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One story to watch: Will 2018 see notable decline in the Middle East's hardline Islam?

One story to watch: Will 2018 see notable decline in the Middle East's hardline Islam?

Looking at Muslim culture in the Mideast apart from ongoing terrorism problems, The Economist’s fat “The World in 2018” special includes two articles that anticipate secularization and decline for religious hardliners in Sunni lands. You can click here to read, "Roll Over Religion."

The key factor is a “disenchanted” younger generation that no longer accepts claims that “Islam is the solution” to socio-economic woe.  Such unrest is obvious, but The Religion Guy is hesitant about claims of sweeping decline. Nonetheless, U.S.-based reporters should pay heed, since correspondents Roger McShane and Nicolas Pelham are on the ground and we’re not.

“Arab leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates will seek to capitalize on popular sentiment to pursue their Islamist foes,” the venerable Brit newsmagazine predicts. Regimes will talk about “reform and modernization” but in actuality will maneuver “to clip the powers of religious institutions and increase their own sway.” As part of it they’ll “roll back the presence of religion in public spaces.”

Already, with the ISIS collapse, women in Mosul, Iraq, are removing their full-face coverings and returning to school and college classrooms. Tunisia is letting Muslim women marry Christians. In Egypt, symbolic beards and veils are starting to disappear as weekly mosque attendance slides. “In some cities sex before marriage is becoming a norm,” and we should “expect more videos of Saudi women in risqué dress.”

Much of the intrigue centers on straitlaced Saudi Arabia and its busy young Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (a.k.a. MBS, lately in the news for paying a record $450 million for a Leonardo da Vinci portrait of Jesus Christ). All but taking command from his father King Salman, the prince has begun circumscribing powers of the dreaded mutaween (religious police).

As the regime “chips away at restrictions imposed under the kingdom’s strict Islamic social code,” the “conservative clerics are perturbed,” the magazine says. A permanent shift in religion policy would have major impact because the Saudis have funded Salafi and Wahhabi zealotry worldwide.

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Ongoing Europe migrant crisis story: Sorry, but a public pork blitz alone won't fix it

Ongoing Europe migrant crisis story: Sorry, but a public pork blitz alone won't fix it

Ever hear of the subset known as gastronomical Jews? They're not religious, or at least not when it comes to mainstream Judaism. They don't connect to Jewish communal organizations. Israel's problems -- well maybe they're problems for the cousins, but not them. Why bother with all that craziness?

But boy, do they love to eat "Jewish." To which I say, what's not to like?

There's juicy hot pastrami on rye spiced with mustard (above), chicken matzoh ball soup and matzoh brei. There's also proper New York-style (always boiled first then baked) bagels, lox and cream cheese, and various kinds of pickled herring -- to name just a few of my favorites.

For end-stage gastronomical Jews, the taste of their favorite childhood foods is their last meaningful tie to their Jewish roots. For some, that fragile tie finally snaps when some cardiologist says it's time to cut back on the carbs, salt and artery-clogging fats packed into the traditional Ashkenazi Jewish diet.

In short, food is certainly a cultural and religious marker, which is why holiday food stories are a staple of feature section religion journalism.

But -- in a world where frozen, commercially pre-packaged (and comparatively tasteless, I might add) bagels can be had virtually anywhere there's a freezer -- food alone is no guarantee that a culture, any culture, will live on in its fullness.

Which brings me to Europe's ongoing attempts to manage its migrant crisis (click here for an exhaustive update) and a recent New York Times story about a Danish town's attempt to cope with it by eating pork.

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European values after Auschwitz

Seventy years after the Holocaust, Germany has constructed the first monument honoring the half million gypsies murdered in the Holocaust.

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