NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A secretive, ultra-orthodox Islamic sect has turned to the Internet to calm British fears about its plan to build a “mega-mosque” in London that could hold 12,000 devotees.
Tablighi Jamaat, which reportedly has at least 70 million followers in 150 countries, preaches “a rigorous, unifying vision of Islam” which serves as “an advance guard for political Islamists,” according to Islam expert Gilles Kepel.
Bad publicity has generated strong local opposition and officials may try to block construction permits, according to The Times of London. Anti-terror agencies in France and the United States say the proposed mosque’s 500-seat Islamic school could become a recruiting ground for terrorist groups, though Tablighi Jamaat’s insists it has no ties to terrorism or terrorists.
The organization has hired a British public relations firm to lobby government officials and is using a website and YouTube video to assure citizens that the sect “stands for democracy and freedom,” Times Online reported. In contrast to the “mega-mosque,” Britain’s largest Christian church building seats 3,000.
CHURCHES TACKLE SEX TRAFFICKING, HIV/AIDS -ñ Churches in India are reaching out to women and children trapped in prostitution to combat sex trafficking and a dangerous rise in that country’s HIV/AIDS infection rate. More than 60 percent of India’s 1 million prostitutes are HIV positive, and an estimated 15 percent of Indian men frequent prostitutes.
“Oasis India” is partnering with churches “to provide vocational training, education, health care, counseling, and most of all share the love of God” with prostitutes, according to Vasu Vittal, the group’s director in Mumbai.
Sex trafficking is a problem second only to illicit drugs, according to the United Nations.
“Trafficking and HIV seem to kind of fuel each other,” Vittal told Mission Network News. “And what’s happening is women and children are the ones who are affected.”
APOSTASY BILL SIGNALS CRISIS IN PAKISTAN ñ- Lawmakers in Pakistan overwhelmingly rejected an effort to give Christians and other minorities equal protection under the country’s blasphemy law. The lawmakers even booed the legislator who proposed the defeated amendment to the bill, known as the Apostasy Act 2006. The government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf does not oppose the bill, which would allow a man who leaves Islam for another religion to be put to death on the testimony of two witnesses.
“Blasphemy laws have been repeatedly used by Muslims to settle personal scores against Christians,” said a statement released by the religious freedom organization Jubilee Campaign. “And even the mere accusations ñ- false as they most often are ñ- have resulted in Christians languishing for years in prison, their families being forced into hiding and their properties confiscated, and even if one day found innocent and released, facing lynch mob justice.”
Pakistan is degenerating into a political crisis as radical Islamic groups have begun exercising control over local populations, much as the Taliban did in Afghanistan, says Elizabeth Kendal of the WEA Religious Liberty Commission. Musharraf has allowed the MMA, an alliance of six Islamist parties, to begin systematically purging the country of “un-Islamic” elements because that group controls the balance of power in the National Assembly.
“Pakistani society is fracturing violently along political, sectarian and ethnic lines,” Kendal said. “Islamists are exploiting the present lawlessness and political instability to advance their agenda. So we are seeing persecution escalate to the point that Christians are being driven from their homes and extreme Islamist legislation is progressing through the National Assembly without objection.”
FIRST TRAIN CROSSES KOREAN DMZ -ñ For the first time in 56 years, a train crossed the border from South Korea into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) May 17. While crowds cheered, the historic event was met with tears from a small group of protestors representing families of South Koreans kidnapped by the North over the past half century.
Fireworks exploded and white-and-blue Korean “reunification” flags were waving as the five-car train left the station to cross the world’s last Cold War frontier, according to the AFP news service.
“This will be a turning point for overcoming the legacy of the Cold War era, tearing down the wall of division and opening a new era for peace and reunification,” said Lee Jae-Joung, South Korea’s unification minister.
About 30 protestors, however, insisted that the fate of 485 South Koreans missing for as long as 50 years is taking a back seat to a “sunshine” policy of reconciliation with the North.
The border crossing was a one-time test run because North Korea has refused to guarantee security for continuing service. South Korea has paid to clear mine fields and lay new track in both countries, which have been divided since 1953. Roads across the border opened in 2005.
RUSSIA SUPPRESSING DISSENT, EU SAYS ñ- Democratic freedoms in Russia are in danger as political opposition is being suppressed, according to European Union leaders who spoke out during a mid-May summit with Russian leaders in the city of Samara on Russia’s Volga River.
Russian authorities prevented activists with the opposition movement Other Russia from boarding flights to join protests in Samara against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tightening control on the country. Officials confiscated activists’ passports and tickets and held them for about five hours, according to the Associated Press. Among the activists detained was former chess champion Garry Kasparov.
Democracy and rule of law are “sacred principles,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told AP.
“We stress the importance of democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of demonstration,” he said. “These are values (which) I’m sure, unite, not divide us. It’s very important for all European countries, and Russia is a European country … to ensure the full respect of those principles and values.”
Putin said political opponents were not following government regulations on protests and compared Russia’s violent dispersal of “Dissenters’ Marches” to European police battling rioters.
RADICAL MUSLIMS THINK U.S. WEAKENING -ñ Growing opposition to the global war on terror is convincing radical Muslims they are closer to defeating democracy and capitalism, according to an expert on Middle East affairs. Islamists believe they succeeded in defeating their strongest enemy ñ- the Soviet Union -ñ and now believe they see signs of weakness in U.S. and European resolve to protect their way of life, he said.
Osama bin Laden was willing to accept American help in fighting the Soviet Union because the U.S.S.R. was seen as “more deadly and more dangerous” to Islam’s agenda than the United States, said Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton University, in the May 16 Wall Street Journal. In bin Laden’s eyes, freeing “Muslim lands” from Soviet occupation was a victory for Islam, not the West, and the next challenge ñ- “dealing with the pampered and degenerate Americans” ñ- would be easy by comparison, he said.
The 9/11 attacks on America were the opening salvo of the next step in eliminating opposition to radical Islam, Lewis explained, but America’s forceful response in Afghanistan and Iraq were not what bin Laden and his followers expected.
“It is noteworthy that there has been no successful attack on American soil since then,” Lewis wrote. However, “more recent developments, and notably the public discourse inside the U.S., are persuading increasing numbers of Islamist radicals that their first assessment was correct after all, and that they need only to press a little harder to achieve final victory.”
“It is not yet clear whether they are right or wrong in this view,” Lewis concluded. “If they are right, the consequences ñ- both for Islam and for America — will be deep, wide and lasting.”