Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
Where is the Arab Spring leading the Middle East? What will be the longer-term outcome of the popular protests that have shaken the region since the beginning of this year? Of course, it’s still too early to say with any certainty, even in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt that succeeded in toppling their authoritarian regimes. Some trends have emerged, however, and they’re on the agenda at a conference in Venice I’m attending entitled “Medio Oriente verso dove?” (Where is the Middle East heading?). The host is the Oasis Foundation, a group chaired by Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Roman Catholic patriarch of this historic city, and guests include Christian and Muslim religious leaders and academics from the Middle East and Europe.
In one of the most interesting -- and hotly debated -- presentations, the French Islam specialist Olivier Roy described the Arab Spring as “a break with the culture and ideologies that dominated the Arab world from the 1950s until recently.” It marks a clear change in the demographic, political and religious paradigms operating there, he said. The old dichotomy of the authoritarian regime or the Islamist state has broken down, he argued, and Islam is taking on a new role in the political process. In the end, the region -- or at least the states where the Arab Spring brings real change -- could see democratic politics marked not by major efforts to establish an Islamic state but by Muslim “culture war” controversies not unlike the way hot-button issues such as abortion and gay marriage emerge in U.S. political debates.
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.
At a Christian-Muslim conference in Geneva this week, participants agreed to build a network for "peace teams" to intervene in crises where religious differences are invoked as the cause of the dispute. The idea is that religious differences may not be the real problem in a so-called religious conflict, but rather a means to mobilise the masses in a dispute that actually stems from political or economic rivalries. (Photo: Coffins of two of 52 killed in al-Qaeda-linked attack last Sunday on a Baghdad church, 2 Nov 2010/Thaier al-Sudani)
If outside experts could help disentangle religion from the other issues, the argument goes, that could help neutralise religion's capacity to mobilise and inflame, in the hope of leading to a de-escalation of the crisis.
(Photo: Presidents Christian Wulff (R) and Abdullah Gül, followed by wives Bettina (R) and Hayrünnisa, during official welcome in Ankara October 19, 2010/Umit Bektas)
When German President Christian Wulff recently declared that Islam "belongs to Germany," Christian Democratic politicians there howled and Muslims living in Germany and Turkey cheered. Now Wulff, on an official visit to Turkey, has told the Turkish parliament that "Christianity too, undoubtedly, belongs to Turkey." This time there was applause in Germany, and silence from the Turkish deputies listening to him in Ankara on Tuesday.
In both cases, Wulff's words could not have come at a better time. (Photo: President Wulff address the Turkish parliament, with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Turkey's EU Minister Egemen Bagis (L) in the background/Umit Bektas)
Germany is in the grip of an emotional debate about Islam and Muslim integration. When Wulff said in his Oct. 3 German Unity Day address that Islam was now part of German society, given the large number (about 4 million) of Muslims living there, it was demographically obvious and politically risky. Several of his fellow Christian Democrats have challenged his view and insisted Germany had a "Judeo-Christian heritage" that Islam did not share. But Wulff, who was considered something of a lightweight for the ceremonial role when he was elected last July, has taken a clear stand on a political and moral issue -- just like Germans want their head of state to do. He is, as the Financial Times Deutschland entitled its editorial on Wednesday, "Finally A President."
A German central banker, Thilo Sarrazin, whose outspoken comments on race and religion sparked a fierce national debate unexpectedly quit the Bundesbank board on Thursday evening, sparing Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Christian Wulff and Bundesbank President Axel Weber a messy legal and political battle.
But Sarrazin, 65, made it clear that he will not go away and plans to use his new-found fame to press forward with the issues tackled in his best-selling book: that Muslims are undermining German society and threatening to change its character and culture with their higher birth rate. Whether Germans like his views or not, there is no denying that Sarrazin has struck a chord.
There was an interesting echo at the White House when President Barack Obama came out in favour of the proposed Cordoba House Muslim cultural centre near the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York (see our news report here). Controversy about the project, which opponents call the "Ground Zero mosque," has been swirling in New York for weeks and went national recently when Republicans Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich joined the critics' campaign. But until the annual Iftar dinner he hosted on Friday evening, the president had kept out of what his spokesman called "a matter for New York City and the local community to decide.” (Photo: President Obama addresses White House Iftar meal, 13 August 2010/Jason Reed)
Reading his comments, it looks like Obama not only let NYC authorities decide the issue -- favourably for the project, as it turned out, as both the local community board and the landmarks commission voted overwhelmingly to let it go ahead. He may also have taken pointers for his speech from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has stood solidly behind the project despite all the emotion it has stirred up.
France attempted the arguably impossible on Wednesday by presenting a bill to ban Muslim face veils and asking Muslims not to feel it was singling them out in the process.
President Nicolas Sarkozy made a brave effort of it at the cabinet meeting that approved the government's draft "burqa ban" that we reported on here. Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, who Sarkozy's UMP party always seems to call on when things get tough, did her best in an interview (here in French) that got the part about Mecca wrong. There will be more of this in the months ahead as the bill moves through the National Assembly and Senate.
from Africa News blog:
Quite apart from the Nigerian would-be plane bomber’s lack of success, there are other reasons why Africa’s most populous nation cannot be expected to produce a rash of similar cases.
As this Reuters story from Sahabi Yahaya in the bomber’s home town of Funtua points out, it is Umar Abdulmutallab’s foreign education rather than his background in Muslim northern Nigeria that is seen as having radicalised him.
A half-century ago, Washington worried about Southeast Asian nations falling like dominoes to an international communist movement backed by Maoist China, and became bogged down in the Vietnam War.
Noordin Top, believed to be the mastermind behind most of the suicide bombings in Indonesia — including the July 17 attacks on two luxury Jakarta hotels — pronounced himself to be al Qaeda’s franchise in Southeast Asia.
Malaysia is a multicultural country of 27 million people in Southeast Asia. It has a majority Muslim population that of course is not allowed to drink by religion. Yet clearly some do as shown by the sentencing to caning for a young woman handed down recently