30 August 2007

Taliban release Korean hostages

The Taliban have handed over the last of the South Korean hostages they were holding to the International Committee of the Red Cross. In exchange, South Korea has confirmed that it would withdraw its 200 soldiers from Afghanistan, as it had already been planning to do, and also that it would prevent its citizens from travelling to Afghanistan for missionary activity or any other purpose (BBC).

I wonder how the South Korean government is supposed to enforce its travel ban to Afghanistan. Can't any South Korean who wants to go to Afghanistan go to a third country with an Afghan embassy, obtain a visa, and go there?

I guess one way is for it to make a deal with the Afghan government that would guarantee a blanket policy of denying Afghan visas to South Korean citizens. But then would the Afghan government be willing to make such a concession to the Taliban?

27 August 2007

Bosniak war widow wants church off her land

Fata Orlović, a Bosnian Muslim woman from the village Konjević Polje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has been waging a battle for several years to get a Serbian Orthodox church removed from her property. Orlović was expelled from her village during the Bosnian War, and her husband was killed in the war. When she returned in 2000, she found that a church had been constructed on her land, right in front of her house.

Ever since, she has been appealing to the authorities to remove the church. The Bosnian Serb authorities have relented, and are now planning to dismantle the church building and move it to a different location.

It is not dislike for Christianity that motivates Orlović. As she says, "It doesn't bother me that it's a church.... I respect churches as much as mosques. But if they want a church they should just put it on their land instead of mine. I respect all nations and religions, but I can't respect people building on my land."

According to James Rodehaver, the Human Rights Director of the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) office in Sarajevo, "If she doesn't get the church off her land you will never have a society that is governed by the rule of law.... The legacy of the war would never be resolved" (BBC).

This story does show that Bosnia has come a long way since the war, though. The very fact that the Bosnian Serb authorities are taking Mrs Orlovi
ć's request seriously and are willing to remove the building that was illegally placed on her land -- despite the fact that it is as politically sensitive a building as a church -- speaks volumes.

Tiny Dalit paper makes waves in India

The Din Dalit is one of the huge number of newspapers in India and it has some degree of influence: for instance, it helped a man get his social security, which the government had previously denied him.

However, the Din Dalit is also a newspaper with a difference: every week since 1986, its part-time editor, a Dalit (untouchable) man named Gaurishankar Rajak, has written most of it himself by hand, and then photocopied it into 100 copies. Nowadays, the paper also has a reporter. Over the years, the paper has developed a following in Dumka, Jharkhand. As Dhrub Rai, a rickshaw driver, observed, "Rajak has simply waged a war against corruption and social evils here" (BBC).

On the one hand, it is sad that so much effort on the part of one person -- and thousands like him elsewhere in India -- has to go into demanding rights the respect of Dalits' rights in modern-day India. On the other hand, the very fact that the Din Dalit has been published for 21 years and has not faced attacks from high-caste neighbours, shows that India has come a long way from the days of prevailing caste-based oppression.

India blames Pakistani, Bangladeshi groups for bombing

The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, has blamed unnamed "terrorist organisations based in Bangladesh and Pakistan" for the recent bombings in Hyderabad, which killed 42 people.

Meanwhile, Indian President Pratibha Patil has indicated that the intention of the bombers had been to harm harmony between Hindus and Muslims in the city (BBC).

Is the Indian authorities' tendency to blame most terrorist attacks on Pakistani -- and recently Bangladeshi -- groups a symptom of the fact that they do not possess adequate knowledge of terrorist groups possibly operating within their own country? In other words, why did it have to be Pakistanis or Bangladeshis, and not Indians?

The very idea that terrorists from Pakistan and Bangladesh supposedly cooperated in this attack is kind of hard to take given the sheer distance between the two countries. On the other hand, operatives representing unsavoury groups in the two countries may have met up in India, in which case someone was possibly harbouring them, and that someone might be an Indian group. So any way you look at it, blaming Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups looks like a copout.

Shi'ite flag flies over Basra police station

There are conflicting reports over the fate of a base in Basra that was recently evacuated by British forces. In theory, the Iraqi Police, which the British shared the station with, were supposed to take over control. However, there have been reports that the Mahdi Army, a Shi'ite militia, has taken over the base. Trying to refute those reports, a British Ministry of Defence spokesman said that a green Shi'ite flag was now flying over the base, rather than the black (and also Shi'ite) Mahdi Army flag (BBC).

So, even if the Iraqi Police is now in charge of the base, they are flying a sectarian flag, rather than a national one. This makes me wonder, at least for a moment, if the "Coalition of the Willing" is setting Iraq up for something like what was seen in Palestine and India in 1947-48, even if unintentionally.

Shi'ites and Kurds form new alliance

Four Shi'ite and Kurdish parties have formed a new ruling coalition in Iraq. These parties have also signed a "reconciliation" agreement with Sunni groups, but Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi's (Sunni) Iraqi Islamic Party so far has no plans to join the coalition (BBC).

It seems that the whole key to end the civil-war-like state of affairs in Iraq is to bring the Sunni Arabs on board, and I wish Maliki would try harder to do so.

26 August 2007

Mother Teresa suffered decades of doubt

A compilation of Mother Teresa's letters, due to be published next month under the title Come Be My Light, reveals that she doubted the existence of God and heaven, and that she found no attraction in "saving souls," that is, converting people to Catholicism. While outwardly every bit the Catholic, she suffered from an intense spiritual drought in her heart.

At her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1979, she proclaimed that "Christ is in our hearts, Christ is in the poor we meet, Christ is in the smile we give, and Christ is in the smile we receive." However, writing to Father Michael van der Peet, her spiritual adviser, she admitted that "the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see -- listen and do not hear -- the tongue moves but does not speak."

In fact, Mother Teresa, known after her death as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, believed that she was involved in the "verbal deception" of people who admired her.

While these revelations, which come from letters Mother Teresa wanted burned after her death (they were preserved on the Church's orders), may make her less popular with some, but others are already saying that she is as holy as they thought previously, only more human (Daily Mail).

Afghans angry at balls donated by the US

About 100 people have demonstrated in the Afghan city of Khost after US troops stationed in the area airdropped some footballs (soccer balls) aimed at children in the area. They were protesting the fact that some of the balls were decorated with, among other things, Saudi flags.

Since the Saudi flag contains the Muslim declaration of faith, "There is no god except God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God," the footballs would indirectly invite players to kick an object bearing the name of God.

A US military spokeswoman has expressed regret over the mistake (BBC).

This once again starkly highlights the need for understanding the US Armed Forces to understand Islam and Muslims. Any interpreter who took a look at one of those footballs would be able to flag them as inappropriate.

Diana memorial scheduled for Friday

The family of the late Diana, Princess of Wales is planning to hold a memorial service on 31 August to mark the ten-year anniversary of her death in Paris, aged 36. The service is to be held in a military chapel in London, and should include readings by Princes William and Harry, as well as Lady Sarah McCorquodale, Diana's elder sister. About 500 people are expected to attend, including over 30 members of the royal family (BBC).

Partial curfew imposed in Baghdad

A partial curfew of indefinite duration has been imposed on Baghdad and its surroundings by the Iraqi government, meaning that, while cars are still allowed to move, two-wheeled vehicled and push-carts are not. This is a measure aimed at protecting Shi'ite pilgrims who are due to attend a festival next week (BBC).

The question is: what good is a curfew that gives cars freedom of movement in a country where so much damage has been wrought by car bombs? Is this a failure of the imagination on the part of the Iraqi government, or just an attempt at not embittering the population further by making life even more difficult for them?

20 August 2007

Visitor profile, 15 July to 14 August 2007

Welcome to the fifth installment of Notes on Religion visitor profiles!

This month (15 July to 14 August 2007):

This month, Notes on Religion received 238 visits, that is, 318% more than the previous month, alhamdu lillah. The average number of visitors during this period was eight a day.

Visitors came to Notes on Religion from every inhabited continent, alhamdu lillah. The largest number of visitors (39%) came from the United States, and Canada came a distant second with 15%. Brazil was third with 4%. Because the highest number of visitors to the blog this month came from the US, I'll convert all currencies cited into US dollars during the upcoming month, God willing.

Within the US, the largest number of visits came from California (15% of the American total). In Canada, 72% of the visits this month came from Quebec.

An overwhelming majority of visitors this month (84%) was referred to the blog by Blogger. As for those who were referred by Google, their most common search term consisted of the URL of Notes on Religion.

The most popular browser this month was Internet Explorer (59%). 90% of the visitors were Windows users.

Since the founding of the blog (15 March to 14 August 2007):

The total number of visitors during these five months was 787. The average number of visitors was five per day.

The largest number of visitors (34%) came from Canada. The second-highest number (33%) came from the United States. The United Kingdom came third with 6%.

Quebec accounted for 77% of visitors from Canada.

The biggest proportion of visitors (39%) was referred to the blog by Blogger. The most common search term entered by visitors who were referred to Notes on Religion by Google was 'ishaq nizami'.

The most popular browser was Internet Explorer (53%). 93% of the visitors were Windows users.

14 August 2007

Suicide bombers strike Yazidis; scores of casualties

Several suicide bomb attacks have killed 175 or more people near Mosul. The attacks were aimed at Iraq's Yazidi minority, whose members worship Malak Ta'us, or the Peacock Angel. The attack came after a period of rising tension between the Yazidis and Muslims of the area, after an incident in April in which a group of Yazidis allegedly stoned a formerly Yazidi girl who had converted to Islam (BBC).

It looks like some people in Iraq are really determined to drive all minorities out of the country.

09 August 2007

Hadrian's statue found in Turkey

Archaeologists working in the ruins of the Roman city of Salagassos, located in modern Turkey, have found pieces of a huge statue of Emperor Hadrian (Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus, 76-138), who ruled the Roman Empire from 117 to 138. Salagassos was declared the "First City" of the Pisidia province by Hadrian, as well as a centre for the official cult of the emperor.

The recently uncovered statue would have stood 4 or 5 m tall. It was one of many statues to Hadrian erected in the city, which also had a temple dedicated to the emperor (BBC).

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