Categories
Government Security

Religion and Politics in Israel

Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall, courtesy of Premsagar/flickr
Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall, courtesy of Premsagar/flickr

Recently, Israel has experienced several inner conflicts. But this time, Palestinians have nothing to do with them. It is a series of conflicts and tensions between the two faces of the Israeli population: Orthodox Jews and secular Jews. As a report by the Institute for National Security Studies of Tel Aviv mentions, “a different but no less serious challenge to Israel is the deep ideological divisions among the Jews themselves.”

Examples of this division can be observed almost daily in the local media. From the settlement policy to the future of Palestine, the ideological difference is clear. Part of the Orthodox minority, most of them are settlers, is determined to occupy, if not conquer, the land they believe God gave them. As a short example of their determination, the government needed 40,000 troops and policemen and months of preparation to remove fewer than 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip over a period of a few months.

Until recently, this minority had little to say in terms of national policy. But the last election that saw Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gathering a right-wing coalition changed the presence of the orthodox group on the political stage. The coalition government now includes several members of the Shas party and even one member of The Jewish Home. Theses religious parties are strong advocates of the presence of the Halakha, the Jewish law, in Israeli law. This once-stable coalition is now starting to fall apart:

Categories
International Relations Religion

A Seasonal Reading List

Candle light, photo: Alesa Dam/flickr
Candle light, photo: Alesa Dam/flickr

In light of our weekly theme – religion and international affairs – we thought we’d link to an excellent reading list compiled by Foreign Affairs on this very timely and often ignored topic.

Whether seen as a civilizational clash; a clash between modernity and traditionalism; secularism and religion, the nature of conflict in the international realm makes it clear that powerful forces are at play and tend to evolve, more than ever, around religious identities and clashing interpretations thereof.

As Foreign Affairs notes, the relevance and effectiveness of US and indeed western foreign policy depends on acknowledging the place religion occupies in global politics and engaging in candid conversations that include both secular and religious voices.

Instead of allowing religiously couched fear-mongering to take root in our minds and in our policy, and effectively allowing Huntington’s ‘clash’ to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, we need to engage openly with religion in the political realm, while keeping in mind that religious rhetoric often masks deep socio-political malaise and distinctly non-spiritual problems.

Categories
International Relations Culture Religion

Interreligious Dialogue: A Way Toward Peace?

Religijne_symbole0
Religious Symbol, Wikicommons

On Thursday 3rd of December, the Parliament of the World’s Religions opened the doors of its 5th parliamentary session in Melbourne, Australia. The first session took place on 1893 at the World Exposition of Chicago.  The parliament waited 100 years to host its second parliamentary session and since 1993, the inter-religious body has met every 5 years.

At its first meeting, the assembly wanted to promote a better understanding of different cultures and already called for peaceful relations between all religions. They also called for a common understanding of faith, exemplified by Indian Hindu delegate Swami Vivekananda’s call: “if there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will hold no location in place or time; which will be infinite, like the God it will preach; whose Son shines upon the followers of Krishna or Christ, saints or sinners, alike; which will not be the Brahman or Buddhist, Christian or Mohammedan [Muslim], but the sum total of all these”.

After 100 years of inactivity, the assembly has started to play a proactive role in what is called para- or indirect diplomacy; ensuring that different religions and populations exchange views and opinions on global affairs with a religious perspective; the final goal being peace.  For example, in 1999 the assembly focused on HIV/AIDS. This year, the parliament will focus on the rights of indigenous people and on climate change.

Categories
Government Culture Elections Religion

Switzerland: Quo Vadis?

Minaret in Serrières, Switzerland
Minaret in Serrières, Switzerland

It was the first Sunday of Advent and a black day for everyone who cherishes the values of enlightenment. It was unexpected since everyone seemed to be against it: almost all political parties, the national churches, representatives of the economy and many other organizations.

But it happened still: The Swiss banned the construction of minarets in yesterday’s vote.

Reactions after the result were impressive. Within minutes I received text messages and Facebook group invitations from all sorts of people. One of the groups is “I am ashamed of the results of the Anti-Minaret initiative!.” When I wanted to invite more friends to join I realized that they were all already there – from the most conservative to the most liberal people I know.

Categories
Security Culture

Is Peace (only) a Matter of Spirituality?

Beware of God
Beware of God / Photo : Synaptic Impulse - Flickr

Today is the International Day of Peace. Started by the General Assembly in 2002, it is supposed to celebrate peace worldwide.  According to the official calendar that lists all the events taking place in the world today to celebrate peace, at least 70% of the events are related to spirituality and to religious activities.

I find it quite ironic that peace is associated with religion when most of the conflicts that are currently taking place have at least a religious component if not a religious background: the civil war in Iraq, the insurgency in Afghanistan, civil war in Somalia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the insurgency in the southern Philippines and many more. I understand that religion and spiritual values can breed tolerance, cultural understanding and open-mindedness. Unfortunately this is not always the case and the most belligerent minds and groups often use religion as a justification for their distinctly unpeaceful agendas.

Wouldn’t it be possible to promote peace without including faith in the package? Couldn’t we establish a true understanding and a peaceful world by using different concepts? The ancient Greeks who invented democracy and laid the foundations for our modern civilization were also confronted with the need to make peace. At the time, peace was established on foundations of social justice, sound legislative processes and economic growth.

This ancient understanding of peace is one that the modern world would do well to keep in mind and it could serve as a useful alternative to spirituality for this International Day of Peace.