‘Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was elected in a surprise choice to be the new leader of the troubled Roman Catholic Church, taking the name Francis I and becoming the first non-European pontiff in nearly 1,300 years. (13 Mar ch 2013)’.
‘The first Latin American pope, Argentina’s Jorge Bergoglio is a moderate known for his strong negotiating skills as well as a readiness to challenge powerful interests’.
The first non-European Pope may have been born on the other side of the world, in South America, but his heritage is still resolutely European and white . . . still he seems to be quite different from his two staunchly conservative predecessors, John Paul and Benedict. The BBC gives this short press review: ‘The first non-European leader of the Catholic Church for 1,300 years is pictured on most front pages, waving to the thousands of people gathered in St Peter’s Square. “Pope Francis the humble” is the main headline in the Daily Telegraph, which says he appeared “as surprised as anyone” by his election. The paper describes him as the “antithesis of Vatican pomp”, highlighting that he is “a man known for catching the bus and eschewing the luxuries of high office”. For the Independent, he’s an “inspired and original choice” and a signal that “change has come” to the Catholic Church. The Sun says that when Pope Benedict announced it was time for a younger man, “few imagined his replacement would be 76″, but the paper reckons Francis has “energy and charisma”. The Guardian welcomes an “extraordinary leap” from the conservatism of the last two papacies, and a “decisive shift in the church’s centre of gravity”. The Daily Mail asks simply whether he can “clean up his troubled Church?”. The Times believes the new leader of the Catholic Church gives “every indication of inspiring admiration, even devotion, as well as respect”. But it goes on to add that the Argentine is “not untainted by controversy”. The Sun reports, bluntly, that “Pope Francis wants Britain to hand back the Falklands”. The former Archbishop of Buenos Aires has said previously that the islands were “usurped” by Britain, and in 2010 he insisted the Falklands “are ours”. Several papers also report that he’s been accused of complicity in the kidnapping of two liberal Jesuit priests by Argentina’s military junta, during the so-called dirty war. He has denied the allegations, and insists he helped many dissidents during the dictatorship’.
Abby Martin does what she does best, dig up some historical fact to then spin the rhetorical wheel out of proportion: ‘Abby Martin takes a look back at the 1993 Waco massacre, the tactics used by federal agents and the subsequent cover up that remains to this day (15 Feb 2013)’.
‘Benedict XVI always cast himself as the reluctant pope, a shy bookworm who preferred solitary walks in the Alps to the public glare and the majesty of Vatican pageantry. But once in office, he never shied from charting the Catholic Church on the course he thought it needed — a determination reflected in his stunning announcement Monday that he would be the first pope to resign since 1415 (12 Feb 2013)’.
‘Russell and Keryn talk about the meaning of life as it relates to atheism.
The Atheist Experience is a weekly cable access television show in Austin, Texas geared at a non-atheist audience. The Atheist Experience is produced by the Atheist Community of Austin. The Atheist Community of Austin is organized as a nonprofit educational corporation to develop and support the atheist community, to provide opportunities for socializing and friendship, to promote secular viewpoints, to encourage positive atheist culture, to defend the first amendment principle of state-church separation, to oppose discrimination against atheists and to work with other organizations in pursuit of common goals (29 May 2011)’.
Last May I posted an entry on Fazıl Say and his tweets, and now, at long last, there seems to be some movement in his case, as related by Veli Şirin, the Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism in Germany: “Say appeared in an Istanbul court on October 18 and was charged with hate speech and insulting religion for Twitter messages mocking the conduct and beliefs of Islamic fundamentalists. He faces a potential sentence of 18 months in prison. In one tweet, he commented on a muezzin, who calls Muslims to prayer, for his hurried style. In traditional Islam, the call to prayer, or ezan, is supposed to be delivered melodiously; muezzins from different mosques compete to see who can recite it in the most extended and pleasing tones (even though it is now usually played on speakers from a sound recording at the top of a minaret, rather than being rendered by a live person [as an aside, let me point out that since the mid-1990’s, the call to prayer is once again delivered live in most cases, but not from the top of a minaret rather from terra firma into a handy microphone]). A Muslim adage says that a discordant call to prayer or an ugly mosque is against religion. But following the example of the Saudi Wahhabi sect, fundamentalist muezzins now read out the call to prayer in a brusque manner resembling that of a grumpy public transit driver announcing a series of stops”.
The pianist appeared on CNN Türk‘s programme Aykırı Sorular (‘Contrary Questions’), presented by Enver Aysever, and pronounced the following choice words: “Is the government now going to determine if a man believes in Allah or not?”, adding “they want me to believe in Allah by condemning me to one year and a half of prison time”.  The above-quoted Şirin, not coincidentally writing on the website of the neoconservative and right-wing Gatestone Institute, gives the following verdict: “The case of Fazil Say exposes the falsity of the modern and democratic image of Turkey that the Erdogan government is trying to project to the world. Free speech is limited to members of the political elite – except for criticism of religion, which is prohibited even to them. As the influential journalist Semih Idiz wrote in the leading Turkish daily Hürriyet on October 23, the case against Fazil Say “has nothing to do with ‘justice’ in the objective sense of the word . . . Say has become a nemesis for most Justice and Development Party (AKP) followers and religious conservatives, who would be more than happy to see him receive a prison sentence, regardless of what this does to Turkey’s image abroad. As for his ‘virtuosity’ and ‘international fame’ these mean little for a large proportion of the conservative Turkish public, which has no appreciation of Western classical music – or any form of Western high culture – anyway.” Idiz expressed his doubt that the outcome of the Fazil Say case will demonstrate that the current Turkish government has a positive commitment to freedom of speech”. And the pianist himself laconically remarked “The whole world is laughing at Turkey, just look at this court case I am involved in”.
 Veli Şirin, “Turkey: Fazil Say, Composer, Charged with Blasphemy for Tweets”.
 “Say: Hapisle Allah’a inanmamı istiyorlar”.
RT gained exclusive access to the Syrian President, who continues to run the country from Damascus in defiance of foreign calls to step down. Bashar al-Assad slammed those calls from abroad for him to go, and warned against outside intervention in Syria. RT talks to Sophie Shevardnadze who interviewed the embattled leader in his capital. Watch the full interview with President Assad on Friday! (8 November 2012).
The police protection provided for journalists proves that a physical threat is taken seriously. In this story, offended Muslims are thought to pose a potential danger to French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo. It prizes freedom of expression to an extent many consider extreme. In its turn, Charlie attacks what it considers extreme, and always has. No subject is untouchable, certainly not religion, not even the Prophet Mohammed. Those at the paper don’t see it as inciting hatred, but as pushing thinking beyond conformism. The publishing director Charb (Stephane Charbonnier) said: “What? We can’t lampoon Mohammed in France? Yes we can. We can caricature everyone in France. I don’t hold it against a Muslim for not laughing at our drawings, but he’s not going to tell us what law we have to follow. I live under French law. I don’t live under the law of the Koran.” The team at Charlie Hebdo has a history of not backing down, with a mantra that says no one’s going to do their thinking for them. Charb said: “It’s plain to see that the sole subject that poses a problem is radical Islam. When we attack the Catholic extreme right, very strongly, no one talks about it in the papers. But we’re not allowed to laugh about Muslim fundamentalists. Well, there’s a new rule that will have to be written up, but we won’t respect it.” Charlie won’t be bullied. Last year someone burned the offices with a Molotov cocktail and its website was hacked as it was preparing an issue commenting on the Islamist electoral victory in Tunisia, an issue headed ‘Sharia Hebdo’. Even veterans of left politics in Europe have said the satirists are masochists, pushing as hard as they do. The paper started out called ‘Hara-Kiri’. It was shut down by the Interior Minister in 1970, a few days after a fire in a disco had claimed more than 140 lives. Then the father of the Fourth Republic, General de Gaulle passed away in his home, and it ran the headline: ‘Tragic dance in Colombey – one dead.’ It came back from the ban, borrowing the leader’s first name in its new masthead – or was that just a coincidence? As British parallels to this approach to the sacred we can perhaps cite Monty Python or Private Eye. Only lack of readers put Charlie Hebdo out of business for a decade. Resurrected in 1992, it put the boot into all faiths, the Jews as well, and the editors faced lawsuit after lawsuit. They weren’t gentle with politicians either. An early reader slammed them as ‘dumb and nasty’ (‘bête et méchant’). They made the label their motto. They say what many people might say behind closed doors, only they put it in print, and say damn the risk (26 Sept 2012).
In Pakistan, violent rallies have left at least 17 people dead. Protesters were demonstrating over an anti-Islam video that was recently released online. Al Jazeera‘s Kamal Hyder reports from Islamabad (21 September 2012).
In the esteemed Harvard Gazette B. D. Colen writes: “Four words on a previously unknown papyrus fragment provide the first evidence that some early Christians believed Jesus had been married, Harvard Professor Karen King told the 10th International Congress of Coptic Studies” on Tuesday, 18 September 2012. Colen elaborates that Karen “King, the Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School, announced the existence of the ancient text at the congress’ meeting, held every four years and hosted this year by the Vatican’s Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome. The four words that appear on the fragment translate to “Jesus said to them, my wife.” The words, written in Coptic, a language of Egyptian Christians, are on a papyrus fragment of about one and a half inches by three inches”.
Professor King elucidates that “Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married, even though no reliable historical evidence exists to support that claim. This new gospel doesn’t prove that Jesus was married, but it tells us that the whole question only came up as part of vociferous debates about sexuality and marriage. From the very beginning, Christians disagreed about whether it was better not to marry, but it was over a century after Jesus’ death before they began appealing to Jesus’ marital status to support their positions”. Christianity, as the conceptual edifice built by the overtly misogynistic Saint Paul, has always had ambivalent feelings about issues relating to love and marriage, celibacy, the role of women and the meaning of life. Does man live solely to enter the next life in the heavenly kingdom or should he consider his sojourn on this mortal coil as equally valid and meaningful??? Celibacy, as a life style, clearly favours the former view. And there have been examples of excesses in early Christian history. The case of Origen of Alexandria springs to mind. It seems that the saintly figure had been inspired by Matthew 19:12 to castrate himself: “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it”. The King James translation seems to make it quite plain that celibacy could be considered a safe way to enter the heavenly kingdom. In the end, however, the pragmatic view that life on this mortal coil also deserves human sacrifice and hardship, as possibly symbolised in the institution of marriage necessarily leading to human reproduction, prevailed. As a result, the continuation of the human race was guaranteed and the figure of God in heaven remained unassailable. This then left Jesus as the ultimate example to be followed by those Christians deemed extremely pious and other-worldly, such as monks and nuns.
Now the whole debate in connection with the meaning of Christian life, as condensed in the issue of marriage or celibacy, has been reduced to squibbles about Jesus’ marital status . . . In conclusion, Professor King states that the “discovery of this new gospel offers an occasion to rethink what we thought we knew by asking what role claims about Jesus’ marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy, and family. Christian tradition preserved only those voices that claimed Jesus never married. The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife now shows that some Christians thought otherwise”.
 B. D. Colen, “Suggestion of a married Jesus”.
 B. D. Colen, “Suggestion of a married Jesus”.
 B. D. Colen, “Suggestion of a married Jesus”.
‘A French magazine published vulgar caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad on Wednesday, inflaming global tensions over a movie insulting to Islam and prompting France to step up security at its embassies (19 Sept. 2012)’.
The Business Insider’s Adam Taylor adds that ‘Charlie Hebdo, a long-running French satirical magazine, angered hardline Islamic groups last year with a magazine guest-edited by “Mohammad”, the Islamic prophet. For their efforts, the magazine eventually found that their offices firebombed. Luckily no-one was injured, and the magazine went on to put up another shocking issue, with a cover that showed a traditionally-dressed Muslim man (perhaps Mohammed?) sloppily kissing a male Charlie Hebdo cartoonist. Now, according to Le Monde, the editors of Charlie Hebdo are preparing to cause controversy again with an issue [to be] released tomorrow. The cover shows a Muslim man in a wheelchair pushed by an Orthodox Jew with foil cap and under the title “Untouchables 2″, an imaginary sequel to a recent French film. The pair are saying (rough translation) “You must not mock us!” According to Le Monde, there are more shocking cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad inside the magazine “in daring positions”. Of course, given recent protests around the world about an anti-Islamic YouTube video and a new, higher reward on Salman Rushdie’s head, we suppose the timing of this issue is . . . brave? France’s Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, is currently in Cairo and has condemned the cartoons, saying “I am against provocations”’.