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8447News in Brief

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  • Zafar Khan
    Jan 6, 2008
      Vatican Plans Muslim Meeting


      VATICAN CITY — A landmark meeting between Catholic
      officials and Muslim scholars that aims to spur
      dialogue between Christianity and Islam is planned to
      take place in Rome this spring, a senior Vatican
      official has said.
      "In a certain sense, (the meeting) can be defined as
      historic," the head of the Vatican's Pontifical
      Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Cardinal
      Jean-Louis Tauran , told the Vatican newspaper
      L'Osservatore Romano, Reuters reported Friday, January

      He said he expected an advanced group of three Muslim
      representatives in February or March to lay the
      groundwork for the meeting.

      Tauran said the agenda of the larger meeting would
      cover three main topics: respect for the dignity of
      each person, interreligious dialogue based on
      reciprocal understanding, and instruction of tolerance
      among the young.

      The meeting is the idea of Pope Benedict XVI as part
      of his official response to a Muslim initiative that
      urged for a candid dialogue with Christian clergymen

      In an open letter themed "A Common Word Between Us and
      You," 138 Muslim scholars wrote to Pope Benedict and
      other Christian leaders in October, saying "the very
      survival of the world itself" might depend on

      The Pope, who as head of the Catholic Church
      represents more than half the world's two billion
      Christians, responded in November by welcoming their
      call and inviting them to Rome.

      But some Muslim scholars from the Cairo-based Al-Azhar
      Al-Sharif, though welcoming the Vatican's response to
      the letter, have expressed their reservations about
      the meeting's venue.

      They said such meetings should take place in a Muslim
      country, arguing that the pontiff should reciprocate a
      visit by Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdel Aziz to the

      Muslim leaders back Livingstone as mayor

      · Statement of support for London incumbent
      · Rival Johnson criticises 'divide and rule' politics


      Prominent Muslim organisations and individuals have
      pledged to back Ken Livingstone as mayor of London,
      saying it is in the "best interest" of Muslims to vote
      for him in this year's elections on May 1.
      A statement, published today in full on the Guardian's
      website, praises Livingstone for his continued support
      of a multicultural society and for protecting Muslim
      communities against racism and Islamophobia.

      The 63 signatories include Mohammed Ali, the chief
      executive of the Islam Channel, which claims to have
      an audience of millions, Professor Tariq Ramadan and
      Dilwar Hussain from the London Muslim Centre, part of
      the East London Mosque.

      They said: "His stands and policies have constantly
      championed justice in the Middle East ... freedom for
      the Palestinians and withdrawal of occupying troops
      from Iraq; a rare trait of modern-day public figures.
      He has enhanced London's standing in the world and
      helped improve the lives of all of the city's
      "We pledge to continue our support for the mayor on
      all levels possible in order to secure his staying in
      office for a third term."

      Ihtisham Hibatullah from the British Muslim
      Initiative, which organised the statement, said
      Livingstone was doing more to help Muslim communities
      than other mayoral candidates. "He supports religious
      freedom. He's committed to developing skills of
      alienated communities and he's doing great work on
      social cohesion. These signatories are major players;
      they have reach and come the elections there will be a
      huge mobilisation of the Muslim vote."

      Livingstone's criticism of US and UK foreign policy
      has increased his popularity among Muslims and he has
      appeared at events such as IslamExpo, which attracts
      tens of thousands of people every year.

      The mayor welcomed the statement, saying that London's
      prosperity and good community relations were based on
      openness and tolerance. "The fundamental basis of
      London's openness and choice is that every Londoner
      should be able to live their life as they freely
      choose with the sole condition that they do not
      prevent others doing the same," he said.

      His courting of Muslim groups and leaders sparked
      controversy in 2004, when he invited Islamic scholar
      Yusuf al-Qaradawi to a conference about female
      students wearing hijab. Among his fiercest critics was
      gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who condemned
      the invitation because of al-Qaradawi's support for
      "female genital mutilation, wife-beating, the
      execution of homosexuals in Islamic states, the
      destruction of the Jewish people, the use of suicide
      bombs against innocent civilians and the blaming of
      rape victims who do not dress with sufficient

      His rival, Conservative candidate Boris Johnson, said
      he was "not remotely worried" by the statement of
      support and warned against "divide and rule" politics.
      "When anything is signed by so-called community
      leaders I take it with a big pinch of salt," he said.
      "My grandfather was a Muslim and so was my
      great-grandfather. I am proud of my Muslim ancestry.
      But I want to talk about the interests of Londoners. I
      don't care what religion they are. I want to look
      after people from all communities."

      Giuliani Takes Distance from Muslim Jibe


      CAIRO — US Republican front-runner presidential
      hopeful Rudolph Giuliani has distanced himself from
      offensive remarks made by a campaign supporter against
      Muslims, the New York Post on Sunday, December 30.
      "Everyone knows my views. I expressed them the night
      of Sept. 11, 2001. These acts should never involve
      group blame," Giuliani said after a rally at his Iowa
      campaign headquarters Saturday

      He said Muslims are "good, decent" people, but he
      singled out a "small group . . . of Islamic terrorists
      who have perverted . . . a great religion."

      John Deady, volunteer co-chairman of New Hampshire
      Veterans for Rudy, resigned Friday, December 29, in
      the face of his inflammatory anti-Muslims remarks.

      Deady told Britain's The Guardian newspaper that
      Muslims need to be "chased back to their caves."

      "We need to keep the feet to the fire and keep
      pressing these people until we defeat or chase them
      back to their caves or in other words get rid of
      them," Deady said in a video interview posted
      Thursday, December 27.

      The then Giuliani campaigner later stood by his
      comments in another interview to the popular political
      blog Talking Points Memo (TPM).

      "We can't afford to say, 'We'll try diplomacy.' They
      don't respond to it. If you look into Islamic
      tradition, a treaty is only good for five years. We're
      not dealing with a rational mindset here. We're
      dealing with madmen."

      And he framed all Muslims.

      "I don't subscribe to the principle that there are
      good Muslims and bad Muslims," he told TPM. "They’re
      all Muslims."

      Mindful of bitter lessons from previous elections,
      American Muslim activists launched last month a
      "Voting is Power" campaign to mobilize Muslim voters
      to cast the ballots in next year's polls.

      The campaign is supported by Representative Keith
      Ellison, America's first Muslim congressman.

      The vote will coincide with the 2008 Senate elections,
      House of Representatives elections, gubernatorial, as
      well as many state and local elections.

      There are between six to seven million Muslims in the

      Malaysia Reverses "Allah" Ban


      CAIRO — The Malaysian government has reversed a ban
      imposed on the Malay-language section of the country's
      main Catholic newspaper, The Herald, after using the
      Arabic word "Allah" to refer to God, reported The Star
      on Monday, December 31.
      "With the letter, I’m certain that we can continue
      with the publication as well as the use of the word
      Allah," Herald's Editor Father Lawrence Andrew told
      The Star, referring to an Internal Security Ministry's
      permit that renewed the publishing of the Catholic

      "This letter places no restrictions whatsoever and
      includes the permit for all the languages, including
      the Bahasa Malaysia segment," he added.

      Print publications in Malaysia require a government
      permit renewed every year.

      The controversy thrust into the spotlight last week,
      when leaders of Malaysia's Roman Catholics, estimated
      at nearly 800,000, complained that authorities had
      refused to renew a publishing permit for articles
      written in Malay in their weekly.

      The Internal Security Ministry attributed the ban to
      The Herald's use of the word "Allah", which is
      forbidden to be used by non-Muslims in Malaysia,
      according to Catholic church officials.

      The move promoted the weekly and a Catholic church to
      lodge two lawsuits against the government, naming as
      defendant the internal security minister, a post held
      by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

      "Allah" is the Arabic word for God and means the same
      in Malay, Malaysia's national language.

      Catholics argue that their use of "Allah" is not
      something new. They have invoked the word for
      generations in prayers and during Malay mass.

      Graffiti praises 'hero' Saddam
      By Sabah al-Bazi and Ghazwan al-Jubouri
      Published: 31 December 2007


      Black graffiti lauding Saddam Hussein appeared
      overnight in his home town and small groups of
      mourners turned out at his grave yesterday, the first
      anniversary of the former Iraqi leader's execution.

      "There is no life without the sun and no dignity
      without Saddam," read one painted slogan in his home
      town, Tikrit, north of Baghdad. "Paradise for the hero
      Saddam," read another.

      The graffiti appeared on buildings including the
      town's police station and its agriculture and
      electricity directorates.

      Saddam was hanged for crimes against humanity in a
      rushed execution criticised by the international
      community. Fellow Sunni Arabs were also angered by
      illicitly filmed footage that showed Shi'ite officials
      taunting him on the gallows.

      In Awja, the village near Tikrit that is Saddam's
      birthplace and his final resting place, Reuters
      Television filmed men, women and children crowding
      around his flower-covered tomb in a hall attached to a

      Seven poets recited poetry praising Saddam near his
      grave, and a group of about 25 men sat talking about
      life under Saddam and how Iraq had changed since his

      "A year has passed since the death of the leader but
      no positive changes have taken place. Things are worse
      - we are ruled by Iran and America. The leader has
      been killed to satisfy Iran," said Adnan Jassim, 38,
      from Tikrit.

      At the time of Saddam's execution Iraq was racked by
      sectarian violence that pushed the country to the
      brink of civil war. One year on, violence has dropped
      sharply, in part because of a new counter-insurgency
      strategy adopted by US forces and a rebellion by Sunni
      tribes against al Qaeda.

      France breaks off talks with Syria
      By Maamoun Youssef, Associated Press Writer
      Published: 31 December 2007


      France is cutting off talks with Syria until Damascus
      shows its willingness to let Lebanon elect a new
      president, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said

      Lebanon's Western-backed government and pro-Syrian
      opposition have been unable to break a deadlock over
      filling the presidential post, empty for a month, and
      many Western countries have accused Damascus of
      interfering in the process — a claim Syria denies.

      "I will not have any more contact with the Syrians
      until ... we have received proof of Syria's intention
      to let Lebanon designate a president of consensus,"
      said Sarkozy at a press conference in Cairo after
      meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

      France, Lebanon's former colonial ruler, has led the
      international effort to mediate between feuding
      Lebanese politicians and has consistently implored the
      Syrians to cooperate.

      Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal called
      Sarkozy's comments "surprising," telling Syrian state
      television that Damascus was "working with France to
      reach an agreement on a president who represents all

      The French president spoke with Syrian President
      Bashar Assad as recently as the beginning of December
      to urge him to "facilitate" the election in Lebanon.

      Sarkozy sent his chief of staff, Claude Gueant, to
      Damascus in early November, and Foreign Minister
      Bernard Kouchner met his Syrian counterpart Walid
      al-Moallem earlier that month on the sidelines of an
      Iraq conference in Turkey.

      "France has taken the responsibility of talking with
      Syria," said Sarkozy. "One must recognize today that
      we cannot wait any longer, Syria must stop talking and
      now must act."

      Syria has denied meddling with the election and has
      accused the French of working too closely with the US,
      which Damascus claims is trying to manipulate the
      Lebanese political process for its own interests — an
      accusation Washington denies.

      Sarkozy also called on Israel to halt construction in
      Jewish settlements as a gesture to push forward peace
      negotiations with the Palestinians.

      "I have said on several occasions ... that it is the
      moment for the Israelis to make some gestures that
      would show that peace is possible — including a freeze
      on the implantation of colonies," Sarkozy said.

      Sarkozy met Mubarak in the last days of a personal
      vacation the French president has taken in Egypt the
      past week. Later yesterday, Sarkozy toured the
      pyramids with his girlfriend, supermodel-turned-singer
      Carla Bruni.

      Lebanon has been without a president since November
      23, when pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down without
      a successor. Opposition boycotts have thwarted
      attempts to choose a president by preventing a
      two-thirds quorum in parliament.

      Lawmakers on both sides have agreed to back Army
      Commander General Michel Suleiman as a compromise
      candidate, but parliament must first amend the
      constitution to allow a sitting military chief to
      become president.
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