The Great Debate UK
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors' alone. Sarah Sayeed is Program Associate and Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York.
By Sarah Sayeed and Matthew Weiner
A Canadian judge recently ruled that a Toronto Muslim woman must take off her face veil while giving testimony in a sexual assault trial. This tension between public space and private religion comes up repeatedly in western urban centers where Muslim women increasingly occupy the pubic square. This time it happened in Toronto, but the issue arises regularly in western countries in the schools, workplaces and courtrooms that Muslims increasingly share with the majority population. At stake is whether a Muslim woman's choice to dress in accordance with her religious beliefs infringes upon "our way of life." (Photo: Sultaana Freeman testifies in court for right to wear a niqab on her Florida driver's license, 27 May 2003/pool)
While all can agree that identity, tolerance and religious freedom are important, advocates for the face veil emphasize the upholding of freedom while opponents focus on the face veil, or niqab, as a challenge to collective identity. Such tension between public expression of religion and collective identity is not new. It has even gone on for centuries in Muslim countries, where religious minorities feel the tension between acceptance and their need to adapt, in varying degrees, to a Muslim majority worldview. There is also a debate within Muslim communities about whether wearing the niqab is a religious requirement.
What seems problematic in the current debate, whether in Toronto or Milan, is the implication that Europeans and North Americans are willing to tolerate differences, but only up to a limit. Some differences seem too threatening for them to consider seriously. They seem to think some differences should be made invisible. Thus, and perhaps inadvertently, the opponents of the niqab - who see themselves as the defenders of collective identity - call into question another value and practice that is central to Western democracy: open dialogue in the public sphere.
from Africa News blog:
Far from being all bad news for Africa, the global financial crisis is a chance to break a dependence on development aid that has kept it in poverty, argues Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, who has just published a new book “Dead Aid”.
Moyo’s book, her first, comes out at a time when Western campaigners, financial institutions and some African governments have been warning of the danger posed to Africa by the crisis and calling for more money from developed countries as a result. The former World Bank and Goldman Sachs economist spoke to Reuters in London.
from The Great Debate:
Arms control is back and will thaw icy relations between the United States and Russia this year, but how far the new detente goes depends on the truculent mood in Moscow.
The potential exists for a grand bargain encompassing cooperation on the global financial crisis, Iran, Afghanistan, nuclear disarmament, missile defense, conventional armed forces and NATO enlargement.
President-elect Barack Obama has been getting a lot of advice these days on how to deal with Muslims and Islam. He invited it by saying during his campaign that he either wanted to convene a conference with leaders of Muslim countries or deliver a major speech in a Muslim country "to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular”. But where? when? why? how? Early this month, I chimed in with a pitch for a speech in Turkey or Indonesia. Some quite interesting comments have come in since then. (Photo: Obama image in Jakarta, 25 Oct 2008/Dadang Tri)
Two French academics, Islam expert Olivier Roy and political scientist Justin Vaisse argued in a New York Times op-ed piece on Sunday that Obama's premise of trying to reconcile the West and Islam is flawed:
There's been a lot of discussion over the past few months on this and other blogs about Barack Obama and religion. Looking back at it now that the campaign is over and he is starting to shape his administration, it's interesting to see how many of those discussions shed little light on what he would actually do. There were comments about him being a hidden Muslim, for example, or not a real Christian. That speculation seemed based on thin evidence and the assumption he was running for preacher and cleric-in-chief rather than president and commander-in-chief. As a journalist covering religion in public life, after learning whether a candidate professes a certain faith, I want to know how that faith will really influence his or her decisions in office. This is not necessarily the same as listing the soundbite positions used on the campaign trail. (Photo: Barack Obama at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, 15 June 2008/John Gress)
Seen from this point of view, probably the most interesting fact about Barack Obama's religious views is one that rarely gets mentioned. It's that he's an admirer of the late American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). The President-elect has clearly named "America's leading public theologian" as a major influence on his thinking. It comes out less in specific positions than in the way he looks at problems and discusses policies in terms with a "Niebuhrian" ring about them.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
In the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, India's response has been to look to the United States to lean on Pakistan, which it blames for spawning Islamist militancy across the region, rather than launching any military retaliation of its own. So after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's trip to India and Pakistan last week, have the Americans done enough for now?
According to Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, Rice told Pakistan there was "irrefutable evidence" that elements within the country were involved in the Mumbai attacks. And it quotes unnamed sources as saying that behind-the-scenes she “pushed the Pakistani leaders to take care of the perpetrators, otherwise the U.S. will act”.
from The Great Debate:
With the U.S., Japan and Britain -- nearly 40 percent of the global economy -- facing the threat of deflation, it's going to be just too easy for one, two or all three of them to get the policy response horribly wrong.
The global economy is so connected, and our experience with similar situations so limited that the scope for error is huge.