What Are Religious Human Rights?

Nora Connor:  Water cooler talk around The Revealer offices keeps circling back to human rights these days (yes, we are a rock-and-roll lot). As in, what are they? Who gets to say what they are, and when and where? Are they “real” in themselves, out there in reality somewhere, waiting their turn to step forward, or are they a bit more ephemeral?  And why does human rights language often leave us confused?

A November 15th press release from the New York- and D.C.-based NGO Human Rights First neatly illustrates some of these conundrums while flagging a concrete change in legal human rights discourse. A resolution on combating religious intolerance was adopted by a U.N. committee without previously-favored language emphasizing that states are obligated to adopt and enforce laws against the defamation of religions. Continue Reading →

Qu’est qui ce passe en France?

Ashley Baxstrom: What’s up with France?  President Nicolas Sarkozy of France joined President Barack Obama here in New York last week to celebrate the 125th anniversary of France’s gift of the Statue of Liberty to the US. The statue was originally dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886 in recognition of the French-American friendship established during the Revolutionary War.

Both leaders hailed the statue as a symbol of freedom. “It is not simply a statue,” Sarkozy said through a translator. “It is a notion, an idea, an emblem. It is for all people of the world.” But while the French were proud to offer America “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” (full titles, please), they seem to be having more trouble balancing the values of la liberté and l’éclaircissement in their own country. Continue Reading →

Words and Deeds in Malaysia

Malaysia’s Prime Minister talks of tolerance in Rome but doesn’t “walk the talk” back home

by Natasja Sheriff

In a rare meeting in July, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Pope Benedict XVI agreed to establish diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Holy See. It was a historic meeting of national significance for Malaysia, which until this week was one of only 17 countries in the world that had not formed diplomatic ties with the Vatican.

News of the meeting was met with skepticism in Malaysia, where the Prime Minister’s actions so rarely match his words from the international stage. Thanks to Najib, Malaysia has an global reputation for openness and inter-faith dialogue, receiving praise from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for his promotion of moderate Islam.  (See here for comment by Malaysian scholar Farish Noor on the politics of the term ‘moderate.’) In a speech at the United Nations General Assembly last September, Najib urged the international community to embark on a ‘Global Movement of Moderates,’ inviting “all faiths who are committed to work together to combat and marginalize extremists who have held the world hostage with their bigotry and bias.” Some argue that it’s this type of politicking, the international face of Najib, that has contributed to a view of Malaysia that is “idealised (and outdated).”

At home the actions of the Barisan Nasional government appear to tell a different story of racial and religious politics. Relations between the government and Malaysia’s Christian community have rarely been warm, but divisions have deepened during the last 18 months. Early in 2010, a spate of firebomb attacks on churches around the country shocked Malaysians. Continue Reading →

Fashion Faux Pas as Resistant Force in France

Kathryn Montalbano: NiqaBitch, a YouTube video released shortly after France’s September 2010 April 2011 official ban of face-covering head apparel, provides interesting if not deceptively complex social commentary expressed via the most fundamental medium for communication possible: the body itself.  Although the video is set to what commenters call “vulgar” rap music (in English) and is plastered with French subtitles detailing the sometimes humorous dialogue (see below the photograph), undoubtedly observers—both within and of the video—are drawn to the remarkably stark, eye-catching juxtaposition of bare, toned female legs with shrouds that are, in Western minds, meant to hide sexuality.

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Hollywood Gets God (and Tolerance) in Aruba

Jo Piazza: Film festivals are typically places where film executives schmooze amidst the selling of both movies and stars. They are not places where one goes to hear much about god or religion. The G and R words are anathema to Hollywood anyway. The town’s only use for them is in commercially viable blockbusters about exorcisms and/or murderous cults.

That’s why it seemed almost off-putting that the Aruba Film Festival, which spanned this week, would devote an entire day of their festivities to religion and tolerance.

It all began two months ago when festival organizer Giuseppe Cioccarrelli received what he describes as a “very nice” email from a young Israeli producer who made a very low budget film with a joint Israeli and Palestinian crew called “Coffee: Between Reality and Imagination.” Continue Reading →

No Headscarves, No Iranian Team in 2012 Olympics

Kathryn Montalbano: After the debate following last year’s decision by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) to host the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, soccer continues its role in global religio-political contention. Warned in April 2010 that the football “monarchy” would prohibit any religious garb incorporated into athletes’ uniforms, the Iranian team designed tightly-fitting, functional headscarves for the 2012 Olympics.  In a heartbreaking decision for the qualified Iranian team, FIFA said not good enough.  Now the team will not participate.

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Circumcision and Religious Tolerance

Amy Levin: From the 30-year anniversary of the AIDS epidemic, to the Weiner scandal, to the current debate over legality of male circumcision, the public eye is certainly holding its gaze on men’s bodies. While religious discourse undoubtedly has a stake in each of these issues, the surgical removal of men’s foreskin happens to be of particular religious interest.

According to a Sunday article in The New York Times, the November 2011 ballot in San Francisco will feature a proposal to ban circumcision of all male minors. Violation of the crime would result in a $1,000 fine and up to one-year in jail. The proposal comes from anti-circumcision activists, or “intactivists,” and the efforts of a San Diego-based advocacy group called MGMbill.org, which stands for “male genital mutilation.” Yes, the name is meant to play off the term “female genital mutilation,” and the group argues that men deserve the same protection as women under federal law. Many  outspoken advocates of the bill claim that circumcision is a health risk and an “unnecessary medical procedure.” However, while anti-circumcision logic posits the practice as body modification, such rhetoric strips the ritual of its religious significance. Continue Reading →