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Top five international stories of the week

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Every Friday, we will bring you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice. With the Evangelicals for Life conference and a grueling travel schedule to escape #Snowpocalypse2016, I wasn’t able to get last week’s installment out. As a result, this post covers last week as well.

1. Hundreds of Muslim scholars gather in Marrakesh to issue a declaration in support of the rights of non-Muslims living in majority-Muslim countries. The gathering was a truly historic event, with great geographical and theological diversity. It is, therefore, a significant achievement that any declaration was agreed upon, much less one rooted in Islamic law. I had the honor of attending the conference and will publish a report on the conference next week. Read the entire declaration here.

2. Pakistani boy, 15, cuts off own hand right hand to prove he is not a blasphemer. This NY Times account is chilling and worth a read. The boy was at religious services when the imam asked all who did not love the Prophet Muhammed to raise their hands. The boy misheard the prompt and mistakenly lifted his hand, and the imam shouted to the entire congregation that the boy was a blasphemer. To atone for his mistake, the boy went home and cut off his own hand. The reaction of the boy's father is the part of this story is particularly noteworthy: “We are lucky that we have this son who loves Prophet Muhammad that much. . . . We will be rewarded by God for this in the eternal world.”

One issue the NYT article does not discuss is the fact that Pakistan's infamous blasphemy law was enacted by the British during the colonial period. The law was put in place in an effort to create peace between the different religious groups in Colonial India, which included today's India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. So although it is true that Islamic law speaks to issues of blasphemy and that the blasphemy law was strengthened under Islamist rule of Pakistan, the starting point for the law was colonial history. For a deeper dive on blasphemy laws in Pakistan, the blog Get Religion has a great article.

3. French Justice Minister resigns in the face of proposed law in France that would strip convicted terrorists of citizenship. The new law would represent another step in cracking down on terrorist activity in France, which is still reeling from the attacks in November 2015. France has been in a state of emergency since the Paris attacks, allowing the police to hold suspects under house arrest and prohibit demonstrations and assembly.

4. Laurent Gbagbo, former president of the Ivory Coast, on trial before the International Criminal Court for war crimes. In 2011, then-president Gbagbo refused to step down from office, triggering four months of deadly conflict, during which time 3,000 people were killed. The ICC will hear evidence that Gbagbo was responsible for orchestrating a "campaign of violence," including mass killings.

Gbagbo will be the most senior official to ever appear before the ICC, a major test of the international court's credibility. The United States is not a part of the ICC, arguing that the court represents an inappropriate intrusion into state sovereignty.

5. Rise in employment of Saudi women is having significant cultural impact. Let's be clear from the outset: women still cannot drive and still require permission of a male guardian to travel and study. But cultures don't change in a day, and here is a glimmer of hope for change. From the article: "The number of female employees has grown 48 percent since just 2010, and the high female unemployment rate, at 33 percent, paradoxically shows that record numbers of Saudi women are trying to get out of the house and into the workplace."

Bonus longread: Alexander Litvinenko: the man who solved his own murder.

Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].

religious liberty

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