Showing posts with label religious liberty trends. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religious liberty trends. Show all posts

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Religious Freedom and Realpolitik


By Elizabeth Kendal

On 22 May 2013, the Washington Post published a piece by Lauren Markeo, entitled: ANALYSIS: Does religious freedom report need more 'teeth'?

The title is drawn from the words of Knox Thames, the director of policy and research at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), who laments that the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report 2012 -- released by Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday 20 May 2013 -- does not include an updated list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs). The USCIRF insists that the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Act that mandates the State Department Report also requires new designations of CPCs annually.

As Thames explained to Markoe, for years the annual report and the CPC designations were simultaneous, but that changed late in the Bush administration and has been continued under Obama. And according to Thames, the list of CPCs "is what gave all of this teeth" . . . for the list prompts "countries to do things they don't normally want to do".

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, REALPOLITIK AND DENIAL

On the contrary, the CPC list did not give the US IRF Act its "teeth"; US economic leverage gave the Act its teeth. The CPC list was only effective because aid could be extended or sanctions applied on the grounds of the religious liberty findings. As long as the US had political will and economic leverage, dictators had economic incentive to reign in their most hostile and belligerent elements and pursue at least a modicum of reform.

As I maintain in the introduction to my book, Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Dec 2012), the US IRF Act "only had teeth as long as the US had economic leverage. Thus the financial collapse of 2008 seriously undermined its power." 

The reality is, persecution escalated dramatically immediately after the financial crisis: "It was as if the veil of protection that US economic . . . leverage had provided was stripped away in a moment, leaving minority Christians exposed and vulnerable before a rising tide of militant religious nationalism, intolerant Islamic fundamentalism and brutal, atheistic totalitarianism."

Compounding the crisis, US financial collapse converged not only with the rise of China -- and who needs US aid when China gives aid without strings attached? -- but also with the decline of US political and military influence in the Middle East.

That the US IRF Act has indeed lost its "teeth" (economic leverage) is a fact about which most persecuted believers and religious liberty advocates are actually in profound denial.

CASE STUDY: VIETNAM

Thames offers Vietnam as an example of how the CPC designations "work", noting that reforms, pressed by US diplomats, resulted in Vietnam's delisting in 2006.

But that was then -- before the financial crisis -- this is now!

Furthermore, Vietnam never really reformed -- it just did what it had to do in order to get from the US what it wanted to get. Behind the dressed-up facade, Vietnam remained a repressive, Communist regime.

As Human Rights Watch reported in October 2009: "In 2006, the State Department removed Vietnam from the [CPC] list, citing the release of religious prisoners and less-restrictive legislation governing religion. Two months later, the US granted Vietnam permanent normal trade status, which led to Vietnam's membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO)."
See, Vietnam: Sharp backsliding in religious freedom
HRW, 10 Oct 2009

But soon as Vietnam joined the WTO in January 2007, repression and persecution returned. In March 2007 I wrote of a watershed moment. "Through a wave of harassments, arrests and criminal charges against human rights and democracy advocates engaged in peaceful and perfectly legal activities, Vietnam is openly showing its hand and waiting to see if anyone will challenge, or if everyone will fold."
See: Vietnam's crackdown creates watershed
By Elizabeth Kendal, 20 March 2007

In the US, the usual voices spoke out against the persecution -- US Congressmen Chris Smith, Frank Wolf, Ed Royce, Dana Rohrabacher and others -- warning Vietnam that it risked being returned to the CPC list; but to no avail. By September 2008, Vietnam was right back to its old ways: breaking promises and using state violence to crack down hard on Hanoi's Catholics as they followed the courageous Archbishop Kiet into the streets, week after week, in one of the most courageous and phenomenal prayer movements I have ever seen.  
See: Vietnam: Govt belligerence escalates against Hanoi Catholics.
By Elizabeth Kendal, 26 September 2008

Persecution in Vietnam's Central Highlands also skyrocketed. The HRW report -- Montagnard Christians in Vietnam: a case study in religious repression (March 2011) -- reveals a campaign of widespread systematic harassment, violence and public shaming through which many hundreds, if not thousands, of Protestant families have been forced to recant their faith.

The reality is, since late 2008, persecution with impunity has become the order of the day -- not just in Vietnam, but worldwide. The US can't prevent it and the persecutors know it!

Today's world is a world of realpolitik, where economic and geo-strategic concerns trump inconvenient human rights abuses -- especially the persecution of Christians -- every day.

END DENIAL AND STEP OUT IN FAITH

It goes against the grain of human pride to admit that we are helpless and powerlessness. It is also very frightening. But I would maintain that this is exactly what we must do if we are to lay hold of what God has promised.

When the Assyrian Rabshakeh and his "great army" arrived at the gates of Jerusalem in 701 BC, the Assyrians had already crushed everything and everyone in whom King Hezekiah had hoped: Babylon (the great city), Tyre and Sidon (the great economic powers), Hezekiah's Western Alliance (collective security) and military aid from Egypt (Judah's ally in the south). With the Assyrians "at the gate", the conquest of Jerusalem was imminent and inevitable . . . until Hezekiah returned to the way of faith, and prayed (Isaiah 36-37). And Isaiah makes it perfectly clear that this is not mere history, this is type with universal application.

Religious liberty advocates would do well to take Isaiah as their role model. In the midst of an existential political and military crisis, Isaiah obeyed the Lord and approached the king -- first Ahaz, then Hezekiah. A prophetic voice -- as distinct from a negotiator or union representative -- Isaiah spoke truth to power without ever putting his faith in that power or in his diplomacy or the political process or military might or collective security or economic leverage. On the contrary, his faith was always in the Lord alone.

The world has changed and US influence and leverage is not what it used to be. Yet I believe this may yet prove to be providential. Without its "teeth" (economic leverage) the US IRF Act may be released to just equip us with truth uncontaminated by political considerations -- truth that is absolutely essential if we are to "fight" effectively (Ephesians 6:14) and turn back the battle. Meanwhile, after more than a decade of looking to the US for help, the Church might finally return to the way of faith and look once more to the one who really does rule this world: the faithful, Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts. "Blessed are those who wait for him." (Isaiah 30:18)

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Elizabeth Kendal is the Director of Advocacy at Christian Faith and Freedom (Canberra), and the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

THE WEST: heading for "dogmatic tyranny" and "cultural totalitarianism"; UK debates teaching same-sex marriage in schools.

By Elizabeth Kendal

The West today is hurtling down the road towards repressive authoritarianism. For, as Peter Hitchens observes in his fantastic book, The Rage Against God (Zondervan, 2010), "the new anti-theism [that is taking hold in the West] is emphatically not just an opinion seeking its place in a plural society. It is a dogmatic tyranny in the making." (p 206)  

IMPLEMENTING IDEOLOGY

In September 2003, I wrote a Religious Liberty News & Analysis report for the World Evangelical Alliance on Belarus, entitled "Resuscitating the Soviet Machine".

The first part of the posting was devoted to a 27 March 2003 speech by Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenka, in which he declared: "Ideology for a state is what the immune system is for a living organism. If the immune system grows weaker, any infection, even the slightest one, turns deadly."

Lukashenka maintained that the inculcation of an official state-controlled ideology into the country's citizens was essential in order to protect Belarus from "infection".

To this end, Lukashenka recommended that an "official Belarusian ideology" be taught in schools, universities and workplaces, and promoted through the media and the Orthodox Church. Maintaining that dissidents could not be permitted to hold positions of authority or influence, he advised rectors of both state-run and private universities to get rid of professors and lecturers who oppose government policies or are "wavering" in their opinions regarding the government's course.  "If you do not accept the ideas declared by the government and the president, do not apply to a state university for a job," Lukashenka said explicitly. "Before the end of the year [2003], the state of ideological work in colleges, both state and private, should be changed drastically, or else we are going to lose our youth. I could say the same about vocational schools and general-education schools, especially those in Minsk."

Today when I read reports from the UK (example) and USA (example) of Christian educators, health care professionals, service providers and carers being expelled from their positions and dragged through the courts, I can only think of Lukashenka. For these British and American Christians are not being dismissed, expelled, sued, fined, struck off and closed down because of anything they have done. Rather, it is because of what they could not do: generally they could not affirm that all cultures, beliefs or lifestyle choices are equally good.

No Western state has, as yet, moved Belarusian/Soviet-style to formerly codify to implement an official state ideology. However, it is clear that forces with ideological agendas are comprehensively and aggressively yet subversively leading the West in that direction. Their success can be attributed to skilful organisation and propaganda with savvy use of media; and most critically, their devious hijacking of human rights.

Unless there is an awakening and returning, then the day will surely come when the Western world will follow the Belarusian/Soviet model, where no person may qualify for or gain employment as a teacher, professor, nurse, counsellor, doctor, service provider, administrator, supervisor, carer etc, unless they can affirm the official state ideology.

Individuals unable to do so will be deemed unsuitable for certain roles on the grounds that they do not comply with "minimum standards" (example). Institutions that cannot sign up to the state ideology -- something that will doubtless be determined through a registration process -- will likewise be penalised. At the very least they will lose government funding. At worst, they will be deemed illegal and forced to close or move "underground".

To justify the repression, dissenters will be vilified: made the objects of mockery, slander, vitriol and outright disinformation. This in turn will trigger an escalation in crippling discrimination and increasingly violent persecution. And if protecting the human rights of those vilified as backward, hateful, everythingaphobic dissenters is ever deemed politically unviable, then impunity will become the order of the day.

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UK debates teaching same-sex marriage in schools

E-mails between the Home Office and the Department of Education suggest that teaching materials may have to be rewritten to cover same-sex marriage if the law changes to recognise same-sex marriage.

Anna Davis, Education Correspondent for the London Evening Standard reports:  "In March a Home Office official asked the Department for Education whether schools have a legal responsibility to teach about marriage, and how the introduction of same-sex unions would affect this.

"The DfE responded: 'Under section 403 of the Education Act 1996, the Secretary of State must issue guidance designed to secure that when sex education is given to registered pupils at maintained schools, they learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children. Depending on the outcome of the consultation, there may be a need for the Sex and Relationships Education  guidance to include some additional material in respect to same-sex marriage.' "

James Chapman, reports for the Daily Mail (UK): "Officials at the Home Office and the Department for Education concede that teachers may be under a legal obligation to inform children about same-sex marriage once it has passed into law.

"Under the Education Act 1996, pupils must learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life in sex education classes. . .

"Tory MP David Burrowes questioned whether schools will be able to exercise discretion on the subject. 'The issue of same-sex marriage is not just one about equality, but what happens in our school classrooms as well,' he said. 'Teachers should be able to exercise their consciences according to their own views on marriage, but that could well be constrained by these proposals. As much as I am sceptical about the Government being able to exempt churches from conducting same-sex marriages, I also doubt whether it will be possible to construct exemptions for teachers. They would be open to legal challenges. Is the Government really going to order primary school teachers to go against the views of the churches that run them?'

"Colin Hart, campaign director at the Coalition for Marriage, said: 'Marriage appears more than 3,000 times in law, affecting every aspect of our lives. It is simply impossible to redefine it without many serious unintended consequences, not least forcing schools to teach children about gay marriage, even if this goes against the wishes of the parents, children and teachers.' "

According to a senior lawyer, QC Aidan O'Neill, if the law is extended to include same-sex unions, then schools will be forced to promote same-sex marriage to their pupils, and parents with traditional and religious views who oppose same-sex unions, will be "hard-pressed" to remove their children from the classes.

Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern expressed her fears teachers would lose their jobs if they did not want to promote same-sex unions.

Conservative MP Peter Bone has also previously expressed concern for freedom of belief in schools, commenting that: "It is simply inconceivable in today's world where political correctness runs amok in our institutions, that there would not be profound consequences for those who hold traditional views.

"Parents who object will be treated as bigots and outcasts . . . discriminated against and persecuted because they hold views that have been enshrined in our laws and have been the cornerstone of our society for 2,000 years.

"And what of the teachers who object to teaching about same-sex marriage? Will they face disciplinary action? How will it affect their careers?"

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In a brilliant article entitled, The new intolerance (April 2012) -- an article that serves as a perfect introduction to her book, The World Turned Upside Down (Encounter Books, 2010) -- commentator Melanie Phillip's writes: "Unlike Soviet Communism, the mass movements of today are not so much political as cultural: anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, environmentalism, scientism, egalitarianism, anti-racism, libertinism and multiculturalism. These are all not merely quasi-religious movements — evangelical, dogmatic, fanatical and with enforcement mechanisms ranging from demonisation to expulsion in order to stamp out any heresies. They are also millenarian and even apocalyptic in their visions of the perfect society and what needs to be swept aside in order to attain it.

". . . With both Communism and fascism defeated, however, the West has fallen victim to a third variation on the theme: not religious or political but cultural totalitarianism.  . . . Moral and cultural relativism are the order of the day. Any attempt to prioritise any culture or lifestyle over any other is illegitimate. Subjective individualism is the one revealed truth, the old order of Western civilisation has to be destroyed and any dissent is to be stamped out. "

Phillips wonders "what causes militant atheists to hate religious belief so much".

For an answer, she looks to the slogan that atheists promoted in 2009: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

"I think this fatuous slogan gets to the heart of why people have turned away from biblical religion," says Phillips. It's "not because it is irrational but because it puts constraints on their behaviour." 

Peter Hitchens concludes his book, Rage Against God, along the same lines. "A new and intolerant utopianism seeks to drive the remaining traces of Christianity from the laws and constitutions of Europe and North America. This time, it does so mainly in the cause of personal liberation, born in the 1960s cultural revolution, and now inflamed into special rage by suggestion that the sexual urge should be restrained by moral limits or that it should have any necessary connection with procreation. This utopianism relies for human goodness on doctrines of human rights derived from human desires . . . These must then be policed by an ever more powerful state." (p 213-214)

In his March 2003 speech, Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenka denied that ideology was an invention of the Soviet-era Communist Party. "In Western states, the very system of ideological work is concealed from the general public's eye," he stated. "However, it is as comprehensive and aggressive in Western states as Soviet standards, or even more so."

And he is right!

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To follow these issues visit:

UK:
The Christian Institute
Christian Concern
The Christian Legal Centre

USA:
Alliance Defending Freedom (previously known as Alliance Defence Fund), in particular, watch the ADF video (2:36 mins): "In A World Where Marriage Is Redefined Religious Freedom Does Not Survive." (18 June 2012)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Apostasy, and the baptism of Madgi Allam

Date: Friday 4 April 2008
Subj: Religious Liberty: the pivotal issue in these pivotal days.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


RELIGIOUS LIBERTY: THE PIVOTAL ISSUE IN THESE PIVOTAL DAYS
-- Apostasy, and the baptism of Madgi Allam


Historically the outcome of pivotal moments in Christian-Muslim relations have been determined by military might: the Arab Muslim conquest of the Byzantine Jerusalem (AD 638); the Arab Muslim conquest of Byzantine Heliopolis, Egypt (AD 640); the Ottoman Muslim conquest of Byzantine Serbian Kosovo (1389); the Ottoman Muslim capture of the capital of Byzantium, Constantinople (1453); the European victory over the Ottomans in the Battle of Vienna (1683); the Serb reconquest of Kosovo (1913); the Allied victory over the Ottomans in WW1 (1919); the Allied victory over the Muslim-Nazi Alliance in WW2 (1945); the NATO-enabled Muslim re-reconquest of Kosovo (1998-2008) . These battles and many others like them demonstrated who was ascendant and determined who was in control.

For several decades now the West has been advancing global openness through its revolution in communication and information technologies. But openness poses an existential threat to repressive dictatorships, corrupt systems and false religions. Now, in a fight for their survival, repressive dictatorships, corrupt systems and false religions are seeking to protect themselves by rolling back liberties and erecting bulwarks: repressing information and punishing dissent.

Because Islam is a global as distinct from a local phenomenon, the apostaphobic dictators of Islam are of necessity forced to pursue not only a revival of repressive, punitive Sharia in Muslim countries, but the extension of Sharia beyond the Muslim world and into the international arena through the Islamisation of human rights and laws. To this end, they use the threat of "uncontrollable" Islamic violence as leverage. (See LINK 1)

Today we are again at a pivotal moment in Christian-Muslim and Western-Muslim relations. However this time the outcome is not going to be determined by military might, but on the strength of moral and ideological convictions. Unfortunately, that is exactly why the West is in danger, for while Islam is weak militarily it is strong on conviction, the West is strong militarily but weak on conviction. The West will either buckle, surrender and submit, handing Islam the ascendancy, or it will brace itself and stand firm for what it believes (if in fact it can remember what that is).

By his very public Easter baptism of the high profile Egypt-born Italian journalist and Muslim convert to Catholicism, Magdi Allam, Pope Benedict has made a decisive and very courageous statement in defence of religious liberty, specifically a Muslim's right to convert.

Meanwhile back in Egypt, as the Great Apostasy Debate heats up, the Supreme Constitutional Court has been asked to rule on whether civil laws permitting religious freedom violate Article 2 of the Constitution which specifies that Islam is the religion of the State, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia). See report by Compass Direct:
"Egypt: Ex-Muslims Blocked from Declaring Conversion", 26 March 2008.

THE BAPTISM OF MAGDI ALLAM

 Magdi Allam is the deputy director of the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera. As a professing but nominal Muslim, Allam wrote many pieces that were critical of Islam and supportive of Israel. Because of this, Allam has received death threats and had fatwas issued against him, requiring him to live under police protection for the past five years.

The terrorism he has witnessed and the persecution he has suffered drove him to re-examine Islam and to reassess Christianity, especially after Pope Benedict's September 2006 address at Regensburg, which highlighted the unreasonableness of violence in religion.

Magdi Allam testifies: "Thus, I finally saw the light, by divine grace -- the healthy fruit of a long, matured gestation, lived in suffering and joy, together with intimate reflection and conscious and manifest expression . . . The miracle of Christ's resurrection reverberated through my soul, liberating it from the darkness . . . " (For Magdi Allam's testimony, see LINK 2)

Magdi Allam was baptised by Pope Benedict XVI in St Peter's on Easter Saturday during the Easter vigil. (LINK 3)

For PICTURES (with Italian text):
La conversione di Magdi Allam fa il giro del mondo.
23 Marzo 2008

Numerous Islamic scholars immediately condemned the event. Aref Ali Nayed, director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan, criticised what he called "the Vatican's deliberate and provocative act of baptising Allam on such a special occasion and in such a spectacular way. It is sad," said Nayed, "that the intimate and personal act of a religious conversion is made into a triumphalist tool for scoring points." Nayed opined that this would negatively impact Christian-Muslim dialogue, and called on the Vatican to "distance itself from Allam's discourse". (LINK 4)

Yahya Pallavicini, a Milanese imam who is the vice-president of Italy's Islamic Religious Community, patronisingly described Allam's baptism "as an 'honest intellectual mistake' that had been committed with the complicity of the Vatican". Pallavicini told Italy's Adnkronos International (AKI) that he was embarrassed by the Pope's "indelicate choice of advisors" -- as if the Pope is without authority or lacking discernment and is vulnerable to the machinations of cunning Islamophobic conspirators! (LINK 5)

AKI reported: "Pallavicini agreed with Nayed in his attack on the baptism saying it put at risk the dialogue between Muslims and Christians." The implication is that Christian-Muslim dialogue can only proceed if the Church agrees to honour Islam's claim to life-long legal ownership of the hearts and minds and bodies of all Muslims irrespective of the individual's basic human right to believe according to his/her reason and conscience. Such a caveat leaves little space for meaningful dialogue.

Like Nayed and Pallavicini, Italy's deputy foreign minister for Middle East affairs, Ugo Intini, also criticised Allam's "very harsh condemnation" of Islam and called on the Vatican "after the emphasis given to Allam's conversion, to distance itself clearly from his statements".

However, the Vatican made it very clear that the Church not only believes in the religious liberty of all people (including Muslims), it also believes in the liberty of its members.

As Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi noted, Magdi Allam "has the right to express his own ideas. They remain his personal opinions without in any way becoming the official expression of the positions of the pope or the Holy See . . . believers are free to maintain their own ideas on a vast range of questions and problems on which legitimate pluralism exists among Christians. Welcoming a new believer into the church clearly does not mean espousing all that person's ideas and opinions, especially on political and social matters." (LINK 6)

"THE RISK OF THIS BAPTISM"

According to Father Lombardi "the pope accepted the risk of this baptism" in order "to affirm the freedom of religious choice which derives from the dignity of the human person".

According to his testimony, which is written in the form of a letter to the director of Corriere della Sera, Paolo Mieli, Magdi Allam accepted the risk of this baptism for the same reason.

"Dear Director, you asked me whether I fear for my life, in the awareness that conversion to Christianity will certainly procure for me yet another, and much more grave, death sentence for apostasy. You are perfectly right. I know what I am headed for but I face my destiny with my head held high, standing upright and with the interior solidity of one who has the certainty of his faith. And I will be more so after the courageous and historical gesture of the Pope, who, as soon has he knew of my desire, immediately agreed to personally impart the Christian sacraments of initiation to me. His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytising in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.

"For my part, I say that it is time to put an end to the abuse and the violence of Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice. In Italy there are thousands of converts to Islam who live their new faith in peace. But there are also thousands of Muslim converts to Christianity who are forced to hide their faith out of fear of being assassinated by Islamic extremists who lurk among us. By one of those 'fortuitous events' that evoke the discreet hand of the Lord, the first article that I wrote for the Corriere on Sept. 3, 2003 was entitled 'The new Catacombs of Islamic Converts'. It was an investigation of recent Muslim converts to Christianity in Italy who decry their profound spiritual and human solitude in the face of absconding state institutions that do not protect them and the silence of the Church itself. Well, I hope that the Pope's historical gesture and my testimony will lead to the conviction that the moment has come to leave the darkness of the catacombs and to publicly declare their desire to be fully themselves. If in Italy, in our home, the cradle of Catholicism, we are not prepared to guarantee complete religious freedom to everyone, how can we ever be credible when we denounce the violation of this freedom elsewhere in the world? I pray to God that on this special Easter he give the gift of the resurrection of the spirit to all the faithful in Christ who have until now been subjugated by fear."

THE POWER OF FAITH

Of all the commentary on this event, none has been more powerful or perceptive than that written by "Spengler" of Asia Times on-Line. Spengler's piece entitled "The mustard seed in global strategy" can be found at LINK 7 and is a "must read" piece.

Spengler describes the baptism of Allam as a "revolution in world affairs . . begun in the heart of one man".

He writes: "Osama bin Laden recently accused [Pope] Benedict of plotting a new crusade against Islam, and instead finds something far more threatening: faith the size of a mustard seed that can move mountains . . .

"Magdi Allam presents an existential threat to Muslim life, whereas other prominent dissidents, for example Ayaan Hirsi Ali, offer only an annoyance . . Why would Muslims trade the spiritual vacuum of Islam for the spiritual sewer of Dutch hedonism? The souls of Muslims are in agony. The blandishments of the decadent West offer them nothing but shame and deracination. Magdi Allam agrees with his former co-religionists in repudiating the degraded culture of the modern West, and offers them something quite different: a religion founded upon love."

Spengler is correct when he writes: "If the Church fights for the safety of converts, they will emerge from the nooks and crannies of Muslim communities in Europe."

While governments may waver and even fail, the Church must stand firm in faith irrespective of the cost, and advance according to the word of God: "'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts." (Zechariah 4:6 ESV).

-- Elizabeth Kendal

LINKS

1) OIC: Eliminating "defamation" of Islam.
By Elizabeth Kendal, 25 March 2008
ALSO
Religious Liberty Trends 2007-2008
(Apostasy, Apostaphobia and Postmodernism)

2) Magdi Allam Recounts His Path to Conversion
http://www.zenit.org/rssenglish-22151

3) Pope baptizes prominent Italian Muslim
By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press Writer Sat 22 March 2008.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080322/ap_on_re_eu/pope_muslim_convert

4) Scholar denounces Muslim baptism. BBC 26 March 2008
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7313870.stm

5) Italy: Islamist website attacks Vatican baptism. 26 March2008
http://www.adnkronos.com/AKI/English/Religion/?id=1.0.2008599217
Muslim Scholar Denounces Vatican Baptism
By FRANCES D'EMILIO – 26 march 2008
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jmjHmHDjMG4Qhj3beZWc-IXP2bOQD8VKJV683

6) Vatican: Muslim convert has right to express his own ideas
By Cindy Wooden. 28 March 2008
http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=27354

7) The mustard seed in global strategy
By Spengler, 26 March 2008
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/JC26Aa01.html

Friday, February 15, 2008

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY TRENDS 2007-2008

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY TRENDS 2007-2008
- Apostasy, Apostaphobia and postmodernism
- The New Cold War, and its implications for religious liberty

- and A WORD ON THE MIDDLE EAST

This WEA RLC annual Religious Liberty Trends posting will focus on two global trends:
1) apostasy, apostaphobia, and postmodernism;
2) the New Cold War.
Most localised trends, tensions, repressions and "hot" conflicts are actually expressions or symptoms of these two global trends.

Apostaphobia may be defined as a consuming, well-founded fear of loss of adherents, which manifests primarily as zealous, uncompromising repression and denial of fundamental liberties -- in particular the right to convert -- by violent and subversive means.

While the section on apostasy, apostaphobia, and postmodernism focuses entirely on the phenomenon of Muslim apostates and the apostaphobia of the dictators of Islam, the issue of apostaphobia also applies to India's dictators of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) who are behind the unprecedented, severe and escalating persecution of Christians in India. For while apostaphobic dictators claim that their apostaphobia is driven by a noble concern for national security and religious purity, tradition and (ironically) "liberty", apostaphobia is actually driven by political ambition and the lure of empowerment through religion. That is why apostaphobia manifests almost exclusively amongst leaders and beneficiaries of sects or organisations that do not separate religion and politics: Islam, Hindutva and various other religious-nationalist forces.

The main focus of this posting, however, is the New Cold War that coming upon us and is set to have a profound and negative impact on global religious liberty. The trend is going to be for persecution and repression to get a whole lot worse. An 800-word summary entitled "Not by might, nor by power" has been written for the March-May edition of the Australian Evangelical Alliance quarterly magazine, Working Together, which will be available on-line at from mid-March.

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APOSTASY, APOSTAPHOBIA, & POSTMODERNISM
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In 1989 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) crushed pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. The brutality of this repression shook multitudes of Chinese from their apathy and drove them -- particularly students, intellectuals and professionals -- to reassess atheistic Communism and the CCP's dictatorship. Widespread disillusionment led to widespread rejection of CCP repression and a significant turning to Christ amongst the Chinese elite.

Similarly, globalisation and the revolution in information and communication technologies have exposed Muslims to the reality of Islamic terrorism (such as 9/11), repression (particularly of women), barbarism (such as in public executions), backwardness (widespread poverty and illiteracy, destruction of schools), propaganda and lies (as weapons of war) and irrational hysteria (such as was displayed in the Cartoon Intifada of February 2006). This has shaken many Muslims from their apathy and driven them -- particularly students, intellectuals and professionals -- to examine their religion and reassess their faith. Just as in China, widespread disillusionment is leading to apostasy and a not-insignificant turning to Christ amongst the Muslim elite.

Presently the exodus from Islam is little more than a trickle, but that is because the dam that holds back the masses is built primarily of fear. One of the most phenomenal trends of 2007 was the eruption into the open and onto the world stage, not of the issue of apostasy (for religious liberty advocates have been raising the issue for years) but of apostates themselves.

The apostates who are courageously stepping out of shadows and into the open to pursue their right to religious liberty with security are fighting their own fear in the hope that if their fear can be conquered it will be one less brick in the dam wall.

APOSTATES STAND UP

Increasingly, refugees and immigrants from the Muslim world are apostasising in the West. Furthermore, though apostasy may be costly, some European ex-Muslims are summoning the courage to stand up and speak up for their rights.

The German Council of Ex-Muslims was founded in March 2007, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain was founded in June 2007, and similar organisations also exist in Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

In the Netherlands, the Central Committee for Ex-Muslims was launched on 11 September 2007. The group's founder, Ehsan Jami (22) explained to the media: "Sharia schools say that they will kill the ones who leave Islam. In the West people get threatened, thrown out of their family, beaten up. In Islam you are born Muslim. You do not even choose to be Muslim. We want that to change, so that people are free to choose who they want to be and what they want to believe in." (Link 1)

Concerning the 9/11 launch date, Mr Jami said, "We chose the date because we want to make a clear statement that we no longer tolerate the intolerance of Islam."

Violence and death threats have forced Mr Jami into hiding. Between May 2007, when he announced his plans for the Committee, and August 2007, Mr Jami was violently attacked by Muslim fundamentalists on three separate occasions.

While declaring oneself an "ex-Muslim" in the free West may be dangerous and costly, making that declaration in the Arab Muslim heartland has historically been suicidal. Despite this, on 2 August 2007 Mohammad Hegazi became the first Egyptian born-Muslim to sue Egypt's Interior Ministry for his fundamental human right to leave Islam and follow the religion of his choice (Christianity). That the 'Great Apostasy Debate' should erupt into the open in the Arab world, in the Islamic heartland, is simply phenomenal. (Link 2)

APOSTAPHOBIA

In his pre-Islamic days (pre AD 622) Muhammad was a sincere and passionate religious reformer motivated by a deep respect for the local Jews and Christians. In vain he called the polytheistic Arabs to turn from their idolatry and sought recognition as a prophet from the Jews and Christians. The Arabs rejected and persecuted him, and the Jews and Christians rejected and refused to recognise him. But unlike the prophets in whose footsteps he claimed to be following, Muhammad refused to suffer rejection. His response was to compromise his message by absorbing and Islamising pre-Islamic Arabian religion (which made it easier for the Arabs to submit to him) whilst mandating death for polytheism (a threat that made it even easier still!). Then, to ensure that rejection would no longer be an option, he mandated death for blasphemy and apostasy. Islam and the dictators of Islam have been protected by these means for 1400 years.

Lying at the very heart of the efforts of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) to "combat defamation of religion" (specifically Islam) is not a commitment to truth, tolerance or peace, but the fact that the dictators of Islam are now as ever consumed with and driven by "apostaphobia". (Link 3)

A spiritual battle for the Muslim world has commenced in earnest. As apostasy advances, the apostaphobic dictators of Islam will intensify persecution with the aim of consolidating fear to stem the flow. The battle will be costly and bloody, especially in the Middle East where US influence is waning and Iran is fast becoming the new hegemon.

The Church must give its full and active support to these courageous apostates regardless of the cost. The Western world has for far too long been turning its back on Islam's victims -- apostates, women, persecuted minorities (especially dhimmis: Jews and Christians under Islamic subjugation) -- choosing instead, short-term political and economic geo-strategic gains to the detriment of justice and long-term security.

Even in the Church, Islam's victims, in particular persecuted and subjugated Christians, are frequently rejected, betrayed and abandoned by Christians pursuing comfortable stress-free, feel-good religion; as well as by those pursuing appeasement or rapprochement with Islam at any cost.

Surely the greatest threat to the nations and churches and individuals who abandon the Lord's children, comes not just from the hostile forces they empower, but from the Father of the suffering Church, the Almighty Lord God himself. For in all their affliction, he too is afflicted (Isaiah 63:9; Matthew 25:45). We cannot reject, betray and abandon the suffering Church and expect God to sympathise with our duplicity.

"Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see? He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke?" (Psalm 94:8-10 ESV)

POSTMODERNISM

Due to globalisation and the revolution in communication and information technologies, it is now easier to spread news, information and the gospel around the world than ever before. One would think it is just a matter of time before light conquers darkness and truth is victorious!

However, as noted earlier, this is a spiritual battle, and so we should not be surprised to find that a spiritual counter-offensive has been launched. Just as an era of irreversible, irresistible openness has come upon the world, the West, including much of the Church, is submitting to the spirit of the age: postmodernism, which specifically targets truth. As the world opens up to truth, the post-modern church abandons it, or at least abandons its claim to it. Not only does postmodernism cripple evangelism, but because post-modern Christians believe truth is relative, they have a really hard time supporting or even caring about Christians who are prepared to suffer and die for it. The devil is such a cunning adversary.

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THE NEW COLD WAR: IMPLICATIONS FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
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After World War Two, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO, ) was created to protect Western Europe from Communist imperialism. The socialist states responded by creating their own military treaty: the Warsaw Pact. A Cold War raged between the two nuclear-armed blocs for nearly half-a-century.

When Communism fell and the Cold War ended (1989-1991) there was great optimism that swords could now be beat into ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4b) -- that an age of global peace, harmony and friendship had dawned. Alas, it was not to be, for sin and human weakness still reigned and the Soviet Union's transition was totally bungled by both Russia and America.

The break up of the Soviet Union (1991) and the devastating collapse of the Russian economy left America as the world's only superpower. The Warsaw Pact dissolved, but NATO remained and pursued eastward expansion. And while America ruled the world (so to speak), Russia transitioned from superpower to gangster-capitalist oligarchy to rising siloviki state.

(The siloviki are mostly former-KGB and military officers who, as the state and socialist system were collapsing, quietly enriched themselves whilst infiltrating every aspect of society, including the democracy and reform movements, with the aim of eventually restoring themselves to power.)

Upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia's borders were rolled back almost overnight to roughly where they were in 1613. Islam quickly exploited this unprecedented opportunity and inserted itself into the newly open, chaotic, impoverished spaces. Islamic missionaries bearing oil money from the Gulf were welcomed, as were trained, battle-hardy mujahideen from Afghanistan who adopted the various nationalist struggles (before converting them into Islamic jihads!). Before long, southern Russia, western China and Central Asia were being seriously threatened by imperialistic Islamic revolutionary and terrorist forces.

In response, China, Russia and Central Asia established the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO ), ostensibly for friendship, trade, solidarity and co-operation in security issues, but also and increasingly as a buffer against Western pressure and sanctions.

It is very difficult, especially when you have limited facilities and institutions and all you know is heavy-handedness, to counter Islamic revolutionary and terrorist forces without upsetting Western sensibilities. The task is made all the more difficult because Islamic revolutionary and terrorist forces, being militarily weak, routinely use human shields along with lies and propaganda to manipulate the Western media in order to extract concessions and even co-opt assistance from the West.

(Vietnam's Communists perfected this form of psychological warfare in the early 1970s and shared it with the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation). It has since been used to great effect by Islamic groups from Netzarim, Jenin and Beirut in the Middle East; to Gorazde, Srebrenica and Racak in the Balkans, and in May 2005 to Andijan in the Central Asian state of Uzbekistan (re Andijan, see link 4).)

In summary: no sooner had the Cold War ended, than the nations of the world were shuffling into new blocs. We are now headed for a New Cold War, this time with a triangular formation of three blocs: NATO (or US+EU+allies), the SCO and the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference, . This bloc also includes those sub-Saharan African states that, while not OIC members, have sold their independence to Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi).

Despite the competition inside each bloc -- America vs Europe (NATO), Russia vs China (SCO), Sunni vs Shi'ite (OIC) -- each bloc is committed to consolidating its power and expanding its sphere of influence.

IMPLICATIONS FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

The OIC and SCO blocs represent not only the world's most repressive regimes but the world's most energy-rich states. As these blocs consolidate, the influence of the US -- which leads the world's bloc of liberal democracies -- declines. Bolstered by their alliances and their power (wielded increasingly through control of oil and gas), repressive regimes now have little motivation to yield to US pressure to improve religious liberty or increase openness.

Furthermore, as NATO continues its eastward expansion, all the while criticising and shaming the SCO states for their short-comings with regard to democracy and human rights, the SCO states are increasingly viewing America and NATO (which is normally viewed as a vehicle to advance American hegemony) as competitive and hostile. This fuels a vicious cycle of tension and suspicion, which is resulting in an escalation in persecution of Protestants (and Catholics) in SCO states -- states which only a decade ago were pursuing reform and seeking American rapprochement.

Meanwhile, Islam is not only consolidating, but lining up behind its new hegemon: Iran. As US influence wanes in the Middle East, the Balkans and in Asia, Muslim leadership will no longer have the motivation to pursue moderation or reform, or to restrain hostile Islamic forces. The degree to which evangelicals in the Middle East and the Balkans have been tolerated and protected for purposes of public relations and propaganda may soon become evident.

One of the greatest tragedies of our times is that after the fall of Communism, the Russian parliament was still dominated by Communist die-hards who were able to pull strings and spoil reforms; while US policy remained influenced by anti-Russian sentiment and "Russia experts" for whom Communism and Russia were forever synonymous. This ensured that post-Communist Russia continued to be treated as a threat. The opportunity for the rapprochement that could have neutralised Islam was lost.

America vs Russia tensions are particularly problematic in those regions where the interests of the OIC, the SCO and NATO (or US+EU) compete: in particular the "non-aligned" religious fault-line regions of the Balkans and the South Caucuses. NATO got its foothold in the Balkans at the expense of the Serbian Orthodox southern Slavs (natural allies of Russia's Orthodox Slavs) by empowering Iran, Saudi and al-Qaeda backed Islamic terrorist and separatist forces -- the mutual enemy of the NATO and SCO states. US competitive zeal for markets and hegemony can sometimes be so intense that it overrides all considerations regarding long-term global security. Likewise, Russia got a foothold in West-leaning Georgia by supporting Muslim ethnic separatism in the autonomous (self-declared independent) province of Abkhazia.

But empowering Islamic and separatist forces in those religious fault-line regions benefits only Islam. It certainly does not bring any benefit to the "pawns" in this New Great Game. Abkhazia, Georgia and Kosovo, Serbia are both occupied (Abkhazia by Russia; Kosovo by NATO/EU), havens for organised crime, threatened by Islamic fundamentalism (Chechen and KLA respectively), and as a consequence are economic no-go zones, dependent on foreign aid and "peacekeeping" forces. Because of this, the largest European IDP (Internally Displaced People) populations are Serbian and Georgian. (Along with some 508,000 refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, Serbia also has some 246,000 IDPs from Kosovo; while Georgia has some 243,200 IDPs from Abkhazia). (UNHCR and ECRE)

Eventually the citizens of these "liberated" yet unviable micro-states (Abkhazia and Kosovo -- for starters) will end up with less rights and prospects than they ever had as Muslim ethnic minorities in secular states. This idiocy is all driven by New Cold War politics, and Islam and ethnic separatism are the only real winners. (Rather than waging jihads, today's militarily weak Islam is spreading and consolidating by means of predatory migrations followed by Muslim ethnic separatism and irredentism. They win over the West with propaganda and talk of rights, liberty and democracy. They are having great success.)

Meanwhile, the OIC bloc has managed to get its resolution "Combating Defamation of Religions" passed in the UN General Assembly by a recorded vote of 108 in favour to 51 against, with 25 abstentions. This was of course thanks to the support of the anti-American SCO bloc which is made up of states that, considering the Islamic terror that snaps at their heels, should know better. (Link 5)

As the three blocs consolidate, the only way to tackle the threat of Islamic imperialism will be for the NATO and SCO blocs to stop competing and start co-operating: militarily, politically and economically, for the sake of our mutual interest -- long-term global security.

A WORD ON THE MIDDLE EAST

On 29 January 2008, Stratfor Intelligence (Geopolitical Diary) stated: "Al Qaeda, the reason for being involved in the region [the Middle East] in the first place, is essentially dead. The various Sunni Arab powers that made al Qaeda possible have lined up behind Washington. Iran and the United States may still wish to quibble over details, but the strategic picture is clearing: a US-led coalition is going to shape the Middle East, and it is up to Iran whether it wants to play the role of that coalition's spear or its target."

This is one occasion where I find myself in strong disagreement with Stratfor. First, I do not believe that al Qaeda is "dead". Secondly, I do not accept that the Sunni Arab powers are "lined up behind Washington". Just because Arab sheiks and princes shake hands with President Bush and buy American weapons doesn't necessarily mean they are "lined up behind Washington". For while Washington has been courting the Sunni Arabs, the Sunni Arabs have been courting Iran.

On 3-4 December 2007, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the first foreign leader to attend the summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in Doha, Qatar (a US ally). Arab journalist Omran Salman comments on the significance of this event by noting that the GCC (which comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) was "founded in 1981 with the fundamental goal of standing up to the danger presented by Iran to the states of the region . . ." (MEMRI: Link 6)

Salman also notes that in December 2007, "Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz . . . hastened to send an official invitation to Ahmadinejad to perform the hajj and thus become the first Iranian president to perform the hajj while still in office . . . It doesn't take much to see," says Salman, "that all this is a result of the uneasiness felt by the Gulf regimes friendly to the US at Iran's increasing power and the US's retreating power." (Further reporting, see link 7)

Salman also comments on US powerlessness vis-a-vis Syrian belligerence in Lebanon, and on the restoration of relations between Egypt (another US ally) and Iran, a relationship that was severed in 1979 on account of Egypt's commitment to peace with Israel, Egypt's apprehension over Iran's Shi'ite Islamic Revolution, and Egypt's distrust of Iran's regional intentions. Today however, the first high level talks in 30 years are under way and the full restoration of diplomatic ties may be imminent. (Further reporting see link 8)

Most significantly, Salman reports that while Ali Larijani, the representative of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, was in Egypt in December he met with various Arab leaders including Arab League Secretary-General 'Amr Moussa, who "urged the Arabs to begin consulting and co-operating with Iran, emphasising that expanding the relations between the two sides is something that is 'necessary and efficacious'. Likewise, Moussa spoke strongly about the importance of Arab-Iranian co-operation in order to deal with the sensitive situation in the region . . ." (MEMRI: Link 6)

I personally agree with Omar Salman's assessment that an era of Iranian hegemony in the Middle East is upon us. As was explained and forecast in the WEA RLC Trends 2006-2007 posting entitled "Shi'ite Ascendancy" (link 9), the Shi'ites are seducing the Sunnis and uniting the sects through violence against Israel. They started this process in 2006, using Hezballah (Shi'ite proxy of Iran) in Lebanon and Hamas (Sunni, but sponsored by Iran) in Gaza. While this is obviously bad news for Israel, it is also bad news for the Christians of the Middle East, because eventually this violence will target them as well, especially as US influence wanes -- or departs. For as the old Muslim war-cry goes: "Baad a- Sabt biji Yom al-Ahad" ("After Saturday comes Sunday", meaning, after we deal with the Jews we'll deal with the Christians).

While Sunnis and Shi'ites are traditionally enemies, we must never underestimate the ability of Sunni and Shi'ite fundamentalists to unite for the purpose of advancing Islam; they have done so in Chechnya against the Russians and in Bosnia and Kosovo against the Serbs; they are doing so in the Middle East against Israel and will do so against Middle Eastern Christians when "Sunday" comes.

Yes, the Sunni Arab states are lining up, but it is behind apocalyptic Iran. According to terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky (Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy 1, 2008), the US President has lined up behind Iran too, in order to cut a deal whereby the US will not challenge Iranian hegemony in Iraq and the wider region, in exchange for Iran's guarantee that the US can have an honourable exit from Iraq (one resembling "achievement").

Since the reported November 2007 deal, the violence in Iraq has diminished, Iran's nuclear program has been deemed non-threatening, the Sunni Arabs have lined up behind Iran, and Ahmadinejad has purged his cabinet.

With the Muslim bloc consolidating behind Iran it is difficult to see how Mohammed Hegazi (an Egyptian apostate) can secure religious liberty for Egypt. His courageous stand will, however, raise awareness of freedom and justice issues, further expose Islamic repression and violence, and doubtless will be used by God to generate many more apostates who will be in great need of prayer and refuge.

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A CLOSING WORD

As noted earlier, when the Cold War (1989-1991) ended there was great optimism that swords could now be beat into ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4b) and that an age of global peace, harmony and friendship may have dawned.

It is interesting to note, however, that in the Isaiah passage (Isaiah 2:1-5) the changed social order is not the means to a changed spiritual order; rather the changed social order is the result of a changed spiritual order.

We are entering dark days where war and persecution of the Church are set to escalate markedly. But regardless of what is happening in this world, God is still sovereign, his promises still stand, the Church is still his instrument and prayer and mission-preaching-witness are still his appointed means.

'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts' (Zechariah 4:6 ESV).

Elizabeth Kendal
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

Links

1) A New Brand of Nonbelievers
In a Divided Europe, Ex-Muslims Want to Be Heard. 17 Sept 2007
http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=3607887&page=1
picture: Chairman of the Dutch Ex-Muslim committee Ehsan Jami (22) holds up a red t-shirt that reads "I am an ex-Muslim too".
For full text see print version: http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=3607887
ALSO
Young Muslims begin dangerous fight for the right to abandon faith
11 Sept 2007
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article2426314.ece

2) Compass Direct News
Egypt : Muslim Sues for Right to Convert to Christianity 7 Aug 2007
Egypt : Convert in Hiding after Lawyer Backs Out 8 Aug 2007
Egypt : Islamists Join Case against Convert to Christianity 10 Oct 2007
Egypt : In Hiding, Convert Continues Fight for Rights 15 Nov 2007
Egypt : Tempers Flare into Melee at Convert’s Hearing 25 Jan 2008
Egypt : Court Rules Against Convert 31 Jan 2008
ALSO
Hegazi case: Islam's obsession with conversions
by Samir Khalil Samir sj, 29 Aug 2007
http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=10161

3) UN Human Rights Council: Watershed days.
- UNHRC to choose between defending human rights and Islamising human rights.
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal. 17 Sep 2007
http://www.worldevangelicals.org/commissions/rlc/reports/articles.htm?id=1411

4) Uzbekistan: A new wave of serious persecution may be just beginning.
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal. 23 March 2007
http://www.ea.org.au/default.aspx?id=17ce4361-b6bc-43b2-b19c-50adbc92ab36

5) UN General Assembly adopts resolution against defamation of religions
20 December 2007
http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2007/12/un-general-assembly-adopts-resolution.php

6) Editor of Liberal Arab Website Aafaq: The Era of Iranian Hegemony in the Middle East Is Upon Us. 21 January 2008. Special Dispatch Series - No. 1817
http://www.memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP181708

7) Ahmadinejad invited to be pilgrim. 13 Dec 2007
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7141994.stm
ALSO
Abdullah, Ahmadinejad Hold Wide-Ranging Talks. 21 Dec 2007
http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=104858&d=21&m=12&y=2007

8) Iran and Egypt 'to restore ties'. BBC, 28 Jan 2008
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7213093.stm
ALSO
Iranian rapprochement
Al-Ahram, 31 January - 6 February 2008, Issue No. 882
http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2008/882/eg4.htm

9) RL Trend: Shiite Ascendancy.
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal. 5 Feb 2007
http://www.worldevangelicals.org/news/view.htm?id=892

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

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TREND: SHIITE ASCENDANCY
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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

Monday, January 6, 2003

Religious Liberty 2003

Date: Monday 6 January 2003
Subj: Religious Liberty 2003
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


Lack of religious freedom has always been an issue in Islam; however, the advance of the Islamic renewal movement and Islamic militancy has accentuated this. The rise of Hindutva over the past decade now extends to alleged government complicity in religious violence, and, in parts of India, anti-conversion legislation. Likewise the rise of Buddhist nationalism and militancy, which has lead to increased persecution, may soon extend to anti-conversion legislation being introduced in Sri Lanka.

On top of this there is the rise of Orthodox nationalism in some parts of Eastern Europe that is seeing increased hostility demonstrated towards the non-Orthodox, and the threat from the Government of Israel to make Israel a "Jewish Democracy" with increasing proposed restrictions on non-Jews living in the land.

What is most surprising is that religious freedom is being denigrated in the West by people who enjoy it, expect it as their right and take it for granted.

A NEGATIVE PERSPECTIVE

An article printed in the New York Times on 31 December 2002 entitled "With Missionaries Spreading, Muslims' Anger is Following" By Susan Sachs, was written in response to the murder of three Christian workers in the Jibla Baptist Hospital in Yemen.

Sachs says, as "evangelical Christian emissaries" have spread throughout the world they have provoked anger. She cites the shooting murders of Bonnie Penner Weatherall in Lebanon (Nov 2002) and Dr. Martha Myers, William Koehn, Kathleen Gariety in Yemen (Dec 2002) and the burning of Graham, Philip and Timothy Stains in India (Jan 1999), as examples.

Sachs displays little sympathy and goes on to say, "Christian missionaries have been active across much of the Muslim Middle East for hundreds of years, at least as far back as the Crusades." In this one sentence that reeks of ignorance, she establishes Christians in the minds of her readers as white, aggressive, foreign invaders. Is she really ignorant of the fact that Christianity originated IN and spread FROM the Middle East in the first century AD or is this deliberate and provocative anti-Christian disinformation?

Sachs also notes, "But successive generations of missionaries found that proselytising to Muslims was a dangerous business. Under Muslim law, conversion from Islam is punishable by death." Yet she states this with absolutely NO judgement, as if it is merely an acceptable cultural practise that should be respected, not a shocking breach of fundamental human rights.

Sachs, who refers to the Southern Baptist Convention as "a proselytising sect", then and paints a picture of Christian workers ("missionaries") as those who use allurement and even deception to ensnare and convert children, the sick and the poor, with a total disregard for the law of the land.

A POSITIVE PERSPECTIVE

The very next day, however, the New York Times printed an article from Jibla, Yemen, that gave a totally different perspective. Associated Press writer Salah Nasrawi writes from Jibla, "For many here, the American missionaries at a Baptist hospital here were not seen as Christian intruders in a Muslim land, but as friends to the residents of this poor town in the rugged hills of southern Yemen"

Nasrawi then relays testimonies from among the numerous Yemenis grieving the loss of their dear friends who delivered their babies, treated their ills and visited profusely. (Link 1 - a must read!)

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY UNDER ATTACK

Sachs' disdain for slain "missionaries" issue reminds me of a comment by Kate Clark, correspondent in Afghanistan for the BBC at the time of the arrest of the eight foreign Shelter Now aid workers.

Kate Clark comments in a 25 August 2001 article entitled "Modern missionaries", that both Islam and Christianity are "proselytising faiths". She then gives an account of the pressure that was put on her to convert to Islam while she was working in the Middle East.

Clark however, is unruffled and non-judgemental. As someone who clearly understands, accepts and respects the principal of religious freedom, Clark has no qualms about proselytising. She appears to respect the believer's right to exercise their religion, knowing she is free to accept or reject it.

However, in regards to Christian proselytism and the Western reaction towards the arrest of the Shelter Now workers she notes, "What's ironic is how little sympathy any potential Christian missionary receives in the West in the year 2001. Generally, it seems that if the Shelter Now employees had been arrested for being gay or trying to improve women's lives - like carrying out clandestine literacy classes - there would be far more outrage at their arrests." (Link 2 - another must read!)

There is little doubt that the issue of religious liberty will play an increasingly significant role in domestic and international politics in 2003 and beyond. It will be interesting to see how the Western world, with its rich Christian heritage and ethic, manages to defend religious liberty now it so "enlightened" and driven by secularism.

As Johannes Aagaard wrote in 1982, "The days of 'missio triumfans' have passed and the days of 'missio pressa' have come." (footnote 1).

Philip Jenkins, in his book, "The next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity", suggests that a future Christendom may define itself not by ideological harmony or by political alliances, but simply along the lines of "its unity against a common outside threat" (footnote 2).

Maybe the Church is truly coming full-circle.

Welcome to 2003.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Washington Post (also printed in New York Times)
"Yemeni Town Mourns U.S. Missionaries", by Salah Nasrawi
Associated Press Writer. 31 December 2002.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A59814-2002Dec31

2) BBC News Online
"Modern missionaries", Kate Clark, 25 August 2001 UK
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/from_our_own_correspondent/1508120.
stm

Footnotes

1) Quote from page 61,"Believing in the Future: Towards a Missiology
of Western Culture." By David J. Bosch, Trinity Press International
1995. Bosch quotes Aagaard's "The Soft Age Has Gone." 1982

2) Quote from page 190, "The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global
Christianity." By Philip Jenkins, Oxford University Press 2002