Friday, November 30, 2012
As debt-burdened European governments struggle to overcome the disparities in their still-imperfect union, old demons of regional separatism have surged anew in recent months, raising another unwelcome challenge to the continent's traditional nation-states.
Separatist movements have dramatically reinforced their positions here in Belgium's prosperous Flanders region, where the independence-minded New Flemish Alliance captured Antwerp's 16th-century City Hall on Oct. 14 and, under its populist leader Bart De Wever, is heading into national elections in 2014 with new wind in its sails.
"There is an outcry in Flanders for change," declared Danny Pieters, vice president of the Belgian Senate and a senior Flemish alliance leader.
Independence-minded nationalists also have made recent gains in Spain's Basque Country, returning to power in the regional government after a four-year pause, and in Catalonia, where separatists running the regional government have threatened to hold a referendum on whether to remain part of Spain. In Scotland, which has been part of Great Britain for 300 years, such a referendum has already been scheduled for autumn 2014 — on the anniversary of a battle in which Scotsmen defeated the British.
"Secessionist temptations are legion on our continent these days," Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a Green representative in the European Parliament, warned in a recent column.
On the other side of the ledger, two long-term separatist strains have receded, at least for the moment: on the French island of Corsica, where Mafia-style crime has eclipsed the nationalist movement, and in industrialized northern Italy, where scandal has set back the Northern League, forcing it to temper its complaints about paying high taxes to compensate for lazy and larcenous Sicilians.
Viewed from afar, the nations of Europe seem to have such a timeless history, under kings, prime ministers and presidents, that no one would think of pulling out of the country in favor of regional separatism. But struggles for regional cultural and political independence — the Basque ETA set off bombs for decades — have long burned under the surface, a permanent part of the European landscape.
In the Balkans, the death of Marshal Tito set off bloody regional wars in the 1990s that resulted in the breakup of Yugoslavia into half a dozen new states. Czechoslovakia also spilt after the fall of the Soviet Union, but peacefully, into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Western Europe's recently successful separatist leaders have shown no clear inclination for such violence, although some have suggested they could be tempted to violate constitutional law if their demands are not met. But even if the separatists remain peaceful, the resurgence of regional nationalists has created another debilitating struggle for leaders already trying hold together a European Union undermined by punishing debts and divergent economies.
Ironically, the regional separatists have benefited from the success of the European Union over the last half-century and the ideal of seeing, one day, a United States of Europe in which the role of national governments would diminish. Artur Mas, the Catalonian nationalist leader, and De Wever, his counterpart here in Antwerp, both have spoken lyrically of seeing their regions as independent nations within such a federated Europe.
In most instances, breakaway leaders have strengthened their positions recently because they found it easier to broaden their support in the context of Europe's relentless financial crisis. By forcing central governments to enact painful tax increases and spending cuts, the crisis has made the perennial quests for local independence more attractive to ordinary people who feel they are over-taxed for social welfare programs that transfer wealth to other regions.
De Wever rose to notoriety in 2005 by leading a convoy of 12 trucks loaded with more than 200 million euros in fake 50-euro bills that were transported from Flanders in the north to Wallonia in the south, dramatizing his message that relatively well off Flemish-speaking taxpayers were financing a costly welfare system for French-speaking Walloons. The Bank of Belgium estimated that in that year the transfers amounted to 5.8 billion euros.
Conversations in the elegant streets of Antwerp indicated that many people support De Wever and his Flemish alliance not because they want to break away from Belgium, but because they want change from crisis-driven economic policies handed down from Socialist Party-led national government in Brussels.
A key indicator of what they object to, observers here said, was the recent closure of a nearby Ford auto plant, which resulted in the loss of 400 jobs directly and another 600 in parts and supply companies. The national government proposed lowering the age of government pensions for laid-off workers, while De Wever insisted the best solution was to attract business investment to create other jobs for them. Otherwise, he added, Flanders would end up "Walloon-ized" by welfare payments.
Philippe Juliam, a secondary school ethics teacher enjoying a beer and a fat Havana in one of Antwerp's countless wood-paneled cafes, said De Wever's cause is gaining adherents not only because of the crisis but also because it responds to a growing feeling that in fact the country is already divided along linguistic and many other lines.
"We are two different nations, with different cultures, different economies and different languages," he said, puffing on his Bolivar.
Scottish independence activists have long said similar things, although they speak the same language as the English. But it was only last year that the Scottish National Party gained a majority in the regional parliament and Oct. 15 when its leader, First Minister Alex Salmond, signed the referendum agreement with Prime Minister David Cameron in London.
As opposed to other European independence movements, the Scottish separatists have been hampered by the economic crisis that has slowed activity across the continent since 2008. Rather than blaming the London government, many Scots have expressed fear that things would only get worse if Scotland were to go it on its own, leading to polls that show the nationalists would lose if the referendum were held today.
The economic argument has boosted separatist hopes strongly in Catalonia, however, drawing in many people who previously would not have envisaged life outside Spain. Oriol Pujol, a leader of the ruling regional party, Convergence and Union, estimated in a recent interview that more than 8 percent of Catalonia's $260 billion economy goes off to Madrid in taxes and never returns to help the region.
Mas, the regional president, recently set new elections for Nov. 25 and pledged that, if he gains a reinforced majority as expected, he will organize a referendum on a greater independence — greater but carefully undefined. He decided to act, officials in Barcelona said, after failing to win concessions from Madrid on new fiscal arrangements that would allow the region to keep more of its tax money.
The long-restive Basque Country, where polls show 40 percent of the population favors independence, has long been the scene of Europe's best-known regional movement, largely because of terrorist strikes by the ETA that have killed more than 800 people over several decades. The ETA, Basque-language initials for Basque Country and Liberty, announced a permanent cease-fire late last year, halting attacks, but the Spanish government insisted it must turn over its arms and dissolve before arrests will stop.
CAIRO, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- Opposition leaders joined a large protest Friday in Tahrir Square in Cairo against the new Egyptian constitution and the power it gives President Mohamed Morsi.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, and former presidential candidates Hamdeen Sabbahi and Amr Moussa promised to spend the night in the square, the Egypt Independent reported.
ElBaradei said via Twitter Morsi "and his constituent assembly are currently staging a coup against democracy. Regime legitimacy fast eroding," Ahram Online reported
The Constitutional Declaration was passed early Friday, despite walkouts by liberal and leftist lawmakers. The quick vote on the constitution, which caught many by surprise, was the topic of Friday prayers in Tahrir Square, witnesses told Ahram Online.
Protesters chanted "leave" and "the people want to bring down the regime," as they were finishing Friday prayers, witnesses said.
A sheik leading prayers in the square told protesters the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists tainted Islamic Sharia law and accused the once-outlawed Brotherhood of taking advantage of the "blood of the martyrs" of last year's revolution that culminated in the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak to secure power.
ElBaradei said the constitution "belongs in the garbage can of history" in an interview with Egyptian private television channel al-Nahra Thursday.
Security forces built barricades around Tahrir Square before the protests, Ahram Online said. Protesters at entrance checkpoints clogged the streets as they were searched before being allowed to enter.
Palestinian campaigners and lobbyists said they hope to capitalize on EU divisions over the U.N. vote that gave Palestinians a permanent non-member observer status but it's far from clear if they can succeed.
EU members split on the U.N. General Assembly vote, those backing a Palestinian status upgrade ignoring U.S. and Israeli exhortations but also keeping domestic political landscape in full view.
Leading the "yes" pack, France insisted its support for Palestinian entry as a non-member observer state, next to the Vatican, was consistent with its past policies on Palestinian statehood.
The Palestinian mission in London in a statement said the vote had salvaged the two-state solution.
A stronger interpretation is that the vote irrevocably changes conditions on ground, whether eventually in Palestinians' favor remains unclear, analysts said.
In an indication that major European powers who cast abstentions may be shifting positions to reinterpret their abstentions and possibly reposition themselves, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle followed up one statement Friday with another later in the day, with a stronger message to reinforce Berlin's view the vote was a mandate for direct Israeli-Palestinian talks.
The German comment highlighted the Europeans' not-so-subtle tactic: they abstained to avoid contradicting U.S. and Israeli positions on the Palestinian bid but, once the die was cast, appeared all too keen to be seen closer to the majority that voted a Palestinian observer state in.
"The U.N. vote is a mandate for the parties in the Middle East to enter into direct peace talks now," Westerwelle said after meeting reporters in Berlin. "This decision must be taken as an opportunity to restart direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis in order to enable a two-state solution.
"Our objective is and shall remain a fair, negotiated two-state solution, as the only way for the region to achieve lasting peace and stability. That is why this U.N. vote is at one level a mandate to end the current stalemate in negotiations and relaunch direct peace talks," he said.
"The international community will provide constructive support for these efforts."
"It is a shame that the European Union was unable to arrive at a common position in this vote," Westerwelle said.
France and Denmark backed Palestinian admission but the Czech Republic joined the Israel-U.S. minority that opposed the vote. Danish Foreign Minister Villy Sovndal said the U.N. vote would create momentum in the peace process.
The six other states that joined Israel and the United States were: Canada, Palau, Panama, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Micronesia.
Of the 138 countries that voted in favor, 48 states sponsored the U.N. resolution.
There were 41 abstentions, including Britain.
Westerwelle said the vote "will not prevent us from continuing to work together for a negotiated, fair, stable two-state solution which will not only enable Israel to reside within secure borders but also ensure that the Palestinians have their own, secure, independent state."
Analysts said the German comments will make it harder for the "no" voters to issue reprisals, such as the suspension of aid, against Palestinian territories, as was widely predicted before the vote.
French U.N. envoy Gerard Araud said: "The Palestinian initiative comes at a difficult time and its repercussions could be significant.
"But France calls on all parties to understand and acknowledge its critical importance and to respond by the resumption of negotiations and not by reprisals that would serve only the play in the hand of extremists."
"France also calls on the international community -- Americans, Europeans, Arabs -- to unite in this view," Araud said.
He urged Palestinians to "build on this political success" by being more constructive and avoid "sterile confrontations."
The Palestinians' EU representative Leila Shahid told EUobserver.com that European support for Palestinians would have important "symbolic" value due to the EU's financial and political clout in the region.
"It will not change anything on the ground, but symbolically and in terms of the legal framework, in terms of the symbolic recognition of the capital and the borders and the right of the refugees, it is very important," Shahid said.
Palestinian campaigners say a U.N. status would help them protect Palestinian land from Israeli settlement expansion.
"There isn't a third alternative -- either you accept the fact that going to the U.N. is a non-violent and diplomatic way of building a Palestinian state, or you can't give moral lessons to the Palestinians and tell them to face (Israeli]) F-16s and F-15s with their bare hands," Shahid said.
A Friday report in The New York Times said Israel was working on the early stages of a settlement project that would mean Ramallah and Bethlehem would be cut off from East Jerusalem. Another 3,000 housing units were planned for East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
|Kaduna state has been the centre of many attacks, mostly on churches.|
Eye witnesses say suicide bombers rammed two explosive-laden cars into a Catholic church during Mass in northern Nigeria on Sunday, killing at least seven people and injuring dozens.
One of the witnesses who survived the two blasts, Linus Lighthouse, told Reuters the attackers were able to drive the cars against the walls of St. Rita’s Church in Kaduna
Kaduna, an ethnically and religiously mixed state in northern Nigeria, has witnessed periodically sectarian killing.
Outside the Orthodox Church, the name of Saint Mary Magdalene, artistically, philosophically, and, until recently in the West, ecclesiastically and theologically, has been identified, one way or another, with the broader area of eroticism.
Various artists or authors of narratives with a mythological veneer, such as, for example, Dan Brown, William Phipps, Chris Gollon, Martin Scorsese and many others, seek, or wish to invent, a mistress for Jesus of Nazareth and curiously, absolutely all of them, latch on to Mary Magdalene. This is not strange, because, for a very long time, even within Church literature, Magdalene was presented as the most attractive and bewitching female personality in the New Testament.
Many, indeed, even to this day, think of her as a former prostitute, who, of course, repented as a result of her existential encounter with Christ. In the case of one of the modern British artists, Chris Gollon, whom we mentioned above, in his painting The Pre-Penitent Magdalene, Mary is portrayed as a provocative femme fatale, adorned with all the trappings you’d expect and heavily made up. On the same wave-length, but with a serious, symbolic, poetic background, there is the short text entitled “Magdalene”, in Dinos Christianopoulos’ collection Εποχή τωνισχνών αγελάδων (Thessaloniki, 1950).
And yet, nowhere in the reliable historical sources, particularly the most ancient- that is those of the New Testament- is there any mention of all this. On the contrary, in three of the four canonical Gospels, Mary Magdalene is mentioned by name only in relation to the narratives of Christ’s passion and resurrection.
In Mark, Matthew and John, she is referred to as a witness of the crucifixion (There were also women looking on from a distance: among them was Mary Magdalene…Mk. 15, 40). In John, she is placed last (standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene) and at His tomb (and Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid, Mk. 15:47, Matth. 27:61).
Above all, however, Mary Magdalene is one of the first witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, i.e. of the new tomb, and in John, in fact, the first (Mk. 16, 1; Matth. 28, 9; Luke 24, 1-12; Jn. 20, 14-18).
It is only in Saint Luke’s Gospel that the name of Mary Magdalene is also mentioned in relation to the public activity of Christ before the passion and resurrection in all four Gospels. At the beginning of chapter 8 there is a description of how Jesus:
“went on through towns and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out… who provided for them out of their resources” (Luke, 8, 1-3).
The epithet Magdalene, which always accompanies her name, at least in the Gospels, is an indication that she was not married, because in that case her name would also have that of her husband attached.
“Magdalene” shows that this particular Mary came from the commercial town of Migdal (Taricheae) on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee or Tiberias. She must have been a well-to-do woman, provided, of course, we can trust Luke’s information, since she played her part with generous material assistance in what was for the age the revolutionary work of Jesus and His twelve disciples. According to the same source, she had had personal experience of the healings powers of Jesus, probably through a kind of exorcism.
But on the basis of a strictly historico-critical approach to the evidence in Luke, modern science has reservations, since in this particular Gospel, there is a clear tendency to minimize the role of Magdalene, in stark contrast, in fact, to the other three Gospels. We should note that Luke is the only one of the Evangelists to report that the risen Christ appeared exclusively to Peter (Luke 24, 34; see also I Cor. 15, 5).
According to Ann Graham Βrock (Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle: The Struggle for Authority, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003, pp. 19–40), there is no reference in Luke to any appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene. It may be then, that the reference to seven demons derives from this prejudice, unless it has symbolic significance.
If this is the picture presented by the original sources of Christian tradition, then it is reasonable to wonder: “How has Magdalene been transformed over time into a penitent harlot and later, with a good dose of imagination into something even more?
Modern critical research has tended towards the conclusion that this may have happened as the result of conscious efforts on the part of later scholars of the history of the Christian message, to gradually reduce the importance of her role, at least as this was presented in the most ancient sources of the Gospel tradition.
How this happened has to do initially with the gradual, and, of course, unsubstantiated identification of Mary from Magdala with other women mentioned in the Gospels. First of all with the anonymous woman from Bethany, who anointed His head with myrrh, an entirely symbolic act recognizing Christ as the Messiah shortly before he was given up to be crucified (Mk. 14, 3-9 and Matth. 26, 6-13).
We should note that this action is interpreted as a “practical” confession of Jesus’ Messianic status, in the same way as Peter’s verbal confession in Caesarea Phillipi: “You are Christ, (the Son of the living God” (Mk. 8, 28).
In the later Gospels, the scene of the anointing of Jesus is brought forward in terms of time to the beginning of His public ministry (by Luke to 7, 36-50) and the most important difference is that it is not Christ’s head which is anointed but His feet (both in Luke and John, who does, however, retain the timing of the event as being with narrative of the passion, though he does identify the unknown woman with another Mary, Lazarus’ sister). Luke adds the motif of her repentance, which is followed by the forgiveness of her sins by Jesus.
The second erroneous identification of Magdalene is with the anonymous adulteress (Jn. 7, 53- 8, 11) whom Christ rescues from stoning with His well-known phrase: “Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone at her” (Jn. 8, 7). This was the interpretation accepted by the famous actor and director Mel Gibson, in his contentious film The Passion of Christ (For more on this identification, see Jane Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, New York: Continuum, 2002, pp. 65–77, 82).
This process of gradual redefinition of the apostolic role of Mary Magdalene, with erroneous readings and identification in the texts, was completed when it received Church sanction in the 6th century through Pope Gregory the Great (540-604), who, in a homily presents her as a model of repentance.
Pope Gregory understood the anointing by the anonymous woman in a positive way, but also identified the anonymous adulteress with the person of Mary Magdalene and claimed that the spices she used to rub on Jesus’ feet were the same as the ones she had previously used on her own body. At the same time, the seven demons were associated with the seven deadly sins.
Poe Gregory wrote characteristically that when Magdalene fell at Jesus’ feet, “she transformed the multitude of her sins into virtues so that she could serve God in total repentance” (Jane Schaberg, The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament, p. 82). In this way, the myth of Mary Magdalene as the harlot with the heart of gold was established. This is the motif chosen by Dinos Christianopoulos in the work we referred to above and by a host of other poets and authors until today.
|paintings of james tissot|
In a really strange, but interesting way, the myth of Mary Magdalene as the penitent harlot appears only in Western Christianity. In the Eastern, Orthodox Church she continues to be honoured for what she was: equal to the apostles, a prominent apostle, an apostle of the apostles, a saint, and witness of the resurrection.
There is actually another homily from the 6th century, by a different Gregory, the Patriarch of Antioch, who tells how the risen Christ is supposed to have turned and addressed in these words the women, including Mary Magdalene, who “had run to the tomb”: “Tell my apostles the mysteries you’ve seen. You are the first apostles to the apostles. Let Peter, who denied Me, learn that I’m able to raise women up to be apostles, as well” (On this, see, “Gregory of Antioch: Homilia in S.Τheophania, CPG 7385–Gleanings of Text and Theme,” JTS 60 vol. 2 (2009), pp. 531-7).
This patriarch and saint of the Orthodox Church is clearly extending the historical role of Magdalene as apostle, which can be found in John’s Gospel and it is naturally equated with Magdalene’s experience during the first appearance of the risen Christ (“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb” Jn. 20- 1, 11-19.
Verses 2-10 are very clearly an addition to the older core, since they very obviously destroy the structure of the narrative). In contrast to the image given in Luke, the fourth Gospel clearly presents Magdalene as the first witness of the resurrection, the chief event of divine providence.
This positive role which, historically, i.e. on the basis of the historical evidence, Mary Magdalene played in the Gospel according to Saint John, was thereafter reinforced considerably in certain Christian circles, which actually elevated her memory and her honour to a greater degree than was appropriate.
The apocryphal Gospel of Mary, which was published as late as 1955 is the product of such an ancient- for some, marginal- Christian community. In this apocryphal Gospel, and in other apocryphal texts relating to the New Testament, which retain some core of historical truth in their narratives (Saint Thomas’ Gospel, Saint Philip’s Gospel, Faith-Wisdom) the picture of Mary Magdalene is as follows:
a) she had a prominent position among Jesus’ disciples; b) she survived as a character or a recollection even in an era and culture which were heavily male-oriented and, for many people, intensely patriarchal in ideology; c) she stood out for her courage and spoke freely; d) she clearly played a leading role, even compared to the male disciples (her brothers, as she calls them); e) she was a person blessed to receive and interpret divine visions; f) she was praised for her correct and deep understanding of divine teaching; g) she was designated as a close and familiar disciple of Christ; h) she did not hesitate, when she had to,to oppose and sometimes come into open conflict with one or more of the apostles; and i) Jesus defends her.
Many of these nine characteristics are also to be found in other non-canonical (apocryphal) texts. Of course, in some apocryphal texts of the original Christian tradition her role is altered in a negative way, or her name is expunged from narratives in which she plays a leading role in other versions of the same events. All of this stops after the 6thcentury, and then, suddenly, in the Middle Ages in the West, there appears the familiar fiction of Magdalene as a symbol of erotic love and sexuality.
The critical question is whether the portrait of Mary Magdalene as a leading figure in the first Church really does reflect historical reality. It is very likely that this is so, especially if we take into account the significant position she continues to occupy in the Eastern liturgical and hagiographical tradition.
Indeed some students of the New Testament claim that she may even be included among the leading female figures to whom the Apostle Paul addresses a warm greeting in the famous chapter 16 of his Epistle to the Romans (“Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you” 16, 6). That, of course, must remain hypothetical, but there is absolutely no historical evidence, or even a suspicion, that she was ever a harlot, or the mistress or companion of Jesus.
On the contrary, it is confirmed beyond doubt that she was a prominent disciple of His, an apostle of the apostles, and these features of her passage through history have been deliberately marginalized or even successfully removed- at least until today, when scientific study has now demonstrated the real importance of the “Magdalene Story”.
Note. The facts were drawn from an article by Professor Petros Vasileiadis, of the Theological School of the Aristotle Univeristy of Thessaloniki, on the web sitehttp://blogs.auth.gr/moschosg
St John Cassian: Control of the stomach, the opposite to gluttony, and about how to fast and how much to eat
“I shall speak first about control of the stomach, the opposite to gluttony, and about how to fast and what and how much to eat. I shall say nothing on my own account, but only what I have received from the Holy Fathers.
They have not given us only a single rule for fasting or a single standard and measure for eating, because not everyone has the same strength; age, illness or delicacy of body create differences. But they have given us all a Single goal: to avoid over-eating and the filling of our bellies.
They also found a day’s fast to be more beneficial and a greater help toward purity than one extending over a period of three, four, or even seven days. Someone who fasts for too long, they say, often ends up by eating too much food.
The result is that at times the body becomes enervated through undue lack of food and sluggish over its spiritual exercises, while at other times, weighed down by the mass of food it has eaten, it makes the soul listless and slack.
They also found that the eating of greens or pulse did not agree with everyone, and that not everyone could live on dry bread. One man, they said, could eat two pounds of dry bread and still be hungry, while another might eat a pound, or only six ounces, and be satisfied. As I said, the Fathers have handed down a single basic rule of self-control: ‘do not be deceived by the filling of the belly’ (Prov. 24: 1. LXX), or be led astray by the pleasure of the palate. It is not only the variety of foodstuffs that kindles the fiery darts of unchastity, but also their quantity.
Whatever the kind of food with which it is filled, the belly engenders the seed of profligacy. It is not only too much wine that besots our mind: too much water or too much of anything makes it drowsy and stupefied. The Sodomites were destroyed not because of too much wine or too much of other foods, but because of a surfeit of bread, as the Prophet tells us (cf. Ezek. 16: 49).
Bodily illness is not an obstacle to purity of heart, provided we give the body what its illness requires, not what gratifies our desire for pleasure. Food is to be taken in so far as it supports our life, but not to the extent of enslaving us to the impulses of desire. To eat moderately and reasonably is to keep the body in health, not to deprive it of holiness.
A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied. When the Apostle said, ‘Make no provision to fulfil the desires of the flesh’ (Rom. 13: 14, he was not forbidding us to provide for the needs of life; he was warning us against self-indulgence.
Moreover, by itself abstinence from food does not contribute to perfect purity of soul unless the other virtues are active as well. Humility, for example, practised through obedience in our work and through bodily hardship, is a great help. If we avoid avarice not only by having no money, but also by not wanting to have any, this leads us towards purity of soul.
Freedom from anger, from dejection, self-esteem and pride also contributes to purity of soul in general, while self-control and fasting are especially important for bringing about that specific purity of soul which comes through restraint and moderation. No one whose stomach is full can fight mentally against the demon of unchastity.
Our initial struggle therefore must be to gain control of our stomach and to bring our body into subjection not only through fasting but also through vigils, labours and spiritual reading, and through concentrating our heart on fear of Gehenna and on longing for the kingdom of heaven.”
The Philokalia: the complete text compiled by St Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St Makarios of Corinth, vol. I, London: Faber and Faber, c 1979. p. 73-74.
• I hear, O Elder, about the sufferings of my people. Will their hard times ever end?
• Be patient, my sister, and never lose your hope to God. As I understood from all the ordeals that your people are going through, God loves you and allows all these ordeals so that the whole family will shine spiritually. If we look into the ordeals from a secular point of view, you look unhappy.
If we look into the ordeals from a spiritual point of view, you are happy and the people that are considered happy in this life will envy you in the other one. Thus, your parents are also disciplined as they do not know or do not understand the dignified, the spiritual way.
There is a mystery hidden, though, in the ordeals inflicted on your family, as well as in other families, although there is so much prayer! " Who knows the wills of God?" May God help and end the ordeals.
• Isn't there another way, O Elder, so that people can recover? Only the ordeals?
• Before God allows the advent of an ordeal, He has used the good way, but He is not understood. This is why, afterwards, he allowed the ordeal to come. You see, when a child does not behave properly, the father in the beginning tries to approach him/ her in a good way and he does all the favours.
But if the child does not change, then he treats him/ her strictly in order to recover. God does the same. When someone does not understand through the good way, God gives them an ordeal so that they can recover. If there were not a little pain, illnesses etc, people would become wild beasts. They would never approach God.
This life is short and false; its years are few. And this is good because the bitter things, which treat our souls like bitter medicines, will pass quickly. You see, the doctors give the poor ill people that are in pain bitter medicine, because they will be cured by taking the bitter one and not the sweet. What I want to say is that health springs from bitter and the salvation of the soul springs from bitter.
He is one of the key leaders in the Middle East, whom I found to be frank and forthcoming in an hour-long interview in which he tackled a range of topics — from Syria to Islamophobia and violent Muslim protests against the West.
|Abdullah Gul, president of Turkey and his wife|
Abdullah Gul, president of Turkey, heads a prosperous moderate Muslim democracy when much of the Middle East is roiled by popular revolts against dictatorships and for better economic conditions.
His nation of 75 million, a long-standing NATO member, has emerged as an essential American and European ally in a turbulent region. And for the past 20 months, it has been the front-line state against neighbouring Syria, a former ally.
As Bashar Assad continues killing tens of thousands, about 150,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into Turkey, which has spent $300 million caring for them.
Syrian planes have bombed areas along the Turkish border. Syrian shells have landed inside Turkey. That prompted Turkey to ask NATO to set up Patriot batteries to intercept ballistic missiles, of which Syria is said to have several hundred.
I asked Gul — at his 110-acre presidential compound in Ankara, the Turkish capital — about the chances of war breaking out.
“It’s very unlikely that Syria would directly target Turkey. They wouldn’t dare do it. But madness might prevail,” he says through an interpreter.
“We have calculated all the scenarios and put contingency plans in place. Turkey has no intention of going into Syria but if our interests are undermined, we’ll take all the necessary steps.”
Is Turkey “harmed” by the fact that Assad may prompt his secessionist Syrian Kurds to help secessionist Kurds in Turkey, especially the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization?
“If any terrorist organization tries to make use of this situation near the Turkish border by creating a safe haven for them, we will not hesitate.
“We will not permit the formation of any such haven. We will stop it . . . If there’s any undesired actions, there’ll be an instant response.”
Such statements are unusual for the holder of a largely ceremonial post in a parliamentary democracy. But Gul, 62, is a veteran politician, co-founder of the ruling Justice and Development Party, with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
As foreign minister (2003-07), Gul spearheaded Turkey’s unsuccessful bid to join the European Union. Most Turks have soured on the idea, given European resistance, and Turkey’s economy booming and Europe’s tanking.
But it’s a quest that Gul still advocates as essential to keeping Turkey on the path to European liberal standards. At the same time, he’s pained by the West’s Islamophobia.
“It’s the same as anti-Semitism,” he said.
“It reminds us that while the West has high levels of education and income, it has diseases that are not easily curable. The diseases of the East, mainly illiteracy and poverty, are easier to fix than the diseases of the West, such as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia poses particular risks in today’s globalized world. It can be costly as well as a menace to world peace, increase risks to the lives of ordinary people and complicate the world political situation.
“Just like the world tackled anti-Semitism, we need to take measures to contain anti-Islamism.”
Gul mentioned the recent short anti-Muhammad film made in the U.S. by a member of the radicalized Egyptian Coptic Christian diaspora and funded by a fundamentalist Christian.
“When we look at the people behind the film and their background, we can see which groups and people they were associated with. This speaks for itself. They are full of hate for Muslims and Islam
“I believe in freedom of speech but I also believe that this discourse of hate, and incitement to hate and violence should in no way be considered part of free speech. If we don’t curb it, it will only lead to graver problems.
“The western world has troops in Afghanistan and is very much engaged in the Middle East. On the other hand, it permits deliberate acts of hate that create security issues, and innocent people from both sides suffer.”
What does he think of the violent protests in parts of the Muslim world against insults to Islam, the Qur’an and Muhammad?
“Islamophobic needling provocations will happen again. They are deliberate. But they must be ignored. The Muslim world should not react in the way it has.”
Gul’s wife Hayrunisa wears the hijab. That caused uproar in 2007 when he ran for the presidency. The then powerful army hinted at a coup, the generals having historically considered themselves as guardians of an authoritarian sectarianism that proscribed any display of religion in the official sphere. They could not conceive of a hijabi living in the presidential palace.
Since then, the army has been brought under civilian control. Rather than crowing, he graciously applauded the generals for moving with the times.
As part of his “evolution, not revolution” philosophy, Gul and his wife never did move into the presidential compound. She stayed out of the generals’ hair. But her presence on state occasions, even military parades, has since become routine.
I asked Gul why the hijab became such a potent symbol.
He got animated.
“Those who see the hijab as a symbol are misled and misinformed.
“I don’t think women and girls wear it just a symbol. They are not part of a militia; they are not political fighters who would use the hijab as a uniform. They wear it as part of their faith.”
I tell him that he may have misunderstood the question. I was not implying, as some Islamophobes do, that the hijab is a symbol of political assertion, perhaps even Islamic militancy. Rather I was asking why he thinks the hijab is opposed both by authoritarian regimes, such as the past one in Turkey, and also democratic governments in Germany and France that have banned it in schools.
Gul stuck to his formulation:
“In Turkey, the hijab was never a symbol of resistance or an instrument of struggle. Rather it’s a matter of personal choice. You will see some members of the same family wear it and others not. It is an individual preference and very democratic. It’s the government bans on the hijab that were rigid and undemocratic.”
I show Gul a clipping from the Toronto Star, a story of a man being convicted last year in a Brampton court for pulling a woman’s niqab in a Mississauga mall.
“That’s democracy and pluralism in action,” Gul said with a smile.
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