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09 November 2006

Mostly Catholic alpine Austrian town struggles to integrate Muslim Turks

TELFS, Austria — In this alpine valley town of 15,000, every seventh person has Turkish roots. Muslims and Christians walk the same streets and send their children to

the same schools. Here, East and West seem to find harmony.

But they lead largely separate lives.

“It’s still more of a ’next to each other’ than a ’with each other,”’ said the town’s 36-year-old mayor, Stephan Opperer. “But for me it’s very clear: These people are part of our society and not some kind of foreign body.”

However, that relationship has been sorely tested lately by the raising of a minaret next to a mosque despite grass-roots objections.

Like many other places in a Europe with a growing Muslim population, this town in the Tyrol region of Austria is struggling to better integrate its Turks at a time when the European Union is increasingly at odds with Turkey over the latter’s application to join the club of prosperous democracies.

Turks first came to predominantly Roman Catholic Telfs in the 1960s at the behest of the then mayor, Helmut Kopp, to work in the textile industry. That industry is gone but some 2,200 Turks remain, and nearly 60 percent hold Austrian citizenship.

The town has worked hard not to splinter into ghettos, spreading its immigrant housing around and sending immigrant children to German-speaking public schools.

But tensions flared about a year ago when a Turkish religious organization announced plans to build the minaret.

After heated debate, Mayor Opperer gave his go-ahead despite a petition with some 2,500 signatures. Now that the 50-foot concrete column is up, tensions have eased, but haven’t vanished. Kopp, the former mayor, still gets anonymous letters denouncing him for bringing in the Turks.

Determined to bridge the gap, townspeople have taken a string of initiatives, with mixed results, largely because even after some 40 years of living together, neither side seems to know the other’s culture very well.

To help integrate Turkish women, who tend to speak less German because they stay home with their children, the town’s adult education center offered them language classes. But the fall session fell during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and no one showed up. A new course is slated for January.

Another outreach effort, this time from the Muslim side, also was bungled by bad timing.

Osman Saltan, secretary of the group which built the minaret, invited non-Muslims to celebrate Iftah, the breaking of the daily dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast. But the gathering coincided with a Roman Catholic procession, and only a few came.

To better understand each other, a committee drawn from both communities meets monthly to brainstorm ideas. A recent gathering at a restaurant lasted well into the night and dealt with topics as varied as women’s rights and why a Turkish father refused to shake hands with his child’s female kindergarten teacher.

Sometimes, reaching out comes at a price. Johann Ortner, a police officer and alderman involved in the integration effort, said his activities have cost his wife’s restaurant some customers.

But he isn’t giving up. “If something goes wrong the first time around, you just have to try again,” he said.

Renate Sailer, a kindergarten teacher and town councilor, agrees. While only a few Muslim women took part in a social gathering she organized a while back, about 15 made it to the next one.

“I was very pleasantly surprised,” Sailer said.

Temil Demir, another Turk involved in putting up the minaret, said compromise was the key, noting that the original permitted allowed for a higher minaret, but his community opted for a lower tower.

“I didn’t want the neighbours to be upset with us after we’ve lived together all these years,” Demir said.

Still, it was enough for Wilhelm Parth, who helped organize the anti-minaret movement, to pack up and leave.

“It’s over. I’m moving away from Telfs,” Parth said in a brief telephone interview.

He declined to say why he opposed the minaret, but Ortner said that among the complaints heard from other opponents was that the minaret would draw large numbers of Muslims into their neighborhood, cause traffic problems and puzzle tourists.

Despite the fuss, Telfs’ Turks seem determined to stay.

“I feel very much at home here,” said Austrian-born Bilici Sadet, who runs a supermarket with her husband and speaks German with a Tyrolean twang.

“When I go to Turkey for vacation,” she said, “after two or three weeks I want to come back.”

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NAIROBI, Kenya - A Catholic nun has been sentenced to 30 years in jail for helping militias kill hundreds of people hiding in a hospital during Rwanda's 1994 genocide, an official said Friday.

Theophister Mukakibibi was sentenced by a traditional gacaca court for helping Hutu militiamen to kill ethnic Tutsis seeking refuge from the slaughter in Butare hospital, where she worked.

"She was responsible for selecting Tutsis and would throw them out of the hospital and the militia would then kill them," said Jean Baptiste Ndahumba, president of the local gacaca court in Butare town. "This nun was organizing people to be killed." She was jailed Thursday.

She would also hold regular meetings with Hutu extremist groups and denied food to Tutsis hiding in the hospital, he said by telephone. About 20 people testified against her, he added.

In the massacre, 100,000 people were killed in the southeastern prefecture of Butare.

A number of Hutu Catholic and Protestant church leaders are alleged to have played significant roles in the east African nation's 100-day massacre. More than a half-million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by the militia, orchestrated by the extremist Hutu government then in power. The genocide ended when Tutsi rebels toppled the government.

The gacaca courts are intended to speed up the genocide trials and are separate from the conventional judicial system. With nine judges from the local community, the traditional courts were also established to help heal divisions but can impose life sentences.

Some 63,000 genocide suspects are detained in Rwanda, and justice authorities say that at least 761,000 people should stand trial for their role in the slaughter and chaos that came with it. The suspects represent 9.2 percent of Rwanda's estimated 8.2 million people.

A U.N. tribunal based in neighboring Tanzania is trying those accused of masterminding the genocide in Rwanda. Three members of the clergy have appeared at the tribunal.

In 2001, two Rwandan Catholic nuns were convicted by a Belgian court for aiding and abetting the mass murders. A Roman Catholic priest is on trial before the Tanzania-based U.N. tribunal, accused of ordering the slaughter of 2,000 people who sought refuge in his church.

Rwanda's genocide began hours after a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was mysteriously shot down as it approached the capital, Kigali, on the evening of April 6, 1994. The leader was returning from power-sharing talks with Tutsi-led rebels.

The genocide ended after rebels, led by current President Paul Kagame, ousted the extremist Hutu government that had orchestrated the slaughter.

Posted by: Catholic nun gets 30 years for Rwanda genocide | 10 November 2006

Pastor Ted's influence was felt everywhere in New Life Church: in the videos shown at worship; in the New Life bookstore, which stocked books he recommended; and in the story of the church itself. He started New Life in his basement, building it into a 14,000-member nationally known megachurch. As the Rev. Ted Haggard's fortunes rose, so did the church's.

So when Haggard fell spectacularly from grace in a scandal involving drugs and allegations of gay sex, many wondered if New Life, so tied to his public persona, would crash with him.

The answer has significance far beyond the Haggard tragedy. As evangelical megachurches have sprung up around the country, concerns have grown over whether superstar pastors help or hurt faith communities.

Posted by: "superstar" pastors fall from grace | 11 November 2006

(Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) An executive committee member of the Southern Baptist Convention was arrested on a lewdness charge for propositioning a male plainclothes policeman outside a hotel, police said.

Lonnie Latham, senior pastor at South Tulsa Baptist Church, was booked into Oklahoma County Jail Tuesday night on a misdemeanor charge of offering to engage in an act of lewdness, police Capt. Jeffrey Becker said. Latham was released on $500 bail Wednesday afternoon.

Latham, who has spoken out against homosexuality, asked the officer to join him in his hotel room for oral sex. Latham was arrested and his 2005 Mercedes automobile was impounded, Becker said.

Calls to Latham at his church were not immediately returned Wednesday.

The arrest took place in the parking lot of the Habana Inn, which is in an area where the public has complained about male prostitutes flagging down cars, Becker said. The plainclothes officers was investigating these complaints.

The lewdness charge carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Latham is one of four Southern Baptist Convention executive committee members from Oklahoma.

He spoke out last year against a measure, ultimately approved by voters, to expand tribal gaming.

He has also spoken out against same-sex marriage and in support of a Southern Baptist Convention directive urging its 42,000 churches to befriend gays and lesbians and try to convince them that they can become heterosexual "if they accept Jesus Christ as their savior and reject their 'sinful, destructive lifestyle."

The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's largest Protestant denomination

Posted by: Anti-Gay Pastor Busted For Trying To Pick Up Male Prostitute Decoy | 11 November 2006

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