Friday, July 30, 2010

Burqa bans and benevolent balance

Popular Saudi cleric Sheik Aedh al-Garni stated recently, issuing a fatwā, that "it is permissible for Muslim women to reveal their faces in countries where the Islamic veil is banned to avoid harassment," while deploring the effort to outlaw the garment in France.

The Sheik's statement, delivered in response to a question from a Saudi woman in France, generated some opposition and outcry from those less benevolent and compromising. One cleric offered that it would simply be better for Muslim women to avoid traveling to such countries altogether; unless absolutely necessary.

Sheik al-Garni further said: "We should not confront people in their countries or elsewhere," according to the report in the Saudi-owned daily Al-Hayat. "In case a ban is enforced against a Muslim woman there - and as a consequence there is a reaction or negative implications or harassment or harm - it is better for the Muslim woman to reveal her face."

Shuttlecock burqas in Afghanistan

The fatwā comes two weeks after French lawmakers voted to ban the niqab, which covers all but a woman's eyes, and the burqa, which shields a woman's entire face and body.

"It is illogical and unreasonable that the French government undertakes such a thing, which is condemned by neutral people, not just Muslims, because the secular state assures freedom of religion. The state has to respect religious rituals and beliefs, including those of Muslims," Sheikh Ayedh al-Garni said.

France, Belgium and Spain are debating legislation that would ban the veil. Other nations in Europe too have struggled to balance national identities with growing Muslim populations with cultural practices that clash with their own.

Some secularists as well as those who argue that the veil is oppressive have applauded the movement for a ban. Others say it is a ploy to win over right-wing voters.

Our friend, Dr. Frank Kaufmann states the solution here, briefly as:

"Always make legislation uniform for all citizens, keep the laws clearly secular, and never favor or disadvantage a religious group overtly in how the laws are written."

Of course, that will not apply if religion in a particular nation is NOT separate from civic government and legislation.

Meanwhile, Muslim women in America are still more likely seen wearing a hijab which covers their hair and neck only while the face remains exposed. The hijab is usually accompanied by modest, loose-fitting clothing that covers the arms and legs.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Elevating sacred lands and religious freedom

Lobbying on Capitol Hill in America's capital city for whatever cause these days is very competitive. Perhaps it has always been so. The difference might be that not too long ago there were simply fewer people riding in cars, buses or SUVs, preoccupied with the information and cross-communication provided by various technological marvels feeding the growing largesse of material, bureaucratic (and information) overload.

A group of native American tribal leaders have recently been making the rounds on Capitol Hill decrying Congressional stonewalling on a legislative fix to a 2009 Supreme Court decision that has limited the federal government’s ability to take land into "trust for tribes."

Why is this so important and how does this really correlate with religious freedom?

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) states the reasoning concisely:
"Land is of great spiritual and cultural significance to Indian tribes, and many Indian communities are still reliant upon the land for subsistence through hunting, fishing, gathering or agriculture. Moreover, Indian lands are critical for the exercise of tribal self-governance and self-determination."
The Friends Committee (a Quaker Lobby) rephrases it with more emphasis on the essential religious freedom aspects:
Native American religions practiced today, as they have been for thousands of years, are land based. Sacred places, which can be a specific mountain, a waterfall, or a place where ancestors left petroglyphs are at the core of many native religions. These sacred sites are often the centerpiece of a tribe’s creation stories and oral histories, which are passed down through generations. The histories and the sacred places tie new generations to their ancestors and the land to form the central bonds of tribal culture and identity. Religious ceremonies and rituals conducted at spiritual sites, using natural tokens such as tobacco, peyote, sage, and eagle feathers celebrate the creator of the earth and are the essence of native spiritual expression.
Read more about this ongoing story here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Speech to Falun Gong at U.S. Capitol

Remarks by Mr. Dan Fefferman
President, International Coalition for Religious Freedom
July 22, 2010 – U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.

Dear Falun Gong practitioners and Friends of Religious Freedom,

We are gathered again this year at the US Capitol to express our concern for the outrageous violation of human rights against Falun Gong practitioners by the Chinese government.

The treatment of Falun Gong by China is clearly one of the worst human rights violations in the world today. Even though Congress has spoken almost unanimously on this issue, the Obama Administration, like previous Administrations, has failed to press the government of China strongly enough to cause them to change their policy of using the most brutal means to suppress and destroy Falun Gong.

Mr. Dan Fefferman

My organization, the International Coalition for Religious Freedom, is supported largely by the worldwide Unification Church community, founded by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Reverend Moon himself faced a situation similar to what your members face today in China. Because his preaching rejected the evil, materialistic worldview of Marxism-Leninism, he was arrested during his ministry in North Korea just before the Korean War. He was brutally tortured in an effort to break his faith, just as your members are today.

Yet, he refused to stop his personal spiritual practices and continued to spread his message. As a result, he was arrested again and spent several years in a Communist death camp. He would have died there, but was liberated by UN Forces led by the United States. Ever since that time, he has strongly sympathized with all spiritual movements persecuted by Communist governments.

He also believes that the United States has a special mission from Heaven to lead the world in matters of religious freedom.

Because of this, I and my co-religionists are passionate in our support of Falun Gong. Throughout the world, Unificationists are praying in sympathy with you and your persecuted brothers and sisters in China. We believe they are today’s saints and martyrs. We especially honor those who have given their lives for this cause.

I’d also like to draw your attention to the suffering of Unification Church members today in Japan. There, the persecution is not carried out by the government directly, but by private citizens who kidnap our members and hold them against their will in an effort to break their faith through what the Communists call "re-education," but what is commonly called "deprogramming" in the West.

More than 4,300 Unificationists have suffered in this way, but the Japanese government does nothing to stop these crimes.

So, Dear Falun Gong practitioners, I hope you sense the common suffering which our two communities are experiencing. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught that "suffering for a righteous cause is redemptive."

Even though sometimes it seems like the night will never end, the sun always rises in the morning. I believe that morning is coming for Falun Gong in China.

When it does, I will join with you in welcoming it. In the meantime, let us all redouble our efforts to work together for the religious freedom of all people, throughout the world, whatever their faith may be.

Thank you.

The Epoch Times report (in Chinese) is here and (in English) here.

Farewell Archbishop Tutu

Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has announced that he is withdrawing from public life.

The former archbishop played a prominent role in South Africa's struggle against the whites-only apartheid system.

After his 79th birthday in October, he stated that he would reduce his workload to one day a week until the end of February 2011 before retiring.

That work would be devoted to The Elders, a group appointed by former President Nelson Mandela to tackle the world's most pressing problems.

During the 27 years that Mr Mandela was in prison, Archbishop Tutu spoke out against apartheid - and won the Nobel peace prize in 1984 for his efforts.

He was chosen by Mr Mandela to chair South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and investigate the crimes committed by all sides during the apartheid regime.
"My involvement with the Elders and Nobel Laureate Group will continue, as will my support for the development of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in Cape Town.

"But I will step down from my positions at the University of the Western Cape, the UN Advisory Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, among others, will be reviewing the list of organisations in which I am involved as Patron, and will no longer be available for media interviews.

"As Madiba [Nelson Mandela] said on his retirement: Don’t call me; I’ll call you.

"I have been very, very fortunate to have been given opportunities to contribute in a small way to develop our new, democratic, exhilarating and sometimes exasperating nation," he said. "The time has come to slow down.

"I retired as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996. Then I retired again, after completion of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But my mission determined that I continue to work, and my schedule has grown increasingly punishing over the years.

"Instead of growing old gracefully, at home with my family – reading and writing and praying and thinking – too much of my time has been spent at airports and in hotels."

Archbishop Tutu spoke at several events during the recent football World Cup in South Africa.  One of his last public statements, noted by the press on June 16, therefore, might just be: “The vuvuzela is part of our culture. We cannot separate them from the soccer fever.”

Meanwhile, the English clubs have banned the South African cultural icon from all British football stadiums in the upcoming season leaving the work of world vuvuzela freedom to others; perhaps even, future generations?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ground Zero, Sharia and Religious Freedom

Examiner contributor Dianna Narciso gets into this important topic in the news offering a "rational" perspective here.

Newt Gingrich offers his here.

"Stop Islamization" activist (including, Sarah Palin) objections (refutations) are duly noted here.

Meanwhile, The Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman offers his subjective insights and comments on the matter here.

If Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court is stopped, some believe that will solve the problem as noted here.

As usual lately, the folks at The Washington Post blog "On Faith" seem to cut right to the heart of the matter.

Director of International Operations at the American Center for Law and Justice and human rights attorney Jordan Sekulow writes here:

"If American Muslims truly wanted to build a center devoted to peace and understanding, why would they back a radical Imam who is committed to bringing Shariah law to the United States?"

A voice of moderation with an appeal to the American pluralist conscience comes from Michael Ghouse in The Huffington Post here.

He writes in part:

"[I] urge the passionate neocons to become ambassadors of peace in mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwill. It will not make them as much money, but they will be able to sleep in peace. We all need to work for a safe and prosperous America with a focus on social cohesion and removing the division and wedges between us."

As the real William Shakespeare wrote once upon a time:

"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."
The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158

Who can refute that?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Freedom of Worship in North Korea

A Baptist preacher and some others made some ethical points on North Korea recently.
"Americans may have limited knowledge of the details of North Korea's extreme repression of its people, but they know enough to bear responsibility if they do not take action," said Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land.
Speaking at a Washington news conference sponsored by the Korean Church Coalition for North Korea Freedom, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission called for Americans and their government to accept responsibility for aiding citizens of the Asian dictatorship.
"We may not know the precise numbers, but we know [the atrocities exist]....
If we know what's going on, and we choose to do nothing, then we become morally culpable, we become complicit," Land said.

Michael Horowitz, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a longtime advocate for religious freedom, said the key to bringing change lies with the Korean Americans, not with the U.S. government or the United Nations (U.N.).

"[W]hat I have learned about America living in Washington is that when Americans speak out for their brothers and sisters in their home country, the rest of America always listen, always," Horowitz told the audience, which was dominated by Korean Americans.
"In America, you earn respect not by the wealth you have and the money you get,but by standing up for others. There has not been enough of that...from the Korean American community."
"You have more power than you understand, and American history teaches you that."
The U.S. policy on North Korea "is a disgrace" under President Obama and was under President Bush.
"Our policy is very simple: Kim Jong Il, if you promise not to have more weapons, we'll give you money. If you promise not to use your weapons, we'll make you legitimate," Horowitz said.

Read more here.

If there is any nation in the world where the limitation of a policy extolling the virtues of freedom of religious worship over religious freedom becomes clear, it might just be North Korea.

 Dear Leader Worship

Friday, July 16, 2010

Muslim Veil Contrasts

As France's lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a ban on burka-like Islamic veils this week, a survey conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project found previously that while a majority of Europeans back such a ban most Americans would (currently) reject such a ban in their nation.

Majorities in Germany (71 percent), Britain (62 percent) and Spain (59 percent) noted that they, too, would support a burqa ban in their own countries.

But in the United States, the opposite was true, with two-thirds of Americans saying they were against a ban on full veils in public.

Opinions about banning Muslim women from wearing a full veil did not vary along gender lines in any of the five countries where the question was asked.

Pew asked 1,002 people in the United States, 750 each in Britain, France and Germany and 755 in Spain about how they felt about a burqa ban, as part of its Global Attitudes Survey.

The French ban on face-covering veils will move in September to the Senate, where it also is likely to pass.  France's constitutional council will then scrutinize it. Some legal scholars believe that there is a chance the ban could be deemed unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the main body representing French Muslims says face-covering veils are not required by Islam and not suitable in France, but it worries that the law will stigmatize Muslims in general.

France has Europe's largest Muslim population, estimated to be about five million of the country's 64 million people. While ordinary headscarves are common, only about 1,900 women in France are believed to wear face-covering veils. Champions of the bill say the veils oppress women.

With the proposed ban, the government also is seeking to insist that integration is the only path for immigrant minorities. But at what cost? Is freedom of religion the issue here or something else?

France has had difficulty integrating generations of immigrants and their children, since at least 2005, when weeks of rioting by (mostly minority) youths in troubled neighborhoods revealed the soft underbelly of religious and ethnic division.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Conversion bill dismays US senators

A US senator has taken the rare step of drafting a letter expressing concern about Israel’s pending conversion legislation, underscoring the wide dismay the bill has triggered in the American Jewish community.

The letter from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), understood to be addressed to Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren, outlines apprehensions over the bill’s language, according to sources familiar with the text. It is circulating for signatures from additional Jewish senators before being delivered to the embassy.

Caley Gray, communications director for Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), one of the senators signing the letter, explained that “Senator Lautenberg hopes the Knesset does not pass this legislation, which he views as divisive.”

Sen. Carl Levin (D- Michigan), who met with concerned American Jewish officials Tuesday, said, "I am troubled by a proposal which I believe would make it more difficult for many people who want to convert to Judaism to do so."

Oren is also expected to receive an earful on the subject when he talks with several Jewish members of Congress Thursday at a meeting originally scheduled to follow up on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent visit.

“Israel should continue to be a welcoming place for Jews, as it has been through its history,” said Matt Dennis, communications director for Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York), characterizing her thinking. “She is concerned that this bill would alienate Jews around the world and risk weakening the sense of unity within the Diaspora that is critical to Israel’s security.”

“This is an Israeli government policy decision, but there are implications for American Jews.