Secularization or Religious Intolerance?

In 2009 in Switzerland more than 57% of voters and 22 out of 26 provinces voted in favor of imposing a national ban on the construction of minarets, the prayer towers of mosques. In 2011, France introduced a law against covering one’s face in public. Muslim women in full-face veils, or niqab, were banned from any public activity including walking down the street, taking a bus, going to the shops or collecting their children from school.  That same year, another law that banned saying prayers in the street, a practice by French Muslims unable to find space in mosques, came into effect in Paris.

In a recent ruling, a Cologne’s (Germany) District Court criminalized the religious circumcision of minors, even with the consent of parents.  In Hof, a small German town near the Czeck border, four German citizens filed criminal complaints with the local prosecutor against a local Rabbi alleging the crime of performing ritual circumcisions. In New York, the City’s Board of Health voted earlier this month to require parents to sign a consent form before having their child undergo an Orthodox Jewish circumcision ritual.

Those favoring the regulation of circumcisions cite as their main reason the health risks to the children of certain circumcision rituals. The principal reason put forth for banning the construction of minarets was to eliminate conflict. Proponents of the law prohibiting the covering of the face saw the law as a way to prevent the oppression of women in Islamic communities.

Is there a trend of governments trying to eliminate religion and impose secularism as the new religion?

Are governments being insensitive to religious beliefs, or are governments only looking out for the wellbeing of their citizens?

Do these laws violate the right of individuals to practice their religion?

Intolerance, Terrorism and International Diplomacy

On Tuesday, September 11, individuals identified in media reports as armed “Islamist militants” stormed a United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing the American ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three members of his staff.

The attack in Libya, which came hours after a mob stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the U.S. flag, was presumed to have been triggered by a movie, whose trailer had gone viral on YouTube. Morris Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian in the US, promoted the film on his website last week. Koran burning, Florida pastor Terry Jones also promoted the film in his church.  Within days it was fuelling outrage in Arab countries horrified at the depiction in the movie of the prophet Muhammad as an illegitimate, murderous pedophile.

By all accounts Mr. Stevens was very much respected and a loved figure within the Libyan community. He had served twice previously in Libya, including as a special representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council from March to November 2011, helping to save the city of Benghazi during the country’s revolution. Hours after Stevens’ death, Libyans had started an Arabic-language Facebook tribute page for him where they shared photos of the ambassador — in one picture he can be seen at a local restaurant sitting with some locals and eating local food with his hand. They also posted pictures of themselves holding candles lit in his memory.

In her official statement after the events Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that: “Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith and as long as there are those who would take innocent life in the name of God, the world will never know a true and lasting peace.”

As we grieve after yet more senseless killings in the name of religion we must ask important questions:

What do we do about religious intolerance on the part of anti Islamists, who feel they can gratuitously insult those who do not share their beliefs?

Should we continue sending diplomatic missions, that often help local people, to countries such as Libya or Egypt, knowing that their political unrest make them unsafe?

And, the most difficult question of all, what can we do to eradicate terrorism? Is that even possible to achieve?