Today Syria is a lesson about how motivated citizens can challenge governments that act violently and seem invincible, says Harry Hagopian. But we also need to be wary towards religious radicalism or fanaticism on the one hand, and military arrogance or political kleptocracy on the other, infiltrating movements for change and co-opting them in order to impose new forms of dictatorships, totalitarian control, subjugation and discrimination.
When it comes to evil, says Alison Jasper, we have a tendency to mystify it - that is reproduce unchallenging representations of it, from the monster in the movie with unclean appetites for human flesh and blood, right through to the 'monstrous perverts' of the tabloid press. Much more careful analysis and understanding is required to discover what lies behind the routine (but often imprecise) label 'evil'.
Noting that much of the critical energy and revolt arising from the six-month old 'Arab Spring' has been directed internally rather than externally, respected scholar Elizabeth Kassab, who has a particular focus on post-colonial debates on cultural malaise, looks behind the headlines and media glare to examine features of the newly emerging landscape in the Arab world. Recovering a balanced, healthy and empowering sense of self has not been and will not be an easy task, she suggests.
Dr Jorge Ramirez Reyna, president of Asociación Negra de Defensa y Promoción de Derechos Humanos (Black Association for Human Rights Defence and Promotion, ASONEDH) in Peru, reflects on the issue of racism in his country and the role of the conference on the Violence of Racism in Latin America, backed by the churches regionally and internationally, which took place in June 2011 in Managua, Nicaragua.
The social and economic crises President Assad referred to in his recent speech mask the real political crisis, says Harry Hagopian. This concerns the governance of the country, the relationship between the different members of the ruling dynasty, and the fact that the major impediment to a normalisation of the situation is the mounting anger against the two-million strong security services and police force who have been running amok and applying myriad forms of retributive action against largely unarmed demonstrators.
Pursuing the topic of the role of the university in an age of economic constraint and multiple other social and political pressures, Dr Andrew Hass from the University of Stirling proposes a fourfold way of rethinking universities and their purpose beyond the restrictive, and ultimately self-defeating, parameters set by the economic and business paradigms.
Israeli political leaders should heed opinions articulated by Jewish-American actor Leonard Nimoy and others, appreciating that a just solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as much in their interest as it is in that of Palestinians, says Harry Hagopian. Otherwise, if a Palestinian gamble for virtual statehood is met by the usual Israeli intransigence, the outcome could become more deleterious for both peoples let alone more volatile for the Arab Spring.
Yemen has been much in the news of late – and the situation there is often portrayed rather negatively. Ekklesia’s Simon Barrow interviewed Progressio’s enterprising on-the-ground representative in Yemen, Abeer Al-Absi, to find out how she sees the situation, and to discover how the strands of hope can be threaded together. The discussion includes the role of women and the HIV-AIDS challenge.
Goshen College, a prominent Mennonite liberal arts institution, has reversed its decision to play the militaristic and nationalistic US national anthem at sports events. Andy Alexis-Baker welcomes the move, after a long process of lobbying which he and others led. Never before have so many Christians - and not just Mennonites or other Anabaptists - stated so clearly that these anthems and rituals have no place in Christian formation, he observes.
If the modern secular state has depended for its conceptualisation on the related concept of 'religion' as a private right of faith in unseen mystical powers separated from the state, then so have those modern discourses which construct “political and socio-economic forces”, and are thereby in danger of reifying them, says Timothy Fitzgerald. He assesses some key arguments in Scott M. Thomas's widely praised book The Global Resurgence of Religion and the Transformation of International Relations: The Struggle for the Soul of the Twenty-First Century.
Today (13 March 2015) 26 senior figures from various faith groups published a letter in The Times newspaper calling on the UK government to join with others “to develop a robust plan of action that will lead us to a world free of nuclear weapons”. Steve Hucklesby, Policy Adviser for the Joint Public Issues Team of the Free Churches, provides the background to this initiative.
The managing editor of Foreign Affairs magazine recently went to Damascus, where he interviewed President Bashar al-Assad. Ekklesia associate and regional expert Dr Harry Hagopian assesses where the president stands in the tragic and bloody mess that exists in Syria at the moment, where ordinary people are caught between competing barbarisms.