France, along with other northwest European countries, has long been thought to be ground zero for secularization. Lately in French cities, however, it’s been tough to find a seat in the pews, reports Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry. Gobry admits his experience is anecdotal but offers reasons why it might be something more. Oh mon Dieu!
PBS NewsHour recently featured a story on an Indian organization – Apne Aap (On our own) – that goes door-to-door to rescue girls from sex trafficking. They are focused on helping “the Last girl re-gain control of her destiny. The last girl is poor, female, low-caste, and a teenager. Additionally, she may be the daughter or sister of a prostituted woman or a victim of child marriage or domestic servitude.” In support of this mission, Apne Aap works to establish and defend “four essential rights” – legal protection, education, a dignified livelihood, and safe and independent housing. The PBS NewsHour story features the organization’s founder, Ruchira Gupta, as she negotiates an additional year of schooling for a girl previously withdrawn so that she could be prostituted by relatives. Even that single year of additional education can make the girl stronger, Gupta explains, and it is one more year she gets to spend not being raped.
As prior posters to this blog and media worldwide have noted, the recent Charlie Hebdo massacre reignited a debate that has been flaring off and on for years; namely, whether freedom of expression should be limited, among other things, by religious sensibilities (or sensitivities, as some might say). Not always but often, this debate is framed as one of Westerners (especially those in the U.S., where free speech has very few legal limits) versus Muslims. Thus, it was particularly interesting to note a recent Washington Post article by Asra Q. Nomani, a former WSJ reporter and author of Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam. In that article, Nomani charts what she identifies as a 10-year campaign led by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and others to police Muslim and non-Muslim critics of Islam under the guise of combatting “Islamophobia”. The tactics she describes have the effect of “quashing civil discourse”, preventing much needed conversation about the meaning and future of Islam. Nomani, who has received death threats, calls for renewed attention to ijtihad – the Islamic law concept of critical thinking and interpretation. Her analysis is not uncontested, but it is an important contribution to the debate and worth reading.