Thursday, January 25, 2018

China: The Return of “Mao-style Terror and Control”

By Elizabeth Kendal

To fully appreciate the intent behind and likely outcome of China’s new Religious Affairs Regulations, requires they be viewed and interpreted in the framework of President Xi’s political ambition.  Xi’s goal is to transform China into a superpower so as to cement the power of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and his role as leader into perpetuity. It is a task that will require “stability maintenance” par excellence.

Religious Affairs Regulations

The new Religious Affairs Regulations, Order 686, as promulgated on 26 August 2017, will come into effect on 1 February.

While Article 2 asserts, “Citizens have freedom of religious belief”, it quickly becomes clear that religion – or at least that which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) deems “normal religious activity” – may only be exercised in accordance with strict CCP parameters and under the oversight of the CCP’s religious affairs departments. Article 3 clarifies that, “The management of religious affairs upholds the principles of protecting what is lawful, prohibiting what is unlawful, suppressing extremism, resisting infiltration, and fighting crime.”

Article 4 states that, “The State, in accordance with the law, protects normal religious activities [and] actively guides religion to fit in with socialist society . . .” so as to “preserve the unification of the country, ethnic unity, religious harmony and social stability”. Article 5 mandates that religious groups must be independent and not controlled by “foreign forces”.

Article 8 lists “assisting the people’s government in the implementation of laws, regulations, rules and policies . . .” as a function of religious groups. Article 63 proscribes, “Advocating, supporting, or funding religious extremism, or using religion to harm national security or public safety, undermine ethnic unity, divide the nation . . .” and allows for extra-judicial “administrative punishments” to be delivered where no crime has been committed.

Generally speaking, religious activities may only take place in approved, registered Religious Activity Sites and only with the approval of the relevant CCP authorities. Approval must be obtained for any “large outdoor religious statue”, presumably this includes a cross. In fact approval must be sought for just about everything. The requirement for churches to “submit an application” would probably be the most repeated phrase in the text, along with the assurance that the authorities will “make a decision”.

Clearly, all non-registered religious activity is going to be stamped out. Registered religious groups meanwhile, will find half their time will be taken up with administration, much of which is little more than a means of occupying the Church’s time and keeping it from “causing trouble”. Apart from being squeezed to the point of suffocation, churches find they now have dozens of ways to fall foul of the law.

Linfen city, Shanxi Province, 9 January 2018
Article 65 notes that at various times the authorities may order religious groups, religious schools or religious activity sites to undergo “rectification”. If rectification is refused, then registration certificates or establishment permits will be revoked, rendering the group or school illegal. Illegal buildings and structures will be “disposed of” (article 71), and large outdoor statues will be “demolished” (article 72).

Finally, Article 75 reads: “Where anyone is dissatisfied with administrative acts taken by the religious affairs departments, they may lawfully apply for an administrative reconsideration; where dissatisfied with the decision of the administrative reconsideration, they may lawfully raise an administrative lawsuit.” However, this article needs to understood in the light of the amended “Administrative Measures for Law Firms” which came into effect on 1 November 2016. The new measures prohibit lawyers from speaking out on human rights abuses. Even silent protests, such as walking out of a courtroom without permission, are prohibited. Lawyers who do not toe-the-line, and who take on “sensitive” political cases, are at risk of losing their livelihoods. 

Full text of Religious Affairs Regulations, in Chinese or English  

South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported in September 2017 that house churches across China were already breaking up into smaller groups and keeping a low profile in the hope they might avoid massive fines and other punishments.

A major nation-wide crackdown on religion looms, indeed, it has already begun.

See: Persecution of Church to escalate as Zhejiang experiment goes national
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 16 October 2016 

President Xi Jinping

Also known as the “Core leader” and “Supreme Commander”, President Xi Jinping emerged from the 19th five-yearly Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress (18-25 October 2017) as the most powerful Chinese ruler since Mao Zedong (Tse-tung). Though China’s Constitution limits the presidency to two terms, Xi – who is supposed to step down at the next Congress (i.e. at the end of his second term) – broke with tradition and didnot designate a potential successor. Many observers suspect that Xi intends to rule China as “Chairman of Everything” and “Emperor”for life. 

On 24 October 2017, the CCP Congress agreed to enshrine “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”, into the CCP’s Constitution. The amended CCP constitution reads:
Since the 18th Party Congress, Comrade Xi Jinping has been the primary representative of the CCP….[his] ‘Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ is a successor and development of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents (Jiang Zemin’s core contribution) and the Scientific Outlook on Development (Hu Jintao’s) and is the result of the sinification of Marxism….

Subsequently, at a high-level meeting in Beijing on 19 January, the Central Committee of the CCP proposed enshrining “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” into China’s national constitution. The proposal now goes to the National People’s Congress – the parliament that meets annually in March – where it will be approved. Once amended, the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China will provide a legal basis for any policy Xi should dictate.  

So what is Xi Jinping Thought?

As China expert Peter Woods explains, “Xi Jinping Thought can be understood as an umbrella for a number of ideas and policy initiatives that include, most famously, the China Dream, Strong Military Dream, and Four Comprehensives. . .”

In a 21 September 2017 analysis for The Jamestown Foundation entitled “What is Xi Jinping Thought?” China expert Willy Wo-Lap Lam explains that, unlike Mao Zedong Thought or Deng Xiaoping Theory, Xi Jinping Thought does not offer China anything new. The core idea is said to be Xi’s “Chinese dream”, which, as Lam explains, “is a super-nationalistic narrative about China becoming a superpower”. This is to be achieved through “comprehensively deepening reform and upholding the mass line”. As Lam notes, there is nothing new here; Xi is simply reviving Maoist ideology.

Beijing souvenir 
The personality cult being built around Xi as the “Core” is also nothing new, for while it goes against the basic tenets of Deng Xiaoping Theory (which established collective leadership), it revives the Mao-era model of leadership.

As Lam also notes, Xi “has reiterated that ‘ideological and thought work’ – a reference to brainwashing and Mao-style ideological campaigns – is ‘an extremely important task of the party’.”

According to Lam, “the biggest difference between Mao Zedong Thought and Xi Jinping Thought is that the former is oriented toward the future [i.e. the pursuit of a Marxist utopia in which China dominates the world], and the latter is consumed with self-preservation”. 

“Xi’s obsession,” observes Lam, “is to preserve the ‘perennial ruling party’ status of the CCP as well as his status as undisputed leader.” 

Stability Maintenance

Integral to all this is wei-wen, “stability maintenance”; for “upholding the mass line” necessitates the rooting out of “destabilising elements”. To this end, China is rapidly developing as a world leader in police-state hi-tech surveillance.

In a 21 July 2017 analysis for The Jamestown Foundation entitled Beijing Harnesses Big Data & AI to Perfect the Police State, Willy Lam exposes this most disturbing aspect of China’s emerging “New Era” reality.  “Specialized weiwen cadres have the full cooperation of the country’s social-media and e-commerce platforms, as well as cloud-computing and related high-tech firms in establishing a seamless and all-encompassing intelligence network that would do George Orwell’s Big Brother proud.” 

Having rolled out millions of facial recognition cameras nation-wide, China is already amassing a “social credit system” which will allow state officials to assess a citizen’s financial records and social connections, and review their consumption habits, relationships, communications and travels and respect for the law. Acts deemed loyal to the CCP generate positive “social credit”, which in turn will guarantee “loyal” citizens will have access to the best colleges, jobs and hospitals, as well as permission to travel etc. Negative “social credit”, however, will doubtless cause all sorts of problems for those who fall fowl of the CCP.

A government official installs cameras at a Wenzhou church.
World Magazine (Photo: Robert Katz)
See: Big Brother Invades Church 
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 415, 19 July 2017. 

In November, South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported how in Yugan county, Jiangxi province, privileges such as poverty relief are only for those upholding the mass line.

According to the SCMP, thousands of poor Christians in Yugan county, Jiangxi province, have been told that if they want to access the local government’s poverty-relief programme, they will first need to take down their crosses, Bible texts and others religious artefacts and replace them with images of President Xi. As Nectar Gan explains, this practice “hearkens back to the era of the personality cult around late chairman Mao Zedong, whose portraits were once ubiquitous in Chinese homes”.

“In Yugan,” writes Gan, “the officially atheist party is competing for influence with Christianity, which has spread rapidly in both poor rural villages and prosperous cities since the end of the Cultural Revolution more than 40 years ago. . .

“A local social media account reported over the weekend that in Yugan’s Huangjinbu township [which is home to about 5,000 to 6,000 Christian families, or about a third of the total] cadres visited poor Christian families to promote the party’s poverty-relief policies and helped them solve their material problems. The officials successfully ‘melted the hard ice in their hearts’ and ‘transformed them from believing in religion to believing in the party’, the report said. . .

 “Qi Yan, chairman of the Huangjinbu people’s congress and the person in charge of the township’s poverty-relief drive [said], ‘Many rural people are ignorant. They think God is their saviour … After our cadres’ work, they’ll realise their mistakes and think: we should no longer rely on Jesus, but on the party for help.’ . . .”

There is nothing new about this either. Every totalitarian regime knows that the best way to control people is to make them totally dependent on the regime.

Dangerous Situation

Human Rights lawyer and devout Christian,
Gao Zhisheng
In his recently published “2016 Report on Human Rights in China” [Briefing and summary & Full Text ] persecuted human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng observed that “most of the human rights abuses committed in China today are committed by the Communist regime. Consequently, being a human rights defender is about the most dangerous thing a person can do in China.”

Gao laments the silence of the West, commenting that it “solidifies the unfathomably lonely and dangerous situation” faced by dissidents who protest the “rapid return of a Mao-style terror and control”.

Concerning religious freedom Gao wrote: “Religious belief is a natural human trait, a common behavior shared by people everywhere, and therefore a part of human nature. Religious persecution not only erodes natural law, but also castrates human nature and degrades the human race to the level of animals. It is the most unforgivable crime against humanity.”

For this, Gao is once again being forced to endure the cruellest punishment at the hands of a brutal regime that should not be permitted to call itself “civilised”.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 432, 15 Nov 2017

China is entering a “New Era” of repression and persecution. The primary difference between the repression under Mao and the repression under Xi will be that China’s “New Era” repression and persecution will be even more suffocating because it will be enabled by cutting edge technology.

What remains to be seen is whether Xi will over-reach. Suffocating repression, systematic persecution, “stability maintenance” and “upholding the “mass line” can only be achieved with the full co-operation of the security forces. And this is where the CCP’s system hides a potentially fatal flaw.

As Gao Zhisheng makes clear in his revealing, ground-breaking and must-read book, Unwavering Convictions, (Carolina Academic Press, 2017),  the entire system is built around pillage, corruption and violence. 

“Pillage,” writes Gao, “is the foundation and purpose of CCP power,” explaining that while Mao’s political reforms were catastrophic, so too were Deng’s economic reforms through which state-owned assets became the private property of the elite. “Today,” writes Gao, “the CCP bureaucratic group’s privilege and corruption damage is greater than that of any other time in history.”

Meanwhile, violence is used to elicit obedience. However, violence tends also to elicit intense hatred and a burning desire for revenge.

According to Gao, even though the principle job of the armed forces is “stability maintenance”, “the government controls the armed forces through coercive power and violence”. According to Gao, tensions between senior officers and lower ranked soldiers are always at their highest when soldiers are about to be demobilised. Having been treated like animals by officers who are free to brutalise and terrorise the lower ranks at will, most demobilised soldiers dream, and even talk of nothing but revenge.

As for the extensive brainwashing sessions all soldiers must endure, Gao maintains the CCP knows they don’t work, but persists with them “purely a means of occupying soldiers’ time and keeping them from causing trouble”.

Dangerous times indeed – for everyone!

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Islamisation of Nigeria

by Elizabeth Kendal

CONVERSION CRISIS

Nigerians Miss Nabila Umar Sanda (19) and Engineer Simput Eagles Dafup (33) first met and exchanged contact details in Dubai four years ago. A few years later, as Nabila (then a Muslim) was studying at the Bingham University – a Church-owned university in Karu, in Nigeria’s central Nasarawa State – she decided that she wanted to become a follower of Jesus Christ too. When Nabila learned that Simput Dafup was going to be Jos, Plateau State, over Christmas, she re-connected with him and arranged to meet him there. When Nabila told Simput that she wanted to convert to Christianity, he asked about her family, in particular her father who is a powerful Muslim elder and in traditional title holder in Biu, Borno State. Nabila told Simput that as she was 19-years of age, she was entitled to choose her own religion and would do so regardless of obstacles. But Simput remained concerned, so on Monday 8 January he and Nabila meet with local church leader Pastor Jeremiah Datim. Cognisant of the delicacy of the situation, Pastor Datim decided it was best to follow protocol and contact the Jama’atu Nasril lslam (JNI) to inform them of Nabila’s decision to convert, in the hope they might smooth the way forward. The JNI then contacted Nabila’s parents, after which her father, who has vowed revenge, requested an intervention of the Department of State Security Services (DSS).  

Simput Dafup (l);  Nabila Sanda (c);  DSS (r).
Later that day (8 Jan), DSS officers stormed Pastor Jeremiah Datim’s home, assaulted his wife and children and abducted Nabila. They also violently abducted Simput Dafup from his home, and arrested Daniel Hassan, the taxi driver who had driven Nabila from Abuja to Jos. At a press conference in Jos on Saturday 13 January, Pastor Jeremiah Datim clarified the constitutional issue at the heart of the crisis. ‘I want to state,’ he said, ‘for the avoidance of doubt, that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the right to anyone to propagate his faith and the right to also practise any religion of one’s choice.’ Simput Dafup’s widowed mother, Lydia then appealed for information on her son’s whereabouts. ‘My son,’ she said, ‘a quiet gentleman per excellence, was on Monday, January 8, 2018, brutalised, tortured and whisked away from his residence in Jos by men we suspect were from the DSS for allegedly converting one Miss Nabila Umar Sanda from Islam to Christianity’.

Despite the fact that no charges had been laid and no arrest warrants issued, the DSS alleges that Nabila had been abducted in Abuja, held captive in Jos and forcibly converted to Christianity. This echoes the ‘Camilia’ myth promulgated by Islamists in Egypt [see: RLPB 082 (17 Nov 2010)].  The accusation comes as the Voice of Northern Christian Movement of Nigeria (VNCMN) is pressuring the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate the abduction of some 100 Christian girls. VNCMN Executive Director, Pastor Kallamu Musa Ali Dikwa explains: ‘Muslims have abducted 100 Christian girls under the age of 18 and forcefully converted them to lslam and we have reported to security agencies severally but no arrest was made or return of Christian girls to their parents . . .’ Thus the whole context mirrors that of Egypt [see: RLPB 398, ‘Bring Back Our Coptic Girls’ (15 March 2017)].

But Nigeria is not Egypt! Nigeria is a democracy with a secular Constitution where Christians comprise at least 51 percent. Tensions are soaring.

DSS IN THE SERVICE OF ISLAM

The DSS operates as a department within the presidency and is under the control of the National Security Advisor. Its mission is to “protect and defend the Federal Republic of Nigeria from domestic threats”. It is also charged with protecting the president and other senior government officials. 

The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has slammed the DSS for its intervention in the conversion case and for acting “as some kind of ‘Islamic religious police’.”

The Rights group has specifically asked “that the Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS) Alhaji Lawal Musa Daura to be restrained by the National Assembly and the Presidency from interfering in a completely civil and religious rights issues relating to an alleged conversion to Christianity of a female university undergraduate [Nabila Sanda] from her former religion which is Islam, same as that of the current DG of DSS.”

The HURIWA called on the National Assembly to call the DG of DSS “to desist from using public offices to promote and canvass the interests of a particular religious group which are direct affronts to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which absolutely prohibits the elevation of one religion as state religion”.

DSS TARGETS JOS PREACHER

On the evening of Monday 15 January, DSS officers stormed the Jos headquarters of Evangelical Bible Outreach Ministries International (EBOMI) and similarly (i.e. violently and without a warrant) attempted to arrest the General Overseer, Pastor Isa El-Buba. However, their efforts were thwarted when church members gathering for a midnight prayer vigil resisted the invasion and forced the officers to retreat.

El-Buba maintains that the order to illegally arrest him came from President Buhari himself after the  government deemed his New Year’s Eve sermon “inciteful”.

In the sermon, which was broadcast nationally, a fired-up El-Buba condemns the Buhari government for its inaction over Fulani terrorism and exhorts Nigerians to get their voter cards and fight back through the polls.

[Nigeria’s presidential, federal and state assembly elections will be held in Feb-March 2019.] 

Youtube footage of the relevant portion of the sermon
 can be found here (5 mins 23 sec).  
This is not the first time El-Buba has challenged the Buhari government and he is certainly not repentant. “I stand by my words,” he said, stressing that the DSS invasion has not left him feeling afraid or intimidated. 

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin brings reproach. I said in my broadcast that the unrighteousness in Nigeria would not do anyone of us any good. And I stand by it.”

Referring to the Fulani terrorism ravaging the Middle Belt – for which he holds the government of Muhammadu Buhari responsible – El-Buba insists the killings must stop. He implores all Nigerians: “Wake up from your sleep and decide your fate,” while making it clear they are to reject violence and obey the law.

Holding up a voter card, he refers to it as the peoples’ weapon with which they can determine their future by voting wickedness out of government.

For this – and despite the fact that no charges had been laid and no arrest warrant issued – the DSS was sent to arrest the fiery preacher.

PRESIDENT PURSUING A PRO-FULANI, ISLAMIST AGENDA

In a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday 16 January, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) publicly condemned the Buhari government, holding it responsible for the gross insecurity plaguing the north. CAN accused President Buhari of serving the interests of ‘his Fulani ethnic group only’ and pursuing an ‘Islamist agenda’.

CAN General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Musa Asake told the media: “The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has reviewed the catalogue of horrendous and inhuman attacks on several states and mostly Benue State from 2013 – 2018. The impression has now been firmly established that the Islamists of northern Nigerian have ‘legalized jihad’ in Nigeria.

“As if the attacks on Benue, Taraba, Kaduna, Plateau, Yobe, Borno, Nasarawa, Enugu, Imo, Abia, Rivers, Ogun and Oyo States are not enough, the Islamists and their agents have extended their trail of blood and destruction to Bwari in Abuja and Ilorin in Kwara State. . .”

Dr. Asake noted that Security Agents routinely do not intervene until the [Fulani] attackers have finished their “horrendous assignment”.

“This pattern,” he said, “suggests collusion of the Security Units with the Islamists militia operating under such names as Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram, ‘unknown gunmen’, and ‘group of vandals’. On 17th January, 2017, the Nigerian Air Force ‘accidentally’, in broad daylight, bombed a Christian IDP Camp and killed over 200 Christian refugees in Rann, Kala-Balge Local Government in Borno State. In December 2017, an Air Force spokes person confirmed that the Nigerian Air Force sent an Alpha Jet and an EC 135 attack Helicopter to fire ‘warning’ shots at Islamist militia attacking Christians in Numan, Adamawa state, but not to kill them! The villagers were later to report that the Jet actually bombed the Christian villages resulting in the death of over 50 people, while, the Nigerian Air Force said it merely fired warning shots at the Islamist militia attacking the villagers. This is jihad as we cannot understand fired warning shots in the narrative of this attack.”

Dr. Asake claimed President Buhari had “flagrantly violated the Constitution and adopted Sharia ideology as operational standard.

“Having reviewed the situation in the country, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) wishes to note that some principal entities appear responsible for the current distress in the nation.

“President Buhari was elected on a wave of unprecedented public approval in 2015. Unfortunately, within a few weeks of his election, he started creating the impression that he was in power to serve the interests of his Fulani ethnic group only. Discerning people were quick to note that contrary to his electoral promises, he actually meant to pursue core Islamist agenda. Almost every vital appointment in Security and Education went to Muslims from the North. He did not hide his disdain for the indigenous ethnic nationalities and, at every opportunity, showed preferential treatment to the Muslim North.

Full transcript of CAN statement. 
“Under President Buhari, the murderous Fulani herdsmen enjoyed unprecedented protection and favoritism to the extent that the herdsmen treat Nigeria as a conquered territory. Rather than arrest and prosecute the Fulani herdsmen, security forces usually manned by Muslims from the North offer them protection as they unleash terror with impunity on the Nigerian people. The bottom line is that President Buhari failed woefully to protect Nigerians. He wilfully permitted the Fulani herdsmen to operate killing people, destroying communities wholesale, destroying farmlands and turning the entire Middle Belt into ‘killing fields’, all the while enjoying government protection from counter attack, arrest or prosecution. . .”

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com