One group was not surprised to hear Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s comments about “binders of women” at the presidential debate this week – Mormon feminists.
Yes, there are Mormon feminists, and no, they do not think it is impossible to believe in women’s rights and be devout members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religion that once allowed polygamy and places a heavy emphasis on the role of women in the home.
But Romney’s phrase, delivered in the presidential debate on Tuesday and which quickly went viral on social media, underscored the tensions over the role of women in the church.
Aimee Hickman, co-editor of the Mormon feminist magazine Exponent II, said Romney’s remarks in which he said he looked at “binders full of women” while searching for staff as governor of Massachusetts suggested he was comfortable having powerful women around him, even if he put it awkwardly.
Yet when he then described setting up a flexible schedule for a senior aide so that she could go home and make dinner for her family, he was speaking in the church’s paternalistic language that casts women ultimately as mothers, she said.
“The emphasis on them (women) being seen as leaders or them being seen as breadwinners is still really missing from our rhetoric,” Hickman said. Romney’s response put that “on full display,” she added.
Heavily armed Islamists bulldozed the tombs of three local Sufi saints near Mali’s desert city of Timbuktu on Thursday, residents said, the latest in a series of attacks in the rebel-held north that critics say threaten its cultural heritage.
“They arrived aboard six or seven vehicles, heavily armed,” said Garba Maiga, a resident of Timbuktu, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its ancient shrines. “They flattened everything with a bulldozer and pulled up the skeletal remains.”
Residents said the tombs destroyed included those of local saints Cheick Nouh, Cheick Ousmane el Kabir, and Cheick Mohamed Foulani Macina, several kilometers (miles) outside of the city gates. They said the rebels were from Ansar Dine, one of a mixture of Islamist groups now in control of northern Mali.
Turkish concert pianist Fazil Say’s exuberance has won him fans around the world, but it has also helped land him in court as a cause célèbre for those alarmed by Turkey’s creeping Islamic conservatism.
On trial for insulting religion in citing a thousand-year-old poem on his Twitter account, the 42-year-old performer and composer told a first brief hearing in Istanbul on Thursday that he denied the charge, which can carry an 18-month sentence.
As fellow artists crammed the courthouse in a show of support for Say, who performs with some of the world’s leading orchestras, the case was adjourned for four months.
Thousands of Buddhist monks marched in Myanmar’s two biggest cities to protest against efforts by the world’s biggest Islamic body to help Rohingya Muslims involved in deadly communal clashes four months ago.
The monks, a potent political force in the predominantly Buddhist country, denounced plans by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to set up a liaison office in northwest Rakhine state, where violence erupted in June between ethnic Buddhist Rakhines and Rohingyas.
Just hours after the monks dispersed on Monday, President Thein Sein’s office announced it would not permit an OIC representation in Myanmar. It was not immediately clear if the announcement was linked to the protests or had been planned in advance.
At the sound of a bell from the altar, relayed over loud-speakers, about 50,000 people at an open-air mass last month in the Polish capital dropped down to kneel in the street.
It was a powerful symbol of Poland’s deeply felt Roman Catholicism, a reminder of the scenes in the 1980s when, inspired by Polish Pope John Paul II, people prayed in the streets and brought down Communist rule.
But modernity intruded on this recent moment of spiritual contemplation. The size of the crowd meant some worshippers, who arrived late, had to listen to the mass standing outside a sex shop with signs in the window offering “exotic dances”.
Western opposition has made it impossible for Muslim states to obtain a ban on blasphemy, including anti-Islamic videos and cartoons that have touched off deadly riots, the Islamic world’s top diplomat said.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said his 57-nation body would not try again for United Nations support to ban insults to religion, but appealed for states to apply hate-speech laws concerning Islam.
“We could not convince them,” said the Turkish head of the 57-member organisation which had tried from 1998 until 2011 to get a United Nations-backed ban on blasphemy. “The European countries don’t vote with us, the United States doesn’t vote with us.”
The United States has been unable to develop a clear national policy about the Arab Spring largely because Washington does not fully understand what’s happening in the Middle East.
The term, “Arab Spring” is itself misleading. The changes over the past 20 months have produced a fundamental transformation of the region – but not in the way most outside observers anticipated: They reflect the replacement of the dominant Arab national identity by a more Islamic identity.
This change has been evolving for more than 40 years and did not begin in January 2011 with the demonstrations across the Middle East.
Despite gains in some countries, more than 14 million girls under age 18 will be married each year over the next 10 years, a figure expected to increase to more than 15 million girls a year between 2021 and 2030, according to a new report from the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) released on Thursday.
As the number of girls who are married as children grows, the number of children bearing children will increase, and deaths among girls will rise, said the report, timed to mark the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child.
When Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council half a century ago, he said he wanted to “open the windows” of his almost 2,000-year Church to the rapid changes in the modern world. Within a few years, Roman Catholicism dropped its ancient language Latin, ended two millennia of hostility to the Jews, made room for lay men and women in the liturgy and called for more consultation between the Vatican and its worldwide flock. Now, as the Church prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the Council’s opening on October 11, 1962, Latin is making a comeback, female altar servers are being discouraged and inner-Church dialogue is often little more than a formality. Views on the historic Council divide Catholics to this day. Liberals say the return to tradition betrays its spirit. For conservatives, it corrects errors made in applying its ideas. The key to understanding this fault line lies in the thinking of Pope Benedict himself, who has gone from being a leading reformer to the main advocate of conservative renewal. “He says the Council was a good thing, but not a big turn in the road,” said Rev John O’Malley, Jesuit author of the book “What Happened At Vatican II.” “He defines reform as a blending of different levels of continuity and discontinuity,” O’Malley, a Church historian at Georgetown University in Washington, told Reuters.
UPDATING THE CHURCH That’s not the way it felt at the time. The Council, which combined the Renaissance pomp of the Vatican with the surging optimism of the early 1960s, was one of the first major world events covered by the newly popular medium of television. Pope John XXIII’s founding call for aggiornamento (Italian for updating) at the Council was taken up by liberal Belgian, Dutch, French and German bishops who argued for change against opposition from the Vatican’s conservative Italian bureaucracy. Although the formal debates were held inside St Peter’s Basilica in Latin, many of the 2,500 bishops at the sessions kept their home media informed about what was happening. When it ended in December 1965, O’Malley said, “98% of those who participated thought it was a big deal and it was good. The rest thought it was a big deal and it was bad.” Pope Benedict, who attended the Council as the young German theology professor Joseph Ratzinger, was a leading light in the reform camp and agreed with most of its conclusions. But when the student revolts of 1968 challenged traditional authority far more than the Council ever did, Ratzinger began stressing the importance of tradition and stability. “He didn’t like all the tampering with the liturgy,” said O’Malley, referring to the way the elegant 400-year old Latin Mass was replaced by more informal rites in local languages, accompanied by guitar music and upbeat modern hymns.
As Religion Editor, my job is to coordinate religion news coverage with our bureaus around the world. Based in Paris, I also run our FaithWorld blog and report mostly about Christianity and Islam in Europe and related moral issues such as bioethics. Since joining Reuters in 1977 in London, I've been a correspondent, bureau chief and editor in Vienna, Geneva, Islamabad, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Bonn and Paris. My book Unchained Eagle: Germany after the Wall was published in 2000. In 2006, I received the European Religion Writer of the Year award.