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Junkyard Bound

What is good for General Motors, quipped Charles Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower’s Secretary of Commerce, is good for the nation. As a former chairman of G.M., Wilson was not a disinterested party, but for much of the next half-century, as the auto giant and its employees prospered, so did the country. For years now, however, G.M. has been a faltering industrial power. This year it is set to be surpassed by Toyota as the world’s largest automaker. On March 23, in an attempt to streamline costs, the company announced a buyout for the contracts of its unionized workers. In this case, what may be good for G.M. will be bad for the nation. The buyout is evidence that the free market alone cannot guarantee middle-class incomes, health care and retirement. Unless government and business can attend to fundamentals, islands of prosperity will continue to exist, to be sure, but in a rising sea of hardship. Government must lead in an economic redesign by tackling the nation’s ruinous debt and then curbing exorbitant health care costsone of the major factors in G.M.’s decline.

Yearning for Andaluz

The poetry of the Arab world sighs with longing for al-Andaluz, the Moorish region of southern Spain where from 750 to 1492 a high civilization flourished. It was in the courts of Andalusia that romantic love was born. There, too, the Greek classics were translated into Arabic and then into Latin and transmitted to Christian Europe. Christians and Jews lived and prospered there, and scholars peaceably debated the tenets of the three faiths. In the Arab imagination, the Andalusian idyll died with the reconquest of Granada in 1492. In actuality, it had expired centuries before under new warrior dynasties, which had come out of the North African desert to conquer and repress their cultured and tolerant cousins.

Andaluz came to mind this week as Abdul Rahman escaped a trial for apostasy in Afghanistan for having converted to Christianity 16 years ago. Conversion from Islam is a capital offense in many parts of the Muslim world, though scholars say that nothing in the Koran or the hadith (sayings) of the Prophet justifies such a penalty. The Afghan government, under pressure from the West, released Mr. Rahman, and he took asylum in Italy. Many saw the case as proof that Islam is incompatible with ideals of tolerance and religious liberty. The Muslim kingdoms of Andaluz prove otherwise. So today do Jordan and some Persian Gulf states, where new churches are being erected and ministry to Christian guest workers is welcomed. The problem in Afghanistan, as in the last centuries of al-Andaluz, lies more with a rural, warlike culture than with Islam.

In recent testimony before a House subcommittee on the status of Christians in Islamic countries, Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ committee on international policy, observed that the Islamic community is a very large and complex community of faith and the conditions of religious freedom are different from country to country and region to region. At the same time, he warned, The stark realities of religious repression should not be overlooked or minimized....

One measure of interfaith progress in places where it is needed, as Pope Benedict XVI has proposed, will be concrete reciprocity in policies and practices of law that relate to religious freedom. Furthermore, one may hope that Muslims will move beyond a legalistic reliance on sharia (Islamic legal tradition) to articulate a theology of acceptance of the other. Then we will have moved from memories of al-Andaluz to our own 21st-century culture of dialogue.

Firestorm Against Racism

Malta is a small country that has sent missionaries to the far reaches of the globe. Like other countries in the European Community, it is experiencing challenges to its tradition and identity from the influx of immigrants, both legal and illegal. Prompted by community wide concerns, and in response to a European Union mandate, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice in Malta published early this March a report on racism and xenophobia for the year 2004 as manifested in education, housing, legislation and racist violence.

On the Sunday night after the report was issued, seven vehicles in the parking lot of St. Aloysius College in Malta were destroyed in an arson attack. All belonged to the Jesuit community. In the police investigation that followed, it emerged that there had been a similar attack on another Jesuit community immediately after a similar report had been issued in November 2005.

St. Aloysius College, a highly visible Jesuit work that occupies a unique place in the Maltese consciousness, became a rallying point as representatives of all shades of the political spectrum condemned the attack. The president of the republic, himself an alumnus, paid a special visit to the college to express his solidarity with the community.

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