Thursday, July 14, 2016

Middle East Crisis Entirely Predictable

Sir John Chilcot right to say hindsight not required
by Elizabeth Kendal

How often do you hear it said that the current crisis in Middle East is “unprecedented”?

Despite being routinely parroted by our political, academic and media elites, this assertion is absolutely false.

Those who make this claim are either embarrassingly ignorant of history, or desperate to excuse their utter cluelessness and/or deflect criticism from their catastrophic policy failures.

Surely one of the most pivotal sentences in the 150 page executive summary of Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry is one found on page 129 under the heading “Lessons”, subheading “The decision to go to war”, in paragraph 828: “When the potential for military action arises, the Government should not commit to a firm political objective before it is clear that it can be achieved.”

Could the US-led West's objectives in Iraq have been achieved? 

Iraq straddles one of the most volatile religious fault-lines on the planet. Consequently, even the most basic understanding of Iraq’s sectarian dynamics and history would have given anyone considering war cause for concern.

Likewise, anyone with a basic understanding of the Islamic worldview would have known that an invasion of “infidel” forces would have triggered Islamic resistance. Furthermore, anyone with knowledge of the history of Muslim-Christian relations in the Middle East would have anticipated the consequences for local Christians should Islamic resistance be triggered or an Islamic order restored.

The events of 1979—the successful Shi’ite revolution in Iran and the failed Sunni revolution in Saudi Arabia—heightened Islamic and sectarian zeal, and set in motion the wheels of global Islamic radicalisation. One generation later, the Middle East was a radicalised Islamic tinderbox just waiting for a spark. Had Western policy-makers truly understood and appreciated that fact, then they might have heeded the warnings and accepted an alternative. Yes, there were alternatives!

In late 2002, Russian President Vladimir Putin advised the administration of President G. W. Bush that instead of going after Saddam Hussein, it should concentrate on the real sponsors of Islamic terror, specifically Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and put an end to the Saudi funding of Wahhabi extremism.
Presidents G.W. Bush and Vladimir Putin (2002)
As terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky explains: “Russian experts warned that the problem in Iraq was not just Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction, but rather the prevailing radical militant trends. They urged the Americans to be ready to deal with radicalized populations, Sunni Islamist militancy, a radical Shiite population under Iranian influence, the flow of al-Qaeda operatives, and Kurdish-Turkish and Turkman-Arab hatred—all of which were likely to intensify in reaction to an American invasion of Iraq.” The Kremlin’s position was that rather than defeating terrorism, a US-led invasion would actually create and open new venues for terrorism.

In receipt of an abundance of intelligence from all sides, the onus was on Western policy-makers to assess that intelligence. Unfortunately our political leaders were ill-equipped for the task. Lacking knowledge of history and understanding of religion; blinded by arrogance [“where everyone else failed, we will succeed!”] and hamstrung by bias [“we are not going to listen to Russia!”], they were incapable of discerning wisdom from fantasy, or interest-driven propaganda from plain hard reality.

When US-led forces bombed and invaded Iraq in 2003, and removed Saddam and the Baathists by force, they liberated not “the Iraqi people”, but the Iraqi Shi’ites—facilitating the rise of the “Shia Crescent”.

By 2005 Iraq, once part of a north-south Sunni bloc, was fully integrated into an east-west "Shia Crescent" (more accurately known as the Axis of Resistance) with Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1982 vision of a continuous arc of Iranian influence extending from Tehran “to Jerusalem . . .  through Kabala” (in southern Iraq) awaiting only its final installment.

That Iraq’s political realignment would trigger Sunni resistance in Iraq, and have regional implications for oil and gas pipeline politics, and existentially imperil the region’s US-allied Sunni regimes—was entirely predictable.

Driven from their home in Mosul, by ISIS/ISIL fighters,
Assyrian Christian refugee, Radwan Shamra and son, Martin (3),
stand on the roof of St. Ephraim Syrian Orthodox Church
in Amman, Jordan. 1 Oct. 2014.
(Photo: Warrick Page/The New York Times)
That conflict in Iraq would attract international jihadists, and result in the genocide of minorities—including the region’s indigenous Christian nation (the Assyrians)—was all entirely predictable to anyone with knowledge of history and understanding of religion.

Sir John Chilcot was absolutely right to reject Tony Blair’s contention that the difficulties encountered after the invasion could not have been foreseen.

“We do not agree that hindsight is required,” Chilcot said. “The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability and al-Qaida activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion.”

What a pity the Chilcot report had not been released in 2010, before the US-led West chose to back regime change in Damascus.

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Elizabeth Kendal is a long-time religious liberty analyst and advocate, author of the weekly Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin. She serves as the Director of Advocacy at Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) in Canberra, Australia, and is an adjunct research fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

Her second book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA) was released in June 2016. For more information see: www.ElizabethKendal.com  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Vietnam: Persecuted rights advocates in Vietnam seek help from world's democracies.

The following article was written for Morning Star News (MSN), a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that specializes in supplying original news reports of persecuted Christians, so as "to empower those in the free world to help and to encourage persecuted Christians that they are not forgotten or alone."

Persecuted Rights Advocates in Vietnam Seek Help from World’s Democracies
Beatings, prison also constitute an attack on liberty.

June 13, 2016 By Elizabeth Kendal for Morning Star News

(Morning Star News) – In 2006, the U.S. State Department removed Vietnam from its list of Countries of Particular Concern, citing the release of religious prisoners and the easing of religious restrictions. Two months later, the United States granted Vietnam permanent normal trade status, paving the way for Vietnam to join the World Trade Organization in January 2007.

Nguyen Van Dai
As soon as the regime had secured its goals, however, it unleashed a crack-down. Among the first to be arrested was internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer and religious liberty advocate Nguyen Van Dai, a Protestant Christian.

Arrested on March 6, 2007, and deemed guilty of violating Article 88 of the criminal code – “conducting propaganda against the state” – Nguyen Van Dai spent the next four years in prison in Hanoi (to March 2011) followed by four years house arrest (to March 2015).

Dai, 47, was subsequently re-arrested on Dec. 16, 2015, as he was preparing to meet with European Union representatives who were in Hanoi for the annual EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue. He is being held incommunicado, charged with violating Article 88, the maximum sentence for which is 20 years.

Mrs Vu Minh Khanh, 10 May 2016
testimony: pdf
c-span video of proceedings 
Denied access to her husband and fearing abusive treatment and unjust processes, Dai’s wife, Vu Minh Khanh – also a strong Christian and courageous religious liberty advocate – is seeking assistance from the world’s leading democracies.

On May 10, Khanh presented her testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, chaired by Rep. Chris Smith.

She is now in Australia, traveling with Vietnam Voice.

Green Light for Repression

On May 23, while on an official visit to Vietnam, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted the decades-long embargo on selling lethal weapons to Vietnam without requiring any concessions in return.
This despite the fact that the Vietnam Humans Rights Act of 2015 states, “It is the sense of Congress that: it shall be U.S. policy that further easing of the prohibition on the sale of lethal military equipment to Vietnam shall require Vietnam to take additional and sustained steps to advance human rights protections.”

Smith called Obama’s move an “epic failure of diplomacy.” Phil Robertson, deputy director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch agreed. “In one fell swoop, President Obama has jettisoned what remained of U.S. leverage to improve human rights in Vietnam – and has basically gotten nothing for it,” Robertson said.

In giving the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam exactly what it wanted without requiring anything in return, Obama has essentially given the party a green light to further escalate repression and persecution.

Consequently, religious liberty advocates hold grave fears for Dai and Khanh, especially as those fears are personified in the plight of pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh and his wife, Tran Thi Hong.

Persecution Paradigm

The Rev. Nguyen Cong Chinh, a 45-year-old Protestant in the Central Highlands province of Gai Lai, has suffered systematic, violent persecution at the hands of Communist Party officials since 2003, when he protested ethnic-religious persecution and appealed for religious liberty.

Rev. Nguyen Cong Chinh
Arrested on April 28, 2011, Pastor Chinh was sentenced on July 31, 2012 to 11 years in prison for violating Article 87 of the criminal code, “undermining national unity.” In prison, he has been subjected to lengthy periods of solitary confinement, numerous beatings, deprivations (including being denied the right to pray), and humiliating and traumatizing Cultural-Revolution- style criticism sessions that fuel inmate hostility against him.

Also targeted for systematic violent persecution is Pastor Chinh’s wife, Tran Thi Hong, for she too is a courageous religious liberty advocate.

On March 30 March, local regime officials forcefully prevented Hong from attending her scheduled meeting with a U.S. delegation led by David Saperstein, Ambassador-at-Large on International Religious Freedom. The meeting only went ahead after Hong managed to inform Saperstein that she had been ambushed, seized and escorted back home, at which point Saperstein intervened.

Mrs Tran Thi Hong, 14 April 2016.
source
On the morning of April 14, however, officials abducted Hong from her home and took her to the office of the People’s Committee of Hoa Lu Ward, where she was interrogated and beaten by plainclothes agents for three hours, leaving her with injuries to her head, knees, legs, hands, and feet.

In May, Hong was forcibly dragged to the police station and interrogated on May 11, 12, 13, 27 and 28. On May 13, when her distressed 18-year- old son tried to protect her, he too was assaulted, strangled, bound and detained for the rest of the day.

Attracting Interest

The violent persecution of Hong and the re-arrest of Dai and have not gone unnoticed. On April 26, Amnesty International demanded “a prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigation” into “the alleged torture of Mrs. Tran Thi Hong.” [Amnesty International press release]

On June 2, the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called on the government of Vietnam to stop the persecution of Hong, “who has been repeatedly arrested and tortured as retaliation for informing the international community of human rights violations against her husband, who is in prison for peaceful religious activities.” [OHCHR press release]

On June 7, a joint motion was tabled in the European Parliament requesting a debate on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Vietnam: European Parliament resolution on Vietnam (2016/2755(RSP)) [EU Parliament joint resolution on Vietnam]

New Dynamic Creates Opportunity

China’s territorial expansion in and militarization of the South China Sea has Vietnam looking for friends and allies. This new dynamic gives Western democracies more leverage with Vietnam than they have had in years.

What post-Christian “progressive” Western elites need to understand is that in Vietnam, the church is integral to civil society and is at the center of virtually all humanitarian, pro-democracy, and human rights work.

Consequently, a strong defense of religious freedom is a highly strategic means of advancing humanitarian work, human rights advocacy, and capacity building to further democracy and liberty.

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Elizabeth Kendal is a religious liberty analyst and advocate. The author of two books, she publishes a weekly Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, serves as the Director of Advocacy at Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) Canberra, and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology (MST). See: www.ElizabethKendal.com