8447News in Brief
- Jan 6, 2008Vatican 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. "Theyre
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, Im 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
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,
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
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
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