Showing posts with label Sunni vs Shi'ite. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sunni vs Shi'ite. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

SYRIA: religious minorities being buried under a mountain of propaganda

By Elizabeth Kendal

At the end of January 2012, the League of Arab States Observer Mission to Syria issued its report. It included the following observations:

Par 8) "In accordance with the protocol, the Syrian Government confirmed its readiness to facilitate the Mission in every way by allowing the free and safe movement of all of the observers throughout Syria, and by refraining from hindering the work of the Mission on security or administrative grounds. The Syrian Government side also affirmed its commitment to ensuring that the Mission could freely conduct the necessary meetings; to provide full protection for the observers, taking into consideration the responsibility of the Mission if it were to insist on visiting areas despite the warning of the security services; and to allow the entry to Syria of journalists and Arab and international media in accordance with the rules and regulations in force in the country."

Par 13) "Immediately on arriving in Homs, the Head of the Mission met with the Governor of the city, who explained that there had been an escalation in violence perpetrated by armed groups in the city. There had been instances of kidnapping and sabotage of Government and civilian facilities. Food was in short supply owing to the blockade imposed by armed groups, which were believed to include some 3000 individuals. The Governor further stated that all attempts by religious figures and city notables to calm the situation had failed."

Par 26) "In Homs and Dera'a, the Mission observed armed groups committing acts of violence against Government forces, resulting in death and injury among their ranks. In certain situations, Government forces responded to attacks against their personnel with force. The observers noted that some of the armed groups were using flares and armour-piercing projectiles."

Par 27) "In Homs, Idlib and Hama, the Observer Mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against Government forces and civilians that resulted in several deaths and injuries. Examples of those acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children, and the bombing of a train carrying diesel oil. In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two police officers. A fuel pipeline and some small bridges were also bombed."

Par 28) "The Mission noted that many parties falsely reported that explosions or violence had occurred in several locations. When the observers went to those locations, they found that those reports were unfounded."

Par 29) "The Mission also noted that, according to its teams in the field, the media exaggerated the nature of the incidents and the number of persons killed in incidents and protests in certain towns."

Par 71) "The Mission determined that there is an armed entity that is not mentioned in the protocol. . ."

Par 75) "Recently, there have been incidents that could widen the gap and increase bitterness between the parties. These incidents can have grave consequences and lead to the loss of life and property. Such incidents include the bombing of buildings, trains carrying fuel, vehicles carrying diesel oil and explosions targeting the police, members of the media and fuel pipelines. Some of those attacks have been carried out by the Free Syrian Army and some by other armed opposition groups."

Actually, the report by the League of Arab States Observer Mission to Syria makes very interesting reading as it turns the Western-Saudi-Gulf Arab narrative, of an evil regime vs a peacefully protesting nation, on its head. This is doubtless why the report was so decisively quashed -- until it was leaked:

League of Arab States Observer Mission to Syria
Report of the Head of the League of Arab States Observer Mission to Syria
for the period from 24 December 2011 to 18 January 2012

Author Pepe Escobar, an expert on the geo-politics of the Middle East, has written a stinging critique:

Exposed: The Arab agenda in Syria
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times online, 4 Feb 2012

As Escobar notes: "The report is adamant. There was no organized, lethal repression by the Syrian government against peaceful protesters. Instead, the report points to shady armed gangs as responsible for hundreds of deaths among Syrian civilians, and over one thousand among the Syrian army, using lethal tactics such as bombing of civilian buses, bombing of trains carrying diesel oil, bombing of police buses and bombing of bridges and pipelines."

Escobar describes the Syrian National Council as "essentially a Muslim Brotherhood outfit affiliated with both the House of Saud and Qatar". He describes the Free Syrian Army as a conglomerate of Sunni defectors, well-meaning opponents of the Assad regime, and "foreign mercenaries weaponized by the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], especially Salafist gangs".

As Escobar notes, "GCC leaders House of Saud and Qatar bluntly dismissed their own report and went straight to the meat of the matter; impose a NATOGCC regime change via the UN Security Council."

But Russia and China would not stand for it. They vetoed the resolution, decrying it as unbalanced and biased.

Text of proposed UN Security Council resolution on Syria vetoed by Russia, China
By Associated Press, Published: 5 February 2012

It was the existence of an "armed entity" that Russia sought to address when it proposed amendments to the UN Security Council resolution.

Russia wanted guarantees that the Syrian opposition would "dissociate themselves from armed groups". Russia also wanted assurances that the Syrian Army would only be required to withdraw as the armed groups also withdrew, thereby ensuring that the vacuum left by the withdrawal of Syrian forces would not be filled by foreign jihadist outfits. Russia also rejected the vague wording of the resolution, claiming it left the door open for possible international military intervention in Syria -- something that Russia believes would only aggravate any civil war.

See: Russia, China veto UN Security Council resolution on Syria
4 Feb 2012 , RT "TV-Novosti"

Syria Tribune editor Ali Mohamad told RT that he doesn't believe the Western backers of a UN Security Council resolution on Syria "are working for the best interests of the Syrian people."

"Mohamad says, 'there was a very good chance this week to find a draft that could satisfy all sides – but it was not supported by Western countries. The Arab league initiative, supported by the Security Council, wants to portray an image where the problem is between Assad and the Syrian people, but this is not the reality.'"

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As noted previously on this blog, the battle in Syrian includes a battle for Syria. It is a battle that will determine the balance of power in the Middle East. It is a battle between the Iranian-Shi'ite axis and the US-Saudi-Gulf Arab axis.

Iran needs Syria to link it geographically to Lebanon; while Syria's minority Alawites need Shi'ite legitimisation and protection for their security. Meanwhile, the Saudi and Gulf Sunni Arabs want to bring Syria back into the Sunni-Arab axis to counter the Iranian-Shi'ite ascendency.

The West supports the Sunni-Arab agenda as being in the West's economic interests. It will not, however, bring security to the region, for in the wake of the "Arab Spring" the Sunni-Arab axis is increasingly as belligerent as the Iranian-Shi'ite axis. Furthermore, if the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups are empowered in Syria like they have been in Egypt it will certainly spell a bloody end to the religious liberty that has been a feature of minority-ruled secular Syria for the past half century.

Of course the Saudi and Gulf Arabs are not bothered by the fact that countering Iran by means of regime change in Syria will come at the cost of Syria's religious minorities. But the West should be. The West should be rejecting the cost as absolutely unacceptable. Instead they seem to be intent on burying these inconvenient peoples under a mountain of propaganda.

Monday, May 16, 2011

SYRIA: Christians vulnerable

Flavia Krause-Jackson, diplomatic and UN correspondent for Bloomberg News, has written a daunting article entitled, Syrian Christians Say ‘Arab Spring’ Changes Could Hasten Extinction (13 May 2011). She hits the mark with her opening line: "As the Arab Spring protests reach Damascus, Syrian Christians look warily at a future without a time-tested autocrat to protect them from religious intolerance."

Krause-Jackson quotes Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim, leader of a U.S. branch of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, who observes: “History has proven to us that Christians [in the Middle East] have always had more secure lives, better treatment by people who may be looked on as dictators, like Saddam Hussein. [In Syria], our feeling is, if the regime falls, the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood will seize power and that is bad news for us.”

Syria pivotal as regional struggle for balance of power escalates

When US-allied dictators fell in Tunisia and Egypt, the Shi'ite revolutionary regime in Iran scoffed while the US-allied dictators in the House of Saud trembled. Everything changed, however, when Bahraini and Saudi forces, with the tacit approval of the US, crushed the "pro-democracy" protests at Bahrain's Pearl roundabout.
(See: Bahrain topples its own people
By Pepe Escobar for Asia Times online, 11 May 2011)

While the media have been confused by what they regard as "mixed responses", this is only because they fail to realise that who falls is far less important than who rises.

In Bahrain the protesters were Shi'ites; their success would have been Iran's gain. When, in Bahrain, Sunni power crushed Shi'ite dissent, the "Arab Spring" transformed into a struggle over the regional balance of power.
See: Bahrain and the Battle Between Iran and Saudi Arabia
By George Friedman for Stratfor Global Intelligence, 8 March 2011

For decades, the US - Sunni Arab axis prevailed.

Then the Iraq War opened the way for Shi'ite Iran to gain the ascendancy.

Now, as the struggle for the regional balance of power heats up, Syria becomes absolutely pivotal; for while Syria is majority Sunni Arab, it is integral to the Iran-Hezballah axis and central -- both geographically and strategically -- to the "Shi'ite Crescent".

SYRIA

The fate of Syria's minority Christians is, to a large extent, tied to the fate of Syria's ruling minority Alawites. For, as Reva Bhall reports for Stratfor Global Intelligence, "Rather than exhibiting a clear Sunni-Shi'ite religious-ideological divide, Syria's history can be more accurately described as a struggle between the Sunnis on one hand a group of minorities on the other."

In her excellent report, entitled Making Sense of the Syrian Crisis (Stratfor, 5 May 2011), Bhall examines the rise of the once impoverished, marginalised Alawite minority: from persecuted peasants to ruling elite and hegemonic power in only 50 years.

"The Alawites", she explains, "are frequently (and erroneously) categorized as Shiite Muslims, have many things in common with Christians and are often shunned by Sunni and Shiite Muslims alike. Consequently, Alawites attract a great deal of controversy in the Islamic world. The Alawites diverged from the mainstream Twelver of the Imami branch of Shiite Islam in the ninth century . . . Their main link to Shiite Islam and the origin of the Alawite name stems from their reverence for the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali. The sect is often described as highly secretive and heretical for its rejection of Shariah and of common Islamic practices, including call to prayer, going to mosque for worship, making pilgrimages to Mecca and intolerance for alcohol. At the same time, Alawites celebrate many Christian holidays and revere Christian saints."

According to Bhall, non-Sunni Muslims (mostly Alawites) comprise about 13 percent of the population, Christians about 10 percent and Druze about 3 percent. She describes the Alawites as "a fractious bunch", historically divided along tribal lines. She also notes that they have often embraced taqqiya -- lying about or hiding their religious affiliation -- as a means of avoiding discrimination and persecution at the hands of the majority Ottoman-backed Sunnis.

Between 1920-1946, when Syria was under the French mandate, France supported and empowered the minorities, particularly the Alawites, as a counterweight to Sunni power. During this period, the internal balance of power in Syria shifted as France reversed Ottoman policies, and encouraged the minorities to take up posts in the military, police and in intelligence.

Furthermore, France convinced the "Nusayris" (as the Alawites were then known) to change their name to "Alawites", so as to accentuate their link to Shi'ism.

By the time the French pulled out of Syria (1946), the lower ranks of the military had been flooded with Alawites, thereby setting the stage for the coups to come. In 1947, the Baath Party was formed. With a platform of secularism, socialism and Arab nationalism, the Baath Party both appealed to the minorities and split the Sunnis, who became divided (therefore weakened) between pro-Baath secularists and anti-Baath Islamists.

Years of coups and counter-coups eventually culminated in the bloodless coup of 1970 that brought to power Gen. Hafiz al-Assad (father of the current president Bashar al-Assad). The only Alawite leader capable of uniting the Alawite tribes, he consolidated Alawite hegemony, built strong ties with the Druze and Christian minorities, co-opted the secular Sunni elite, repressed Salafi Sunni fundamentalism, and ruthlessly crushed all dissent.

Yet the Sunnis were still the majority, and regionally, the Alawites were still regarded as heretics. Needing regional allies, President Hafiz al-Assad forged close bonds with Musa al-Sadr, the most prominent Shi'ite leader in Lebanon. His efforts were rewarded, for in 1973 al-Sadr issued a fatwa recognising Lebanon's Alawites as Shi'ites.
(See: The Shiite Turn in Syria
by Khalid Sindawi, 23 June 2009
Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, vol.8. Hudson Institute)
And so Syria, though less than one percent Shi'ite, was brought into the Shi'ite fold for domestic and regional strategic purposes. This was a coup for the Alawites, providing them with regional allies without whom they would have always remained vulnerable. But more than this, it was a massive coup for the region's Shi'ites, for without Syria there would be no "Shi'ite Crescent".

In 1980 the Assad regime formed a strategic alliance with Iran. Since then, Iranian Revolutionary Guards have served alongside the all-Alawite Syrian Republican Guards, protecting the Assad regime. Dissent was not tolerated. The 1982 crackdown in Sunni stronghold of Hama -- which resulted in tens of thousands of Sunni deaths and drove the Muslim Brotherhood deep underground -- remains deeply etched in the Sunni memory.

The alliance has also resulted in Iranian Shi'ite missionaries having free range in mostly Sunni Syria. In 1997, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Zaydan al-Ghazali, converted to Shi'ism and forcibly took control of the Abi Talib Mosque in Dar'a. Armed with Iranian funds (inducements), and promoting "temporary marriage" (sacralised prostitution), he converted many; and because he was supported by Syrian Security, anyone who opposed him ended up in prison (Sindawi 2009).

Relations with Iran have only grown stronger since Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000. Hundreds of thousands of Iranian and Iraqi Shi'ites have since been naturalised as Syrian citizens.

However, nothing has drawn Syria's Sunni masses to the Iran-Hezballah axis as did Hezballah's 2006 war against Israel. While Syria is still only around one percent Shi'ite, Shi'ism has been popularised to the extent that analysts talk of "Shi'itization" (NYT , Current Trends).

Naturally this horrifies the Muslim Brotherhood and the US-Saudi axis. While Israel, the US and the Saudis don't actually want to see the Assad regime fall, they would love to prise Syria out of the Iran-Hezballah axis. Meanwhile, Iran and Hezballah -- if they are to remain ascendant -- cannot afford to lose Syria. For if Syria was to realign, then Hezballah -- the belligerent, anti-Semitic Iranian proxy terrorist organisation that dominates Lebanon -- would lose its supply lines and its strategic depth.

Consequently today, Iranian forces are aiding the Assad regime while Salafi jihadists from Saudi Arabia are aiding the Syrian opposition. As such, Syria risks being torn apart by an Iraq-style sectarian conflagration over the regional balance of power. Should this eventuate, Syria -- like Iraq -- will drown in blood.

SYRIA'S CHRISTIANS

In Baath Party-ruled Syria, repression has been political, not religious, and so Christians have enjoyed a greater degree of religious freedom in Syria than those in other Muslim states where Sharia is observed (it was the same in Baath Party-ruled Iraq). As Krause-Jackson (Bloomberg) notes, under the Assad dynasty, Syrian Christians have swelled the ranks of a professional middle and upper class, enjoying secure lives while accounting for only one-tenth of the population.

Most Syrian Christians are deeply concerned that if the regime loses control, they will suffer immensely in the resultant chaos. Consequently, Syrian Christians are maintaining a very low-key approach both politically and religiously. They kept their observance of Easter very quiet this year, cancelling traditional public processions and celebrations.

The Melkite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Gregory III Laham, noted in late April, that the riots were not as yet sectarian, being rooted as they have been in grievances that are social (repression and inequality) and economic (unemployment plus massive fuel and food price hikes). However, he cautions, criminals have become involved now and weapons are flooding in. What is more, he adds, there are fundamentalist Muslims calling for jihad.

See: Syria: Melkite Patriarch on fears of a future of chaos and fundamentalism
Interview with Gregory III Laham, Melkite Patriarch of Damascus.
by Bernardo Cervellera, AsiaNews 29 April 2011

On 11 May, Barnabas Fund reported that as "demonstrations against the Syrian government intensify, Christians are coming under increasing pressure to join the uprising - or leave.

"In one Christian village outside the southern city of Deraa a home came under fire by a group of masked men on motorbikes, while Muslim residents in the village of Hala have issued an ultimatum to their Christian neighbours either to join the demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad's regime or to leave. Their demands are making life extremely difficult for the Christians, who have closed their shops and are considering what course of action to take. Churches have also received threatening letters."

Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim told Bloomberg correspondent Flavia Krause-Jackson that during recent protests in Damascus, he spotted banners bears slogans such as: “Christians to Beirut, Alawis to the grave.”

As Krause-Jackson notes: "Karim’s Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Egyptian Copts and Iraqi Chaldeans are among the myriad Christian communities that originated 2,000 years ago in the Middle East. . . Still, a history that predates Islam won’t guarantee the communities’ survival."

Most tragically Archbishop Karim is forced to lament: “I don’t feel the U.S. is really concerned by Christians in the Middle East. They listen, they show interest, but we don’t see, especially from the State Department, tangible signs they are worried and want to do something for them. There is just not much sympathy.”

There are about 1.4 million Syrian Christians in Syria, comprising 6.3 percent of the total Syrian population (Operation World). On top of this number, Syria hosts some 1.2 million Iraqi refugees, including hundreds of thousands of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians and thousands of Mandaeans.

Who will protect them from religious intolerance as this wave of majoritarianism (as distinct from democracy) sweeps over the region?

It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD

than to trust in princes.
(Psalm 118:8-9 ESV)

---------------------

UPDATE: excellent article
Syria Christians fear for religious freedom
By Mariam Karouny
BEIRUT | Wed 18 May 2011
(Reuters) - Syria's minority Christians are watching the protests sweeping their country with trepidation, fearing their religious freedom could be threatened if President Bashar al-Assad's autocratic but secular rule is overthrown. . .

UPDATE:
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 137
Syria: Christians fear for their future
| Wed 07 Dec 2011




Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The insufferable plight and bleak future of Iraq's indigenous Assyrian-Chaldean Christians

Iraq's last official census (1987) counted 1.4 million indigenous Assyrian and Chaldean Christians. As Islamic zeal and Arab nationalism rose in the wake of Gulf War 1 (1991), Christians with means emigrated. By the time of the March 2003 US invasion, the Christian population of Iraq was estimated to be between 1.2 million and 800,000. Today, after 7 years of war, sectarian conflict, ethnic-religious cleansing and terrorism, a remnant of around 400,000 Christians remain.

The Shi'ite south has been virtually "cleansed" of Christians and few remain in the Sunni-dominated centre. Those displaced have mostly fled to the historic Assyrian homeland of the Nineveh Plains in Northern Iraq. According to a new report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), figures verified by UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) report the total number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Mosul, Nineveh, as 866 families (or 5,196 people) as of 4 March 2010.

However, the north of Iraq is not secure either. The Nineveh Plains is a fault-line region hotly-contested by Arabs (who invaded and occupied Mesopotamia in 630 AD) and Kurds (who invaded and occupied the Nineveh Plains in 1261 AD after King Salih Isma'il ordered them out of Turkey). Furthermore, terrorism targeting Mosul's churches and Christians has escalated ever since the US surge forced al-Qaeda elements out of the central provinces of Anbar, Baghdad and Diyala to relocate north.

In a programme entitled Heart And Soul -- Iraq's forgotten conflict, 25 April 2010, the BBC describes the systematic persecution of Iraq's religious minorities as "a campaign of liquidation".

The BBC reports that while US and British politicians refer to "the emergence of a pluralistic democracy", Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako, of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq, begs to differ, contending that "200,000 Christians fleeing Mosul alone, in fear of their lives, and 1,000 murdered, is not much of a basis for pluralism or democracy".

And as the BBC notes: "It's not just Christians who suffer. Both Mandaeans, who speak Aramaic – the language of Christ – and the Yazidis, goldsmiths with a history going back further than Christianity or Islam, are fast disappearing, too. 'Does nobody care about what is going on here?' asks Archbishop Sako."

While Christians continue to flee Iraq, those who remain report being harassed and intimidated with threatening phone calls and letters. Many Christian women have taking wearing hijab to hide their Christian identity. Despite the pleas of church leaders, Iraqi Christian refugees are reluctant to return. Speaking in Damascus, Syria, Christian refugee Toma Georgees told Catholic News Service (CNS: 23 April 2010): "It's...impossible to turn back to Iraq. Our problem is not with the Iraqi government. Our problem is with Iraqi people…who want to kill us, who want to kill all the Christians."

See also:
On Vulnerable Ground
Violence against Minority Communities in Nineveh Province’s Disputed Territories
A report by Human Rights Watch, 10 November 2009

ALSO
http://christiansofiraq.com
and
http://www.iraqichristianrelief.org/
and
Incipient Genocide
The Ethnic Cleansing of the Assyrians of Iraq.
Assyrian International News Agency, June 2007, revised July 2009.

70 Christian college students wounded in targeted terror attack

Christians are so endangered in Northern Iraq that Christian students must travel to university in convoys with Iraqi military escorts. On Sunday morning 2 May, two bombs ripped through a convoy of buses transporting Christian college students from the mainly Christian town of Hamdaniya, 40km east of Mosul in the Nineveh Plains region of Northern Iraq, to the University of Mosul. According to reports, once the first buses had passed through the Kokjali checkpoint (which is manned by U.S., Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers) a car bomb parked on the shoulder of the highway exploded in their path, followed moments later by a roadside bomb. A local shopkeeper was killed and more than 100 people, including some 70 of the targeted Christian college students, were wounded; 17 critically.

See:
Iraq: Christian students bombed
News24, 2 May 2010

Christians targeted in Mosul blasts
Aljazeera, 2 May 2010

Bombs Hit School Buses in North Iraq
By Sam Dagher, New York Times, 2 May 2010

Attack Highlights Unrelenting Plight of Iraq's Christians
By Patrick Goodenough, International Editor, Cybercast News Service (CNS), 3 May 2010

NEW: Pictures Show the Horror of the Mosul Bus Bombings of Assyrian Students
Assyrian International News Agency, 16 May 2010

Jamil Salahuddin Jamil (25), a geography major who was on the first bus, told reporters that one of his classmates lost her leg in the attack and two others were blinded. "We were going for our education and they presented us with bombs," he said. "I still do not know what they want from Christians."

Of course Jamil knows exactly what the Islamic militant fundamentalists want from Christians, he just can't bear to contemplate it, let alone verbalised it. For the Islamic terrorists, and the Muslim fundamentalists who support them, want Christians driven out of Iraq, and for those remaining to be 'utterly subdued' (Qur'an, Sura 9:29. Translation: Dawood).

On account of ignorance, many in West grossly underestimate just how hostile fundamentalist Islam is to Christianity. Consider the teachings of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most senior Shia cleric. He is revered in Iraq and touted in the West as a moderate. Yet he maintains that along with corpses, dogs, pigs, alcohol, urine, animal sweat, semen and blood, people who are "kafir" (unbelievers), i.e. Christians, Jews, Mandaeans, other non-Muslim including Sunnis, are "najis" (unclean). See Sistani on "Islamic laws" and "Najis things » Kafir".

According to Sistani, a kafir can become "pak" (clean) only by professing Islam. However, under the heading "Mutahhirat » Subjection Taba'iyat", he asserts that the child of a kafir, "becomes Pak by subjection" if he/she is captured by Muslims.

Sunni fundamentalists believe the same except that they regard Shi'ites, not Sunnis, as kafir and therefore najis. Sunnis and Shi'ites are mortal enemies and Iraq is a fault-line state between not only ethnic rivals Arabs, Kurds and Persians, but between sectarian rivals Sunnis and Shi'ites. See: RL Trend (Feb 2007) Shiite Ascendancy.

Multiple wars loom

When it erupts (and it eventually will), the battle for the Arab-Kurd fault-line provinces of Nineveh and oil-rich Kirkuk will engulf northern Iraq and draw in regional players. Once again, the Assyrian-Chaldean Christians, the region's indigenous/first peoples, will be collateral damage.

Meanwhile, the dark smoke of sectarianism is rising again out of the volcano that is Baghdad.

As Mustafa El-Labbad, director of the Cairo-based Al Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies, notes in Egypt's Al-Ahram, Iraqi politics is entirely sectarian. "Today, Iraq's political parties and personalities are not from the left, the right or the centre. Rather, they are above all Sunni or Shia. From here, one has to proceed to the regional dimension, which must also be regarded in sectarian terms. On one side, there is Iran, which backs the Iraqi Shia groups, and on the other there is Saudi Arabia, which champions the Sunni forces. Somewhere in between are Syria and Turkey."

The March 2010 elections, through which Iraqis voted for representatives to fill Iraq's 325-seat parliament, have yielded the following results:
  • former Prime Minister Ayad Alawi's secular Al-Iraqiya -- 91 seats
  • the Rule of Law list headed by PM Nouri al-Maliki (Shia) -- 89 seats
  • the Iraqi National Alliance (n Iran-backed Shi'ite coalition) -- 70 seats
  • the Kurdish Alliance -- 43 seats
  • the Iraqi Consensus Forum (comprising Sunnis and religious minorities) -- 32 seats
In line with Tehran's wishes, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition and the conservative Shiite Iraqi National Alliance have entered a coalition that leaves them only four parliamentary seats shy of a ruling majority.

The Iraqi National Alliance (INA) is a union of two parties with close ties to Iran: the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) led by Ammar al-Hakim, and the Al-Sadr Movement. While the Iraqi National Alliance is headed by al-Hakim, it is Muqtada al-Sadr who will be calling the shots. For of the 70 seats won by the Iraqi National Alliance, 40 were won by the Al-Sadr Movement.

The primary point of contention between al-Maliki and the Iraqi National Alliance -- the issue that had been the primary obstacle to an alliance -- had been the choice of Prime Minister. As Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reports: "The State of Law maintains that Nouri Al-Maliki is the only candidate for the position of prime minister. This view is not necessarily shared by Al-Hakim, whose party demands that the next prime minister be selected either by a vote of the members of the coalition to be formed or by consensus."

How this issue was resolved is not yet known.

Further to this, Al Jazeera reports: "While the resulting combination of 159 seats is just short of the required majority, the Kurdish Alliance of the autonomous Kurdish region's two long-dominant blocs holds 43 seats and has previously said it would join the new grouping if the two main blocs allied."

See:
Maliki allies with rival Shia party
Al Jazeera 5 May 2010

Iraq's Shiites unite to try to form new government
By Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) 5 May 2010

also: Alliance-Making Toward Forming a New Iraqi Government – A Commentary (MEMRI)
and Muqtada Al-Sadr – The Voice of Iraqi Nationalism By MEMRI Staff

Al Jazeera reports: "The Iraqiya list of ex-premier Iyad Allawi took the most seats in the election with 91 but looks set to be squeezed out. . .

"Dhafir al-Ani, head of Iraqi Future Gathering, one of al-Iraqiya bloc components told Al Jazeera: 'It is a blow to the will of the majority of Iraqi people, who voted for Iraqiya. [Note: 91 of 325 seats is not a majority.] The new Shia merge that is backed by Iran, would pull Iraq back to sectarianism.'

"Allawi had warned that an alliance of the two major Shia blocs that attempted to exclude his coalition from government could result in a return to violence in Iraq, which was torn by sectarian bloodshed that killed tens of thousands in 2006-07."

The Washington Post notes: "Such an alliance threatens to undermine U.S. interests in two ways. It could exacerbate a sense of marginalization among Sunnis, prompting them to once again resort to violence. And it could give anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's movement, the biggest vote-getter within the Iraqi National Alliance, a dominant role in the government."

As Al-Ahram similarly notes, "Sectarian bloodshed" would play right into the hands of Iran and the Iran-backed Shi'ite parties. "In asserting its power in Iraq, it is likely that Tehran applied the following kind of cause-and-effect reasoning: eliminating and marginalising the Sunnis would provoke them into committing acts of violence; this violence would cause the collapse of the political process; this in turn would exacerbate the Iraqi quagmire for the US and, consequently, US forces, heavily embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan, would not be able to launch a military offensive against Iran. Logic of this sort, perhaps with some minor adjustments, has since proved an almost fool-proof formula in chalking up the many gains that Tehran has scored in Iraq."
See:
Seven fat years for Iran
Seven years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, everything points to the growing influence of Iran in Iraqi politics, writes Mustafa El-Labbad
Al-Ahram, 15 -21 April 2010, Issue No. 994

Enter Muqtada al-Sadr

According to Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst writing for Asia Times Online, "Muqtada has been working hard for two years to transform the Mahdi Army into another Hezbollah, personally inspired by Hassan Nasrallah." This is, according to Moubayed, why Muqtada has been studying in the seminary in Qom, Iran. "He went back to the seminary, so he could elevate his academic credentials and rise from the rank of sayyed to that of an ayatollah (which enables him to issue fatwas) and grants him greater authority within the Shi'ite community at large. And that explains why, against all odds, he has insisted on refraining from any sectarian rhetoric, copying the Nasrallah model in Lebanon, who always speaks of Lebanon, not of Shi'ites.

"Muqtada also copied Hezbollah's massive charity network, monopolizing education, hospitals and fund-raising within the Shi'ite districts of Iraq to make sure that no family goes to bed hungry and all receive a monthly stipend from the Mahdi Army. Much like a modern Robin Hood, Muqtada is suiting himself to become spokesmen, defender and leader for the poor of Iraq.

"Now is the time to unveil the new Mahdi Army. It will look, sound and act like Hezbollah. No more street violence or sectarian tension triggered by the Sadrists. On the contrary, the Mahdi Army - this time with strong Iranian support - will replace the failed state of Maliki. It will extend an arm to the Sunnis and Kurds willing to work with it, making sure that no prime minister is brought to power, without full consent of Muqtada."

It is hard to see how the Saudis could tolerate a scenario that would essentially extend Iranian power right to the border of Saudi Arabia's oil-rich, Shi'ite-majority Eastern Province.

When ethnic and sectarian conflict resumes (as it eventually will) and Christians lose the state protection they are presently afforded, al Qaeda and affiliated jihadists will doubtless exploit the insecurity to advance the Islamist agenda and eliminate the Christian presence.

And Western Christians should not be tempted into thinking that such a horrific scenario could never eventuate. We must remember that Iraq's ancient Jewish community, which had roots dating back to the Babylonian captivity (587 BC) and had come to comprise the elite of Baghdad -- was eliminated through pogroms, killings and expulsion in the early 1950s. During that time, the newly-founded state of Israel rescued and then absorbed more 130,000 Iraqi Jews through Operation Ezra & Nehemiah. Now the indigenous Assyrian-Chaldean Christians are in the crosshairs, who will rescue them?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Yemen: Christian arrests may herald new era of persecution.

Date: Friday 11 July 2008
Subj: Yemen: Christian arrests may herald new era of persecution.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


YEMEN: CHRISTIAN ARRESTS MAY HERALD NEW ERA OF PERSECUTION

On 18 June Yemeni news source Al Sahwa reported that Yemeni political security forces in Hodiada province had arrested a "missionary cell" of seven people and charged them with promoting Christianity and distributing the Bible. One of those arrested, Hadni Dohni, stands accused of converting to Christianity.

According to Sahwa Net, ". . . the suspects were transferred to Sana'a in order to investigate them to know who support them." (Link 1)

BosNewsLife subsequently reported on 2 July that according to International Christian Concern ( http://www.persecution.org ) the Yemeni Christians were still in detention and at risk of mistreatment and torture at the hands of Yemeni authorities. (Link 2)

Hodaida is Yemen's third largest city. It is the capital of Hodaida Province which is located on Yemen's western Red Sea coast and home to more than two million Yemenis. (See map at link 3)

ARRESTS MAY HERALD NEW ERA OF PERSECUTION

These arrests may well herald an era of more intense and systematic persecution. They came hot on the heels of an Islamist media campaign (foreign, terrorist, and local) that claims Islam in Yemen is under threat due to Christian missionary activities; and at a time when the hugely unpopular, corrupt, abusive, dictatorial regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh is struggling to hold the state together.

MEDIA CAMPAIGN: IN FEAR OF MISSIONARIES AND APOSTATES


On 11 October 2007, Catholic World News reported: "The Palestinian newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi is reporting 2,000 conversions from Islam to Christianity in Yemen.

"Many of the converts are reportedly living abroad in fear for their lives. Yemen adheres to Shari'a law, which forbids conversions from Islam on pain of death.

"The World Muslim League has appealed to Yemen's government to stem the tide of conversions, placing the blame on schools administered by foreigners." (Link 4)

On 13 January 2008, Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported: "On January 13, 2008, Islamist websites posted the first issue of Sada Al-Malahim [Echo of Wars], the e-journal of Al-Qaeda in Yemen. According to its editor, the journal was established in response to a call by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who urged '[those] who are engaged in Islamic media jihad to strengthen their resolve . . . in the face of the fiercest Crusader attack that the Islamic nation [has ever known]." (Link 5)

Then on 18 February 2008, the Yemen Post reported: "Yemeni Researcher Dr Abdul Qawi Al-Tab'ee warned of the growing organised Christian movement in Yemen, hinting the missionary work of foreign agencies focus on young youth to build its movement and spread Christianity in Yemen.

"This news comes in shock to a country known to be free from Christians as only very few Christian Yemenis exist in Aden, which officials say that they are not of Yemeni root.

"Meanwhile, the Islamic World League in its report warned of growing missionary work in Yemen and indicated that the missionary agencies have managed so far to turn over 120 Yemenis in Hadramout into Christianity. It also hinted these agencies are also active in Eritrean and Somali refugees' camps located in southern part of Yemen.

"The league attributed the success of Christianity campaign in Yemen to the absence of attention by Muslims . . ." (Link 6)

It is difficult to see how the above article, written by Yemen Post staff writer Hakim Almasmari, could fail to cause anxiety and outrage amongst apostaphobic Yemeni Muslims.

Almasmari asserts that Christians use international organisations -- especially those involved in education, health or humanitarian relief and development -- as fronts for their missionary work. He specifically mentions the Jibla Baptist hospital without condemning the 30 December 2002 terrorist attack which claimed the lives of Dr Martha Myers (57), hospital administrator William Koehn (60) and supply purchaser Kathleen Gariety (53), as well as critically wounding pharmacist Donald Caswell. He also fails to mention the great outpouring of grief in Jibla that followed the slaying of the three Christians who, having spent 62 years in Yemen between them, had brought health, hope, joy and friendship to multitudes. As distraught mourner Malka al-Hadhrami told Salah Nasrawi of the Associated Press, "All Jibla weeps for them." The terrorist, Abed Abdel Razzak Kamel (35), a member of a group called Islamic Jihad, confessed to having shot the Americans "because they were preaching Christianity in a Muslim country". (See Link 7)

Almasmari adds that while Christian missionary work is strictly forbidden "books and literature about the Christian faith have been widely noticed to be distributed in the Old City of Sana'a".

HOLDING THE STATE TOGETHER: A DEAL WITH AL-QAEDA AND/OR A FEAR TO BE EXPLOITED FOR POLITICAL GAIN

The 1990 creation of the unified state of Yemen brought together North Yemen which was 66 percent Shi'ite and had traditionally (until a 1962 military coup) been ruled by a Shi'ite Imamate, and South Yemen which was 99 percent Sunni, Marxist and until 1990 was sponsored by the Soviet Union. The already aggrieved religiously conservative Shi'ites then became a 30 percent minority in a Sunni dominated socialist ("apostate") republic. North Yemen's President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, an Arab Socialist revolutionary and nominal Shia, was elected as the president of the unified Republic of Yemen.

It is difficult to imagine a more potentially fraught marriage. Indeed, not long after the honeymoon ended, civil war erupted.

As a secular socialist, Saleh was no admirer of religious fundamentalists -- unless of course they could be exploited and employed to his advantage.

During the 1994 civil war, Saleh, who had to fight against disaffected southerners to keep his country unified, employed tens of thousands of "Afghan" Arabs (Sunni fundamentalist Arab veterans of the 1980s Afghan jihad) in a "jihad" against the "infidel" southern separatists. The government-jihadi alliance crushed the southern separatists, and the previously more open and liberal Aden (capital of the south) was left helpless before an incoming tide of Islamisation. This of course has only caused the disaffection and grief of the more liberal and secular southerners to intensify.

The 1994 civil war marked the beginning Saleh's pragmatic alliance with Sunni fundamentalists and militants, including al-Qaeda. It is an alliance that mirrors the alliance between al-Saud and al-Wahhab: a pragmatic alliance built on quid pro quo deals. Saleh does not interfere with al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda preserves Saleh's socialist dictatorship, at least for as long as it is convenient. Al-Qaeda-perpetrated terror under this arrangement is Government-controlled but it gives Saleh grounds to cry out to the West for funding for his war against terror. However Saleh's relationship with the US in the War on Terror (even if it was/is a confidence trick) gave the Shi'ite rebels of the north grounds to accuse him of being pro-American, the ultimate sin.

When the Shi'ite rebellion erupted in 2004, President Saleh employed his Sunni fundamentalist militants and al-Qaeda puppets alongside his army in his war against the al-Houthi Shi'ite rebels.

Thus Saleh is fighting Shi'ite rebels in the north and liberal pro-democracy and separatist forces in the south, by feeding and partnering with Shi'ite-hating, democracy-hating, liberty-hating, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-infidel, anti-apostate, Wahhabi Sunni fundamentalist militants including al-Qaeda.

This has not resulted in the defeat of the al-Houthi Shi'ite rebellion (which has cost thousands of lives) or the repression of dissent in south. The result has been escalating radicalisation, terrorism, disaffection, rioting and a dangerous broadening of the sectarian conflict as the warring Islamic sects receive support from their co-religionists abroad. Yemen is now in the grip of a Sunni v Shi'ite sectarian conflict which most analysts believe is fast becoming a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In such an explosive environment it is common for Muslim leaders to try and generate popularity and Islamic solidarity by deflecting hostilities onto a common "enemy": Jews, "Zionists", "Crusaders", Christians, missionaries, apostates. The Jews come first and then the Christians -- as the Muslim war chant goes, "Baad a- Sabt biji Yom al-Ahad": "After Saturday comes Sunday", meaning after we deal with the Saturday people -- the Jews -- we'll deal with the Sunday people -- the Christians.

The Jews have already been dealt with. As reported by WEA RLC News & Analysis in February 2007: "On 10 January [2007] the 45 Jews of al Haid, Sa'ada (north Yemen) received letters from a Shi'ite rebel militia. The letters accused them of promoting vice and demanded that they leave the province. According to the Yemen Observer, the 45 Jews have been forced to flee their homes in fear of their lives." (Link 8)

As fighting flared again in April 2008, the Shi'ite rebels finished the job by destroying the homes abandoned by the al Haid Jews some 15 months earlier. They also looted the former home of Rabbi Yehia Youssuf. Israel absorbed some 50,000 Yemeni Jews who were forced to flee Yemen in the immediate aftermath of the creation of the state of Israel. Some 1,600 Jews left Yemen in the 1990s, leaving a remnant of only around 400 Jews in Yemen today. (Link 9)

Maybe "Sunday" has arrived.

Insecurity, terrorism, separatism, rioting and sectarian conflict are not President Saleh's only problems. He is an unpopular dictator who after 27 years in power still imprisons his critics and rules over a state with high levels of illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and malnutrition.

So Islamic fundamentalists will not be the only ones to benefit from a state-sponsored crackdown on Christian missionary activity and apostasy. The Islamic media, with its anti-Christian propaganda and disinformation, has no doubt made persecution of Christians a real vote-winner. Protecting Islam by arresting missionaries and apostates is one way the embattled Saleh-the-secular-socialist can bolster his Islamic credentials -- important in a Muslim state undergoing radicalisation -- and generate some popularity. Saleh releases convicted Islamic terrorists from prison for similar reasons: not only to keep al-Qaeda happy, but to bolster his anti-US credentials for political gain. While the state's prisons maintain a revolving door for Islamic terrorists, they remain full due to a continual intake of journalists, comedians, singers, dissidents, pro-democracy activists, justice advocates -- and now Christians.

If the arrests are part of a deal with Islamic fundamentalists and/or a grab for grassroots popularity and Islamic solidarity, then we have grounds to expect more arrests and an escalation in very public persecution.

. . and when President Saleh saw how much it pleased the Muslims, he proceeded to arrest more Christians . . . (Adaptation of Acts 12:3)

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Yemeni security arrests missionary cell in Hodaida. 18/06/2008
http://www.alsahwa-yemen.net/view_nnews.asp?sub_no=401_2008_06_18_64109

2) Yemeni Christians Remain Detained; No Americans Among Them
By BosNewsLife News Center, 2 July 2008
http://www.bosnewslife.com/middle-east/yemen/3689-yemeni-christians-remain-detained-no-american

3) MAP. Note -- Hodaida here is spelt Hodaydah. http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/atlas_middle_east/yemen_divisions.jpg ).

4) Conversions reported on the rise in Yemen. 11 Oct 2007
http://www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=54102

5) Al-Qaeda in Yemen Launches New E-Journal -- Sada Al-Malahim
13 January 2008 MEMRI
http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/4640.htm

6) Researcher Warns Christianity Growth in Yemen
By Hakim Almasmari, 18 February 2008
http://www.yemenpost.net/17/LocalNews/1.htm

7) Yemeni Town Mourns U.S. Missionaries
By SALAH NASRAWI. The Associated Press
JIBLA, Yemen. 31 December 2008
http://www.islamreview.com/news/2002_news.htm
ALSO
Religious Liberty 2003
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal, 6 January 2003

8) Yemen: Shi'ite rebellion resurfaces -- Yemeni Jews threatened.
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal, 16 February 2007

9) Yemen -- Empty Jewish homes destroyed. 7 April 2008
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1207486208257&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pakistan in crisis: situation critical

Date: Tuesday 22 May 2007
Subj: Pakistan in crisis: situation critical
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

In Pakistan sectarian tensions are soaring, persecution of Christians is intensifying, lawlessness is increasing, security and liberty are failing fast, Islamisation and Talibanisation are taking root in Islamabad, and in the midst of Musharraf's political crisis a stand-off at the Lal Masjid approaches boiling point.

--------------------------------------------------------------
PAKISTAN IN CRISIS: SITUATION CRITICAL
- the inevitable consequence of systematic Islamisation.

--------------------------------------------------------------

Pakistan's present state of crisis is not going to be a quick violent spasm because it is not an anomaly. Rather, it is the inevitable consequence of at least two and a half decades of systematic state and Saudi sponsored (Sunni) Islamisation which has continued post 9/11 despite all the rhetoric to the contrary.

Since 9/11 Pakistan's President Musharraf has persistently played two hands at once. Musharraf, a military general who seized power in a military coup, has allied Pakistan with the US in the War on Terror in exchange for military aid. Meanwhile he has allied himself to the pro-Sharia, pro-Taliban, Islamist Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA: an alliance of six Islamist parties) in exchange for votes in the National Assembly.

The MMA, an avowed enemy of secularisation, progress and "enlightened moderation", is a minor party that has become disproportionately powerful because it holds the balance of power in Pakistan's National Assembly. Yet this situation was engineered by Musharraf himself, for as was noted in the WEA RLC News & Analysis posting of 12 December 2006 entitled "Pakistan: Musharraf's Manoeuvring - could see persecution escalate through 2007", the elections were rigged specifically to ensure that Islamists would be present in force in the National Assembly for Musharraf's purposes. (Link 1)

As President Musharraf makes quid pro quo deals with the MMA to advance his agenda, which is to stay in power and in uniform, he empowers the MMA to advance its agenda, the Islamisation of Pakistan.

Further to this, President Musharraf has always relied on evidence of domestic Islamic fundamentalism, agitation and terrorism to legitimise his military dictatorship, especially in Western eyes. For five years Musharraf has preached "enlightened moderation" while at the same time he has abjectly failed to bring about madrassa reform, rein in sectarian violence (Sunni vs Shiite), or prevent Islamisation and Talibanisation from taking root in Islamabad.

The situation may well have passed the point of no return. Pakistani society is fracturing violently along political, sectarian and ethnic lines; even the military is showing signs of political and ethnic fracture. Islamists (Sunni) are exploiting the present lawlessness and political instability to advance their agenda. So we are seeing persecution escalate to the point that Christians are being driven from their homes and extreme Islamist legislation is progressing through the National Assembly without objection.

Whilst this might sound alarmist, it is highly probably that before this year is over Pakistan's Christians (comprising three percent of a population of 160 million) may well be facing catastrophe - just like their Iraqi brethren - as their liberty and security situation rapidly morphs from difficult but hopeful to catastrophic and out of control, thanks to lawlessness, sectarianism, Islamisation and political paralysis. The short and medium term future for the beleaguered Christian minority is looking very bleak indeed.

-------------------------------------
SECURITY AND LIBERTY FAILING FAST
-------------------------------------

SECURITY: LAWLESSNESS AND SECTARIANISM SOARING

As a member of a minority community, Pakistan's founding father Muhammed Ali Jinnah, a Shia, was keen to establish religious liberty as a core principle of Pakistan. Likewise the Bhuttos, as minority Shiites, have stood on a platform of religious liberty, equality and secularism.

However over the past two and a half decades Saudi Arabia and the USA have both pumped money into Pakistan to advance their own interests. The Saudis started investing massively in Sunni-majority Pakistan after Iran's 1979 Islamic (Shiite) Revolution to create a Sunni fundamentalist bulwark against Shiism on Iran's eastern border. The USA started investing in Pakistan in 1980, funding the mujahideen's jihad against the Communists.

The combined effect is that Pakistan has been turned into a veritable factory for Sunni fundamentalist Deobani and Wahhabi ideologues and mujahideen. But Pakistan is (like Iraq but to a lesser degree) a Sunni-Shia sectarian fault-line state. Pakistan has the world's second largest Shiite population after Iran. (Pakistan's Shiite population is estimated at up to 20 percent. Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia both have Shiite populations of around 15 percent). Deobandi and Wahhabi Sunni Islam condemns Shiites as apostates. So as Saudi-sponsored, vehemently anti-Shia, Sunni fundamentalism has taken root and grown in Pakistan since the 1980s, Sunni vs Shiite sectarian tension and violence escalated, with Saudi Arabia and Iran funding and training their proxies in the struggle for dominance in the Muslim world.

According to sources as many as 4,000 people are estimated to have died in Sunni vs Shiite sectarian fighting in Pakistan in the last two decades and the conflict is intensifying. Pakistani Shiites have historically been linked to Najaf (Iraq), not Iran. But the explosion of Sunni-sponsored, anti-Shiite Wahhabism led many Pakistani Shiites to seek training in Qom (Iran). Sectarian violence has further escalated since the war in Iraq took on sectarian tones. And as is common, when Sunni vs Shiite sectarian violence escalates, so does violence against Christians.

On Friday 6 April, Sunni militants shot at Shiites as they were gathered at their mosque in Parachinar, about 150 miles southwest of Peshawar, the capital of the highly Islamised and Talibanised North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Normally Pakistan's minority Shiite communities absorb the violence against them, which includes targeted killings and mosque bombings. But Parachinar is a majority Shiite town and this time the Shiites retaliated violently, burning down some 400 Sunni-owned shops and homes. At least 40 people were killed and more than 40 were wounded. (Link 2) (This may well have been a deliberate attempt to provoke a Shiite response that would elicit an even more violent and wider Sunni "response".)

Christians in Charsadda district on the north-eastern outskirts of Peshawar have since been threatened with severe consequences if they fail to either flee or convert to Islam. Over recent months local market stalls trading in the "un-Islamic" (such as music, videos, fashion, and haircuts) have been bombed and threatened. Likewise, girls in Charsadda and neighbouring Mardan districts have been threatened with "consequence" if they don't stop attending school. Girls Higher Secondary School at Gumbat, Mardan district, was bombed in the early morning of Friday 4 May. The region is being systematically cleansed, purged of all that is un-Islamic; Islamised by force and threat of death. The situation for Christians in Charsadda and throughout NWFP is intolerable. (Link 3)

But Islamisation and Talibanisation are no longer problems confined to NWFP or western Pakistan in general. Islamisation and Talibanisation are spreading eastwards across Pakistan like an air-borne virus. Pakistan's national capital and nerve-centre, Islamabad, and the National Assembly are both succumbing.

LIBERTY: APOSTASY ACT 2006

On 9 May, the MMA tabled its Apostasy Act 2006 in Pakistan's National Assembly. According to this Act, a male apostate (one who leaves Islam) would receive the death penalty and a female apostate would be imprisoned for life or until she 'repents'. Apostates would also forfeit their property and lose legal custody of their children. The testimony of just two adult witnesses would be sufficient grounds for conviction in apostasy cases.

Pakistan's Daily Times reports: "The government did not oppose the bill and sent it to the standing committee concerned. If passed, the bill will over-ride all other laws in force at present. The bills' section 4 states that apostasy can be proved if the accused confesses to the 'offence' in court or at least two adult witnesses appear in court against the accused.

"Section 5 states that the court should give a proven apostate at least three days or a month at the maximum to return to Islam. If he refuses, he should be awarded the death sentence.

"Section 6 states that a pardoned apostate can face rigorous or simple imprisonment, extendible to two years, if he commits the offence for the second or third time. In case of the fourth commission he will be liable to death sentence, it adds.

"Section 8 proposes suspending all rights of the accused over property. If the accused is awarded death, the part of the property, which he owned before committing the offence, will be transferred to his Muslim heirs. It states that the property rights of a female apostate will remain suspended till her death or penitence. In case of her penitence, the rights will be restored and after death, her property will be treated the same way as adopted for male apostates." (Link 4)

Shockingly, the National Assembly "did not oppose the bill". Furthermore during the same session the Assembly rejected a draft bill moved by NA minority member Mr BP Bhandara which sought to amend the existing blasphemy law.

-------------------------------------------------
ISLAMISATION AND TALIBANISATION OF ISLAMABAD
-------------------------------------------------

Government inaction (or complicity) has enabled Sunni fundamentalists to establish themselves in the heart of Islamabad. Only about a mile away from the Prime Minister's Secretariat, the Supreme Court and the Parliament is a mosque-madrassa complex run by two hard-line, Sunni fundamentalist brothers. The complex comprises the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) which is run by Maulana Abdul Aziz, and two madrassas: the Jamia Hafsa (for burqa-clad girls) and Jamia Faridia (for bearded male students), which are run by his brother Abdur Rashid Ghazi.

The madrassas, which are believed to be linked to domestic and international terrorism, have some 7,000 students. The brothers have established a Sharia Court, issued fatwas and launched a city-wide campaign against "vice".

According to Kanchan Lakshman, writing for Asia Times, Pakistan's Capital Development Authority has reportedly declared 87 mosques in Islamabad to be illegal, some of them built on public land. After the authorities demolished several illegally built mosques the warriors of the Lal Masjid complex (which was built illegally on public land) sprang into action.

After a brigade of armed Jamia Hafsa burqa-clad females kidnapped "prostitutes", held them hostage, forcibly and illegally occupied a children's library and threatened wide-scale suicide bombings and terror, the President of the ruling Muslim League (PML-Q), Chaudhry Shujat, entered into negotiations with Abdul Aziz and Ghazi Abdul Rasheed in search of a "peaceful settlement". (Link 5)

According to Pervez Hoodbhoy's comment in the Guardian, "Chaudhray described the burka brigade kidnappers as 'our daughters', with whom negotiations would continue and against whom 'no operation could be contemplated'.

"Clerics realise that the government wants to play ball. Their initial demand - the rebuilding of eight illegally constructed mosques that had been knocked down by Islamabad's civic administration - became a call for enforcement of Sharia law across Pakistan. In a radio broadcast on April 12, the clerics issued a threat: 'There will be suicide blasts in the nook and cranny of the country. We have weapons, grenades, and we are expert in manufacturing bombs. We are not afraid of death.' " (Link 6)

Kanchan Lakshman (Asia Times) reports the cleric's demands include, "the rebuilding of demolished mosques in Islamabad; immediate declaration of sharia (Islamic) law in Pakistan; immediate promulgation of the Koran and Sunnah in the courts of law; and 'immediate discontinuation to declaring jihad as terrorism by the government, as it is the great sacred religious duty of Muslims' ".

According to G Parthasarathy, a columnist with the Daily Pioneer, "The Government has agreed to reconstruct the seven illegal mosques it had pulled down. It has also agreed to act against alleged centres of prostitution. The clerics have refused to close down their shari'ah court and remain firm on their demands for the introduction of shari'ah." (Link 7)

Kanchan Lakshman (Asia Times) reports: "The Wafaq-ul-Madaris, Pakistan's main and influential confederacy of seminaries, which runs about 8,200 institutions, has supported the extremist program of the Lal Masjid brigade. The confederacy's secretary general, Qari Mohammad Hanif Jhalandari, announced on April 15: 'We are in complete support of their four demands - to enforce the sharia in Pakistan, have the government rebuild all the mosques it destroyed, close down all dens of vice across the country, and change the Women's Protection Act in line with the Koran and Sunnah.' "

The government is now in the process of providing land for the demolished mosques. As Parthasarathy notes (Daily Pioneer), Islamists around the nation will be watching and learning from the La Masjid and are likely to follow suit. "The process of Talibanisation moving eastwards from the NWFP appears to have commenced. In Lahore, the student wing of the Jamat-e-Islami, the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, has beaten up 'un-Islamic' students and proclaimed 'Islamisation' of the campus."

And the stand-off with the Lal Masjid is far from over. In fact the situation is approaching boiling point. On 18 May students abducted four police officers (two have since been released). Students have barricaded the streets, declaring that if the authorities make any moves against the complex, then Islamabad will face jihad. According to the Pakistan Tribune the mosque's loudspeakers are playing jihadi songs, and pamphlets have been distributed claiming that some 500 members of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Jahngvi have entered Islamabad in preparation for jihad against the government forces who they falsely claim are largely Shiite. (Link 8)

Pervez Hoodbhoy (Guardian) writes, "In a sense, the inevitable is coming to pass. Until a few years ago, Islamabad was a quiet, orderly, modern city no different from any other in Pakistan. Still earlier, it was largely the abode of Pakistan's elite and foreign diplomats. But the rapid transformation of its demography brought with it hundreds of mosques with multi-barrelled audio cannons mounted on minarets, as well as scores of madrasas, illegally constructed in what used to be public parks and green areas. Now, tens of thousands of their students with prayer caps dutifully chant the Qu'ran all day. In the evenings, they roam in packs through the city's streets and bazaars, gaping at store windows and lustfully ogling bare-faced women.

"The stage is being set for transforming Islamabad into a Taliban stronghold. When Musharraf exits - which may be sooner rather than later - he will leave a bitter legacy that will last for generations, all for a little more taste of power."

MUSHARRAF'S EXIT ?

Musharraf is facing a major political crisis caused by his 9 March suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. (Link 9)

This is not a trivial hiccup or passing spasm either. Stratfor Intelligence comments: ". . . with each passing day Musharraf appears to be losing his hold on power. Musharraf's own constituency, the military, is beginning to show signs of concern -- even his close generals are now privately admitting things have gotten out of hand." (Geopolitical Diary, 16 May)

Pakistan's descent into chaos is now virtually guaranteed, as Sunnis provoke and clash with Shiites, Islamists provoke and clash with "enlightened moderates" and secularists, and Islamisation and Talibanisation become entrenched in the very heart of the nation.

Once again, it looks like Pakistanis will be left in need of military "rescue". No doubt there will be plenty of sponsors keen to hand Musharraf (or whichever general is in charge) yet more financial aid for the sake of "stability". It is not surprising that some commentators are wondering if the entire Lal Masjid affair is "a government ruse". (Link 10)

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) "PAKISTAN: MUSHARRAF'S MANOEUVRING
- could see persecution escalate through 2007"

By Elizabeth Kendal, WEA RLC News & Analysis, 12 December 2006

2) 40 Killed in Pakistan in Sectarian Clashes. 7 April 2007
Gun battles flare between Sunni, Shiite Muslims, homes burned in Northwestern Pakistan. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/04/07/world/main2660296.shtml
ALSO
40 Killed, 70 Hurt in NWFP
Azhar Masood & Agencies
PESHAWAR, 8 April 2007
http://www.arabnews.com/?article=94689

3) Pakistan Christians demand help. BBC 16 May 2007
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6663305.stm
ALSO
WEA Religious Liberty Prayer (RLP) 429, 16 May 2007
Pakistan: Christians Defying Purge in the NW Frontier Province
http://www.worldevangelicalalliance.com/news/view.htm?id=1113

4) — fails to oppose death for apostasy draft. 9 May 2007
http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2007%5C05%5C09%5Cstory_9-5-2007_pg1_7
LAL MASJID and the ISLAMISATION OF ISLAMABAD

Profile: Islamabad's red madrassa
By Syed Shoaib Hasan. 28 March 2007
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6503477.stm
Anti-madrassa protest in Pakistan. 5 April 2007
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6530935.stm
ALSO
'Their business is jihad' 20 March 2007
Declan Walsh visits Islamabad's Red Mosque, a hotbed of Islamic militancy at the heart of Pakistan's capital.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/pakistan/Story/0,,2038568,00.html

Three excellent pieces on the Islamisation and Talibanisation of Islamabad.

5) More muscle to Pakistan's madrassas
By Kanchan Lakshman 25 April 2007
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/ID25Df02.html
This report includes details of US financial aid to Pakistan, "US$4.75 billion to date".)

6) Islamabad succumbs
Pakistan's president is doing nothing to prevent the country's capital from becoming a Taliban stronghold. By Pervez Hoodbhoy. 17 May 2007
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/pervez_hoodbhoy/2007/05/islamabad_succumbs.html
7) Talibanisation of Islamabad. By G Parthasarathy
http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnist1.asp?main_variable=Columnist&file_name=parthasarathy%2Fparthasarathy137.txt&writer=parthasarathy
8) 500 members of banned outfit enter Federal Capital
20 May 2007. http://www.paktribune.com/news/index.shtml?178762
Lal Masjid students held positions at mosque, Jamia Hafsa
20 May 2007. http://www.paktribune.com/news/index.shtml?178763

POLITICAL CRISIS

9) Pakistan judge: Fight for rule of law. 5 May 2007
http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/asiapcf/05/05/pakistan.judicial.ap/index.html ALSO
How Pakistan's Sacked Judge Became a National Hero
By Ghulam Hasnain in Karachi for TIME. 8 May 2007
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1618546,00.html

10) 'Lal Masjid standoff a government ruse'
By Khalid Hasan. 22 May 2007
http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2007%5C05%5C22%5Cstory_22-5-2007_pg7_10

Friday, February 16, 2007

Yemen: Shi'ite rebellion resurfaces - Yemeni Jews threatened

Date: Friday 16 February 2007
Subj: Yemen: Shi'ite rebellion resurfaces - Yemeni Jews threatened
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


YEMEN: SHI'ITE REBELLION RESURFACES - YEMENI JEWS THREATENED

As noted in the recent WEA RLC News & Analysis posting Religious Liberty Trends 2006-2007, "Part 3 - RL Trend: Shiite Ascendancy" (link 1) any Shiite vs Sunni conflict will impact Jews and Christians. This is because in a Shiite vs Sunni conflict, Sunni extremism intensifies and is advanced resulting in increased persecution of Shiites, Jews and Christians, while Shiites (usually the minority sect) attempt to deflect Sunni hate and unite the sects in battle against their common "enemies": Jews, Israel, Christians and US-allied Arab governments.

The Sunni vs Shiite struggle for supremacy is escalating in Yemen and followers of Shiite rebel Al Houthi have renewed their insurgency against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Before the Shiite rebels re-launched their insurgency they issued a public threat against the local
Jewish community.

JEWS THREATENED AND EXPELLED

On 10 January the 45 Jews of al Haid, Sa'ada (north Yemen), received letters from a Shiite rebel militia. The letters accused them of promoting vice and demanded that they leave the province. According to the Yemen Observer, the 45 Jews have been forced to flee their homes in fear of their lives. While they have since been given refuge in a hotel at the expense of a compassionate local sheik, they are reportedly living in appalling conditions. Shiite militants have since threatened to bomb the hotel.

The Yemen Observer reports: "Most of Yemen's Jews were brought over to Israel during Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50, following the 1948 Muslim riots that destroyed the Jewish community in Aden and killed 82 people. There were about 63,000 Jews in Yemen in 1948. Now, only about 400 Jews remain in the country, most of who are living in Raida, in the Amran province." (Link 2)

A copy of the threatening letter was faxed to the Yemen Observer. It reads: "After an accurate surveillance of the Jews who are residing in Al Haid, it has become clear to us that they were doing things which serve mainly Zionism, which seeks to corrupt the people and distance them from their principles, their values, their morals, and their religion, and spread all kinds of vice in the society. Our religion ordered us to fight the corrupt people and expel them."

The newspaper reports that the hand written letter concluded with the words: "Allah is Greater, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse to Jews, and Victory to Islam," and explains that the words form the slogan of the slain Shiite cleric, Hussein Badr Al Deen Al Houthi. The letter was then signed by Yahya Sad Al Khudhair, who described himself as the leader of Al Houthi supporters in Al Salem.

Dawoud Yousef Mousa, one of the displaced Jews, told the Yemen Observer: "We are a total of 45 Jews, from Al Salem, we left our houses in Al Haid area in Sa'ada to a hotel here in the city of Sa'ada, after we received warnings to leave our country, Yemen, within 10 days from the date of the threat letter,"

According to Mousa, on Wednesday 17 January, he was with a group of Jews when they were approached by four masked men who threatened to slaughter them if they did not leave on Al Salem by Friday 19 January. "They told us, 'No one will protect you, Jews, from us, not even [President] Ali Abdullah Saleh." And they were warned that if they did not leave their homes in two days "they will only have themselves to blame" for the consequences, which will include abductions and looting.

The Yemen Observer reports that the local authorities and tribal sheikhs in Sa'ada held meetings to discuss the complaints from the Yemeni Jews. However the meetings only resulted in oral reassurances for the Jews, who were told to ignore the threats and go back to their villages, something the Jews were not prepared to do.

The Jews have appealed to the governor of Sa'ada for protection. In their submission they wrote: "It is not a secret that we are "Themmies" [dhimmis] (free non-Muslims, enjoying the Muslims' protection [definition by Yemen Observer]), we are in the protection of the Prophet Mohammed, and in the protection of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. We [are in] your protection. We would rather die than leave our homes."

SHI'ITE INSURGENCY

Yemen did not exist as a unified state until May 1990. Before then there was North Yemen which was 60 percent Shiite, and South Yemen which was 99 percent Sunni. Historically Zaydi (Shia) Imams had ruled over North Yemen as absolute monarchs. Then in 1962 the Imamate of Muhammad al-Badr was overthrown in a military coup led by Ali Abdullah Saleh. Civil war erupted between republicans backed by Egypt, and royalists backed by Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Britain. After years of conflict and political see-sawing, North Yemen emerged as the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR). Ali Abdullah Saleh became the President of the YAR in 1978 after another military coup.

In December 1989 the parliament of South Yemen voted unanimously in favour of unifying the two states. Meanwhile, in North Yemen 25 of the more religiously fundamentalist Shiite members of the of North Yemen parliament boycotted the vote, recognising that upon unification, the Shiites of North Yemen would go from being a majority to a 30 percent minority. Unification went ahead and Ali Abdullah Saleh was elected president of the unified Republic of Yemen on the votes of both houses of parliament. The president of South Yemen became the Vice President.

In June 2004 a Shiite insurgency erupted against the government of Ali Abdullah Salih. The Shiite rebels were "protecting Islam" and protesting the government's alliance with the US in its War on Terror. The government claimed the rebels were fighting for the restoration of the Zaydi imamate, though the rebels denied this. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is a Zaydi Shiite, but like many other Zaydis he is a republican.

On 13 July 2004 the Christian Science Monitor reported on the Shiite insurgency: "The revolt is led by Hussein al-Houthi, an anti-US Shiite cleric who runs a religious school and heads a group called Al Shabab al-Moumin, the Youthful Believers.

"Houthi's rebels have been flying the flag of the Iranian-backed Hizbullah organization and the militant cleric has been paying his followers $100." (Link 3)

The government unleashed the full force of its military against the Shiite rebels and the insurgency only lasted ten weeks. Rebel leader Zaydi cleric Hussein al-Huthi was killed in the fighting.

The July 2004 CSM article actually raised the issue of al Qaeda infiltration into Yemen and questioned whether Iran was sponsoring a Shiite revival amongst the Yemeni Zaydis to counter a Wahhabi revival amongst the Sunnis. It concluded with a quote from Professor Hamzeh: "'It seems that Al Qaeda has been successful in radicalizing the Shafi Sunnis,' he says. 'I can definitely see a future clash between the Zaidi Shiites and the newly mobilized Shafi Sunnis.'"

After Al-Houthi's father, Badr al-Din al-Huthi, assumed leadership of the rebel group, fighting resumed in March 2005. Once again, the government unleashed the military against the rebels. Shiite leaders in both Iran and Iraq protested the "persecution" of Yemeni Shiites. By May 2005 the rebels had retreated into the mountains and the fighting had ceased.

On 27 January 2007 Shiite rebels in the northern province of Sa'ada (where the Jews are being persecuted) launched a mortar attack on a security building, killing six soldiers. In early February Yemen's parliament authorised its military to launch a full-scale assault against the rebels. Stratfor estimates that around 80 Shiite al-Houthi rebels and around 40 Yemeni government soldiers have died in fighting over the past two weeks. The Yemen Times puts the figure at 32 rebels and 15 soldiers.

Some Yemeni MPs and political commentators suspect that Iran and Libya are interfering in Yemen; Iran to bolster the Shiites to counter al Qaeda and the revival of Wahhabi ideology; and Libya to bolster the Wahhabis for the purpose of destabilising Saudi Arabia.

Clearly Yemen is a fertile field for a Sunni vs Shiite contest. If the radicalisation of both Shiites and Sunnis is not effectively countered then the future is bleak, not only for Yemeni Jews and Christians, but for a united Republic of Yemen.

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) RL Trend: Shiite Ascendancy

2) Threatened Yemeni Jews appeal for protection
By Nasser Arrabyee Jan 22, 2007, 19:38 Yemen Observer
http://www.yobserver.com/cgi-bin/2007/exec/view.cgi/23/11554

3) Are Iran and Al Qaeda vying for influence in Yemen?
At least 200 dead in Yemeni battle against radicals.
By Nicholas Blanford. The Christian Science Monitor 13 July 2004
http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0713/p11s01-wome.html

BBC profile: YEMEN
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/country_profiles/784383.stm

Profile: Ali Abdullah Saleh http://lexicorient.com/e.o/saleh_a.htm

Monday, February 5, 2007

Religious Liberty Trend: Shiite ascendancy

Date: Monday 5 February 2007
Subj: 3. RL Trend - Shiite ascendancy
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY TRENDS: 2006-2007

---------------------------------------------
TREND: SHIITE ASCENDANCY
---------------------------------------------

It may have taken 1,327 years, but the Sunni "caliphs" are once again fighting Shiites in Karbala, as Shiites (Arabs and Persians) are once again agitating for influence from Kufa. Thus Islamic history must once again be examined through the narrative of two competing Muslim sects.

After the death of Mohammed in AD 632, Muslims were divided over the issue of a successor. Some Muslims believed they should follow the tribal tradition whereby a council of elders would chose a leader. These became the Sunnis: those who follow the traditions (sunna). Arab tribal tradition essentially meant that a strongman would be installed as dictator to guarantee order. These Muslims believed that Mohammed was a prophet and Allah's message could be understood by anyone and taken as literal. Therefore they saw a difference between the preacher (teacher) and the strongman (dictator).

Other Muslims believed that Allah's divine appointment of Mohammed was significant. They believed spiritual knowledge was esoteric and leadership was by divine appointment, so only the blood relatives of Mohammed could be leaders of the Muslims. While they believed that Mohammed's successor should be Ali, Mohammed's cousin and son-in-law, they respected that majority decision and accepted the Sunni caliphs. That is until Ali, who had been appointed as the fourth Caliph, was assassinated and his murderer, Muawiya (the governor of Syria) assumed the Caliphate, becoming the first Umayyad Caliph. The Sunnis, who were only interested in Muawiya's power, not how he got it, accepted Muawiya's rule. But the partisans of Ali could not.

This was the point at which the partisans of Ali - the Shiites - began to separate themselves from the Sunnis. The Shiites believed the violence and chaos proved the Sunnis had erred in trusting tribal tradition over divine appointment. As Shiite veneration of Ali grew, so did their anger and resistance. Husayn, Ali's son and Mohammed's grandson, defiantly refused to acknowledge the Umayyad Caliphate.

The second Umayyad Caliph, Yazd I, who was based in Damascus was troubled by rebellions in Kufa, Ali's capital. Not only were the Shiites rebelling but so too were the Persians of Kufa rebelling against the Arab nature of Umayyad rule. So in AD 680 Caliph Yazd I sent an army to Karbala to lay siege to Husayn's caravan to put an end to Husayn and his Shiite followers, as well as the Persians of Kufa.

The Shiites were ambushed and routed. Husayn fought but was killed, martyred for his belief. The surviving Shiites and Persians fled east into Persia. The martyr Husayn was survived by his young son Ali who became the first of 12 Shia imams to have descended directly from Mohammed. (The 12th Imam disappeared in AD 939 before he could produce an heir. According to Shiism he was taken into occultation and will return in the last days as the Shia Messiah.)

The Shiite claim that only a blood descendent of Mohammed should lead the Muslims is a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the Sunni caliphs. Sunni demonisation and persecution of Shiites has virtually always been politically motivated and to counter this challenge.

After the 12th Imam disappeared without leaving an heir the Shiites settled down to await his return, fostering a culture of quietism and future hope. They revered and venerated the martyr Husayn and bore Sunni persecution whilst focusing on cultural, theological and intellectual pursuits as they awaited the return of their Shia Messiah who would right all wrongs.

Sunnis meanwhile interpreted their dominance and power as proof of Allah's blessing, when really it was due to merciless, imperialistic aggression. However Islamic (Sunni) military and imperialist power eventually faded beneath the expanse of the empire, the corruption of the caliphate and the rising industrial, scientific, technological and military ascendancy of post-Reformation Europe.

In the 19th Century, Sunni fundamentalism emerged decreeing that (Sunni) Islam's decline was the result of Allah's displeasure at Muslim waywardness. Al-Wahhab's Islamic reformation and revival of puritanical Quranic fundamentalism - which is pro-Sharia and pro-jihad, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Christian - was intended to restore Allah's favour and Sunni power. During the 20th Century each Islamic (Sunni) loss (e.g. Balkan Wars, WW1, WW2, the Middle East Wars) triggered a renewed call for Islamic reform, a return to puritanical Quranic fundamentalism.

Then came the 1979 Islamic (Shiite) Revolution in Iran, which was the result of Shiism plus Revolutionary Marxism. Shiites are divided over this. Many Shiites believe they should still be quietly awaiting the return of their messiah, the 12th Imam Al-Mahdi, while other Shiites believe they should advance with revolutionary zeal to hasten his return.

Whilst Shiites comprise a minority of only 10 to 15 percent of all Muslims, in the Middle East the Sunni-Shia ratio is around 50-50.

Shiite ascendancy is a direct and serious threat to Sunni legitimacy and dominance that is interpreted as proof of Allah's blessing. As such, the Shiite threat had to be combated; the Shiites had to be contained. The Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) bogged the Shiites down for a decade and every nation that was keen to contain Iran's Shiite Islamic revolutionary zeal supported Saddam Hussein. Secular, Arab Iraq provided the western bulwark to Shiite ascendancy and expansion.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia set about building an ideological bulwark to hold back Shiism on Iran's eastern border. During the 1960s and 1970s the Saudis had been forging an alliance with Pakistan and exporting Wahhabist ideology to counter secular Arab nationalism. But after Iran's Islamic (Shiite) Revolution the Saudis ratcheted up the anti-Shiite rhetoric. The Wahhabism being pumped around the world post-1979, especially into Pakistan and Afghanistan (via the Taliban), was not only pro-Sharia, pro-jihad, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian but virulently anti-Shiite as well.

For more than two decades Shiite Iran was hemmed in and ground down.

Operation Iraqi Freedom removed the western bulwark and liberated and empowered Iraq's Arab Shiites, thereby completely overturning the balance of Muslim power in the Middle East.

As the Shiites become more powerful, influential and confident the threatened Sunnis respond with increasingly virulent anti-Shiite Sunni extremism, which is equally anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and imperialistic. This could lead to a full-blown Shiite vs Sunni war, which would spread through the region and devastate the head and heart of both sects.

The Shiites, in an effort to prevent a Sunni vs Shiite war (a desire with roots a millennium of defensiveness), then increase their anti-Israel, anti-Christian, Islamic imperialistic rhetoric in the hope of deflecting Sunni hate and uniting the sects to fight common Islamic causes and hatreds - Jews, Israel, Christians, the West, secularists and apostates - rather than each other.

This is why Lebanon's (Shiite) Hezballah has taken up the (Sunni) Palestinian cause. This is why (Shiite) Iran is overtly supporting (Sunni) Hamas and expending vast energies to run provocative anti-Semitic events. Iran's policy makers, leaders and preachers are desperate to prevent devastating sectarian war. Their anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-Western rhetoric is a strategy to unite Muslims.

However two-and-a-half decades of prolific, virulently anti-Shia, Wahhabist propaganda has guaranteed that this Shiite strategy will fail, as particularly the most indoctrinated Sunnis will be unable to accept any degree of Shiite ascendancy or Muslim unity with those they have been taught to regard as infidels, polytheists and kafir.

So while the Sunni vs Shiite struggle is primarily a struggle between two Muslim sects competing for legitimacy and supremacy, it is inevitable that the Jews and Christians of the Middle East will be seriously impacted. We are already seeing this dynamic in action in Iraq where the targeted, violent persecution of the Christian and the Mandaean communities is escalating.

During 2007 the Sunni vs Shiite struggle will escalate in Lebanon, doubtless with horrendous consequences for the Church. Shiite-majority Lebanon is located at the end of a broad Shiite crescent that takes Iranian power right to Israel's northern border. Therefore Lebanon is hugely strategic. As a Shiite majority state in which the Shiites have the backing of Iran, Lebanon - which like Iraq has a large Christian minority - may well be an Iraq-in-waiting.

Saudi Arabia is also at risk of Sunni vs Shiite unrest. While Saudi Arabia is only 15 percent Shiite, virtually all those vilified, persecuted, marginalised Shiites live in Eastern Province where they form a clear majority. Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province is at the end of a tight Shiite crescent that runs from Iran through oil-rich southern Iraq down into Saudi Arabia along the coast of the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia's Shiites are linked to Iraq's Shiites and revere Ayatollah Sistani. Saudi Sunnis are flocking to Iraq for jihad, excited by the prospect of killing infidel, kafir Shiites and Americans. What's more, they are returning to Saudi Arabia doubly zealous and anxious to kill Saudi Shiites. Eastern Province is ripe for unrest especially if Iran decides to support a Shiite insurgency. It must be noted that Shiite-dominated Eastern Province also happens to have around 90 percent of Saudi Arabia's oil assets, making it hugely strategic territory. Furthermore, Shiites believe their messiah, the Mahdi, and his deputy (Jesus) will make their reappearance at the Ka'bah in Mecca. They will fight the "Sofyani" (the tribe that was the keeper of the Ka'bah during the time of Mohammed) before they march with the believers to Kufa, the historic capital of Ali, southern Iraq. Here the Mahdi will establish his global government.

According to Iran's President Ahmadinejad, the return of the Mahdi is imminent. However Ahmadinejad's urgency is probably generated more by political than theological considerations - Iran has only a small window of opportunity through which it can hope to ascend to that place of regional hegemony and Islamic leadership. Iran's oil reserves are being depleted and Iran's population growth is negative. Iran needs to extend its tentacles into more profitable (oil-rich) regions and unite the Muslim world behind its leadership now, because Iran's power has a definite use-by-date. Also Ahmadinejad is hugely unpopular. Iranians are risking life and liberty to protest his belligerence and repression. To hold on to power and advance his urgent, apocalyptic strategy, he will have to be even more ruthless and repressive in 2007 than he was in 2006.

The Shiite ascendancy and the resulting Sunni backlash spells major troubles for Jews, Mandaeans and Christians across the Middle East, just as it has in Iraq. What's more, this dynamic will play out to varying degrees everywhere there are Shiites and Sunnis, especially in mixed regions where they are vying for legitimacy and dominance - in Europe, Pakistan, Canada, Australia, Azerbaijan and more, as well as in countries such as Bosnia that are patrons of an ascendant Iran.

As implied in the introduction, this Sunni vs Shiite conflict could well be the beginning of the end of Islam. Iran may rise and even lead the Shiites to victory over the Sunnis and leadership of the Islamic world after a hugely destructive Islamic implosion. But the Muslim remnant will then have to face the failure of Shia messianic prophecy. For while many false "Jesus" and "Mahdis" will probably appear in the near future none will be able to fulfil Shia prophesy