Voices from Russia

Saturday, 28 November 2009

France Dropped the Veil: Secularism Recognised Once Again as an Important Component of the French National Identity

In a Christian society, the above clothing is acceptable; a veiled face is not. There is room for both modesty in clothing and being identifiable. Reject the extremists on both sides of this issue. Indeed, in most Islamic societies, women do NOT veil themselves. Don’t let the loud loony fringes on either side fool you.

The law against wearing the veil in France, apparently, will not be the “last word” on this subject. It may even lead to an even stronger legislative ban. Meanwhile, the French debate over Muslim clothing and the general display of religious symbols in society go far beyond the issue of the veil, a cross, or a yarmulke. We are speaking of the fundamental basis of social order, and it causes great interest not only in France itself, but, also, far beyond its borders.

Recently, this summer, the French Parliament formed a special commission specifically to address this issue. Its 32 members concluded that a complete ban on the wearing of the veil and the niqab (completely conceals not only the face, but, also, the face of a woman) would produce an unfavourable reaction in society. it was, in practise, simply unfeasible. Some legal experts pointed out that such a ban could even be unconstitutional. Communist Deputy André Guérin, chairman of the commission, reluctantly admitted that it plans to prohibit by law the wearing of the veil. The law will, in general terms, reaffirm the right of women to freedom and self-determination; administrative regulations will implement the actual bans on clothing hiding people’s faces. Recently, at the Assemblée Nationale, police denied entry to a group of women in burqas. A case exists where a Moroccan woman resident in France was denied French citizenship because she wore a veil.

Actually, the commission considered a very narrow issue, not all veils, but, only those that completely cover a woman’s body from head to toe. Evidence presented by the police show that only 367 women all over France wear such clothing. According to other sources, their number exceeds a thousand. Amongst Muslim people, one mainly sees it in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. In France, approximately 10 percent of the population, totalling more than five million people, are immigrants from Muslim countries or their children. Mostly, they are from North Africa, where Islam exists in a milder form. In any case, the veil is not particularly popular amongst them. So, we ask, what’s the fuss all about? Of course, it is not merely an issue of female attire. Rather, it is a bitter debate focused on how people of different views, philosophy, religion, and culture can live in peace in the same society, and how such a society can evolve.

Before the committee met to discuss this issue, French President Nicolas Sarkozy delivered a major speech in which he reiterated that the burqa “has no place in a country such as France”. M Sarkozy, who represents the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), no doubt, had in mind a belief blessed by two centuries of French democracy, the principle of laicism (laïcité), a fundamental separation of church and state, secularism in its strictest interpretation. The roots of this idea lie in the fight against the dominance of the Catholic Church during and after the French Revolution. In 1905, laicism became part of the French statutory law. However, in today’s France, with its growing Muslim population, politicians and public figures both on the right and left see it as an important tool to preserve national unity.

In 2004, the French parliament overwhelmingly banned the wearing of headscarves (hijab) by Muslim students in public schools. This decision, however, applies not only to Muslim symbols, but, also, to those of the Christian, Jewish, Sikh, and other faiths, as well. Both left- and right-wing parties support this law. The ultra-right-wing National Front opposes this law. The ban was a success, not least because young Muslim women supported it. They really did not like wearing grandma’s scarves. A study this year showed that all educational institutions in France respect this ban. Moreover, the vast majority of Muslims in France support it.

The new campaign against Islamic women’s clothing is somewhat different. M Sarkozy not only wishes women to drop the veil. Within four months, he plans to conduct a national debate on the topic, “What does it mean to be a Frenchman”. In his speech, he talked about the need to affiliate oneself to its great civilisation and culture, to learn its values and traditions. The discussion should end in a conference shortly before the regional elections in France in March 2010.

In the presidential elections of 2007, the approach of the hardliners on the issue of Islamic dress pulled to M Sarkozy many who otherwise would have voted for the far-right National Front. In elections to the European Parliament this year, for the first time in 30 years, the ruling party in France won, which means the electorate approves the approach of UMP to the “Muslim issue”.

In November, in a speech at the Palais de l’Élysée, M Sarkozy spoke about republican ideals and the protection of the significance of French civilization. He said, “France does not require that you abandon your history and culture. France, however, demands that all those who link their fate with its destiny, must share its history and its culture. France is not a hodgepodge of communities and individuals. To become French… it means that you accept this form of civilisation, values, and customs”. To leave no doubt about his position on the origins of the threat, he added, “France is a country where women are free. France is a country where church and state are separate and we respect everyone’s beliefs”. The President said that, as in the Second World War, France could lose “its soul”, unless we address it. “I do not want to see [in France] areas that look more like Kabul or Tehran”, he said.

Martine Aubry (1950- ), First Secretary of the French Socialist Party.

Even critics and scoffers viewed M Sarkozy’s turn to “national values” as a masterful political move. He drew attention away from scandals in his own government, which resulted in his approval rating falling below 40 percent, to a topic where you can quickly earn points. The ruling party not only takes the “national” platform from the right, but, also, exploits the splits within the Left. Disagreements about how to deal with cultural and ethnic integration have long bedevilled French liberals. For example, Communist Deputy André Guérin is an implacable foe of Muslim symbols. He said, “The veil is a walking coffin and a mobile prison”. However, according to Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry, a ban on Islamic clothing will only lead to the fact that Muslim women are forced to stay home.

There is no consensus amongst French Muslims themselves, who consider their faith “open”. Many Muslims in France believe that only about 5,000 adherents of Salafism, a version of Islam that came here from Saudi Arabia, support the wearing of the veil. Mohammed Moussaoui, the head of the Council for the Muslim Faith, spoke against any ban, but, Dalil Bubaker, the head of the Great Mosque of Paris, appears to support this step.

However, things are rarely so simple. M Sarkozy is known as an ardent admirer of the Anglo-American or, as the French say, “Anglo-Saxon” economic and social model. He approves of its dynamic and economic liberalism, the willingness of people to rely on their own resources, and the taking of risks in business, rather than relying on the assistance and protection of the state. That is, he gives his backing to those ideals that are more associated with the Protestant branch of Christianity. There is, however, one significant difference. It concerns the so-called “multi-cultural” approach taken in England and some other Western countries to the coexistence of different religious and ethnic groups in society. There, demonstrations of atypical public behaviour not only do not cause a negative reaction, they are positively encouraged. In France, religious and national identity is a person’s private affair.

Many laughed at President Sarkozy in France and abroad. His speech in defence of “national values” may seem much too pompous. Yet, he based his approach on republican secularism, a public policy that is widely popular amongst the masses. Most consider interference in the spiritual affairs of their neighbours an indecent thing. Over all the years I lived in France, no one ever asked explicitly me about my political views or faith. One close friend asked, “Are you proud that you are a Russian?” “Of course”, I answered, and that was that. Recently, Le Parisien released a poll in connection with the presidential campaign. 60 percent of those surveyed, half of this number being the supporters of Left-wing parties, backed laicism, calling it one of the most important elements of national identity.

Grande Mosquée de Paris (Great Mosque of Paris), located in the 5th arrondissement, is the largest Mosque in France. It was founded in 1926 as a memorial to Muslim colonial troops who fought in World War I.

In France, the guarantee of equality resides in the lack of outward signs of religious affiliation, not in encouraging demonstrations of faith per se. This French approach differs sharply from that found in many other countries, where many see political correctness and multiculturalism as promoting diversity. “As for me, I am a rock-ribbed leftist”, wrote the French journalist Agnes Poirier, “The protection of secularism is the only way to ensure cultural diversity and national unity. One without the other is impossible. However, when I ride the Eurostar train to London, I suddenly become a stranger amongst my own. To my horror, my liberal friends in Britain see such a position as a right-wing view”. In the UK, according to a recent poll, 77 percent of those polled oppose a ban on wearing Islamic dress. In Denmark and Belgium, a Muslim woman wearing a veil is already a member of the government…

For a long time, England, and other leading Western countries regarded the French experience in dealing with national and religious issues as an aberration, a departure from the general trend. However, present developments, not least the protracted war in Afghanistan and the continuing terrorist attacks in various regions of the world, led many to think again about it. We now talk of crisis, even about the end of multiculturalism. “Rebooted” President Barack Obama also touched upon relations with the Islamic world. This year, in a speech in Cairo, he criticised the French principle in regards to Muslim dress, saying that the state should not tell people how to dress. The recent tragedy at Fort Hood, where Muslim US Army Major Nidal Hassan shot dozens of American soldiers, called into question political correctness.

The famous Anglo-American journalist, Christopher Hitchens, whom Forbes Magazine includes amongst the 25 most influential liberal journalists in the USA, in a recent article directly called on President Obama to follow the French example and ban the wearing of the veil. “Our president produces a depressing impression when he selects one of the most reactionary religious traditions as a symbol of rights and identity in reference to the Muslim world,” Mr Hitchens wrote in a recent article. “The cape of the Ku Klux Klan, let us remember, too, is a symbol of a religious movement of white Protestants for ‘identity’. Constitutionally, we may hesitate to prohibit the robes of the Ku Klux Klan by law, but, we may refuse to associate with those who decide to assert themselves in that way. I shudder to think about any country in which such condemnation would weaken it”.

25 November 2009

Aleksandr Anichkin

Nezavisimaya Gazeta-Religii (The Independent Newspaper-Religion)

As quoted in Interfax-Religion

http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=print&div=10679

Election of New Serbian Patriarch Scheduled for 22 January

Filed under: Christian,Orthodox hierarchs,religious,Serbia — 01varvara @ 00.00

Patriarch Pavle Stojčević (1914-2009) of Serbia

On 22 January 2010, a Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) plans to elect a new patriarch. The Holy Synod of the SOC decided this at a meeting on 25 November, according to the official website of the MP. The Synod also resolved to serve a Liturgy and the 40th Day Prayers for the late Patriarch Pavle Stojčević on 24 December at St Savva Cathedral in Belgrade. After that, the clergy shall serve a Pannikhida at the grave of the late First Hierarch of the SOC at Rakovica Monastery.

Patriarch Pavle Stojčević, the First Hierarch of the SOC, died in the 96th year of his life on the morning of 15 November in a Belgrade hospital. Two years ago, he entered hospital at the Military Medical Academy in Belgrade in connection with a number of heart and lung problems. At present, the Patriarchal Locum Tenens of the SOC is Metropolitan Amfilohije Radović of Montenegro and Primorsky.

27 November 2009

Interfax-Religion

http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=33111

Orthodox and Catholics Intend to Develop Unified Strategy in Building Dialogue with the EU

Last Tuesday, in Brussels, the first working meeting between the heads of mission of the Orthodox churches in the EU and Fr Peter Mazurkiewicz, the General Secretary of the Commission of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (COMECE) took place. “Both parties noted the importance of the historical moment associated with the promulgation of Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty. As that mandates the regular dialogue of EU institutions with churches and religious communities, we decided to begin preparations for a joint position to provide us with guidance in dealing with the EU”, one of the meeting’s participants, Fr Antony Ilyin, the Acting Representative of the MP to the EU, told our Interfax-Religion correspondent on Thursday.

Rev Mazurkiewicz briefed Orthodox representatives with project proposals prepared by COMECE. “During the discussion, the participants stressed the importance of harmonising the voices of the Christian churches in the EU in structuring an institutional dialogue with the EU, highlighting the importance of the joint testimony of the Orthodox and Catholic churches, as we have a common ground on the most topical issues”, he said. He told us that the parties agreed that the establishment of a “common framework for future dialogue should not exclude the possibility for each of the churches to build their own relationship with the EU institutions on a bilateral basis”.

As Fr Antony noted, “Any consultation with the inter-Christian NGO based in Brussels should take into account the fact that the position of such an organisation cannot replace the individual position of each member church or denomination. However, a common approach to dialogue with the EU will be effective and legitimate only if a multilateral format of interaction exists between all the missions of the various churches active in Brussels”. In addition, he continued, those at the meeting expressed the hope that the registration of religious missions to the EU institutions should take into account the identity of churches precisely as religious communities, who give a special contribution to European society (as reflected in Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty). Therefore, he said, “To equate churches with lobbying organisations or interest groups is incorrect”. Following the meeting, the participants decided to hold joint consultations annually each December on a regular basis.

26 November 2009

Interfax-Religion

http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=33094

Editor’s Note:

The above is NOT an example of ecumenism, nor is it an indication that relations between Orthodox and papists have suddenly thawed. It’s a case of inter-religious cooperation; it’s gone on for centuries. There is no theology involved at all; it’s a matter of coordinating a common approach to a shared political problem. Of course, the usual cast of suspects is going to crow about “improving relations” between the Vatican and us, but, saner heads know that framing a common position on political cooperation is not the same as coming to agreement on theological disputes. The papists are not going to abandon any of their distinctive positions, and, frankly, neither are we. Let’s be blunt, fences make for good neighbours. Forthright people have fewer disagreements than do the mealy-mouthed and syncretistic. Honestly, there are many differences separating papists and Orthodox, and they are not minor. Indeed, we show disrespect for our neighbour if we minimise such. I take the position one should assume that a member of a particular group agrees with the stance of that organisation… otherwise, why be a member? Therefore, I tend not to bring up such differences in personal communication (which this is not). If I read a papist article saying that we Orthodox are schismatical, it bothers me not in the least. It’s their viewpoint, after all. You were expecting otherwise? People get on much better if they admit their differences… then, there’s fewer toes stepped on and fewer bruised egos.

BMD

Let’s Get Out The Cat… As in “Cat o’ Nine Tails!”

Jesus and the Moneychangers (Boris Olshansky, 2006)

I received a self-centred, self-congratulatory, and childish comment on one of my posts. It came from a newbie upset at my criticism of JP and his kissing up to Nashotah House. Truly, I couldn’t believe that an adult could write such utter rot. What is worse, they prefaced it with a “quotation” from the Fathers torn out of context. Furthermore, they wrote a cross after their name… I kid you not (probably, a HOOMie poseur pretending to be Orthodox)! Obviously, I spammed it, for I don’t think that adults have a responsibility to give mewling toddlers a forum (ergo, I omit the prideful Patristic quote… such is sheer ex-Protestant rubbish, in any case). Look at this.

I am sorry for your anger, your venom, and your ignorance. Ignorance can be improved with prayer and humility. The saints of Holy Orthodoxy weep at your words. Your pride in “Ultradoxy” may be egocentrism or ethnocentrism, but is not the right worship or right path. It is the road to hell. Repent! I weep for you.

I’m NOT joking and I didn’t make this up! As my staritsa says, “Give no quarter to ideas; give the benefit of the doubt to people”. Therefore, this person shall remain nameless and unidentified. Good Ol’ Workin’ Chap… can you believe such sheer logorrhoea? If such sorts don’t like adults talking about the Church and clerics in a mature and frank fashion, I suggest that they stick to such fluffy gurus as Stephen Freeman and Joseph Honeycutt… we don’t dispense saccharine and watery pabulum. We have good ol’ meat n’ potatoes on the menu here at Vara’s Diner and Hash House; it’s all good for you, full of righteous ingredients, and tasty, too (have a greaseburger n’ fries with onion n’ pickles with a cold brewskie… now, that’s GOOD EATS). There are such things as corrupt clerics and nasty doings under the guise of piety and religion. Do look at Raymond Velencia, Bobby K, Iggy Burdikoff, Lyonyo Kishkovsky, and David Brum… you just can’t sweep corruption, theft, and ecumania under the rug (“the records simply don’t exist”). We must expose such doings to the open air so that we can right them. I just translated an Interfax article for an acquaintance concerning 30 years worth of child abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. Here is an excerpt.

In 2006, members of the Commission for the Investigation of the Catholic Diocese of Dublin appealed to officials of the Holy See to provide access to information sent to the Vatican in cases of rapes of Irish children by Catholic priests. Nevertheless, the Vatican denied these requests because they were not sent through the appropriate diplomatic channels. In turn, the Commission explained that its activity was completely independent from the government, therefore, its members did not have to use official channels to obtain information. In February 2007, and early in 2009, the Vatican ignored two similar requests from the Commission, the BBC said. The report says that the Catholic Church and the Irish police knew about cases of child abuse, but, they ignored this information and took no action to curb the incidents. On Thursday, after the publication of the report, the head of the Catholic Church of Ireland, Seán Baptist Cardinal Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, expressed regret in connection with the rape of children by priests between 1975 and 2004, and the fact that the Church long concealed the facts. Officials of the Irish Government also extended their apologies.

http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=33120

What are we supposed to do? Are we to keep silence concerning enormities committed by clergy “for the good of our souls?” I’ll check into Bedlam with Mr Scrooge and take tea with the Queen of Hearts. JP and Hatfield had no right signing an accord with an unrepentantly Proddie institution that is an integral part of the TEC (in short, JP signed an agreement with Ms Jefferts-Schori… what utter blasphemy). Nashotah House is a typical Calvinist Evangelical Anglican seminary that approves of the ordination of women, “comprehensiveness”, and the branch theory. I have no doubt that Mr Munday, the dean, is a personable fellow and that he is a typical Anglican… that is, no bad sort at all. However, that does not mean that we sign pacts with them to legitimatise them.

Angry? Ignorant? Egocentrism? Ethnocentrism? Damn right, I’m angry… it’s not right to use the Church to enrich oneself or hurt others… I’m NOT alone in thinking that. You chide me for ignorance… child, I’ve forgotten more things about Orthodox history, life, and theology than you’ve ever learned. It is not egocentric to expose nastiness… and to pay the cost thereof. The worst ethnocentrism is that shown by Anglo-Saxon newbies who refuse to accept the fact that the Church comes garbed in all-too-human form. You can stand with the monks serving the guns at the Troitsky Lavra firing a barrage at the papist invaders or you can stand with the hypocritical ecumaniacs bloviating at Nashotah House or any other Ecumenical Dixie Fry and Love Feast. I know where I stand!

Thou hast made my Father’s House into a den of thieves! Amen, Lord. Here’s the “cat”… I know that you’ll use it to good effect!

Barbara-Marie Drezhlo

Saturday 28 November 2009

Albany NY

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