News in Review – April 2013 20 April 2013

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Destruction of a mosque in Myanmar

Violence against the Muslim community in Burma reached new levels of violence. The Rohingya are an ethnic group of Muslims that have been in Myanmar for centuries, though have been given little recognition by the Buddhist majority of the government. The UN has described them as ‘one of the world’s most persecuted communities’. A recent spate of violence, including riots and the burning of Muslim homes and mosques (pictured above) took place in between 20th and 22nd of March resulting in 40 murders. The violence, which began last year, has resulted in nearly 150,000 Rohingya displaced as refugees, often to neighbouring Bangladesh. Human Rights Watch have called on the Myanmar government to intervene and protect the Rohingya community, though little state action has taken place.

Welfare cuts announced by George Osborne have been attacked by faith leaders as vicious, cruel and undermining the safety net of Britain’s poorest.  “A narrative that blames the poor for poverty leads to measures (welfare cuts) such as were announced today,” said Methodist Church public policy adviser, Paul Morrison.  “The majority of people in poverty in the United Kingdom today are working,” he added.

Keith O'BrienCardinal Keith O’Brien (pictured below), the most senior Catholic in Scotland, stepped down after several accusations of sexual misconduct in late February. In March, Father Matthew Despard published a book, ‘Priesthood in Crisis’, detailing the alleged abuse and sexual bullying that takes place in the Catholic Church in Scotland. An official investigation is underway, both by church and authorities.

A bomb was found on the grounds of the St Mary’s Church in Northern Ireland on Sat 2nd March. It was defused and removed by the police, who described it as ‘small but viable’. No culprits were found but the bomb can be linked to ongoing tension in Northern Ireland between republicans and loyalists.

Inmates of Guantanamo Bay have begun a hunger strike in response to ‘mistreatment’ of Qurans by prison guards. Several attorneys representing prisoners say the majority of the estimated 130 prisoners at Guantanamo’s Camp 6 wing, which houses “low-value” detainees, are on hunger strike. Navy Captain Robert Durand, a spokesman for the prison, said 11 of the hunger strikers were being fed with feeding tubes, while two of those had been hospitalized for rehydration and observation. David Remes, a lawyer representing 15 detainees, including 13 hunger strikers described the protest at the prison as “unprecedented in its scope, in its duration, in its determination.”

The Kumbh Mela (pictured below) came to end on the 10th March. The mela is the world’s largest religious festival, bringing together 80 million Hindus. The pilgrimage is held every three years, rotating between the sacred rivers of Haridwar, Allahabad, Nashik, and Ujjain. The festival began on 14th January, taking place in Allahabad this year, reaching its pinnacle on the 10th February.

The festival itself is full of symbolism and meaning. By washing in the waters of the sacred rivers, spiritual impurities are removed. The Kumbh refers to the pitcher of the gods which contained a nectar of creation, when the gods and demons fought, a few drops fell in Man worships during Kumbh MelaHaridwar, Allahabad, Nashik and Ujjain.  Given the huge numbers, accidents and deaths can occur. 36 people died at a stampede at a railway station in Allahabad this year, despite a number of security measures.

Dr Joseph Mastropaolo, a California-based Creationist has offered $10,000 to anyone who can prove in front of an impartial judge that modern science contradicts a literal interpretation of Genesis. He has offered the money in hopes of improving the level of debate in the US between Creationists and evolutionary scientists, which he believes is superficial. Dr Mastropaolo is a scientist, specialising in biomechanics, associated with the infamous Creation Museum in the US (pictured above).

The civil war between Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces has continued, marking two years since the uprising began in 2011. The pro-Assad Sheikh Ramadan al-Bouti was killed in a bomb attack on a mosque in Damascus on the 21st March. The Free Syria Army has denied involvement claiming that they would ‘never conduct an attack at a mosque’.

Archbishop of CyprusCyprus
Amidst Cyprus’ financial woes, the Head of Cyprus’ Orthodox Church, Archbishop Chrysostomos II, has urged the country to prepare to leave EU. In a statement, the Archbishop argued “the Euro cannot last, I’m not saying that it will crumble tomorrow, but with the brains that they have in Brussels, it is certain that it will not last in the long term, and the best is to think about how to escape it.”.
Debates on how to best rescue Cyprus from near bankruptcy have been continuing, with several bailout plans being rescinded due to popular opposition (including a levy on all savings).

Culture and Tourism Minister for Turkey, Omer Celik, has called on Christian and Jewish minorities who fled Turkey to return. “If you encounter troubles anywhere in the world, know that the first place you can appeal to is the Turkish embassy. Turkey has become a democracy that protects every identity and their historical legacies,” he said, adding that minorities had faced many problems in the past. “Turkish democracy now gathers in itself every identity.” Turkey has seen a resurgence in its economy following Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recovery plan, and hopes to be debt-free by May 2013.

17th March. A Muslim preacher, Abu-Islam Ahmed Abdullah, has faced charges for ‘defaming Christianity’ in Egypt. The preacher publicly burned a copy of the Bible outside the US Embassy in Egypt and was subsequently referred to the Cairo Criminal Court. Despite laws being in place to protect the rights of the Christian minority in Egypt, they were rarely implemented during the Mubarak era.

Pope Benedict XVI retires, a shock announcement that few saw coming. The Conclave met on 11th March and by the 13th, after five rounds of voting, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the Bishop of Rome and Pope to Roman Catholics, taking the name Francis I.

Elections for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel will be held this year in June. Two Chief Rabbis, (one Ashkenazi, one Sephardi), are elected for 10 year tenures. The current Rabbis are nearing the end of their term and tensions between religious Zionists and ultra-Orthodox factions are already emerging in the race for the top jobs.

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About Joseph Adams

Joseph Adams is a PhD student in religion and theology, with a particular interest in contemporary society, secularisation and religion.