Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Kyrgyzstan: Authorities consider countering Christian mission.

Date: Wednesday 30 June 2004
Subj: Kyrgyzstan: Authorities consider countering Christian mission.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


In January 2004 Forum 18 (F18), which monitors religious freedom in Communist and former Soviet states, published the results of its survey on religious freedom in Kyrgyzstan. F18 reported, "Both registered and unregistered religious communities appear to function freely, despite a 1996 presidential decree requiring religious communities to register. ...However, due to Muslim anger at conversions from Islam to Christianity, Forum 18 has been told by some that an official campaign against Christian proselytism may soon be launched." One diplomat confided to F18 that authorities might soon launch a campaign against "proselytism" out of fear that the conversion of Muslims to Christianity may lead to social tensions and even conflict. (Link 1)

An article that appeared on IslamOnline (IOL) on 26 June 2004 entitled "Proselytization Eats Away at Muslim Majority in Kyrgyzstan" indicates that this threat may soon become a reality. (Link 2)

IOL correspondent Damir Ahmad reports that according to Russian media, "Five percent of the majority Muslim population in Kyrgyzstan have converted to Christianity due to the spreading missionary work in the former Soviet republic."

According to Omurzak Mamayusupov, the director of Kyrgyzstan’s religious affairs committee, "The percentage of Muslims declined from 84 percent of the total population in 2001 to 79.3 percent in 2004. In terms of figures, he added, some 100,000 Muslims, of the country’s five million population, have converted to Christianity."

Mamayusupov complains about the "full swing" missionary activity that includes the distribution of literature, books and videos, the building of churches, the establishment of Christian mission organizations, and the way missionaries "entice Muslim people away from their religion".

IOL reports, "Mamayusupov warned that such organizations endanger the national security and run the risk of triggering an ethnic conflict. 'We must nip this phenomenon in the bud to head off an ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan,' he said."

Mamayusupov claims that while Russian Orthodox and Muslims have lived peacefully for many years, the Catholic and Protestant missions "might ignite a religious war".

According to IOL, Mamayusupov said that the Kyrgyzstan government is therefore considering the option of establishing a religious police department to counter Christian missionary work.

Mamayusupov’s language is alarmist and offensive. He appears content to take the easy road and blame social tensions on the peaceful victims of persecution rather than on the perpetrators who would unjustly deny them their basic and constitutional right to freedom of religion.

Kyrgyzstan has some 3,000 mosques, 2,000 of which have been built since the year 2000. Some 40 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s Muslims are Wahhabi. According to the US State Department Report on International Religious Freedom 2003, there are some 1,000 missionaries in Kyrgyzstan. Around 800 of them are Christians, primarily from Sth Korea, Germany and USA, while the others are Muslims from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan. (Link 3)

HOSTILITY

One of the most extreme cases of grassroots persecution against converts occurred in the village of Kurkol in Djalalabad Oblast in January 2001. The local Muslim Religious Board complained that some 130 Muslims had recently converted to Christianity. More than one thousand locals convened a meeting and demanded that four ethnic Uzbeks, all recent converts to Christianity, leave the village.

That incident was pre-war on terror. If Islamic anti-Western, anti-Christian sentiment, solidarity and identification are rising in Kyrgyzstan as much as they are rising everywhere else across the Muslim world, then we can expect social tensions to be increasing and the government to come under increasing pressure to counter Christianity.

It is to be hoped that the secular and reform-minded government of President Askar Akayev will reject attempts to curtail Kyrgyzstan’s religious liberty.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) F18News 7 January 2004
KYRGYZSTAN: Religious freedom survey, January 2004
By Igor Rotar, Central Asia Correspondent, Forum 18 News Service
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=222

2) Proselytization Eats Away At Muslim Majority In Kyrgyzstan
By Damir Ahmad, IOL Correspondent
http://islamonline.net/English/News/2004-06/26/article04.shtml

3) US Department of State IRF report 2003: Kyrgyzstan.
http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2003/27209.htm

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Kenya: Watching Mungiki

Date: Thursday 24 June 2004
Subj: Kenya: Watching Mungiki
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


THE VIOLENCE OF MUNGIKI

On Tuesday 8 June, the head of Simon Ndabi Kamore was found wrapped in green plastic on the pavement near the bus stop "where he had been preaching his new found religion three days ago on Sunday". His body has not yet been found. (Numerous grisly rumours abound as to what has happened to his torso.)

Simon Ndabi Kamore, a former member of the outlawed Mungiki sect, had denounced the sect after converting to Christianity and paid the ultimate price.

The East African Standard reports, "The murder comes in the wake of a recent revelation that fanatical Mungiki adherents have in the recent past been attacking and killing any sect member who dares to reconvert to another religion or disassociates himself with the outlawed outfit." (Link 1)

Earlier this year police placed Mungiki defectors on a 24-hour guard following the brutal murder of three members and the kidnapping of several who had openly denounced the sect. The killings have included those of Pastor James Irungu Njenga and his wife Florence, who were shot dead in March 2004 at their home in the Kiamaiko slum in Nairobi, in front of their children.

Most Mungiki members have a Christian background. Multitudes have been recruited from amongst young, nominal, disillusioned or dissatisfied church members. Some Mungiki members recently have left the sect and recommitted their lives to Jesus Christ. Last year Mungiki leaders gave defectors an ultimatum: return to the sect by January 2004 or be killed. At least 18 people have been murdered since the deadline expired, allegedly by a highly skilled Mungiki hit squad.

Since its rise in the late 1990s the Mungiki sect has left a trail of arson, murder, forced oathing, forced circumcision, extortion and terror in its wake. Most recently, on Monday evening 14 June, Mungiki sect members rampaged through Mlango Kubwa, Pangani, slashing people with machetes, allegedly in retribution against residents who had complained to the police that Mungiki sect members were extorting "protection money" by force. Mungiki sect members dragged 13-year-old Evelyn Mumbua from her home while her mother was at church. They took her into the street, slit her throat and threatened to kill anyone who attempted to assist her. Evelyn Mumbua bled to death. (Link 2)

THE APPEAL OF MUNGIKI

The Mungiki sect has some 2 million members. It is able to attract such numbers because it appeals to tribalism, is anti-West, and calls people back to traditional African tribal religions at a time when these things are all very popular. These elements attract especially those who are poor and feeling frustrated and hopeless due to their socio-economic situation, or confused by social change.

The Kikuyu is the largest tribe in Kenya, numbering around 6.8 million. Mungiki is a Kikuyu sect whose most fundamental aim is to unite the Kikuyu, revive the spirit of the Mau Mau independence fighters who fought the British in the 1950s, and liberate Kenyans from all Western influence and oppression. Because the ultimate aim is to have the Kikuyu dominating Kenya's politics and economy, there are Kikuyu politicians, civil servants and police who secretly support the sect.

While it is essentially political, Mungiki poses as a traditional religious group. The sect members take oaths, perform strange and secret rituals, pray facing Mt Kenya (which is, they believe, the home of their god Ngai), and take snuff during their worship ritual as their form of "holy communion".

The Mungiki maintain that their god has called them to liberate people oppressed by Western ideologies. The main war fronts for the Mungiki on their road to liberation are Western culture and Christianity. They promote the traditional Kikuyu way of life and take a hardline stand against all Western ideologies and culture. They assault women they claim are dressed inappropriately, stripping them naked in public, and they violently promote female genital mutilation. They aggressively reject Christianity as a cultural manifestation of Western civilisation that has perpetuated neo-colonialism, i.e. indirect domination of the developing world by the First World through economic imperialism.

Their strident anti-West, anti-Christian stance has enabled a loose Mungiki Muslim alliance. In September 2000 thirteen leaders of the sect converted to Islam without denouncing any of their own Mungiki beliefs. This was doubtless a strategy of the Mungiki leaders to harness the support of Kenya's Muslims in their fight against Christianity and Western influence, and to make any attack on Mungiki an attack on Islam. During the September 2000 initiation of the 13 converting Mungiki leaders, Sheikh Shee, Chairman of Kenya's Council of Imams, in his sermon at the Sakina mosque in Mombasa called upon the government to stop harassing Mungiki followers. The Council of Imams said that Mungiki had become part and parcel of the Muslim community. However, other Muslim leaders have subsequently denounced the Mungiki on account of their criminality.

TAKING MUNGIKI SERIOUSLY - WHERE TO GO?

While the Mungiki sect is both political and religious, it recruits primarily amongst unemployed, bored, poor, disaffected youths. These disillusioned, frustrated youths delight in criminality and regard Christianity with contempt. They are frustrated by and angry about their poverty and hopelessness. They believe, or at least hope, that salvation from their plight is possible through emulating their Mau Mau liberator heroes, casting off the last vestiges of Western imperialism for complete liberation and empowerment.

It is for these very reasons that Mungiki must be taken seriously. The issues of unemployment, poverty, hopelessness and lack of identity - issues at the root of Mungiki rebellion, issues aiding recruitment - must be taken seriously. The issue of unscrupulous politicians using depressed, disillusioned, disaffected and desperate youths for political advantage also must be taken seriously. With 2 million members, supporters in high places, and big promises of solidarity, liberation and empowerment, Mungiki must be regarded as a serious threat.

Mungiki has all the ingredients needed to create an enduring and expanding problem. It is a politico-religious sect created for the purpose of solidarity and empowerment at the expense of others. Similar movements in the history of world religion have proved extremely successful and very threatening.

The Church in Kenya needs our prayers that it may be part of the solution, or it may just find itself facing a growing and increasingly hostile and militant enemy.

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Mungiki defector beheaded
Standard Correspondent. 9 June 2004
http://www.eastandard.net/headlines/news09060409.htm

2) Mungiki kill girl in attack
By Evelyn Kwamboka and Noel Wandera. 16 June 2004
http://www.eastandard.net/headlines/news16060402.htm

Friday, June 11, 2004

Cote d'Ivoire: "We want all of Ivory Coast" (rebels)

Date: Friday 11 June 2004
Subj: Cote d'Ivoire: "We want all of Ivory Coast" (rebels).
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


This posting covers three issues:
  1. the targeted stabbing murder of a priest in the rebel attack on Gohitafla at 4am on 7 June 2004,

  2. the decline in living standards in northern Cote d'Ivoire under rebel control,

  3. the address by Imam El Hadj Harrissou Fofana, one of Cote d'Ivoire's most prominent Muslim leaders, before a gathering in Abidjan on 29 May 2004.

In his address, Imam Fofana alleges that foreign Islamists have infiltrated and profoundly influence Cote d'Ivoire. He also alleges that an Islamic political party offered to pay the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire a large sum of money to launch a disinformation campaign from their mosques, denigrating the nation and all non-Muslims, presumably with the intention of preparing the ground for religious conflict.

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

PRIEST STABBED TO DEATH IN GOHITAFLA

At around 4am on Monday 7 June, unidentified gunmen entered the town of Gohitafla, a frontline town in divided Cote d'Ivoire (CI) that lies on the south end of the demilitarized "zone of confidence" policed by French peacekeepers.

The group of around 30 gunmen entered the farming village of Gohitafla from the rebel-held north only hours after President Gbagbo had flown out of CI for a 9-day visit to the USA. Suspicion abounds that the rebel forces had attempted to re-ignite hostilities in President Gbagbo's absence, and in his native region.

Djedje Augustin, reporting for http://www.ivoirealites.net , writes that the gunmen were members of Guillaume Soro's rebel forces, although the rebels deny that they were responsible for the attack. Reuters reports that seven were killed and 14 wounded in battles between the rebels, the National Armed Forces of Cote d'Ivoire (FANCI) and the French peacekeepers, and two civilians were stabbed to death.

Augustin spoke to sources on the scene who believed that the toll was probably much higher. They believe 11 civilians were murdered and report that there was considerable property damage as well. Augustin's on-site sources also revealed that the Catholic Church in Gohitafla was targeted and the priest stabbed to death.

DETERIORATION OF THE NORTH

The situation in the north has deteriorated drastically since the 19 September 2002 coup that plunged the nation into civil conflict and left the north in the hands of the Muslim rebels.

The BBC reports, "Bouake is everything one might expect of a rebel stronghold. Men with Kalashnikovs are everywhere, strolling through the market or showily flexing their muscles from the outboard of a passing jeep. Few have complete uniforms. Many have replaced missing boots with hi-tech trainers; whatever else, the rebels seem to be winning the fashion war.

"Most wear T-shirts in honour of their commander or company - thus a group wearing Cheetah tops can be followed by a procession of "Che Guevaras", and even a gaggle of "Osama Bin Ladens". One company seems to employ only bearded soldiers. All are heavily armed..." (Link 1)

According to the BBC, most civil servants, including teachers, fled south to Abidjan after the September 2002 coup. According to UNICEF, "80 percent of the doctors, nurses and midwives in northern Cote d'Ivoire have fled since the country plunged into civil war in September 2002. Drugs and equipment have been looted from hospitals and health centres and the system for monitoring the outbreak of epidemics has been paralysed." (Link 2)

The rebels remain committed to their original objective - the capture of all of Cote d'Ivoire. The BBC article notes, after one rebel commander recently spoke of secession, rebel leader Guillaume Soro responded by explaining that secession was not an option he was considering. "'Why should we content ourselves with Bouake?' he told an excited crowd in Bouake's football stadium. 'We want all of Ivory Coast!'" (Link 1)

---------------------------------------
A MUSLIM LEADER SPEAKS
---------------------------------------


El Hadj Harrissou Fofana is one of Cote d'Ivoire's most prominent Muslim leaders. He is the president of Al Coran and spokesman for the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire, comprising 15 Imams and 15 Muezzins. On 29 May, Imam Fofana addressed a huge youth gathering in Abidjan. (Link 3)

Imam Fofana expressed the concern that the nation's peace, historic tolerance, and religious freedom are being threatened by outside Islamist forces and corrupt politicians advancing their own personal political agendas.

Reporting on behalf of the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire, Imam Fofana said that, over the course of some time, foreign Muslims have come to occupy 85 percent of the senior positions in mosques as Imams and Muezzins, while Ivorian Muslims have been marginalised.

The problem with this, according to Imam Fofana, is that these Muslims have come to be leaders and teachers of Muslims in Cote d'Ivoire (CI), yet they do not understand CI history or culture, its republican institutions, its Constitution, or its electoral code. He also accuses the foreign Muslims of teaching a "blurred" Islam, and charges that politicians and the Islamic organisations in CI have been complicit in supporting the elevation of foreign Muslims into positions of leadership. He says that no one should be surprised therefore that Cote d'Ivoire has changed so much over the past decade.

Imam Fofana called for the preaching of foreign Imams to be monitored and for the rebels to be disarmed.

Imam Fofana also alleged that members of the Rally of the Republicans (RDR), Dr Ouattara's party, recently offered the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire 60 million FCFA (USD $110,323.00) to run a campaign of disinformation from their mosques, denigrating both the country and its non-Muslim population.

(Rally of Republicans spokesman Mr Cissé Ibrahim Bacongo, denounced the claims as lies and propaganda. Link 4)

According to Imam Fofana, the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire refused "the money of the corrupt politicians", saying that they would prefer freedom and independence in poverty, to opulence with slavery and destruction. He says the concern must be for peace, for love between Ivorians and foreigners, love between religious communities, and respect for each other and the beliefs of each community.

Imam Fofana appealed to the gathering not to give up, but rather resist the provocations of foreign Islamists and corrupt politicians, and help change the direction of the nation back to the
path of freedom, peace and prosperity.

These words confirm the analysis that at the core of the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire is a battle for the very soul of Cote d'Ivoire - a nation that has historically had a Muslim minority (roughly one third Muslim and one third Christian), secular government and complete religious freedom.

Links

1) Life on hold in rebel-held Bouake
By James Copnall. BBC, Bouake, Ivory Coast. 11 May 2004
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3700889.stm

2) Cote D Ivoire: EU Re-Equips 25 Health Centres, Mainly in the
North. UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Yamoussoukro, 4 June 2004.
http://allafrica.com/stories/200406040751.htmlv

3) Harrissou Fofana: "Il faut ivoiriser les fonctions d'imam et de
muezzin en Cote d'Ivoire."
Notre Voie. 3 June 2004
http://www.eburneanews.net/eb.asp?action=lire&id=8912

4) Accuses par Harrissou Fofanal le RDR et le CNI repondent a l'imam
imposteur. By Ferdinand Yao
Le Patriote (Abidjan) 2 Juin 2004
http://fr.allafrica.com/stories/200406020388.html

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Eritrea: the intolerable suffering of Eritrean evangelicals.

Date: Thursday 10 June 2004
Subj: Eritrea: the intolerable suffering of Eritrean evangelicals.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


In May 2002, the Eritrean government banned all but the Sunni Muslims, Eritrean Orthodox Church, Eritrean Catholic Church and Lutheran denominations. The Full Gospel Church (Pentecostal), Assemblies of God, Kale Heywet (SIM), and all other independent and evangelical churches are now banned. A government crackdown on evangelicals (which is tacitly sanctioned by the Orthodox Church) commenced in early 2003. The persecution has been severe and is escalating.

On 24 March 2004 Compass Direct reported, "President Afwerki warned in a public speech that some religious groups in Eritrea were being deluded by foreigners to 'distract from the unity of the Eritrean people and distort the true meaning of religion.' In his remarks, delivered on 5 March during the ceremonial installation of Abune Antonios, the new patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Afwerki declared that such 'futile efforts' would not be tolerated by his government."

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

On 4 June 2004, Compass Direct News reported the arrest in Eritrea of three more significant Christian leaders and one prominent, popular Christian singer. Compass Direct names those arrested as:

* HAILE NAIZGI, chairman of the Full Gospel (Mullu Wongel) Church. He was arrested at his home in Asmara on Sunday 23 May and is being held in Asmara's 1st Police Station without access to visitors. Naizgi, married with four children, previously worked as an accountant for World Vision.

* DR KIFLE GEBREMESKEL, who earned his PhD in an American university and formerly worked as a mathematics professor at the University of Asmar. He was also arrested in his home in Asmara on 23 May and is being held in Asmara's 6th Police Station. Dr Gebremeskal is also a leader in the Full Gospel Church, as well as being the chairman of the Eritrean Evangelical Alliance.

* PASTOR TESFATSION HAGOS of the Rema Evangelical Church in Asmara. He was arrested on 27 May while visiting the port city of Massawa. Pastor Hagos is married with 3 children. His whereabouts is unknown.

* HELEN BERHANE, a popular Christian singer aged 29 years, has been incarcerated in a metal shipping container at the Mai Serwa military camp since 13 May. She is refusing to recant her faith or cease Christian activities. She is a member of the Rema Church and had recently released a music CD that was very popular. Her case is similar to that of another evangelical Christian singer, YONAS HAILE, who was arrested in March after releasing a Christian video. It is believed that he is incarcerated at the Sawa Military Center.

This brings the total number of Eritrean evangelicals incarcerated on account of their faith to over 400.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT

On 19 May 2004, Amnesty International released a report on Eritrea entitled "'You have no right to ask' - Government resists scrutiny on human rights." (Link 1)

Section 3, entitled "Religious Persecution", is devoted to the issue of persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses and evangelical Protestant minorities. It is a good summary and worth reading.

PRISONS

Section 4 of the AI report is entitled "Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners". It reveals the truly horrific situation of these incarcerated Christians. AI writes that conditions of detention are extremely harsh and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has no access to any Eritrean prisoners or to the prisons.

Most Christian prisoners are held in metal shipping containers brought in from the ports to accommodate the overflow of prisoners. As AI reports, "In August 2003, 57 school students on a summer vacation work project at Sawa army base were imprisoned in containers for possessing bibles and belonging to minority churches."

Compass Direct has reported that whole families and even congregations have been detained in shipping containers. This includes young children and the elderly, purely on account of their faith and their refusal to recant.

AI reports, "Prisoners held in shipping containers are locked up for almost 24 hours a day. Children are held with adults. Containers, which contain no cell furniture, are overcrowded and become extremely hot and suffocating during the day and very cold at night, with little room to sleep or move. The conditions are unhygienic and infectious diseases spread rapidly, especially through absence of toilet facilities and the prevalence of diarrhoea among prisoners forced to use a bucket inside the container for a toilet. One former prisoner told of detainees being forced to lie in diarrhoea as a punishment."

TORTURE

Amnesty International notes, "Torture is systematically practiced within the army for interrogation and punishment, particularly of conscription evaders, deserters and soldiers accused of military offences, and members of minority churches."

One torture method listed by AI is called the "Jesus Christ": "The victim is stripped to the waist [. . .] standing on a block with hands tied to a tree branch; the block is removed, leaving the victim suspended with the feet just off the ground in a crucifix-like posture. Beatings are inflicted on the bare back. This is said to be an extremely severe torture, restricted to only 10-15 minutes to avoid serious lasting injury."

The most common form of torture is "The helicopter": "The victim is tied with a rope [with] hands and feet behind the back, lying on the ground face down, outside in the hot sun, rain or freezing cold nights, stripped of upper garments. This is a punishment allocated for a particular number of days, the maximum reported being 55 days in the Dahlak Kebir island prison, but it is more often one or two weeks. The prisoner is tied in this position 24 hours a day, except for two or three short breaks for meals and toilet functions."

Electric shocks and sexual torture are also used. Christian prisoners are tortured with the aim of forcing a renunciation of faith. Multitudes of evangelical believers of all ages are enduring great suffering, including torture, in preference to renouncing their faith in, and love for, their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

ERITREAN DENIAL

In January this year, Eritrea objected to the US State Department's condemnation of Eritrea as an abuser of religious freedom. The Eritrean government defiantly declared, "Eritrea is a secular country with absolute freedom of belief." The government boasted of "peaceful coexistence and religious harmony", "freedom and rights of individuals to follow and practice their chosen religion", and that all citizens were fully legally protected from religious persecution and discrimination.

As mentioned in the most recent WEA RL Prayer bulletin, "The Eritrean government has warned leaders of the evangelical minority not to report on their suffering. Nevertheless, the churches release this information, knowing they will be harshly punished, yet hoping their brothers and sisters around the world will pray for them, and governments that believe in freedom and justice will support them."

- Elizabeth Kendal

Link

1) AI - ERITREA: "'You have no right to ask' - Government resists
scrutiny on human rights."
19 May 2004

Sunday, June 6, 2004

INDIA: DECONSTRUCTING HINDUTVA

Date: Tuesday 6 July 2004
Subj: India: Deconstructing Hindutva.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


India's new Congress-led government has begun the process of digging up the Hindutva foundations laid by its predecessors, the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP. Congress is actively working to restore India's former foundations as a politically secular state with religious freedom and opportunities for all. The Hindutva "idol" (or dream of a Hindu state) was a work in progress and it is still craved by many in the Hindutva camp. The deconstruction of Hindutva
will not be without its opponents and challenges. Even since the BJP election defeat, the RSS has been actively advancing its attack on Christianity through the setting up of armed militias called "Raksha Sena" (Defense Army) that are being trained and sent out specifically to prevent conversions to Christianity.

RECONSTRUCTING HISTORY

In November 2001 Congress politician Arjun Singh accused the BJP of "Talibanising" the education system. The BJP government had commissioned Hindu nationalist scholars to "saffronise" India's history texts by filling them with Hindu nationalist delusions and religious bigotry all presented as historic fact. Through the texts the BJP sought to change the perception of Indian culture from an ethnic and religious melting pot which developed through mass migrations and trade links, to one that is unique, historically Hindu, superior and resistant to foreign invasion.

The BJP’s revised history texts credit Hindus with "lighting the lamp of Chinese culture" and the commissioning and design of India’s greatest pieces of Islamic architecture, including the Taj Mahal. The texts denigrate Muslims and blame Christians for the partition of India, alleging that missionaries are actively "fostering anti-national tendencies".

Randeep Ramesh reports from Delhi for the Guardian (26 June 2004), "India's new government is poised to rewrite the history taught to the nation's schoolchildren after a panel of eminent historians recommended scrapping textbooks written by scholars hand-picked by the previous Hindu nationalist administration.

"Hundreds of thousands of textbooks are likely to be scrapped by the National Council of Educational Research and Training, the central government body that sets the national curriculum for students up to 18.

"The move, one of the first made by the new Congress led government, will strongly signal a departure from the programme of its predecessor."

Ramesh reports, "The three-member panel of historians examining the 'inadequacies' of history textbooks recommended the 'discontinuation' of their use in the national syllabus. After submitting a report to India's education minister, Professor S Settar, a distinguished historian of ancient India, told reporters: 'We found it not advisable to continue (with these books).'

"The government will decide early next month to what extent it will accept the academics' verdict, but as it has stressed that it will seek to reach out to minorities, it is expected to implement Prof Settar's report in full. ... Many on the Hindu right are furious that their revisionist interpretation of history is now being revised, blaming the influence of 'leftists and Marxists'." (Link 1)

PROTECTING AND ADVANCING MINORITIES

Immediately upon winning the elections in May 2004, the Congress, via its new Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, vowed to actively pursue social harmony and protect religious minorities. "We are the most tolerant civilization and we cannot divide people on the basis of religion and race," Singh said. (AFP 21 May 2004)

The government is now working on a new law to protect religious minorities from communal violence. The BBC reports, "Interior minister Shivraj Patil told reporters the law would combat communal violence - and would target those who instigated, abetted or funded unrest. 'We will definitely not tolerate it,' PTI (Press Trust of India) news agency quoted him as saying."(Link 2)

While inaugurating a conference on 'Minority Welfare and Education', Prime Minister Manmohan Singh confirmed that his government will establish a commission to enhance welfare, education and employment for minorities.

The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) released to the Press an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, thanking the government for this commitment. In that letter, GCIC Convener Sajan K George said, "We are thankful to you for your resolve to empower the minority community to bring parity in private and public employment opportunities and partake in the fruits of our democracy and involve in nation building for a better future. We are thankful to you for your concern for the minorities and your determination to introduce minority development measures focusing on backward sections among the religious minorities. Your attempts to address the emotional needs of the minorities will go a long way in bringing harmony and peace."

HINDUTVA IS NOT DEAD

The BJP may have lost power, but Hindutva is not dead. Promoters of Hindu nationalism will oppose and challenge the government, possibly through communal violence designed to test the government’s resolve.

AsiaNews reports (26 May 2004), "The extremist Hindutva Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) movement and its frontal organization Dharma Jagran Vibhag (religious awakening department) have announced the decision to establish groups of armed youth, called Raksha Sena, in every village of the Central Indian tribal state Chhatisgarh, in order to stop conversions to Christianity.

"At the meeting of the founding of the Reksha Sena, Judeo declared: 'The operations of the Ghar Wapsi will continue, notwithstanding the problems that might come,' referring to the fall of the Hindu BJP government. Judeo communicated that the movement had already 'succeeded' to force some Christian religious sisters to give up their white habits and exchange them for saffron saris, the typical Hindu clothing. He also confirmed that the movement had forced some Christians to 'do a rethink'.

"He then invited the soldiers of the newly established Reksha Sena to 'move into the interior parts of the country to check religious conversions to Christianity'."(Link 3)

On 30 June 2004 the South China Morning Post reported that the BJP was struggling to understand the election loss. Days earlier the BJP held a meeting in the Mumbai hotel to discuss the issues. Political analyst Neerja Chowdhury said the election loss had plunged the BJP into an identity crisis.

Amrit Dhillon reported for SCMP, "What emerged from the meeting was a determination to revert to the hardcore Hindu nationalist ideology (known as hindutva) that originally won the party a mass following among the middle class.

"While in power, though, the constraints of office and the need to manage diverse allies prompted the BJP to dilute its aggressive nationalism. ...Now, in defeat, the party has reverted to its hardline ideas and fallen back into the arms of its Hindu nationalist affiliates who had always mourned its fall from doctrinal grace. From now on, these affiliates will play a big role in determining the party's agenda. 'We cannot afford to dilute our ideological moorings,' said former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani."

Hindutva may have lost is national appeal, but militant Hindu nationalists have not lost their ability or willingness to inflict suffering upon the Church. The new government will need every ounce of resolve it can muster to prove to Hindu militants that liberty and justice will prevail and violence against religious minorities will not be tolerated.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Indian experts recommend scrapping textbooks revised by last
govt. 25 June 2004
http://www.guardian.co.uk/india/story/0,12559,1247694,00.html

2) India plans law on communal unrest. 4 July 2004,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/south_asia/3864605.stm

3) Paramilitary Hindu group to restrict Christian conversions
26 May 2004. http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=862

Friday, June 4, 2004

Japan: Watching Shinto nationalism

Date: Friday 4 June 2004
Subj: Japan: Watching Shinto nationalism
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


On 1 July, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported, "Education officials in southern Japan have defended their decision to monitor how loudly students and teachers sang the national anthem at recent school entrance and graduation ceremonies." ("Patriotism exam hits wrong note in Japan", by Julian Ryall in Tokyo for SCMP, 1 June 2004)

According to the SCMP report, members of the Board of Education for the city of Kurume visited 40 elementary and junior high schools, to monitor the degree to which students and teachers sang the national anthem, Kimigayo, with passion and gusto. The monitors categorised participation as "quiet", "medium" or "loud". The officials were also required to verify that the schools were displaying the Hinomaru (Rising Sun) national flag at the front of school halls. Apparently six schools failed to satisfy the Ministry of Education's patriotism monitors.

On 31 March, a total of 171 school teachers were reprimanded by the Tokyo board of education for refusing to follow their principal's orders to stand and sing the Kimigayo national anthem at commencement ceremonies held earlier that month at high schools run by the metropolitan government. (Japan Today 1 April 2004)

To understand why this issue threatens Japan's Christians and instils fear into Japanese Christian leaders and missions, we need to look at Japanese Christian history and see how Japanese Shinto nationalism has correlated with persecution of Japanese Christians and foreign missionaries in Japan over the centuries. Today only 1.5% of Japanese are Christian, and only about 0.4% are evangelical.

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SHINTO JAPAN

Pure Shinto is an animist religion that focuses on supernatural spiritual forces inherent in nature. Shinto practice is centred around shrines where a "kami" is believed to reside in an object such as a stone. Local shamans represent the kami and avert evil spirits.

After Buddhism entered Japan in the 6th century, Shinto practice blended with Buddhism and Confucianism and Taoism and became more organised and structured. However, over the centuries a movement developed dedicated to the restoration of pure Shinto as the unique and original Japanese religion.

THE EMPEROR IS DIVINE AND TO BE WORSHIPPED

Inherent to Shinto is the belief that the gods exist in various ranks and the highest god of all, holding the supreme position, is the sun goddess, also known as the Ruler of Heaven, whose name is Amaterasu-o-mi-kami.

It is believed that Jimmu, Japan's first emperor who ascended to the throne in 660 B.C., was the grandson of the sun goddess, and was sent to earth to rule it. Since Jimmu, the emperors of Japan have therefore been said to be divine, functioning both as the high priest and the object of worship. (It was actually in 712 A.D. that the imperial court had this Shinto "history" written down in order to secure its dynasty.)

From this brief summary alone, it is easy to see why Japanese Christians consider the Japanese Hinomaru (Rising Sun) flag and the Kimigayo anthem which glorifies the emperor, to be idolatrous. The Hinomaru flag has also become a symbol of Japanese militarism (which is driven by Japanese Shinto belief).

HISTORY OF PERSECUTION
- RELATED TO POWER AND JAPANESE NATIONALISM


The first known Christian missionary to Japan was Francis Xavier who arrived in 1549. Christian activity was concentrated around Nagasaki. At this time, Japan was ruled by "shoguns", or military dictators, who monopolised power whilst maintaining a façade of obedience to the emperor. Aiming to stop the spread of Christianity, Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi had 26 foreign and Japanese national Christians crucified in Nagasaki on 5 February 1597.

Shogun Tokugasa Ieyasu ruled Japan from 1600. Through the 1600-1700s there was severe persecution of Christians - primarily for political and power reasons - after an edict was declared to crush Christianity.

"The Kirishitan (Christian) band have come to Japan, not only sending their merchant vessels to exchange commodities, but also longing to disseminate an evil law, to overthrow true doctrine, so that they may change the government of the country and obtain possession of this land. This is the germ of great disaster, and must be crushed." (1603 edict: footnote 1)

In 1622, 51 Christians were executed at Nagasaki, and two years later 50 were burned alive in Edo (Tokyo). In 1633 some 30 missionaries were executed. During these years many Christians recanted to escape persecution while some 3,000 were executed and others died in prisons or in exile.

In 1865, communities that together totalled some 60,000 Kakure Kirishitan ("hidden Christians") were discovered in the Nagasaki area. These Christian communities had perpetuated the faith in hiding for two centuries.

PERSECUTION AND AGGRESSIVE EXPANSION
- RELATED TO SHINTO NATIONALISM


In 1853, Japan opened its doors to Western trade. Then in 1868, after a brief civil war and palace coup, the shogunate was overthrown and the power of the emperor was restored. This incident is known historically as the "Meiji Restoration". Emperor Meiji instigated revolutionary changes that ushered in sweeping industrialisation, a restoration of Shinto nationalism, and Japanese expansionism, which was fuelled by the belief that Japan was endowed with a unique and divine ruler.

Emperor Meiji founded Japan's Yasukuni Shrine in 1869, which was dedicated to the "souls" of all the Japanese soldiers who would fall in conquest. Japan went to war against China in 1894 (with victory in nine months), against Russia in 1904 (with victory in 1905), and against Korea in 1907 (annexing Korea in 1910).

In the 1890's Shintoism was declared non-religious - that is, not a religious option, but the civic duty of all Japanese, and that included emperor worship.

Extreme nationalism exploded in Japan in the late 1920s and through the 1930s. Shinto was the official religion of Japan and Christians who refused to participate in Shinto ceremonies were accused of lacking patriotism and loyalty. In May 1932, Christian students created a mini-national crisis when they refused to bow in the Yasukuni Shrine. Authorities compromised, urging attendance at Shinto shrines as a non-religious civil manifestation of loyalty.

Shinto-based nationalism permeated every level of Japanese society. State Shinto became a powerful weapon in the hands of militarists keen to justify and glorify their policy of aggressive expansionism.

Japan's defeat in World War 2 precipitated a new constitution (1947) the included freedom of religion and the disestablishment of state Shinto, even disavowing the emperor's divinity. Yet there have always been those keen to revive the former ways, especially now, when Japan is searching for national identity and solutions to its moral problems.

Because of the demonic, spiritist, idolatrous nature of Shinto, Christians of conscience cannot participate in it. As such, Shinto nationalism has always produced discrimination against and persecution of Christians in Japan. Hence any revival of Shinto nationalism today will deeply disturb and threaten Japanese Christians.

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND RESURGENT SHINTO NATIONALISM

When nationalism exploded in the 1930s, the government promoted Shinto nationalism initially and primarily through the Ministry of Education.

Could history be repeating itself?

In October 2003, the Ministry of Education instructed schools to fly the Hinomaru (Rising Sun) flag at enrolment and graduation ceremonies. It also said teachers and school staff must stand and sing the Kimigayo national anthem. According to the "Asahi Shimbun", about 250 teachers and staff have since been disciplined for failing or refusing to comply. These symbols only became legal again in August 1999. The school campaign is spearheaded by nationalist Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, and implemented by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education. (Link 1)

Today, teachers are being penalised for exercising their right to freedom of conscience in refusing to honour the Hinomaru flag or sing the Kimigayo anthem. Schools are being monitored by patriotism police who grade the gusto with which students and teachers sing the anthem, to see if they pass the patriotism test. (Link 2)

Japan has also been re-writing its history textbooks, redefining its aggressive expansionism as liberation, much to the horror of its Asian neighbours.

After World War 2, the Allied Command stripped the Yasukuni Shrine of its national identity and it became just another of Japan's religious institutions. Today however, the Yasukuni Shrine, which now harbours the "souls" of several convicted war criminals, is once again enjoying the patronage of Japan's political leaders.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Footnote
1) A World History of Christianity. Edited by Adrian Hastings. Cassell 1999.

Links

1) PATRIOT GAMES: Students snub flag; teachers warned
The Asahi Shimbun 27 May 2004
http://www.asahi.com/english/nation/TKY200405270130.html

2) Board checked to see how loud students sang anthem
http://www.japantoday.com/e/?content=news&cat=1&id=300409

SEE ALSO
Teacher temper over Japan flag laws
From CNN Tokyo Bureau Chief Atika Shubert, 3 May 2004
http://edition.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/asiapcf/05/03/japan.patriot/