The Great Debate UK
Egypt's army rulers face a dilemma as a bolder stance adopted by Islamists in the post-Mubarak era is worsening sectarian tension and triggering demands for the kind of crackdown that made the former president so unpopular. Armed clashes between conservative Muslims and Coptic Christians left 12 dead in a Cairo suburb on Saturday, touching off angry protests by some of the capital's residents who called for the army to use an "iron fist" against the instigators.
The violence has deepened fear among Christians, who complain of poor police protection and a new tolerance of Muslim extremists, raising the risk of new flashpoints in a country dogged by poverty, soaring prices and a faltering economy. Police deserted their posts during the January and February uprising against Mubarak. Many have returned but many Egyptians say that has failed to stop theft and violent crime spreading as Egypt looks ahead to its first free elections in September.
"The softness of the state is a problem right now," said political analyst Issandr El Amrani, who expects the interim military government to restore a tough line against conservative Salafist Islamic groups and others that incite religious hatred. "It's not going to be popular with a segment of the population but a government has to do unpopular things sometimes," said Amrani.
(Photo: Pope Benedict XVI blesses a nativity scene at the Vatican December 15, 2010/Tony Gentile)
Pope Benedict voiced the Catholic Church's deep concern over "hostility and prejudice" against Christianity in Europe on Thursday, saying creeping secularism was just as bad as religious fanaticism. In the message for the Roman Catholic Church's World Day of Peace, marked on Jan. 1, he also reiterated recent condemnations of lack of religious freedom in countries in the Middle East where Christians are a minority, such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
He said Christians were the most persecuted religious group in the world and that it was "unacceptable" that in some places they had to risk their lives to practise their faith. But he reserved his strongest words for Europe, where the Church says it is under assault by some national governments and European institutions over issues such as gay marriage, abortion and the use of Christian religious symbols in public places.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
Earlier this year I asked someone who had been a senior minister in the government of Pakistan why the country could not change laws which discriminated against minorities. I asked the question because more than 80 people from the minority Ahmadi sect had just been killed in two mosques in Lahore, which at the time served as a wake-up call of the dangers of growing religious intolerance in Pakistan.
His answer was unhesitating. You could not possibly do something like that in Pakistan.
(Photo: Pope Benedict at Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, November 6, 2010/Stefano Rellandini)
Pope Benedict, on a lightning trip to Spain, urged Europe on Saturday to re-discover God and its Christian heritage and also denounced the country's liberal abortion laws.
"Europe must open itself to God, must come to meet him without fear," he said in the sermon of a Mass for more than 20,000 people in the square of Santiago de Compostela, which has been a major pilgrimage destination since medieval times.
In vitro fertilization (IVF), the pioneering technique that won Robert Edwards the 2010 Nobel Prize for medicine, opened up a wealth of scientific options and a Pandora's box of ethical dilemmas.
Edwards's success in fertilizing a human egg outside of the womb led not only to "test tube babies" but also to innovations such as embryonic stem cell research and surrogate motherhood.
U.S. religious leaders have condemned an "anti-Muslim frenzy" in the United States, including plans by a Florida church to burn a Koran on September 11, an act a top general said could endanger American troops abroad. Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders denounced the "misinformation and outright bigotry" against U.S. Muslims resulting from plans to build a Muslim community center and mosque not far from the site of the September 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks in New York by Islamist militants. The Vatican has also condemned the Koran burning plan. (Photo: Indonesian Care for Pluralism Movement protests against Koran burning plan, Jakarta, 8 Sept 2010/Crack Palinggi)
Tensions have risen with the approach of both the September 11 anniversary on Saturday and the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival that marks the close of the fasting month of Ramadan, which is expected to end around Friday. Passions have been further inflamed by Terry Jones, the pastor of a 30-person church in Gainesville, Florida, who has announced plans to burn a Koran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Jones says he wants to "expose Islam (as a) violent and oppressive religion."
Senegal has a reputation for harmony between its Muslim majority (about 90%) and Christian minority (about 6%). President Abdoulaye Wade ranks as a Muslim champion of dialogue with Christians and even with Jews. So it came as a surprise over the holiday period that the 83-year-old leader provoked separate protests by imams and Catholics, including the country's cardinal. Even stranger, the dispute was sparked by a huge Stalinist-style statue that North Korean workers are constructing on a hill overlooking the capital Dakar.
As this Darwin Year 2009 draws to a close, I have to say a lot of the public debate it prompted came down to the sterile old clash between evolution and creationism. The issue of religion always hung in the air, with the loudest arguments coming from the creationist side defending it or the neo-atheists like the Darwinian biologist Richard Dawkins denouncing it. In the end, the squabbling seemed to be more about ideology than science and told us little we didn't already know.
So I was intrigued by a conference held at UNESCO here in Paris recently about scientists who believe in evolution but want to go "beyond Darwin." Organised by French philosopher of science Jean Staune, its speakers argued that Darwin could not explain underlying order and patterns found in nature. "We have to differentiate between evolution and Darwinism," said Jean Staune, author of the new book "Au-dela de Darwin" (Beyond Darwin). "Of course there is adaptation. But like physics and chemistry, biology is also subject to its own laws."
Muslim creationism is back in the news. There's been a spate of articles in the U.S. and British press recently about the spread of this scripture-based challenge to Darwinian evolution among Muslims, mostly in the Middle East but also in Europe. The fact that some Muslims have embraced creationism, a trademark belief of some conservative American Protestants, is not new. Reuters first wrote about it in 2006 -- "Creation vs. Darwin takes Muslim twist in Turkey" -- and this blog has run several posts on the issue, including an interview with Islam's most prominent creationist, Harun Yahya. What's new is that these ideas seem to be spreading and academics who defend evolution are holding conferences to discuss the phenomenon. (Photo: Portrait of Charles Darwin, 12 Feb 2009/Gordon Jack)
There are too many recent articles about Islamic creationism out there now to discuss each one separately, so I'll have to just link to them in the ... New York Times ... Washington Post ... Boston Globe ... Slate ... Guardian ... National ... Beliefnet ... ... Many of these articles highlight the role of Harun Yahya, the once secretive Istanbul preacher and publisher who has gone on a PR offensive in recent years and turned very media-friendly (as Steve Paulson describes in that Slate article). But as Michael Reiss, a London education professor and Anglican priest told the Guardian, "what the Turks believe today is what the Germans and British believe tomorrow. It is because of the mass movement of people between countries. These things can no longer be thought of as occurring in other countries."
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.
But the language used by some opponents of abortion rights who reviled Tiller for his work providing late-term abortions remained very strong.