01: A program known as the Safe Spaces Initiative aims to assist U.S. mosques in identifying potential extremists in their midst has been started by a Muslim advocacy group.
The initiative was prompted by the Boston Marathon bombings and was created by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. The program is voluntary but represents a departure from the long-held strategy by the American Muslim community to distance itself from Islamic extremism. While some mosques offer counseling services and try to address radical arguments, many Muslim leaders have stated that such attacks as those by the Tsarnaev brothers in the Boston Marathon bombing had nothing to do with Islam, even.
The plan’s creators say that while the majority of American Muslims have no connection to extremism, the entire Muslim community is affected by the rare instances of radical violence, such as the Boston bombings, and should address extremist voices. The mosque that one of brothers attended in Boston had warned him about disruptive behavior during prayer services.
The initiatives’ founders compare the approach to intervention programs established at schools to prevent mass shootings or gang violence. The program encourages mosque leaders to promote “healthy outlets” for “hot topic” issues such as politics, gender relations and drug abuse. The second step involves direct engagement with a person who appears to be veering toward extremism. If that intervention fails, the final step is expelling the person from the mosque and alerting law enforcement. MPAC officials have just begun briefing law enforcement authorities, including the Los Angeles Police Department and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, on the plan. They also have started contacting some mosques.
(Source: Wall Street Journal, April 13.)
02: A Korean new religious movement known as Salvation (or “Guwon” in Korean) has gained some notoriety after the ferry boat named SeWol (which means “going beyond this world” in Korean) carrying 476 passengers sunk in April.
When government authorities began to investigate the causes of the disaster, it was revealed that the owner of the ferry boat was a founding member of Salvation, which is considered a cult group by mainstream Christian group in Korea. The “salvation” church was inspired by an American missionary and originated in 1962 by Korean minister, Kwon Shin Chan and his son-in-law Yu Byung Un, the owner of the ferry boat. The major theological distinction between “salvation” church and other groups is its emphasis on guaranteed salvation and a de-emphasis on the church and the role of prayer. In particular, church members are alleged to believe that Yu Byung Un is engaged in God’s holy work by running his businesses in the secular world.
Critics charge that for this reason, Yu Byung Un has been able to exploit his employees by paying them one-tenth of the market rate, making his business thrive. Furthermore, the government is now investigating any political connections of Yu with high government officials and politicians, with some alleging that he established a slush fund for lobbying them. Yu is reported to have 50 business groups ranging from pharmaceutical companies to collective farms worth more than 100 million dollars in Korea and abroad. For example, he owns farms in California and Korea and purchased an old village in France several years ago.
(Source: Yonhap daily newspaper, May 4.)
— Written and translated by K.T. Chun, a New Jersey-based writer and researcher.