Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘the Vatican’

Easter in Rome

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th March, 2018

D0E180F4-0506-45E5-8BAD-FD50B5A051DEHaving spent more than half a century travelling around Europe — most of it for work, including eight years based in Brussels (the subject of my next memoir) — I’ve been just about everywhere, except Kosovo since it declared independence. But of course there are some “experiences” I still have to have — not exactly a bucket list, but nonetheless things that it would be nice to have notched on my belt before I pop my clogs. So here I am in Rome for Holy Week, the Easter palomba cake on the kitchen table at my friend’s flat off the Piazza di Spagna. I’d expected the city to be super-crowded, but apart from the occasional crocodile of Chinese chugging down the pavement, this part of town is relatively manageable. The Piazza del Popolo at the end of the street was packed on Wednesday for the funeral of the  much-loved TV presenter Fabrizio Frizzi, but otherwise I have been able to wander and when the mood takes me, to sit in the Spring sun on a cafe terrace. Mind you, I have kept well away from the Vatican, which I imagine will be heaving, especially as the Easter weekend progresses and the Pope appears. I shall leave that to the devoted, as I abandoned organised religion decades ago. But a priest is coming to a fish supper at the apartment this evening, so we are sort of entering into the spirit of things.

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Iran Invited to Geneva2. And the Kurds?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th January, 2014

Kurdish area of SyriaThe UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, has announced that Iran has now been invited to attend the Geneva talks on the future of Syria, due to be held on Wednesday. That is welcome news, though it is a little odd that the significance was almost lost in the revelation that a whole host of other states have also been invited, including Bahrain, Luxembourg and the Vatican. Given the small size and, at least in some cases, marginal direct involvement of some of the likely participants, it is maybe not surprising that Syrian Kurds — many of whom have also risen up against the regime of Bashar al-Assad — are asking, why not them too? The quick answer from the UN would doubtless be that they are not a state, though some of the other Syrian actors who will be present do not represent a state either. But of course there is a more substantial matter involved, namely the position of Kurds in the whole region. Only in Iraq have Kurds gained a high degree of autonomy; in fact, it is not inconceivable that the Kurdistan Region of Iraq could become an independent country one day. The issue then is, which other areas in the region with a high percentage of Kurds among their population would like to try to become part of some putative Kurdish state? The Iranians stamp hard on any attempts at Kurdish separatism, and Turkey — which houses almost half of the region’s population of Kurds — strongly resists any attempt to undermine the territorial integrity of the Republic of Turkey. Moreover, Kurds in Turkey are themselves divided about how far they ought or ought not to be autonomous, let alone independent. But what is clear from even a cursory study of Middle Eastern history following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire is that the Kurds were denied a proper opportunity for self-determination by the Allied Powers. And if Syrian Kurds are excluded from Geneva2 it will strike some Kurdish activists as yet more of the same.

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Holy Smoke! Oscar’s in with the Vatican!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th July, 2009

TG*558099The Irish playwright Oscar Wilde flirted with Catholicism for most of his life. He was tempted to convert while an undergraduate at Oxford, but he was threatened with disinheritance by a fervently Protestant relative if he did, so perversely and typically became a freemason instead. He was later minded to follow his young seducer and devoted friend Robbie Ross into the Roman Church, but Robbie suspected (rightly) that Oscar would never be able to take the faith seriously. After all, Wilde had declared that ‘I am not a Catholic; I’m simply a violent Papist!’ and on another occasion, that the Catholic Church was ‘for saints and sinners alone. For respectable people the Anglican Chiurch will do.’ When he went to Rome after his release from prison, where he had served two years with hard labour for gross indecency with various young male persons, he was so excited by an audience with the Pope that he thought his walking stick was going to burst into bud, or so he quipped. This did not stop him engaging in a some hanky-panky with a young ordinand behind the altar in an Italian church.

It is all the more remarkable, therefore, that a new study of Wilde, by the Italian writer Paolo Gulisano, has just received a laudatory review in the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. Wilde is described in the article as a man ‘who, behind a mask of amorality, asked himself what was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false.’  It lauded him as ‘one of the personalities of the 19th century who lucidly analysed the modern world in its disturbing as well as its positive aspects.’ Wilde was eventually received into the Church on his death-bed in a small hotel in Paris. More than a century later, he has become a sort of secular saint, an iconic figure in the struggle for sexual liberation. But given the views on homosexuality held by the current Pope, Benedict XVI, it is hard to believe that Oscar is quite on the road to canonisation yet.

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What Is God’s Place in Politics?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th August, 2008

For the past two days, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) has been hosting a seminar in the European Parliament in Brussels on the theme ‘Secularism and Religions’. Not the most inspiring of titles, I admit, but discussions about religion’s place in society and in politics are particularly pertinent, given the rise of so-called Muslim fundamentalism and the activities of the Christian right in the United States and Latin America. In Europe, of course, secularism has been on the rise for a long time now, and in various forms has been legally instituted in France and Turkey. And as the leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, Graham Watson, pointed out in his brief opening remarks, secularism is almost part-and-parcel of European liberalism, in the sense of maintaining a strict separation of Church and State.

However, that does not mean that there cannot be a constructive interaction between religious and political bodies. Indeed, in an increasingly multicultural society, this is probably essential. Interestingly, what has happened at the European level is that religious faiths and institutions have built up an impressive lobbying presence in Brussels (as well as in the national capitals of the 27 EU member states). The Vatican, not surprisingly, is the most vociferous.

The ALDE seminar has had an eclectic range of speakers, from Frans Goetghebeur, President of the Buddhist Union of Belgium, to Rabbi David Meyer (formerly of Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue) and Chéref-Khan Chemsi of the European Muslim Humanist Institute. The most well-known political speaker was the inimitable Italian Radical, Marco Pannella, who at 78 has lost none of his flamboyance or origniality. He still seems to be in a state of semi-delirium following a meeting he had a while back with the Dalai Lama, the memory of which literally drove him to tears in the plenary sesion. The Italian women present applauded this, while the few Brits in the room, including me, squirmed in our seats. Europeans are nothing if not diverse, thank God.

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