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Party vs Faith: China drafts restrictions for all religions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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China intends to extend aspects of its crackdown on Islam in the north-western province of Xinjiang to all religions as is evident from the publication of proposed restrictive guidelines for online religious activity.

The guidelines, according to Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times, would ban online religious services from “inciting subversion, opposing the leadership of the Communist Party, overthrowing the socialist system and promoting extremism, terrorism and separatism,” identified as the three evils China say it is combatting in Xinjiang.

The guidelines would also forbid livestreaming or broadcast of religious activity, including praying, burning incense, worshipping or baptism ceremonies in the form of text, photo, audio or video.

The guidelines, published on China’s legislative information website, are likely to be adopted after October 9 when the window for public comment closes.

The newspaper quoted Zhu Weiqun, former head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference as saying that the guidelines were designed to regulate online religious information and protect the legal rights of religious people and religious freedom.

“Some organizations, in the name of religion, deliberately exaggerate and distort religious doctrine online, and some evil forces, such as terrorism, separatism and religious extremism, and cults, also attempt to expand their online influences,” Mr. Zhu said.

By applying the guidelines to all religions, the government hopes in part to take the sting out of an increasing number of media reports as well as assertions by the United Nations that its policy in Xinjiang involves massive violation of religious and human rights. China has denied any violations.

While the crackdown on Islam in Xinjiang is the most severe because of Chinese concerns about Uyghur nationalist aspirations as well as Islamization and Arabization, references to more conservative, if not ultra-conservative strands of Islam, and the potential return to Central Asia of militant Uyghur foreign fighters fleeing Syria and Iraq, it reflects a wider Chinese effort to control religion.

Similar to Xinjiang where Uyghurs report that mosques are being destroyed, authorities elsewhere in the country have destroyed what allegedly were ‘underground churches,’ including a massive evangelical church in China’s northern Shanxi province that services a congregation of 50,000.

A rare, mass protest last month by Hui Muslims, who together with Uyghur’s account for the bulk of China’s estimated 20 million Muslims, forced local authorities in the northern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region to suspend plans to demolish a newly built mosque.

Former inmates of re-education camps as well as family members of  detainees assert that re-education involves subjecting religious views to the precepts of the Communist party, putting allegiance to the party above that of God, and breaking with religious dietary rules and other Islamic legal requirements.

The drafting of the guidelines come as China is finding it increasingly difficult to keep a publicity lid on developments in Xinjiang. The Global Times announcement came a day after Human Rights Watch issued a damning report and two days after a detailed expose in The New York Times, part of a flurry of media and academic reports published despite probable Chinese efforts to suppress critical reporting where it can.

Independent Media, publisher of 18 major South African titles with a combined readership of 25 million, recently refused to publish a column by foreign affairs columnist Azad Essa on a United Nations report asserting that up to one million Uyghurs were being detained in the re-education camps. Mr. Essa was told his column had been discontinued because of a redesign of the groups’ papers and the introduction of a new system.

China International Television Corporation (CITVC ) and China-Africa Development Fund (CADFUND) own a 20 percent stake in Independent Media through Interacom Investment Holdings Limited, a Mauritius-registered vehicle. There was no immediate indication that Chinese stakeholders were responsible for the cancellation of Mr. Essa’s column.

China’s ability to keep its lid on the crackdown is nonetheless slipping. US officials said this week that the Trump administration, locked into a trade war with China, was considering sanctions against Chinese senior officials and companies involved in Xinjiang in what would be the first US human rights-related measures against the People’s Republic.

The administration was also looking at ways to limit sales of US surveillance technology that could assist Chinese security agencies and companies in turning Xinjiang into a 21st century Orwellian surveillance state.

Deliberations about possible sanctions gained momentum after US Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the chair of the congressional committee, called for the sanctioning of Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary and Politburo member Chen Quanguo and “all government officials and business entities assisting the mass detentions and surveillance”. He also demanded that Chinese security agencies be added “to a restricted end-user list to ensure that American companies don’t aid Chinese human-rights abuses.”

With the media reporting and UN and US criticism putting pressure on the Islamic world to speak out, cracks are emerging in its wall of virtually absolute silence.

Rais Hussin, a supreme council member of Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) party and head of its Policy and Strategy Bureau, cautioned in an editorial this week against deportation of 11 Uyghurs wanted by China.

“Being friendly to China is a must, as China is a close neighbour of Malaysia. But it is also on this point that geographical proximity cannot be taken advantage by China to ride roughshod over everything that Malaysia holds dear, such as Islam, democracy, freedom of worship and deep respect for every country’s sovereignty… On its mistreatment of Muslims in Xinjiang almost en masse, Malaysia must speak up, and defend the most basic human rights of all,” Mr. Hussin said.

Mr. Hussin’s comments may not be that surprising given that Mr. Mahathir, since returning to power in May in an upset election, has emerged as a point man in a pushback by various nations against Chinese-funded, Belt and Road-related infrastructure projects that are perceived as risking unsustainable debt or being potential white elephants.

Mr. Mahathir has, since assuming office, suspended or cancelled US$26 billion in Chinese-funded projects in Malaysia.

Echoing Mr. Hussin’s statements, Ismailan, a Hui Muslim poet, posted pictures on Twitter of Bangladeshi Muslims protesting in the capital Dacca against the crackdown in Xinjiang.

“They are the first people of Islamic world to stand up for brothers and sisters in #china. Muslims, our fate is connected!” Ismailan tweeted, insisting that his opposition to the crackdown and “the use of concentration camps to solve the problem” did not amount to support for Uighur nationalism.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Recognition of Macedonian schism by Constantinople – Threat Remains

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After the publication in Macedonian news agency Sloboden Pecat, many believers of Serbian Orthodox Church gave a sigh of relief supposing that the common sense prevailed and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew discarded his intention to grant autocephaly to the schismatic Macedonian Orthodox Church (MOC). But it appeared that such hopes were premature.

The article in Sloboden Pecat reads that Patriarch of Constantinople had sent a letter to MOC that admitted Serbian Orthodox Church’s (SOC) jurisdiction over Macedonian archdioceses and thus he had no rights to satisfy Skopje’s request for autocephaly. Ironically Greek mass media used this as an pretext to accuse Fanar of bribery.

A few days ago Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a refutation on its official cite, claiming that they didn’t sent a letter to the MOC and haven’t even heard of the Serbian gold.

While Serbians keep praying, Constantinople continues secret negotiations with the MOC. According to some sources this is why Metropolitan Amphilochios of Adrianople carries out frequent trips to Macedonia. At the same time statements of Fanar’s clergymen and Patriarch Bartholomew demonstrate phyletic intentions with a purpose of establishing the superiority of “Greek” church over all others as “the first without equals”. So the threat of the recognition of Macedonian schism by Constantinople is still relevant.

But the Fanar’s primary aim now is to force SOC into recognizing the autocephaly of Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) – such a precedent will path the way for Macedonian tomos of autocephaly in the future.

Obviously our Church shouldn’t trust fake publications of the mass media. On the other hand there’s no point in passive expecting of “His All-Holiness” Bartholomew to declare his will. Considering that the community temporarily believed in a possibility of a “fair verdict” from the Fanar, Serbian Patriarchate’s position must be based not only on historical truth and church canons but on public opinion as well. In this regard the separatists’ worst nightmares of Constantinople going back to the canonical path can come true.

Constantinople has the right to revoke the tomos of autocephaly of any Slavic church at any time. Recently Archbishop Job of Telmessos. In the same interview he said that the name “Serbian Orthodox Church” is uncanonical and is a sign of ethnophyletism. If it’s not a declaration of war, then it’s at least a direct threat to Serbian Patriarchate. History shows that accusations of ethnophyletism sound when Greeks need to infringe the rights of Slavic Churches or deprive them of independency.

The Ukrainian example proves that Constantinople easily revokes the historical signatures of its patriarchs and no matter how much gold they were paid and how long ago the papers were signed – 100 or 300 years ago. Will Constantinople be allowed to go on rejecting its own decisions unilaterally and broaden its borders in the future? It mostly depends on the position of Local churches including ours. If we don’t react now then Serbian Church will face the fate of Moscow which is losing its territories land by land.

Patriarch Irinej needs Constantinople to officially recognize that the tomos of 1922 still has legal power despite the changing historical circumstances and that the extension of SOC jurisdiction over Macedonian archdioceses is no discussion point. We need a document that will be undoubtedly canonical and impossible to cancel at a moment’s notice. At least personal signatures of patriarch Bartholomew are still more trustworthy than fake mass media publications.

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The Jews of Chalkida

Georgia N. Gleoudi

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“When we returned, we had no bed to sleep, no pots to cook, nor clothes to dress. We went to our house and it was confiscated by others. We rented a room in our house and the whole family lived there.”

At Kotsou Street

Mair Maissis is in the Synagogue of Halkida, eager to guide anyone who passes itsdoor and wants to learn more about the Jewish community and the Jewish cemetery of Chalkida. Willing and full of energy, he would start explaining me the architecture of the — the Romaniote type — Synagogue.

“The two columns of our Synagogue prove its antiquity. A large number of scholars regard the Synagogue of Chalkis as the oldest of Europe and many believe that the first presence of Jews in Evia dates back to 586 BC. Around the Synagogue was the Jewish ghetto, the Jewish quarter where most Jews lived until the end of the Ottoman domination.

“On Good Friday in 1854, a great fire broke out which destroyed the biggest part of the Synagogue. Of course it was an arson. Nearly all community archives, books, heirlooms and manuscripts were destroyed. Only three Torah scrolls of the 13th & 14th century have survived until today. The Synagogue was rebuilt in 1855 with the donation of the Dutchess of Plakentia. Luckily today, we do not have any anti-semitic incidents here in our city. We are completely asssimilated.”

The families

“We came from Italy. We were doing business with cornflakes and in italian mais means corn. So we were named after the profession. We left when the persecutions of Ferdinand and Isabella began. We crossed the city of Patras, then Mystras and finally Chalkis. At that time, we were traveling in enormous groups. They did not leave each other back. “

With the annexation of Thessaly to the newly established Greek state, several Jews in Chalkida moved to Volos. There, they found a new dynamic community. The mother of Mr Mair came from this community.

“My mother was Sephardi and she was speaking Ladino. Of course, at our house in Chalkida we only spoke Greek, neither Ladino nor Hebrew.”

He was born in 1935 a few years before the great disaster. His father Solomon was a merchant like most of the Jews at that time.

“Then the Community consisted of about 300 people. All merchants, spinners, craftsmen, etc. The weekly market in Kriezotu street was 90% Jewish. “

When the war broke out, he had only been able to go to school for a few weeks. The Jewish community had its own Jewish school where students were taught all the lessons and additionally the Hebrew language and Jewish religion.

“We were only able to learn about two or three songs and to dig out some scribbles. Nothing else we’ve got. “

The Partisans and the Orthodox Church

“We were almost all saved. With the help of the partisans and of the local Bishop Gregory. Without them we would have followed the others. The Bishop saved Jews whohad been prisoned and hide the Sacraments of the Synagogue in a place of the Central Church.

The partisans mobilized the Jewish families to leave Chalkida and go to the mountains. They were hidden in villages such as Steni and Gides.

“We left before the invasion of Germans. We had already been aware for the incidents in Thessaloniki and Athens, and there was no possibility to follow the same fate. The partisans told us to pick up things and by horses, we went up to the mountains. We were hidden in Steni like many other Jews, although this was extremely dangerous. There we stayed in Christian homes. But we knew these Christians. They have been our customers for so many years, we have had personal contact with them. “

Even the Italian Commander urged them to leave as soon as possible. On March 24, 1944, the Germans announced that all the Jews would gather in the synagogue to give them flour to make the enzymes for their Easter. They opened the door and they only saw Rabbi.

“They believed we would follow Rabbi and stay there. But we had chosen to be mobilized and save ourselves. “

22 Jews were lost from the Chalkida community. But how did they get lost?

“Mainly by German traitors”, Lili Kosti answered to me.

“So they captured my father and his sister. My father stayed in Chalkida to look after his parents who could not move. A Nazi partner betrayed him and caught him immediately. His sister descended from the mountain to take him out and so caught her. We could not leave our families.”

Who were the traitors, I wondered? I asked her to describe me the profile without telling me the name.

“Everything is now publicly available. I can tell you the name if you want. But do not imagine that their traitors and associates were reputable individuals, with family and educated. They were just criminals.”

Jews entered the guerrilla I asked them?

“Of course, havent’t you heard about Sarika?” And I had never heard her.

“17, 5 year old girl. Sarah or else Sarica Geoshoua. At first she entered the guerrilla and helped with chores. She slowly became a leading figure and propagated in the villages to get everyone into the guerrilla. She focused on girls and after a while she got teamed and had her own team of 12 young girl partisans. “

After the end of the Occupation and with the civil war, Sarica was led to the prosecutor. He told the prosecutor, “I am not with either communists or the right side. I went up there to fight the Germans. “The prosecutor released her with the condition of leaving Greece for ever. She left for Israel and never returned to Greece.

After the Occupation

“When we returned we had no bed to sleep, no pots to cook, nor clothes to dress. We went to our house and they were already others. We rented a room in our house to stay the whole family, “says M. Maisis.

America was first helped by the first time. Huge balls with clothes, beds, kitchen utensils, books for children.

“Many left for Athens, others for Thessaloniki because they thought they would find opportunities there. Others fled for Israel. As early as 1944, 160 people of ours had left for Israel. We then had a Chalkidiki lawyer, Sotiris Papastratis. He organized the mission for Israel. Free spirit, democrat. Later, he was honored with the Yad Vashem Prize for the Law of Nations. “

His family had nothing when he turned from the mountain to Chalkida.

“We went with my father to Athens to get some goods and start over again. As soon as he entered the shop and saw him the merchant shouted: Solomon lives! Download and give whatever he wants. “He knew his money was for sure. We had such a relationship of trust between us.”

The community saw a significant reduction in the number of its members. The day-to-day operation of the Jewish school ceases, and the rabbi was stopped in the early sixties.

The current community

“Today we are about 50–60 people. All older in age and we have only 2–3 children. Of course we keep all traditions and customs. We do it as we did before. “

When does the synagogue come to life?

“Every Friday we normally do our Shabbat service. We gather about 20–25 people. For the needs of the function we have a hazzan, that is, a cantor.

But in the great feasts, Ross Ashana, Pesach and Kippur, we bring a rabbi. “

Entering the Synagogue, my eye fell on a shelf with his books. He writes about the history of the Jewish community and the Synagogue and in a few days he will present his second book entitled “The History of the Jewish Community of Halkida since 580 BC. until 2001 The Cemetery. “

“ Do tourists and people visit the place in order to learn more about the Jewish community?” I asked.

“In recent years we have a lot of people to visit us. This month, you are the fourth who comes to learn information. Not just tourists. Many local Halkidians are coming too. “

We are preparing to lock down the Synagogue and go tothe exit where we would say goodbye.

“This year, on the anniversary of the Holocaust on January 27, I went to talk to 7 schools. Halls were filled with 350–400 children and neither one stood up. They first heard about all this. Teachers are now mobilized. If nothing is done through education and school, nothing can be done. “

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How Constantinople changed the Orthodox World

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Soon it will be one month since the Ecumenical Patriarchate reinstated the primates of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC KP) and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) and finally headed for granting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church the Tomos of Autocephaly.

This decision has already led to large-scale changes in Ukraine and the Orthodox world. So, what’s happening?

Ukraine: Property redistribution, fighting for the new Church’s Primate chair and uncertainty

The first thing the Ukrainians did was redistributing property. A part of the deal between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Autocephaly was a number of real estate items in the center of Kyiv. As it is rumored, Metropolitan Emmanuel of France visited the country to review the objects; their size and value quite impressed him.

On October 18, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada passed the President’s bill on handing St. Andrew’s Church in Kyiv to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Up to that moment the church served as the UAOC’s cathedral but its primate Metropolitan Makarios supported the presidential decision since his organization will be part of the new united Ukrainian Church and he is ready to sacrifice for it.

Meanwhile the UOC KP is getting ready to obtain new real estate items. On October 20, the Synod changed the title of its head: now he will also be the “Holy Archimandrite of the Kyiv-Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavras”, which belong to the UOC MP. On the eve of elections, Filaret seems to demonstrate his supremacy before Makarios and the UOC MP. As it is known, the UOC KP and UAOC are in long-lasting conflict, which escalated since the Tomos will be granted shortly.

The UOC MP certainly is in no haste to recognize Constantinople’s decision: the clergy of a few large eparchies of the Moscow Patriarchate vote for Metropolitan Onufriy and against the Tomos. Met Onufriy openly claims that the Phanar’s actions are uncanonical and calls for defending the faith. Bishops won’t join the new Church without their clergy and dioceses.

For instance, in predominantly anti-Russian Rivne Oblast in western Ukraine, all the clergy and monks unilaterally supported Met. Onufriy.

At a voting by secret ballot in Odessa Diocese, only 3 (!) priests of 406 were against Met Onufriy.

Metropolitan Sofronios of Cherkasy was the only bishop of UOC MP dioceses who openly supported Autocephaly. Cherkasy Diocese’s voting by secret ballot showed that nearly all of the local clergy deprecate the Autocephaly. Facing criticism, Met Sofronios had to publically state that he “won’t join the same Church with Filaret.”

In case Filaret and Makarios don’t reconcile and UOC MP bishops stand aside, the Unification Council will fail. The only result yielded by the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s strategy would be an exarchate and valuable property in the center of Kyiv. But where is the promised unity of the Ukrainian Church?

The world: A schism, the declining authority of the Greek Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Patriarch

The Ecumenical Patriarchate has failed to reach concord in the world Orthodoxy. It is starting to divide into two camps. Despite the cut ties, Moscow couldn’t be isolated: the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Slavic Churches are against Constantinople’s hasty actions on the Ukrainian question and the conflict is expected to be universal.

Such stand-offs can’t foster the positions of the Greek Orthodoxy. Constant quarrels between the Local Churches undermines the authority of the Orthodox Church in the eyes of Roman Catholics and Protestants: the Greek Orthodoxy once again looks ridiculous.

The ambiguous events influencing the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s reputation also added oil to the fire. First, the contents of the confidential talks on August 31 with Patriarch Kirill were leaked. The negotiations were recorded only by Constantinople’s representative, so it couldn’t have been published without prior consent of Patriarch Bartholomew.

The Ecumenical Patriarch is quite aggressive toward the Russian Orthodox Church without presenting grounds for his accusations. Thus, he has recently blamed Moscow for the dissemination of “well-paid articles” and “black propaganda” without clarifying what he meant.

Obviously, scandals like this one and aggression toward other Churches negatively affects Bartholomew’s reputation. Moreover, it looks like the Ecumenical Patriarchate strives not for the Unity of the world Orthodoxy but for its own supremacy over other Churches.

There should be recalled the situation with the “pearl in Constantinople’s crown” – the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA). In summer, some of its influential supporters spoke about independency following the example of Ukraine, but these talks were cut off. Meanwhile, for several months the Phanar has been trying to displace Archbishop Dimitrios. Against the background of the Ukrainian Autocephaly and open war with Moscow, the attempts to restrict the GOA’s independence and kick out its primate look cynical. Otherwise, it can urge the Archdiocese’s clergy and laity to unite for independency.

Relations with the ROC: the future of the ecumenical dialogue in question

The rupture between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate has influenced not only the processes between the two Churches. In cooperation with the ROC, Constantinople conducted active inter-confessional negotiations, but since Moscow refused to take part in them, the future of the relations, first of all with Roman Catholics, are not that promising. Now the talks led by Constantinople won’t be all-Orthodox, and this can be a pretext for predominantly anti-Ecumenical Churches to abandon them.

Besides, the Phanar’s actions will affect the Orthodox Diaspora: without the ROC, the Assemblies of Bishops won’t be that effective, their activity can stall.

At this moment, it’s unclear what awaits us in the future but one thing is obvious: the Orthodox world has changed and it will never be the same. Yes, Constantinople has won in the battle for supremacy becoming “the first without equals.” But the price is too high.

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