23 October 2007

Lukašenka in hot water over anti-Semitic comments

Belarus and Israel are in the middle of a diplomatic spat over controversial comments made recently by Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukašenka (Lukashenka) about Belarusian and Israeli Jews.

Speaking to Russian journalists in Minsk on 12 October, Lukašenka declared,

If you have been to Babrujsk [Babruysk], did you see what state the city is in? It was scary to walk into it, it was a pigsty. It was largely a Jewish city; you know how Jews act towards the place they live in. Take a look at Israel; I have been there, for one.... Under no circumstances do I want to hurt them, but they do not really make sure that the grass is mowed like in Moscow, among the Russians, or Belarusians. What a city it was.... We fixed it up, and we say to Israeli Jews: Come back, guys. I told them: Come back with money.

Five days later, the Israeli ambassador to Belarus, Zeev Ben-Arie, protested in no uncertain terms, saying that "in these comments, one can hear echoes of a myth that I had hoped had long been buried by the history of enlightened mankind, about poorly dressed, dirty, foul smelling Jews, an anti-Semitic myth." Ben-Arie also said he hoped that "Belarusian cities would reach the level of Israel's municipal services and social services in general."

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni accused Lukašenka of anti-Semitism, saying

It is the responsibility of world leaders to battle anti-Semitism, which rears its ugly head in various places around the world, not promote it. Anti-Semitism reflects first and foremost on the community in which it appears, and on its leaders.

On 18 October, the Belarusian ambassador to Israel, Ihar Lia
ščenia (Liashchenia), issued a statement reminding Israelis that "during the last five or six centuries, Jews in our region did not feel as protected and safe anywhere as they did in the Belarusian lands.... This good attitude towards Jews, which has become traditional, persists in modern Belarus as well."

Regarding Babrujsk, Liaščenia remarked that the residents of the city,

with the help of the state, were trying to host the republic-wide harvest festival in a decent manner. The renewed, rebuilt city of Babrujsk is, among other things, a homage to many generations of members of the Jewish community whose native city this was.

"Belarus and anti-Semitism are mutually exclusive ideas," Liaščenia concluded (Белорусские новости).

One can't envy poor Liaščenia his duty of restoring calm after Lukašenka's gaffe. After all, Lukašenka managed to squeeze three typical anti-Semitic stereotypes into one statement: that Jews are allegedly dirty, that they allegedly have no attachment to the place they live in, and that they are simultaneously rich. That Liaščenia managed to turn Lukašenka's words around and portray the restoration of parts of Babrujsk as a homage to Jews is a credit to his quick thinking, or that of others in his embassy or the Belarusian foreign ministry.

Liaščenia is right on one thing. Belarus has historically been a highly tolerant place towards minorities (for instance, there were mosques in operation in Belarus centuries ago, while even in modern-day Greece and Slovenia, the very existence of mosques is a controversial issue). It remains tolerant to this day. However, as Lukašenka's words show, we Belarusians (yes, I am one) have some way to go towards living up to the image of tolerance we always congratulate ourselves with.

20 October 2007

Visitor profile, 15 September to 14 October 2007

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

This month (15 September to 14 October 2007):

This month, Notes on Religion received 71 visits, that is, 10% less than the previous month. The average number of visitors during this period was two a day.

Visitors came to Notes on Religion from Asia, Australasia, Europe and North America. By far the largest number of visitors (49%) came from Canada, and the United States came second with 17%. Australia came a distant third with 6%.

Within Canada, 49% of the visits this month came from Quebec.

The largest number of visitors this month (44%) was referred to the blog by Google. The most common Google searches ranged from 'natasha aliyeva' to 'natasha aliyeva belarus'.

The most popular browser this month was Internet Explorer (54%). 94% of the visitors were Windows users.

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

The total number of visitors during these seven months was 937. The average number of visitors was four per day.

The largest number of visitors (36%) came from Canada. The second-highest number (31%) came from the United States. The United Kingdom came third with 6%.

Quebec accounted for 76% of visitors from Canada.

The biggest proportion of visitors (49%) 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%). 92% of the visitors were Windows users.

13 October 2007

Eid mubarak!

I would like to wish the readers of Notes of Religion a blessed Eid.

Here's a BBC photo series showing Eid celebrations around the world, from Afghanistan to the United States.

08 October 2007

Buddhist pagodas stand empty in Yangon

Buddhist temples and pagodas in Yangon are not attracting the kinds of crowds they normally do, following the military crackdown on anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks. Monks have been arrested in their hundreds, while many others have left their monasteries to stay with their families. Laymen appear hesitant to visit pagodas for fear of provoking the government (BBC).

What the Burmese army should expect, though, is that, sooner or later, this hesitancy will probably fade, once again leading to free or semi-free interactions between laymen and monks, and another protest campaign, similar to the one recenly put down, may well erupt.

07 October 2007

Pro-Jewish Iranian TV show depicts Holocaust

"Zero Degree Turn", a mini-series airing on Iranian state TV, has come as a revelation to both Iranians and foreigners. It is set in Paris during World War II, and shows a fictional employee of the Iranian embassy there forging Iranian passports in order to save a number of Jews from the Holocaust. The character is based on a real-life Iranian who rescued 500 Jews in France using this tactic.

While President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has declared the Holocaust a fabrication, it seems higher-up authorities, such as the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, would like to make it clear that they do not share Ahmadinejad's position. Since Khamenei controls the state TV network, the show had to have his approval in order to air (AP).

Once again, Ahmadinejad has proven to be a bit of a wildcard even as far as the conservative Iranian clerical establishment is concerned, and so they're pushing back, but in a way that is both subtle and likely to gain Iran new friends or at least sympathisers.

03 October 2007

Monks fleeing Yangon

Buddhist monks in their dozens are reportedly trying to escape Yangon as a military crackdown on anti-govenrment protests continues there. The hundreds of monks already arrested will reportedly be sent to prisons in the north of Myanmar. Meanwhile, bus drivers are denying the monks passage out of the city, for fear that the government would stop them from obtaining petrol in retaliation.

According to Burmese government officials, ten people have been killed so far in clashes related to the protests. However, according to pro-democracy activists and foreign diplomats, the true number is several times higher.

Meanwhile, a Burmese army officer has defected to Thailand after his unit was ordered to Yangon to put down the protests. According to the officer,
I knew the plan to beat and shoot the monks and if I stayed on, I would have to follow these orders. Because I'm a Buddhist, I did not want to kill the monks" (BBC).

So it looks as if the pro-democracy movement has been quashed for now, but what the Burmese people have seen over the last few days is not just the power of the army, but also their own power, especially when they gather in their tens of thousands. The day may not be too far away when they start marching in their hundreds of thousands, making it very hard for the army to brutally supress them, as they have been doing so far.

Something Even More Magical

In other news...