of the Religions
poignant article describing a reporter's visits to and reflections
upon the religious history and religious presence in the "holy"
city of Jerusalem:
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again Jerusalem is mourning its dead. No place in history has
been the scene of such intense, brutal and cyclical violence.
Our reporter, who first visited Israel 20 years ago, returned
and found a city imbued with anger and sadness.
a Jerusalem emptied by fear and war, I stood one evening, quite
alone, in the vast excavated area below the Temple Mount.
archaeologists have dug through the successive layers of history
— Ottoman, Byzantine, Crusader — back to the stones
that once formed the great temple of the Jews, left where the
Roman legions pulled them down and scattered them, to put up
a shrine to another god.
is the richest archaeological site in the world, where three
great monotheistic religions were formed, fought over and fractured,
a place that means more, to more people, than anywhere else
on the globe.
the pilgrims, students and tourists have all gone, kept away
by the upsurge of Israeli-Palestinian violence and the war in
Afghanistan; tense teenage Israeli soldiers with machine-guns
guard the gates.
an hour I lingered there among the ruins; the only moving thing
was an emaciated cat picking its way among stones carved by
a Roman stonemason 20 centuries ago. Then the call of the muezzin,
summoning Muslims to prayer from the al-Aqsa mosque overhead,
split the silence.
times of violence between Muslim and Jew, the loudspeakers are
turned to full volume. The call to prayer was echoed from another
mosque on the Mount of Olives, and the guttural, beautiful antiphony
bounced off the blistered rock.
Then the Christian bells from the Old City chimed in, as if
in answer, or opposition; and a few hundred yards away, by the
Western (Wailing) Wall, the last remnant of the temple, a handful
of Jewish worshippers loudly murmured and rocked.
sounds of rival worship collided and merged, enveloping the
sacred city on a hill; it is a sound peculiar to Jerusalem,
but it echoes to the West Bank and Gaza, to Belfast, Washington,
Kandahar and Kabul.
is where the story starts, and this is where it will probably
end. To understand why men still kill in the name of God, come
to Jerusalem, holy of holies, the “slaughterhouse of the
religions”, in the words of Aldous Huxley, the oldest,
hottest crucible of belief, holy nationalism boiled down into
an area of less than one square mile. Marx thought religion
an opiate; here it is closer to crack, liable to intoxicate
the user into a frenzy of violence.
the country is more divided than ever, Islamic fundamentalism
and Jewish ultra-Orthodoxy are on the march, but Jerusalem’s
cacophonous song of arguing religions is the same one that it
has always sung, a mournful music of anger, faith and fear that
shapes our world today as much as it always did.
bin Laden sings it when he insists that Israel is polluted and
Jerusalem desecrated by “The Infidel”; Ariel Sharon
sang it when he marched on to the Dome of the Rock in September
last year, touching off what Palestinians call the al-Aqsa intifada.
is the last thing a Hamas suicide bomber sings before he detonates;
some of the Israeli security forces may sing it under their
breaths as they open fire; and the hijackers who brought down
the World Trade Centre sang it most insistently of all: our
religion is right; your religion is wrong; our Jerusalem is
the holy one.
Jerusalem is al-Quds (The Holy One) in Arabic, and Hagia Polis,
the Holy City, as it appears in Saint Matthew. Jerusalem lies
at the heart of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis,
with all that this means for relations between Israel and the
Arab world in general.
The Palestinians long for Jerusalem in their diaspora, just
as the Jews venerated it in their own exile; leathery and brutal
crusaders wept at the thought of Jerusalem, which they had never
very shape and skyline of the city tells of an unending religious
war, for no place on earth has been the scene of such intense
religious feeling and such brutal, cyclical violence.
the city was conquered 37 times between its foundation and the
capture of the city by Israel in 1967. In 1947, an international
delegation struggled to find a candidate for governor of the
projected city-state of Jerusalem who would not immediately
be vetoed by every other religion; the Chinese delegate remarked
that the only acceptable choice would be “a philosophical
atheist with a kindness for humanity”.
religions themselves split and fracture, forming a kaleidoscope
of antagonistic sects: where once Pharisee battled Sadducee,
today the Jewish community is riven between secular, Reform,
Conservative, Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox and ultra-ultra; Christians
from East and West, Greeks, Latins, Ethiopians, Copts, Armenians,
Syrian Jacobites. Jerusalem boasts no fewer than three patriarchs
and more than 30 Christian sects.
Storrs, the first British military Governor of Jerusalem and
the son of an English vicar, pushed through a law requiring
that all the city’s buildings must be faced with white
Jerusalem stone, to give it architectural coherence.
a sunny day the effect is blinding. By his rule, Storrs preserved
the architectural form of the city, but he also provided another
stark metaphor: the city forced into a uniform façade
while hatred seethes behind the walls.
I walked the streets of Jerusalem, I felt revulsion at the sheer
depth of animus between and within religions, the never-suspended
feeling of incipient violence, with too much belief in too narrow
a compass, in a land as harsh and unforgiving as the people
who lay claim to her. Zion itself comes from the word ziya,
which means parched desert.
other visitors, at least those who come without their own religious
preconception, have experienced the same sense of awe and revulsion.
Huxley saw the city’s inimical peoples living in “the
same brown squalor, alternately building, destroying, killing
and being killed, indefinitely”.
Melville saw “stones to right and stones to left ... stony
tombs; stony hills & stony hearts”. But each stone
means something different, with layer upon layer of construction,
physical, religious and metaphorical, attaching to the same
object or place.
stones to bring down a Goliath or a frightened Israeli in uniform;
stones to build belief from. The rock under the dome was once
a pagan altar, then the Jews’ foundation stone, perhaps
the altar for the great Jewish temple, and the departure point
for Muhammad’s night-flight to Heaven.
the Dome of the Rock is closed off to tourists and non-Muslims,
guarded by Israeli soldiers. ... for all its beauty, the dome
is like almost every other building in Jerusalem, a religious
propaganda statement in stone: one historian has described it
as a “victory monument commemorating triumph over the Jewish
and Christian religions”.
Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock
the “Jerusalem sadness” settle on us, the “combined
effect of the tragic desolate beauty and inhuman atmosphere”
of a place “poisoned by religion”.
and madness seem so close to the surface that the simplest acts
or even errors provoke carnage: in 1926 a Jewish boy kicked
his football into the Muslim quarter and was killed by fanatics
when he went to claim it: 133 Jews and 116 Arabs died in the
bloodbath that ensued.
From somewhere down in the ancient city, the faint and lovely
tone of the muezzin wafts up again, the stony sound of the centuries,
the battle cry of belief echoing across the generations.
- - end excerpts - - -
- The Times
of CNN Videos (November 26 to December 2)
windows for some of the best of recent CNN web videos (Note
- CNN adds videos frequently - see their web
sites for links to all of their video selections):
rudder may have caused crash
CNN's Charles Feldman reports an Airbus jet like the one
that crashed in Queens had rudder problems and had to
return to Lima, Peru (December 1)
CNN's Walter Rodgers reports U.S. Marines in Afghanistan
are geared up to battle the elements as well as remaining
Taliban resistance (December 1)
CNN's Bob Franken reports U.S. officials are saying the
tough job in Afghanistan is only going to get harder in
the weeks ahead (November 30)
troops move into Bagram
CNN's Jim Clancy reports U.S. troops have taken up positions
inside the Bagram Air Base north of Afghanistan's capital,
Kabul (November 30)
Ex-Beatle George Harrison dies of cancer at the age of
58. CNN's Michael Okwu reports (November 30)
reports on Afghan fighting
CNN's Bob Franken sorts out mixed reports on fighting
in Afghanistan, including one saying Northern Alliance
troops killed Taliban prisoners (November 29)
ravaged by war
CNN's Ben Wedeman reports on people in Kabul suffering
emotionally from years of war (November 29)
returns to Kabul
CNN's Christiane Amanpour reports on how some residents
of Kabul are getting their freedom back by watching TV
hits compound near Kandahar
U.S. hits compound near Kandahar
Pentagon officials said intelligence reports placed Taliban
leaders inside the targeted compound. CNN's Jamie Mcintyre
reports (November 28)
Taliban join hunt for bin Laden
(2:10) Former Taliban soldiers who joined the Northern
Alliance are helping in the search for Osama bin Laden.
CNN's Brent Sadler reports (November 28)
tensions with art
CNN's Mark Potter reports that the Miami airport is trying
to soothe travelers' nerves by presenting a still, gentle
world through children's eyes (November 27)
Marines move into position
The Pentagon says the Marines are outside of Kandahar
where they will base the hunt for Osama bin Laden. CNN's
Jamie Mcintyre reports (November 27)
trained in Jalalabad
CNN's Brent Sadler looks at the eastern Afghanistan city
of Jalalabad, where many al Qaeda training camps were
once based (November 27)
setting up near Kandahar
(4:58) CNN's Donna Kelley and retired Air Force Maj.
Gen. Don Shepperd talk about the type support Marines
will have in Afghanistan (November 26)
Taleban Defenders Must Surrender or Die
describing the end days of the Taleban control of Kandahar:
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Taleban defenders must surrender or die in an inevitable bloodbath,
America’s Defence Secretary declared yesterday.
they don’t surrender they are going to be killed,”
Donald Rumsfeld said as the battle for the Taleban’s last
bastion reached what one senior US Marine positioned near the
city described as its “culmination point”.
Taleban garrison’s position appeared to be hopeless. The
ancient walled city was surrounded by anti-Taleban forces and
all exit routes were blocked. It was being pounded by relentless
US airstrikes. Residents were fleeing in their thousands.
Pentagon has further increased the pressure on Kandahar’s
Taleban by doubling the number of combat helicopters based at
the US-controlled airstrip south of the city.
Hassan, Kandahar’s hardline Governor and close ally of
Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taleban’s supreme leader, was
said to have been killed by an American bomb in a village just
west of the city.
Major James Higgins, a leader of the 1,000-strong US Marine
force that has established a base at an airstrip south of Kandahar,
said that he expected the city to have fallen already.
Taleban had “a snake squeezing in on them” with “opposition
forces coming from the north down, from the southeast up, and
us coming potentially from where we are . . . Now it seems to
be reaching a culmination point.”
Civilians fleeing Kandahar described a rapidly emptying city veiled
by an enormous dust cloud thrown up by the relentless bombardment.
“In the last 24 hours five minutes haven’t gone by without
us hearing bombing and the roaring of planes.” ...
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- The Times
wanted to kill as many of us as they could'
from article describing the experience of one of the survivors
of the recent bombing attacks in Israel:
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Zion was heading for one of Jerusalem’s noisier nightspots
to celebrate his 19th birthday with a group of friends when
the first of the two Palestinian suicide bombers blew himself
apart in the bustling Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall.
minutes later he was still not sure how many of his friends
had survived. Jerusalem’s city centre, as popular as Piccadilly
Circus on a Saturday night, had become an inferno where, as
one dazed teenager said, “it was raining body parts”.
carnage was as bad as any conventional battlefield. Everywhere
youngsters were sobbing into mobile telephones, telling desperate
relatives that they were alive.
eldest of the ten victims was 20 years old, the youngest 14
and the rest teenagers whose favourite Saturday night pastime
was hanging out on Ben Yehuda Street, or in the cafés
and bars that surround it, after the end of the Sabbath.
of the head of one of the bombers from the radical Islamic group
Hamas — themselves aged 17 and 20 — had lodged on
one of the smashed buildings on either side of the street.
bombs were deliberately aimed at young Jews. The Arabs wanted
to kill as many of us as they could. That is why they picked
this place, at this time,” Shimon said, his birthday clothes
crumpled and spotted with blood. ...
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- The Times