The CSS Blog Network

Armenia: Church, State Joining Forces Against Western Religious Groups?

St. Hripsime church, one of Armenia’s oldest churches. Image: Travis K. Witt/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by EurasiaNet.Org on 24 November, 2015.

As Armenia readies for a controversial December 6 referendum, public attention has tended to focus on proposed constitutional amendments that would alter the country’s political system. But another, less discussed amendment is generating concern among some who question whether the country’s religious minorities, often deemed purveyors of “perverse” Western values, could suffer.

Wariness of so-called “sects” — a euphemism for primarily evangelical Christian denominations, including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses — has long existed in Armenia. The state-financed Armenian Apostolic Church, believed to be the world’s oldest Christian institution, is widely seen as a major pillar of national identity.

Currently, the constitution provides for church-state separation. Constitutional amendments proposed by a commission working under President Serzh Sargsyan’s office would provide for freedom of religion and ban religious discrimination, yet article 41 stipulates that such freedom could be restricted “with the aim of protecting state security, the public order, health and morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” » More

The Political Pope Comes to Africa

Pope Francis I. during his inauguration mass. Image: Catholic Church of England and Wales Photostream/Flickr

This article was originally published by The Institute for Security Studies on 22 October, 2015.

Can the ‘political Pope,’ as he is increasingly being called, advance peace and promote reconciliation in Africa where so many others have failed?

In his brief 30 months in the Vatican, Pope Francis has shown himself unafraid to venture forth from the cloisters into the messy world of politics in pursuit of his spiritual agenda. Nowhere was this more evident than in the key role he played in restoring diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba earlier this year, ending 54 years of bitter isolation. » More

On Religion and Violence

Jihadists carrying rockets.

Masked Palestinian militants with homemade rockets in the outskirts of Gaza City. Image: Amir Farshad Ebrahimi/Flickr

This article was originally published by Contending Modernities, a blog hosted by the University of Notre Dame, on 25 November, 2014. It is part of Contending Modernities’ “Deadly Violence and Conflict Transformation” series.

The rise of ISIL and the so-called Islamic State in 2014 has given prominence to discussions of religious violence in the media, with much emphasis placed on questions of the relationship between Islam and violence. In his speech to the nation on 10 September 2014, President Obama restated his longstanding view that no one who commits violent atrocities in the name of religion can be considered an authentic believer. Similarly, Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium affirms that in the face of “disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.” Others, however, have responded negatively to such statements, citing, violence in the Qur’an, religious leaders who have promoted violence, and contemporary and historical cases of religious violence linked to Islam. » More

Christianity’s Via Dolorosa

Protesters on Qasr el-Nil Bridge, chanting for national unity between Muslims and Christians

Protesters in Egypt chanting for national unity between Muslims and Christians (Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy حسام الحملاوي/flickr)

BRUSSELS – Recently, the human-rights activist, former Dutch politician, and Somali exile Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote about a global war on Christians in Muslim countries. She discussed at length the appalling phenomenon of violent intolerance towards Christian communities, and cast blame on the international community and prominent NGOs for failing to address this problem.

In almost every part of the world, reports emerge on a daily basis of Christian communities falling victim to harassment and persecution. In Nigeria, on February 26, three Christians were killed and dozens wounded after a car bomb exploded close to a church in the northern town of Jos. At least 500 people have died during the last year in attacks attributed to the violent Islamist group Boko Haram, which has called for all Christians to leave northern Nigeria.

In East African states such as Sudan, Christians have been given an April 8 deadline to leave the north. The ultimatum will affect up to 700,000 Christians who were born in South Sudan before it became independent last year. In Eritrea, it is reported that 2,000-3,000 Christians are in detention, and that many have been tortured. » More

Christmas at War

British and German troops meeting in no man’s land during the unofficial truce. Photo: IWM Collections

Happy Christmas, war is over. The song has been played to death on the radio, but with Washington’s declaration that the Iraq war is now officially over, John Lennon’s lyrics will likely bring a tear to the eyes of many American mothers. With Christmas being a time when families travel sometimes thousands of miles to reunite, the separation between those on the front lines and those worrying at home becomes all the more pronounced.

Perhaps the most famous – and undoubtedly the most touching – account of Christmas at war stems from the early 20th century. In 1914, only months into WWI, a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires took place along the Western Front. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, German and British soldiers (and to a lesser degree some French) independently ventured into ‘no man’s land’ and exchanged greetings and souvenirs, and even played a friendly game of soccer. The last survivor of the Christmas truce gave a haunting account of how he witnessed this spontaneous act of humanity:

“The words drifted across the frozen battlefield: ‘Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles Schlaft, einsam wacht’. After the last note a lone German infantryman appeared holding a small tree glowing with light. ‘Merry Christmas. We not shoot, you not shoot.’”

The Christmas truce of 1914 was deemed “one human episode amid all the atrocities,” but there is evidence that small-scale Christmas truces between opposing forces continued throughout WWI. » More

Page 1 of 2