Thursday, December 03, 2009

Liturgy, Beauty and Truth

Interview With Artist David Clayton


MERRIMACK, New Hampshire, DEC. 2, 2009 - Catholic liturgy has a great capacity to instruct people in appreciating beauty, which will in turn help attract them to truth, says artist David Clayton.

Clayton is an artist-in-residence at Thomas More College, and a teacher for the newly launched Way of Beauty program.

In this interview with ZENIT, he speaks about the program's goals to instruct artists and their patrons in the appreciation of true beauty.

Clayton reflects on Benedict XVI's words in a Nov. 18 general audience, when the Pontiff spoke about Christian architecture, focusing on Gothic cathedrals such as Chartres and Notre Dame. 

ZENIT: What struck you about the Pope's statement?

Clayton: Well, Thomas More College of Liberal Arts has put into place a program aimed at training students to do exactly what he is calling for. He even used the same name, the Way of Beauty (except, being the Pope he used Latin of course, "via pulchtritudinis," and that makes it sound even better!)

Beauty has an important part to play in attracting people to the truth. 

We have to state clearly what the truth is, but we must do so beautifully, otherwise people are less likely to be attracted to it.

ZENIT: Is it pure coincidence that the Pope delivered this speech just after you launched the program? 

Clayton: It is a coincidence that we have just started it in the last couple of months, but in another way it isn't. He made the point that his two predecessors had asked for a return to a culture of beauty. We are doing what we are doing as a direct response to them as well.

It was John Paul II especially and his Letter to Artists that inspired me to try to establish a program at a Catholic school that would enable the "new epiphany of beauty" that he called for. 

The writings of the current Pope just seem to build on this. Every week, it seems, his addresses have focused on the Church Fathers in such a way that he seemed to be leading up to this.

So, for example, he refers often to Augustine of course, and he has drawn our attention also to St. Boethius, who is the father whose work was so influential in the teaching of the quadrivium, the "four ways" -- the higher part of the seven liberal arts. 

This is pretty much a traditional education in beauty and was influential in the School of Chartres, which was at the center of the gothic tradition of the Church.

ZENIT: The Pope had a meeting with artists from all over the world on Nov. 22. What impact do you think this event will have on art? 

Clayton: In itself, probably little. Most of the figures are prominent in the current creative environment, which is secular. 

I hope I'm wrong, but I think it will be difficult for them to just turn on a tap of beauty in any way that is very different from what they are already doing. It is asking them to change course in what they are already doing and that's not easy.

However, they may be inspired to get involved in long term projects that point the way to the next generation, and very importantly it draws attention to the issue and gets a lot of publicity, highlighting how important this is from the perspective of within the Church.

ZENIT: What has the Church done, or what could it do, to reach out more to the world of art?

Clayton: I think that more important than persuading the artists, we should be persuading the patrons of the arts. 

The artists will always do what they are paid to do. I think that we need enlightened patrons. 

Part of this is training priests in seminaries to understand exactly what Catholic culture is. However, I think that as much, if not more, can be done by the laity -- really it comes down to us to demand better art and to come up with the money to pay for it. 

I am on the board of an organization called the Foundation for Sacred Arts that is trying to promote the idea of knowledgeable artists and architects going into seminaries to give talks and courses that will help the priests to choose what is good.

And of course, we have the Way of Beauty at Thomas More College. It rests on understanding our own culture and, very importantly, how it is rooted in the liturgy. 

ZENIT: Why is beauty so often missing from modern art and architecture? And what could or should be done to go back to the original beauty?

Clayton: Modern culture is secular. It reflects a worldview in which God is not acknowledged. It does this very well and so this is why it is so powerful and yet so ugly. 

Catholic culture should not, in my view, look to secular culture for inspiration. To do so would be to look at art forms that were developed to communicate an anti-Christian worldview.

If you try to Christianize popular culture, for example, you end up with a form that is trying to communicate values that are good through the medium that was developed to communicate something else. The result is that it loses all its power and it comes across as weak and sentimental. 

There is another reason. There is a saying that all the great art movements began on the altar. Catholic culture is always rooted in the cult that is central to Catholicism, that is, the Mass and the Divine Office.

If our liturgy is lacking in dignity and beauty, then Catholic culture will be too. 

One of the great things that is happening in the Church now is a liturgical renewal. This is more powerful in creating a culture of beauty than anything else, and it is the current Pope who, more than anyone, is overseeing a restoration of liturgical orthodoxy.

This is the most powerful way to reach out to artists, and for that matter anyone else (if I can come back to your earlier question) that the Church has at its disposal. The reaching out is done by the Holy Spirit; it is a supernatural magnet! 

Once we get the liturgy sorted out, everything else will fall into place. 

ZENIT: Tell us about your project of the way of beauty. Why did you choose an academic environment in which to establish it?

Clayton: Thomas More College offers a unique practical training in beauty that will enable ordinary Catholics to contribute to the culture of beauty. 

Rooted in our own tradition, it is trying to further what the West has been waiting for. We need skillful artists, of course. We also need knowledgeable patrons of the arts. But most of all we need people who know what beauty is, know how to use it in their worship, and demand it in their churches, their homes, their workplaces.

This is why every student at the college goes through this course. They learn to participate in, and create, a culture of beauty that directs us to God. It is based upon the traditional quadrivium that I mentioned earlier. The subjects are number, geometry, harmony/music and cosmology, but these are not taught as they would be normally. 

It is a tradition that teaches the patterns and harmony that comprise all that is beautiful and how they correspond to the patterns in the liturgy.

This is reflected in what we think of first when we talk of Catholic culture: art, architecture, literature, music. But these are values and principles that can be employed in all our human activity. Whatever we do, we can do it beautifully, inspired by God. 

As beauty is apprehended intuitively, an education in beauty develops our intuitive faculty -- we become more creative. True originality is that which looks to the origin of all that is good, God.

Crucial to this education of beauty and creativity is the guided practice of the creation of beauty. 

This begins in the teaching of people to pray with visual imagery in the context of the Mass and the Divine Office. We teach through practice, sacred geometry -- the traditional abstract art form that manifests these principles and is the basis for the proportion and compositional design in art and architecture. 

Those who are artistic can choose to do iconography courses and fine carpentry courses. Everyone is required to do creative writing courses that teach using traditional methods. 

The result is that we also teach people to recognize the theological language of the artistic traditions of the Church, the iconographic, the gothic and the baroque. We teach people the visual language. As the students go through the whole of our liberal arts program, which is a great books program, they will start to see how the whole of Catholic culture is run through with these values. 

As well as being a fascinating journey through our culture, this will give us the knowledge to be enlightened patrons for the Church and to choose images discerningly for our own pray and worship. It is also an excellent foundation for Catholics wishing to go on and study art intensively. They will know how to apply their skills in the service of the Church.

ZENIT: It sounds as though this would be of interest to more than just your students. Is there a way that others can get access to this?

Clayton: Yes, we are running a summer program in 2010. This is for anyone aged 16 and above. It will take place at our college campus in New Hampshire. As well as a course in the Way of Beauty -- teaching people the basics of the quadrivium- we also run courses in drawing and painting. We teach iconography and naturalistic drawing in the baroque style using the academic method. 

What people should be aware of is that talent has very little to do with being an artist. If you love art and love the Church, then with the right training, you will learn the necessary skills to do it. We have internationally known artists doing the training here and people will be amazed at the results they achieve.

Way of Beauty:

Foundation for Sacred Arts:


from the website of :

Way of Beauty

God called man into existence, committing to him the craftsman’s task. Through his “artistic creativity” man appears more than ever “in the image of God”, and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous “material” of his own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe which surrounds him.
-Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists

The traditional quadrivium is essentially the study of pattern, harmony, symmetry and order in nature and mathematics, viewed as a reflection of the Divine Order. Along with Church tradition, they provide the model for the rhythms and cycles of the liturgy. Christian culture, like classical culture before it, was patterned after this cosmic order, which provides the unifying principle that runs through every traditional discipline. Literature, art, music, architecture, philosophy—all of creation and potentially all human activity—are bound together by this common harmony and receive their fullest meaning in the Church’s liturgy.

Way of Beauty 2This course teaches a deep understanding of these principles and their practical application through both lectures and workshops.

When we apprehend beauty we do so intuitively. So an education that improves our ability to apprehend beauty also develops our intuition. All creativity, even that employed in business or scientific endeavors, is at its source intuitive. Furthermore, the creativity that an education in beauty stimulates generates not just more ideas, but better ideas—better because they are more in harmony with the natural order. The recognition of beauty moves us to love what we see, and leaves us more inclined to serve God and our fellow man.

The Way of Beauty courses are taught by the College’s Artist-in-Residence David Clayton, an internationally known painter of icons, who was trained in the natural sciences at Oxford University and in the techniques of Baroque painting at one of the ateliers of Florence. He has received commissions at churches and monasteries in the U.S. and in Europe, and has illustrated a variety of Catholic books, most recently one written by scripture scholar and apologist Scott Hahn. All students will learn to understand the principles and techniques that make classic works of art beautiful; those interested in creating their own works are welcome to join his optional evening classes in drawing and painting.

Students in Art Class

The course draws on works of pre-Christian classical thinkers, the Church Fathers (especially St. Augustine and Boethius) who established it as a Christian tradition, the developments of later medieval thinkers such as Aquinas and Bonaventure, and the writings of more recent figures such as popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI which place it in a modern context.

Orthodox & Catholic Churches Inch Closer

03 December 2009

The Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church are making progress toward healing their 1,000-year-old rift, a senior Russian official said ahead of President Dmitry Medvedev’s first visit to the Vatican.

But Medvedev will not invite Pope Benedict to make a historic visit to Russia when the two meet on Thursday because he believes that church heads should take the initiative, said the official, who refused to be identified.

“It is not appropriate for a secular leader to raise the issue in the absence of a hierarch,” the official said. “They [church leaders] should decide the issue themselves.

“However, a movement toward normalization is clearly seen, and things are moving in the right direction,” he added.

Visits by Russian leaders to the Holy See in the past have failed to help heal the rift between the churches. But new hopes emerged when Patriarch Kirill took power after the death of his theologically more conservative predecessor, Alexy II, last December.

Patriarch Alexy, who spearheaded the revival of his church after decades of Communist persecution, treated rival religions and churches with suspicion.

The Russian Orthodox Church has accused the Vatican of poaching for converts in its territory, including in Ukraine. The Catholic Church says it is only ministering to an existing flock of about half a million Russian Catholics.

The medieval Christian church split into Eastern and Western branches in the Great Schism of 1054 amid disputes over papal authority and the insertion of a clause into the Nicene Creed. The divide has never been healed.

Patriarch Kirill, who headed the church’s foreign relations department for many years before taking his present job, has shown less hostility toward Catholics than did Alexy.

German-born Pope Benedict, a theological conservative, is viewed by Orthodox hierarchs as a more welcomed partner than his predecessor, John Paul II.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Turkish Military Planned Attacks on Christians

By Dikran Ego
Freelance Journalist

Senior Turkish military officers had made extensive plans to terrorize non-Muslims in Turkey. In the large Ergenekon[1] scandal recently a well-planned terrorist operation was revealed. The operation which is called "Kafes Operasyonu Eylem Planı", in English meaning "the execution of the cage - operation" was to eliminate the remaining small group of Christians living in Turkey today.

The plan was revealed when police arrested Levent Bektas, a major in the Turkish army. The evidence seized reveals more than 27 officers and senior military officers involved in the conspiracy against Christians.

In order to identify key persons among the Christians and then kill them, this terrorist network has broken into a Greek Church congregation compound and stolen computers. The purpose of this was to access the congregation’s member lists.

"When our office was emptied of computers and files, church members were very concerned. Since the murder of the monk Santoro, the journalist Hrant Dink and the brutal murder of three publishing workers in Malatya, Christians are living in constant fear", said lawyer Kezban Hatemi, representing the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Constantinople (Istanbul).

On 28 November 2007, the Syriac Orthodox monk Daniel Savci in Turabdin was kidnapped in southeastern Turkey. The monk resides in the St. Gabriel monastery, which Turkish authorities are trying to confiscate. A few days later the monk was found beaten. Shortly after, the police arrested some village guards, a state-sanctioned militia subordinate to the Turkish army, for the kidnapping. Many people with insight into the situation interpret the kidnapping as a direct threat to the remaining Assyrians in Turabdin.

Christians were attacked across the country. To implement the strategic attacks, the country's Christian population was mapped out and 939 key persons from different parts of the country were identified as potential targets.

The fully detailed operation consists of four phases: preparation, spreading propaganda, shape opinion and execute.

The newspaper Taraf, which has been able to access the information, has published several articles about this. On its website it is described in detail how the plan to attack the Christians was to be implemented.

Below are some points that constitute the plan's main lines.

  • Christians are mapped
  • Famous and wealthy Christian businessmen kidnapped
  • Systematic fires and looting of Christian businesses
  • The Armenian newspaper AGOS be subjected to several explosions
  • Murder patrols executing attacks against selected individuals
  • Christian cemeteries subjected to explosions
  • Churches and institutions belonging to Christians subjected to explosions
  • Put the blame on imaginary militant organizations
From the late 1980s to the 2000s, thousands of people have been killed, among them there were also many Christians. The perpetrators of the killings have never been found. But officially they have been systematically identified as an organization named "Hizbullah".

A military arsenal provides the network with weapons. The police have, after following the tracks, at a house search in Poyrazköy outside Istanbul found a weapon cache to be used in the attacks. Among the weapons were several items, from C4 explosives to Uzi firearms and other sophisticated weapons.

According to the newspaper Taraf, major Eren Günay has been arrested for having provided the attackers with arms and ammunition. According to the newspaper there are indications that the plan is sanctioned by the highest Turkish military leadership.

For a long time, Christians’ houses, property and businesses in the Christian areas of the cities of Istanbul and Izmir have been labeled, in order to identify them. MP Sebah Tuncel notified the Turkish government with a written question last summer. The question addressed the Ministry of Interior and was about what the government intends to do against the labeling of Christian properties and about Christians being identified. Even today, the government has not replied to this question yet.

As long as the attacks were aimed at Christians and other minority groups, the Turkish government acted indifferently. Not until the ruling government party AKP themselves felt threatened they began to act. In recent years the relationship between the government and the military has been strained and on several occasions the military has made attempts to make a coup d'état, without succeeding fully.

Fr. Daniil murder a warning to +Kyrill?

Sunday November 29, 2009

From CrunchyCon

an American Orthodox priest reader living temporarily in Russia writes:

"I wanted to thank you for reporting about the martyred priest Fr. Daniil. I thought you might also be interested to know that there is some thought in the Church here that Fr. Daniil was murdered as a warning to Patriarch Kyrill. The patriarch has been very outspoken about missionary work. He believes that the years since the fall of communism have seen the "restructuring" of the Church here, but now is the time for real mission work, not only making the new Orthodox truly Orthodox (or "churching the people" as he often puts it), but reaching outside the Church to those who are non-Orthodox. He was very supportive of Fr. Daniil and all missionary priests here; openly so and very vocal about it.

So, Fr. Daniil was murdered on the evening of the Patriarch's birthday as a perverted "gift" to him. By killing one of the most visible and well-known of his missionary priests, they were warning him what the cost would be to him and the Church if missionary work continues.

This is still very much a place where one's faith has a high cost. A number of friends (and family) have warned me about always wearing my cassock and cross in public, on the subway, on the streets, at the university. But I find that so many people are attracted to a priest and are very sincerely interested in the faith, and have so many questions to ask, that just wearing the cassock in public is 'missionary.'"


background story:

Today, the parishioners of St Thomas church are praying for the repose of the soul of Fr Daniil Sysoev, who died last night after an unknown assailant shot him. “This morning, we celebrated three Pannikhidas for Fr Daniil. In spite of it being a working day, people continue to come forward”, a spokesman for the parish told our Interfax-Religion correspondent. They told us that Fr Daniel had many friends in the clergy, and, probably, they will continuously perform Pannikhidas for him until the day of his funeral. “Anyone can come to our church and pray, however, we don’t allow reporters to use photo and video equipment here”, the sexton on duty said.

On early Friday morning, at St Thomas church in the Kantemirov district of Moscow, there was continuous reading from the Psalter in honour of Fr Daniil Sysoev, killed the night before. Parishioners and spiritual children of Fr Daniil read from the Psalms and offered prayers for the repose of his soul at an analogion set up for the purpose in the centre of the church, according to our Interfax-Religion correspondent. Mourners lit dozens of candles.

One constantly sees all sorts of people bringing flowers to the church, including priests, members of the parish community and missionary clubs that Fr Daniil sponsored, and friends and relatives of the deceased priest. Most of them are weeping disconsolately. People light candles and quietly discuss the tragedy amongst themselves, as they recall their personal contact with Fr Daniil; they remember his care and assistance for his parishioners in their specific needs.

In the small wooden church, a memorial to the right of the altar marks where an unknown assassin murdered Fr Daniil the night before. Two white and two red roses lie crosswise around bouquets of flowers on the rug where he fell. Meanwhile, on the street outside, believers have laid more bouquets of flowers at the entrance to the church. Announcements of parish events signed by Fr Daniil still hang on the door of the church. Near the church fence, a few cops are on duty to keep order, but, the church is open to anyone who wants to come and pray. Several Russian television crews are on the scene, as well.

Hundreds of Russian-speaking users of the internet service Live Journal passed on a message urging everybody to participate in a procession on the day of the funeral of Fr Daniil Sysoev, who died early Friday morning after being shot in the head on Thursday evening. “We would like 400,000 to show up for a procession to remember the murder of a priest in Moscow. It would stretch from Tver to the Kremlin,” political scientist Aleksandr Morozov wrote on his blog. According to most Orthodox bloggers who expressed a desire to come to any such procession, it should be a prayerful religious event blessed by the Archpastors of the Church without any political dimension.

Boris Yakemenko, the head of the Orthodox section of the youth movement Nashi, a member of the Public Chamber of Russia, sees the murder of Fr Daniel Sysoev as evidence of our country’s moral crisis. “This heinous crime shows just how far society has gone in its spiritual degeneration. If the walls of a church, or an ordained priest, or even the cross itself didn’t stop such wicked men, it means that we see the onset of a crisis that is much worse than any global economic crisis… a crisis of consciousness, a crisis of the heart and soul”, Boris Yakemenko told Interfax-Religion on Friday. In his opinion, “Everyone with a heart and a conscience, not only Orthodox, but, anyone with an open soul, must oppose this spiritual decay now, or, we shall pay once again for our indifference with the best things in our lives, leaving our house in ruins. Fr Daniil was a bright, talented, and very active missionary; he was a very significant figure. He preached, spoke, wrote books, and dashed off anywhere at a moment’s notice to where anyone needed his help, pastoral support, or word of comfort”.

Mr Yakemenko noted that Fr Daniil worked with Muslims, with migrant workers, with counterculture types, “with very different sorts of people. Like any other exceptional or gifted man, not everyone cared for his ways, but, no one could say that he wasn’t the kind of missionary that people really need today”. He told us that Fr Daniil spent the entire term of the Orthodox youth camp this summer at Lake Seliger “because there were thousands of people there, and he just couldn’t stay away. He baptised, preached, and talked to the kids… It seemed that he was everywhere doing everything. We collected petitions in support of his church (when some wanted to tear it down), and he and I met on several occasions, and we discussed our plans for next summer”.

According to tentative plans, the funeral service of Fr Daniil Sysoev shall be on Monday at Ss Peter and Paul church in the Yasenevo district in Moscow. “In addition, people may pay their respects to Fr Daniil on Saturday and Sunday at St Thomas church in the Kantemirov district of Moscow, where he was the rector and where he was shot”, a source in the MP told Interfax-Religion on Friday. According to our source, on one of those days, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all the Russias shall come and pay his respects to the late Fr Daniil. At one time, Fr Daniil was a cleric at Ss Peter and Paul church in Yasenevo, which is a podvorie of the Optina Pustyn Monastery. His father, Fr Aleksei Sysoev (also a priest), is rector of St John the Evangelist church in the Yasenevo Orthodox classical gymnasium, also served in this podvorie as well.

Fr Aleksei Sysoev


In his own words, he is “half Russian, half Tatar”. His father is a priest, Fr Aleksei Sysoev. Fr Aleksei is rector of the church of St John the Divine at the Yasenevo Orthodox classical gymnasium and a clergyman of the Ss Peter and Paul church in Yasenevo. His mother, Anna Midhatovna Amirov, teaches Orthodox catechism at the same school.

He graduated from the Moscow Theological Academy in 2000 with a Kandidatura in Theology. {Editor’s note: Literally, a kandidat is a “candidate member of the Russian Academy of Sciences”, equivalent to a Western PhD, but, perhaps, a bit more stringent in requirements and more rigorous.} His thesis was entitled, The Anthropology of the Seventh Day Adventists and the Watchtower Society and its Analysis.

His career as a cleric began in 1994, when he became a reader. In 1995, he received ordination as a deacon, and in 2001, as a priest. He is married and has three daughters. Fr Daniil Sysoev actively engaged in missionary work among Muslims, and converted many to the Orthodox faith. He held a conservative stance towards yoga exercises, karate, Latin American dance, and belly dancing, urging Christians not to attend these classes. Rev Sysoev was critical of the Darwinian theory of evolution

Fr Daniil was the rector of St Thomas parish; he developed an active missionary movement, which included training Orthodox “street missionaries”, whose task was to attract people to Orthodoxy by appealing to passers-by on the street.

On 19 November 2009, D. A. Sysoev was mortally wounded in St Thomas church by two shots from a pistol (other sources say that four shots were fired). The masked assailant managed to escape. At 00.20 Moscow Standard Time on 20 November 2009 (21.20 UTC 16.20 EST 13.20 PST, all of these 19 November), Fr Daniil died on the operating table.

At present, detectives believe that the most plausible explanation for the crime is that the murderer had a religious motivation for the killing. Earlier, members of various extremist groups repeatedly threatened Rev Sysoev. “Fr Daniil was a prominent figure amongst the Moscow clergy, creative and vigorous, and a true preacher and missionary. I think that he was murdered because of his strong views”, said Fr Vladimir Vigilyansky, a spokesman for the MP. Indeed, Rev Sysoev himself stated that he had received death threats on 14 separate occasions.

Church of the Apostle Thomas

In 2005, the Moscow city government allocated the community led by Fr Daniil Sysoev 0.5 hectares (a little under 1.25 acres) of land near the Kantemirovskaya metro stop on the Zamoskvoretskaya Line for the construction of a stone church dedicated to the prophet Daniel. By November 2006, the parishioners had cleared all of the undergrowth and debris on the site and erected a temporary wooden church dedicated to the Apostle Thomas. The parish runs missionary courses, singing lessons, iconography classes, and a scout group. In 2009, four years after the allocation of land, the Moscow City Department of Environmental Management believed that the community was in violation of environmental legislation, although many use the floodplain of the Chertanovka River as a dump for construction debris. The Department stated that the land at this location should be a park and nature reserve, and the construction of a church would result in irreparable harm to the unique natural habitat. In August 2009, deputy prefect of YuVAO stated he approved in principle for the construction of a church in Kantemirov district, and, during public hearings on the new Master Plan of Moscow, residents demanded that a church be part of the draft General Plan.


In 2007, Mufti Nafigulla Ashirov, Co-chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, sued in court [against Fr Daniil] for his book Marriage to a Muslim, which, he said, contained expressions offensive to Muslims. Journalist Khalida Khamidulina accused Fr Daniil of inciting hatred of Islam in his publications and filed a suit in court against him. At the same time, Neo-Nazi groups expressed their displeasure with the Fr Daniil’s views and ultra-rightwing Orthodox publications criticised him for his anti-monarchist position. In addition, some spokesmen for Old Ritualists {Editor’s note: These are mistakenly called “Old Believers” in Western circles… all too many of them are nothing but Protestants in Orthodox drag.} expressed a negative assessment of D. A. Sysoev. They believed that he attacked their faith, considering his publications on Old Ritualists as “slander against the Old Orthodox Church”. {Editor’s note: The so-called Old Orthodox Church is not in communion with any of the recognised Orthodox Local Churches. It is a sect of popovtsy (“priested”) Old Ritualists, in opposition to the sort known as bezpopovtsy (“unpriested”). The latter are literally what their Russian name indicates… they are priestless. The former have a hierarchy ordained by a renegade Orthodox bishop in the old Hapsburg Empire. Neither group is in the Church, as I said above, no Local Church considers them Orthodox. Neophytes should best avoid both sorts. Don’t be fooled by their icons and chanting… they are nothing but Protestants who reject the Church.} They accused him of poor reasoning, faulty judgement, and distortion of historical facts.

Russian patriarch seeks 'powerful reply' to train bomb

By Conor Humphries
Nov 29 (Reuters)

The head of Russia's Orthodox Church on Sunday called on authorities to give a "powerful reply" to the people behind a train bombing that killed 25 people, as police probed whether Islamist rebels were involved.

A blast derailed a high-speed Russian train on Friday night on the main line between Moscow and Russia's second city, St Petersburg, raising fears of a new wave of attacks five years after a bombing campaign in Moscow by Chechen rebels.

"We believe the reply will be effective and powerful enough to show these shameful, terrible people that ... when the hand of an enemy is lifted against our lives, we are able to defend our citizens," Patriarch Kirill said at a memorial service in Moscow.

The comments were the strongest statement of anger against the perpetrators by a senior public figure. President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday called for calm and ordered officials to do everything to help the victims of the attack.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, but security analysts said militant groups from Russia's mainly Muslim North Caucasus were the most likely culprits.

A claim of responsibility by Islamist rebels could heighten tensions between Russia's Christian majority and its Muslim minority weeks after an Orthodox priest who was critical of Islam was shot dead in his church.

Russian investigators on Sunday combed the site of the blast and questioned residents of the rural area where it happened. The Emergency Ministry said 25 people were confirmed dead.

Passenger services resumed on the track on Sunday, with commuter trains rolling past an overturned carriage disguised by a green camouflage net, television pictures showed.

Television stations cancelled entertainment shows on Sunday and football matches observed a minute of silence.

(editors note: okey gads!)

Scientist says to be 'very careful' when interpreting writing on Shroud of Turin

A researcher in the Vatican secret archives claims to have interpreted a death certificate supposedly imprinted on the Shroud of Turin. However, a leading scientist and researcher on the Shroud cautions against reading too much into the images.

Dr. Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican secret archive, claims that she has reconstructed the death certificate of a man named “Jesus the Nazarene or Jesus of Nazareth” from fragments of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin words she sees imprinted on the Shroud of Turin, reports the U.K. Times Online. The letters Frale claims to be interpreting were first found in a 1978 examination of the Shroud. Other letters have allegedly been found since then.

Dr. Frale told “La Repubblica” that Jewish burial practices at the time of the Roman occupation of Jerusalem mandated that a body buried after execution of a death sentence had be in a common grave and could only be returned to the family after a year had passed. Therefore, a death certificate was glued to the burial shroud, usually on the cloth near the face, so that the body could be easily identified.

Frale's reconstruction of the death certificate reads, “In the year 16 of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius Jesus the Nazarene, taken down in the early evening after having been condemned to death by a Roman judge because he was found guilty by a Hebrew authority, is hereby sent for burial with the obligation of being consigned to his family only after one full year." Dr. Frale noted that many of the letters were missing from the Shroud, and that Jesus, for example, was referred to as "(I)esou(s) Nnazarennos."

Dr. John P. Jackson, director of the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado, told CNA, “you have to be very careful when interpreting these things.” He cited the example of an image on the Shroud thought to have been the rope which led Jesus to Calvary which, under scientific investigation, turned out to be nothing more than a watermark.

“I'm not trying to demean someone else's work that I'm not familiar with,” Jackson said. He did, however, point out that “there is a long history of people finding things on the Shroud which are tied into subjectivity.”

The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth used as a burial shroud which bears the distinct image of a crucified man bearing wounds matching the Gospel accounts of the Passion of Christ. Scholars concur that the Shroud cannot be a work of art, and traces of blood, as well as the pollen of plants found only in the Middle East, have been found nestled within the fibers of the cloth.

The object of much scientific study, the authenticity of the Shroud as the burial cloth of Jesus Christ has neither been confirmed nor denied by the Church.

Jesus Christ's 'death certificate' found on Turin Shroud

Researcher says she found text on Shroud of Turin

ROME — A Vatican researcher claims she has found a nearly invisible text on the Shroud of Turin and says the discovery proves the authenticity of the artifact revered as Jesus' burial cloth.

The claim made in a new book by historian Barbara Frale drew immediate skepticism from some scientists, who maintain the shroud is a medieval forgery.

Frale, a researcher at the Vatican archives, says the faint writing emerged through computer analysis of photos of the shroud, which is not normally accessible for study.

Frale says the jumble of Greek, Latin and Aramaic includes the words "Jesus Nazarene" and mentions he was sentenced to death. She believes the text was written on a document by a clerk to identify the body and the ink then seeped into the cloth.


By Nick Squires in Rome

The historian and researcher at the secret Vatican archive said she has found the words "Jesus Nazarene" on the shroud, proving it was the linen cloth which was wrapped around Christ's body.

She said computer analysis of photographs of the shroud revealed extremely faint words written in Greek, Aramaic and Latin which attested to its authenticity.

Her claim was immediately contested by scholars who said that radiocarbon dating tests in 1988 showed the shroud to be a medieval forgery.

Dr Frale asserts in a new book, The Shroud of Jesus the Nazarene, that computer enhancement enabled her to detect the archaic script, which appea

rs on various parts of the material.

She suggested that it was written by low-ranking Roman officials or mortuary clerks on a scroll or piece of papyrus to identify Christ's corpse. Such a document would have enabled the relatives of a dead person to retrieve a body from a communal morgue, she suggested.

It would have been attached to the corpse with a flour-based glue and the ink could have seeped through into the cloth below, leaving a faint imprint.

Scholars first noticed that there was writing on the shroud in 1978 but when the radiocarbon tests a decade later suggested that the shroud was a forgery, historians lost interest in the script, Dr Frale said.

She claimed she had been able to decipher a jumble of phrases written in three languages, including the Greek words (I)esou(s) Nnazarennos, or Jesus the Nazarene, and (T)iber(iou), which she interprets as Tiberius, the Roman emperor at the time of Christ's crucifixion.

The text also mentions that the man who was wrapped in the shroud had been condemned to death, she believes. The hidden text was in effect the "burial certificate" for Jesus Christ, Dr Frale said.

"I tried to be objective and leave religious issues aside," she said. "What I studied was an ancient document that certifies the execution of a man, in a specific time and place."

But other experts were sceptical. "People work on grainy photos and think they see things," said Antonio Lombatti, a church historian who has written books about the shroud. "It's all the result of imagination and computer software."


Death certificate is imprinted on the Shroud of Turin,

says Vatican scholar

A Vatican scholar claims to have deciphered the "death certificate" imprinted on the Shroud of Turin, or Holy Shroud, a linen cloth revered by Christians and held by many to bear the image of the crucified Jesus.

Dr Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican secret archives, said "I think I have managed to read the burial certificate of Jesus the Nazarene, or Jesus of Nazareth." She said that she had reconstructed it from fragments of Greek, Hebrew and Latin writing imprinted on the cloth together with the image of the crucified man.

The shroud, which is kept in the royal chapel of Turin Cathedral and is to be put in display next spring, is regarded by many scholars as a medieval forgery. A 1988 carbon dating of a fragment of the cloth dated it to the Middle Ages.

However Dr Frale, who is to publish her findings in a new book, La Sindone di Gesu Nazareno (The Shroud of Jesus of Nazareth) said that the inscription provided "historical date consistent with the Gospels account". The letters, barely visible to the naked eye, were first spotted during an examination of the shroud in 1978, and others have since come to light.

Some scholars have suggested that the writing is from a reliquary attached to the cloth in medieval times. But Dr Frale said that the text could not have been written by a medieval Christian because it did not refer to Jesus as Christ but as "the Naz

arene". This would have been "heretical" in the Middle Ages since it defined Jesus as "only a man" rather than the Son of God.

Like the image of the man himself the letters are in reverse and only make sense in negative photographs. Dr Frale told La Repubblica that under Jewish burial practices current at the time of Christ in a Roman colony such as Palestine, a body buried after a death sentence could only be returned to the family after a year in a common grave.

A death certificate was therefore glued to the burial shroud to identify it for later retrieval, and was usually stuck to the cloth around the face. This had apparently been done in the case of Jesus even though he was buried not in a common grave but in the tomb offered by Joseph of Arimathea.

Dr Frale said that many of the letters were missing, with Jesus for example referred to as "(I)esou(s) Nnazarennos" and only the "iber" of "Tiberiou" surviving. Her reconstruction, however, suggested that the certificate read: "In the year 16 of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius Jesus the Nazarene, taken down in the early evening after having been condemned to death by a Roman judge because he was found guilty by a Hebrew authority, is hereby sent for burial with the obligation of being consigned to his family only after one full year". It ends "signed by" but the signature has not survived.

Dr Frale said that the use of three languages was consistent with the polyglot nature of a community of Greek-speaking Jews in a Roman colony. Best known for her studies of the Knights Templar, who she claims at one stage preserved the shroud, she said what she had deciphered was "the death sentence on a man called Jesus the Nazarene. If that man was also Christ the Son of God it is beyond my job to establish. I did not set out to demonstrate the truth of faith. I am a Catholic, but all my teachers have been atheists or agnostics, and the only believer among them was a Jew. I forced myself to work on this as I would have done on any other archaeological find."

The Catholic Church has never either endorsed the Turin Shroud or rejected it as inauthentic. Pope John Paul II arranged for public showings in 1998 and 2000, saying: "The Shroud is an image of God's love as well as of human sin. The imprint left by the tortured body of the Crucified One, which attests to the tremendous human capacity for causing pain and death to one's fellow man, stands as an icon of the suffering of the innocent in every age." Pope Benedict XVI is to pray before the Shroud when it is put on show again next Spring in Turin.

Islamic Imperialism: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Middle East

Written by Thomas O. Hecht
Saturday, 28 November 2009

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Samuel Huntington predicted that only the Islamic civilization would re-emerge as the nemesis to the West. Recently, there is a rebirth of the Islamic struggle to reassert control over parts of the world, with jihad, or its modern manifestation - international terrorism - as its tool. The US is losing its dominance in the Middle East and is gradually being replaced by Iran. The Western world is in urgent need of a leader who will powerfully defend Western values against the growing influence of radical Islam.

Samuel Huntington remains relevant as ever. His book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (1996), presented a thesis that ran counter to the zeitgeist euphoria over globalization and a borderless world after the end of the Cold War.

Huntington unequivocally stated that the end of the Cold War would bring about a clash of civilizations. He inferred that soil, ethno-cultural devotion, and religion-based energy would claim and define the world in conflict. Huntington also drew a map of the world which can be described as "The West and The Rest." He recognized other less challenging civilizations - Hindu, African, Buddhist - but to him in the post-Cold War world, only the Islamic civilization would re-emerge as the nemesis to the West. According to Huntington, "The twentieth century conflict between liberal democracy and Marxist Leninism was only a fleeting and superficial historical phenomenon compared to the continuing and deeply conflicting relations between Islam and Christianity." Unfortunately, the West displays weakness and lack of courageous leadership.

Islamic History

A review of the onslaught of Islam, from its foundation in the seventh century to its current attempts to dominate the world, elucidates the gravity of the challenge currently faced by the West. Bernard Lewis has noted that since its birth, Islam has sought to merge religion and state authority, and to expand its influence. Christian awareness of the new competing Islamic faith began almost immediately after its advent with the triumphant emergence of the new religion from its Arabian homeland and its spread eastward to the borders of India and China, and westward across North Africa and the Mediterranean Islands into Europe. Islamic penetration of Western Europe ended with the Christian re-conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. The struggle lasted eight centuries.

Islam made inroads also in parts of Russia during the wars waged by the Ottoman Turks. There is still an ongoing conflict between Russia and its Chechen Islamic province. For close to 200 years, the Ottoman Empire advanced into Europe spreading Muslim domination in the Balkans and South Central Europe, including Budapest. The Ottoman Turks were defeated at the gates of Vienna on two occasions. The final defeat took place as recently as 1683.

The conquests stretching over a millennium are the antecedents to the rebirth of a struggle on the part of Islam to reassert control over parts of the world, with jihad, or its modern manifestation - international terrorism - as its tool. In this context, Bernard Lewis' caution about political terminology is important. He warned against the phraseology: "the war against terrorism." This, he says, is as if Churchill had told us we were engaged in a war against submarines. Terrorism, like submarines, are a tool, but are not the enemy. The enemy, Lewis says, is radical Islam.

The Current Radical Islamist Challenge

Today, it is politically correct to say that Islam is a religion of peace, and that the vast majority of Muslims want to live in peace. This may be true, but in light of worldwide Muslim terrorist acts in Bali New York, the northern Chinese provinces, Mumbai, and Madrid, the reference to the religion of peace becomes questionable. Using such terms obfuscates the issue by causing a false optimism while diminishing the specter of the fanatics who rampage the globe in the name of Islam. The peaceful majority in Muslim lands is cowed into a non-existent force.

Unfortunately at this moment in history, it is fanatics who set the tone in Islamic countries. Their impact on ordinary citizens manifests openly with the mass celebrations in Islamic countries when "infidels" are killed, or Muslim terrorists are released from prison. It is fanatics from the Muslim world who slaughter children and non-Muslim tribal groups daily in Darfur, and are progressively taking over segments of Africa, be it Nigeria or Somalia. Islamic fanatics bomb, behead, murder, and carry out "honor" killings. They also stone rape victims and homosexuals. Muslim fanatics teach in the schools the virtues of becoming suicide bombers and acquiring the coveted status of a shahid (martyr).

Therefore, the peaceful majority is not always relevant. In communist Russia, the country was comprised of Russians who wanted to live in peace, but were terrorized by the communist leadership, who was responsible for the murder of at least 20 million of their own people. Similarly, 80 million Germans were not all Nazis, but they were irrelevant when Hitler and his murderous minions brought about World War II and caused the death of tens of millions, including one-third of the world's Jewish population. China's huge population was also peaceful, but Chinese communists under Mao Tse-tung managed to kill 70 million people in China.

History's lessons, when analyzed, are simple and blunt. Peace-loving Muslims have been made irrelevant by their silence, just as the majority of Germans, Russians, and Chinese. It is the extremists like Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or the Wahabists in Saudi Arabia, who dictate policies, set the agenda, and cause the majority to remain silent and to progressively even lose their naturally endowed rights to human freedom and dignity.

Like Nazism and cruel communism, the radical Islamist must be defeated not only for the sake of the silent majority in the Islamic world, but also for the sake of our own survival in the wars in which we are waging today.

Combating Radicalism and Defending the West

The Western world today needs a leader who will powerfully defend Western values against radical Islamic usurpers and their allies in the West. Huntington was pessimistic in this regard. He expressed an anxiety about the will and the coherence of the West, and said that the West neither monitors nor defends the ramparts of its free society. Islam will remain Islam, while he was equally dubious that the West would remain true to its mission of defending freedom, the rule of law, and human rights.

Today, the main leader of radical Islamist forces is Ahmadinejad, who wishes to establish his influence across the entire Middle East. Facing him are America, pacifist-oriented Europe, and America's alleged Sunni Arab allies. Israel - Ahmadinejad's target for elimination - is the only democratic state in this part of the world allied to the values of the West. Israel is surrounded by a sea of cultural, intellectual, and socioeconomic decay - which describes the current Muslim Middle East.

Iran, in its challenge to the West, arms Syria, Hamas, and Hizballah. Al Qaeda also supports the Iranian vision of challenging Western values. The Iranian daily Kayhan has clearly defined the participants in this struggle, "In the power struggle in the Middle East, there are only two sides, Iran and the US." So far, Team America has been losing on many fronts. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times gave a short explanation: "Iran is smart and ruthless, America is dumb and weak. And the Sunni Arab world is feckless, unreliable, and divided."

Ehud Yaari, Israel's outstanding Arab affairs commentator, defines the present Middle East as a Pax Iranica, which follows the US' Pax Americana after the end of World War II and the Cold War. America let this hegemony slip from its grasp, while Iran now calls the shots in the Middle East, with a jihad motivated by religiously-inspired fervor to recreate a Persian empire and a Muslim Caliphate.

Yaari observes that anyone destroying Iran's atomic facilities will create a massive conflagration in the Middle East involving the Lebanese, Palestinians, Iraqis, and the Emirates. The realization of this possibility creates a strategy of inaction - neither Western powers nor the United Nations will want to face such an event.

In the short period of time since Jimmy Carter capitulated to the Ayatollahs, Iran has progressively influenced events in the Middle East. Today, it strongly influences Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and manipulates Shiite militias in Iraq. Iran also has built Hizballah into a military force equipped with 50,000 rockets that controls Lebanon and threatens Israel, and has supported the creation of Hamastan in Gaza.

Over eight years, the Bush Administration dragged America into a position where it was neither liked, feared, nor respected. Aaron David Miller, a negotiator with both Republican and Democratic administrations, says, "We stumbled for eight years under Bill Clinton over how to make peace in the Middle East, and then we stumbled under George Bush over how to make war, with the result that America is trapped in a region which it cannot fix and cannot abandon."

Churchill's admonition to the world when Chamberlain returned from the Munich Conference in 1938 practicing his policy of appeasement has relevance today, "We are existentially threatened by the malice of the wicked, enhanced by the weakness and hesitation of the allegedly virtuous."

What is urgently needed today is a Western awakening.

Dr. Thomas O. Hecht is the founder of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies and Chairman of its International Advisory Board.

Some notes from the past...

Here are some past articles from
Pat Buchanan


Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

by Patrick J. Buchanan

December 3, 2002

“I think Muhammad was a terrorist … a violent man, a man of war,” said the Rev. Jerry Falwell on “60 Minutes.” He added, “Jesus set the example for love. … Muhammad set an opposite example.” Murderous riots broke out in India, and an Iranian cleric threatened Falwell with assassination.

“The Koran teaches that the end of the world will not come until every Jew is killed by Muslims,” says the Rev. Pat Robertson. He compares the Koran’s message on Jews to “Mein Kampf.” “There is no doubt the religion of Muhammad … is extreme and violent.”

“I don’t believe this is a wonderful, peaceful religion,” adds Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, “When you read … the verses from the Koran, it instructs the killing of the infidel … those that are non-Muslim.”

What does President Bush think of this bashing of Islam by his Christian friends? He rejects it. “Islam is a religion of peace.”

Colin Powell is less charitable: “We will reject the kind of comments … where people in this country say that Muslims are responsible for the killing of all Jews, and who put out hatred. This kind of hatred must be rejected.”

Is Islam a religion of peace? Why, then, was an American Christian woman murdered in south Lebanon by an Islamic fanatic, after Christians were warned to stop proselytizing for the faith?

If Islam is a religion of peace, how do you explain four days of Muslim rioting in Kaduna, Nigeria, against a Miss World pageant, after a journalist wrote that Muhammad might have chosen one of the beauty queens as one of his wives? Those riots left 1,500 hospitalized and 215 dead.

Islam has “bloody borders,” says Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington. Is he not right? From Algeria to Afghanistan to the Philippines, Muslim insurgencies rage in a dozen countries.

Yet the president, too, has a point. In America, a huge Islamic community lives at peace with its Christian and Jewish neighbors. Around the world are a billion Muslims, only a tiny fraction of whom are waging jihad against Christian minorities or their own rulers.

How to explain the dichotomy? We are at the beginning of a religious and political revolution in the Islamic world. Like all revolutions, it is marked at its extremes by militancy, intolerance and a sometimes murderous xenophobia. What is being worked out, often violently, are the terms of Islam’s engagement with a hedonistic, triumphalist West that both attracts and repels the Muslim faithful.

In northern Nigeria, this revolution is religious and cultural – at war with both Christianity and a neo-pagan MTV culture. In Algeria, Islamic jihadists seek to overthrow a secular-socialist state brought to power by the war of independence. In southern Lebanon, militants want Christians out, now that Hezbollah has driven the Israelis out. In Palestine, Hamas and Islamic Jihad add religious fanaticism to a nationalist cause. Should Arafat become president of Palestine, he will face an Islamic party more rabid than the religious parties Sharon must cope with.

In Chechnya and western China, Islamic guerrillas seem more secessionist than fundamentalist. In Egypt, Islamic extremism is manifest in assassination attempts of pro-Western scholars, the slaughter of tourists and the persecution of the Copts.

Yet, while all this violence is the daily fare of our front pages, how many Islamic terrorists, guerrillas, assassins and rioters are there, when you consider that if they add up to 1,000,000, it would be less than 0.1 percent of the Muslims on earth? And not all the causes for which Muslims fight – independence for Chechnya and Palestine, secession from Russia, Indonesia and China – are inherently unjust or evil.

Islam is in a revivalist phase. In the lands where it is predominant, there is often little tolerance of rival religions seeking the conversion of Muslims. So it is that Falwell, Robertson and Graham, too, have a point. Between militant Islam and Christian fundamentalism, there is an unbridgeable chasm of belief, and in the Islamic world, devout Christians are citizens under suspicion – just as Jews and Muslims were in Isabella’s Spain and Catholics were in Elizabethan England.

Yet, in his sense that we must avoid war with militant Islam, lest we find ourselves at war with all Islam, President Bush is surely right.

In the last century, America was threatened by a global communist revolution. Avoiding all-out war, we outlasted it. And we can outlast this Islamist revolution. What we must avoid is a war of faiths, a war of civilizations between Islam and America. And those who propagandize for such a war are the unwitting or willful collaborators of Osama bin Laden.


Coming Clash of Civilizations?

By Patrick J. Buchanan

December 7, 2001

With the ouster of the Taliban and eradication of the al-Qaida in Afghanistan, Islamic extremism has sustained a crushing defeat. But what continues to unsettle Americans is that film of Arab and Islamic people, wildly cheering the barbaric atrocities of Sept. 11.

Is a war of civilizations coming?

Clearly, not a few in the Islamic world and the West so believe, and ardently desire. And, with the War Party cawing for an attack on Iraq, with Sharon unleashed after the atrocities in Jerusalem and Haifa, with the U.S. press calling for a reappraisal of our ties to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, a clash of civilizations has moved from the possible to the probable.

President Bush, however, seems instinctively aware such a war would be a disaster. For no matter how many deaths or defeats we inflict, we cannot kill Islam as we did Nazism, fascism, Japanese militarism and Soviet Bolshevism. Islam has survived for nearly 1,600 years; it is the predominant faith in 57 countries; it is indestructible.

Astonishingly, 63 years ago, when Islam lay dormant under the heel of Western empires, a famous Catholic writer predicted Islam would rise again. Wrote Hillaire Belloc: “It has always seemed to me … probable, that there would be a resurrection of Islam and that our sons or our grandsons would see the renewal of that tremendous struggle between the Christian culture and what has been for more than a thousand years its greatest opponent.”

Islam was a Christian heresy, Belloc believed, whose strength lay in its “insistence on personal immortality, the Unity and Infinite Majesty of God, on his Justice and Mercy [and] … its insistence on the equality of human souls in the sight of their Creator.”

While The Prophet “gave to our Lord the highest reverence, and the Mother of God was ever for him the first of womankind,” he rejected the Incarnation. Mohammed “taught that our Lord was the greatest of all Prophets, but still only a prophet, a man like other men.” Belloc believed Islam to be a “Reformation” movement with parallels to “the Protestant Reformers – on Images, the Mass and Celibacy.”

When Christians were illiterate, Islam spread “for 700 years, until it had mastered the Balkans and the Hungarian plain, and all but occupied Western Europe itself,” almost destroying Christendom “through its early material and intellectual superiority.”

Three heroes saved the West. In 732, at Poitiers, Charles Martel, the Hammer of the Franks, stopped Islam’s invasion in France. In 1571, the Christian fleets of Don Juan of Austria, an illegitimate son of Charles V, destroyed the Mohammedan armada in an epic battle immortalized in Chesterton’s “The Ballad of Lepanto.” And Polish Catholic King John Sobieski stopped the Turks at Vienna “on a date that ought to be famous in history, September 11, 1683.”

One of history’s great questions is why the Islamic world collapsed. A century before Yorktown, Constantinople was superior in arms. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Islamic world was not only superseded by the West, it fell backward – in technology, industry, communications, arms and governance. The Ottoman Empire became “the sick man of Europe.”

Colonization by the West followed. In the 20th century, only at Gallipoli – the 1915 battle that cost its architect, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, his post – can one recall an Islamic victory over a Western army.

But if a clash of civilizations is coming, how stands the balance of power? In wealth and might, the West is supreme – though wealth did not prevent the collapse of the Western empires and did not prevent the collapse of the Soviet empire. Rome was mighty, and early Christianity pathetically weak. Yet, Christianity triumphed.

If belief is decisive, Islam is militant, Christianity milquetoast. In population, Islam is exploding, the West dying. Islamic warriors are willing to suffer defeat and death, the West recoils at casualties. They are full of grievance; we, full of guilt. Where Islam prevails, it asserts a right to impose its dogma, while the West preaches equality. Islam is assertive, the West apologetic – about its crusaders, conquerors and empires.

Don’t count Islam out. It is the fastest growing faith in Europe and has surpassed Catholicism worldwide. And as Christianity expires in the West and the churches empty out, the mosques are going up.

To defeat a faith, you need a faith. What is ours? Individualism, democracy, pluralism, la dolce vita? Can they overcome a fighting faith, 16 centuries old, and rising again?


The Rage of Islam

September 19th, 2006

by Patrick J. Buchanan

To bank the firestorm ignited by his address in Regensburg, Germany, Pope Benedict XVI declared himself “deeply sorry” for the effect his remarks have had on the Muslim world. The words of the Byzantine emperor he quoted, Benedict explained, were “from a Medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thoughts.” The pope’s subject was the “profound harmony” of biblical truth and Greek thought…


The Rage of Islam
by Patrick J. Buchanan – September 19, 2006

To bank the firestorm ignited by his address in Regensburg, Germany, Pope Benedict XVI declared himself “deeply sorry” for the effect his remarks have had on the Muslim world. The words of the Byzantine emperor he quoted, Benedict explained, were “from a Medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thoughts.”

The pope’s subject was the “profound harmony” of biblical truth and Greek thought. No conflict exists, he argued, between true faith and right reason. Contending violence is the antithesis of reason, he cited the “erudite Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus,” during a siege of Constantinople, between A.D. 1394 and 1402.

Benedict’s words merit being put into context.

“I would like to discuss one point – itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole – which … can serve as the starting point for my reflections on this issue.

“In the seventh conversation … the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 (of the Quran) reads, ‘There is no compulsion in religion.’

“According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Muhammad was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions developed later and recorded in the Quran concerning holy war. …

“(The emperor) addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence … saying, ‘Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’”

The explosion followed. For it was reported that Pope Benedict had endorsed the view that the only innovations the prophet made to the monotheistic faiths were “evil and inhuman.” The pope did not say this and has denied that he believes this.

Yet the issues he raised, that true faith and right reason are never in conflict, that force is intolerable in advancing God’s word, merit discussion in light of history and the present.

How did the Christians conquer the Roman Empire after 300 years of persecution? By living the Gospel, preaching the Word and dying for the faith – martyrdom. But Islam came out of the desert to conquer the Holy Land, North Africa and Spain in a single century, by the sword. Islam is a fighting faith. Wrote J.M. Roberts in “The History of Europe,” “Islam from the start has been a religion of conquest.”

In 1095, Urban II preached the First Crusade to end the abuse of Christian pilgrims and recapture the Holy City and Holy Sepulcher. Muslims view these Crusades as Christian wars of aggression. Yet the martial means the Crusaders used to recapture Jerusalem were the same as those the Caliph Umar had used to conquer the Holy City.

Until our time, Western man did not apologize for the Crusades. Gen. Eisenhower even titled his war memoir “Crusade in Europe.”

For centuries, European Christians fought the Islamic world. In 1492, Muslims were forcibly expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella. In the early 16th century, Suleiman the Magnificent invaded the Balkans, defeated the Hungarians at Bohacs and besieged Vienna. The Balkan wars of Suleiman bear little resemblance to the Christian crusades of Dr. Billy Graham. In 1571, the fleets of the Ottoman Turks were destroyed at Lepanto by a fleet organized by Pius V.

In the 19th century, the Ottoman Turks began their long retreat from the Balkans. At the end of the First World War, Kemal Ataturk abolished the caliphate, put the caliph on the Orient Express, severed the ties between mosque and state, and made Turkey a secular state.

In our own time, however, the issues Pope Benedict addressed – the harmony between faith and reason, and the disharmony between force and faith – have re-arisen.

In Afghanistan this year, a Christian convert was threatened with beheading for apostasy. Most imams and Afghans seemed to approve. In Indonesia, Nigeria and Sudan, Muslims are at war with Christians, in the Middle East with Israelis, in Chechnya with Russians, in India with Hindus, in Thailand with Buddhists. Other issues are involved, but faith seems ever present as a prime motivator of violence.

In the West, men and women convert to Islam and imams preach and proselytize. In Islamic nations, conversion to Christianity can mean death, as can preaching and proselytizing. Do Muslim faithful believe it is legitimate to use state power to impose Shariah or maintain religious orthodoxy, as Henry VIII and Isabella believed?

In the West, a militant secularism has seized state power and the de-Christianization of America is well advanced. In the East, we had best recognize that the rage, militancy and intolerance so often on display are the unmistakable marks of a rising, not a dying, faith.

Swiss voters' clear decision to ban construction of minarets

Swiss voters' clear decision on Sunday to ban the construction of minarets has generated a wide range of emotions, from stunned joy to rueful concern.

Supporters of the initiative said the Swiss electorate wanted to put a brake on the Islamicisation of their country, whereas opponents were concerned about the violation of rights, not to mention an international backlash and possible boycott of Swiss products.

"Forced marriages and other things like cemeteries separating the pure and impure – we don't have that in Switzerland and we don't want to introduce it," said Ulrich Schlüer, co-president of the Initiative Committee to ban minarets.

Oskar Freysinger, a member of the rightwing Swiss People's Party and a driving force in the campaign, said he was "stunned and dumbfounded" by Sunday's result "since the entire establishment was against us".

"I would like to say to all the Muslims listening that this will in no way change their right to practise their religion, to pray or to gather [in mosques]," he said. "However, society wants to put a safeguard on the political-legal wing of Islam, for which there is no separation between state and religion."

The president of the People's Party, Toni Brunner, said voters had clearly rejected the idea of parallel societies and the further expansion of Islam – including radical, political Islam – in Switzerland.

According to final results, 57.5 per cent of voters and a majority of cantons backed the initiative – up from 34 per cent last month. Turnout was high at around 53 per cent.

Brunner said people who settled here had to realise that they couldn't turn up to work in a head scarf or get special dispensation from swimming lessons.

Government reaction

The government said in a statement it respected the decision.

For Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, the outcome reflected fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies, "which reject our national traditions and which could disregard our legal order".

"These concerns have to be taken seriously. The government has always done so and will continue to do so in future. However, we take the view that a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies," she said.

Widmer-Schlumpf underlined that Sunday's vote was only directed against the construction of new minarets. "It is not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture. Of that the government gives its assurance."

"Switzerland has lost"

Nevertheless, Saida Keller-Messahli, president of the Forum for an Advanced Islam, said the public's fears had been too great and "hatred had won over reason".

She said there would now be legal consequences, since the ban violated the freedom of religion.

The Federation of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland also regretted the result, saying the propaganda of the campaign supporters had succeeded in frightening the majority of voters.

The federation said it was too soon to judge the negative social and legal consequences – what was important now was to strengthen their public relations and clear up any misunderstandings or prejudices concerning Islam.

"Switzerland has lost," said Rifa'at Lenzin from the European Project for Interreligious Learning in Zurich, adding that the country was "leading the way" for Islamophobia.

Lenzin was only partly surprised by the result, "which corresponds to the current mood". She said she was astonished, however, that the "subjective and far-fetched arguments" of the minaret opponents had found such great support.

She added that the opponents of the initiative had completely underestimated the situation and that the political parties had been asleep, with only the centre-right Radical Party actively campaigning. The public spaces had been dominated by the campaign supporters, she said.

Swiss values

Reinhard Schulze, a professor of Islamic studies at Bern University, said he was "very surprised" by the acceptance of the initiative.

He described the result as a "turning point", in that after many years of going in the other direction, voters had once again spoken for an unequal treatment of faiths.

"The next thing is obviously to look at how this plays with international law," he said, adding that he could already envisage complaints from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The Council of Religions, a body comprising Christian churches, Jews and Muslims, said in a statement it regretted the result. People of all faiths must work together even harder, it said, for the respect of rights of freedom, for dialogue with the Muslim community and for integration.

"These are values that make Switzerland strong," it said.

Swiss image abroad

Looking at political reaction, the centre-left Social Democratic Party warned in a statement against the exclusion of Muslims in Switzerland.

"The yes vote was probably the result of a diffuse fear of a religious minority," it said.

This fear must be taken seriously, it added, but it must not be misinterpreted as a vote of mistrust against all Muslims living in Switzerland.

The party said it was also concerned about Switzerland's image abroad, saying that a foreign ministry offensive was clearly necessary, along with stronger integration efforts at all state levels.

Jacques Neyrinck from the centre-right Christian Democratic Party stressed that Switzerland would be the only country in the world to ban the construction of minarets.

"Switzerland is heading straight for a battle with Islam," he said, adding that he feared a boycott of Swiss products.

"Dirty campaign"

The four minarets already attached to mosques in the country are not affected by the initiative, and the president of the Islamic community in Langenthal, canton Bern, assumed his organisation would be able to add a minaret to their mosque since it had already been approved.

Mutalip Karaademi said he was disappointed by the strong level of support and the "dirty campaign", describing Muslims and Islamists and terrorists.

But Langenthal mayor Thomas Rufener, from the People's Party, said he didn't think the minaret would be built "for political reasons".

Reaction to the Swiss anti-minaret vote in the wider Islamic community has reflected shock, sadness and concern, but also a determination to try to build bridges.

The vote revealed the hidden fears of many Swiss, and Muslims should respond by trying to build harmony across society, a leading Muslim scholar says.

The reaction of Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt, was echoed by a number of other Muslim scholars and commentators whom spoke to outside Switzerland.

"This result should draw our attention to the reality of the hidden fears which have been underestimated by decision makers," said Gomaa.

"We think that priority should be given to meeting the challenge of building societies capable of integrating diversity and difference... and we are ready to give every support to such an effort," he told

The grand mufti is the highest official of religious law in a Sunni Muslim country. Gomaa is regarded as a champion of moderate Islam.

"My first reaction is one of surprise and disappointment," Babacar Ba, the Geneva ambassador of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), told

"It is a bad answer to a bad question. I fear that this kind of thing is simply a gift to extremism and intolerance."

"I think we must be very vigilant in the face of the upsurge of islamophobia," he added. "This vote is an open door to the dangerous process of calling fundamental freedoms into question."


It had been widely expected that the ban would be rejected by voters, but Jaber al-Alawani, a Muslim thinker and director of the Cordoba Institute in the United States, told that he was not surprised.

"Islamophobia is widespread in Europe, all the more so because rightwing extremists see it as a kind of defence of European identity, which they haven't so far quite been able to define."

A British Muslim, Imam Abduljalil Sajid, imam of Brighton, and a member of the national executive committee of Interfaith UK, warned that ordinary Muslims were likely to react angrily, even though, as he stressed, the minaret is not a religious requirement.

"It will be seen negatively throughout the Muslim world, [as yet] another problem of Islam versus the West. I don't want to see it develop negatively, but unfortunately that will be the case," he told

Palestinian law professor Anwar Abu Aisheh, speaking to the Swiss News Agency, agreed.

"The vote will give arguments to Muslim extremists. They will see a frontal attack against Islam and its symbols," he warned.

Measured response

Despite the disappointment felt by many Muslims, Gomaa called for a measured response.

"It is really important not to exploit this result wrongly for political ends, but to regard it as a call to build cooperation and harmony between our different religions and societies, in a new spirit," he said.

Ba agreed on the importance of not over-reacting and of trying to build bridges.

"The main thing is to keep calm and to realise how much work still needs to be done to defend basic freedoms. I think we must do this by ... taking a constructive part in the debate on all issues which cause fear and concern, and to try to bring people together in order to confront extremism wherever it comes from."

Alawani also appealed to Swiss Muslims to keep calm.

"Avoid irrational reactions, and respect the views of the Swiss voters," he said.

Misfer al-Kahtani, a Muslim thinker from Saudi Arabia agreed. He pointed out that many Swiss had voted against the initiative, but said that the Muslim minorities in Europe had to take into account the fears that many Europeans have about their religion.

"The real challenge is for the Muslim community to accept the decision by Swiss society ... and work to change the clichés adopted by those who called for the ban on minarets, by showing a good example and applying the ideas and values of Muslim civilisation," he told


A number of commentators reflected on what the vote said about Switzerland.

"Switzerland is noted for its capacity to integrate culturally diverse components ... and article 15 of the Swiss constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and belief," Gomaa commented.

"This isn't a show of racism by the Swiss, just an upsurge of selfishness, [they are] worried that nothing should come and trouble their peace," said law professor Abu Aisheh.

Mohamed Munir al-Ghodban, a Muslim thinker from Syria, pointed out that minarets had nothing to do with the basic tenets of Islam. But he also told that Muslims in Switzerland felt the vote interfered with their religious practices "which contradicts the basic principles of freedom and democracy, which Switzerland has been so proud of for such a long time."

Praise from European right

"Extreme right groups everywhere, in France, in Holland or anywhere in the world will use this vote in their favour," Imam Sajid warned, and immediate comments by rightwing leaders bear him out.

There were warm words of praise for the Swiss vote from Italy's Reform Minister, Roberto Calderoli, who told the Italian news agency ANSA that a clear sign had come from Switzerland: "Yes to church towers, no to minarets". He said Switzerland should be a model for Italy in this respect.

The head of Austria's rightwing Freedom Party, quoted by the Austrian news agency, also sees Switzerland as a model, a sentiment echoed by the general secretary of another rightwing party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria.

Marine le Pen, of the French National Front, said in a statement on the party's website that the Swiss had demonstrated their attachment to their "national identity, their countryside and their culture", despite calls from the "élites" not to vote in favour of the ban.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Albert Einstien answering the question...

"If God created everything
then He created evil.
If God created evil
then is He evil?"

US State Department Publishes Annual Survey on Religious Freedom

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, NOV. 8, 2009 ( Almost completely ignored by the media, the U.S. Department of State released its latest annual report on religious freedom on Oct. 26. The 2009 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom deals with the year ending June 30, 2009, and surveys 198 countries and territories.

Before going into the details on each country, the report's introduction explains why the United States' government considers it important to defend religious freedom.

"Religious freedom is the birthright of all people, regardless of their faith or lack thereof," it asserts.

The introduction also brings into play the concept of the common good. "On balance, freedom tends to channel the convictions and passions of faith into acts of service and positive engagement in the public square," the text affirms.

From a more political perspective the State Department argues that when religious groups and ideas are suppressed then this tends to lead to their radicalization, which in turn can foment separatism or insurgency.

On the international level the report argues that if governments manipulate religion or marginalize groups, then this only helps radical groups that will in turn be a threat to global security.

"Environments of robust religious freedom, on the other hand, foster communal harmony and embolden voices of moderation to openly refute extremists on religious grounds," the introduction concludes.


A section of the report deals with those countries where violations of religious freedom have been noteworthy. Among those is Afghanistan. The report notes how the Constitution states that Islam is the "religion of the state" and that "no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam."

The State Department commented that non-Muslim minority groups, including Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, continued to face incidents of discrimination and persecution. Another problem is that of conversion. Many citizens, the report noted, understand conversion as contravening the tenets of Islam and Shariah.

In Egypt the report observed that, while the Constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites, in practice the government places restrictions on these rights. In fact, respect for religious freedom by the authorities declined somewhat during the reporting period, according to the State Department.

This was mainly due to the failure to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of sectarian violence. This practice, the report added, contributed to a climate of impunity that encouraged repetition of the assaults.

Christians and members of the Baha'i faith face personal and collective discrimination in many areas, the report affirmed. One example given was that of a court that sentenced a Coptic priest to five years of hard labor for officiating at a wedding between a Copt and a convert from Islam who allegedly presented false identification documentation.

In Pakistan the report didn't mince its words and said that: "Discriminatory legislation and the government's failure to take action against societal forces hostile to those who practice a different religious belief fostered religious intolerance, acts of violence, and intimidation against religious minorities."

In general discrimination against religious minorities was widespread, and extremist groups and individuals targeted religious congregations.

Iran and Iraq were both singled out by the report as problematic countries when it comes to religious freedom. In the former it noted that despite constitutional guarantees, in practice those who are not Shi'a Muslims faced substantial discrimination.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was also mentioned, due to his "virulent anti-Semitic campaign," which included questioning the existence and scope of the Holocaust.

As well, the government enforced its prohibition on proselytizing by some Christian groups by closely monitoring their activities, closing some churches, and arresting Christian converts.

In Iraq the existence of constitutional guarantees was vitiated by violence from terrorists and criminal gangs that restricted the free exercise of religion and posed a significant threat to the country's vulnerable religious minorities, the report stated.

"Very few of the perpetrators of violence committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the country have been punished," the State Department noted.


India, where there have been numerous incidents of violence against Christians, was also dealt with in the report. The State Department commented that some state and local governments imposed limits on religious freedom.

Religious extremists committed numerous terrorist attacks throughout the country during the reporting period covered by the report. The State Department mentioned the violence that erupted in August 2008 in Orissa, when, according to government statistics, 40 persons died and 134 were injured.

According to several independent accounts, an estimated 3,200 refugees remained in relief camps, down from 24,000 in the immediate aftermath of the violence, the report noted.

In Burma the government continued to infiltrate and monitor activities of virtually all organizations, including religious ones, according to the report. Moreover, authorities systematically restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom.

Restrictions on Christians and other non-Buddhist minority groups also continued throughout the country, the report added.

In Vietnam the report opined that, while respect for religious freedom continued to improve in some regards, significant problems remained. Thus, during the last year the government granted national recognition to five Protestant denominations and some additional religions.

But there were unresolved property claims with virtually all religious groups, some resulting in large-scale Catholic protests that were forcibly repressed.

The State Department had some strong words when it came to China. The report commented that during the 12-month period examined, officials continued to scrutinize and in some cases interfere with the activities of religious and spiritual groups.

As well, in some areas government officials violated the rights of members of unregistered Protestant and Catholic groups, Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and members of the Falun Gong.

Authorities also strongly opposed the profession of loyalty to religious leadership outside the country, most notably the Pope and the Dalai Lama, the report noted. China's repression of religious freedom remained severe in Tibetan areas and in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, the report stated.


In a press release issued the same day as the report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) urged "the prompt designation of "countries of particular concern" (CPCs) as well as implementation of targeted policies on those countries."

The statement explained that a country that has seriously violated religious liberty is required by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to be designated a "country of particular concern," and the U.S. government is required to take action, ranging from negotiating a bilateral agreement to sanctions.

USCIRF explained that it wants 13 countries -- Burma, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam -- to be designated as CPCs.

The press release also stated that USCIRF recommended stronger actions be taken against the eight countries currently listed as CPCs by the State Department: Burma, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.

Benedict XVI recently dealt with the topic of religious freedom, when he addressed the new ambassador of Iran to the Holy See. In his Oct. 29 speech the Holy Father said that: "Among the universal rights, religious liberty and freedom of conscience occupy an essential place, because they are the source of the other liberties."

Interestingly, both the Catholic Church and a secular institution such as the State Department can both agree that religious liberty is a vital right and important for the international community. All the more reason to renew efforts to safeguard such a fundamental right in the many countries where it is under threat.