05/30/14

Meriam determined to stay a Christian, says her husband

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Daniel Wani and Meriam Ibrahimn at their marriage in 2011

Anna Dubuis
Last updated at 1:41PM, May 30 2014

The Christian husband of a Sudanese woman who has been sentenced to hang for marrying him spoke today of his turmoil a day after she gave birth while shackled to the floor of her prison cell.

Daniel Wani, an American citizen, was able to visit his wife, Meriam Ibrahim, 27, in Omdurman women’s prison, near Khartoum, after the arrival of their baby girl, named Maya.

This month Ms Ibrahim was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and death for apostasy, the crime of renouncing Islam. The hanging was postponed for two years to allow her to nurse her baby in the prison together with her one-year-old son, Martin.

Ms Ibrahim, who was born to a Muslim father but brought up as a Christian by her mother, denies the charges.

Mr Wani, 27, said his wife was “frustrated” by her situation but was committed to maintaining that she was Christian.

He told CNN: “There is pressure on her from Muslim religious leaders that she should return to the faith. She said, ‘How can I return when I never was a Muslim? Yes my father was a Muslim, but I was brought up by my mother.’
” I know my wife. She’s committed. Even last week, they brought in sheikhs and she told them, ‘I’m pretty sure I’m not going to change my mind’.”

Their marriage, which took place in 2011, has not been officially recognised, which means that their children are not officially recorded.

“An illegitimate marriage does not result in legally recognised offspring, which means that my son and the new baby are no longer mine,” he said.

As the worldwide outrage at the case intensifies, the couple hope that their lawyers will be able to overturn the court’s ruling.

Mr Wani said: “I’m hoping that, given the way people have come together around the world, which I want to thank them for, all the rights groups, all the broadcasters … it’s looking like it’s had an effect. Perhaps it will result in the judgment being overturned.”

He added: “I’m standing by her to the end. Whatever she wants, I’ll stand by her.”
Ms Ibrahim was arrested after a group of Muslims purporting to be her relatives filed a police report accusing her of disappearing and renouncing her religion.
She was first charged with adultery for marrying a Christian, but when she refused to recant her Christian faith the apostasy charge was added.

Mr Wani said: “These people filed charges claiming that she was their sister and filed a police report saying that she had disappeared.

“The police originally called for the case to be dismissed, but these people went back and added another charge, which is adultery, by saying she was their sister and a Muslim.

“It is illegal for a Muslim woman to marry a Christian man, therefore we were brought before the court.”

05/29/14

Should the pope’s visit to Israel inspire a Jewish ‘Nostra Aetate’?

By the time you read this, the pope will have left Jerusalem. This visit was, in itself, the high-water mark of a remarkable journey: that of a man who embodies hope in the way few people still do in our modern world, and of a Church that took a brutally honest look at itself, in the long shadow of post-Holocaust Rome, and radically transformed its entire attitude to Judaism with the Nostra Aetate document.
Nowhere is it clearer that Nostra Aetate works – really and truly makes a difference – than in how the Catholic Church talks about Israel. While the Church of Scotland entitles their Holy Land politico-epistle, “The inheritance of Abraham?” with that hurtful slap of a question mark, and the director of Greenbelt refers to Israel in a tent full of thousands of Christians as “The land once called holy,” the pope visited Yad Vashem and the refugee camps in the West Bank in the same weekend, literally walking the bridge between contending narratives with pure grace.
The Nostra Aetete states: “The Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed at Jews at anytime and by anyone,” and the Church means it.
Besides the Nostra Aetate, without that act of repentance, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish these modern church diatribes against Israel from the dark, haunting statements of the past. When does the modern call for boycotts of Israel from within such Protestant demonimations ever cease to recall the vitriolic shouts of a Martin Luther writing: “We all can be rid of the unbearable, devilish burden of the Jews, lest we become guilty sharers before God in the lies, blasphemy, the defamation, and the curses which the mad Jews indulge in so freely and wantonly”?
Nostra Aetate, the pope at the Western Wall – these bring me hope.
However, the pope’s trip also saddened me. I’ll try to describe this melancholia by way of a recent exchange I had with my own local Orthodox synagogue in Edgware. On Saturday morning, the synagogue in question was constructing an “open learning seminar” (yes, a frum Limmud) and the rabbi asked me to teach.
“It would be an honor,” I replied, “I’m currently working on a really fascinating study of Jewish midrashim that may actually have their roots in the Koran and the Hadith.”
“That won’t do at all,” the rabbi responded immediately. “There is enough wisdom within our own tradition, we don’t need to look elsewhere.”
Let me remind you that this is no shtieble in Stamford Hill, this is a thriving Modern Orthodox community, with parents that work in the city and kids that learn in the local Jewish day school. Wait a moment, the Jewish day school. That’s another sad story.
During Ramadan last year, I asked my 10-year-old daughter if she was learning about the month of Ramadan. “Rama-what?” she replied. “Muhammad?” I asked, probing a bit further. “Nope.” “How about Buddha?” “No.” “The Hindu Shiva?” Blank stare. I do interfaith for a living; this was not good. The next day, I called up the head teacher and asked for an explanation. She sent me the London Beth Din’s Official Guidelines for Teaching Other World Religions in Jewish Day Schools. Which reads, in part: “Pupils may not learn about the religions underpinnings of non-Jewish faith calendar events. [Which, I guess, means that Christmas is the day for Santa and presents and, you know, not for baby Jesus. The Coca-Cola PR team would be so pleased.] Pupils may not learn about the images to be found within non-Jewish places of worship.”
Finally, the only reason that a Jewish day school might conceivably be able to show the children any non-Jewish holy books was to “teach that many non-Jewish faiths have rather positive and proactive attitudes toward conversion, and the implications for Jews” and to “show their basis [in these holy books] for any anti-Semitic views.”
That is to say, during school hours my daughter will never learn what lies inside a church or mosque, and the only time she could even hope to glimpse the New Testament or the Koran or the Upanishads would be to ferret out the egregious evangelical lines, or worse, the virulent anti-Jewish parts.
Gentle reader, can you now see why I am embittered? In our jobs, our friendships, our hobbies, our tellys and technology, we embrace the world, while with our faith we are training our congregants and our children to inhabit a tiny shtetle of the mind.
And I write this as the pope is praying fervently at the Western Wall: I am left wondering, when will my rabbis come together and write the Jewish Nostra Aetate? When will traditional Orthodox Anglo-Jewry admit that its synagogue doors could open a crack, and its school curricula turn, ever so slightly, toward the wide spectrum of spiritual values that are not our own?
When will my rabbis ever say, like Nostra Aetate articulated nearly 50 years ago, that they regard with “sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she [The Church] holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men”?
The author, a rabbi, is the interfaith and social action consultant to the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

05/28/14

Even the Pope thinks Easter dates are too confusing

James Bone Rome

Published at 12:01AM, May 28 2014

The Pope may change the date of Easter so that Catholics and Orthodox Christians can celebrate Christ’s resurrection on the same day.
The head of the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic church raised the vexed topic in his historic meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians.
On his flight back to Rome, Francis said that the two had discussed whether “something can by done” about the date for Easter. “It is a bit ridiculous: ‘Tell me, when does your Christ rise from the dead?’ ‘Mine will next week.’ ‘Well, mine was resurrected last week’,” Francis observed.
Easter is the holiest festival in Christianity. The fact that it falls on different dates in the Catholic and Orthodox churches is a hugely symbolic obstacle to Christian unity. The Council of Nicaea, called by the Christian emperor Constantine in AD325 in what is now northwestern Turkey, established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. At the time, the Roman world used the imperfect Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 46BC. By the 16th century, the Julian calendar was ten days out of sync with the equinox.
The problem began in 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII instituted a new calendar for the Catholic church, which was adopted by Britain and its American colonies in 1752.
The Eastern Orthodox churches, however, continued to follow the Julian calendar, which is now 13 days out of sync. As a result, Orthodox and Catholic Easter can fall on the same day, as they did this year — or as much as five weeks apart, as last year. Agreeing a single date would be a boon for Christians in the Middle East, where Catholics and Orthodox often live side by side. The Pope noted that even in Rome many Orthodox worshippers used Catholic churches.
In 1997, a meeting of the World Council of Churches at Aleppo, in Syria, discussed a proposal to use the Nicaean formula with the date based on astronomical observation of the moon. Paul Meyendorff, professor of liturgical theology at the St Vladimir’s Orthodox seminary in New York, said that the advantage of the Aleppo proposal was that it was based on neither calendar. “In most years, the Gregorian calendar is correct, although there are a few years where it is a week off,” he said.
With the Russian and other Slavic Orthodox churches still firmly opposed to changing the date of their Easter, he said, the chances of agreement at this stage were “nil”.

05/28/14

Poet Maya Angelou Dies At The Age Of 86

Angelou posted her final tweet on May 23.

“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

Poet Maya Angelou Dies At The Age Of 86
May 28, 2014 9:53 AM

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (CBS Charlotte/AP) — Maya Angelou, a modern Renaissance woman who survived the harshest of childhoods to become a force on stage, screen, the printed page and the inaugural dais, has died. She was 86.

Her death was confirmed in a statement issued by Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she had served as a professor of American Studies since 1982.
Angelou was scheduled to attend the 2014 MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon in Houston, Texas, on May 30 but canceled last week citing “health reasons.”
Angelou also canceled an event last month in Fayetteville, Arkansas, because she was recovering from an “unexpected ailment” that sent her to the hospital.
She did not disclose the nature of her illness.
Angelou posted her final tweet on May 23.
“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

Tall and regal, with a deep, majestic voice, Angelou defied all probability and category, becoming one of the first black women to enjoy mainstream success as an author and thriving in virtually every artistic medium. The young single mother who performed at strip clubs to earn a living later wrote and recited the most popular presidential inaugural poem in history. The childhood victim of rape wrote a million-selling memoir, befriended Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and performed on stages around the world.
An actress, singer and dancer in the 1950s and 1960s, she broke through as an author in 1970 with “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which became standard (and occasionally censored) reading, and was the first of a multipart autobiography that continued through the decades. In 1993, she was a sensation reading her cautiously hopeful “On the Pulse of the Morning” at former President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. Her confident performance openly delighted Clinton and made the poem a best-seller, if not a critical favorite. For former President George W. Bush, she read another poem, “Amazing Peace,” at the 2005 Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the White House.
She remained close enough to the Clintons that in 2008 she supported Hillary Rodham Clinton’s candidacy over the ultimately successful run of the country’s first black president, Barack Obama. But a few days before Obama’s inauguration, she was clearly overjoyed. She told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette she would be watching it on television “somewhere between crying and praying and being grateful and laughing when I see faces I know.”
She was a mentor to Oprah Winfrey, whom she befriended when Winfrey was still a local television reporter, and often appeared on her friend’s talk show program. She mastered several languages and published not just poetry, but advice books, cookbooks and children’s stories. She wrote music, plays and screenplays, received an Emmy nomination for her acting in “Roots,” and never lost her passion for dance, the art she considered closest to poetry.
“The line of the dancer: If you watch (Mikhail) Baryshnikov and you see that line, that’s what the poet tries for. The poet tries for the line, the balance,” she told The Associated Press in 2008, shortly before her birthday.
Her very name as an adult was a reinvention. Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis and raised in Stamps, Ark., and San Francisco, moving back and forth between her parents and her grandmother. She was smart and fresh to the point of danger, packed off by her family to California after sassing a white store clerk in Arkansas. Other times, she didn’t speak at all: At age 7, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend and didn’t speak for years. She learned by reading, and listening.
“I loved the poetry that was sung in the black church: ‘Go down Moses, way down in Egypt’s land,’” she told the AP. “It just seemed to me the most wonderful way of talking. And ‘Deep River.’ Ooh! Even now it can catch me. And then I started reading, really reading, at about 7 1/2, because a woman in my town took me to the library, a black school library. … And I read every book, even if I didn’t understand it.”
At age 9, she was writing poetry. By 17, she was a single mother. In her early 20s, she danced at a strip joint, ran a brothel, was married (to Enistasious Tosh Angelos, her first of three husbands) and then divorced. By her mid-20s, she was performing at the Purple Onion in San Francisco, where she shared billing with another future star, Phyllis Diller. She spent a few days with Billie Holiday, who was kind enough to sing a lullaby to Angelou’s son Guy, surly enough to heckle her off the stage and astute enough to tell her: “You’re going to be famous. But it won’t be for singing.”
After renaming herself Maya Angelou for the stage (“Maya” was a childhood nickname), she toured in “Porgy and Bess” and Jean Genet’s “The Blacks” and danced with Alvin Ailey. She worked as a coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Council, and lived for years in Egypt and Ghana, where she met Malcolm X and remained close to him until his assassination, in 1965. Three years later, she was helping King organize the Poor People’s March in Memphis, Tenn., where the civil rights leader was slain on Angelou’s 40th birthday.
“Every year, on that day, Coretta and I would send each other flowers,” Angelou said of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, who died in 2006.
Angelou was little known outside the theatrical community until “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which might not have happened if James Baldwin hadn’t persuaded Angelou, still grieving over King’s death, to attend a party at Jules Feiffer’s house. Feiffer was so taken by Angelou that he mentioned her to Random House editor Bob Loomis, who persuaded her to write a book.
Angelou’s musical style was clear in a passage about boxing great Joe Louis’s defeat against German fighter Max Schmeling:
“My race groaned. It was our people falling. It was another lynching, yet another Black man hanging on a tree. One more woman ambushed and raped. A Black boy whipped and maimed. It was hounds on the trail of a man running through slimy swamps. … If Joe lost we were back in slavery and beyond help.”
Angelou’s memoir was occasionally attacked, for seemingly opposite reasons. In a 1999 essay in Harper’s, author Francine Prose criticized “Caged Bird” as “manipulative” melodrama. Meanwhile, Angelou’s passages about her rape and teen pregnancy have made it a perennial on the American Library Association’s list of works that draw complaints from parents and educators.
“‘I thought that it was a mild book. There’s no profanity,” Angelou told the AP. “It speaks about surviving, and it really doesn’t make ogres of many people. I was shocked to find there were people who really wanted it banned, and I still believe people who are against the book have never read the book.”
Angelou appeared on several TV programs, notably the groundbreaking 1977 miniseries “Roots.” She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1973 for her appearance in the play “Look Away.” She directed the film “Down in the Delta,” about a drug-wrecked woman who returns to the home of her ancestors in the Mississippi Delta. She won three Grammys for her spoken-word albums and in 2013 received an honorary National Book Award for her contributions to the literary community.
Back in the 1960s, Malcolm X had written to Angelou and praised her for her ability to communicate so directly, with her “feet firmly rooted on the ground. In 2002, Angelou used this gift in an unexpected way when she launched a line of greeting cards with industry giant Hallmark. Angelou admitted she was cool to the idea at first. Then she went to Loomis, her editor at Random House.
“I said, ‘I’m thinking about doing something with Hallmark,’” she recalled. “And he said, ‘You’re the people’s poet. You don’t want to trivialize yourself.’ So I said ‘OK’ and I hung up. And then I thought about it. And I thought, if I’m the people’s poet, then I ought to be in the people’s hands — and I hope in their hearts. So I thought, ‘Hmm, I’ll do it.’”
In North Carolina, she lived in an 18-room house and taught American Studies at Wake Forest University. She was also a member of the Board of Trustees for Bennett College, a private school for black women in Greensboro, N.C. Angelou hosted a weekly satellite radio show for XM’s “Oprah & Friends” channel. She also owned and renovated a townhouse in Harlem, the inside decorated in spectacular primary colors.
Active on the lecture circuit, she gave commencement speeches and addressed academic and corporate events across the country. Angelou received dozens of honorary degrees, and several elementary schools were named for her. As she approached her 80th birthday, she decided to study at the Missouri-based Unity Church, which advocates healing through prayer.
“I was in Miami and my son (Guy Johnson, her only child) was having his 10th operation on his spine. I felt really done in by the work I was doing, people who had expected things of me,” said Angelou, who then recalled a Unity church service she attended in Miami.
“The preacher came out — a young black man, mostly a white church — and he came out and said, ‘I have only one question to ask, and that is, “Why have you decided to limit God?’” And I thought, ‘That’s exactly what I’ve been doing.’ So then he asked me to speak, and I got up and said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.’ And I said it about 50 times, until the audience began saying it with me, ‘Thank you, THANK YOU!’”
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

05/26/14

Muslim groups join in ‘jihad’ to outlaw female mutilation

Muslim groups say the practice is bringing ‘Islam into disrepute’

Richard Pohle/The Times

Muslim groups say the practice is bringing ‘Islam into disrepute’ Richard Pohle/The Times

Katie Gibbons
Published at 12:01AM, May 26 2014

Muslim groups describe the fight against female genital mutilation (FGM) as “our jihad”, and say it is a practice that is “bringing Islam into disrepute”.
Thousands of leaflets will be distributed next month to mosques, community centres and schools, urging Muslims to end an “oppressive and inhumane” custom that has no root in religion.
It is the first time that the Islamic Sharia Council, the Muslim College and the Muslim Council of Britain have come together to condemn FGM, which may affect up to 20,000 British girls.
“FGM is not an Islamic requirement. There is no reference in the Koran that states girl must be circumcised,” the leaflet says. “FGM is bringing the religion of Islam into disrepute.”
The message follows a statement released by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Britain, calling for an end to “the oppressive cultural practice that has no place in the civilised world”.
Farooq Aftab, from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association UK, said that the reaction had been positive, particularly with groups of young men.
“FGM is an oppressive and inhumane cultural practice, there is no place for it in the civilised world,” said Mr Aftab. “It’s got nothing to do with religion and is not condoned by Islam. We want to remove that misconception.
“This is the challenge we face. It is our jihad. All the moderate voices, the correct voices of Islam, have to come out. We need to take a stand. We need to tell people to correct their understanding of what Islam is. This is what jihad is, the struggle to fight against these atrocities. We are fighting to correct the perception of Islam.”
He added: “We are educating the youth. Young men find it extremely concerning and worrying that people are doing this. A lot of them are very angry and upset that it’s been done in the name of Islam.”
Mr Aftab said that social media has been extremely useful for spreading the message that FGM is an “un-Islamic atrocity”.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been distributing leaflets, headed “FGM — not in the name of Islam” to men, women and young people who attend their mosques. The group is also running question-and-answer sessions at community centres and conducting a survey of the Ahmadiyya community, who live in 204 countries worldwide, to gauge their perceptions and understanding of FGM.
The community was founded in India by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1889 and has millions of members who believe in the five pillars of Islam and that Ahmad was the Messiah personified. Ahmadiyya Muslims reject any “jihad of the sword” and instead promote a “jihad of the pen”, they say.
Mr Aftab said: “It is very important that the men are involved, because you can’t isolate them to deal with this. Our women are fully included in our activities and they have an opinion and a voice. That’s the difference between us and other Muslims.”

05/22/14

Desire for church unity opens way for gay clergy

Times Newspapers Ltd

Mike Wade
Last updated at 12:01AM, May 22 2014

An historic proposal has been passed by the highest court of the Church of Scotland paving the way for the ordination of gay ministers.
Commissioners at the General Assembly in Edinburgh voted by 369 to 189 to approve what has become known as a “mixed economy” in the church, enabling individual congregations to appoint a minister who is in a civil partnership, and opt out of traditional church teaching which is opposed to same-sex relationships. The vote, the fourth in the last six years, showed a widening gap between hard-line traditionalists opposed to same-sex relationships, and the more tolerant body of the kirk. The Right Rev John Chalmers, the Moderator, said the trend showed a growing desire for unity.
“It is clear that the way in which this compromise is framed that it is agree-able to more evangelicals now,” said Mr Chalmers. “I think this time evangelicals have become part of the group who are looking for peace and unity in the church, setting this matter aside for long enough for us to focus on other important issues.” So far 13 congregations have left the Church of Scotland over the issue of the ordination of gay ministers. Senior figures in the church believe another six may leave before the turn of the year, with perhaps a further 20 ministers quitting the church.
These relatively low numbers, should they come to pass, would represent a victory for those who have fought for unity in the church. Under the terms of the Barrier Act, which comes into play when changes of fundamental doctrine are proposed, the legislation must be ratified over the next year by a majority of 46 presbyteries before it is put to final vote at the 2015 assembly.
A compromise could still cause problems, the General Assembly was told. Under the Equality Act of 2010 it could face a challenge in the civil courts if an individual in a same-sex relationship was not inducted as a minister or deacon and claimed that he or she had suffered discrimination.
The church’s legal questions committee reported: “So far, neither the European nor the UK courts have had to consider whether a church operating a mixed economy is discriminating illegally. Until the law develops further, we cannot be certain what the outcome of a challenge would be. The level of risk is sufficiently low that it should not deter the church from coming to its decision on theological grounds.”
It was an issue picked up by the Rev Jeremy Middleton, the evangelical minister of Davidson’s Mains, who proposed a counter motion.
“If I am setting out on the sea, I want to know the boat is watertight,” he said. “A piece of [church] legislation that is essentially permissive could well be trumped by discrimination legislation.”
However, the core of Mr Middleton’s argument and of the succession of evangelical speakers who followed him, was the passionate belief that same-sex relationships are “unbiblical”.
The Rev Steven Reid said: “Scripture ceased to be supreme if you give in to 21st-century opinion.”
In an emotional intervention, the Rev Hector Morrison said he had witnessed Stornoway High Church’s recent departure from the kirk because of opposition to the induction of gay ministers. “The Bible speaks with only one voice,” he said. “It says ‘no’ [to same-sex relationships].”
These views were opposed with equal passion.
“God accepts that LGBT people are bringing blessings to our church,” said the Rev Bryan Kerr.
The Rev David Easton, a Methodist commissioner, doubted that Mr Middleton could see the truth of scripture with the level of clarity he had claimed.
“I wonder if clarity is at the heart of scripture. It says in scripture, ‘Now we see through a glass darkly’. We have to live with dark glasses, with provisionality. It is at the heart of scripture, at the heart of what it means to be a human being, made in the image of God.”
Earlier, Roseanna Cunningham, the minister for community safety and legal affairs, responded to the Rt Rev Lorna Hood, the 2013 moderator, who said that the independence white paper contained just a single line about religion and appeared to promote an entirely secular constitution.
At the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, Ms Cunningham said the government would engage with faith groups. A constitution would enshrine “fundamental rights, including liberty, the right to a fair trial, freedom of speech and association, conscience and religions”, she said.
05/21/14

‘Honor Diaries’ puts women’s rights on the big screen.

A very honorable film

05/15/2014 14:55   By HANNAH BROWN

‘Honor Diaries’ puts women’s rights on the big screen.

Paula Kweskin

‘Women’s rights should always take center stage,” says Paula Kweskin, a human rights activist and lawyer who produced and wrote the film Honor Diaries.

The film – which exposes, sometimes in horrifying detail, the abuses perpetrated against women in the name of family honor all over the world – was recently screened in Jerusalem and is available on iTunes.

Kweskin, who immigrated to Israel from North Carolina a few years ago and is studying for a master’s in law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, got the idea for the film during the tumult of the Arab Spring. “All the revolutions – in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other countries, women were among the first to go out and start protesting for change in their countries. I thought it might be a watershed moment for women and women’s rights. I thought they might use this moment to shake off the patriarchal systems.”

She was disappointed when the reverse turned out to be true. “In Egypt, for example, before the revolution, 12 percent of the politicians were women. After the revolution, it was 2 percent.”

Although she continued to work as a researcher, the negative trends in almost every area of the issues that affected women disturbed her.

“I spoke to a lot of women. The issue was taking different forms. But there were a lot of events that were pointing to an overarching theme – the honor system, where men punish women for acts that the men see as dishonoring their family or their community.”

She cites perhaps the most famous example: schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen whom the Taliban shot because she spoke out for the rights of girls to get an education.

“They tried to kill her because they think it’s not appropriate for a girl to get an education,” says Kweskin. “This case drew worldwide outrage, but it’s not an isolated incident, it’s part of a systemic effort to silence women and make them less powerful. There were a lot of events that pointed to an overarching theme, which I would argue is the honor system.”

Much of the work that Kweskin and the Honor Diaries team have done is to consolidate masses of statistics on violence (including female genital mutilation), and coercion of women across many countries and cultures.

“The statistics are incredibly alarming,” she says. She defines honor violence as “violence against women who are accused of dishonoring their family,” but notes that this violence can take many forms.

According to the UN, over 5,000 honor killings are reported each year, although Kweskin points out that experts feel the actual number may be considerably higher, especially in rural areas that have little law enforcement.

Another aspect of this violence is forced marriages, especially of children.

Among the many worrisome findings is that 60 million girls have been forced to become child brides, according to the UN. Also according to the UN, 6,000 girls and women suffer genital mutilation every day.

Kweskin and the activists in the film emphasize that this violence is often perpetrated with tacit or actual government approval. In some countries, it is actually legal, while in others, it is technically illegal but authorities do not make serious attempts to prosecute the offenders.

“There’s a law up for discussion in Iraq that would severely limit the way a woman could advocate for herself,” says Kweskin. “Women’s rights are being pushed backward in Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt and other places.”

She says that her personal motto, and one that many of the interviewees in the film paraphrase, is “Louis Brandeis’s saying, ‘Sunshine is the best disinfectant.’”

Another troubling fact that comes up in Honor Diaries is that this kind of violence against women is not limited to Third World countries.

According to the BBC, there are 3,000 honor attacks (which do not necessarily lead to death) in the UK each year, and these crimes occur in the US as well.

For Kweskin, uncovering all these facts was a wakeup call. “I was young in my career and doing human rights work and feeling discouraged. I’d write these reports and feel that they were just landing in some UN post office box in Geneva and that nothing would happen with them.”

As she amassed this data on human-rights abuses, she began thinking of a new way to get these facts to the public. “I realized that film is an amazing medium through which to effect change. It’s got images plus music, which really reaches and moves people. Plus it would be a way for people not just to learn about the abuses, but to meet the activists who are fighting for women.”

So, still inspired by the Arab Spring, she began seeking out women’s rights activists all over the world. “I went on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs from all over the world, and I started getting in touch with the activists through the Internet.”

Since these activists had already put themselves in the public eye – a risky move that earned them death threats – they were eager to speak to Kweskin.

While it might sound incredibly bleak to watch women activists speaking about honor-based violence, the women she chose to put on camera are extraordinary in every sense of the world. While much of the movie consists of interviews with them or a filmed discussion among them, they are the most vibrant and charismatic talking heads ever captured on film, defying all stereotypes.

One of the first of the many extraordinary women she contacted was Jasvinder Sanghera. A survivor of a forced marriage from a religious Sikh family, she is an author and the founder and CEO of Karma Nirvana – a UK-based helpline to support victims of forced marriage and honor-based domestic violence.

Among the other activists whom Kweskin approached – and who participated in a salon in which they discussed the issues together – were Pakistan- born Raheel Raza, a Canadian-based women’s rights activist and author (her book is called Their Jihad… Not My Jihad), as well as the president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow; Raquel Saraswati, a Muslim-American women’s rights activist; Fahima Hashim, director of the Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre in Sudan; and Nazanin Afshim-Jam, the Iranian born, Canada-based president and co-founder of Stop Child Executions, who is also an author and former Miss World Canada.

Honor Diaries presents these women not only as advocates, but as people. We get to see Saraswati praying and adjusting her hijab, and Raza walking with her husband and talking to her grown sons, who are understandably worried about her safety.

Experts are also interviewed in the film, among them Dr. Qanta Ahmed – a US-based physician and author of In the Land of Invisible Women, which recounts her experiences as a doctor in Saudi Arabia. She attended the screening of Honor Diaries in Jerusalem as the keynote speaker. Other experts who participated in the film were Ayaan Hirsi Ali – the Somali-born Dutch human-rights activist and former Dutch Parliament member who founded the AHA Foundation to safeguard women’s rights – and Sherizaan Minwalla, the former director of legal and social services for the Tahirih Justice Center.

“I thought there would be a disconnect because we come from different backgrounds and cultures, but I feel very close to them and admire them,” says Kweskin. Even after all the time they have worked together, “I still put them on a pedestal,” she admits.

While she notes that there are women’s rights issues in Israel – such as the divorce laws that give men disproportionate power, and the routine harassment of women who do not follow ultra-Orthodox norms of dress in some neighborhoods – she feels it is important to keep the problems in perspective.

“There is an engagement of public debate on these issues here,” she notes. “For every example in which it seems a woman is being oppressed, there is an example of a woman in the forefront of public life. We have to approach women’s rights problems with nuance, otherwise we lose the forest for the trees.”

It’s important to her that many of the activists in the film are Muslim, both secular and religiously observant. While the vast majority of the honor violence that the activists criticize takes place in Muslim society, Kweskin is adamant that the film is not anti-Muslim.

“Most of the activists in the film are Muslim,” she says, pointing out that their involvement shows a different face of Islam.

To her dismay, she has found that “people [in the West] sometimes look the other way for fear of being politically incorrect, culturally insensitive or whatever the word might be.”

But she and the women in Honor Diaries see it differently.

“We’re talking about murdering women because they’re not behaving or dressing a certain way or have a Facebook account or look at a boy,” she says. “We really can’t bury our heads in the sand when it comes to human rights abuses.”

For more information on the film or to host a screening: www.honordiaries.com.

05/19/14

Pope Francis declines armored limousine for Middle East trip

May 2014

Jerusalem Post•

By Reuters and Jerusalem Post staff

Pope Francis will not avail himself of bullet-proof vehicles during his three day trip to the Middle East and insisted on using normal cars to allow him to be as close as possible to the people, the Vatican said on Thursday.
“The pope wants an open pope- mobile and a normal car. The local security official took the desire of the pope into consideration,” said chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.
“I don’t think there was too much discussion about that,” he said, hinting that local security officials had suggested the use of bulletproof vehicles but were over-ruled.
Francis’ predecessors were driven in bulletproof limousines on their trips, whether just around Rome or abroad. Heads of state visiting the Middle East tend to use bulletproof cars.
Francis instead uses a blue Ford Focus in Rome – and at his own request, during his trip to Brazil last July was driven around Rio de Janeiro in a small silver Fiat.
Lombardi also said the Vatican was not overly concerned by threats to Christians scrawled by suspected Jewish extremists on church property in the Holy Land.
The decision is however expected to further complicate security arrangements for the pontiff’s trip, causing the closure of more roads and requiring a greater distance to be kept from the pope’s motorcade.
Police Chief Yohanan Danino on Sunday met with the Vatican’s ambassador to Israel, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, to discuss security preparations. More than 8,000 officers will be involved in security details, with a wide range of operational units involved.
Separately, a group of Christians in Jerusalem wrote to Lazzarotto, saying that Israeli security forces were trying to deny them their “legitimate right” to greet their spiritual leader.
Agenzia Fides, a Christian missionary information service said that Jerusalem Catholics recently sent a letter to Lazzarotto, the apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, in advance of the pope’s pilgrimage to the capital.
According to Fides, the initiative to write to Lazzarotto was launched by members of the Latin parish of St. Savior in the Old City of Jerusalem. The letter claims that Israeli security will hinder meeting the pope in Jerusalem, and “attempts by the Israeli occupation to impose a curfew on the streets, including the Christian Quarter, during the visit is yet another attempt by the occupying power to deny our existence.”
The letter writers refer to themselves as the “indigenous Jerusalem population and descendants of the first Christians.”
“It is unacceptable for the Pope to pass along the narrow streets of the Christian quarter, yet find [it] devoid of any signs of life and the faithful,” the letter reads.

05/19/14

Italian women appeal to Pope Francis to end priests’ celibacy vow

Group of 26 Italian women who state they are in loving relationships with priests call on Pope Francis to end ban on priests having sex
Pope Francis

Pope Francis has previously supported the tradition of celibacy, but has suggested his position might waiver

By Tom Kington

in Rome 6:02PM BST 18 May 2014

A group of 26 Italian women who claim to be having affairs with Catholic priests have written a joint letter to Pope Francis begging him to end the Catholic Church’s ban on priests having sex and getting married.
The women, who met through a Facebook campaign, wrote to the Pope requesting a meeting to put forward their case, claiming they were just “a small sample” of the many partners of priests “living in silence”.
“We love these men, they love us, and in most cases, despite all efforts to renounce it, one cannot manage to give up such a solid and beautiful bond,” they wrote.
“We humbly place our suffering at your feet in the hope that something may change, not just for us, but for the good of the entire Church,” added the unnamed women in the letter that was first reported by the website Vatican Insider.
Debate is growing on the merits of ordering priests to abstain from sex and marriage, which is designed to allow nothing interfere with their close relationship with God.
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Some 6,000 parish priests who have left the priesthood to wed now live in Italy, compared to a total of 33,000 parish priests currently in service.
Pope Francis has previously supported the tradition of celibacy, but has suggested his position might waiver..
“For now, I am in favour of maintaining celibacy, with all the pros and cons that come with it, because in ten centuries there have been more positive experiences than errors,” he was quoted saying in 2010, before he became Pope, in the book, On Heaven and Earth.
Pope Francis has revealed he had a girlfriend in Argentina as a young man before choosing to become a priest.
He has argued that celibacy is more Church tradition than hard and fast dogma, pointing out that up until 1100, some priests choose it while others did not.
And he suggested exceptions might be made, writing: “If, for the sake of argument, western Catholicism reviewed the celibacy question I think it would do so for cultural reasons (as in the East), not so much as a universal option.” “It is a question of discipline, not faith. It can be changed.” But he added: “Personally I never considered marrying.”
In their letter, the women said they wished to come out in the open and support their partners “in their calling, which is strengthened by the vital force of love they discovered with us”.
Turning to their own plight, the women wrote that “very little is known about the devastating suffering of a woman who is deeply in love with a priest”.
The options priests in love faced were ending the relationship – often leaving both partners “scarred for life”, leaving the Church, or carrying on in secret, the women wrote.
That, they said “involves living one’s life in a constant state of hiding, frustrated by an incomplete love, with no hope of childbearing; a love that cannot see the light of day”.
In one example supporting the anti-celibacy campaigners a prior at a Cistercian abbey near Milan has told how he was advised by his fellow monks to keep an affair he was having under wraps when he revealed he was in love with a woman.
“Do what you want, but keep it hidden,” Father Alberto Stucchi said he was advised, according to the Italian newspaper La Stampa.
Father Stucchi decided to leave the order, before his new-found partner died of bone cancer.