Century Marks

Century Marks

Moderating Islam?

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, president of Egypt, has been known to use brute force to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist party which he deposed from leadership. He is also trying to promote a more moderate form of Islam. He has called for clerics at Al-Azhar University to take the lead in moderating Islamic thought. Al-Azhar is a 1,000-year-old institution of Islamic learning, with 450,000 students at its various centers in Egypt and other countries. Critics of al-Sisi say that Al-Azhar has always been a mouthpiece for the state and that his forceful crackdowns have been counterproductive. Al-Azhar has made modest changes in its curriculum and has developed a YouTube channel to counter Islamist propaganda (Reuters).

Terrorizing churches

In the week following the shooting of nine people at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, there was a rash of fires at black churches  in North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee. The symbolism is haunting: going back to the Civil War, burning black churches is a direct attack on an institution at the center of African-American life. A string of black church arsons in the 1990s led President Clinton to form a church-arson investigative task force. Congress passed a law in 1996 that increased sentences for church arsonists, especially for arsons associated with race and ethnicity (Atlantic, June 25).

True stories?

Storytelling is a collaboration between teller and listener. Listeners want a good story, so they give license to a storyteller to embellish the truth. But historians and journalists don’t have that kind of freedom with the facts, as NBC newscaster Brian Williams discovered when it was revealed that he was embellishing stories about the dangers he faced covering the Iraq War. Historian James McWilliams says that misremembering the past isn’t that unusual, especially when it has to do with our own memories or with war. Historians too use their imaginations and creativity to re-create a narrative from the past, going beyond the merely factual (American Scholar, Summer).

Perspective on race

In the aftermath of the Charleston shootings, Chad Williams, a professor of African and Afro-American studies at Brandeis University, put together an extensive bibliography on American race relations. The list includes sections on the history of the South, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Confederate flag, white supremacy, race and religion, racism in the North, and the civil rights era.

Gay in Russia

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage sparked a renewed debate in Russia over gay rights. One Russian legislator suggested that Russia should block Facebook users’ ability to decorate their profile pictures with the rainbow flag of the gay rights movement.  Many Russians had added a rainbow image to their photos. Opponents immediately came up with a counter move, superimposing a Russian tricolor flag on the photos. One legislator suggested Russia should adopt the now defunct American policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Russian culture remains highly homophobic. Hardly any public figures have come out as gay. President Vladimir Putin signed a law in 2013 banning the promotion or display of homosexuality in front of minors (AFP).