Friday, 12 November 2010

Is Shopping a Sin?

What could be more mundane or less religious than shopping? Yet shopping asks us to choose our values and weigh the good in everyday terms. It also brings us instantly in contact with the myriad relationships and labor of people all over the world who have grown, harvested, or crafted the food, clothes, and other items with which we sustain and adorn our lives.

Michelle Gonzalez, whose work on spirituality has lifted up the life practices of Latina women, explores the rich material on economic activity and relationships in the Christian tradition and the larger pertinence of our actions in an era of globalized economic interconnection. Shopping focuses on the practice of shopping and its relationship to Christian spirituality and asks: How do Christian justice and solidarity play a role in how we value and spend our money? Can shopping be a Christian act? Can it be a sinful one?

Professor Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado earned her Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Her research and teaching interests includes Latino/a, Latin American, and Feminist Theologies, as well as inter-disciplinary work in Afro-Caribbean Studies. She is the author of Sor Juana: Beauty and Justice in the Americas (Orbis, 2003); Afro-Cuban Theology: Religion, Race, Culture, and Identity (University Press of Florida, 2006), Created in God’s Image: An Introduction to Feminist Theological Anthropology (Orbis, 2007), and the co-author of Caribbean Religious History: An Introduction (New York University Press, 2010).

"Winsomely weaving together cultural analysis, Christian scriptures, Saint Augustine, Catholic social teaching, and theological construction, Michelle Gonzalez's Shopping fashions a delightful tapestry illuminating the borderlands between temptation and tradition, wants and needs. Her incarnational theology refuses an easy Puritanical anti-materialism and suggests a practical reverence for life that can help readers keep shopping-for all its quotidian joys-in its proper place." --Jon Paul, Professor History of Christianity in North America. Author of Shopping Malls and other Sacred Spaces: Putting God in Place.

"Gonzalez not only provides some welcome remedies for the never-ending spiritualization of Christianity and the economy, she also proposes concrete steps for a new relation to the material world and even another materialism. This is where our work now begins." --Joerg Rieger, Wendland-Cook Professor of Constructivce Theology

Vatican delgates visit Shiite leaders in Qom

Payvand Iran News

Vatican delegates visited Iranian Shiite leaders in Qom yesterday as part of the three day discussion on religion and society in Iran. Ten Vatican representatives met with Ayatollahs Javadi Amoli, Makarem Shirazi and Yazdi in the holy city of Qom, Mehr News Agency reports.

Ayatollah Javadi Amoli told the gathering that oppression is "Haraam" (unlawful in religious terms) and added: "We expect the scholarly figures of Christianity and especially the Pope to condemn oppressive acts which predominantly originate from the US."

Javadi Amoli went on to stress that "religion is the only force that can direct the society." Regarding "silence in face of oppression", the senior cleric added: "These people become silent because they do not have a source. Human rights are not scientific rights, that is, if you present it to a philosopher or scholar, they will not accept it because no one can take ownership of it."

Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi lauded the efforts in creating dialogue amongst religions and said "world peace, peaceful co-existence and avoiding violence" is the common denominator amongst all religions.

Ayatollah Yazdi, deputy chief of Iran's Assembly of Experts, discussed the topic of separation of religion and politics with the delegation and stressed that Islam differs with other religions in that it does not distinguish between religion and politics.

He said: "If religion has no politics, it will be confined to the mosque or the church. But in addition to worship, religion must also attend to the social concerns of people."

Ayatollah Yazdi went on to say: "Commitment to Islam is one of the main criteria for choosing managers and directors in Iran for otherwise they cannot fulfil their responsibilities successfully."

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran responded to Ayatollah Yazdi saying: "We differ on this respect. You see no separation between religion and politics but we consider them to be completely separate."

Cardinal Tauran added: "While religion and politics are completely independent for us, they do cooperate with each other. As religious leaders, our responsibility is to teach people to act religiously when they take on political responsibility."

This is the seventh meeting between the representatives of both sides. This year's meeting was organized by the Islamic Culture and Relation Organization around the topic of "Religion and Society: Christian and Muslim perspectives."

Taboo and rape in Egypt

10/28/2010 11:55
Published in The Jerusalem Post

Reporting rape anywhere is difficult but in Egypt’s conservative culture, women keep quiet rather than risk arousing blame or humiliation.

A WOMAN, COVERED head-to-toe in a black veil, appeared on Egyptian television this summer to drop a bombshell: two policemen, she said, had raped her.

It’s unclear if she normally wears the niqab, the face veil, or if it served to protect her anonymity. But there was no doubt that her allegation served as a sledgehammer to strike two of Egypt’s sorest spots of late: sexual assault and police brutality.

The latter has been the subject of outcry and unprecedented protest since Khaled Said, a young businessman, died on June 6 from what his family and witnesses say was a police beating. Two plainclothes police officers went on trial on July 27, charged with illegal arrest and excessive force.

Standing up to the police in a country that’s been under emergency law for 29 years comes with considerable risk. Said’s family says he was targeted after posting an online video allegedly showing police sharing the profit of a drug bust.

Reporting rape anywhere is difficult but in Egypt’s conservative culture, women keep quiet rather than risk arousing blame or humiliation, and at times rape again at a police station. In some cases, they risk being killed by a relative to rid the family of shame.

“I am sacrificing my reputation by telling the story... to protect every girl, every woman who may trust a police van. I tell them now, if you see a police van, you must be very careful,” she said. “I want the officials to know what policemen do to the people. Even now, I still can’t believe or comprehend that these were policemen.”

Her lawyer told the TV station a police investigation had recognized that the rape took place but didn’t identify the attackers as policemen. It’s unclear how her case has proceeded. Assailants in rape cases face sentences ranging from three years to life imprisonment. Marital rape is not illegal in Egypt.

Some 20,000 rapes are reported in Egypt each year, according to a state-run research center. But that figure is said to represent just 10 percent of the total number of victims. When I was a reporter in Cairo, psychiatrists were my source for information on sexual assaults. They are the ones rape survivors went to for help to cope.

Sexual assaults have been surfacing for a while, often with a background of police ineptitude or compliance. In 2005, hundreds of Egyptians staged an angry protest against the sexual harassment and assault of female activists and reporters by suspected government supporters. The women said police and security forces stood by, some shouting orders during the assaults.

Sexual assaults in downtown Cairo during a religious festival in 2006 forced Egypt to confront the consequences of its unchecked sexual harassment. Women said police did nothing as men tore off their clothes and headscarves, groping them and in some cases trying to rape them during the festival. The Interior Ministry denied the assaults even took place.

Bloggers at the scene posted photographs and videos of the assaults, pushing them onto the headlines and forcing a long-overdue reckoning. A number of draft laws dealing with sexual harassment are under consideration by Parliament but there is still nothing on Egypt’s statute books that specifically prohibits street harassment.

Later this year, a volunteer-run private venture, HarassMap, will be launched that will allow women to report street sexual harassment by sending an SMS to a centralized computer. They will receive a reply offering support and practical advice, and the reports will be used to build up a detailed and publicly available map of harassment hot spots that activists hope will shame authorities into taking greater action.

Attitudes toward rape across the Arab world generally are abysmal. The stigma – and often the law – is much harsher on the woman than on the rapist.

Two cases notorious for their miscarriage of justice clearly illustrate why most women who are raped keep quiet. In 2007, a Saudi woman who reported being gang-raped was sentenced to 200 lashes and imprisonment for being alone with a man. After an international outcry, the Saudi king pardoned her.

In June, a court in Abu Dhabi sentenced an 18-year-old Emirati woman to a year in prison for illicit sex after she reported that six men had gang-raped her. The court said that by agreeing to go for a drive with a male friend, a 19-year-old military police officer, she had consented to having sex with him.

The woman in niqab on Egyptian television understood the magnitude of what she was doing. Her tearful TV segment, which has gone viral on YouTube, stands to become as iconic as the harrowing footage in 2006 of policemen sodomizing bus driver Emad Kabir with a stick. Two bloggers posted that footage and two of the policemen were sentenced to three years in jail. Kabir’s testimony helped break the taboo around male rape in police custody.

The woman in niqab is helping break a taboo too, but neither she nor Egypt is ready for her to do so as publicly as Kabir, whose name we know and whose face was clearly visible as he screamed in pain in the footage of his rape.

All we know of the woman in niqab is that she is a grandmother.

She told that to the police she accuses of raping her as she pleaded with them to sto

Finding the jokes in jihad

November 12, 2010
Michael Phillips Movie critic

A nervy jihadist version of "The Office," the British comedy "Four Lions" asserts the right of hit-and-run satirists to go too far. The film chronicles the petty, unstable group dynamics among a hapless terrorist cell of Islamic extremists located in Dorcaster, not far from Sheffield, England.

Material like this can hit its expiration date in a flash: All audiences need is one successful terrorist attack too close to home (we've had a few near-misses lately), and the film's comic targets suddenly strike some people as offensive. Whatever. (That's the value of "Due Date": It's offensive, but not in any time-sensitive or funny way.) "Four Lions" became a considerable success last year in England, where co-writer and director Chris Morris has a following. I think it's appalling in all the right ways. While its lingering aftertaste of ashes in the mouth is unmistakable, I'd argue that the subject warrants it.

If you saw and liked "In the Loop" (based on the British TV series "The Thick of It") the visual approach will be familiar here. "Four Lions" begins with Omar (Riz Ahmed), the sanest and most skeptical of the would-be terrorists, at home watching a homemade video ("the outtakes," he explains to his wife and son, "the bloopers"). He's about to get the call to travel to Pakistan and endure the rigors of a training camp, before returning to England for something big.

His comrades don't give him much confidence. There's Waj, whose devotion to Islamic extremism extends to the study of children's picture books (one is called "The Cat Who Went to Mecca"). The group's most insecure and overbearing live wire is an Anglo convert (Nigel Lindsay) whose anger is multidirectional. Counterintuitively he's plotting to bomb the local mosque. That, he reasons, will "radicalize the moderates" and begin the revolution. "Islam is cracking up," he bemoans. "We got women talking back. We got people playing stringed instruments. It's the End of Days!"

It is, and it isn't. As the rad four (plus one) progresses down a winding, dangerous road toward jihad, generally to self-injurious or worse results, "Four Lions" pushes its luck every which way. Director Morris gets away with murder, and the visual comic possibilities inherent in inept suicide bombings, simply by not treating these clowns either as pure caricature or with conventional empathy, but a droll combination thereof. When the terrorists (dressed variously as mutant ninja turtles and massive chickens) attempt to disrupt a fund-raising marathon, you may feel the joke has gone on a bit long. But it's a miracle Morris and fellow writers Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain sustain it as long as they do. Their onscreen ensemble of fervent dolts couldn't be better.