Just some news and articles that I consider very interesting:
The presecution of Holy Land Christians: this is an interview with Justus Reid Weiner, a Scholar-in-Residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an independent policy studies center. He currently teaches courses on human rights and international law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His main research field is the human rights challenges facing Arab Christians. He is the author of the new book, “Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society“.
My specific interest in the plight of Christians living in Palestinian society is more recent. Eight years ago I met a Christian pastor who, knowing that I was a human rights lawyer, urged me to investigate the human rights abuses directed at Muslims who converted to Christianity. I knew nothing about this, and frankly doubted that anyone would victimize the adherents of the world’s largest religion. But as I began to interview people most were reluctant to even meet me. If they agreed to reveal what they had suffered, they insisted that I refer to them by a pseudonym.
FP: Why do you think there has been an increase in Islamic fundamentalism in Palestinian society?
Weiner: The increase is a regional phenomenon. Indeed it would be hard to find any predominantly Muslim country in the Middle East, North Africa or even into Asia, where Islamic fundamentalism is not on the rise.
FP: Tell us about the persecution of Palestinian Christians and why their persecution became so much worse since the Oslo peace process began.
Weiner: These are acutely trying times for the Christian remnant residing in areas ‘governed’ by the Palestinian Authority. Tens of thousands have abandoned their holy sites and ancestral properties to live abroad, while those that remain do so as a beleaguered and dwindling minority. They have faced virtually uninterrupted persecution during the decade since the Oslo peace process began, living amidst a Muslim population that is increasingly xenophobic and restless. Chaos, nepotism, and corruption are endemic. Their plight is, in part, attributable to the influence of Muslim religious law (Sharia) on the inner workings of the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, the Christians have been abandoned by their religious leaders who, instead of protecting them, have chosen to curry favor with the Palestinian leadership.
The Norwegian parliament in the Sor-Trondelag region ruled Saturday to boycott products made in Israel and to forbid the sale and purchase of Israeli goods.
It is estimated that the decision, determined by a parliamentary vote, was made due to Norway’s stance that Israel oppresses the Palestinians.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) strongly condemned the ruling Wednesday, saying that “this decision does nothing to promote Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, but only serves to exacerbate tensions and ill-will.”
“It is shocking and ironic that this one-sided boycott effort comes at a time when Israel is making a series of dramatic steps toward peace, including the recent withdrawal from Gaza,” ADL Director Abraham Foxman said in a press release following the incident.
In a letter to Norwegian Ambassador to the U.S. Knut Vollebaek, the ADL expressed concern over the bias stance taken by the regional parliament in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And others aren’t:
Muslims intent on becoming German citizens will have to undergo a rigorous cultural test to gauge their views on subjects ranging from bigamy to homosexuality. Believed to be the first test of its kind in Europe, the southern state of Baden-W�rttemberg has created the two-hour oral exam to test the loyalty of Muslims towards Germany. It is to be taken on top of the standard test for foreigners wishing to become German citizens, which includes language proficiency skills and general knowledge.
It also requires applicants to prove that they can provide for themselves and their families. Those applying must also have resided in Germany for the previous eight years and have no criminal record. Germany’s 15 other states will monitor the progress of the policy when the tests begin this week before deciding whether they wish to adopt similar legislation. The 30 questions, which have been set by a special commission, range from sexual equality to school sports and are meant to trigger a more detailed discussion between the applicants and officials.
A Sydney council voted against flying the Australian flag at Bondi Beach because of fears it would incite more race-fuelled violence on the city’s beaches. Waverley Council voted 6-5 against the move on December 13, The Daily Telegraph newspaper reports. The Australian flag, along with an Aboriginal flag, were to be provided by federal Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull and flown over the Bondi Beach pavilion.
But Greens councillor George Copeland said the flag had been used in the recent race riots as “a symbol around which to perpetrate racial violence”.
“A punk-rock style, trendy tight fit and affordable price have made Cheap Monday jeans a hot commodity among young Swedes, but what has people talking is the brand’s ungodly logo: a skull with a cross turned upside down on its forehead. The jeans’ makers say it’s more of a joke, but the logo’s designer said there’s a deeper message. “It is an active statement against Christianity,” Bjorn Atldax told The Associated Press. “I’m not a Satanist myself, but I have a great dislike for organized religion.”
“One cannot just keep quiet about this,” said the Rev. Karl-Erik Nylund, vicar of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Stockholm. “This is a deliberate provocation (against Christians) and I object to that.” Nylund complained that Swedish companies don’t treat Christianity with the same respect that they afford other religions. “No one wants to provoke Jews or Muslims, but it’s totally OK to provoke Christians,” he said.”
And about Israel and the “peaceful” Palestinians:
Palestinians have smuggled anti-aircraft missiles into the Gaza Strip along with tons of other military hardware since Israel withdrew in September, an Israeli intelligence report said on Monday.
The missiles were smuggled into Gaza across the border from Egypt, the Shin Bet security agency’s report said.
It said that Palestinian militants were acquiring anti-aircraft missiles primarily to thwart Israeli air strikes on militants in Gaza, but it said these weapons could in theory threaten civilian aircraft in Israel.
“The presence of anti-aircraft missiles in Gaza considerably heightens the threat against Israeli aircraft, both military and civilian,” the report said. “It also increases the risk that such weaponry will enter the West Bank where it will present a significant threat to Israeli aviation.”
Anti-aircraft missiles could limit Israel’s ability to use helicopters and planes to kill suspected militants in Gaza and the West Bank.
Hundreds of marchers in southern Gaza called Monday for an end to corruption within the Palestinian Authority, while gunbattles pitted Palestinian police against rival political factions.
Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas threatened to cancel parliamentary elections scheduled for January 25 unless Israel allows Palestinians to vote in Jerusalem.
And last but not least, more (bad) news from Pakistan:
As the incendiary training at some seminaries in Pakistan drew renewed focus in the weeks after the July 7 bombings in London, the Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, promised to bring the schools into the mainstream and expel their foreign students by the end of the year.But his tough pledge has fizzled. Last week, the government backed away from that promise and said it would not use force to deport students. The schools, called madrasas, then said they would resist any effort to round up students, and on Sunday a coalition representing the seminaries called the government plan “inhuman, immoral and totally illegal,” The Associated Press reported.The madrasas were once the Islamic equivalent of Sunday school. They have evolved. Supported by private donations, they now provide free housing, meals and education – a lure for poor families in particular. The rigid training at some schools makes them ripe for recruiting by Islamist militant groups.Of the four suicide bombers responsible for the London attacks, three were Britons of Pakistani descent and at least one had spent time at a madrasa here with connections to militant groups.The limited gains in carrying out the madrasa changes reflect the delicate political choices facing Musharraf. His supporters point out that pursuing the schools too aggressively would only empower religious radicals here to depict the president as a stooge of the West. His critics say the lack of results reflects his half-hearted resolve to flush out religious militancy.His promise last July was, in fact, a reiteration of earlier promises. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the madrasas were put under a spotlight. Among the many changes Musharraf pledged in exchange for generous aid and debt relief from the United States and other Western allies was to bring the schools under greater government scrutiny.On Friday, Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao told Reuters that the government did not intend to use force to root out foreign students. “What action can be taken against those students?” he asked. “The management of the madrasas are responsible to arrange departures of their students and we are pushing them to help us in implementing this decision.”The Associated Press, citing figures from the main association that represents the schools, the Federation of Madrasas, reported last week that about 1,000 foreign students had left since July, while 700 remained.In addition to expelling foreign students, Musharraf said in July that the madrasas would be required to register with the government and to account for their financing. In September, the government announced that it had struck a deal with influential clerics to register all seminaries. So far, 5,000 of the 12,000 established schools have not registered, said the minister for religious affairs, Ijaz ul-Haq.Madrasas operate autonomously. They follow their own curriculums and spurn efforts to modernize their syllabuses. Musharraf has called them the largest nongovernmental organization in the world.