CARDINAL GEORGE PELL
In 2015, just before he was due to appear in person to testify at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Melbourne, the Vatican-based Australian, Cardinal George Pell, issued a statement citing heart problems would prevent his attendance.
He will now testify via video link on 29th February, but he will not get off so lightly.
A small group of victims of abuse by Catholic priests is travelling to Rome to confront him in person.
Costs are being met by a crowd funding campaign in Australia which quickly raised $90,000 towards their expenses.
AYAAN HIRSI ALI, SOMALI BORN WRITER AND ACTIVIST
Former Australian Prime Minister, Jesuit educated Tony Abbott, is accused of making asinine statements on the need for an Islamic reformation, but he has a high profile ally in Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali writer and activist.
Born in Mogadishu in 1969, Hirsi Ali is the daughter of a prominent politician imprisoned for his opposition to the government of Siad Barre. The family left Somalia in 1977 settling in Kenya where Hirsi Ali was educated in Nairobi.
In 1992, citing escape from a forced marriage, Hirsi Ali obtained asylum in the Netherlands. On graduation from Leiden University with an MSc in political science, she began publishing articles condemning the treatment of Muslim women and the dire punishments meted out by conservative Muslim societies.
Circumcised by her grandmother at the age of five, Hirsi Ali condemns female genital mutilation and supports the right of any Muslim woman to become an atheist, a decision she took in 2002.
CRITICAL OF THE TREATMENT OF MUSLIM WOMEN
Highly critical of some passages in the Qur’an she considered incompatible in modern multi-cultural communities, in 2004, she collaborated with film-maker Theo van Gogh on a controversial documentary highlighting the oppression of Muslim women.
Both received death threats and when van Gogh was murdered by a Moroccan extremist of Dutch nationality, Hirsi Ali moved to the United States where her position on sensitive subjects continues to cause contention among Muslims, but which brings recognition from western societies.
Among many awards, in 2015, she received the Lantos Human Rights Prize for fearless leaders and reformers willing to defy social and cultural norms to speak out against human rights abuses.
“Islam is at a crossroads. Muslims need to make a conscious decision to confront, debate and ultimately reject the violent elements within their religion,” says Ms.Ali.
Read a review of her latest book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, published by Harper.
ST ELIJAH’S MONASTERY IN IRAQ
The list of precious monuments destroyed by ISIS grows ever longer. The latest ecclesiastical treasure reduced to rubble is St Elijah’s monastery —Dair Mar Elia —which had stood on a hill, 60 kilometres south of the city of Mosul, in the Ninevah province of Iraq, for 1,400 years.
One of the earliest Christian structures in the Middle East, the monastery was founded in 595 CE by Mar Elia, an Assyrian monk who had studied in the great Izla mountain monastery in Turkey.
Later claimed by the Chaldean Church, an Eastern Syrian branch of Catholicism, it became a centre of Christian pilgrimage until damaged by a Persian invasion in 1743 when its 150 resident monks were slaughtered for their refusal to convert to Islam.
The monastery lay in ruins until the twentieth century when some restoration was made to its sanctuary and the monk’s cells built around a central courtyard. And conveniently located near a natural spring water reservoir, the holy place continued to draw Christian pilgrims from far and wide.
Following the 2003 allied invasion of Iraq, the ancient complex suffered further damage by Iraqi tank units and the rooms and cistern were trashed by soldiers.
Not until 2008 were archaeologists and journalists finally able to visit. Among them was James Foley, the American war correspondent who wrote that he hoped the site would be saved “for future generations of Iraqis who will hopefully soon have the security to appreciate it”.
In June 2014, Mosul a city counting some 35,000 Assyrian Christians, was overrun by ISIS or Daesh as it is known in Arabic.
Foley, who had been kidnapped in 2012, was beheaded on 19 August 2014 and sometime between August and September, St Elijah’s Monastery was blasted to smithereens.
The enmity between Sunni and Shia branches of Islam has continued for more than a thousand years. Less well known is the persecution by both sects of Ahmadiyya Muslims who are considered heretics, especially in Sunni-majority nations. Notably in Pakistan and now here, in Indonesia.
The photo of the little Syrian boy who drowned and was washed up on a Turkish beach, alerted the world to the risks taken by refugees fleeing the war-torn Middle East. Equally tragic is this picture of a young girl lying dead in the garden of her home in Yemen.
Day and night for more than a year, Saudi Arabian warplanes have bombed this little known country at the mouth of the Red Sea. Dubbed Arabia Felix by the ancients, today Yemen has become Arabia Miserabilis
More than 2,800 civilians have been killed in indiscriminate air raids. Precious heritage sites such as the Queen of Sheba’s palace in Marib have been pulverised. So too has Yemen’s vital infrastructure including the Red Sea port of Hodeidah.
Added to this, the Arab coalition’s naval blockade which is preventing relief supplies from entering the country has resulted in a humanitarian crisis. People may be dying of hunger in the beseiged town of Madaya, in Syria, but the numbers suffering from malnutrition in Yemen run into the hundreds of thousands.
Why is the international community indifferent to the destruction of Yemen when both AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) and ISIS are waiting in the wings?
With arms sales worth some £10 billion to Saudi Arabia, Britain, for one, is tight lipped on the matter.
UN report into Saudi-led strikes in Yemen raises questions over UK role http://gu.com/p/4g6pb/stw
REFUGEES ARRIVING ON THE GREEK ISLAND OF CHIOS
Immortalised by foreign writers such as Lawrence Durrell, the Greek islands offer an enchanting escape from reality. Who has not fallen in love with Santorini, whose white houses and chapels are etched against a Hockney-blue Mediterranean. Or Kythera, birthplace of the Goddess Aphrodite? Or Lesbos, island of the legendary poetess Sappho?
It is another story for locals however. Their well water is limited and all supplies must come by boat from mainland Greece. Even seafood. Long ago the seas were fished out.
Life was never easy on the rocky islands. Now the flood of of refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East has made it even tougher. Especially for the North Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios and Kos. With a resident population of only 500, one tiny island received more than a thousand refugees, mainly Syrian Muslims, in a single day.
True to their reputation for generous hospitality, the Greek islanders have done everything within their means to accommodate those wet and hungry refugees who survived the short, but perilous boat trip from the west coast of Turkey.
A grim side effect for their efforts is a big drop in tourism – as much as 65 per cent in Kos – on which all the Greek islands depend for their livelihoods.
The only heartening news is that those islanders who have found themselves on the frontline of the refugee crisis are to be nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.