FaithWorld

Far-right anti-mosque rally flops in Germany

Poster for anti-mosque protest surrounded by Cologne police, 20 Sept 2008/Ina FassbenderA far-right movement opposed to the construction of a large mosque in Cologne, Germany planned a “Stop Islam” rally there on Saturday. About 1,500 protesters were expected from across Germany, but also from France, Belgium and Austria. Muslim and left-wing groups mobilised. Iran and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference protested. Cologne deployed about 3,000 police. It looked like a major clash was looming.

As it turned out, only a few dozen anti-mosque activists turned up for the rally in central Cologne’s Hay Market square. Waiting for them were 40,000 demonstrators who blocked their way, sometimes violently. Among their tactics was blocking trams to keep them from arriving at Hay Market square (as in picture below). There was so much sporadic violence that police finally banned the rally altogether.

Left-wing demonstrators block tram line to anti-mosque rally, 20 Sept 2008/Ina FassbenderThe Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the country’s leading serious newspaper, thinks this was like using a sledge hammer to kill a fly. “Maybe the most sovereign answer to the rally would have been to ignore it, like Lord Mayor Schramma said early last week when he suggested closing down Hay Market square — close your windows and doors, roll down the shutters and show the right-wing populists the cold shoulder.”

Agitation against new mosques is seen around Europe (we blogged on Italy here last week) and a recent survey said anti-Muslim feelings were on the rise.  The anti-mosque group has announced it will appeal the ban. Are the media giving too much attention to these groups? Is this the time to simply ignore this agitation or should governments take stronger steps against it?

Gutsy pastor opens megachurch in world’s biggest Muslim nation

Pastor Stephen Tong, 20 Sept 2008/Enny NuraheniStephen Tong is one gutsy pastor. On Saturday, the head of the Indonesian Reformed Evangelical Church opened a multimillion dollar megachurch in Jakarta, capital of the world’s most populous Muslim nation. “This proves that there are no restrictions from the Indonesian government to build religious centres,” the Chinese- Indonesian preacher said. “It gives the world a new impression of Indonesia: it is not a messy country or full of troubles.”

Indonesia has traditionally been a tolerant country, but this tolerance is under pressure from Islamist radicals who want to drive wedges between the country’s Muslim majority (86%), Protestants (6%), Catholics (6%), Hindus (1.8%) and other faiths. Just last month, an evangelical seminary was forced out of a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood in Jakarta. The annual U.S. State Department freedom of religion report released on Friday reported radical pressure on Christians and on the Ahmadis, a non-orthodox Muslim sect:

Inside the Jakarta megachurch, 20 Sept 2008/Enny Nuraheni“Some groups used violence and intimidation to force at least 12 churches and 21 Ahmadiyya mosques to close. Several churches and Ahmadiyya mosques remained closed after mobs forcibly shut them down in previous years. Some Muslim organizations and government officials called for the dissolution of the Ahmadiyya, resulting in some violence and discrimination against its followers. Some perpetrators of violence were undergoing trials during the reporting period. However, many perpetrators of past abuse against religious minorities were not brought to justice.”

Prejudice against Muslims, Jews on the rise in Europe – Pew study

Swastikas on Muslim gravestones in northern France, 6 April 2008/stringerAnti-Muslim and anti-Jewish feelings are rising in several major European countries, according to a survey by the Washington- based Pew Research Center’s Global Attitude Survey. Mike Conlon in our Chicago bureau has summed up the report here.

Apart from the figures themselves, what struck me most was the way the study says the trends are moving. Pew said the upswing in anti-Muslim feelings came mostly between 2004 and 2006, with some falls since then, while the upswing of feelings against Jews has come mostly between 2006 and 2008. Is this matched by facts on the ground, such as attacks on religious people and sites or increasingly discriminatory acts or agitation against religious minorities? Or is this a change in mood that need surveys like this to be perceived?

The news media tend to focus on actual examples of such prejudices, such as the recent anti-mosque campaign in Italy or suspected anti-Semitic attack on a young Paris Jew, since these are news events that reflect prejudices. This is admittedly an imperfect measure (which, by the way, is one reason why we also report surveys like this). We don’t claim to be able to cover such events so thoroughly that we could track trends like Pew does. Even with that proviso, I’m not sure I would have said that Europe saw a surge of anti-Muslim feeling between 2004 and 2006 and a surge of anti-Jewish feeling since then. The evidence from actual events is difficult to read.

Christians cower from Hindu backlash in Orissa

Christian woman outside her destroyed house in an Orissa village, 2 Sept 2008/Parth Sanyal TIKABALI, India (Reuters)On a starry night last week, as Lal Mohan Digal prepared to go to bed, a mob of raging, machete-wielding Hindu zealots appeared above the hills of his mud house and swarmed over a bucolic hamlet in Orissa. By dawn, Christian homes in the village were smoking heaps of burnt mud and concrete shells. Churches were razed, their wooden doors and windows stripped off.

Krittivas Mukherjee, a correspondent in our New Delhi bureau, recently visited the eastern Indian state of Orissa for a first-hand view of the continuing Hindu nationalist violence against minority Christians there. His eyewitness feature “Christians cower from Hindu backlash in Orissa” paints a vivid picture of the drama unfolding in the ransacked Christian hamlets and makeshift relief centres packed with frightened refugees.

Orissa has a history of religious violence (see our factbox). The Reuters India website archive shows 37 stories since last Christmas from datelines including Bhubaneswar (Orissa state capital), New Delhi, Rome and Vatican City. The United Nations freedom of religion investigator warned back in March about more violence to come. Mukherjee’s harrowing story comes from a hamlet so small it doesn’t show on web maps.