Monday, May 24, 2010

Social kumbhs, Hindutva, and the politics of perpetuating caste privilege

On 20 May 2010, Compass Direct News issued an immensely important News Flash entitled: "Hindu Nationalists Plan 'Religious Cleansing' in Madhya Pradesh District".

As Compass Direct News (CDN) reports, the Indian State of Madhya Pradesh will host a social kumbh (pilgrimage / festival) on 10-12 February 2011. It will be held in the predominantly tribal Mandla district, in Mandla city which is situated on the banks of the Narmada River. Some "20 lakh" (i.e. 20,00,000 or 2 million) Hindu devotees are expected to attend this Maa Narmada Samajik Kumbh (Mother Narmada Social Kumbh).
See also:
Mahakumbha to be held from Feb. 10 to 12 in Mandla
Maha Media, 19 April 2010

Vanvasi Mahakumbh at Mandla from February 10 to 12 next year
15 April 2010 press release, Dept of Public Relations, Madhya Pradesh

The Social Kumbh

A "social kumbh" is not a traditional Kumbh Mela, but the recent invention of Hindutva (Hindu Nationalist) forces. It is a new tradition, built upon new mythologies.

The Hindu nationalists instigate social kumbhs for the purpose of:
  • bringing the traditionally animist Adivasis (lit. first inhabitants) -- whom the Hindutva forces call Vanavasis (lit. forest dwellers) -- into the "mainstream": Hinduising them (effecting religious conversions that translate into political conversions) and communalising them so they can be recruited into sectarian militias;
  • stirring up hatred against Christians whose welfare and education ministries threaten the Hindu elites' ability to enslave the tribals into the future; and
  • shattering Adivasi minority solidarity by polarising the indigenous tribal communities along religious lines and setting them against each other.
Integral to the Hindutva strategy is the demonisation of Christians as evil and of Christianity as a foreign conspiracy and existential threat to Indian national security and sovereignty. Indian unity, under the banner of militant Hindu nationalism, is then presented as the only solution.

Shabari kumbh - Feb 2006

In February 2006, the Shabari Kumbh Mela -- a social kumbh organised around newly invented, purpose-built mythology -- seriously threatened the lives of some 8,000 tribal Christians living in Dangs, Gujarat.

For full background see:
India: The dictators of Hindutva aim for 'death blow' in Dangs
By Elizabeth Kendal, for WEA RLC, 26 January 2006

www.shabarikumbh.org 2006 (this site contains a number of articles that exemplify Hindutva rhetoric against Christianity and freedom of religion)

God intervened in Dangs in February 2006 in answer to the prayers of many (2 Corinthians 1:11) and despite unprecedented incitement, the planned "cleansing" -- the Hindu "kranti" (revolution) -- did not materialise. Regardless, after the event the Sangh Parivar (body of Hindu nationalist organisations) boasted of "great gains" in Dangs -- i.e. many tribals allegedly made the religious-political conversion to Hindutva.

Abhishek Kapoor reported for Ahmedabad Newsline (13 February 2006): "End of the three-day Shabari Kumbh here marked the beginning of a new experiment on mobilising Hindu forces. Led by the RSS, organisations have planned to use this new tool — more such kumbhs across the country in a semi-religious setting — to gather Hindus to counter Christian missionaries and conversions.

"According to plans, these congregations would be different from the regular Kumbh Melas held at Prayag, Hardwar, Ujjain and Nashik and focus on reform and social engineering within Hinduism to consolidate its followers as a single block."
See:
RSS wants more such kumbhs
Abhishek Kapoor, Express India, 13 Feb 2006

India: Hindutva advances while communal violence bill flounders.
By Elizabeth Kendal, for WEA RLC, 3 March 2006

India: Gujarat and Orissa prefigure Indian crisis
By Elizabeth Kendal, for WEA RLC, 1 Sept 2008

The Shabari Kumbh Mela held in Dangs, Gujarat, in February 2006, will doubtless be the prototype for the Maa Narmada Samajik Kumbh to be held in Mandla, Madhya Pradesh, in February 2011.

As with the February 2006 kumbh in Dangs, the Mandla social kumbh will likewise be built on a foundation of lies and incitement. Sectarianism and violence against Christians is destined to escalate. According to the report by CDN, this is indeed the stated intent of the Sangh Parivar.

Mandla kumbh -- Feb 2011

On 22 April 2010, Hindu nationalists held a ceremony at the proposed site of the Mandla kumbh to break ground for the event.

Compass Direct News (CDN) reports: "More than 100 Hindu devotees from Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra attended the ground-breaking ceremony in Mandla, reported Patrika newspaper. A source present disclosed that leaders announced a list of objectives to be achieved before the festival, with one prominent agenda item being to drive away Christian pastors, evangelists and foreign aid workers from the district.

"The newspaper quoted four Hindu leaders who have spoken out against foreign Christians and renewed their oath to obtain 'reconversions' from supposed Hindus who had become Christians. The leaders pledged to 'cleanse Mandla of Christians' and cleanse the Narmada River by means of the kumbh."

On Sunday 2 May 2010, only 10 days after the ground breaking ceremony, local pastor Bhag Chand Rujhiya (36), his family and his fellowship were attacked by a mob of around 40 armed, abusive and belligerent Hindu militants. Eventually Pastor Rujhiya was taken away by police to be interrogated, intimidated and harassed. He was released from detention after being forced to sign papers promising that he would cease evangelisation in the area, and would no longer lead worship or prayers.

Forced into hiding for a time, Pastor Rujhiya returned to his village on 7 May, though he said he was still fearful as threats from Hindu nationalists continued. "My wife and children say that we are ready to face whatever comes our way", he told CDN. "We will not renounce our faith."

Hindutva: the politics of perpetuating caste privilege

Because Hindutva forces target their activity to the religious sphere, it slips under the radar of most political analysts. But while the Hindutva forces target the religious sphere, it is all for political gain.

Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) is all about politics -- about securing Hindu power in a Hindu State for the sole purpose of perpetuating racist caste privilege. The social kumbhs merely provide Hindu elites with a religious platform upon which they can lie and deceive, whipping up fear and hatred for the sole purpose of dragnetting the tribal masses for exploitation as vote cattle.

What the tribals do not seem to realise, is that by believing the lies and being drawn into religious-political conversion, they are voting to perpetuate their own enslavement.

By Elizabeth Kendal

MORE BACKGROUND
an old but excellent and extremely helpful report:
Human Rights Watch
INDIA: POLITICS BY OTHER MEANS:
Attacks Against Christians in India
October 1999 Vol. 11, No. 6 (C)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

ERITREA: RELENTLESS PERSECUTION

Christianity came to Ethiopia-Eritrea in the early 4th Century, brought into the court of King Ezana by two Syrian merchants, Frumentius and Aedesius.[1] Today Eritrea is around 50 percent Christian, with more than 90 percent of all Eritrean Christians belonging to the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC). In recent decades a Biblical revival movement known as 'Medhane Alam' (lit. Saviour of the World) has grown within the EOC. While some priests and churches have been accommodating, even open, others have resisted, some aggressively, forcing those seeking a more evangelical Christianity to leave the EOC for Protestant fellowships. The exodus has caused great angst in the hierarchy of the EOC.

Following a second war with Ethiopia (1998-2000), the government cracked down hard in 2001 on anything it viewed as a potential threat to national unity. They cancelled elections, closed down all independent media, rounded up and imprisoned their political opponents and repressed all civil opposition. In May 2002, reportedly at the behest of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the government also cracked down on 'foreign' and 'non-traditional' religion, banning all churches other than the state-sanctioned Muslim, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Mekane Yesus (Evangelical Lutheran) denominations.

If the EOC thought it could support a cruel, totalitarian regime's religious repression and then trust that regime to protect it, then it was naive indeed.
". . .the traitor betrays, and the destroyer destroys." (Isaiah 21:2a)

By 2005 the regime was repressing the EOC, sending its priests into military service, and removing and detaining 'dissident' priests who objected to the persecution of Medhane Alam. When EOC Patriarch Abune Antonios protested the attacks on his own church, he was removed from office (defrocked). He was placed under house arrest in January 2006 and replaced with a government political appointee, Mr Yoftahe Dimetros. Today the EOC -- its priests, properties, funds and historic manuscripts -- is under the control of the regime.

Eritrea is now one of the most repressive, human-rights-abusing states in the world. The repression has created a refugee crisis, and many of them are Christians. The Army has orders to shoot to kill anyone who tries to flee across the border. An estimated 3000 Christians, mostly Protestants, are in prison for their faith. Some are in military prisons and some have been 'disappeared' into the State's network of secret underground prisons. Prison conditions are inhumane and torture is routine. A number of Christians have died in custody and many others have been crippled and scarred for life. Eritrean authorities arrested eleven more Christians on 9 May. International Christian Concern reports that Pastor Mesfin, Pastor Tekie and Mr Isaac and his four children were arrested, as well as four women while conducting a prayer meeting in a private home in the capital, Asmara. They are all members of Faith Church of Christ which has existed in Eritrea since 1950 but was banned in 2002.

Eritrea's President Isayas Afewerki denies there is any religious persecution in Eritrea. Because there is no free media, Eritrean Christians have to risk their life and liberty to leak information of their plight to the outside world.

For more information see:

Amnesty International
Eritrea: 'You have no right to ask' - Government resists scrutiny on human rights
Index Number: AFR 64/003/2004
Date Published: 18 May 2004
This document reports on the human rights record of the Eritrean government. It covers such issues as torture, arbitrary detention, "disappearances", religious persecution, abuses of national military service conscripts, refugees and returnees, constitutional rights and international treaties and political imprisonment.


US Commission on International Religious Freedom
Annual Report 2010
Chapter on Eritrea


Christian Persecution in Eritrea
29 November 2007
This site contains a short video on religious persecution in Eritrea, featuring Eritrean gospel singer Helen Berhane, a victim of this persecution who now has asylum in Denmark.

(This post is a slightly extended version of Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 056 | Wed 19 May 2010)

[1] A World History of Christianity. Edited by Adrian Hastings. Cassell 1999, p197

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sacrificed on the altar of "quiet diplomacy"?

". . .the traitor betrays, and the destroyer destroys." (Isaiah 21:2a ESV)

VIETNAM: Archbishop of Hanoi, Msgr. Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet (57), replaced.

Those who have followed the dramatic developments in Vietnam over the recent years will know the significance of Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, Archbishop of Hanoi. Msgr. Kiet has risked his own life and liberty seeking justice and religious freedom for the church in Vietnam. In the process he inspired many hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese Catholics, as well as local Protestants and global religious liberty advocates. Consequently, Kiet became a thorn in the flesh of the repressive Communist Party dictatorship that rules Vietnam -- a regime that has spent recent years escalating repression.

BACKGROUND

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels stated in their 1848 Communist Manifesto: 'The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.' Consequently, when the Communists came to power in northern Vietnam in 1945 and in the south in 1975, they confiscated private properties, including those owned by the Church.

Vietnamese Catholics and Protestants have long sought the return of their confiscated properties. For decades the Church and State have been stuck in a cycle of political and diplomatic jostling: church petitions -- government rejections -- church petitions with international support -- minimalist government appeasement followed by more land seizures and demolitions -- more church petitions followed by frustration and discouragement.

In December 2007, as Msgr Kiet petitioned the government for the return of Hanoi nunciature (the Vatican Embassy -- a large and beautiful historic house built next to St Joseph's Cathedral -- confiscated in 1959), he decided to try a new strategy. Frustrated by years of futile political activism, Archbishop Kiet simply asked the faithful to pray. And pray they did. On 18 December 2007, as a Spirit of prayer gripped the church, the Catholic faithful poured out onto the streets of Hanoi.

The public prayer vigils initially focused on the Hanoi nunciature. Crowds grew daily until, on Christmas Eve of 2007, some 5,000 Catholic faithful sang, worshipped and prayed in the open air outside the Hanoi nunciature.

And that was merely the beginning. The prayer vigils spread to other sites across the city as Catholics came out to show solidarity and pray for justice and religious liberty. The prayer vigils in Hanoi's Thai Ha Redemptorist parish were particular large. Those participating in the prayer vigils held flowers and crosses, and candles on dark nights and umbrellas on rainy days.

By August 2008, the government was clearly stressed. Responding as dictator regimes do, they sent in riot police to break up prayer vigils; they started beating and arresting participants and journalists; they started beating and arresting their lawyers; they started sending in Communist vigilantes to do government dirty-work; and they accused Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of inciting protests.

The Catholics, however, were not bowed -- the prayer vigils continued.

Eventually the authorities agreed to return Hanoi's apostolic nunciature to church ownership if only the Catholics would end the prayer vigils.

The Catholics ended their vigils, and then, on 19 September 2008, the Communists bulldozed the Hanoi nunciature to the ground and turned the site into a public park.

". . .the traitor betrays, and the destroyer destroys." (Isaiah 21:2a)

Despite the loss of the Hanoi nunciature the prayer vigils continued. On Sunday 21 September 2008, some 10,000 Catholics turned out in the street to sing, worship and pray for justice and religious liberty. It was the largest public demonstration seen in Vietnam since the Communists seized power.

The Communist Party responded with a virulent media campaign targeting Msgr Kiet and calling for his removal. The Catholic faithful responded with yet more prayer vigils, this time in support of Archbishop Kiet.

See:
Vietnam: Prayer vigils push government to breaking point.
Religious Liberty News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal, 16 September 2008

VIETNAM: PRAYER VIGILS CONFRONT GOVERNMENT
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLP) 496, Wed 17 Sep 2008

Vietnam: Govt belligerence escalates against Hanoi Catholics.
Religious Liberty News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal, 26 September 2008

Vietnamese Catholics Under Communist Iron Grip.
VietCatholic News 29 Sept 2008 (includes pictures)

Biggest protest since 1954 over Hanoi old nunciature demolition
CathNews 22 Sept 2010

State media launch campaign for Hanoi’s archbishop removal
VietCatholic News, 17 Oct 2008 (with photos)


The struggle continued through 2009, with more prayer vigils and more property destruction.

See:
VIETNAM: GREATER DESTRUCTION AS PERSECUTION ESCALATES
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 009, Wed 17 Jun 2009

VIETNAM: BRUTALITY CONFRONTED THROUGH PRAYER
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 017, Wed 12 Aug 2009


. . . and into 2010 . . .

See:
Redemptorist Superior General urges prayer for persecuted Vietnamese Catholics.
Catholic News Agency, 26 Jan 2010 (with picture)

KIET "RETIRES"

In April 2010, Msgr. Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet (57), Archbishop of Hanoi, announced that he would "retire" for health reason. He would be replaced by Bishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon (72), a bishop who has the approval of the Communist Party.

Msgr. Kiet reports that his chronic insomnia and asthenia (weakness) is preventing him from fulfilling his duties as Archbishop and so he sought leave from the Vatican to retire. According to Kiet, neither the Bishop's Conference nor the Holy See wanted to accept his resignation. Eventually however, he managed to convince them. Msgr. Kiet is appealing to Vietnamese Catholics to embrace their new Archbishop and stay united.
See:
Archbishop Kiet: They did not want me to retire, I had to ask the Pope myself
by J.B. An Dang, Hanoi, AsiaNews 14 May 2010.

The Communist Party however, is singing a different tune. According to official State media reports, the Communist Party is treating the removal of Kiet as a significant victory on their "road map" to removing stubborn, dissident, religious liberty activist priests. According to State media, the Vatican agreed to remove Kiet and replace him with government-approved Bishop Nguyen Van Nhon, in exchange for a Papal visit to Vietnam and talks on normalisation of diplomatic ties.
See: Hanoi launches a press campaign, using Msgr. Kiet to discredit the Vatican
by Emily Nguyen, Hanoi, AsiaNews, 13 May 2010

The drama is dividing the church. Catholics who believe Kiet is telling the whole and absolute truth, suspect there is a government conspiracy afoot to hurt the Vatican. Others sense a government conspiracy to silence Kiet and decapitate the prayer movement, and that they secured Kiet's removal in a deal struck with the Vatican.

The division is such that the government is scoring a victory no matter what the truth of the matter. However, if Kiet is telling the whole truth, then the Pope needs to confirm his story with a public statement that will end speculation and division. The fact that the Pope has not done so only fuels suspicion that the Communist Party's version is the correct one. Clearly the Communist Party is using its media channels to stoke division -- and doubtless it is loving every minute of it.

". . .the traitor betrays, and the destroyer destroys." (Isaiah 21:2a )

Asia Times Online is unambiguous in its assessment, publishing its report under the title: Vatican, Vietnam sacrifice a holy man (Asia Times Online, 7 May 2010).

The author writes, "Against this backdrop [the continuing prayer vigils and years of persistent government slander and threats against Msgr. Kiet], President Nguyen Minh Triet paid a visit to Pope Benedict XVI in December 2009, following Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's historic Vatican trip in 2007. The two sides are reported to be discussing normalization of diplomatic ties.

"Following Triet's meeting with the pope, Kiet went on medical leave and traveled to Rome for treatment. Vietnamese Catholic websites report that Triet insisted that the Vatican remove Kiet as a condition for establishing closer ties. This request, if true, would be consistent with the tone of government-controlled newspapers.

"On returning to Vietnam in April [2010], Kiet announced that he was retiring, for 'health reasons'. His stepping down, though not unexpected, was a disappointment for many Vietnamese, Catholic and non-Catholic, who admired his courageous leadership. Several online petitions have been organized calling on Pope Benedict to keep Kiet as archbishop of Hanoi."

See also :
Vietnam: Catholics shaken by new Hanoi coadjutor's appointment
VietCatholic News, 23 Apr 2010

A ceremony to install Bishop Nguyen Van Nhon of Dalat, President of Vietnam Episcopal Council, as coadjutor archbishop of Hanoi, was held on 7 May. It was however, met with angry protests.
See:
Repercussion of Hanoi coadjutor installation ceremony
VietCatholic News (09 May 2010) (includes photos)

Hanoi Catholic journalist JB Nguyen Huu Vinh, who was beaten by police in February as he was reporting religious repression, told VietCatholic News that he fears the controversy will hurt the good standing the Catholic hierarchy has had in the eyes of Catholic faithful.

Reporting on the installation ceremony he wrote: "In a strategy obviously planned to avoid a direct confrontation with protestors, the procession of bishops and clergy had to enter through a side door, not the main entrance of the cathedral as in other previous solemn ceremony.

"Likewise, at the end of the ceremony, the bishops returned to the archbishopric office by a backdoor where they could escape the sea of protestors." Further to this, reports Huu Vinh, the new coadjutor bishop of Hanoi, Mgr. Peter Nguyen Van Nhon did not give the traditional blessings to the faithful.

And so it appears likely that Archbishop Kiet has met the fate of other problematic front-line religious liberty and justice advocates and been sacrificed on the altar of "quiet diplomacy" by Church leaders who, for some reason and despite the evidence of history, continue to invest their hopes and trust in human beings and human institutions, even in traitors and destroyers whose ultimate ambition is to silence the song of God's people.

Friday, May 14, 2010

SPLM - NCP alliance: a "covenant with death" (Isaiah 28:15)

As was expected, the Arab, Islamist, dictatorial and genocidal regime of Omar al-Bashir won Sudan's totally compromised April elections.

Omar al-Bashir won 68 per cent of the presidential votes, while candidates belonging to al-Bashir's party, National Congress Party (NCP, formerly the National Islamic Front), won the majority of seats in the National Assembly as well as governorships in 13 of the North's 14 states.
See: Dream election result for Sudan's President Bashir
By James Copnall, BBC News, 27 April 2010

The southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM, a political opposition movement based in the South) retains control of Southern Sudan, having won 93 percent of the vote in the South. SPLM leader Salva Kiir, a former rebel army commander, was confirmed as leader of the South with 92.99 per cent of the Southern vote. He will be sworn in as Sudan's Vice President on 21 May.

According to the Financial Times, the National Consensus' presidential candidate, Yasir Arman of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), picked up 21.7 per cent of the vote, in spite of his having pulled out of the elections, allegedly in protest over electoral fraud. Who's to say what could have been achieved had the opposition stayed united?

(In the days prior to the elections, the SPLM betrayed and abandoned the National Consensus alliance of opposition parties to renew its coalition with al-Bashir's NCP. The deal involved the SPLM guaranteeing al-Bashir the presidency in exchange for al-Bashir guaranteeing the Southern Self-Determination Referendum. See my blog-post of 8 April 2010 entitled, Sudan's elections: already totally compromised. )

Western powers, including the US, while acknowledging the election was flawed, are accepting the results as legitimate, citing progress in the "process of democratisation". (In reality, the only "progress" that has been made has been in the art of cheating.)
See: Sudan Votes: Responding to an Electoral Travesty
Eric Reeves, 20 April 2010

The SPLM thinks it can guarantee South Sudan -- home to 80 percent of Sudan's oil -- a smooth secession by empowering, and entering into an alliance with, the lying, treacherous, oil-dependent NCP of Omar al-Bashir. What a travesty!
For background and analysis on the Khartoum-SPLM alliance, see: Southern Sudan: on the path to war By Elizabeth Kendal, 3 Oct 2007

In an article entitled, "How political prostitution might cost South Sudanese their hard-earned freedom", New Sudan Vision's John Penn de Ngong decries the fact that Khartoum has once again been able to use promises and inducements to divide not only the oppositional National Consensus, but the SPLM itself.

Further to this, according to Penn de Ngong, the South's "neighbours who once were our symphasizers have started stabbing our backs". Both Chad's President Idris Derby and Eritrea's President Isaias Aferwoki have now expressed opposition to Southern secession. Furthermore, Penn de Ngong reports that IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development), the UN and the AU (African Union) have likewise expressed reservations about Southern secession. (Egypt has never supported Southern secession on account of concerns over the possible impact on Nile water supply.)

"Why," asked Penn de Ngong, "are Kenyans, Ugandans, Congolese, etc. shifting their border posts deeper into Southern Sudan this time than last time? Why the military confrontation at our borders of Nadapal (Kenya), Moyo (Uganda), Bazi (Congo DR)? Now with the discovery of oil and other minerals in our land (South), be afraid, be very afraid! Or else be prepared, be very ready!"

In an article entitled, Many Sudans yet to come, in the 22 - 28 April 2010 issue of Al-Ahram (Cairo), reporter Ali Belail interviews Mansour Khaled, a member of the Political Bureau of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and former advisor to the Sudanese Presidency; and Mubarak Al-Fadil Al-Mahdi, a former interior minister and the leader of the Reform and Renewal faction of the Umma Party, one of the opposition parties that boycotted the elections; and questions whether Sudan's elections mark a step forward.

According to Mansour Khaled, the last few decades could well be like a honeymoon compared to what could happen to Sudan in the next few years.

Belail reports that tensions are high and that while there are several issues that could trigger anger and conflict, "oil is perhaps the most potent factor". As Belail notes: "almost 80 per cent of oil is produced south of what would be the border between the two countries".

According to Mubarak Al-Fadil Al-Mahdi, revenue from oil represents nearly 95 per cent of Sudan's total revenue. "Oil has become the livelihood of this government," he says, "and they got used to lavish spending."

Al-Mahdi's fear is that because the regime in Khartoum has neglected the economy, he cannot see them willingly relinquishing their lifeblood. "Our information is that the National Congress Party [NCP] will not let go of the oil," says Al-Mahdi. He predicts that the government will not allow the south to separate. Rather, the regime will "stall as it has done before so that the referendum is not carried out".

Al-Ahram notes that such stalling could trigger a unilateral declaration of independence from the South, which would inevitably trigger a return to armed conflict. (For other scenarios see: Khartoum's strategic assault on Southern Self-Determination Referendum, By Eric Reeves, 26 August 2009 )

"Anyway," states Al-Mahdi, "there is going to be a confrontation between the south and the north again . . . back to the war." And, according to Al-Mahdi, if and when war does resume, Sudan -- with its heavily armed, poverty-stricken population -- risks becoming another Somalia.

"There were mistakes done by the elite," says Al-Mahdi. "They should have seen that Sudan was multi-coloured, multi-ethnic, multi-religious. Sudan should be taken back to the drawing board -- a civil state that recognises multiplicity. This is the only way if you want to keep Sudan together."

Indeed, that was exactly what the late Dr John Garang (SPLM war-time leader) envisioned. But, as Mansour Khaled notes: "The ruling elite in the north do not accept diversity."

There will certainly be war in Sudan -- only now, instead of being a war between a discredited and desperate regime in Khartoum and a united, encircling opposition fighting for a united, secular, democratic Sudan, it will be war between an empowered, enriched, confident Khartoum and disparate, disillusioned, embittered and divided minority peoples each fighting for whatever they can manage to get for themselves.

There will be a massive war for control of the oil fields presently situated on the southern side of the North-South border.

The SPLM's alliance with the NCP is nothing other than a "covenant with death" (Isaiah 28:15). May God have mercy on the Church in Sudan.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mosul, Northern Iraq: Muslims express solidarity with Christian victims

NEWS TO WATCH -- some good news shines amidst the horror of war

Muslim Students Stage Sit-In To Support Christians At Iraqi University
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 7 May 2010 (excerpts)

MOSUL, Iraq -- Lecturers and Muslim students at northern Iraq's Mosul University staged a sit-in today to protest deadly attacks against Christian students, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

A student activist who requested anonymity told RFI that the action is in support of Christian students who have been the victims of bomb attacks and murder. He said the sit-in will end only when measures are taken to ensure the safety of Christians, in particular, and the student body as a whole. . .

Christian students stopped attending classes at Mosul University after that attack in fear for their safety. The Muslim students staging today's sit-in have said they will return to class only when their Christian counterparts do.

Student Sami Karim told RFI that the protesters are especially indignant that their fellow students have become targets simply because they are Christian.

--------------------
Background

On 2 May, Christian university students in Mosul were the targets of a horrific terror attack. At least 50 Iraqi Christian students are receiving hospital treatment, with the most severely wounded being transferred to hospitals in Turkey. The attack has forced some 1,000 students to drop classes for the rest of the semester.

See: Bomb Attack in Iraq Seriously Injures Christian Students
Compass Direct News, 5 May 2010

IRAQ: Does anyone care about the latest bomb blast in Mosul?
By John Pontifex, Aid to the Church in Need, 5 May 2010

Christians protest after north Iraq bomb attack
(AFP) – May 3, 2010


For more information the 2 May attack and on the insufferable plight and bleak future of Iraq's indigenous Assyrian-Chaldean Christians, see my post of 5 May 2010.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

70 Christian college students wounded in targeted terror attack

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

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

Christians targeted in Mosul blasts
Aljazeera, 2 May 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multiple wars loom

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

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

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

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

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

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

How this issue was resolved is not yet known.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Muqtada al-Sadr

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

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

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

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

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

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