Category : Asia

(Economist) What Buddhism teaches about peace and war

But it is in Myanmar where Buddhist violence has become most familiar of late. A monk called Ashin Wirathu has led demands for a harsh response to a perceived Muslim threat. His organisation, Ma Ba Tha, has supposedly been banned, but it still presses the authorities to take the hardest of lines against the Rohingya Muslims, of whom over 600,000 have been expelled to Bangladesh. Ma Ba Tha disseminates the idea that Myanmar’s overwhelming Buddhist majority is threatened by the Muslim minority. The stance is criticised by some Asian Buddhists. The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, has rebuked his coreligionists for persecuting the Rohingya, saying they should “remember Buddha”. He insisted that the faith’s founder would “definitely help those poor Muslims”.

Like every other important religion in history, Buddhism engenders powerful protective feelings among its followers, especially when sacred history and national history become intertwined, as happens in Sri Lanka. In the collective memory of Sri Lankan Buddhists, the emergence of their nation is seen as linked with the advent of their faith in the era of King Ashoka, if not earlier. And whenever people feel a threat to their identity and origins, they can easily be induced to lash out with disproportionate force, just as medieval Christians marched to war when told that their faith’s holiest places in Jerusalem were being desecrated. Moreover, as with any vast corpus of sacred texts and annals, things can be found in the Buddhist tradition to justify violence, at least in self-defence. Medieval Japan, for example, had its Buddhist warrior monks. And even the Dalai Lama agrees that one can take limited action in self-defence. If a man is aiming a gun at you, he once said, you can shoot back, but to wound rather than kill.

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Posted in Asia, Buddhism, Ethics / Moral Theology, Myanmar/Burma

An Open Letter from a Christian Rohingya Refugee

Christians within the Rohingya people are twice persecuted.

First, for their ethnicity as Rohingya people. The UN considers the Rohingya the “most persecuted people on earth.” Homeless, stateless, poor and hungry, they have been the victims of Myanmar’s genocidal campaign against them since the 1970s. Renewed waves of persecution have forced another four hundred thousand into neighboring Bangladesh in the past few months.

Second, for their decision to follow Jesus. Although the majority of Rohingya are Muslim, approximately 300 of the 1.4 million Rohingya have come to Christ in the past twenty years, mostly through the witness of one family living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

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Posted in Islam, Muslim-Christian relations, Myanmar/Burma, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Three Cheers for Xi Jinping! Wait, Make That a Billion

Give it up for President Xi Jinping !

It’s so easy to do. Just vigorously tap on your smartphone screen to “clap” for him.

That’s the latest way Chinese are showing support for their leader, affectionately nicknamed “Xi Dada,” and at the same time participating in the emergence of Mr. Xi as the kind of preeminent leader China hasn’t seen in more than a generation. The Chinese state under Mr. Xi is exerting ever greater control over the economy and the country’s populace, and its leading technology companies appear willing to go along, if only as a cost of doing business.

As the Communist Party’s congress opened Wednesday, videogame company Tencent Holdings Ltd. released a free game in which users try to outdo one another with hearty virtual applause for Mr. Xi.

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Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, China, Corporations/Corporate Life, Science & Technology

A Haaretz Article on Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky

On October 15, 1906, Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, the Jewish-born, rabbinical school-trained, former Anglican bishop of Shanghai, died in Tokyo, after a lengthy illness, at age 75. Apart from the novelty interest of a converted Jew becoming a church official and serving in the exotic East, Schereschewsky is remembered for having produced a much-respected translation into Mandarin Chinese of the Hebrew Bible, among other sacred texts, which became the standard 20th-century translation.

Samuel Schereschewsky was born on May 6, 1831, in Tauroggen, a Jewish shtetl in the Russian empire, in what is today southwest Lithuania. Both of his parents ”“ the former Rosa Salvatha, of Sephardi-Jewish heritage, and Samuel Joseph Schereschewsky ”“ died when he was very young. Samuel was apparently raised by a much older half-brother, a timber merchant who was the product of his father’s first marriage.

At age 15, he left his brother’s home, and held jobs as a glazier and as a Hebrew tutor before entering the rabbinical seminary in Zhytomir, in Ukraine.

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Posted in China, Church History

(Economist Erasmus Blog) A Turkish writer’s detention sends a sombre message about Islam

Not long ago, Turkey and Malaysia were often bracketed together as countries that inspired optimism about the Muslim world. In both lands, Islam is the most popular religion. In both, democracy has been vigorously if imperfectly practised. And both have enjoyed bursts of rapid, extrovert economic growth.

In their early days in office, people in Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) party always found plenty of friends in Malaysia: allies who shared their belief that governance with a pious Muslim flavour was compatible with modernising, business-friendly policies and a broadly pro-Western orientation.

All that makes doubly depressing a recent incident in Malaysia involving a prominent writer from Turkey. Mustafa Akyol is an exponent, in snappy English as well as his mother-tongue, of a liberal interpretation of Islam. In his book “Islam Without Extremes” he argues that his faith should never use coercion either to win converts or to keep those who are already Muslim in order. In other words, he takes at face value the Koranic verse which says, “There is no compulsion in religion.”

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Posted in Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Malaysia, Religion & Culture, Turkey

(WSJ) Mary Sherry–I Can’t Understand a Word My Priest Says

Now grown up, those pagan babies have cellphones, careers, Twitter accounts and many trappings of modern life. Some have become priests and nuns after learning English as the language of commerce in their native lands. Many see opportunities for ministry in the U.S. Some come as political refugees; others find salaries are higher here, enabling them to send money home to support their families. Still others find that life in the U.S. is just more comfortable. Most see the U.S. as spiritually needy—so privileged that its people no longer crave sacramental care.

No matter what motivates them, opportunity knocks loudly. They’re welcomed especially by U.S. bishops eager to avoid closing parishes for lack of clergy. That the U.S., once a rich source of missionaries, has become mission territory in less than 50 years is amazing.

The cultural differences can be unsettling. Some of these missionaries are unsparing in their criticism of matters like street-dress altar-server apparel, the custom in many American parishes. Add this to hard-to-comprehend English, and it’s no wonder the people in the pews get annoyed and check their emails—or start shopping for another parish.

Yet there can be a bright side to these cultural differences. Our pastor told us during a recent Friday Mass that a new priest from India would be coming to learn the cultural ropes for a few weeks before moving on to another assignment. He urged us to welcome the new priest at the weekend Masses with small gifts—some flowers or even cookies. We’d never done this with an American priest, but apparently it is an Indian tradition.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., India, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

(NYT) In Indonesia, a Mosque and a Church Foster Friendship Amid Religious Tensions

On a tree-lined side street in the Indonesian capital sits a colonial-era Protestant church with rustic wooden pews and stained-glass windows, and an antique pipe organ built into a large wall behind the altar.

Across the street is a modern, 100,000-square-foot mosque with towering arches at its entrances and a cavernous prayer area laid wall-to-wall with red carpet.

Despite their different faiths, the two houses of worship are friendly, helpful neighbors — and an example of pluralism in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation at a time of heightened fears over religious intolerance.

“We respect each other,” said Nur Alam, an imam at the Sunda Kelapa Grand Mosque, which opened in 1971. “If we never offend other people, then we will be respected.”

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Posted in Indonesia, Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Muslim-Christian relations, Religion & Culture

(Deutsche Welle) ‘WhatsApp blasphemy’ and the plight of Pakistani Christians

On Friday, an anti-terrorism court in eastern Pakistan sentenced Nadeem James, a 35-year-old Christian, to death on blasphemy charges. James, a tailor by profession, was accused by a friend of sharing “blasphemous messages” on WhatsApp’s text messaging service.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive topic in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where around 97 percent of its 180 million inhabitants are Muslim. Rights advocates have long been demanding a reform of the controversial blasphemy laws, which were introduced by the Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s.

Activists say the laws have little to do with blasphemy and are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas. Religious groups oppose any change to the blasphemy law and consider it necessary for Pakistan’s Islamic identity.

Pakistan’s Christians and other religious minorities complain of legal and social discrimination. In the past few years, many Christians and Hindus have been brutally murdered over unproven blasphemy allegations.

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Posted in Pakistan, Religion & Culture

(AP) As Myanmar Muslims flee crackdown, the U.S. is wary of involvement

Don’t expect the United States to step in and resolve what is increasingly being described as an ethnic cleansing campaign against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.

Not wanting to undermine the Asian country’s democratic leader, the U.S. is cautiously criticizing what looks like a forced exodus of more than a quarter-million Rohingya in the last two weeks as Myanmar’s military responds with hammer force to insurgent attacks.

But neither Trump administration officials nor lawmakers are readying sanctions or levying real pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi’s government. A bill making its way through Congress seeks to enhance U.S.-Myanmar military cooperation.

“Further normalization of the military-to-military relationship with Burma is the last thing we should be doing right now,” said Walter Lohman, Asia program director at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation. “What a terrible signal to be sending.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Buddhism, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Islam, Myanmar/Burma, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(Christian Today) Christians in North Korea face ‘systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations’, says US state department

A damning report by the US state department has condemned North Korea’s record on religious freedom, accusing the country of ‘systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations’.

Religious believers in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea face ‘executions, torture, beatings, and arrests’ at the hand of the state, according to the 2016 International Religious Freedom Report.

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Posted in North Korea, Religion & Culture

(NBC) Wonderful Story–Man Travels 10,000 Miles to Return Flag to Fallen Soldier’s Family

During World War II, Marvin Strombo found a flag on the body of a fallen Japanese soldier. 73 years later, the 93-year-old veteran is bringing it back to that man’s family.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Children, Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Japan, Marriage & Family, Military / Armed Forces

(NYT) Dr. Ruth Pfau, a German-born medical missionary who was hailed as the “Mother Teresa of Pakistan” dies at age 87

Dr. Pfau, who had converted to Roman Catholicism and become a nun, discovered her calling to help lepers coincidentally.

In 1960, she was waylaid in Pakistan by a passport foul-up en route to a posting in India by her Roman Catholic order, the Society of Daughters of the Heart of Mary. By chance, she visited a leper colony in Karachi, where she met one of the thousands of Pakistani patients afflicted with the disease.

“He must have been my age — I was at this time not yet 30 — and he crawled on hands and feet into this dispensary, acting as if this was quite normal,” she told the BBC in 2010, “as if someone has to crawl there through that slime and dirt on hands and feet, like a dog.”

The encounter stunned her.

“I could not believe that humans could live in such conditions,” she told the Pakistani newspaper The Express Tribune in 2014. “That one visit, the sights I saw during it, made me make a key life decision.”

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Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Health & Medicine, Missions, Pakistan

(G+M) Pastor freed from North Korean prison lands in Canada, ‘in good health’

Toronto Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim is home, “in good health” and “good spirits,” after being freed from a labour camp in North Korea earlier this week, his family said.

“We’re extremely happy. We’re ecstatic and joyful that my father is now home,” James Lim, his son, said during a press conference at the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga Saturday afternoon.

Mr. Lim, 62, was freed on “sick bail” Wednesday after a Canadian delegation, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security adviser Daniel Jean, visited the country to discuss his case – more than a year and a half after he was sentenced to a life of hard labour in North Korea after being accused of trying to overthrow the regime.

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Posted in Canada, North Korea, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Tunku Varadarajan–Holy Cows That Weren’t: Hindu radicals’ beef with India’s bovine butchers is woefully undercooked.

In the past year India has been witness to numerous gruesome public murders of men suspected of eating beef or transporting ostensibly sacred cows for slaughter. A band of radicals calling themselves gau-rakshak, or cow-protectors, may lay claim to being the world’s first terrorists in a bovine cause. Yet this intolerant movement’s appeal to religion is greatly at odds with the facts.

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Posted in Animals, Hinduism, India, Religion & Culture

Michiko Kakutani reviews ‘Ants Among Elephants,’ a Memoir About the Persistence of Caste

Gidla, who now works as a conductor on the New York City subway, conveys the strain of living in the sort of abject poverty she knew as a child, where some neighbors were skeletal from hunger, and an apple was a precious Christmas treat. She chronicles the horrifying violence that could break out between the police and Maoist rebels, and among local hooligans, hired at election time to intimidate voters. And she captures the struggles of women like her mother to pursue careers in the face of caste and misogynist bias, while raising children and helping to support, in her case, as many as two dozen relatives.

When asked about caste — and in India, she says, “you cannot avoid this question” — Gidla writes that an “untouchable” like herself has a choice: “You can tell the truth and be ostracized, ridiculed, harassed,” or “you can lie.” If people believe your lie, she goes on, “you cannot tell them your stories, your family’s stories. You cannot tell them about your life. It would reveal your caste. Because your life is your caste, your caste is your life.”

In these pages, she has told those family stories and, in doing so, the story of how ancient prejudices persist in contemporary India, and how those prejudices are being challenged by the disenfranchised.

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Posted in Books, India