Month: September 2007

World Watch VII – Myanmar, On the brink

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There are reckoned to be 400,000 monks in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), about the same as the number of soldiers under the ruling junta’s command. The soldiers have the guns. The monks have the public’s support and, judging from the past fortnight’s protests, the courage and determination to defy the regime. But Myanmar’s tragic recent history suggests that when an immovable junta meets unstoppable protests, much blood is spilled.

In the last pro-democracy protests on this scale, in 1988, it took several rounds of massacres before the demonstrations finally subsided, leaving the regime as strong as ever. By Thursday September 27th, with a crackdown under way, and the first deaths from clashes with security forces, it seemed hard to imagine that things would be very different this time.

The latest round of protests began last month, after the government suddenly imposed drastic fuel-price rises. At first, the demonstrations were fairly small. It looked as if the protests might fizzle until soldiers fired over the heads of monks demonstrating in the central town of Pakkoku. The clergy demanded an apology, setting a deadline of September 17th. The next day, their demand having been ignored, they took to the streets.

At first, the regime’s forces stayed out of sight. On September 22nd, a group of monks and laymen was allowed to pray outside the normally heavily guarded home of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and icon of Myanmar’s struggle for democracy. Miss Suu Kyi’s public appearance—her first since she was detained four years ago—proved a boon to the demonstrators. On Monday the protest in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, was said to be 100,000-strong.

That night the regime broke its silence. On state television and radio, it warned of unspecified action “according to the law” if protests continued. The next day the protesters defied the threat, staging a demonstration at least as big as Monday’s. Soon after that march ended, troops and riot police moved into positions around Yangon. On Wednesday the authorities announced a two-month night-time curfew and troops surrounded monasteries in the city. But swarms of protesters again poured on to the streets, defying tear-gas, warning shots and baton charges. The first deaths, including of monks, were reported. On Thursday, troops burst into monasteries around the country to make arrests but, again, this did not stop monks and laymen from hitting the streets, where riot police shot at them.

The regime may be trying to calibrate its response to the protests, using limited force at first to quell opponents. That said, it still has elite disciplined units which would be unlikely to flinch if ordered to open fire on unarmed monks and nuns. If there are any cracks in the junta’s unity, nobody outside knows about them.

Myanmar’s junta has survived in part through diplomatic triangulation. Like North Korea, it has borne isolation and rhetorical hostility from the West by cosying up to the neighbours, notably China. And it has tried to avoid total subservience to any one of these by playing them off against each other.

As in the past, the world’s initial response to the junta’s violence was marked by bickering and point-scoring. On September 27th, the United Nations Security Council met in response to pressure from the West for co-ordinated sanctions. But Russia and China argued that the unrest was an internal matter that should not be on the council’s agenda at all. America announced new sanctions against the regime, in keeping with a policy some Western countries have pursued for nearly two decades. They are cheered on by a vocal and well-organised exile movement, and, when she was able to make her views known, by Miss Suu Kyi herself. Her heroic stature has helped make Myanmar a fashionable cause.

Shareholder-activists and ordinary consumers in the West have also done their bit to encourage a boycott. But isolation has never really been on the cards. Any gap is eagerly filled by Myanmar’s neighbours—not just China, but also India and Thailand and other members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). American leaders have insisted the junta honour the 1990 election result, won by Miss Suu Kyi’s NLD, and step aside. To this end, they have already imposed wide-ranging sanctions. The European Union has been more equivocal, and its sanctions correspondingly milder. Japan, Burma’s biggest aid donor until 1988, has been softer still.

If any countries can sway the junta they are the regional ones: ASEAN, especially Thailand; India; and above all China. China has given the junta diplomatic support, helping for years to keep its behaviour off the agenda of the United Nations Security Council. But Myanmar is far from a client state. This week Chinese spokesmen called for restraint in responding to the protests. Their pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears.

Even if pressure both from within and beyond Myanmar’s borders causes the regime to crumble, the country’s troubles would still be daunting. Many of the ethnic minorities continue to distrust the majority “Burmans”, even including the democrats. And the NLD has been gutted by years of oppression. Miss Suu Kyi, inspiring figure though she is, is an untested leader who has perforce been woefully out of touch with events.

As in 1988 and 1990 the Burmese people have shown they want to choose their own leaders. In the past they did not fully reckon on the ruthlessness of the people they were up against. One day, as with all tyrannies, Myanmar’s will fall. But much blood may flow before that day dawns.

in The Economist

Devil’s Bible unique as only few ever explored it

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The Devil’s Bible, the world’s biggest manuscript now on display in Prague, has an eventful 800-year-long history, accompanied by legends highlighting its emergence and alleged miraculous powers, and it is also unique as a book that only few Czech experts have ever been able to look at.

The illuminated Devil’s Bible (Codex Gigas) is of Czech origin but it has been kept by Swedes since the 17th-century.

“For the last time it was enquired into by [Czech early 19th century priest and scientist] Josef Dobrovsky, who actually re-discovered it in Sweden,” Czech National Library expert Miroslava Hejnova, who assisted at the rare book’s transport to Prague, has told CTK.

The Swedes took the Devil’s Bible away from Bohemia as part of their war loot at the end of the Thirty Years’ War. The first one to try to buy it out was Antonin Jan Nostic, the Austrian Empire’s ambassador to Sweden, in 1685-90. He gained back 133 sheets.

Dobrovsky visited Sweden in 1792 to examine the local works of Bohemian origin. He uncovered the Devil’s Bible and other Czech manuscripts in the Royal Library in Stockholm.

Another two Czech researchers examined the Devil’s Bible in Stockholm in the mid-19th century.

The Devil’s Bible comprises 14 texts. Apart from the Old Testament it is also the Penitential – a manual for priests featuring the list of sins and ways of penance.

Elsewhere the manuscript offers formulas to do away with diseases or to uncover and catch a thief.

The text copying the early 12th century Kosmas chronicle is widely viewed as the most valuable.

All texts in the Devil’s Bible are well readable. All were probably written by a single person, who must have worked on them for up to 20 years.

The monumental book’s value is beyond any speculations as its putting on sale is unthinkable. It can be only compared with other rare medieval manuscripts in the Czech Republic, which, nevertheless, are smaller, less illuminated and less popular.

Their value is estimated at tens and hundreds of millions of crowns. The most valuable of them is probably the Vysehrad Code, the late 11th century manuscript whose value is estimated at up to one billion crowns, experts say.

in The Prague Daily Monitor

Jesus and The Second Coming

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Jesus has been in the news a lot lately, from the controversy over the Gnostic Gospels and The Passion of the Christ, to the books Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code and now with the documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus on the Discovery Channel, Jesus has surpassed Britney Spears in the number of results in a Google News search. Although I am not a churchgoer and have never felt comfortable or understood the costumes, ceremonies and rituals involved in church worship, I’ve always felt secure with the knowledge of a higher power and I sense rhyme and reason with the workings of the natural world that are too orchestrated to be mere happenstance.

I have always resonated with Jesus, a man who walked his own path, was kind, wise and considered his connection with God above all else, but I also felt a disconnect with how he was portrayed by mainstream Christianity. But when I discovered the Gospel of Thomas, it opened doors in my perception of the man whose existence changed time. The Gospel of Thomas (link) was discovered, along with other Gnostic text, around 1946 in a three-foot tall clay urn in a cave near Nag Hammadi, Egypt.

The Gnostics were named after the term “Gnosis”, a Greek word for knowledge and the Gnostic Christians believed that the connection with God could be found through their own intuition and experience, instead of following the traditional roles of the church. The Gnostic gospels include the Gospel of Thomas, Phillip and Mary Magdalene, among others, and although these disciples walked with Jesus, their words were not included in the Bible. Some even believe that the Gospel of John, is a direct rebuttle to Thomas’ gospel.

Although many of the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas are reflected in the other gospels included in the Bible, especially Matthew, most are new to us, but the church still considers the Gnostic gospels to be heresy. There is a lot of confusion as to when the text were written, some claim as early as 50 CE and others claim as late as 400 CE. It is said that when Constantine accepted Christainity he ordered that the Gnostic text should be burned and the monks, fearing the loss of valuable information, buried them in a cave overlooking the monastery. Some scholars claim that the Thomas gospel, which consists only of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus, is not a true gospel because it does not give a historial perspective and does not focus on the crucifixion and resurrection, but others believe it is the most valuable find of our time.

I’ve pondered the Second Coming of Jesus, wondering how it may occur, I know the church tells us of trumpets and glory, but when I look back on history and see how it reflects the last time Jesus came to call, it concerns me. I’ve often wondered if he came back, would history repeat, as it so often does and he would be crucified again. Are we any more in tune with our God connection now, as opposed to 2000 years ago? Or would his return be more subtle? And I don’t understand why church leaders and Biblical scholars react so strongly when new information about Jesus is unearthed, shouldn’t we be open to new ideas, to seek, as Jesus instructed. In his own words, “Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All.” (Thomas #2)

And I’ve often thought, what if the Second Coming is different from what we have been taught to expect? Could the movies, books and documentaries questioning history and putting Jesus’ name in the news, again and again in recent years, be the subtle way he is attempting to reach us? Have we been misdirected? I don’t have the answers, but perhaps Jesus did, “The pharisees and the scribes have taken the keys of knowledge (gnosis) and hidden them. They themselves have not entered, nor have they allowed to enter those who wish to. You, however, be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” (Thomas #39)

by Victoria Hardy

China and the Vatican avoid a standoff over new bishop

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The selection of the Reverend Joseph Li Shan, who is to be installed as the Roman Catholic bishop of Beijing on Friday, was no surprise to those who closely follow religious affairs in China. Li, 42, who rose steadily through a Chinese Catholic clergy that was far reduced by the Cultural Revolution and was slowly rebuilt as the Chinese government relaxed its attitudes toward officially recognized organized religions, has been in the wings for some time.

Less certain has been the question of how Beijing and the Vatican, whose relations have suffered numerous ups and downs, would come to terms over an appointment that for both parties involves difficulties in ceding authority and large amounts of face.

Whether in Beijing or in Rome, no observers are describing Li’s elevation as a fundamental breakthrough in relations, but many voices could be heard saying that the discreet way the appointment has been handled and, above all, the avoidance of any open dispute bodes well for future relations.

“This is good news and it will pave the way for more interaction between the two sides in the future,” said Yan Kejia, a researcher at the Religion Institute of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. “The Vatican’s attitude toward Li Shan’s appointment shows that the door is open, even if relations have not been normalized.”

He was echoed by the Reverend Bernardo Cevellera, editor of Asia News, a publication that covers religious matters and maintains close ties to the Vatican.

“This is a very good sign of starting a dialogue,” he agreed.

The appointment of Li, who was the head of Beijing’s East Church and is a graduate of the Beijing Catholic Seminary, was the result of a delicate back and forth between China and the Vatican whose details neither side is eager to publicize or acknowledge.

According to several observers, this has meant the Vatican’s signaling the identities of a number of Chinese Catholics with whom it is comfortable and Beijing’s choosing a bishop from among them. A variation on this process might have involved Beijing’s producing a list of candidates with the Vatican subsequently signaling its approval. Officials on neither side will say.

As recently as June 30, in a letter to the Chinese authorities, Pope Benedict XVI said the Vatican “would desire to be completely free to appoint bishops.”

In recent weeks, though, the Vatican has quietly signaled that this ordination has its approval and it has notably not spoken out against it, as has been the case in past ordinations without the pope’s consent.

Liu Bainian, the deputy chairman of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-affiliated group that oversees the Chinese Catholic Church, declined to confirm the back and forth. “The Vatican has agreed with the results of our election of bishops before, and we thought those were moves in a good direction. How they see Li Shan is their business, but it is our hope they continue walking a good direction.”

That such machinations are required is a reflection of a long history of suspicion toward foreign religious authority in China, fueled in part by what most Chinese see as their country’s humiliating subjugation by Western powers during the last two centuries.

Since the Communist revolution in 1949, the state has maintained strict control over all rights of association, meaning that every group must organize under the aegis of the Communist Party. Restrictions like this have been used to maintain tight control over all religious activities in China.

The Chinese state, in effect, runs all above-ground churches in China, as well as Buddhist temples, mosques and other recognized places of worship. China has also maintained tight control over clerical appointments. Beijing’s new bishop, Li, for example, is a representative in the Beijing People’s Congress, or local assembly, undoubtedly bolstering his credentials in the government’s eyes.

At its heart, the difficulty over nominations like Li’s lies with the fact that historically, both parties, the Vatican and Beijing, claim this authority. But as the two sides have positioned themselves around this issue, other interests have also come into play.

As Chinese society has gradually liberalized, many among China’s officially estimated five million Catholics – as well as perhaps seven million underground Catholics by some estimates – have yearned for normalized relations with the Vatican and with Roman Catholics everywhere.

The Chinese government, for its part, would like to see Rome, which recognizes Taiwan, drop its relations with what Beijing sees as a renegade province. The Vatican, meanwhile, would like to promote greater religious freedom in China, easing, among other things, tight limits on religious education.

For Beijing, hovering in the background, beyond its relations with the Vatican, are relations with other religions, both officially recognized and not. China’s Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists and others could be expected to seek whatever expanded freedoms or autonomy will be enjoyed by Catholics.

“China has openly said that it does not have a timetable to build diplomatic ties with the Vatican, but it has also said that such ties are not impossible,” said Kung Lap Yan, an associate professor of cultural and religious studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “China needs the Vatican to leverage Taiwan, to isolate it by establishing relations.

“But it also wary of getting too close to the Vatican, which would give the Vatican more power and influence over China.”

Howard W. French reported from Shanghai, Ian Fisher from Rome.

in International Herald Tribune

Al Qaeda llama a contra-cruzada por Al Andalus: “Eliminad a España y Francia del Magreb”

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A la tercera Ayman al Zawahiri se explayó. El número dos de Al Qaeda hizo ayer un llamamiento a “limpiar el Magreb musulmán de los hijos de Francia y España”. Sus palabras tendrán, probablemente, un efecto movilizador sobre una franja minoritaria de la juventud magrebí. Fue la tercera vez, desde diciembre pasado, que el lugarteniente de Osama Bin Laden señaló a España y a sus vecinos del sur, pero hasta ahora nunca les había dedicado tanto tiempo. El vídeo, subtitulado en inglés, fue colgado ayer en la página web de As Sahab, la productora del grupo terrorista. Difundido con motivo del sexto aniversario de los atentados del 11-S, abarca, a lo largo de sus 80 minutos de duración, otros muchos temas y ataca con dureza al régimen de Pakistán.

Al Zawahiri fija un objetivo a los magrebíes: “La recuperación de Al Andalus es un deber para la oumma [comunidad musulmana] y para cada uno [de los muyahidín] en particular”. Al Andalus es el nombre que los musulmanes dan a la península Ibérica a partir de 711, cuando estuvo regentada por califas y emires, hasta su expulsión en 1492.

La reconquista de Al Andalus es una reivindicación frecuente en boca de los responsables de Al Qaeda. El propio Al Zawahiri comparó, en julio, la “ocupación” española de esa tierra musulmana con la de Irak por Estados Unidos.

Para recuperar Al Andalus hay que dar un paso previo: “Sólo podréis hacerlo eliminando del Magreb islámico a los hijos de Francia y España que han regresado”, recalca el brazo derecho de Bin Laden.

“No se equivoquen, al mencionar a los hijos alude ante todo a los regímenes del Magreb que considera lacayos de las antiguas potencias coloniales”, asegura Abdalá Rami, analista del Centro de Estudios en Ciencias Sociales de Casablanca.

Cuando se refieren al Gobierno de Argel, los salafistas argelinos -en enero cambiaron su nombre por el de Al Qaeda en el Magreb Islámico- lo tachan siempre de “siervo” o “lacayo” de Francia.

“La amenaza de Al Zawahiri apunta hacia los regímenes, pero también está dirigida contra los ciudadanos e intereses de España y Francia en la zona y, en última instancia, contra Ceuta y Melilla”, sostiene Fernando Reinares, director del programa de terrorismo global del Real Instituto Elcano.

Esta vez, sin embargo, el médico egipcio que secunda a Bin Laden no mencionó a las dos ciudades autónomas. Sí lo hizo, en cambio, en diciembre pasado. Arremetió contra la “ocupación” española, que equiparó con la que Rusia ejerce sobre Chechenia. Abdelmalek Droukdal, el líder de los salafistas argelinos, instó en mayo a Marruecos a “limpiar” ambas ciudades de “las impurezas españolas”.

Al Zawahiri ensalzó, a continuación, la lucha de los “padres y abuelos” de los magrebíes que “derramaron su sangre” para expulsar a las potencias coloniales. Invitó así a los jóvenes magrebíes a seguir el ejemplo de sus antepasados.

Los islamistas siempre mostraron cierto desprecio por la lucha del Frente de Liberación Nacional argelino, apenas teñida de religiosidad, pero consideran que el rifeño Abdelkrim, que se sublevó contra España, fue uno de sus precursores.

“Sed fieles a vuestra religión, a la sunna [palabras] de vuestro profeta y a la sangre de vuestros antepasados”, concluye Al Zawahiri su capítulo audiovisual sobre el Magreb. “Apoyad a vuestros hijos, los muyahidín, en su lucha contra los cruzados y sus hijos”.

El hombre a apoyar en el Magreb aparece también en imágenes de archivo incluidas en el vídeo. Es el argelino Abdelmalek Droukdal, jefe de la rama magrebí de Al Qaeda, responsable de los numerosos atentados que han ensangrentado Argelia. Desde principios de año, la violencia terrorista se ha cobrado casi 400 muertos en el país.

“Es un discurso dirigido a los magrebíes y por eso menciona a Francia”, prosigue Abdalá Rami. “En algunas franjas de la población del Magreb, Francia, a causa de su pasado colonial, tiene una imagen más negativa que Estados Unidos”.

“No es el caso de España, a la que Al Zawahiri asocia esta vez con Francia”, señala el investigador marroquí. “Sólo algunos marroquíes denostan también a España por su colonización de la franja norte y por su presencia en Ceuta y Melilla”.

El lugarteniente de Bin Laden es “el estratega de Al Qaeda”, afirma Reinares. Ayer “señaló al Magreb como zona de conflicto y lo marcó como territorio prioritario”. “Está dando ordenes no sólo a los salafistas argelinos, sino a otros grupos asociados e incluso a individuos aislados” que sueñan con apuntarse a la yihad.

“Anticipa lo que no tardaremos mucho en ver, dentro de semanas o meses”, concluye el investigador del Real Instituto Elcano. Los servicios de seguridad “no lograrán abortar todos los intentos de perpetrar atentados”. “Algunos saldrán adelante y estarán dirigidos contra intereses o ciudadanos franceses o españoles”.

Las fuerzas de seguridad del Magreb temen especialmente el regreso de decenas o cientos de jóvenes que viajaron a Irak y que, si no murieron combatiendo, han adquirido una experiencia que sueñan con poner en práctica en sus países de origen.

in El País

50,000 hits!

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Hey, we just hit the 50,000 hits mark!

We have to thank our readers for this huge success. The Templar Globe has been experiencing an amazing increase in the number of daily visitors in the last few months. Our statistics show that we have been almost doubling traffic month on month and that the major part is returning readers. While it took 8 months to reach the 10,000 visits benchmark, it took only another 6 to multiply the visits five times over. It’s an amazing growth and a great incentive to keep bringing you news from the Order and other Templar related issues.

Please, help us commemorate the occasion by inviting one friend to visit us. If everyone does it, we shall double these numbers quickly. And do tell us what kind of posts you would like to read in the future from our writers. We will do whatever we can to indulge you. After all, you were the one who took us this far!

Thank you!
Hey, acabamos de llegar a las 50,000 visitas!

Debemos dar las gracias a nuestros lectores por este éxito tremendo. El Templar Globe ha experimentado un grande aumento de visitas diarias en los últimos meses. Nuestras estadísticas muestran que hemos casi doblado de mes a mes y que la mayor parte es de lectores que vuelven. Mientras tardó 8 meses a llegar a las 10,000 visitas, solo han tardado otros 6 meses a multiplicar las visitas por cinco. Es un crecimiento increíble y un gran incentivo para seguir trayendo noticias de la Orden y otros temas Templários.

Por favor, ayude-nos a conmemorar la ocasión invitando un amigo a visitarnos. Se todos lo hicieren, doblaremos estos números rápidamente. Y no se olvide de comentar-nos que tipo de posts le gustaría ver aquí. Haremos el posible para complacerlos. Al final, vosotros han sido os que nos han hecho llegar aquí!


Hey, acabámos de chegar aos 50,000 hits!

Devemos agradecer aos nossos leitores por este êxito inesperado. O Templar Globe tem experimentado um aumento incrível no número de visitantes diários nos últimos meses. As nossas estatísticas mostram que quase dobrámos o tráfego de mês para mês e que a maior parte é de leitores que regressam. Enquanto passaram 8 meses até que tivessemos 10,000 visitantes, em apenas mais 6 multiplicámos as visitas por cinco. É um crescimento incrível e um enorme incentivo para continuar a trazer-vos notícias da Ordem e outros assuntos de interesse para os Templários.

Por favor, ajudem-nos a comemorar a ocasião convidando um amigo a visitar as nossas páginas. Se cada um o fizer, dobraremos estes números rapidamente. E não se esqueçam de nos dizer que tipo de posts gostariam de ler no futuro. Faremos os possíveis para estar à altura. Afinal, foram vocês que nos trouxeram até aqui!

Muito obrigado!

See you next Monday!

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Dear readers,

As you may have noticed, I haven’t been able to update our pages since Saturday. That was due to a server error that prevented me to log in. This week I’m off to Madrid to preside over the Magisterial Council meeting and General Assembly of Priors of the Order. This is the most important meeting of the Order’s calendar along the year and in it members from all parts of the world come together to discuss our problems, decide on several subjects, debate topics of interest to Templars worldwide and learn a bit more with our conferences, studies and papers. So I think I shall take the opportunity to make a short break from my duties here at the Templar Globe while I prepare this extremely important upcoming meeting.

I will be back to these pages Monday, September 24th. It’s the first (much needed) break this year. I will bring you all the news from the Order as soon as I get back. Meanwhile, be sure to check older posts and our new Blogroll section. You’ll find many interesting links there.

See you next Monday,

Luis de Matos