FaithWorld

Germany asks if Islam impedes on freedom of speech

GERMANY/A decision by the German publisher Droste not to print a murder mystery about an honour killing because it contained passages insulting Islam has raised questions in Germany about religion impeding on freedom of speech.

Droste publishers said they would have published the book, entitled “To Whom Honour is Due”, had author Gabriele Brinkmann softened the tone in some sections In one, for example, an angry character tells another to dispose of a Koran using a crude phrase we would not reproduce here. “The author was not prepared to change the derogatory passages, which would have  been a condition for the publication,” Droste said in a statement on its website. (Photo: The Merkez Mosque in Duisburg, Aug 21, 2009, Reuters/Ina Fassbender)

Little did they realise what a stir this decision would cause in Germany, which is sensitive to any compromise on freedom of speech and where security fears over Islamists have blocked several artistic ventures in recent years. “For me, it is about the principle. That is why I went public about this. I won’t hurry to be obedient and carry out self censorship,” Brinkmann told German media.  “Justified fear or cowardice?” asked the headline in the daily Hamburger Abendblatt.

Droste insists it is not worried about releasing books dealing with controversial themes, but refuse to publish books which insult peoples’ faith — whether Islam, Christianity or other religions. But Brinkmann points out that her book was a work of fiction, and it was clear that the opinions expressed by fictive characters were neither her own nor those of the publishers.

Furthermore, it is questionable if the company would have similary toned down any insults of Christianity, a religion that is regularly parodied and demonised in popular culture. Why not? Perhaps because insults against Christianity probably wouldn’t have carried the same security risks. Monty Python’s comedy The Life of Brian and Dan Brown’s best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code both provoked outrage among sections of the Christian community, but not death threats or violence.

from India Insight:

Are displaced Kashmiri Hindus returning to their homeland?

Tens of thousands of Kashmiri Hindus, locally known as Pandits, fled their ancestral homes in droves 20 years ago after a bloody rebellion broke out against New Delhi’s rule in India's only Muslim-majority state.

Now encouraged by the sharp decline in rebel violence across the Himalayan region, authorities have formally launched plans to help Pandits return home.

Will Pandits, who say they "live in exile in different parts of their own country" return to their homeland in Kashmir where two decades of violence has left nothing untouched and brought misery to the scenic region, its people and its once easy-going society?

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:*********

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How to win hearts and minds in Thailand’s Muslim south?

THAILAND-SOUTH/More than five years after a Muslim insurgency erupted in southern Thailand, the conflict remains shrouded in mystery, with no credible claims of responsibility for the bloodshed in a once independent Malay Muslim land with a history of rebellion to Buddhist Thai rule.

On June 8, gunmen burst into a mosque and killed 10 people as they prayed. Thailand blamed separatist insurgents for the bloodiest attack this year in the mainly Muslim region bordering Malaysia where nearly 3,500 people have died in violence since 2004. But the head of the world’s biggest Islamic body urged Thailand to protest its Muslim minority after local residents put the blame on military-backed elements. (Photo: Thai Muslims pray at a funeral after the mosque attack, 9 June 9 2009/Surapan Boonthanom)

Reuters correspondent Martin Petty toured the area last week in the wake of the attacks. He talked to a woman who narrowly escaped an assassin’s bullet in Yala.  She said she doesn’t know who wanted her dead or why. Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra blamed mafia-style smuggling gangs for the violence, but security analysts believe homegrown separatist groups — with little or no ties to al Qaeda or other regional militant networks — are behind the violence.

Has U.S. abortion language created climate of violence?

The murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller has been condemned by prominent groups and activists on both sides of this divisive and emotive issue.

USA-POLITICS/

But the language used by some opponents of abortion rights who reviled Tiller for his work providing late-term abortions remained very strong.

Take this statement by Dr. James Dobson, founder of the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family.

from India Insight:

Is caste behind the killing in Vienna and riots in Punjab?

Why did the murder of a preacher in a Sikh temple in Vienna spark riots in the faraway Indian state of Punjab, in which thousands took to the streets to torch cars, trains and battle security forces?

The root cause may lie in India's caste system that Sikhism officially rejects, but that still grips swathes of India's billion-plus people, including in Sikh-dominated Punjab state in northwestern India.

"Via Vienna, Sikh caste war returns, sets Punjab aflame" ran the headline of the Hindustan Times.

Paris Muslims attacked in new twist to Gaza tension in France

The tension in France because of the Gaza conflict has taken a new twist with a charge by three Muslim youths that Jewish militants had beaten them up because one of them had thrown away a pro-Israel pamphlet. The focus until now has been on rising anti-Semitic attacks, presumably mostly by Muslims angered by Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, but this puts another layer of complexity on the story. The attack happened almost a week ago, on Thursday Jan. 8, but the details are still unclear and the versions being put out don’t match up.

According to the victims’ account, about seven youths from the Ligue de Défense Juive (Jewish Defence League) were distributing the pamphlets on Jan. 8 outside Janson de Sailly, a leading lycée, secondary school, in a chic district of Paris, and handed one to a pupil of North African Arab origin.  When he threw it away, the JDL militants beat up him and one or two other youths of Maghrebin origin who came to help him. The lycée pupil and two others then filed a complaint with the police against the Jewish militants and police are now investigating the incident.

An LDJ spokesman flatly denied any link to this attack and said it does not distribute these pamphlets outside of lycées, only at universities. On its website, it was less clear, saying only that it “denounces the aggression against two pupils of the Janson de Sailly lycee. The LDJ rejects every form of violence.” The LDJ spokesman said his group had the same name and logo as the militant Kach movement banned in Israel and the Jewish Defence League banned in the United States — in both cases because they were suspected terrorist organisations — but had nothing to do with these groups.

‘Clash of Civilizations’ author dies, thesis lives on

Political scientist Samuel Huntington, whose controversial book “The Clash of Civilizations” predicted conflict between the West and the Islamic world, has died at age 81, Harvard University said on Saturday. You can see our story here.

In his 1996 “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” which expanded on his 1993 article in Foreign Affairs magazine, Huntington divided the world into rival civilizations based mainly on religious traditions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism and said competition and conflict among them was inevitable.

His thesis was one of the most influential, controversial and widely debated in foreign affairs circles in the past decade or so.

Imams and rabbis work for peace, even if debating it can get tense

There’s one thing you have to say about the World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace — when they disagree about something, they don’t mind saying so. The final session of their third conference in Paris on Wednesday was the stage for an exchange of dramatic charges and counter-charges abut the perennial problem of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The atmosphere was tense in the UNESCO conference room where the 3-day session took place and several participants spoke up to calm down their more agitated colleagues. Since this was the only session the media was allowed to witness, it would have been easy to conclude that the imams and rabbis needed to seek peace among themselves first before preaching it to others. (Photo: An imam in Berlin, 3 Aug 2007/Fabrizio Bensch)

But there were actions that spoke louder than words in the hall. Several participants were frowning as the finger-pointing progressed. Others turned to the nearest participant of the other faith to chat. At one point, a rabbi in his Hasidic black hat and coat walked over to an imam wearing a karakul hat, embraced him warmly and sat down for a lively talk. A television camera would have had a field day contrasting the words and the deeds in evidence there. (Photo: A rabbi in Debent, Russia, 17 Sept 2007/Thomas Peter)

At the news conference ending the session, the organiser Alain Michel announced there had not been enough time to agree on a final resolution — a sign of a serious disagreement, as any reporter who has covered summit meetings could tell you. But he proceeded to say the meeting had agreed to set up a steering committee that would work out joint statements whenever there were major acts of violence in the name of religion. Names of the committee members were read out and all seemed to be satisfied that this was progress. Here is my news report about the meeting and here’s the official programme.

Novel about Mohammad’s wife published — what comes next?

Cover of The Jewel of MedinaThe Jewel of Medina, a novel about the Prophet Mohammad’s child bride Aisha already linked to an arson attack in London, was rushed into U.S. bookstores on Monday in a bid to head off any other violence. Author Sherry Jones says it’s a respectful account of Aisha’s life but Random House baulked at publishing it after being warned it could offend Muslims and provoke violence from a “small, radical segment”.

Publisher Eric Kampmann, president of the Beaufort Books company whose London office was firebombed, told Reuters that the surprise measure would help change the discussion about the book. “We felt that, given what was happening, it was better for everybody… to let the conversation switch from a conversation about terrorists and fearful publishers to a conversation about the merits of the book itself,” he said.

Comments from Muslims in Britain about The Jewel of Medina have been mixed, with some approving a vigorous protest and others saying their views have evolved since the Rushdie affair. Comments on blogs since the novel went out to U.S. bookshops range from those criticising it as a “flawed jewel”, those (like Ayaan Hirsi Ali) cheering the publisher for not caving in and those urging Muslims not to be provoked even by this “distorted picture of Aisha”. Some, citing a review saying it’s just a “second-rate bodice ripper-style romance”, wonder what the fuss is all about.