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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Michael's Morning 7 - 9 June

An international forum on tackling piracy off the coast of Somalia has opened in Rome. Aside from talking about measures to prevent hijackings, participants will discuss ways to bring peace to Somalia. According to the United Nations, Somali pirates carried out at least 120 attacks on ships last year, resulting in combined ransom payouts of around $150 million. Despite all this money floating just off the coast of Somalia, it remains a country facing widespread poverty, a severe lack of jobs, and where almost half the population needs food aid. The pirates’ largest capture so far has been the Sirius Star – a giant Saudi oil tanker captured late last year. The ship was released after the owners paid a $3 million ransom. Hundreds of sailors are still thought to be held hostage in northern parts of the country. Russia, which also suffers from such hijackings, is calling on the world community to set up an international body to try the detained pirates.

London has its first ever Greek MEP, the Conservative MEP Marina Yannakoudakis a serving local councilor for Barnet, immediately attracting the plaudits of leading Conservatives. Theresa Villiers the shadow transport secretary said, “I very much look forward to working with Marina and other MEPs elected yesterday, such as Charles Tannock, in supporting Cyprus and in taking up the concerns of all my constituents on European matters. I am sure that Marina and all her Conservative MEP colleagues will build an excellent working relationship with Cyprus’ MEPs from all political parties. Marina enjoyed support from across the Cyprus political spectrum in these elections and I am sure that support will continue in her role as our MEP.” It is estimated from figures seen by the London Daily News that around 100,000 Greeks in the capital voted for the Conservative party equating to 20 per cent of the Conservative vote in London. 479,037 votes went to the Conservatives in one of the lowest turnouts for a European election recording a 33 per cent turnout. Many leaders in the Greek community mobilised votes for the Conservatives one of those figures is former Mayor of Barnet councilor Andreas Tambourides who said: "This is a historic day for the Conservative party, and for many Greeks in London. We have all worked hard to see Marina Yannakoudakis elected and we all hope to see her do extremely well in Brussels".

The Cyprus Government was ‘economical with the truth’ when it assured the UK Government that it intended to introduce a Bill to address the Title Deed issue affecting thousands of Brits who have invested in property on the island. Their Lordships in Westminster were sent reeling by the news that the long-awaited bill being prepared by the Cyprus Government will not help those who have been conned into buying mortgaged property by rogue developers. In answer to a question tabled by Lord Jones of Cheltenham in the House of Lords last December, Lord Malloch-Brown advised their Lordships that: “Our High Commissioner in Cyprus recently raised the issue of title deeds not being supplied to purchasers on completion of a property purchase in Cyprus with the Republic of Cyprus Ministry of the Interior, and received assurances that the Cypriot Government intend to introduce a Bill to address this issue.” However, the Cyprus Government omitted one vital fact - that the proposed bill will only benefit future property buyers; those who have already been ’scammed’ will receive no help. The truth was revealed in an answer to a further question tabled by Lord Jones who was seeking a progress report on the matter: “Our High Commissioner in Cyprus discussed the question of title deeds with the Minister of Interior of the Republic of Cyprus on 27 April 2009. The Minister was fully aware of the problem of obtaining title deeds, an issue which also affects a large number of Cypriots. The Cyprus Government will introduce legislation to speed up the issuing of title deeds, but this legislation will only apply to future cases. The Minister expressed a willingness to meet representatives of interest groups about this issue.”

Cyprus Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov have discussed the latest developments in Cyprus and reviewed the two countries’ bilateral relations. According to a press release, issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry, Lavrov and Kyprianou held a telephone conversation, at the initiative of the Cypriot side. Russian Diplomatic sources confirmed UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor on Cyprus Alexander Downer visit to Moscow on June 15. Downer is scheduled to meet Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov and Foreign Ministry’s officials to discuss Cyprus problem. Russian government’s representative has already said that the Cyprus issue has been classified among the “non arranged situations” in Europe during the last EU-Russia meeting, held in Habarovsk last May.

Emboldened by the success of hosting the Second Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations (AoC) in Istanbul and the address by President Obama to the Turkish Parliament in April, in which he declared that the US "is not and never will be at war with Islam", Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs has recently announced the creation of an office in Brussels to "educate Europe about Islam." The idea initially arose during Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey in November 2006, and with an added impetus coming from the AoC project and Turkey's wider role in building bridges with her own near, Christian, neighbours; Greece, Cyprus and Armenia, the establishment of the office has finally come to fruition. Istanbul also recently played host to the 7th Euro-Asian Islamic Council, a gathering of religious scholars from Poland to Mongolia to discuss the state of Islam in Eurasia specifically, and the world in general. The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan called on the scholars to reverse, through wisdom and guidance, the prevailing association of Islam with violence and terrorism. Erdogan urged the scholars present to reclaim Islam from the extremists' narrative of a clash of civilizations. He also spoke of the need to revive the essence of Islam in the Caucasus, where decades of Communist rule had diluted religious observance and traditions allowing for malign interpretations of religion to fill the vacuum.

Let’s talk about Muslim land. Who and what are the origins of the hubris of Islam to lay claim to any land it occupies, breaches and terrorizes? What is “Muslim land”? What are its borders? Is the Arabian nation truly one nation? If so, then why are Egyptians called Egyptians and not Arabs? What is the caliphate? The Islamic empires of the Middle Ages were ruled by caliphs. Is there a call to reintroduce the caliphate? Is your land next? It was a day like this 79 years ago, and more specifically on the 3rd of March 1924 that…the criminal English agent, Mustafa Kemal (so-called Ataturk, the “Father of the Turks”!) announced that the Grand National Assembly had agreed to destroy the Khilafah; and…the establish…a secular, irreligious, Turkish republic…. “Some twenty-five years before the first Crusading army set out from central Europe for the Holy Land, the Turkish (Ottoman) armies began an assault on the Christian Byzantine Empire, which had ruled what is now Turkey since the Roman Empire’s capital was moved to Constantinople in 325 AD. At the battle of Manzikert, in 1071, the Christian forces suffered a disastrous defeat, which left much of Anatolia (Turkey) open to invasion. This second wave of jihad was temporarily held up by the invading Latin Armies during the Crusades (see Islam 101 FAQs), but, by the beginning of the 14th century, the Turks were threatening Constantinople and Europe itself. In the West, Roman Catholic armies were bit by bit forcing Muslim forces down the Iberian peninsula, until, in 1492, they were definitively expelled (the Reconquista). One of the most significant engagements between the invading Muslims and the indigenous peoples of the region was the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, where the Turks annihilated a multinational army under the Serbian King, St. Lazar, though their progress into Europe was significantly slowed. After numerous attempts dating back to the seventh century, Constantinople, the jewel of Eastern Christendom, finally fell in 1453 to the armies of Sultan Mahomet II. Lest one ascribe the atrocities of the first wave of jihad to the “Arabness” of its perpetrators, the Turks showed they were fully capable of living up to the principles of the Quran and the Sunnah.” That is why when Osama bin Laden talks, he utters orthodox Islam: Muslims must convert non-Muslims by force, if necessary, or otherwise kill them. This is why Islam has been on the attack since its birth in the 7th century AD. Muhammad started fighting to force conversions and his followers continue to fight to this day, hoping to spread Islam throughout the world.

The Baptist minister at Real Live Preacher went to an Orthodox church during his sabbatical for an ecclesiastical safari. It surprised him more than expected: Pews? We don’t need no stinking pews! Providing seats for worshipers is SO 14th century. Gorgeous Byzantine art. Fully robed priests with censors (those swinging incense thingies). Long, complex readings and chants that went on and on and on. And every one of them packed full of complex, theological ideas. It was like they were ripping raw chunks of theology out of ancient creeds and throwing them by the handfuls into the congregation. I heard words and phrases I had not heard since seminary. Theotokos, begotten not made, Cherubim and Seraphim borne on their pinions, supplications and oblations. It was an ADD kids nightmare. Robes, scary art, smoking incense, secret doors in the Iconostas popping open and little robed boys coming out with golden candlesticks, chants and singing from a small choir that rolled across the curved ceiling and emerged from the other side of the room where no one was singing. The acoustics were wild. No matter who was speaking, the sound came out of everywhere. There was so much going on I couldn’t keep up with all the things I couldn’t pay attention to. And how did this Baptist react to the overwhelming ritual, the art, the “raw chunks of theology,” the foreign and ineffable majesty of it all? I LOVED IT. Loved it loved it loved it loved it loved it. “You don’t know what Theotokos means? Get a book and read about it. You have a hard time standing for 2 hours? Do some sit ups and get yourself into worship shape. It is the Lord our God we worship here, mortal. What made you think you could worship the Eternal One without pain?” See, I get that. That makes sense to me. I had a hard time following the words of the chants and liturgy, but even my lack of understanding had something to teach me. “There is so much for you to learn. There is more here than a person could master in a lifetime. THIS IS BIGGER THAN YOU ARE. Your understanding is not central here. These are ancient rites of the church. Stand with us, brother, and you will learn in time. Or go and find your way to an easier place if you must. God bless you on that journey. We understand, but this is the way we do church.” Worship where something is demanded of you. A church where people take seriously the fact that they are worshiping the eternal God and not patting themselves on the back. A liturgy that gives the people deep theology with the expectation that they can handle it. Sounds like radical change to me. We could use some of that in the Western Church.