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What's going on in the Muslim world?

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as The Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior, built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I, at sunset in Istanbul, Turkey, 2006 (Credit: Constantin Barbu via Flickr and was running recently in our neighborhood when I noticed a neighbor's broken sprinkler head.  Water was shooting 10-12 feet into the air and cascading onto the driveway.  The owner clearly had not been outside during the few minutes each week the sprinkler was in use.  The fact that he didn't know his sprinkler head was broken made its wasted water no less real.

We in the West are in something of a lull at present with regard to the Muslim world.  It's been a while since jihadist aggression affected Americans or Western Europeans directly.  But our inattention makes the growing perils of militant Islam no less real.

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Pope Francis, a Jewish Rabbi and Muslim Imam

A poster advertising the upcoming visit of Pope Francis I to the Holy Land is displayed in a window to the entrance of the Church of Saint Catherine, which is attached to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, May 10, 2014 (Credit: Brittany Kulick) One thing is certain - Pope Francis is a unique pope.  He's been described as the "people's Pope" and a man of grace, peace, understanding and inclusion.  Andrew Sullivan referred to him as an "untier of knots" and as he heads off to the Holy Land, he is about to confront the world's largest knot – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Needless to say, that is one huge knot to untie!

As you watch the news, look for a few things.  First of all, Pope Francis will do things that anger and please both the Israelis and Palestinians.  His itinerary reflects this fact and the Israelis and Palestinians are already talking about it.  He will show strong support for a sovereign Palestinian state when he travels from Jordan directly into the occupied West Bank rather than passing through Israel.  Needless to say, this is a huge symbolic lift to the Palestinian push for a sovereign state, but it angered the Israelis.  Just for the record, George W. Bush was the first U.S. President to call for the creation of a Palestinian state and Barack Obama has continued this policy.  On the other side of the coin, Pope Francis will be the first Vatican leader to lay a wreath on the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism.  Honoring the man who envisioned the Jewish state is a huge statement of support for Israel, but it angered some Palestinians.

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Anti-loneliness cafes in Japan

A lonely Japanese womans sits alone with a giant stuffed animal based on characters from the popular Moomin books from Finland in the Moomin Cafe in Tokyo, Japan, November 5, 2010 (Credit: Alícia Roselló Gené via Flickr) The Moomin House Cafe in Tokyo, Japan attracts solo diners who sit across the table from a large, stuffed, hippo-like creature called a Moomin.  This is one of many cultural oddities that attempt to assuage the loneliness that plagues the modern culture of Japan.  One company will send your stuffed animals on vacation for you, snapping pictures at all the tourist locations while you stay at home.  

Japan is home to many heart-breaking statistics.  The elderly in Japan account for more shoplifting crimes than teenagers.  Experts believe they steal because they are lonely.  About 30,000 people commit suicide every year.  Less than .2% of its 130 million people believe in Jesus Christ and attend church.

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Group claims responsibility for missing Malaysian plane

Relatives of a passenger of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight wept inside a hotel in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on Monday, March 10, 2014 (Credit: Reuters/Samsul Said) A previously unknown group calling itself the Chinese Martyrs' Brigade has claimed responsibility for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane.  They sent an email to various journalists in China, saying: "You kill one of our clan, we will kill 100 of you as payback."  However, a Malaysian official states, "There are no sound or credible grounds to justify their claims."

Searchers have found no concrete evidence of what happened to the flight.  As you know, flight MH370 vanished early Saturday morning after departing Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.  The plane disappeared from radar less than an hour after takeoff.  No distress signals were sent.  No debris has been discovered.

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Why another conflict at the Temple Mount?

Israeli police seen outside the Dome of the Rock mosque during clashes with Palestinian stone-throwers (unseen) following Friday prayers at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound on February 7, 2014. (Photo: Flash 90/Sliman Khader) On February 25, there was a clash between Palestinian demonstrators and Israel police on the Temple Mount.  As news reports stated, twenty masked Palestinians threw stones and firecrackers at Israeli security forces from atop the Temple Mount and an Israeli police force entered the area to disperse the rioters using crowd dispersal means, including stun grenades. Three rioters were arrested on suspicion they threw rocks and firecrackers at security forces and two policemen were lightly hurt in the incident.

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