Cambodia: The Way of the Monk

In the forest, a group of monks tie saffron cloth around tree trunks while chanting a centuries-old Buddhist chant still relevant today. It is a chant of compassion, pity, and love and of a divinity that does not exist in a temple but in the forests that the monks and the villagers both call their home. Image by Kalyanee Mam. Cambodia, 2014.

In the forest, a group of monks tie saffron cloth around tree trunks while chanting a centuries-old Buddhist chant still relevant today. It is a chant of compassion, pity, and love and of a divinity that does not exist in a temple but in the forests that the monks and the villagers both call their home. Image by Kalyanee Mam. Cambodia, 2014.

 

Nature was born to rescue humanity, just as people were born to protect nature. Without nature we cannot survive.” – Venerable But Buntenh

After journeying seven hours on a bus from the capital city of Phnom Penh, Venerable But Buntenh and a band of 16 young, social-media savvy dissident monks pile onto the back of a pick-up truck and wind their way on a bumpy dirt road to Areng Valley, nestled in the Cardamom Mountain range in southwest Cambodia. The young monks arm themselves with cameras and video recorders, snapping shots along the way, their bright saffron robes flapping in the wind.

Kalyanee Mam reports for the Pulitzer Center on Cambodian monks’ mission to stop the imminent construction of the Stung Cheay Areng dam, a project the government of Cambodian has contracted to Sinohydro Corporation, China’s largest hydropower company.

Iraqi Christians are caught in the middle and hitting the road

Iraqi Christian families at a community center in Erbil, June 27, 2014. (Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraqi Christian families at a community center in Erbil, June 27, 2014. (Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images)

KHAZIR CHECKPOINT, Iraq — Lilian stood by the side of the road at this dusty checkpoint along the Erbil-Mosul highway. In skinny jeans and a polka-dot blouse, she looked a bit out of place.

Most of the other Iraqis on the road are very poor, while Lilian an her family are middle class. Most of the other Iraqis fleeing now are doing so because they couldn’t afford to before. Lilian and her family are fleeing now because the violence finally hit too close to home.

A little after midnight Wednesday night, Lilian and her family heard shells drop near their home in Karamlish outside Mosul. Unable to tell if the violence was getting closer or not, they decided to hit the road. By 6 the next morning they were on their way to Erbil located in Iraq’s relatively safe, semi-autonomous Kurdistan region.

“We heard that Daah doesn’t hurt civilians, but I don’t know,” said the 21-year-old student, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the insurgent group currently taking on the Iraqi government.

“Honestly, I don’t know what we will do,” she said with a nervous laugh.

Susannah George reports for GlobalPost on Iraqi Christians caught in the midst of the battle between the Sunni insurgents, ISIL, and the Shia-led government of Iraq

Spain decides to make up for its persecution of Jews, but won’t do the same for Muslims

Cesar Manso AFP/Getty Images

Cesar Manso
AFP/Getty Images

MADRID, Spain — Half a millennium ago, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand presented Jews living here with a stark choice: leave, convert or face burning at the stake.

Some 50,000 Jews would eventually flee after passage of the Edict of Expulsion in 1492, giving birth to the Sephardic diaspora — “Sepharad” meaning “Spain” in Hebrew.

Today their descendants live mainly in Israel, France, the United States and Turkey.

Among those who remained, some who formally converted secretly maintained their faith under fear of constant persecution by the merciless Spanish Inquisition.

Now the Spanish authorities are finally seeking to redress the injustice. Earlier this month, the government approved a draft bill that would grant dual citizenship to those who can prove themselves to be descendants of expelled Jews — in addition to passing a Spanish culture test. Officials say they expect up to 90,000 applications in the coming years.

The same privilege isn’t being conferred on members of another community that was expelled because of policies aimed at maintaining “clean Christian blood.” More than a century after the Jewish expulsion, the Moriscos — Arabs previously forced to renounce Islam and become baptized — suffered the same fate.

Antonio Pito reports for GlobalPost on the Spanish government’s approval of a draft bill  that would grant dual citizenship to the descendants of expelled Jews but does not offer redress to historically persecuted Muslims. 

U.S. agency urges Myanmar to scrap proposed religion laws.

myanmar

Draft laws in Myanmar aimed at protecting the country’s majority Buddhist identity by regulating religious conversions and marriages between people of different faiths have “no place in the 21st century” and should be withdrawn, a U.S. government agency said on Wednesday.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said the laws risked stoking violence against Muslims and other religious minorities, including Christians. If the laws are passed, it said, Washington “should factor these negative developments into its evolving relationship with Burma (Myanmar).”

The U.S. State Department said it had serious concerns about the pending legislation and had expressed them to the government of Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.

Reuters’ David Brunnstrom reports on the U.S. response to Myanmar’s proposed law against religious conversion.

 

 

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/11/us-myanmar-religion-usa-idUSKBN0EM2NZ20140611

After US sex abuse scandals, an accused priest rises again in Paraguay

Priest Carlos Urrutigoity celebrates Mass. (Courtesy of Vanguardia)CIUDAD DEL ESTE, Paraguay — A hush falls across the church, broken only by the rhythmic swish of the censer as it bestows acrid incense across the faces of the congregation.

A gaggle of monks in brown habits, their heads tonsured in repentant horseshoes, rises and begins to chant. They are joined by seminarians — priests in training — in floor-length, black soutanes, and Latin liturgy pulses over the pews. The words rise to a massive floor-to-ceiling mural that casts dozens of saintly eyes across the room.A noise behind the congregation. A door opening. He is here.

In an exclusive for Global Post Will Carless reports on accused child molestor Carlos Urrutigoity leading Mass in a remote South American church.

Myanmar seeks views on religious conversion bill

In this April 8, 2014 photo, Buddhist devotees carry their sons and nephews to circumambulate the Shwedagon pagoda in hopes of earning a blessing from Buddha ahead of their ordination as Buddhist monks, in Yangon, Myanmar.(AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

In this April 8, 2014 photo, Buddhist devotees carry their sons and nephews to circumambulate the Shwedagon pagoda in hopes of earning a blessing from Buddha ahead of their ordination as Buddhist monks, in Yangon, Myanmar.(AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

 

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Myanmar’s government is trying to measure public support for a religious conversion bill put forward by nationalist Buddhist monks that would require anyone who wants to convert to another faith to get permission from local authorities.

If passed, anyone found guilty of proselytizing could face up to a year in prison.

The Associated Press reports on the draft bill proposed by a coalition of monks and lay people known as the Organization for the Protection of Race, Religion and Belief.

It’s a landslide for Hindu nationalism in India’s election

BJP leader Narendra Modi gestures to supporters in Ahmedabad, India on May 16, 2014 as initial vote tallies pointed to a landslide for Modi and his party. (Kevin Frayer/AFP/Getty Images)

BJP leader Narendra Modi gestures to supporters in Ahmedabad, India on May 16, 2014 as initial vote tallies pointed to a landslide for Modi and his party. (Kevin Frayer/AFP/Getty Images)

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by 63-year-old Narendra Modi, will take a commanding majority in India’s parliament, cementing a meteoric rise at the expense of the incumbent Indian National Congress and leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

As vote tallies from across the country were announced Friday, it quickly became clear the BJP’s performance would surpass even many optimistic predictions, winning the first outright parliamentary majority in 30 years. Modi won his seat in the holy Hindu city of Varanasi and the BJP was projected to win more seats in the state of Uttar Pradesh alone than Congress in the entire country.

World leaders placed congratulatory calls to Modi after Congress conceded what may be its worst-ever defeat, while the financial markets continued to show approval for Modi. In his victory speech from his home state of Gujarat, Modi frequently referred to himself in the third person.

“Today every voter became Narendra Modi,” said the man who proudly displayed his humble origins throughout the campaign, standing before a sea of supporters. He celebrated the fact that his administration will be the first born in post-independence India and called for national unity.

Kevin Grant, senior editor of GlobalPost’s Special Reports, writes about India’s elections as part of  the series,  ”The Saffron Election.”

 

Vatican to debate teachings on divorce, birth control, gay unions

Pope Francis meets with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, left, at the Vatican. On the pontiff's orders, the Vatican will convene a meeting of senior clerics this fall to reexamine church teachings that touch the most intimate aspects of people's lives. (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP/Getty Images / April 26, 2014)

Pope Francis meets with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, left, at the Vatican. On the pontiff’s orders, the Vatican will convene a meeting of senior clerics this fall to reexamine church teachings that touch the most intimate aspects of people’s lives. (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP/Getty Images / April 26, 2014)

 

Contraception, cohabitation, divorce, remarriage and same-sex unions: They’re issues that pain and puzzle Roman Catholics who want to be true to both their church and themselves.

Now those issues are about to be put up for debate by their leader, a man who appears determined to push boundaries and effect change.

On Pope Francis‘ orders, the Vatican will convene an urgent meeting of senior clerics this fall to reexamine church teachings that touch the most intimate aspects of people’s lives. Billed as an “extraordinary” assembly of bishops, the gathering could herald a new approach by the church to the sensitive topics.

Los Angeles Times’ Henry Chu reports from Vatican City on the synod taking place this fall.

 

Religion and Democracy at Odds for Some Afghan Youth

by Katherine Davis

In what was widely lauded as a sign of increasing stability in Afghanistan, 7 million Afghan voters headed to the polls this week.

The Taliban had pressured Afghans not to take part in the vote. They even threatened that anyone with blue ink on their finger—signifying they had voted—would be a target for violence. But, with the exception of a few minor attacks, the polling took place relatively peacefully. Many publications wrote about the event optimistically.

Thijs Berman, from the European Union’s team in Kabul, told the Associated Press, “This in itself is a victory over violence and a victory over all those who wanted to deter democracy by threats and violence.”

To be sure, the election is a large step forward for the war-torn country. These elections will replace Hamid Karzai, who has been in office since the Taliban was ousted in 2001. Karzai has now reached his term limit. In the country’s most recent elections in 2009, Karzai is believed to have rigged the vote for his own reelection. It is just one of many incidents that gives Afghanistan its reputation for being one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Not surprisingly, the frontrunners in this year’s election are all making anti-corruption promises in their campaigns.

So as the world looks on, many hope this election will mark a new era in Afghan politics, one in which democracy reigns and a new, fairly elected leader will be able to negotiate with the United States over a withdrawal of foreign troops so that the country can peacefully rebuild.

But are these interpretations of events in the Western news media overly hopeful? Are we imposing a Western school of thought on the situation, assuming that all people—Afghans included—must want democracy?

The Atlantic’s coverage of the election offers another point of view, one which many publications fail to consider—that of some young Afghan voters.

Uri Friedman wrote, “What lessons will young Afghans—the country’s future leaders—draw from the last decade and a half of war and instability? Will they work to improve Afghan democracy and elect more effective and accountable leaders, or will they spurn the democratic process in favor of a system they perceive as superior?”

Demographically speaking, Afghanistan is an extremely young country. Nearly 70 percent of Afghans are under the age of 25. That means the majority of the country was either not born, or a small child when post 9/11 U.S. involvement in the country began. As the Atlantic explains, for many young voters in Afghanistan, “democracy” is something they can only associate with more than a decade of foreign involvement, war and corruption.

That is why for some young Afghans, alternatives to a democratic government have major appeal. The Atlantic quotes Borhan Osman, a political analyst in Afghanistan: “Religious groups have often offered as an alternative the form of an Islamic state based on sharia law. This discourse pits an ‘Islamic’ system against a democratic system.”

For a small but growing group of educated young people in Afghanistan, where more than 99 percent of the population is Muslim, Osman says, an “Islamic state” feels more patriotic than the imported, Western concept of democracy.

Osman also wrote on the Afghanistan Analysts Network, “For these youths, democratic elections are part of jahiliyya (paganism) and against Allah’s hakimiyya, the rightful sovereignty and rule of God.”

If no clear winner comes out of the April 5 elections, a run-off vote will be held in May. For now, Afghanistan is on the path to democracy. But the direction the next generation will decide to take their country in years to come has yet to be determined.

“Religion, Democracy and the Arab Awakening” April 25, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

RD&AA poster
“Religion Democracy and the Arab Awakening,” sponsored by the USC Center for Islamic Thought, Culture and Practice, the USC Knight Program in Media and Religion and Global Post, is a one-day conference aimed at advancing knowledge and strengthening coverage of a critical topic. The conference will conclude with a keynote address by Professor Tariq Ramadan at 5 p.m. in the Annenberg Auditorium. A reception will follow.

To RSVP, visit annenberg.usc.edu/RSVP