Friday, April 30, 2010

UK: Landmark ruling leaves Christians with no right to conscientious objection

Below are some selected quotes from some selected articles on the Gary McFarlane case.


Gary McFarlane: the counsellor whose case led to warnings of 'civil unrest'
By John Bingham, Telegraph, 30 April 2010

When Gary McFarlane, 48, a father of two from Bristol, began working for Relate, the counselling organisation, in 2003, he did not allow his traditional evangelical Christian beliefs stop him from giving advice to homosexual couples.

It was only three years later, when he qualified as a psychosexual therapist – a role which required him to give intimate sexual advice to couples – that he raised concerns about a potential clash between his work and his moral views.


Sacked Christian counsellor Gary McFarlane's appeal bid dismissed
By Stephen Howard, Press Association, 29 April 2010

A marriage guidance counsellor's bid to challenge in the courts his sacking for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexuals led to a serious clash between Christians and the judiciary today.

In a powerful dismissal of the application to appeal, Lord Justice Laws said legislation for the protection of views held purely on religious grounds cannot be justified.

The judge's ruling continued: "We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs.

"The precepts of any one religion - any belief system - cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other.

"If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens, and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.

"The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments.

"The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the State, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself. [. . .]

". . . the conferment of any legal protection of preference upon a particular substantive moral position on the ground only that it is espoused by the adherents of a particular faith, however long its tradition, however long its culture, is deeply unprincipled."

He said this would mean that laws would be imposed not to advance the general good on objective grounds but to give effect to the force of subjective opinion since faith, other than to the believer, was subjective.

"It may of course be true; but the ascertainment of such a truth lies beyond the means by which laws are made in a reasonable society

"Therefore it lies only in the heart of the believer, who is alone bound by it. No-one else is or can be so bound, unless by his own free choice he accepts its claims."


Christian sex therapist Gary McFarlane loses appeal bid
BBC 29 April 2010

Gary McFarlane, 48, from Bristol, was sacked by Relate Avon in 2008. He claimed the service had refused to accommodate his Christian beliefs.

Lord Justice Laws said legislation for the protection of views held purely on religious grounds cannot be justified.

He said it was irrational and "also divisive, capricious and arbitrary".

'Strongly-held'

Mr McFarlane said after the hearing that the decision not to let him appeal against the ruling left him "disappointed and upset".

"I have the ability to provide counselling services to same-sex couples," he said.
"However, because of my Christian beliefs and principles, there should be allowances taken into account whereby individuals like me can actually avoid having to contradict their very strongly-held Christian principles."
[. . .]
Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: "Mr McFarlane simply wanted his religious beliefs to be accommodated by his employer, which, in the specific facts of the case, was not unreasonable.

"It seems that a religious bar to office has been created, whereby a Christian who wishes to act on their Christian beliefs on marriage will no longer be able to work in a great number of environments."


Judge rules Christians have NO special rights as he throws out case of sex therapist who refused to work with gay couples
By Steve Doughty, Daily Mail, 30 April 2010

A senior judge ruled yesterday that Christian beliefs have no place in the law and no right to protection by the courts.

Lord Justice Laws said that Britain would become a religious dictatorship if the views of a single faith were given a priority over others in legal matters.

In a landmark case, the appeal judge told relationship guidance counsellor Gary McFarlane, a Christian, that he had no right to refuse to give sex therapy to gay couples.

And the judge delivered a scathing criticism of former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, who spoke up for Christians who try to follow their beliefs. . .

The Appeal Court judgment is a resounding rebuff for Christian workers who had hoped to persuade employers that they should be allowed to exercise their religious rights by not recognising the legitimacy of homosexual partnerships or by wearing crosses with work uniforms.

And it means that gay equality legislation, however controversial, will in future take precedence over individual conscience.

. . . former Bishop of Rochester the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, said the judgment allowed no room for people to act according to their conscience.

He told the BBC: 'I think if we reach a stage where there was a kind of tyranny of legislation without conscience it would be a very sorry stage.'

(The above article includes a very interesting profile of Lord Justice Laws, described as a "legal 'activist'', as well as a section entitled: "Does the law really treat all faiths equally? Other Christians have run into trouble with the courts or their employers when they stood up for their beliefs, but some Muslims have fared better. . .")


Gary McFarlane: judge's assault on 'irrational' religious freedom claims in sex therapist case
A senior judge has launched a dramatic assault on religious faith, dismissing it as “subjective” with no basis in fact.
By John Bingham, Telegraph, 30 Apr 2010

Last night there were warnings that the judgment could enshrine the “persecution” of Christians in modern Britain and sideline religion in public life.

Lord Justice Laws ruled that while everyone had the right to hold religious beliefs, those beliefs themselves had no standing under the law.

Mr McFarlane said that his treatment was “without a doubt” an example of Christians being persecuted in modern Britain.

“This is a sad day for our society which I believe is on a slippery slope in terms of balancing competing interests,” he said.

“I represent the Christian faith but I suggest that all other faiths will be concerned about this judgment.”

Last night Lord Carey described the ruling as “deeply worrying”, continuing a move by the courts to “downgrade” the right of religious people to express their faith.

“The judgement heralds a ‘secular’ state rather than a ‘neutral’ one,” he said.

“And while with one hand the ruling seeks to protect the right of religious believers to hold and express their faith, with the other it takes away those same rights.”

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, said that the ruling had “driven a coach and horses” through the ancient ties between Christianity and British law.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

PERSECUTION, whatever that is.

This post is written in the context of the debate concerning whether or not Christians are facing persecution in the UK.

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On Easter Sunday, the BBC screened a programme by Nicky Campbell that probed the question of whether or not British Christians are being persecuted. While Campbell acknowledged that "Labour's anti-discrimination legislation has led to clashes between religious conscience and equality for homosexuals", he concluded: "So, are Christians being persecuted? No they're not being tortured or killed like Christians in Pakistan and the Sudan. But a minority believes they are being sidelined and victimised. By the standards of a liberal society that can feel like persecution."

See: BBC’s Nicky Campbell: Christians feel persecuted by human rights law and councils
By Martin Beckford, Telegraph, Religious Affairs Correspondent, 31 Mar 2010

Similarly, in his ecumenical Easter Letter to fellow church leaders, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, maintained that, unlike many other Christians around the world, Christians in the UK are not persecuted, and he called on the church to keep its fears in perspective. In his sights were advocates such as Lord Carey and Bishop Nazir-Ali, who have decried what they maintain is escalating marginalisation, discrimination and persecution of Christians in the UK. (See also UK versus "traditional Christian values".)

Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent with Timesonline, entered the debate on 13 April, with a column and video interview in which she echoed Nicky Campbell and Rowan Williams, contending that is shameful to suggest that Christians in the UK are suffering persecution "on a par with" Christians in Jos, Nigeria (not that anyone ever suggested they were). Gledhill maintains that it is ridiculous and embarrassing to suggest that Christians in the UK are being discriminated against or persecuted for their faith.

See: It can only harm Christians to bleat about persecution
Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent for The Times, 13 April 2010

However:

The Collins Concise Dictionary Fifth Australian Edition (2001) defines "persecute" as: "(1) to oppress, harass, or maltreat, especially because of race, religion etc. (2) to bother persistently."

Jesus warned his disciples that persecution would come, indeed, that it would be inevitable (John 15:18 - 16:33). Jesus explained: "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." (John 15:19-20a ESV) The Apostle Paul likewise reminded Timothy that "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12).

The line some want to draw in the sand to separate "us" (not persecuted) from "them" (persecuted) is both imaginary and unhelpful. We are one body, and Christians need to understand that persecution -- which is a complex and varied phenomenon -- is integral to their testimony. This is why Jesus advised his would-be-followers to first count the cost, because unless they were prepared to carry a cross, they may as well not bother even trying to follow him (Luke 14:25-35).

Generally, Christians in the West have had to endure only the mildest forms of persecution: marginalisation, mockery, rejection, maybe some bullying, maybe some discrimination etc. This is because Christians in the West have been protected from violent expressions of hatred not only by rule of law, but by a Judeo-Christian culture that extols religious liberty as a fundamental human right. However, as the culture evolves into "post-Christian" (read "non-Christian"), intolerance escalates, authoritarianism emerges, religious liberty fades, and persecution intensifies. (See Understanding Religious Liberty)

My biggest contention with Ruth Gledhill's statement is her assertion that persecuted Christians are "victims". The Collins Concise Dictionary Fifth Australian Edition (2001) defines "victim" as: "a person or thing that suffers harm". Obviously anyone who "suffers harm" on account of their faith is a victim of persecution. But this is not what Gledhill is talking about. By "victim" she clearly means "loser".

This of course is absolutely ridiculous. When hostility emerges, the loser is the one who compromises or abandons their faith in order to avoid hurt or humiliation. For example, Ruth Gledhill herself admits that she is reluctant to wear a cross because she does not want to be seen as a victim (i.e. one of those losers). According to the Bible, affliction and persecution are means by which God's people are "sifted" (Isaiah 30:28) or "winnowed" (Matthew 3:12). In which case, Ruth Gledhill herself appears to be amongst the "victims" (losers).

On the other hand, those who stand firm despite the cost can never be losers even if they do end up as victims of persecution. Rather, they are winners who did not yield and could not be bowed. Persecuted believers are those who, in the face of injustice, dictatorship and threats stand firm and say, "Over my dead body!"

To suffer persecution for righteousness sake is the ultimate form of cultural criticism. Persecuted believers are protesters who refuse to act against their conscience despite the risks. In suffering the consequences they embody the shame and disgrace of society.

That a supposedly civilised society would persecute peaceful, law-abiding, benevolent citizens simply on account of their faith is shocking and unacceptable -- so shocking and unacceptable in fact, that virtually every state that does it denies it. To cover up what is really happening these states enshrine religious freedom in their constitutions and then enact laws that devout believers simply cannot in good conscience abide, while denying them the right to conscientiously object. For example, no-one is imprisoned for their faith in China! The Christians in China's laogai (gulag/network of nearly 1000 state-owned slave-labour prison camps) are all law-breakers, incarcerated for exercising their faith in a manner deemed unacceptable by the State.

I believe that this is actually the crux of Campbell's, Williams' and Glendhill's complaint with the likes of Lord Carey, Bishop Nazir-Ali and others who are testifying against the escalating hostility in British society. I believe they are desperate to deny that Christians are being persecuted because they cannot tolerate the thought that the UK might be evolving (or regressing) into a place where persecution of the righteous is becoming systematic.

But sometimes it takes the cutting down of the righteous to shock a people out their nonchalance so that they cry out in horror: "What have we become? To what depths have we sunk?" All through the Muslim world, there are Muslims questioning and leaving Islam because they have been shocked out of their nonchalance by Islam's violent persecution of peaceful, righteous Christian believers. As persecution escalates in the UK it will be the same. God is doing something new in the UK.

And with that in mind I would like to close with the very commendable words of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, in the same letter quoted above also said: "We who live in more comfortable environments need to bear two things in mind. One is that fellow-Christians under pressure, living daily with threats and murders, need our prayers and tangible support [. . .] But the second point to remember is that we need to keep our own fears in perspective. It is all too easy, even in comfortable and relatively peaceful societies, for us to become consumed with anxiety about the future of Church and society. We need to witness boldly and clearly but not with anger and fear; we need to show that we believe what we say about the Lordship of the Risen Christ and his faithfulness to the world he came to redeem."

I say AMEN to that! And I know Lord Carey and Bishop Nazir-Ali would too.

And when it comes to showing what we believe about the Lordship of the Risen Christ, I advocate that the Church stop wasting time appealing to "Pharaoh" (Exodus 5:15) and instead, look to the Lord, our crowing glory, for the "strength to turn back the battle at the gate" (Isaiah 28:5-6).

by Elizabeth Kendal

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

WATCHING KYRGYZSTAN

In the late 1980s, President Mikhail Gorbachev introduced social and political reform to the Union of Soviet Social Republics (USSR) through perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). By 1990, Communism had fallen and the Cold War had ended. At that point, various megalomaniacs -- that is, men who wanted to be presidents rather than prime ministers, governors or generals -- set about exploiting ethnic nationalism in order to tear the centuries-old Russian Federation apart.

By the end of 1991, Kyrgyzstan was independent under the leadership of Askar Akayev, an intellectual and scientist appointed by Gorbachev. Kyrgyzstan was unique amongst its neighbours in that it was the only Central Asian former Soviet Republic not under the control of a former Soviet apparatchik (i.e. not a professional functionary of the Communist Party).

Akayev introduced multi-party democracy and encouraged a degree of openness unknown to Kyrgyzstan's neighbours. In 1998, Kyrgyzstan became the first Central Asian republic to join the World Trade Organisation.

Corruption takes over

In December 2001, America established a Transit Centre at Manas air base on the outskirts of the capital, Bishkek (also spelled Bishek), from where it could supply US troop in Afghanistan.

In an article entitled The Truth Behind The Recent Unrest in Kyrgyzstan (13 April 2010, first of a 3-part series), investment analysts with oilprice.com note: "Cozying up to the presidential administration Washington quickly allowed the administration of President Askar Akayev and its cronies to take over the lucrative refueling and provisioning rights for the bases, paying inflated prices for landing rights and fuel provided by companies under the presidential family's control." And so, as oilprice.com notes, the contracts for the US base at Manas became "a direct source of corruption", whereby Akayev's family profited "by owning the companies with exclusive rights to refuel NATO aircraft."

Repression escalates

But corruption and openness don't mix -- and so in order to allow corruption to flourish, Akayev had to roll back openness and liberty.

Akayev also learned he could play the "Cold-War-isn't-over-yet" game, pitting Russia and the US against each other for financial gain. In September 2003, he upset Washington by signing a bilateral agreement with Russia for the establishment of a Russian military base at Kant, also on the outskirts of Bishkek and only some 30km from Manus (map).

US monies however, did not benefit the Kyrgyz population. The masses remained impoverished while the Akayev clan grew very rich and very powerful. Corruption, cronyism and nepotism advanced at the expense of the impoverished and now harshly repressed masses. Discontent rose as hopes for human rights and democracy faded.

REVOLT

The March 2005 "Tulip Revolution" that ousted Akayev was not a US-sponsored "colour revolution". Rather it was a people's revolt, a coup that, despite its violence and expressions of ethnic Kyrgyz nationalism, won the support of the US which claimed it was part of the domino effect of democracy.

See :
The Tulip Revolution takes root
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times online, 26 March 2005

KYRGYZSTAN’S REVOLUTION: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
A EurasiaNet Commentary, by Justin Burke, 25 March 2005

Corruption takes over


According to oilprice.com, after the "Tulip Revolution" Washington simply : "rewrote its cozy contracts with the Baikyev administration for Manas, delivered intermittent harangues on democracy and human rights, and essentially ignored the country". Subsequently, President Kurmanbek Bakiev became even more corrupt than the man he had deposed. His son, Maksim Bakiev, reportedly earned himself as much as $8 million a month monopolising the sale of fuel to the base.

See:
Kyrgyzstan: Business, Corruption and the Manas Airbase
oilprice.com 15 April 2010

Meanwhile, the masses remained impoverished with unemployment hovering around 18 percent. Discontent was growing. History was repeating itself and for all America's human rights rhetoric, it clearly saw the transit centre at Manas as a higher priority -- something not lost on the repressed and abused masses of Central Asia.

Repression escalates

As corruption, repression and hardship escalated, the masses (especially in the more devoutly Muslim south) increasing leaned towards the 'Islam-is-the-solution' message preached by the Islamic fundamentalists of the Ferghana Valley (southern Kyrgyzstan) -- specifically the jihadist Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and revolutionary Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT).

To counter their influence, the Bakiev regime further escalated repression -- a strategy that only served to fuel the cycle. On 12 January 2009, a highly repressive Religion Law was enacted.

See:
Kyrgyzstan: putting the repressive religion law in context
By Elizabeth Kendal, 10 February 2009
World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis

As Forum 18 reported at the time (13 January 2009): "Provisions that have caused concern to religious communities and human rights defenders include: a ban on children being involved in religious organisations; a ban on 'aggressive action aimed at proselytism'; a ban on the distribution of religious literature, print, and audio-video religious materials; and de facto compulsory re-registration of all registered religious organisations.

"The 12 January [2009] announcement on the presidential website trumpets the fact that 200 adult citizens permanently living in Kyrgyzstan will now be required before a religious community can apply for state registration, compared to 10 in the current Law. It says 10 registered religious organisations will be needed to form a 'religious association'."

While the law's primary target was the Islamic revolutionary Hizb-ut-Tahrir -- which had been provoking serious unrest in the south -- Protestant Christians (around 0.5 percent) have been caught in its anti-'new', anti-'foreign', anti-'small gatherings', anti-'religious literature', anti-'missionary' net. And because Protestant Christianity is "divisive" -- winning converts amongst Muslims and Russian Orthodox -- the regime exploited repression and persecution of Protestants as a convenient and easy means of appeasing aggrieved elements.

The last straw

In late 2009, confident that there was no organised opposition, Bakiev increased taxes and the cost of utilities. The first price hike came on 1 January 2010, the second would hit six months later. Thus in the middle winter, as temperatures dipped to minus 20 degrees Celsius, Kyrgyz citizens found their heating costs rising by at least 500 percent; electricity by 170 percent, hot water by 100 percent. Many people found themselves forced to choose between spending 80 percent of their salary of utilities, or turning off the gas, electricity and hot water.

See:
KYRGYZSTAN: UTILITY PRICE HIKE SQUEEZES CITIZENS
Liat Asman, Eurasianet, 8 February 2010

REVOLT

On 6 April 2010, anger and despair spilled into the streets. The protests escalated rapidly until the security forces, under the control of President Bakiev's brother, Zhanybek Bakiev, opened fired on the protesters, killing more than 80 and wounding hundreds more. Ultimately however, Bakiev was ousted, retreating south to his home base of Jalal-Abad.

See:
Eyewitness: Bishkek Unrest
Kyrgyz journalist recounts confrontation between protesters and government troops on the streets of Bishkek. By Urmat Imanaliev in Bishkek.
Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) 10 April 10

US reaps bitter harvest from 'Tulip' revolution
By M K Bhadrakumar, Asia Times online, 10 April 2010

Stefan J Bos, in Kyrgyzstans for BosNewsLife reports that throughout the crisis churches have been active caring for the injured, visiting hospitals, holding prayer vigils, assisting with efforts to clean up the streets and repair damage to public facilities.

After fleeing south, Bakiev discovered he had little support left there either.
See: Bakiev Resigns After Support Crumbles
President leaves country, steps down following failed attempt to rally support in southern heartland. By Dina Tokbaeva in Bishkek.
Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), 15 April 10
(update: Bakiev has since renounced his resignation.)

While Bakiev has since found refuge in Belarus, there are calls for him to be extradited to Kyrgyzstan to stand trial for his crimes.

Heading into the future

The new inclusive interim administration led by Rosa Otunbayev will hold democratic elections and a referendum on an amended constitution later this year. This provides a wonderful opportunity for religious liberty to be restored.

See:
Kyrgyzstan: Omurbek Tekebaev speaks about draft Constitution
Ferghana.Ru 19 April 2010

Kyrgyzstan: Another Chance at Democracy
Getting it right this time will depend on new government’s efforts to overcome legacy of previous authoritarian rulers. By Pavel Dyatlenko in Bishek
Institute for War adn Peace Reporting (IWPR) 11 April 2010

Religious liberty

Forum 18 published a report on 16 April 2010 entitled: KYRGYZSTAN: "Restore religious freedom at least to the level we had before Bakiev", by Mushfig Bayram, in which various religious organisations, civil society and human rights groups express both their hopes and anxieties about the future.

Most importantly, Kanybek Imanaliyev, Head of the Press Service of the Interim Government led by Roza Otunbaeva, told Forum 18 on 15 April: "We want to establish freedom of speech and freedom of religion. We will reform the Constitution, the laws as necessary and the Religion Law."

When Forum 18 asked if religious communities would be able to carry on their normal religious activity while the laws are being changed, Imanaliyev said that "no one can answer that question at the moment. We need to first stabilize the situation. However I do not think there will be any conflicts on religious grounds in the meantime. The people of Kyrgyzstan are tolerant to different religions and confessions."

While expressing great hopes, many human rights advocates and religious leaders are adopting a "wait and see" approach, unsure about what the new administration will be able to achieve in a short time. Furthermore, they doubt that the distinction between "traditional" and "non-traditional" faiths will be able to be addressed without controversy, as this mindset is well entrenched across the whole region.

Threats emerge

After the March 2005 "Tulip Revolution", large numbers of poor southerners answered the call of Kyrgyz nationalists to exploit the chaos and seize land in Bishkek.
See:
KYRGYZ REVOLUTION: TAKING A TURN IN AN UNPREDICTABLE DIRECTION
EURASIA INSIGHT 8 April 2005

Similarly, on 19 April 2010, a violent mob of around 1000 ethnic Kyrgyz -- all well organised outsiders -- rampaged through the village of Mayevka on the outskirts of Bishek. Five were killed as the mob burned homes and seized land belonging to ethnic Russians and Turks (Maskhetian Turks: Georgian Muslims deported by Stalin). Local Kyrgyz reportedly intervened at great risk to defend their besieged neighbours.

Eurasianet reports that as a result of the pogrom, "some non-Kyrgyz residents are now saying they want to leave the Central Asian country".

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has demanded that the new administration in Kyrgyzstan take measures to protect Russian lives and properties in Kyrgyzstan.

See:
KYRGYZSTAN: INTER-ETHNIC TENSION RATTLES BISHKEK
David Trilling, Eurasinet, 20 April 2010

Kyrgyz Interim Leaders Try To Impose Order After Unrest
RFE/RL 20 April 2010

Kremlin Defends Russians Caught in ‘Infectious’ Kyrgyz Violence
Business Week, 20 April 2010

And of course in the midst of all this, Islamic forces will doubtless be viewing Kyrgyzstan's present vulnerability as their great opportunity. The March 2005 "Tulip Revolution" inspired Uzbekistan's Islamists to attempt a "people's revolution" of their own in Andijan in the Ferghana Valley in May 2005.
See:
Uzbekistan: a new wave of serious persecution may be just beginning
By Elizabeth Kendal, 22 march 2007
World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC)

There is considerable anxiety that Uzbek Islamists will again be closely watching events in Kyrgyzstan, taking notes on how they might engineer regime change to their advantage in Uzbekistan.

Most Kyrgyz citizens want to see their country emerge as a free and democratic state. However, with so many forces working against this outcome, Kyrgyzstan will need plenty of international support.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Understanding Religious Liberty

Most Westerners simply don't appreciate the degree to which their freedoms are intrinsically linked to Judeo-Christian culture. Nor do they appreciate the degree to which that culture is dependent upon a Biblical foundation. Consider this as an illustration: Judeo-Christian culture is a tree that grows out of Biblical soil and religious freedom is a fruit of that tree.

Throughout history, whenever a Judeo-Christian community has stopped attending to its Biblical foundation, the culture has declined and its fruits have failed. The only way to restore the fruits is to revive the culture. And the only way to revive the culture is to attend to the foundations.

Religious freedom was integral to the Protestant Reformation (1517). The Reformation not only advanced Biblical truth but the right of individuals to read it in their own language (championed in London by John Wycliffe as early as 1377) and exercise it without persecution. Britain and America's historic human rights advocacy and missionary endeavours have been the fruits of a dynamic post-Reformation Protestant culture that promoted and drew on the Bible.

Rip the foundations away, however, and the tree and its fruit go with it. Even if the foundations are slowly and subversively eroded, the tree eventually withers and dies as its roots cannot provide sustenance or stability. And everyone knows that a transplanted tree will not successfully take root, grow and fruit unless the soil is good in the first place. Furthermore, the post-Reformation Protestant culture of Christian liberty is so dynamic that unless that soil is right and good it will not be able to sustain or support it. Even when the soil is right and good, if the roots are withered through neglect and drought, renewal of the plant through the restoration of its root system will only be possible through considerable struggle and long-term diligent care.

This is the situation facing the UK, northern Europe, and to a lesser extent the USA. Foundations long neglected are being both subversively eroded and openly demolished, for Western political elites determined some time ago (undemocratically) that evolution mandates a transition to a 'post-Christian' culture. Therefore renovations are in order.

However, it is coming as a shock to many to learn that 'fruits' long taken for granted -- such as religious liberty, benevolence, restraint and 'manners' -- are withering and disappearing before their very eyes. It is also coming as a shock to many in the demolition crew that they do not have control of the situation. For before they even get a chance to build their utopia, other builders with stakes in the game are moving in as soon as a space opens up. And these new builders (some very dangerous) are winning hearts and minds amongst Europe's identity-challenged youth.

'Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.' (Revelation 3:2a ESV)

Only through the LORD can the Church have the strength to "turn back the battle at the gate" (Isaiah 28:6b) .

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This article is an edited excerpt from the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin 051 entitled UK: UNDERSTANDING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY (14 April 2010)

The UK versus "traditional Christian values"

Hospital hypocrisy

The National Health Service (NHS) is being accused of hypocrisy after it relaxed rules on hygiene to let Muslim staff wear long sleeves (in violation of established health and safety codes) and Sikhs display their religious symbols only days after Christian nurse Shirley Chaplin (54) lost her discrimination claim against the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital Trust which banned her from wearing the innocuous cross she had been wearing throughout her 30-year long nursing career.

Muslim nurses CAN cover up... but Christian colleagues can't wear crucifixes
By Jonathan Petre, Daily Mail, 12th April 2010

NHS RULES RELAXED FOR MUSLIMS AS CRUCIFIX IS BANNED
By Jo Willey, Express, 12 April 2010

Muslims vs police

The Telegraph reports: "The Metropolitan Police has quietly sanctioned the throwing of shoes by Muslim protesters on the grounds that it is 'a symbolic' political gesture rather than a criminal act of violence."

So while throwing a bottle is criminal violence; and while a non-Islamic shoe-throw is criminal violence; shoe-throwing done by a Muslim is an act of "ritual protest".

As the Times online noted, Scotland Yard's willingness to bow to Islamic sensitivities and accept that Muslims are entitled to throw shoes in ritual protest "could have the unintended consequence of politicians or the police being hit. . .

"The concession has already been taken up enthusiastically by Muslim demonstrators, who pelted Downing Street with shoes in protest at the Israeli bombing of Gaza last year.

"Dozens of ski-boots and clogs were also hurled at the US consulate in Edinburgh in a related protest, in which three policemen sustained minor injuries."

Afterwards the protestors allegedly joked that the police "didn’t realise we were going to throw the shoes so hard."

Sam Leith commented in the London Evening Standard, that this decision essentially means that Muslim shoe-throwing is to be "regarded not as an act of violence but as a protected form of speech."

With tongue in cheek, Leith queries the Muslim's right to throw Ski boots and clogs. "Did the Prophet, blessings be upon him, also take a special interest in ice-skates, toe-capped Doc Martens and spiked golf shoes?" As far as Leith is concerned, the rule should remain: "Your freedom to swing your arm . . . ends where it meets my nose."

Insult doesn’t need to come with injuries
By Sam Leith, London Evening Standard, 10 April 2010

Met allows Islamic protesters to throw shoes
By David Leppard, Times online, 11 April 2010

Muslim protesters 'will be allowed to throw their shoes'
Telegraph, 12 Apr 2010

The police encourage Muslims to throw shoes at them? Just what community relations needed. blogs Telegraph, 12 April 2010
By Douglas Murray who writes: "In the meantime, I should announce that I feel passionately angered by all this. So I would be very interested to know from Scotland Yard whether or not I will be arrested if I decide to track down Lindsey German, Aquib Salim, Judge Denniss and co and invite them to smell my shoes. I think the police would probably look on my shoe-print on their foreheads as assault, don’t you? And probably a hate crime to boot.

"What a nuisance it is not being a Muslim in this society."

Bishops vs judges

Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and other senior leaders within the Church of England are urging that senior judges who are biased against Christianity should be barred from ruling in religious rights cases.

Lord Carey has prepared a witness statement for Mr McFarlane (48) from Bristol, who is appealing against an employment tribunal ruling that supported his sacking for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples. Similarly, Lillian Ladele was found to have broken the law by refusing to conduct civil partnerships. Late last year the Court of Appeal ruled that a homosexual's right not to be discriminated against by anyone, trumps a Christian's right to conscientious objection.

The religious rights of Christians are treated with disrespect
Telegraph, 28 March 2010

Labour Lord slams Govt anti-Christian attitude
Christian Institute, 9 April 2010

Church leaders are heading for showdown with top judges over bias against Christians
By Andrew Alderson, Chief Reporter, Telegraph, 11 Apr 2010

Judges are biased against Christianity, say senior Church figures
Christian Concern for our Nation, 12th April 2010

'Anti-Christian' judges should be banned from religious cases, says Lord Carey
By Laura Clark, Daily Mail, 12th April 2010

Thank God for Lord Carey
By Melanie Phillips, Daily Mail, 12 April 2010

While Lord Carey and the bishops have indeed identified a problem, this proposition however, can only raise another question. If cases pertaining to Christian faith and expression are to be heard by judges who have an understanding of Christianity and are sympathetic to Christianity or at least not biased against it, will Muslims have the same right to have cases impacting alleged Muslim rights heard by judges of their choice -- judges who have studied Islam and are sympathetic towards it or at least not biased against it?

UK vs traditional Christian values

The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, is appealing for all new immigrants to be integrated and willing to accept and adapt to traditional British values, which have been largely derived from the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali: immigrants should accept Britain’s Christian values
By Martin Beckford, Telegraph, 14 Jan 2010

While the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali has indeed identified a problem, his proposition can only raise another question. Does the UK itself actually wish to preserve its "traditional Christian values"? For, in order to transition or evolve from a Christian British society into a post-Christian multi-cultural society, the old order must, of necessity, pass away. The question is: Is this really what the British want?

See:
The secret plot to destroy Britain’s identity
By Melanie Phillips, Daily Mail, 24 February 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

UK: Equality Bill Passes through Parliament

Homosexuals and transsexuals delighted

High caste Indians protesting; UK "Dalits" rejoicing

Employers extremely anxious

Religious liberty advocates concerned

Lawyers anticipate boom in business

Equality Bill Passes through Parliament

On Tuesday 6 April 2010, the House of Lords' amendments to the controversial Equality Bill passed through the UK parliament. Thus the Equality Bill has now completed its progression through the parliament and now only awaits Royal Assent to become law.

As the UK Parliament website Equality Bill 2008-09 to 2009-10 states: "The Bill will harmonise and in some cases extend existing discrimination law covering the 'protected characteristics' of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. . ."

(This website has a chart illustrating the progress of the Bill, as well as links to the Act and other relevant documents.)

Below are a few selected articles, with a few selected quotes, representing a few selected responses to the Equality Bill.

Homosexuals and transsexuals delighted

Equality Bill passes through parliament
By Jessica Green, Pink News, 7 April 2010 By

Quoting Pink News: "A flagship feature of the bill is equality duty on all public bodies, which will require institutions such as schools, councils and the NHS to actively promote equality.

"Employers will be permitted to use positive action to select candidates from under-represented groups when two people applying for a job have the same qualifications.

"The bill will also prohibit private members’ clubs from discriminating against members or guests based on their sexual orientation or gender reassignment. . ."

However, the Gay Rights lobby groups are disappointed that the government yielded to "the House of Lords over an amendment clarifying who churches can refuse employment to.

"Provisions in the bill would have clarified the law requiring churches only to discriminate in terms of sexual orientation when hiring those who will teach doctrine or lead worship.

"But after the Pope publicly criticised the bill, equality minister Harriet Harman backed down. She is thought to have made the climbdown to avoid a continuing dispute with church leaders.

"The new laws will begin to take effect in the autumn [October 2010]. The public sector equality duty will be introduced in April 2011. . ."

High caste Indians protesting; UK "Dalits" rejoicing

UK bill links caste to race, India red-faced
By Manoj Mitta, Times of India, 31 March 2010,

Quoting Times of India: "In the first such legislative move anywhere in the world, and much to the embarrassment of India's official position, the British House of Lords has passed a law that treats caste as 'an aspect of race'. . .

"Though the bill originally contained no reference to caste, the Gordon Brown government agreed to its inclusion even as it commissioned a research on the nature of the problem that is believed to have come into Britain through the Indian diaspora. A parliamentary committee, while recommending last year that caste be considered as a subset of race, cited specific instances of caste discrimination in Britain."

India clashes with Britain over Equality Bill racism law
Dean Nelson, in New Delhi, for Telegraph UK, 31 Mar 2010

Quoting the Telegraph: "The bill, which has been passed in the House of Lords, has been welcomed by campaigners for India's 'dalits' or 'untouchables', a caste which suffers extreme violence and persecution, but has been rejected by their [Indian] government. . .

"Ministers in London have become increasingly concerned about discrimination and persecution against lower caste Indians in Britain following a report last year which claimed thousands had been ill-treated because of their caste. . ."

As Nelson notes, the Indian government has long fiercely resisted any suggestion that caste discrimination be linked with racism. "'India's position on this issue has been clear and consistent. Caste and race discrimination are two separate issues and there is no case to equate the two. We are opposed to attempts at international fora to equate the issues,' said an official source."

In an article in Himalsouthasian magazine (April 2010 issue) entitled, Dominating the diaspora , Priyamvada Gopal, an academic and writer based in Cambridge, UK, says: "The vehement arguments of some high-profile Hindu groups notwithstanding, the UK’s new Equality Bill will include some reference to caste."

As Gopal notes: "immigrant communities often carry with them the most vicious dispositions and hierarchies of the societies they travel away from geographically. Indeed, such communities often entrench such biases further as they settle into other (at times hostile) cultures, and as they carve out new political niches for themselves.

"Often seen within a liberal multicultural and human-rights framework as homogeneously victimised by racism and anti-immigrant sentiments, Southasian communities in Britain often escape nuanced critical scrutiny. . . In the current climate of a national preoccupation with Islam in the context of the US-led 'war on terror', British Hindu and Sikh communities have become even less accountable for some of the more unsavoury features of their collective existence. . .

"Two important factors have contributed to this willed looking-away on the part of the British government. The first is the vehement lobbying by groups such as the Hindu Council UK and the Hindu Forum of Britain – both of which share historical links to chauvinist groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the memberships of which are heavily dominated by upper-caste Hindus. The second is the insistence of the Indian government in high-profile forums such as the UN Racism Conference, where activists have tried to raise the issue, that caste discrimination cannot be equated with racial discrimination. Therefore, despite the claims by some, it is not clear that caste discrimination in Britain will be redressed without challenge under existing race-discrimination legislation."

(Note: For millennia, the high caste white Aryans have basically enslaved the indigenous "black" tribal peoples of India -- Dalits/untouchables -- by means of the Hindu caste system which is, quite simply, institutionalised racism.)

Employers extremely anxious

Equality Bill: what employers need to know
Sandra Wallace, HR (Human Resources) Magazine, 9 April 2010

This article is in Question & Answer format.
Quoting from HR Magazine: "It [the Equality Bill] will affect all recruiters and employers because, while having been designed to make the law simpler, it will now make it much easier for individuals to bring complaints of discrimination if they feel their employer has treated them unfairly. Some of the changes to the law will mean employers will have to significantly change some of their established processes - such as they way they recruit staff - if they want to avoid complaints."

Concerning "positive action" HR magazine writes: "Positive action is probably more commonly known as 'positive discrimination'. Under the new rules employers are allowed to discriminate in favour of a minority candidate who is as qualified as another candidate for a role, if that group is under-represented in the workforce.

"This is likely to be a particularly tricky area of the new law. However, employers are not legally obliged to take such action, but merely have the opportunity to do so if they wish. Therefore, employers should treat this provision with care and take legal advice before making a decision, as those who get it wrong could face legal action from unsuccessful candidates who feel they have been discriminated against."

See also: Equality Bill: Top 10 issues employers must prepare for
Louisa Peacock, 7 April 2010

Religious liberty advocates concerned

Harman’s Equality Bill passes in Parliament
Christian Institute, 9 April 2010

Quoting the Christian Institute: "The Equality Bill was passed in Parliament on Tuesday, with the Government forced to accept defeat over church employment freedom.

"However, other measures in the Bill – championed by Equality Minister Harriet Harman – may interfere with the religious liberty of Christians.

The Tories and the Lib Dems welcomed the Bill. Labour vowed that the Bill will be 'driven and pressed through society' if they win the General Election. . .

"The Bill also imposes a legal duty on public bodies, like schools and the police, to promote homosexual and transsexual rights.

"While the Bill also introduces a 'religious equality' duty, such measures have in the past resulted in Christianity being sidelined from public life in a misguided attempt to avoid offending other faiths."

Parliament passes Equality Bill
Christian Concern for our Nation, 9th April 2010

Quoting ccfon: "As part of the ‘Wash-Up’ to clear legislation before the end of this Parliament, the Government accepted all the Lords’ amendments. These include protection against discrimination for pregnant schoolgirls and young mothers; removal of the ban on civil partnerships taking place in religious premises; and retention of the rights of a church to refuse to employ people in leadership roles who practice sexual ethics incompatible with its beliefs.

"A Lords’ amendment aimed at rescuing faith-based adoption agencies from being closed down by homosexual equality laws was not included. . ."

(The Christian Institute and Christian Concern for our Nation have excellent resources on their websites to enable understanding and tracking of religious liberty in the UK.)

Lawyers anticipate boom in business

Employment tribunal claims to jump after parliament passes Equality Bill
Thursday, 8th April 2010

"EMPLOYERS in the UK are bracing themselves for a jump in employment tribunal claims after parliament yesterday passed the Equality Bill. . .

"Employment tribunals are expected to hear up to 370,000 new claims within the next three years, costing employers £2.6bn.

"The number marks a 46 per cent hike on previous years. . ."

South Sudan: Why is Akobo hungry?

As noted in Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin 050 (7 April 2010) entitled, "Sudan on the Brink" , one of the Government of Sudan's (GoS's) favourite weapons of war during the 21 year-long jihad (1983-Jan 2005) was engineered famine.

The present famine in Akobo, Southern Sudan, should be viewed in this light. Not that the GoS has bombed or ravagage Akobo recently, but that the regime in Khartoum is quite content to let the periphery starve, and Southern Sudanese civilians are starving when they shouldn't be.

Here area couple of reports, containing some very disturbing pictures, on the current humanitarian situation in Akobo, Southern Sudan.

Emaciated Children Signal Crisis In Southern Sudan
by The Associated Press AKOBO, Sudan April 8, 2010,

YouTube video report:
Skeletal children sign of crisis in Sudanese town.
Associated Press, 8 April 2010

According to reports, however, Khartoum has not only been exporting food, but boasting to the African Union that it has the capacity to become Africa's breadbasket.

In his 26 August 2009 article entitled, "Khartoum's Strategic Assault on Southern Self-Determination Referendum", Sudan expert Eric Reeves noted that the humanitarian situation in the South was deteriorating rapidly. Reeves quoted Lise Grande, the Deputy Resident Humanitarian Coordinator in Southern Sudan, as saying that South Sudan was facing the "perfect humanitarian storm".

As Reeves explained: "The first rains and crop plantings have failed; more than 200,000 people have been violently displaced; and insecurity makes delivery of food to areas such as Akobo almost impossible except by air.

"And yet the Khartoum regime, nominally the 'government of Sudan,' will not lift a hand to offer assistance, just as it has continuously failed to assist the distressed populations of other marginalized regions of the country. It is far too infrequently remarked that despite its now considerable oil wealth, despite massive foreign investment in and around Khartoum, and despite very significant agricultural export capacity, there is no movement of national wealth or even food assistance from the centre to the desperately needy periphery.

"Indeed, at the very time the international community is struggling to provide food assistance to some six million people throughout Sudan, the regime is engaged in a lucrative agricultural export business and selling large tracts of arable lands to foreign countries. Precisely a year ago, New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman filed from Ed Damer (north of Khartoum) a remarkable dispatch [entitled Darfur Withers as Sudan Sells Food (9 Aug 2008)] highlighting just how perverse national agricultural policy is under the NIF/NCP regime. Noting that Sudan 'receives a billion pounds of free food from international [aid] donors, [even as it] is growing and selling vast quantities of its own crops to other countries,' Gettleman asks, 'why is a country that exports so many of its own crops receiving more free food than anywhere else in the world. . .'"

Reeves also quoted NIF/NCP President al-Bashir, who boasted to the June 2009 African Union summit in Libya that Sudan, through its agricultural wealth, "is in a position to make a big contribution to achieving the food security in Africa." "We prepared a strategy for agricultural revival for 2008-2011 that is aligned with the goals and principles of comprehensive agricultural development in Africa." (As reported in the Sudan Tribune, 1 July 2009)

As Reeves noted: "Al-Bashir is prepared to share Sudan's agricultural wealth with other African nations, but not with the people of his own country. Again, the unsurpassable callousness of such a policy has not been challenged by the international community that is providing so much food aid to Sudan.

"A regime that exports food while so many of its own citizens lack food and face malnutrition and starvation can survive only through tyranny. Present agricultural policy, which benefits only this regime, is but one of many reasons that the NIF/NCP can never prevail in free and fair elections."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sudan's elections: already totally compromised.

From Sunday 11 through to Tuesday 13 April, the volitile, ethnic-religious fault-line state of Sudan will hold general elections as mandated by the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

For a brief background, see: Sudan on the Brink
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 050 | Wed 07 April 2010

The 11-13 April elections will not, however, herald the emergence of democracy. Rather, Sudan's already thoroughly compromised elections will merely demonstrate the regime's uncompromising determination and ability to maintain its grip on power and to continue its repressive Arab-Islamic domination of Sudan's vast and varied peoples. For instead of implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the ruling National Congress Party (NCP, formerly the National Islamic Front (NIF)) has spent the past five years frustrating and stalling the peace process -- including by means of destabilisation through conflict -- and corrupting the electoral process at every level.

CENSUS CORRUPTED

The preparatory census, taken over a mere two weeks in 2008, is totally compromised. While the census results have been widely rejected as fraudulent, the National Elections Commission (NEC), which is dominated by former NCP/NIF officials, not only accepted the results but used the rigged census results to calculate power-sharing: i.e. to draw up electoral districts, apportion seats in the national and state legislative assemblies, and organise voter registration. It will use the same rigged results to calculate wealth-sharing between the North and South.

Recommended reading: The reality is that as many as 4-5 million southerners have been displaced by war, and those displaced into the North have been counted as Northerners for the purpose of inflating the Northern population so that the North can secure more electoral districts and more assembly seats. Of course this has also deflated the Southern population to the degree that Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM's) representation in the National Assembly has decreased from 28 percent to around 21 percent.

Likewise, some three million Darfuris have also been disenfranchised due to displacement and insecurity, thus reducing their representation. In fact, in Darfur, whole parts of states -- specifically southern regions under rebel control -- have been left out of any constituency. For example, in its comprehensive report of 30 March 2010 entitled "Rigged Elections in Darfur and the Consequences of a Probable NCP Victory in Sudan" , International Crisis Group reports that: "The rebel-held Jebel Marra massif in Southern Darfur, with an estimated population of 1 million but only 35,000 according to the 2008 census, has no seats."

Despite the displacement, the population of Darfur has exploded with a reported 322 percent increase in nomadic Arabs! Investigators report that Darfuri towns ethnically cleansed by government-sponsored Arab janjaweed militias have been resettled with nomadic Arabs from neighbouring Chad and Niger and Mali who have been issued with Sudanese ID papers and registered to vote -- for the NCP.

Reeves stresses in his August 2009 report that it is "important that these results stand clearly revealed as fraudulent: otherwise the NIF/NCP will use these putatively 'national' elections to legitimize their continuing rule, and to de-legitimize both the SPLM and the Darfur rebels, as well as northern political opposition groups. . ." Reeves continues: ''it is hugely important that the NIF/NCP fraudulence be exposed because the rigging could result in the NIF/NCP gaining sufficient legislative power to re-write the CPA, or the terms of the SSDR."

Indeed, as noted by defense analyst Dr J. Peter Pham Ph.D., in a column entitled "Sudan's Elections and the Country's End Game" (6 April 2010) , the rigging of the census has already had a catastrophic impact. "As a result of this maneuver [rigging of the census], the ten states of South Sudan together have been allocated only one-fourth of the number of National Assembly seats awarded to the fifteen northern states. The shift is significant because South Sudan would no longer be able to block major legislation, much less changes to the country's constitution -- the former requires a two-thirds majority of parliament, while the latter three-quarters of the vote". (This is exactly what Reeves, in his June 2009 report, described as "a worst case scenario".)
See also: Elections, Making Sense of Sudan:
Sudan’s Census and the National Assembly Elections
posted by Marc Gustafson, 19 Dec 2009

BALLOTS

The International Crisis Group's comprehensive report comments on the recent discovery "that the NEC had diverted the tender for printing presidential ballots from a Slovenian printing house (for $800,000) to the government-controlled Sudanese Currency Printing Company (for $4 million). The NEC justified its decision to favour a Sudan-based firm on the fact that if a run-off vote is required there would only be 21 days to complete the printing and that the Sudanese Currency Printing House was accustomed to operating in secrecy, so the risk of fraud would be reduced."

Further to this, as Reuters reports, the ballots, which are already amongst the most complicated in the world, have been printed only in Arabic, when South Sudan is mostly English-speaking.

And as Pham notes, there can be no political legitimacy without electoral credibility.

NCP DIVIDES OPPOSITION (AGAIN). TOO EASY!

Several opposition parties had united in an SPLM-led coalition under the name, National Consensus (or the Juba Alliance), with the SPLM's candidate for the Presidential poll, Yasser Arman, viewed as the only serious contender to al-Bashir. Arman is a northern Arab Muslim, former Communist, and long-time supporter and high ranking member of the SPLM.

It now appears, however, that the NCP/NIF regime in Khartoum has struck a deal with the SPLM that will guarantee al-Bashir the Presidency in exchange for his guarantee that the referendum on Southern self determination will go ahead.
See: SPLM: Between the NCP and the National Consensus (30 March 2010)
For on Wednesday 31 March, Yasser Arman pulled out of the presidential race citing rigging, and insecurity in Darfur. Arman's pull out from the presidential race will almost certainly guarantee al-Bashir a first round win. Had Arman contested, he might have forced al-Bashir into a second round run-off, which al-Bashir might not have been able to win.

According to the Sudan Tribune (31 March) : "The Sudanese opposition reacted with anger and surprise after the ex-Southern rebel group decided to pull its presidential candidate leaving them feeling betrayed as speculations raged on a secret deal with the ruling party.

"'This is a betrayal by the SPLM of its agreement with the opposition forces,' said Kamal Omer from the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) to Reuters, adding the party would not be boycotting the polls.

"Sideeg Yousuf from the Communist Party said he was surprised by the unilateral announcement, which he called 'rushed'. 'The SPLM and all the political forces agreed that they would make their position in consensus at a meeting tomorrow [Thursday]," he told Reuters. But he added he hoped the parties would still all meet.

"Fouad Hikmat, from the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, said the SPLM had struck a deal with the NCP to allow Bashir to win the presidency. 'The SPLM have decided to not [fully] boycott the elections because they don't want to jeopardize the referendum -- that is very important to them.'"

According to Reuters: "People in South Sudan said they were disappointed the SPLM would not field a contender against Bashir, but that the referendum was more important to them.

"'Perhaps it was a deal between the SPLM and the NCP to protect the referendum,' civil servant Manong Thot said in the southern capital, Juba.

"Doctor Victor Jal said it was the right move. 'This election is not going to be free and fair -- the NCP is going to rig it, everyone knows this,' he said. 'What is important for us is just the referendum.'"

It absolutely beggars belief that the SPLM would value the word of the NCP/NIF regime over the solidarity of its allies. Once again, the NCP/NIF regime has managed to divide its opposition.

Here are two excellent news clips from Al-Jazeera that cover most of the points raised above:
"SOFT LANDING?" NOT LIKELY!

Meanwhile, optimists (particularly in the US administration) are still chattering away about progress in democracy and the need to prepare Sudan for a "soft landing" after the Southern self-determination referendum.

If there is a referendum (and remember, the NCP has rigged the elections specifically with the aim of controlling 75 percent of seats in the National Assembly so it can amend the constitution and re-write the terms of the CPA) then you can guarantee there will not be any "soft landing". Khartoum is never going to just let the oil-rich South secede.

In November 2009, Sudan expert Eric Reeves wrote a third report on the elections entitled (ominously) "Sudan: Election Crisis Reveals a Country Lurching Toward War." This too is recommended reading.

Reeves' introductory paragraph provides a summary of his thesis: "There is growing awareness that national elections scheduled for April 2010 will fail on many counts, with unpredictable consequences for the Khartoum regime's ambitions to retain its stranglehold on Sudanese national wealth and power. In turn, the prospect of an aborted or compromised Southern self-determination referendum (January 2011) looms ever closer, with the potential to trigger unfathomable destruction."

In my mind there is little doubt that Sudan is indeed "lurching towards war". I believe that this has been more or less the case ever since the untimely death of long-time SPLM leader Dr John Garan in the months after the signing of the CPA. As the South's most passionate advocate of the New Sudan vision (united, secular, democratic), Dr Garang was probably the only Southern leader capable of making that vision a reality. (For a more comprehensive report on this issue see my religious liberty news & analysis posting of 3 October 2007 entitled "Southern Sudan: On the path to war".)

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Myth of the "Black Widow"

Reporting from Moscow after the 29 March Moscow train bombings, Tony Halpin described the female suicide bombers, known as Black Widows, as women who martyr themselves to avenge the deaths of their loved ones.

"These women are willing," wrote Halpin, "even eager, to become martyrs, driven by a desire for revenge on Russia after witnessing the deaths of children, husbands or other relatives in the two Chechen wars of the 1990s."

The above description of the "Black Widow" is being parroted in virtually all Western media. Unfortunately, it reveals a shameful ignorance of the phenomenon. Even worse, it is an embarrassing and troubling wholesale adoption of one of the terrorist's primary weapons of asymmetric warfare -- propaganda.

It would be easy but tiresome to dig through the cases, read through the profiles, and disprove the myth. Thankfully, several strategic analysts have already done the footwork and written quite exhaustive reports on the subject.

Terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky has a chapter in his phenomenal book Chechen Jihad (HarperCollins 2007) devoted to "The Black Widows".

Bodansky writes concerning the jihad in Chechnya: "Conventional wisdom holds that this sudden and unprecedented upsurge in female terrorists [through 2003-2004] was the result of the horrific conditions created by the war in Chechnya. Having lost all, or virtually all, of their male relatives to the Russians, the logic went, these women had nothing left to live for; taking revenge against their tormentors was the only salve for their despair. Sympathetic European sociologists and psychologists studying the phenomenon concluded that the Widows were driven by despair born of extreme violence toward either the women or their families, and that their relative isolation left them feeling deprived of any perspective or alternative. According to this argument, the Islamists weren't responsible for motivating these young women into suicide -- only for providing them with an 'opportunity for sacrifice' and revenge."

"Yet," Bodansky continues, "this popular explanation is contradicted by the evidence in several ways."

As Bodansky notes, the first Chechen nationalist rebellion (1994-1996) produced more civilian casualties but no suicide bombers at all. The phenomenon of suicide bombers in Russia, including female suicide bombers, belongs exclusively to the second Chechen war (commencing 1999) which is an Islamic, not a nationalist, struggle.

Bodansky also notes that female suicide bombers defy stereotypes. Some have been poor while others have been middle class. Some have been raped and tortured by Russian soldiers while others have been raped and tortured by mujahedin. Some have been motivated by jihadist ideology while some have been simply depressed young women desperate for a way out.

According to Bodansky, in late 2002 Chechen commander Shamil Basayev commandeered a corps of Arab expert terrorists who had been trained in the Iraq war theatre to develop a training programme for would-be-martyrs in south-eastern Chechnya. In his book, Bodansky provides extensive detail of how networks have been run and how operations have been enacted.

Debra D. Zedalis makes the same observations in her 2004 report for the Strategic Studies Institute. Despite the exasperating political correctness of Zedalis's report -- entitled FEMALE SUICIDE BOMBERS -- it too notes that female suicide bombers (Palestinian and Chechen) defy simplistic definitions for some have been widows while others have never been married, and some were unemployed while others were professionals. She quotes Gregg Zoroya who says that there are "few differences between a man and a woman carrying out such a mission. It may be a surprise, but motivations are the same: they do believe, they are committed, they are patriotic, and this is combined with a religious duty."

Bodansky's profiling of three Chechen female suicide bombers reveals some tragic personal motivations.

(1) On 24 June 2003, Luiza Asmayeba (22) was wounded in a shootout with Russian police before she could detonate her device. Before she died she told the authorities that she had been repeatedly raped and impregnated by Chechen mujahedin and saw martyrdom as her only escape. An autopsy confirmed that Luiza was pregnant.

(2) Zulikhan Yelikhadzhiyeva (according to reports, an educated, cultured, modern girl) and her step brother Zhaga fell in love and ran away together. Zulikhan, however, was subsequently kidnapped by one of her half-brothers, a mujahed, who scolded her, telling her that her actions had brought shame on the family and condemned her to hell. He then convinced her that the only way she could restore the family's honour and secure her place in heaven with all the promised rewards and pleasures, was to become a martyr -- "a shakhida on the path of Allah" (according to a letter she wrote to Zhaga). Zulikhan blew herself up in the Wings concert attack of 5 July 2003.

(3) Zarema Muzhikhoyeva (23) surrendered to Russian police on 9 July 2003 after failing in her attempt to blow herself up in central Moscow. Her husband had been murdered in a business dispute. Her childless brother-in-law then took her daughter from her. After her relatives caught her trying to escape with her daughter, they beat her and said it would be better if she were dead. So Zarema went to meet Shamil Basayev (now deceased), who was at that time the commander of the Chechen mujahedin. He promised her, that if she were to become a martyr, he would give her family enough money to raise her daughter. And so Zarema offered herself as a suicide bomber.

Official sanction

This appalling exploitation of vulnerable, grieving and abused young women is sanctioned at the highest levels of Islam for the sake of mass murder. Zedalis's report for the Strategic Studies Institute provides excellent insight here.

According to Zedalis, Islamic leaders' attitudes have changed over time as women suicide bombers proved their worth as highly strategic tactical weapons. Zedalis notes that in early 2002, after Fatah started using female suicide bombers, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (now deceased), who was at the time the spiritual leader of Hamas, categorically renounced the use of women as suicide bombers for reasons of modesty. However, in January 2004 after the first Hamas female suicide bomber struck, Sheikh Yassin supported the act saying it was a "significant evolution in our fight. The male fighters face many obstacles. Women are like the reserve army -- when there is a necessity, we use them."

Zedalis also notes: "Saudia Arabia originally refused to legitimize female suicide bombings as martyrdom; however, in August 2001, the High Islamic Council in Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa encouraging Palestinian women to become suicide bombers."

Also: "Lebanese Muslim cleric Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah declared, 'It is true that Islam has not asked women to carry out jihad (holy war), but it permits them to take part if the necessities dictate that women should carry out regular military operations or suicide operations."

Zedalis concludes that: "Terrorist organizations use women as weapons because they provide:
• Tactical advantage: stealthier attack, element of surprise, hesitancy to search women, female stereotype (e.g., nonviolent).
• Increased number of combatants.
• Increased publicity (greater publicity = larger number of recruits).
• Psychological effect." [Embarrassing the enemy as much as shocking the public.]

Zedalis quotes one commander in charge of training future suicide bombers as saying, "The body has become our most potent weapon. When we searched for new ways to resist the security complications facing us, we discovered that our women could be an advantage." And another who boastfully described the Palestinian female suicide bomber as the "Palestinian human precision bomb".

"Finally," writes Zedalis most ominously, "many organizations deliberately are targeting women for strategic purposes because female suicide bombers receive more media attention. Research has shown that 'public perceptions of the level of terrorism in the world appear to be determined not by the level of violence, but rather by the quality of the incidents, the location, and the degree of media coverage.' So the media provides both an advertising and recruitment tool for terrorist groups. Analysts noted that, when the first Palestinian female bombing occurred, the 'news was given great prominence . . . far more than any male suicide bomber would have received. Women who kill or threaten to kill are hot news. It is a reaction that knows no state or religious boundaries.'"

Furthermore, it is quite ridiculous and even sexist to insist that men kill for ideology while women only kill for love. Women kill for a whole lot of reasons, including ideology and reward, especially when the reward involves assurance of salvation with pleasures in heaven, material reward for family on earth, and fame and glory -- for suicide bombers are heroes in Palestinian society. Their faces adorn the streets, while sport grounds, schools and community centres are named in their honour.

(See also: Female Suicide Bombers: Dying for Equality?
Edited by Yoram Schweitzer. Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, August 2006)

Justice demands truth

The propaganda surrounding the Black Widow myth ensures that neither the jihadists nor their ideology are never held accountable. The myth clearly serves its purpose as a means of Islamist propaganda, encouraging us to direct our anger at Israel and Russia, when we should be directing abhorrence, disgust and indignation at the mujahedin who exploit and abuse these vulnerable young women, and the esteemed dictators of Islam who sanction such inhumanity.

"Black Widows" -- or as they should be known: female suicide bombers -- are victims indeed, but not of Israeli or Russian aggression. They are victims of disgusting and inhumane Islamic deception and exploitation. If anything exposes the gulf between Islam and Biblical faith it is this! For the God of the Bible commands: "You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child." (Exodus 22:22 ESV) AND "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." (James 1:27 ESV)

God exhorts his people through his prophet Isaiah to "plead the widow's cause" (Isaiah 1:17 ESV), and so we must reject the myth of the Black Widow and hold the dictators of Islam and their minions accountable for their murderous terrorism and for their appalling abuse and exploitation of the vulnerable. Furthermore, it can be guaranteed that when the strategic, tactical and shock value of female suicide bombers wears off, children will be next. Indeed, vulnerable children are already being exploited and "sacrificed" for their propaganda value in both the Palestinian and Chechen theatres.

by Elizabeth Kendal

For background on the Chechen Jihad see:
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB 030) 11 Nov 2009
NORTH CAUCASUS (southern Russia): Church Struggles Amidst Terror