million Orthodox Christians, spoke with President Barack Obama on Tuesday about the fight against climate change.

“We view with alarm the dangerous consequences of disregard for the survival of God’s creation,” His All Holiness told a gathering at Georgetown University after his White House meeting. (Photo: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the White House,3 Nov 2009/Larry Downing)

Given the name “green patriarch” by former vice president and environmental crusader Al Gore, Bartholomew also will meet this week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

U.S. religious conservatives and progressives profiled

The first ever comparative surveys of U.S. conservative and progressive (or liberal) religious activists has just been published by the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron and Public Religion ResearchClick here for a link to the survey.

Many findings of the study – based on a detailed survey answered by 1,866 progressive religious activists and 1,123 conservative ones — will come as no surprise to followers of the U.S. political scene. But they will no doubt be closely scrutinized by both Republican and Democratic strategists.

USA-HISPANICS/ABORTION

Republicans are sure to take note of the fact that religious conservatives are still preoccupied with the issues of abortion rights and gay marriage, which they staunchly oppose. The Democratic Party will note that progressive religious activists care deeply about poverty, health care and the environment.

Is recession good for church attendance? Pew finds no link

Are more Americans seeking the comfort of faith amid the “Great Recession?

A new analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life suggests not. You can see their analysis and graphic here.

USA-AUTOS/CHURCH

“… while the Dow Jones Industrial Average has shed over half its value since October 2007, there has been no increase in weekly worship service attendance during the same time period,” Pew said.

It said  its findings were “contrary to recent media reports suggesting that the country’s economic troubles have led to higher levels of church attendance.” You can see an example of such reports here .