You can't miss rising food prices if you do the grocery shopping or listen to the radio these days. They are causing real pain all around the world as family budgets everywhere are squeezed. There's no end in sight, though hunger is much more prominent at least in policy discussions, from Davos to U.S. political campaigns.
An interesting choreography of sorts can be seen during rush hour in front of the church Nossa Senhora da Paz in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro. There, among the evening stream of pedestrians, cars, and buses, many people, both outside and inside vehicles, face the church when passing in front of it and do the sign of the cross in a perfectly timed and almost automatic movement. For an outsider, this would appear to be a natural occurrence in the world’s largest Catholic nation, but as some Brazilians will readily admit, such displays should not be considered signs of a devoted Catholic population, but superficial manifestations. “Everybody says they are Catholic, but nobody really is,” a local friend told me. “Futebol (soccer) is more of a religion than Catholicism."
Where are the passionate moderates in Islam, Madeleine Albright wanted to know. Why does all the passion seem to come from extremists? The former secretary of State was speaking at the recent U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, sponsored by the Brookings Institution. To the Islamic world, her message was that what we need now is “moderates on the march, moderates with swagger.”
In the four weeks I’ve spent in Madrid, I’ve discovered how much wider and more polarized the Spanish political spectrum is compared to that of the United States. Professors here speak of “two Spains,” two wildly different, zealously defended systems of thinking that boil down simply to the Left and the Right.
Since my arrival in Salamanca nearly three weeks ago, it has been easy to recognize the religious tenor of Spanish life. My host mother continually tells me that she loves Holy Week, with its parades and festivals, but that she can’t remember the last time that she went to church. Similarly, on a stroll through the town the other day at noon, I saw mothers, fathers, and grandparents scurrying into church for Sunday Mass. However, blatantly missing were their children and grandchildren; the elder Spaniards made little or no effort to bring them into the church, leaving them free to play soccer in the plaza outside the church or to spend the hour in a cafe.
Before arriving in France, I expected to bear witness to the myriad of problems related to the integration of France’s burgeoning Muslim populace, so frequently discussed in mainstream American media. Officially, ever since the passage of the Law of Separation in 1905, France has been a laïc state. The term does not translate easily into English, although it is frequently rendered as "secular." Whereas a truly secular state prefers the secular or the non-religious in the public sphere, French laïcité envisions a strict separation between the state and spirituality. In theory, therefore, the state is neither secular nor religious, but rather is completely detached from all questions of faith or a lack thereof.