For the past few days, more than two million Muslims from around the world have been participating in the Hajj. This time around, it has been peaceful. No deaths reported.
The Hajj is a religious obligation required of all able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lives. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia maintains a Ministry of Hajj website which requests all pilgrims to "Be peaceful, orderly and kind. No crushing." But the world’s population of Muslims has grown to the point where hundreds of them have been regularly trampled to death during this annual demonstration of submission to Allah. The crushing occurs as masses of pilgrims circle — seven times — around the Kaaba, a large black stone in the center of the shrine’s walled courtyard. Kissing the stone was dropped as a part of the process a while back when it became clear that Mecca had a traffic flow problem. A set of “confidential” plans were drawn up and funded, allegedly by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. Seems this time they listened, but a better day lies ahead.
Back in Europe, two of Britain’s most popular and award-winning architects have been chosen to work with a group of select peers, engineers and construction specialists, on a multi-billion dollar redevelopment project. The mission in this case is to remodel Mecca itself. It seems Islam’s holiest shrine, and the city surrounding it, are in need of an extreme makeover to better accommodate the millions of pilgrims who participate in the Hajj.
The master vision includes building a mosque that can hold three million people. Plans for the metropolis known as Modern Mecca, where the pilgrims once searched for limited accommodations, call for flattening all nearby homes and hills and filling in the reclaimed real estate with 130 skyscrapers. No word yet on how many additional Starbucks franchise operations will join the pioneer branches already in operation in the holy city.
Meanwhile, in Rome, Magdi Cristiano Allam has launched a new program. He is the Egyptian-born writer who — after converting from Islam to Christianity — was baptized last Easter by Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican. Already under armed guard because he is continually receiving threats to his life (apostasy from Islam is punishable by death) from his former Muslim brethren, Allam (who became an Italian citizen in 1986) raised more hackles this week when he announced his latest project. He is forming a new political party called “Protagonists for a Christian Europe,” which hopes to field candidates in European parliamentary elections next June.
The Protagonist Party’s standard combines a circle of 12 stars superimposed on the Italian national flag. The banner bears the words “Truth and Liberty,” “Faith and Reason,” and “Values and Rules.” Mr. Allam believes that someone needs to defend Europe’s Christian values, which are threatened by secularism and moral relativism. In a nutshell, the Party’s manifesto is to “stop Europe from committing suicide.” This will take a great deal of intervention.
The Europeans continue to make news in unusual ways.
The Swiss just voted to issue heroin on a prescription basis, while turning down an initiative to decriminalize cannabis. As Roger Boyes observed, in a Times editorial, “it is clear that the Swiss do more than cuckoo clocks.” He tried to envision Heidi legally shooting up.
The Greeks have fire bombed their government-erected Christmas tree and are engaged in ongoing rioting throughout the country. The Romanians (new members of the EU) have just elected an essentially Communist parliament. Back to the future?
For comic relief, France has recently endured the usual litany of strikes. Pilots, teachers, transportation employees, and a post office staff all conducted protests, but President Sarkozy had a hard time keeping his eye on those balls. He was engaged in a lawsuit to have production of a voodoo doll, made in his image, to be immediately stopped. He lost the case — much to the delight of the beleaguered Socialist Party. The appeals judge affirmed that “spearing the doll according to the instructions and with the provided needles — an action that evokes physical albeit symbolic harm — constitutes an offense to the dignity of Mr. Sarkozy,” but he did not ban its manufacture. Instead, the judge instructed the company, which makes the dolls to add a warning labels to its boxes, which state that, the doll, is “an offense to the dignity of the President.” Sarko’s detractor’s say he has finally found his “inner De Gaulle.”
And then we come full circle.
A recent study indicates that the British have become “much lonelier” over the past 30 years. This conclusion emerged from the serious research of a collection of academics who set out to identify the most isolated places in the UK, defining those as places where people “were most likely to experience feelings of not belonging.” Belonging to what, one wonders? Last week a teenage boy committed suicide, allegedly because his Christianity was being crushed by political correctness.
Perhaps not unrelated is a scientific study which found that the attention span of the average Briton is now reckoned to be down to an average of five minutes. The UK’s national case of attention deficit disorder obviously accounts for the alarm raised by the Lloyds TBS Insurance Company financial summary for 2007. Lloyd’s expressed concern about the number of incidents that could be directly traced to things like fires from forgotten pans on stove tops and bathtubs which overflowed.
Covering the damage claims these incidents engendered cost UK insurance companies a whopping one-year total of $2.5 billion. Astonishingly, the Lloyd’s report concluded that these incidents were “due to people not concentrating properly.” Toss in UK stats on binge drinking, drug abuse, anorexia, anti-social crimes, and general apathy. A clinical diagnosis of a country prone to suicide seems hard to refute.
But if the average Briton is searching for community and something that focuses one’s attention, they ought to avert their eyes from the ever-trendy Church of England. It has just printed comic books called “Christmas Crackers” as part of an online seasonal holiday teaching project. “Christmas Crackers” comics (named for trinket-filled favors one pops apart before eating Christmas dinner) are designed to make the holiday season “fresh and relevant” to the children in the Church of England’s 479 parishes and 130 schools, and accessible on the Diocese’s dedicated Christmas website www.londonchristmas.org.uk.
In the pages of the Crackers, children are treated to images of the Holy Family with captions that explain the good news. Mary is the Mum, and she’s got a husband, but (surprise) “God’s the Dad.” The sociological implications are staggering.
There are also images of Santa and snowmen. Clearly missed by the authors of the gospel nativity narratives, it now appears that Santa and snowmen were sitting around the Bethlehem hillsides with the shepherds who were guarding their flocks by night. One supposes Santa’s reindeer were grazing nearby and that Rudolph’s red nose led the lot of them to the stable. Oh Holy…. Night….
Yes indeed, the EU’s new Protagonist Party has its work cut out for it.