Archive for July 20th, 2009

Katya Wachtel: HuffPost Review: Prom Night in Mississippi

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

In 1954, Charleston High School was ordered, like every other school in the country, to desegregate. Integration was instantaneous at some schools, happened a year or two later at others, and then, of course, there were determined stragglers; schools that used the Supreme Court’s 1955 declaration of desegregation at “all deliberate speed” to delay and sometimes avoid integration altogether.

Sixteen years after it was supposed to happen, Charleston High School in Mississippi, finally allowed black students inside its walls.

Of course, Charleston’s dwindling white population, who had fought so hard to stave off integration, managed to hold onto one small piece of Jim Crow: At this southern high school, white students attend one prom; black students attend another.

Lucky for Charleston, superstar Morgan Freeman calls the town of 2,100 home. And this segregated prom thing — it really didn’t sit well with him.

2009-07-20-PromNight_keyart_highres.jpgSo in 1997 Freeman volunteered to pay for the prom, as long as both black and white students could be in attendance. The offer was declined; the separate proms continued.

In a new documentary, filmmaker Paul Saltzman follows Freeman as he attempts, once more, to coax a revolution. And so Prom Night In Mississippi begins, and we’re seat-side with Freeman as he steers his dust-covered BMW through the asphalted backwaters of the Mississippi Delta, determined to foot the tab for Charleston High’s first integrated senior prom.

“Tradition is one thing,” he tells the superintendent of the East Tallahatchie School District. “Idiocy is another.” This time around, Charleston High accepts Freeman’s offer and Saltzman hurls us into the lives of the senior class as they prepare for what is not just a history-making event in their small town, but another step in the nation’s never-ending quest to achieve racial and civil equality. One made more difficult by the fact that the all-white prom isn’t canceled.

Tallahatchie County is one of the poorest in the United States; more than 34 per cent of Charleston’s inhabitants live below the poverty line. It’s a town steeped in the blood of confederacy slave policy, where the hanging of blacks in the town square was an unexceptional occurrence in the early 1900s. A Mississippi State flag, emblazoned with the symbolism-soaked confederate flag, flanks the stars and stripes on a flagpole in the center of a town where 60 per cent of the inhabitants are black. That percentage is higher at the local high school.

There is something so jarring about a segregated prom in 2008, when the documentary was filmed. It’s not as if we’re unaware that racism still runs rampant in this country — between Sotomayor’s Supreme Court hearings and newly published photos of a still healthy Ku Klux Klan, you can’t avoid it. But there’s something about this bastion of segregation at Charleston High that is so loathsome to watch, and perhaps it has something to do with the innocence-of-youth factor; that basically at the end of the day, these young, hopeful black students are told by a white coterie, “Okay, thanks for coming; it was great going to school with you all these years, but as for celebrating this milestone, we don’t want to share it with you.”

Of course there are some white students who refuse to attend the event, but in one night, the all-white prom diminishes all those Supreme Court decisions; all the sit-ins and demonstrations; the thirty-years of integrated classes at Charleston High. And that makes the pro-integration students not just endearing, but inspirational. They are candid and funny and many risk their family lives and jobs in their march to end segregation here.

But Prom Night misses the voice of the staunchly pro-segregation whites, and it’s those voices we are dying to hear. We hear about their bigotry from their children, and their children’s friends, but Saltzman’s team was forbidden from going anywhere near them or their all-white gatherings at the outset of filming. So, the few white parents we meet in Prom Night are not George Wallace incarnates. Not even close. The racism here is far more simplistic than that. As one mother of a white student explains, “My grandmother always told us we were all put on this earth different, and when we all start integrating there’s not going to be anymore individuality… And if that’s the way god wanted us he would have made us all the same to start with.”

Saltzman equipped all of Prom Night’s protagonists — mainly students — with personal video devices in the lead-up to prom, which provide some of the most touching moments in the film, as we share unfiltered, intimate and spontaneous confessions with members of the senior class: they are excited about making history, but nervous about what may transpire on the night.

There is a change in tone when the prom finally arrives. Sitting beside me at the screening, a friend described it best when she said, “at some point it stopped being a documentary and started being a feature film.” It doesn’t take away from the message, but I would have liked to see the candid, unidealized texture that characterized the first three quarters of the film, extend until the final frame.

Certainly Prom Night is uplifting, illuminating and enjoyable, enhanced by a thumping R & B/hip hop soundtrack and the unselfconscious musings of the senior class. But how uplifted can you truly be, knowing that the following year, Charleston High School had another all-white prom. Or that Saltzman’s film, far from capturing a dying tradition, taps into a new era of educational segregation in this country, with reports that show the nation’s schools are now more racially segregated than at any other time since 1954. Which makes Prom Night in Mississippi that much more important to watch.

Prom Night in Mississippi premiers on HBO tonight at 9 pm.

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Jim Wallis: Sotomayor and the Fundamentals of Diversity and Affirmative Action

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

The confirmation hearing for Judge Sonia Sotomayor this week again brings up the fundamental issues of diversity and affirmative action. Regardless of what we think of the good judge – I like her, and was honored to be at the White House for the announcement of the first Latina for the Supreme Court by the first African-American president, something that I actually did find very moving – it is worth reflecting theologically and politically on the issues involved.

The story of creation in Genesis provides a great depth of insight into the being and nature of God. In those first chapters of scripture we see that the image of God is best reflected not through sameness but through the breadth that exists within the grand diversity of creation. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the U.K., argues in his book, The Dignity of Difference, that the Tower of Babel stands as a warning against the hubris of humans who try to impose uniformity where God has created diversity. The doctrine of the Trinity holds that God, while perfect in unity, is at the same time diverse as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Our country is always at its best when diversity is not viewed as a problem to be overcome but as a strength to be celebrated. The challenge diversity presents is not for the country to become colorblind but for us all to be able to recognize and celebrate our differences while maintaining the proposition our country was founded upon, that all are created equal. While all are equal, we are not all the same — and that is a very good thing.

This principle was affirmed in the 1978 case of Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke, when the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a strict quota system for admissions into medical school. But it was in the opinion of Justice Lewis Powell that another precedent was established. Justice Powell affirmed the role of well-designed affirmative action policies because of the benefits for society as a whole. Jeffery Toobin describes and quotes from the opinion as follows in his book The Nine:

…Powell justified affirmative action because of what it did for everyone, not just for its immediate beneficiaries. In his view, diversity — a buzzword that came into wide use only after Bakke -- helped all students of all races. “The nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to the ideas and mores of students as diverse as this Nation of many peoples,” Powell wrote, so “race or ethnic background may be deemed a ‘plus’ in a particular applicant’s file.” … In the subsequent 25 years, Powell’s rationale had become the dominant intellectual justification for affirmative action — not as a handout to the downtrodden but as a net benefit to the society as a whole.

In the 2003 cases against the University of Michigan (Gratz vs. Bollinger) and the university’s law school (Grutter vs. Bolinger), the principle of taking race into consideration as one factor of admission to achieve the goal of diversity was again affirmed. In those cases, the law school’s affirmative action policy was considered to be set up in a way that promoted this principle while it was determined that the undergraduate system was not. Of special concern in the case was a brief signed by top retired military officers who argued that affirmative action programs in place for officer training was vital to the quality, effectiveness, and cohesiveness of our armed forces.

One of the great benefits of diversity is that whether in regards to life in general or the particulars of a court case, our background, life stories, and identities all afford us different perspectives and unique insights. A diverse class, officer training program, community, or Supreme Court is going to have a broader and deeper wealth of knowledge and experience to interpret the world around them or a plaintiff’s grievance. This is the value of empathy that the president laid out as one of his requirements for a judge. Empathy allows us to rightly consider our emotions in the process of making a decision and to view the facts within more than just one framework. David Brooks, conservative columnist for the New York Times, said it like this:

It is incoherent to say that a judge should base an opinion on reason and not emotion because emotions are an inherent part of decision-making. Emotions are the processes we use to assign value to different possibilities. Emotions move us toward things and ideas that produce pleasure and away from things and ideas that produce pain. People without emotions cannot make sensible decisions because they don’t know how much anything is worth. People without social emotions like empathy are not objective decision-makers. They are sociopaths who sometimes end up on death row.

The belief that diversity is a goal worth pursuing because it is a benefit to all of us is not a conservative belief or a progressive belief, but a deeply held moral value and American proposition. As Brian McLaren wrote, this is not racism. It is from this foundation that our country has overcome the sins of slavery and legalized segregation — and it is from this foundation that our country will continue to make strides in overcoming racial inequality through the courts, legislation, and the transformation of society.

Jim Wallis is the author of The Great Awakening, Editor-in-Chief of Sojourners and blogs at

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Amy Sewell: She’s Out There! Her Name Is Hannah Kuhn-Gale

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

By Hannah Kuhn-Gale, Essayist from the book She’s Out There! The Next Generation of Presidential Candidates.

I’m almost 10 years old and was 7 when I submitted my essay to She’s Out There! I am really excited to be one of the girls/women in this anthology. It’s cool that this book exists, because it could inspire a girl to run for President or other leadership positions. There should be equal representation of women and men, because they each bring different experiences and perspectives to government.

Since writing this essay, a lot has happened in the world. Hillary Clinton made a run for President, which was fun to follow in the news. I had really hoped she would win, but I also think Barack Obama is a great President. Another one of my role models is Nancy Pelosi. I think it is really cool that she is the first woman to be Speaker of the House, which makes her 3rd in line for the presidency.

As for me personally, I am thankful to Title IX for making it possible for girls to be more involved in sports. I have played softball the last couple seasons, and this year our team placed 2nd at the end-of-season tournament.

I will be starting 5th grade in the fall and cannot wait to continue my involvement with the Gifted and Talented Program and to find more books to read. I love to read, because I like to picture myself as a character doing the other things the characters in a book are doing. It opens up my imagination and creates wonderful dreams! I have read J.K. Rowling’s books many times over and love the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling was a single mother who worked hard to take care of her family while also believing in her books. I think she made the world richer through her writing.

I was also recently featured in The New Moon Girls magazine May/June issue, “25 Beautiful Girls.” It focused on being beautiful on the inside. My mom nominated and wrote about me, and I was excited to be picked as one of the 25 girls.

A year or so ago I entered a story I wrote, “Aleyna and the Pet Dragon,” in a contest by a local theatre troup. It was selected with about 20 other stories to be performed over several weekends. And, towards the last part of my 4th grade year, I was selected as one of the students to be involved with the TV news crew at my school. Every day a different group filmed the news, which was presented via television to the each classroom. I was able to learn how to run the cameras, write scripts, and be in front of the camera. Just before school ended we went to the local school district TV station. We had to write and interview someone and present that in front of the camera. It was later played on the local school district TV channel for people in Northern Colorado.

Finally, I am thinking about my future. I have a lot of ideas about what I might like to become when I grow up. I like the idea of being a photographer for children’s books, working security at an airport, becoming a pediatrician, or maybe a veterinarian. I am also thinking about ways to create an organization or work with one to help girls know they can be whatever they want to be, including President! I think it is absolutely terrible that a woman has not been president, but I am confident there will be one in my lifetime!

She’s Out There! (LifeTime Media) is available at B&, and


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Dean Becker: Face The Inquisition

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

Tomas de Torquemada was known as “The hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the saviour of his country, the honour of his order”. Barbaric he may have been and was in fact the very heretic he was looking for, but he destroyed less than 2,000 lives during his 15 years as the grand inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition.

Today’s “compassionate” drug warriors have fractured the futures and pulverized the possibilities of more than 37,000,000 US citizens for the crime of possessing plant products and are responsible for tens of thousands of lives lost each year to the folly of their policy. Drug Czars are continuously lauded with platitudes and praise by their fawning minions; far more than was ever heaped on the head of Torquemada.

Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, “…exerted totalitarian control over the media, arts, and information in Germany. In that position, he perfected an understanding of the “Big Lie” technique of propaganda, which is based on the principle that a lie, if audacious enough and repeated enough times, will be believed by the masses.” – (Wikipedia)

The drug war is the first war ever declared for eternity and for nearly 100 years, we have had our own US drug war propaganda ministers; first with the director of the Bureau of Narcotics on through the more recent series of drug czars that blatantly lie for a living. It’s actually in their contracts, to forbid, dissuade, prevent or otherwise deny any talk of legalization and as stated most recently by the new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, they will continue, hell or high-water and per Presidential guidelines to ‘believe’ that “legalization is not in my vocabulary”.

The US leads the world in its incarceration rate. Our children have the best access of all to drugs through contacts easily made in high school. The Taliban is thriving by profiting on our fear of flowers. The deadly cartels in Mexico continue making their tens of billions of dollars each year despite and because of the presence of tens of thousands of armed troops. The US gangs are prospering as well and continue to afford their high powered weaponry to shoot up our city streets by selling contaminated drugs to our children. AIDS and Hep C cases continue to rise because we are somehow afraid that users might never quit using if they had legal access to syringes.

Where are the politicians and officials who want to kill Osama’s fattest cash cow, who want to eviscerate the Latin cartels or who want to eliminate the reason for which most violent US gangs exist? Who among them wants to take away our children’s easy access to drugs or to eliminate most overdose deaths or to end the street corner shoot outs over drug sales turf?

They are too busy counting the cash they receive as part of the worlds largest scam. Too busy lying for a living to notice or care about the misery caused by their complicity.

This coming Sunday, July 26th I begin a new schedule for the Drug Truth Network radio shows. At 6:30 PM central time I will interview our guest on the Cultural Baggage program, Mr. Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Paul is co-author of a book now hitting the shelves: Marijuana is Safer – So Why are We Driving People to Drink?

Here’s where you come in, following at 7PM central, Century of Lies will feature a new segment: “Face the Inquisition” where you get the chance to question Paul and I about progress in ending the marijuana wars and the forthcoming NORML conference in smoky San Francisco, September 24-26.

You can tune into both programs, live, at 6:30 central time on Pacifica’s and call in your questions toll free at 1-877-9-420 420. More details available in the 4:20 report for Monday July 20th.

The two, 29:00 shows will appear along with the seven, daily, 3:00 “4:20 Drug War NEWS” reports each Monday morning, starting July 27 at (We currently have 64 affiliated, yet independent broadcast stations. With a simple email request to, your station can join the Drug Truth Network, free of charge.)

Future guests will include on August 2nd, the author of Drugs – America’s Holy War, by Professor Arthur Benavie.

As did Torquemada, the modern inquisitors need snitches and informants, liars and certainly a Holy War; but mostly they need you, to remain silent, to fear their venomous wrath.

How long will you allow the Big Lie of the drug war to stand, in the very bright light of now?

Face the inquisition.


Prohibition creates more harm than drugs
Activists live and die to advance Truth
Truth becomes public consciousness
Reform sought on every continent
We will decide
Gathered at the commons
A beautiful day
The end of war
Media heeds call for human rights
Governments embrace the Truth.
Worldwide jubilation
Civilization blossoms

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How To Make Your Own Eco-Friendly Sun Jars

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

The principle is simple and seductively clever: solar lights that store energy during the day and release light at night. These can be purchased ready-made in a variety of colors (yellow, blue and red) but they can also be built at home.

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Diane Francis: Sarah Palin ad nauseum

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

Republican Governor Sarah Palin may be packing this week in order to leave the Alaska governor’s mansion, but she isn’t going to exit from public life.
Neither are her policies disappearing, any more than is the large constituency she appeals to leaving the scene with its jingoism, Cold War symbolism, proclivity toward economic protectionism and lack of sophistication about business, banking or regulatory reform.
Sarah Palin is the Michael Jackson of politics and my prediction is that she will end up in the media. Her next gig should be as a Fox Network anchor with her own prime time slot, so that she can interview public figures, preachers and celebrities. Alternately, she should host an afternoon show and become America’s rightwing Oprah. Or she could go lower down the food chain as the hostess of a show on some religious cable company.

But to me, she and Fox are made for each other.

She would be instantly bankable ratings for the network with its blowhard hosts and self-selected audience of God-fearing Republicans who have made up their minds on just about everything and everyone.
Polls show that a huge swack of American people love Sarah’s policy reductionism – good versus evil, American versus un-American. They also don’t want to be confused with nuances or the messy grey bits between black-and-white thinking.
Her appeal may be hard for Canadians, Europeans and others to understand, but not for pollsters. The election results revealed that her candidacy actually closed the yawning gap in support between Obama and McCain, according to a McCain insider I spoke with recently.
Put another way, he said that McCain would have been even more embarrassingly trounced by Obama if she hadn’t joined the team.
So why is she quitting politics, the governorship?

The Sarah redo

She’s quitting to get out from under the fact that the Republican establishment has closed ranks on her and the media has also turned against her. While she still gets more than her fair share of attention, her pursuers have deteriorated from members of the White House press corps all the way down to pay cheque journalists, or paparazzi, who work for scandal sheets.
Some speculate she’s leaving public life because a major controversy involving her personal or professional life looms and she’s getting out while the getting’s good.
That may be true but the continuing, if negative, ability to generate or attract publicity is why Sarah isn’t going anywhere. My guess is that this hugely ambitious woman is getting out, not to avert another scandal or to spend more time with her family, but to reposition her brand then swap her backwater power base for influence in the big time.

From hickdom to bright lights

By landing a media gig in New York or LA, she would have a chance to catapult her brand beyond all other potential candidates. It would also make her rich because she will join the lucrative book and speaking engagement circuit south of the border that goes along with having a high media profile.
By the way, this would also mark a return to her early roots. She dropped out of several universities after high school while trying to earn a journalism degree. At some point, she worked briefly as a television reporter before becoming a mother and housewife.
Sarah is a good performer and telegenic. Of course, this is no guarantee of success in the media and there’s a big chance that she could also bomb out as her loopy notions and puny worldview become obvious in the unscripted setting of a studio.
Whatever happens, she is not going to be content with her nearly 12 months’ of fame. She is a professional publicity hound and in an era of TV ratings’ desperation, and celebrity worship, she remains a political force at home and abroad with whom to reckon.

Diane blogs at Financial Post

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Cops Mixed On Red Light Cameras

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

Lifesaver or Big Brother? It’s a dichotomy that surfaced frequently during a Daily Herald investigation of the red-light camera explosion in the suburbs.

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Trey Ellis: Bloomberg Is Failing Our Best Schools

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

When I moved back to New York with my school-aged kids four years ago I was worried about throwing them into the New York City public school system. All they knew was their progressive private school on the westside of LA.

Instantly, however, they flourished at P.S. 87. I love the school. The teachers are, across the board, involved and caring, and the other parents have all really pitched in to make the school a model for the city.

Now, four years later. I’m worried.

In June our visionary principal was lured away by a charter school and the unprecedented incoming kindergarten classes will bloat the class sizes of the rest of the grades.

To combat unwieldy class sizes my school and many others have, for years, relied on parent-paid teacher’s aides.

Now Bloomberg has caved to the teacher’s union and is forbidding us to hire them anymore. I understand wanting everyone who comes in contact with our children screened and regulated but this idea is a lousy one. As the Times wrote today:

“The system was so successful, according to parents, that it evolved into a training ground for future teachers: At least half of last year’s assistants had graduate degrees in education and New York State teaching licenses. In recent years, 10 former assistants have been hired as teachers at P.S. 6.

School administrators said that hiring union members not only would cost more, but would also probably bring in people with less experience; the typical paraprofessional does not have a four-year college degree.”

Bloomberg’s high-handed, one-size-fits-all fiats might be good for raising the standards of the city’s worst schools, but he’s failing it’s best ones.

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Kristina Wilfore: Signature Gathering Reform: The Most Critical and Immediate Fix to Direct Democracy

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

Offering free food outside a homeless shelter in exchange for a signature on a petition to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Telling voters that a “civil rights” ballot measure would end discrimination when in fact it would ban equal opportunity programs. Holding a “fraud party” where ballot initiative campaigns copy names from the phonebook onto signature petitions. Signature gatherers, including those charged with fraud and forgery, a criminal convicted of assault, and a registered sex offender collect personal information from people for signature petitions to place an initiative on the ballot.

These are just a handful of examples of abuse, fraud, and deception from recent years that have plagued the ballot initiative process across the country. Starting in 2004, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) began receiving numerous complaints across the states about abuses in signature gathering. Over the last three election cycles, there has been a dramatic jump in the use of signature fraud all across the country to qualify ballot initiatives.

Every election cycle, voters are asked to weigh in on hundreds ballot measures. In fact, over the last ten years citizens across the country have voted on over 1,500 ballot measures with well over one billion dollars raised and spent on the passage or defeat of issues that have a real impact on people’s lives. In recent years, in state after state, the integrity of the system has been increasingly undermined by a lack of standards, transparency, accountability, and oversight and enforcement.

Citizens deserve better.

We have released a report card on the 24 states that allow for ballot initiatives ‐‐ Ballot Integrity: A Broken System in Need of Solutions. The report card finds that an overwhelming majority of states (22) receive a “D” or “F” and that most initiative states are ripe for continued ballot initiative abuse, fraud, and deception unless significant changes are made through legislative action to clean up the system.

The Ballot Integrity Report Card rates each state on what it currently does and more importantly, does not do to protect the integrity of the ballot initiative process at every step in the system. It also provides a blueprint for reform that can help states move forward and take much needed action.

Although as progressives, some of us bemoan the process because of stinging losses that roll back rights, citizens hold near and dear to their heart the right of direct democracy. Love them or hate them, ballot measures are here to stay and inarguably serve an important civic engagement function. Let’s not waste our breaths on wishing we didn’t have to fight to defend so much of what’s under attack via ballot measure, instead let’s put our energy into fixing the process.

Many of the reforms discussed by progressives are unconstitutional and therefore a waste of our time in pursuing. For example, there is very little we can do about limiting the amount of type of money used in campaigns. Ballot measures are not subject to the same electioneering campaign restrictions that candidates are because of their free speech protections.

Furthermore, the right to change state laws through the ballot measure process is a right that should be strengthened through reform that makes the system healthier, not harder. Addressing gaps in the signature gathering process is not intended to diminish the use of ballot measures (as much as some would like this), but rather bring integrity back into the process, no matter what initiative campaign one supports or opposes. These are rules that both sides can and should abide by.

There are three simple things that can be done to dramatically improve the quality of signature gathering and determine what actually qualifies for the ballot:

• We recommend that all states improve their systems by increasing the level of accountability required of initiative sponsors
• More forcefully implementing existing penalties to further deter fraud, and
• Increasing the resources of their Secretaries of State and Attorneys General to identify, stop, and punish any action that undermines the integrity of the system.

State legislatures have the power to create and change the laws that are the most important to protecting the integrity of the ballot measure system. Since Secretaries of State and Attorneys General are responsible for the oversight and enforcement of the ballot measure process they can act as important advocates for reform as they have been in a number of states, but the impetus for change needs to come from the legislature.

Voters deserve to know that initiatives – being considered – were collected in legal and reputable ways. They need to be assured that amendments to our statutes and Constitution are free of any abuse, fraud, and deception.

Now is the time for state legislative action on ballot integrity reforms that will serve the citizens they represent before the next election cycle. Only by implementing solutions to the problems that exist will states be able to provide people with a ballot measure process that works for voters instead of against them.

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Journalism Boot Camp: Middle East Christians Vie For Religious Freedom In Qatar, Egypt

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

By Christopher Rosacker

The church where Greek Orthodox Ft. Makarios Makarios will hold services in the Arabian Gulf state of Qatar hasn’t been built yet. Right now, it is a construction site just poking out of the sand, just a mile south of the Qatari capital of Doha.

Arriving there one early Friday morning for liturgy, he walks through the site, past sand piles and unused two-by-fours, to a cement basement entrance. By 10:30 am, 60 members have seated themselves inside, among mismatched rows for a two-hour service.

Its resemblance to a bunker is coincidental, but it is the only place in Qatar where Christians can safely pray. “After a long time, we are getting the opportunity to have our own place,” Makarios said.

The estimated 175,000 Christians in Qatar are cautiously building the foundation to practice their faith within this conservative country in the Muslim world. But while they move forward to that goal, many Christians in Egypt say they are trying to hang on to the freedoms they have long enjoyed.

U.S. President Barack Obama came to Cairo in June to address the Muslim world, and in his speech he said the region suffers from “a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of another’s,” and referred to Egypt’s Coptic Christians, urging that “the richness of religious diversity must be upheld.”

With more than 80 million Egyptians, the CIA World Factbook reports 10 percent are Christian. Copts represent 90 percent of all of Egypt’s Christians.


The heart of Coptic Cairo is home to the city’s oldest mosque, synagogue and church. It is where Moses is said to have rescued from the Nile, and where the Holy Family rested during a journey.

Unlike Qatar, Christians have worshiped in several ornate churches there for centuries. But in recent times, like the Qatari Christians, the Copts have adopted a bunker mentality, as extremists have attacked the community across the country.

A few months ago, a crude car bomb was set off outside a popular church for pilgrims in Cairo where the apparition of the Holy Mary was witnessed. Outside the churches in Coptic Cairo, access is now restricted by police checkpoints and roadblocks.

Adding to tensions was a controversial decision in April by Egypt’s government to slaughter the country’s entire pig population to prevent the H1N1 flu virus from spreading in the country (that didn’t work). Egypt’s pig farmers are all Christian, and they interpreted the decision as an attack against them because of their faith.

“The government of Egypt had planned since 2006 to relocate the pig population,” said Nadia El Awady, of the World Federation of Science Journalists, “and used the crisis to get rid of the pigs.”

Egyptian Copts cite other examples of discrimination, such as employment signs that read “Muslims Only.” In turn, many Copts bear tattooed crosses on their wrists and on necklaces to identify themselves to one another.

“There’s generally a feeling that there’s some places we can’t go, and some things we can’t talk about with certain friends,” said Victor, a Copt business owner in Cairo.

It partly is an issue of perception. According to a recent study by C1 World Dialogue Foundation, an interfaith group that includes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, 45 percent of Egyptians look unfavorably upon Christians.

“We need profound change,” said H.E. Ali Gomaa the Grand Mufti of Egypt, and co-chair of the foundation. “To move religious discourse from aggressive and negative attitudes towards other religions, to the spirit of tolerance and co-existence.”

In Qatar, tensions aren’t aired publicly, partly because most Christians keep concerns to themselves, worried that speaking out will result in their deportation.

Much of their worship is also private; many choose to pray in small groups at home. At the church complex near Doha, no crosses will be visible, as it is forbidden for non-Muslim religious symbols to be displayed in Qatar. Parish leaders also advised congregants not to wear crosses around their necks or hang them on rear-view mirrors.

“How the people receive the Christians are different (from the government),” said Patrick Manabat, also a Philippine expatriate Catholic. “Some accept us, others do not.”

For Egypt’s Christians, they say their futures will be closely tied to the fate of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose son Gamal is expected to succeed him.

Many Copts said they viewed Mubarak’s 28-year presidency under martial law as a godsend and attribute their freedoms to his reign. As Mubarak and his regime gained support from the U.S., churches sprang up.

But the president’s uninterrupted rule has fed support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the conservative Sunni movement, which is feared by Copts for what it would do if it came to power in Egypt.

In an interview, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spokesman, Mohamed Habib, insisted the party saw no differences between Muslim and Christian Egyptians.

“We do not discriminate against them, they are part of who we are,” Habib said. “However, we blame them for not having any real political role. Politics is an open arena and they can take part of it whenever they want.”

Some Egyptian officials took issue with Obama’s speech for mentioning the Copts and religious tolerance. Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S., said that foreign pressure isn’t the answer.

“It’s a problem that we have to deal with in our own society,” he said. “I accept that there’s a concern the Copts have in Egypt and I’m ready to discuss that here.”

Home to outspoken television broadcaster al-Jazeera and the BBC co-produced Doha Debates, officials in Qatar said they have been flexible in discussing concerns about religious freedoms, and point to their allowances to Christians in their country.

In 2003, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani allotted the land outside the capital to build churches for 28 different denominations, including Makarios’s Greek Orthodox church.

It isn’t prime real estate. Depending on the day and where the hot wind blows, parishioners can smell an overwhelmingly putrid stench. There is a goat farm not far away.

Still, they come. Outside its guarded and unmarked walls, cars line the road on Fridays, since they are not given a holiday to worship on Sunday. Five other churches are under construction.

Makarios said at first, many of his members were afraid to come and worship. But he expects his flock will grow soon enough. “They had had bad experiences in the past,” he said. “But, step by step, they started to come.”

Christopher Rosacker graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in August. He has worked for the Daily Nebraskan and held an internship at the Bismarck Tribune, in North Dakota.

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