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Religion News Report

March 9, 2001 (Vol. 5, Issue 334) - 3/5

See Religion News Blog for the Latest news about cults,
religious sects, world religions, and related issues

=== Aum Shinrikyo
1. Preparations vital for virus threat

=== Falun Gong
2. A Foe Rattles Beijing From Abroad
3. China Arrests 6 Falun Gong Followers
4. falungong guru tells China persecution will fail
5. China Scientist Alleges Falun Gong Got U.S. Cash
6. Falun Gong Denies U.S. Congress Gave It Funding
7. Jiang Zemin Says Hong Kong to Deal With Falun Gong on Its Own
8. Leader Vows to Protect Hong Kong
9. China keeps up opinion war on Falun Gong

=== Falun Gong - China's Government-Controlled Media
10. Reports from China's government-controlled media

» Part 2

=== Scientology
11. The Bavarian Report on Scientology

=== Unification Church
12. Moon to speak at SeaTac Tour: 'We Will Stand' event promotes religious harmony, racial reconciliation
13. Rev. Sun Myung Moon draws crowd to Minneapolis church
14. Local pastors welcome Moon

=== International Churches of Christ
15. Controversial religious group returns to Cal State-Long Beach

» Part 3

=== Islam
16. Taleban's Act Flies in Face of Islam's Tenets
17. Taliban Praises Statues Destruction
18. Statue attacks expose rift in Taliban leadership
19. Moscow courts its million Muslims

=== Buddhism
20. Buddhists protest increasing Christian conversions in Lanka
21. Teen Karmapa Raises Controversy

» Part 4

=== Mormonism
22. Church formally requests use of full name
23. Text of First Presidency letter of 23 February 2001
24. Technology boon for LDS, apostle says
25. Separation of church and career in Salt Lake City

=== Hate Groups
26. Compound to be center of tolerance
27. New Future for Idaho Aryan Nations Compound
28. Aryans want to carry loaded guns in parade
29. Klan Can Join Highway Clean-Up, Court Says
30. Holocaust deniers spread their lies in Middle East

» Part 5

=== Other News
31. 'Rebirthing' bill clears committee
32. French radio says sect members may have been killed by outsiders (Solar Temple)
33. China Sentences Cult Leader to 12 Years in Prison for Raping Women
34. Cult of the chairman (Mao)
35. Checks tightened on sex traffic of voodoo girls
36. Ted Turner apologizes for ``Jesus freaks'' comment
37. White House Defends Religion Program
38. 'God's Top Gun' Has Big Plans

=== Noted
39. The gospel according to Luke (Skywalker)
40. From sin to spirituality? Internet's evolution explored

=== Islam

16. Taleban's Act Flies in Face of Islam's Tenets
International Herald Tribune, Mar. 7, 2001 (Commentary - front page)
http://www.iht.com/cgi-bin/generic.cgi?template=articleprint.tmplh&ArticleId=12713Off-site Link

Souren Melikian, art editor of the International Herald Tribune, is one of the world's leading scholars of the cultural history of Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The destruction of two giant Buddhas carved out of a mountainside at Bamian, in the highlands of Afghanistan, is a disaster of abysmal proportions reminiscent of China's Cultural Revolution.

The deed is being perpetrated in the name of Islam, in which there is no basis for such vandalism. Indeed, the Islamic world has admired the two sculptures almost from the day Islam became entrenched in the area around the ninth century.

The destruction concerns the most important twin representations of Buddha anywhere, one of which is the largest statue of a standing Buddha in the world, 53 meters (175 feet) high. Assumed by most specialists to date from about the fifth century, both are reminders that Buddhist figural iconography was refashioned in those eastern parts of the Iranian world before traveling to the Far East.

In early times, they fascinated Buddhists and Muslims alike.

Muslims looked at the Buddhas with the same sense of wonderment without ever breathing a word of condemnation.

With only one exception, in the 17th century when the artillery of a Mogul commander smashed the upper part of the larger Buddha, Muslims from all over the world - from Syria, Iran and India - gazed at the Buddhas with deep interest, just as they did at other ancient monuments.

The evidence gathered by archaeologists at Bamian shows that the site was eventually abandoned without any sign of destruction, an observation corroborated by parallel finds at Buddhist sites in the east Iranian world, whether at Kara Tepe near Termez on the Afghan-Turkmen border or Adjina Tepe in Tajikistan.

Indeed, the tradition of respecting the ruins of antiquity was observed throughout the Islamic world.

The Ottoman sultans, for their part, lived happily in a land crumbling under the weight of Greek gods and goddesses. No sultan ever trembled at the thought that the statues might trigger a revival of ancient Greek worshipping practices.

Yet that was the argument cited by the preacher Mullah Omar when he decreed the urgent need to destroy all Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan to save his people from idolatry. When such rage is extended to museums holding beautiful Buddhist sculpture from the second century B.C. to the eighth century A.D., one wonders whether some very different motivation might not dictate these crimes against the collective treasure of an impoverished people.

A stream of objets d'art, roughly excavated, has poured out of Afghanistan for a decade. They include an overwhelming proportion of the bronze vessels sold at auction and in the art trade as ''early Islamic,'' as well as pottery, much of it from Bamian. Add an equally large number of antiquities from second millennium B.C. Bactria (the land around Balkh) to the Buddhist sculptures.

The ''destroy'' order will provide a convenient smoke screen for the mass looting of the land, an operation that can be carried out only with the happy connivance of lower and mid-level authorities. It runs counter to majority opinion, past and present, in the Islamic world, and in Islamic law, a recognized method of reaching the correct decision in controversial matters is precisely that: majority opinion within the community.

Unfortunately, those who are speaking loudest against the destruction are unlikely to impress. The Indian authorities, who made no visible effort to stop the destruction in 1992 of the historic 16th-century mosque at Ayodhya by a Hindu crowd, are hardly in a position to offer sanctimonious advice on the protection of cultural heritage.

In a country where people are starving by the hundreds in the Herat refugee camps and others freeze to death, there seemed to be more urgent needs than destroying statues erected to a faith that died out in the region around the year 1000.

The Taleban, which in Persian means ''the Koran students,'' should perhaps study harder and take a closer look at the Koran. They might discover that some fundamental tenets of Islam have eluded their scrutiny so far. These range from the obligation incumbent on people to feed the poor, to the compassion and mercy that are among the attributes of God and are supposed to inspire the behavior of true believers. The Taleban's score remains unimpressive on all counts.

17. Taliban Praises Statues Destruction
AP, Mar. 5, 2001
http://www.latimes.com/Off-site Link

KABUL, Afghanistan--A week after ordering the destruction of pre-Islamic relics -including two towering statues of Buddha -the Taliban's reclusive leader on Monday called their demolition a tribute to Islam and to ''the brave Afghan nation.''

Mullah Mohammed Omar rebuffed international appeals to rescind his order, calling the outcry ''noise.'' Another religious leader said the ruling Taliban militia would continue the demolition, and not consider offers by other countries to purchase the relics.

There were conflicting reports of the extent of the damage to the statues. An eyewitness report said Taliban soldiers fired antiaircraft weapons at them.

The Taliban's Information and Culture Minister Qatradullah Jamal said the head and legs had been destroyed. The rest would be destroyed by Monday, he said, but it wasn't certain whether the deadline had been met. The Taliban have refused to allow anyone to go to Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, where the statues are located.

''The non-Muslim world is united against the Taliban, but we will not be deterred. We will keep our Islamic way,'' Omar said in a statement carried by the Taliban's Bakhtar news agency. ''It has given praise to God that we have destroyed them.''

He did not address the disapproval of other Muslim nations, including the Taliban's closest ally, Pakistan, which also pleaded for the preservation of the statues.

Besides the mammoth mountain carvings, there are thousands of fragments of Buddhist art in the Kabul Museum.

But the most precious is a 2,000 -year-old seated Bhodi Sattva, made of baked clay, said Carla Grissman, who spent several years in Afghanistan compiling an inventory of the museum collection.

''We are praying that the Bhodi Sattva is not one of the things that has been destroyed,'' she said in a telephone interview from Britain, where she now lives.
''It is one of the most beautiful, ethereal Buddha statues,'' she said. ''It was in superb condition.''

It would likely have been offensive to hardline Taliban, however, because it depicted a naked torso resplendent only in jewelry.
The Kabul Museum, ravaged by relentless fighting between rival Islamic factions that preceded the Taliban takeover, was open for a short time last August. There were reports that several Taliban religious leaders saw the naked Buddha and slapped it several times across the shoulders and face, disgusted by the nakedness.

Museum officials later put the Buddha in a glass case.

The Taliban, who rule about 95 percent of Afghanistan, espouse a strict interpretation of Islam, which often runs contrary to interpretations by Muslim scholars elsewhere.

18. Statue attacks expose rift in Taliban leadership
Asia Times, Mar. 9, 2001
http://atimes.com/Off-site Link


The continued intransigence on the part of Taliban officials to ignore international calls to cease destruction of ancient Buddhist statues masks deeper issues. The statues lie in a strategically important area of central Afghanistan, the site of several recent clashes between Taliban and opposition Northern Alliance forces. More directly, however, the edict to destroy the statues may also reveal an increasing rift between extreme and moderate factions within the Taliban. This could ultimately open a door for the moderate factions to advance their positions in Afghanistan.

The Taliban order serves several purposes. First, it positions Taliban forces in Bamiyan in anticipation of an early spring offensive by Northern Alliance forces. Second, it reinforces Taliban control over all areas of Afghanistan. Finally, it reinforces the religious aspect of the Taliban's cause amid signs that factions within its leadership may be willing to take a more moderate course. In the long run, the action could split the group's leadership, as more moderate elements seek to capitalize on the international attention and begin negotiations with outside powers.

In addition to destroying Buddhist and other pre-Islamic statues, the Taliban is attacking statues of saints set up by local Islamic sects, according to the Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Taliban leadership is concerned these local sects, often made up of ethnic minorities, undermine the Taliban's central control. By destroying the statues, the Taliban hopes to eliminate their separate identity and integrate them into the single Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

While the group has addressed the problems of ethnic and religious minorities in the countryside, the Taliban leadership itself may be split. The extreme fundamentalist views within the group have weakened its ability to gain international recognition and undermined chances for economic and political development. Despite some challenges by moderate elements in the group, the fundamentalists remain in control

19. Moscow courts its million Muslims
BBC, Mar. 6, 2001
http://news.bbc.co.uk/Off-site Link

Moscow Mayor Yuriy Luzhkov attended a service at the city's main mosque to mark Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice, on Monday and promised to help provide more facilities for Moscow's million-strong Muslims.

He urged Muscovites to embrace religious tolerance, a theme taken up in a message to Muslims by President Vladimir Putin, who spoke of ''respect among all the peoples of multi-national Russia''.

This is only the second year that Russian leaders have taken the trouble to greet the Muslim community on their feast day, and some commentators see the attention as being an attempt to win support for the war against the Muslim Chechens.

Certainly, the leadership of Russia's Muslims has been careful not to side with the Chechens.

Supreme Mufti Talgat Tajuddin told worshippers in the Tatar city of Ufa that the war was a ''necessary measure against terrorists rather than brothers-in-faith''.

The second most senior cleric, Moscow-based Ravil Gaynutdin, opened the country's first Islamic university in Tatarstan last September to prepare clerics, and was at pains to say it would ''protect the country from foreign extremist teachings''.

The country's most prominent Muslim MP, Abdul-Vakhid Niyazov of the Refakh (Welfare) movement, sits in the pro-Putin Unity bloc in parliament.
Subservient congregation

There is, however, disillusion among many young Muslims at the political subservience and local complacency of their religious and community leaders, which has fed into Russians' traditional distrust of Islam to produce some ugly anti-Muslim acts.

The Muslims of the industrialised Volga - mainly the Tatars, Bashkirs and Chuvash - see Islam as a badge of national self-confidence and the role of their regional leaders as power-brokers.

They traditionally supply the elite of the Muslim community, such as Tajuddin and Gaynutdin.

The Muslims of the northern Caucasus - Chechens, Circassians and Dagestanis, among others - often feel like poor relations. They were absorbed into Russia much later, live in poor mountain areas, and have suffered most from their community's grim reputation among Russians.

This reputation has been fed by media stereotyping and the growth of Sharia law and militant sects - such as the pro-Saudi Wahhabis - in the Caucasus.

Russia's leaders may have decided the time has come to court the growing Muslim constituency before its loyal, Tatar leadership gives way to more militant trends that seek guidance from abroad.

=== Buddhism

20. Buddhists protest increasing Christian conversions in Lanka
The Times of India, Mar. 7, 2001
http://www.timesofindia.com/Off-site Link

COLOMBO: Buddhists in Sri Lanka are up in arms over foreign and local Christian evangelical organisations converting villagers in remote areas using ''unethical, coercive and sometimes barbaric methods.''

The Centre for Buddhism International (CBI) in Kandy, the central province hill town where the Temple of the Buddha's Tooth is the focal point, has accused Christian missionaries of invading rural villages and tea and rubber plantations to proselytize their faith.

The statement said the work of at least 73 foreign and local evangelical groups, with names like Campus Crusade for Christ and Christian Literary Crusade, had been studied by the South Asian think tank, the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

Calling on the government to act according to the country's Constitution and protect the Buddhist faith, the CBI charged that other Christian organisations tried to justify the work of the evangelists and decry opposition from Buddhists as ''the work of extremists.''

Last month, the small town of Hingurakgoda in the north central province was shocked by a Sunday morning attack by club-wielding mobs on a Christian prayer hall as services were being held. At least 38 people were seriously injured and the hall badly damaged.

Local residents said they were angry about the conversions being carried out by the evangelists who are largely without support from the larger mainstream Christian sects.

With 70 percent of the country's population being Buddhist, the other major religions of Hinduism, Islam, Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism have always steered away from controversy and co-existed peacefully.

The evangelists are from among newly sprung up groups with foreign links who blend religion with relief work, doling out jobs and material aid to converts, say their detractors. (IANS)

21. Teen Karmapa Raises Controversy
AP, Mar. 9, 2001
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/Off-site Link

BODH GAYA, India (AP) - Authorities in eastern India have ordered an investigation after teen-age Tibetan leader Ugyen Thinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, was accused of committing sacrilege at one of Buddhism's most revered sites.

An influential leader of Buddhist monks alleged that the Karmapa, who escaped Chinese-controlled Tibet last year, was wearing his shoes when he visited the sanctum of the Mahabodhi Temple in the state of Bihar.

The Karmapa is one of the highest-ranking monks in Tibetan Buddhism.

Bhadant Anand, the general-secretary of the All India Monks' Association, demanded the Karmapa be punished for ``trampling'' upon the Vajrasana, the place where the Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment. He also asked the Karmapa to apologize for the alleged sacrilege.

Anand questioned the credentials of the Karmapa, the only senior lama to be recognized by both Beijing and the exiled Tibetan religious leader, the Dalai Lama. His critics and senior Indian intelligence officials claim he is an agent of the Chinese government, speculation that the Dalai Lama has criticized.

Amrit Lal Meena, the administrator of the Gaya district where the temple is located, on Thursday ordered a magistrate to inquire whether the allegations were true. Meena is also the chairman of the temple's management committee.

The Karmapa was defended by Tenzing Lama, the monk-in-charge of the Tibetan monastery in Bodh Gaya, who said the Buddhist leader's alleged act did not constitute religious impropriety.

``It is the heart and not the shoes that is important,'' the monk said.

» Part 4

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