March 2010


Image from the NYT

By Nicholas Kulish, for the New York Times:

VÖLKLINGEN, Germany — Everything seemed to be in place for a protracted xenophobic row and attendant media frenzy in this depressed industrial town near the French border.

A Muslim congregation applied in November to build a minaret and three golden cupolas on the roof of the old movie theater it had converted into a mosque. The far-right party here in the state of Saarland, emboldened by last year’s ban on minarets in Switzerland, seized on the issue, calling the proposed 28-foot minaret “the bayonet of Islam.”

But after a quick turn in the media spotlight, the pending furor fizzled out. A neighborhood group recently issued a statement with mosque leaders calling for “peaceful and constructive” cooperation, while the mosque’s leadership agreed to temporarily shelve the plan for the minaret.

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Image from the Economist

From the Economist:

EVEN as the Americans strive to jump-start fresh talks between Israelis and Palestinians, the Israeli government has been using the hiatus to intensify the refashioning of East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as their future capital. This week the city’s Israeli mayor, Nir Barkat, unveiled his latest plan to turn Palestinian districts into Jewish biblical heritage parks. Fearing that their half of the city is being cast in an increasingly Israeli mould, Palestinian stone-throwers clashed with Israeli forces on the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, which Muslims venerate for its al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine, and which Jews revere as the site of the biblical Temple. While George Mitchell, Barack Obama’s envoy, is yet again bidding to open “proximity talks” between the two sides, the Palestinians have been literally losing ground.

Unlike previous Israeli prime ministers, who built on the open hilltops above Arab population centres in the West Bank and on the edge of Jerusalem, Binyamin Netanyahu and his officials are concentrating on Jewish settlements bang in the midst of them. Car-parks and conservation areas, rich with Israeli symbols, are sprouting across East Jerusalem. Settlers with state protection are opening religious schools there. Scarcely a week passes without an Israeli newspaper heralding new Jewish housing units being built in Arab districts. Israeli archaeologists are scraping away the eastern parts of the city’s Arab surface in search of a Jewish past. Last month one of them declared she had “probably” found King Solomon’s city walls.

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By Robert Wright, for the New York Times:

Last Friday night a New York Times headline underwent an online transformation. The article formerly known as “A Christian Overture to Muslims Has Its Critics” acquired a new billing: “A Dispute on Using the Koran as a Path to Jesus.”

For my money this was a big improvement, and explaining what I mean will illuminate a dirty little secret: some American Christians are fostering religious strife abroad. They mean well, but the damage they’re doing can be seen all the way from Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims are killing each other, to Malaysia, where Muslims are trying to keep Christians from using the term “Allah” for God.

The Times story is about an outreach technique that some Baptist missionaries use with Muslims. It involves stressing commonalities between the Koran and the Bible and affirming that the Allah of the Koran and the God of the Bible are one and the same.

You can see how a headline writer might call this an “overture.” And certainly the Christians who deploy the technique see it in sunny terms. Their name for it — the “Camel Method” — comes from the acronym for Chosen Angels Miracles Eternal Life.

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Image from the United Nations Development Programme

By Syed Barez, for the United Nations Development Programme:

The Government of Afghanistan is tapping mullahs and religious elders to make people aware of the rights women are entitled to in accordance with Islamic Laws through a programme supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The national programme, which is being implemented by the Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Women Affairs, is requiring mullahs and other Islamic leaders to raise awareness on the consequences of early marriage, forced marriage and gender-based violence. Participants also discuss inheritance issues, including a comparison between what Islamic Law says about a woman’s right to inheritance and what happens in practice.

“In Afghanistan, when people are given instructions based on their religious values, they will easily listen and accept them,” said Mawalwi Abdul Hanan, a participant. “We believe that by involving religious leaders such programmes will reduce domestic violence.”

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Image from Foreign Policy Magazine

By John Lichfield , for the Independent:

The French far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen may be a veteran provocateur but to infuriate both the Algerians and the Swiss with one poster takes genuine talent.

The Algerian government has formally protested to Paris about a poster which associates its flag with Islamisme, or radical forms of Islam. The poster shows France covered by an Algerian flag and a forest of mosque minarets. The slogan reads: “Non à l’Islamisme”.

It closely resembles a poster published by a nationalist party in Switzerland before a mosque-building referendum last November. The Swiss advertising agency that devised the original poster said it planned to sue Mr Le Pen’s party, the National Front, for plagiarism.

The Algerian government and anti-racist groups in France have more pressing concerns. “We have officially protested,” said the Algerian Foreign Minister, Mourad Medelci. “It is up to the French state to take the necessary measures when foreign countries’ symbols are dragged through the mud.”

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By Michael Martin, for the New York Times:

Last week I visited Gaza, the first European Union foreign minister to do so in over a year. My purpose was very much a humanitarian one, to see for myself the impact of a blockade that has now been imposed on the people of Gaza for some two-and-a-half years and to meet with the courageous and dedicated staff of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), including its director of operations, Irishman John Ging. They play an indispensable role in maintaining vital humanitarian services to the people of Gaza.

From my arrival in Gaza, the deprivations and hardships resulting from the blockade were all too evident. Visiting an UNRWA food distribution center, I could see for myself the despair and suffering etched in the faces of those who queued for the most basic rations of rice, milk powder and sunflower oil. Eighty percent of the population of Gaza now lives below the poverty line and UNRWA is encountering increasing levels of abject poverty where people basically do not have enough food, even with their meager food allocations, to live.

The tragedy of Gaza is that it is fast in danger of becoming a tolerated humanitarian crisis, a situation that most right-thinking people recognize as utterly unacceptable in this day and age but which is proving extremely difficult to remedy or ameliorate due to the blockade and the wider ramifications of efforts to try and achieve political progress in the Middle East.

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