Monday, July 30, 2012

Syria: "Is al-Qaeda gaining a foothold?" ABC interview with Prof. Vali Nasr.

By Elizabeth Kendal

On Sunday 29 July, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Jim Middleton spoke to Vali Nasr, a professor of international politics at Johns Hopkins University, concerning the situation in Syria.

Nasr insists that the fall of the regime will not lead to democracy as the rebels are not democrats. Furthermore, "this is an uprising," he says, "that is becoming increasingly bloody, it's now essentially a sectarian war between a minority Alawite regime and its Christian and Kurdish allies and the majority Sunnis. This is no longer really about democracy. And liberal democracy does not emerge in these kinds of circumstances of violence and fratricide."

Nasr also gives voice to the concern widely held by Christian advocates that should the Assad regime fall, there will be no way to "prevent a massacre of the Alawites and the Christians and those Sunnis who supported Assad".

As Nasr notes, what is happening in Syria is what has happened in Iraq. "The very jihadists who used to go from Syria to Iraq have started to come back from Iraq into Syria. . .  It's not clear as to who will prevent al-Qaeda from setting up shop in various little emirates across Syria the way in it did in western Iraq after the collapse of the Saddam regime."

He warns that if Syria "collapses in a bad way," the whole region will be impacted. "None of the countries around it will be immune from impact. And some like Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq would be vulnerable to much more than a minor impact; the reverberation and the aftershocks could completely destabilise those countries. . .  The fight in Syria will not stay in Syria. It will go to Lebanon, to Iraq, to Jordan."

Nasr notes that Iran's influence "has diminished and it will diminish further," while adding, "but the change of government in Syria is not going to be clean. It's not going to be that a pro-Iranian government steps down and a pro-Saudi one takes over. Syria is going in a direction that probably there will be no winners and everybody will lose."

I highly recommend this eleven minute interview to anyone interested in formulating a clearer picture of the Syrian tragedy.

Is al Qaeda gaining a foothold in Syria? (Video and transcript)
ABC Asia Pacific Focus, 29 July 2012

For more on this subject see also:

Is Syria Falling into the Hands of Al-Qaeda?
by Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute
July 27, 2012

Syria: foreign jihadists could join battle for Aleppo
Jihadists, many with al-Qaida sympathies, are said to be planning to join a decisive battle against regime troops.
By Martin Chulov in Beirut
The Guardian, Monday 30 July 2012

Quotes:
"Scores of foreign jihadists have crossed into Syria from Turkey in the past two weeks, some of them telling Syrians that they are planning to travel to Aleppo to join a decisive battle against regime troops. . .

"Syrian residents and a Turkish smuggler interviewed by the Guardian say many of the men have come from the Caucasus, while others had arrived from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Gulf Arab states.

"'There have been Tunisians, men from Uzbekistan too and from Pakistan,' said the smuggler. 'They say the Syrians are brothers and that they are going to help them'."

This (allegedly) is "to the annoyance of many rebel leaders who say that they will fight the new arrivals if they try to impose themselves."

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Free Syrian Army rebel leaders who think they can advance with Islamist aid and then fight them off later when they no longer need them, should take a look at Mali!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Russia: the jihad spreads north. Terror comes to Tatarstan.

By Elizabeth Kendal

On 19 July, the day before the start of Ramadan, two senior Muslim clerics known for their efforts to halt the spread of Salafi Islam in Russia's Tatarstan province, became victims of targeted terror attacks.

Tatarstan's chief mufti, Ildus Faizov (49), only narrowly escaped death. He had unbuckled his seatbelt and was exiting his Toyota Land Cruiser to make a phone call in the capital, Kazan, when three massive bombs attached to his vehicle exploded. Faizov was thrown clear while the car, which was ripped to shreds, was engulfed in flames. The bombing came just half an hour after Faizov's deputy, Valiulla Yakupov (48), was assassinated. Yakupov, who was shot six times on the porch of his apartment block, managed to get to his car where his driver was waiting for him, but died from chest wounds on the way to the hospital. Faizov was hospitalised with injuries mostly to his legs. He was released on 24 July in a stable condition to return to his home, which is now under police guard.

See: Muslim leaders targeted in twin attacks in Russia's Tatarstan (includes video)
Russia Today, 19 July 2012

Since becoming Tatarstan's chief mufti in 2011, Faizov has been cracking down on radical Islamists, dismissing ultraconservative preachers and banning textbooks from Saudi Arabia. He maintains that the main threat comes from followers of Salafism and Wahhabism which are increasingly being preached in some of the mosques in Tatarstan. "The Salafis and Wahhabis constitute a very great danger," he told AFP last year. "There are no moderates among them. They all finish one day by taking up arms."

As for Yakupov, the Kazan Week website recently listed Yakupov as Tatarstan's second most influential Muslim, calling him the "strategist behind Faizov's policy of rooting out religious extremism."

Muslim-majority Tatarstan is home to some exquisite ancient mosques and boasts the world's largest Qur'an. As Daisy Sindelar notes in the Turkish Weekly (20 July), it has long been "a relatively peaceful, prosperous republic with a reputation for cultural diversity and religious tolerance".

See: Tatarstan Attacks Spark Fears That Islamist Threat Is Spreading
By Daisy Sindelar, Friday 20 July 2012

"No one has claimed responsibility for the dual assaults," writes Sindelar, "the first terrorist-style attacks in the republic. . . But the clerics' pro-Kremlin, anti-Wahhabi stance has stirred speculation that they may have been targeted by hard-line Islamists looking to break Moscow's grip on Russia's second-largest religion.

"In a statement, Russia's National Antiterrorism Committee said it was exploring a number of motives behind the attacks, including the work of the Tatarstan Mufti's Office 'to counter the spread of radical religious ideas across the republic's territory'."

Dozens of Muslims have reportedly been questioned and five suspects have been detained in connection with the attacks, which appear to be related to "ideological disagreements" and Faizov's business interests. Faizov has been criticised in local media for allegedly profiting from tours he organised for Muslim pilgrims and for trying to gain control of one of the oldest and largest mosques in Kazan, which receives hefty donations from thousands of believers. (Kuwait Times, 19 July)

Moscow Times reports: "Working together, the Federal Security Service and police arrested the Muslim head of the Vakf parish, 39-year-old Kazan resident Murat Galeyev; 41-year-old Airat Shakirov, a resident of Tatarstan's Vysokogorsky district; Abdunozim Ataboyev, 26, an Uzbek native registered in Kazan; and a 36-year-old Kazan resident whose name was not disclosed.

"The suspected mastermind of the attacks -- the board chairman of the Idel-Hajj company, 57-year-old Rustem Gataullin -- was also detained. A Kazan court is scheduled to decide Monday whether to sanction his arrest. . . Gataullin also has links to radical Wahhabis, Kommersant reported."

Kuwait Times notes that Salafi Islam has been spreading in the oil-rich Volga River province due to an influx of Muslim clerics from Chechnya and other predominantly Muslim provinces of Russia's North Caucasus region. Chechen separatist leader, the Islamist Doku Umarov, reportedly issued a religious decree in 2011 calling on radical Islamists from the Caucasus to move to the Volga River region that includes Tatarstan. According to the Qatar Tribune, Umarov warned that his fighters were on a mission to "free the lands of our brothers" (i.e. to supposedly "liberate" Russian regions with large Muslim populations).

The Qatar Tribune comments: "Around half of Tatarstan’s population is Muslim . . . In Kazan [the capital] few women wear headscarves and a huge mosque stands beside an Orthodox cathedral." (see, Kazan: where Europe meets Asia and The Beauty of Kazan)

Pavel Salin, a political analyst at the Center for Political Assessments in Moscow, down played suggestions that Tatarstan, as a largely peaceful and compliant Russian republic, would be the target of a full-scale Kremlin crackdown. He agreed, however, that the Kazan terror attacks would be a "serious worry" for the Kremlin.

Friday, July 20, 2012

US State Department fails to designate Boko Haram as FTO (plus UPDATE - Nov 2013)

UPDATE November 2013
US bows to pressure and designates Boko Haram, Ansaru as terror groups
14 Nov 2013

THE US has designated Nigeria's radical Islamist Boko Haram network and an offshoot known as Ansaru as terror groups, bowing to months of pressure to act.

. . . "By cutting these terrorist organisations off from US financial institutions and enabling banks to freeze assets held in the United States, these designations demonstrate our strong support for Nigeria's fight against terrorism and its efforts to address security challenges in the north," White House homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco said.

Nigeria welcomed the decision and hoped that the US would step up intelligence cooperation. . .

Representative Chris Smith, who chaired a hearing Wednesday on Boko Haram, welcomed the designation which US lawmakers have long sought.

"What these murderers have brought to Nigeria and surrounding countries is misery and death with no redeeming outcome," he said.

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June 2012: US State Department


-- maintains socio-economic grievance is to blame for terror;
-- prescribes economic development as remedy.

By Elizabeth Kendal

On Thursday 21 June, the U.S. State Department designated three Nigerians as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT). All three are senior leaders of Boko Haram with known links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM): Abubakar Shekau (Boko Haram's most visible leader), Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi.

According to a statement by the State Department, the designation under Executive Order 13224, "blocks all of Shekau’s, Kambar’s and al-Barnawi’s property interests subject to U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with or for the benefit of these individuals."

However, the State Department resisted calls to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO). This is despite the fact that Boko Haram is a foreign organisation that engages in terrorist activity and maintains ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Shabaab in Somalia -- two groups that have been designated FTOs. Morgan Lorraine Roach, Research Associate with the Heritage Foundation, maintains that Boko Haram does meet FTO requirements and warns that it would be a mistake for the US to consider itself immune from attack.

See also, Boko Haram: Obama Fails to Designate Nigerian Sect a Terrorist Organization
By Morgan Lorraine Roach, 22 June 2012

The State Department's failure to designate Boko Haram an FTO generated some controversy.  The matter was discussed on Tuesday 10 July, at a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.

U.S Policy Toward Nigeria: West Africa's Troubled Titan
10 July 2012, Chaired by Christopher Smith (R-NJ)
Transcripts of witness testimonies can be downloaded from this site.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) condemned Boko Haram's attacks as "unprovoked and unconscionable".  Smith reminded the hearing that "Boko Haram reportedly is in league with al-Qaeda in the Mahgreb and is involved at some level with Tuareg rebels in northern Mali, Islamists in Somalia and possibly even the Taliban in Afghanistan."

Consequently, the question from Smith and committee member Mr Turner, was why? Why is the State Department blocking the designation of Boko Haram as an FTO?

It appears that the US State department has resisted calls from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to designate Boko Haram as a FTO on the grounds that the State Department believes Boko Haram is not monolithic and that only a small faction within Boko Haram (albeit its leadership) has any interest in international terrorism. The larger faction, so the State Department's theory goes, is "moderate".

Furthermore, because the US State Department appears to believe that the root cause of instability in Northern Nigeria is socio-economic hardship and not Islamic fundamentalist political ideology, the State Department prescribes aid and economic development as the remedy. 

Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the US Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State, testified that, "Boko Haram thrives because of social and economic problems in the north that the government must also address. A coordinated government effort to provide responsible, accountable governance to all Nigerians, while creating opportunities for economic growth, will diminish the political space in which Boko Haram operates."

Earl Gast, the Assistant Administrator for Africa, U.S. Agency for International Development, drew the same conclusions as Carson. "Consistent with the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, USAID's development activities target the root causes of the popular frustration with the Government of Nigeria that stokes instability in the North, Middle Belt and Niger Delta regions: poor governance, insufficient respect for human and civil rights, inadequate delivery of basic services, and a lack of economic opportunity, particularly for young Nigerians. . .

"Each of these efforts [aimed at advancing economic development] contributes to Nigeria’s development and mitigate the root causes of instability. . ."

According to Gast, Nigeria's political leadership can mitigate the root causes of instability by pursuing "reforms that will create a large, educated middle-income country, while holding itself accountable to engage and serve politically, socially, and economically marginalized populations."

Like Carson, Gast does not see Islamic fundamentalist political ideology, or even the southward migration of the Muslim Fulani, as an issue in, let alone a root cause of, the north's insecurity and instability. In fact, in both Carson's and Gast's testimonies, a word search for "Islam" reaps zero results / no matches.

During question time, Representative Smith questioned why Boko Haram's leaders were designated as SDGTs, while Boko Haram (the organisation) was not designated an FTO. Smith noted that Boko Haram is, at its core, pushing a radical Islamic position, seeking to impose Sharia law and promoting radical Islam.

In response, Carson reiterated the State Department's position, maintaining that Boko Haram is not monolithic or homogenous, and for the large part, it is only killing Nigerians and only for domestic reasons: i.e. to discredit the Nigerian government. "The phenomenon of Boko Haram is one of discrediting the central government in power, for its failure to deliver services to the people", he said. "As long as social economic conditions exist in the north to the extent that they do now, there will be a reaction . . ."

Chairman Christopher Smith lampooned the State Department for paying lip service to the insurgency in Nigeria.  He also flatly rejected any assertion that terrorism is caused by social and economic problems, telling Ambassador Carson, "It is all too convenient to suggest that somehow, just because there are depravations" that poverty is to blame. "Ideology that is highly, highly radicalized may exploit poverty at times, but poor people do not necessarily become terrorists and killers. That is an insult, frankly, to poor people,"

Smith lamented that the State Department seems to grossly underestimate the threat of militant Islamists who seek to impose Islamic Sharia law, and under-appreciate the radical Islamic fervour that drives Islamists to kill for Sharia.

See: US Congressional Panel Examines Boko Haram Violence in Nigeria
By Cindy Saine, Voice of America, 10 July 2012

Also invited to give testimony to the subcommittee was Darren Kew, Ph.D, Associate Professor, McCormack Graduate School, University of Massachusetts Boston. Kew's analysis echoed that of Carson's and Gast's, but went much further.

With his opening words -- "The recent escalation of violence between Nigeria's Muslim and Christian communities is not a single conflict between the two great religions" -- Kew set the stage for an exercise in politically correct moral equivalence. As it turned out, it was worse than that.

MUSLIMS TURNING TO CHRIST

Kew maintained that the context of Northern Nigeria's sectarian violence was Nigeria's "dramatic demographic shift in [the] number of Christians over the last 20 years. Heavy Christian proselytising in the minority-dominated regions of the 'Middle Belt', in the northeast, and in the far Northern regions of the country has won numerous converts in these areas, fuelling resentment amongst some members of the Muslim communities. . ." He added that that while some fringe Muslim groups do engage in proselytising, their success is limited.

Ignoring the reality that apostates are severely persecuted and even killed, Kew maintained that ethnic minority Muslim are converting to Christianity in pursuit of political power.

Contradicting Carson's and Gast's testimonies, that the April 2011 elections were Nigeria's "most credible national election since it returned to democratic rule" (Carson) and "freer and less violent than any since Nigeria's return to democracy in 1999" (Gast), Kew implied that the April 2011 election provided legitimate grounds for northern grievance. Kew aired failed presidential candidate General Buhari's claim that he (a northern Muslim) only lost because the poll was rigged, without providing any evidence in support of the claim.

Kew claimed that the militarisation of the Middle Belt is a cause rather than a consequence of sectarian conflict. Furthermore, he made constant reference to "Christian militias", without ever actually naming one.

Incredibly, Kew asserted that "pastoralist-farmer conflicts" occur where "predominantly Christian farmers have moved into traditional grazing lands for Muslim herders". In reality, the exact opposite is the case: desertification has driven the Fulani Muslim nomadic cattle herders south where they end up trespassing on and frequently destroying "indigene" predominantly Christian-owned agricultural lands. The southward migration of the Fulani is a reality and a problem felt right across the ethnic-religious fault-line, not merely in Nigeria.

Contradicting Boko Haram's claims about itself, Kew maintained that Boko Haram is not really interested in Christians, but is only targeting churches in a tactical ploy to "situate itself as the Islamic alternative to the corrupt status quo".

Echoing Carson's and the State Department's hypothesis, Kew claimed that there are hardline Boko Haram and "moderate" Boko Haram -- as if imposition of Sharia Law was a moderate proposition. He also recommended that while Boko Haram "currently holds the military initiative" (his opinion) it should build alliances and create a political movement "or some form of parallel party with which it is affiliated or which seeks to capture its message".

He recommended that the US take a "subtle approach" towards Boko Haram, isolating its "hardliners" while strengthening its "moderates".

A Nigerian Perspective

Standing in stark contrast, was the testimony of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). An eye witness, with first-hand experience and historical understanding, his statement is essential reading.

"Nigeria," said Oritsejafor, "is not a country divided by North and South, but a country divided between those who support freedom and equality in the eyes of the law, and those who promote persecution and violence as a means to an end.

"To an outside observer it may appear as though Boko Haram is not a monolithic group; that it is fragmented and disorganized, but I am here today to give you the Nigerian perspective. Since its creation, the Boko Haram network has never hidden its agenda or intentions. Boko Haram has openly stated that they reject the Nigerian State and its Constitution and seek to impose Shari'ah Law. To this end, Boko Haram has waged a systematic campaign of terror and violence. They seek an end to western influence and a removal of the Christian presence in Nigeria.

"This is outright terrorism, not legitimate political activity or the airing of grievances. By refusing to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization, the United States is sending a very clear message, not just to the Federal Government of Nigeria, but to the world – that the murder of innocent Christians, and Muslims who reject Islamism, and I make a clear distinction here between Islam and Islamism, are acceptable losses. It is hypocritical for the United States and the international community to say that they believe in freedom and equality, when their actions do not support those who are being persecuted. . .

"In Nigeria, my people are dying every single day, and it is only a matter of time before the international terrorist links and anti-democratic Islamist agenda of Boko Haram turns its attention to the United States. In fact, this may already be a reality, in April of 2012 the NYPD learned that a U.S. resident living on the East Coast had sent surveillance, including maps and photographs of lower Manhattan and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels to an alleged member of Boko Haram based in Nigeria. . .

"We too, want to have freedom, freedom of religion, freedom to worship as we choose without fear, we want to have justice, based in equality and not driven by discriminatory religious practices. Let me remind us that this is not about economics but about an ideology that has a history of sponsoring genocide across the globe. . ."

SEE ALSO: Report says killings in Nigeria next to Bosnian war
12 July 2012 The Guardian (Nigeria)
U.S. claims limited understanding of Boko Haram
Oritsejafor accuses Obama of hypocrisy

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

For more on the relationship between economics and human rights, see:
Economics and Human Rights,
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 21 July 2012

For information on the most recent violence in Nigeria see:
Nigeria: terror in Plateau state
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin 168, 18 July 2012

Economics and human rights. Incl. "How is it possible?" by Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang (June 2004)

Boko Haram, the al Qaeda-link terrorist organisation that is traumatising Nigeria, has always been open about its Islamic agenda. The US administration, however, believes it knows better than the terrorists why terrorism happens. Refusing to take Boko Haram at its word, the US administration of President Obama insists that the root cause of Boko Haram terror is not Islamic fundamentalist political ideology, but frustration and grievance over poor living standards. The prescribed remedy, therefore, is socio-economic development.

See: U.S. State Department fails to designate Boko Haram as FTO
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 21 July 2012

Surely the hypothesis that improved living standards lead ipso facto to improved security and human rights has been tested long enough and proved false. Surely such thinking is both naive and a denial of reality.

As a supplement to the above Nigeria posting, I am republishing a piece written in June 2004 by persecuted Vietnamese Mennonite pastor Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang.

The full text of that WEA RLC News & Analysis posting (missing from my blog due to oversight) is available here (ASSIST).  It includes a report on the 8 June 2004 arrest of the Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang, the General Secretary of the Vietnam Mennonite Church; and a translation of a letter dated 21 May 2004 from the leaders of the Vietnam Mennonite Church to the Mennonite World Conference detailing the severe and ongoing persecution in Dong Nai Province.

As noted in that posting, one Western diplomat, when presented with information describing the violent persecution in Dong Nai, responded in virtual disbelief with the question, "How is it possible that a province which is growing economically and which enjoys a lot of foreign investment, and whose standard of living is rising, is not also advancing human rights but is on the contrary is said to be persecuting Christians?"

The June 2004 WEA RLC News & Analysis posting also includes Rev Quang's response to that question. It is a response that is worth republishing today, for it strikes at the West's false yet intransigent belief that human rights are achieved through economic development and modernisation, rather than by challenging the way people think / what people believe.

--------------------------------------------------
HOW IS IT POSSIBLE?
By the Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang
(June 2004, full text)

"How is it possible?"  These are the words of a ranking foreign diplomat of a Western country when he heard the story of what happened in Dong Nai [in April-May 2004] and the various ways that Christians were oppressed.  This diplomat, who in many ways supports the bilateral relationship between our two countries and supports the development of Vietnam, was so sceptical that he blurted out, "How is it possible that a province which is growing economically and which enjoys a lot of foreign investment, and whose standard of living is rising, is not also advancing human rights but is on the contrary is said to be persecuting Christians?"

Confronted with such views and ideas from the diplomat, I was at once angry and sad.  I was angry because the people responsible for causing these events "live above the law" and have a low view of our citizens and of humanity in general in the 21st Century.  They do not value human beings, they violate the basic rights of people - the human rights that have been the desire of people for ages - and they have the power to deny the natural aspirations for freedom of the citizens of Vietnam.

I was sad because this country has heard too many politicians say we should serve the high calling of "freedom, democracy and independence", while hundreds of thousands of human beings have fallen in our homeland. At this time many suffer great hardships, even for simply trying to exercise the minimum right of "gathering to worship the Almighty" and are savagely beaten.  The world has been exploding with social aspirations and advanced technology. Huge changes are taking place all over, affecting many governments like a strong whirlwind, bringing some of them to an end.  The choice seems to be "develop, change and survive" or "disintegrate and fade away."

How is it possible?  Is it possible that the extreme confusion of the diplomat, when faced with the fact of this repression, is evidence that he does not want to admit such things happen?  His diplomatic work is to wholeheartedly foster relationships so that his country will understand and support Vietnam.  The diplomat seems to believe in the philosophy that says "Develop the economy and raise the standard of living, and the valuing of human rights and freedoms will inevitably follow."

He has his beliefs, and I have my belief that the Bible's teaching is accurate when it speaks on principles governing humanity. Matthew 6:33 "But seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

If a country honours and places a higher value on things spiritual (as the Kingdom of God, righteousness, etc.) than on material matter and economics, then that country will enjoy peace, stability and development.  Compare the countries that respect the Creator and respect human rights, with countries which denigrate the Creator and trample on human rights. You will see clearly that those which respect the Creator and honour human rights are blessed, and those which disdain the Creator and flaunt human rights seem to be cursed. The difference between South and North Korea is a stark example. The South has a large section of the population that worships the Creator and the country respects human rights, while the North completely puts down the Creator and tramples on human rights is in an incredibly desperate condition.  (The two Germanys formerly and the two Koreas today are clear and concrete examples.)

The Bible teaches in Genesis that in the beginning was God and that the world, the atmosphere, plants, animals, people and other things were created later. To raise the creation higher than the Creator is contrary to the Bible, as is putting material things ahead of the freedom to worship, to enjoy authentic human dignity and democracy and other human rights.

If an evil person is very rich but lives an openly debauched life, then the morality of all society will suffer and a dictator who has in his hands the means, the authority and the power, will use them to strangle freedom, democracy, and faith and morality.

The bankrupt policy of promoting economic development ahead of the values of freedom, democracy and human rights, though it seems to have the advantage in the beginning of winning outside favour, is contrary to the laws of the Creator and so how can it be supported? We have had nearly two decades of so-called "renovation", and a decade without the US embargo, but the situation of human rights and religious freedom for us Vietnamese has gone nowhere.  Ask the Christians in Dong Nai.

So the prioritizing of what "seems right to man"-- that is putting a priority on promoting economic development and ties -- has worked out precisely contrary to the hopes and desires of the diplomacy of countries which enjoy democracy.

Evangelists Ms. Pham Thi Kim Huong, Ms. Trinh Thi Kim Phuong, Mr. Nguyen Thanh Trung, and Mr. Dang Dang Khoa are servants of the Lord who had their house of worship smashed. Then were cuffed and dragged away in front of their flock and before the villagers by Dong Nai security police and government officials on May 2, 2004. They were treated as criminals and thrown into a stinking vehicle used to transport pigs.  The humiliation which the Mennonite pastors, evangelists in Dong Nai had to endure was a great disgrace, but they bravely endured with dignity.

How many times have the faithful been trampled on in Dong Nai? Only the perpetrators know, but nothing is hidden from God - not one of the evil acts in Dong Nai province.

As for the diplomat, he may continue to ask incredulously, "How is it possible?" in reference to our struggle for religious freedom, and the efforts of our government which has recently cranked up its positive announcements and propaganda efforts whilst in actual practice continues it's dirty deeds in Dong Nai. Dong Nai province has given the diplomat a clear answer with its unreasonable and steady harassment and persecution of the believers continuously from Easter until now.  And this is but one small example of a widespread reality.

As a citizen of Vietnam I have a question.  "How is it possible that the government machinery in Dong Nai Province is unaware that it has broken the law according to Article 129 of the Criminal Code of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam?"  Local officials continue to deny the right of assembly and the right to worship God, giving orders to suppress Christianity, as has just happened again.  How is it possible that government officials in Dong Nai continue to treat Christianity as an enemy and no one takes any action at all?

Respectfully,
Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang
(June 2004)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

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

By Elizabeth Kendal

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

IMPLEMENTING IDEOLOGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK debates teaching same-sex marriage in schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he is right!

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

To follow these issues visit:

UK:
The Christian Institute
Christian Concern
The Christian Legal Centre

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Syria Crisis: cutting through the propaganda

By Elizabeth Kendal

In addition to this week's Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin on Syria --

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 167 | Wed 11 Jul 2012
SYRIA: Christians' plight lost under mountain of propaganda


-- I am providing a short reading list of recently published, freely-available articles for those who would like some help in cutting through the propaganda.

A Jihadist, Anti-Western Agenda is Being Forced on Syria
By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs.
Analysis, April 2012 (via oilprice.com)
Quotes: "The international community has been blindly following a jihadist-driven agenda for Syria; a solution the majority of Syrians reject, but which Turkey and Qatar have been driving. It begs the question: why are analysts in Washington — or Paris or London — not digging more deeply into what is really happening, given that the solution they have endorsed is so profoundly anti-Western?"

". . . the West, led by the US, Turkey, and Qatar, is striving to repeat in Syria the legacy of the interventions in Bosnia and Libya, irrespective of the realities on the ground or the desires of the local population. To justify such an intervention, the US leads a media campaign to portray the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as westernized and democratic when Arab governments and the Arab media know that this is simply untrue.

"The Syrian National Council has always been a front of the more militant- jihadist wing of the Muslim Brothers [MB: the Ikhwan]."

"At the core is the confrontation between resurgent Sunni Arab Islam-ism and the region’s aspirant non-Arab Islamist hegemonic powers: Mahdivist Iran and neo-Ottoman Turkey."

"The Fertile Crescent of Minorities — from east to west counter-clockwise: Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds, ‘Alawites, Druze, Maronites, Jews and Circassians — serves as the buffer, preventing a cataclysmic eruption."

"Only a viable Fertile Crescent of Minorities — of which the ‘Alawites and Druze of Syria are presently the most beleaguered elements — can thus prevent the simmering Arab Middle East from conjoining with the Islamist ascent of Turkey and Iran and jointly creating an explosive critical mass. . . . The marginalization and destruction of the Syrian section of the Fertile Crescent of Minorities, even if in the name of democracy, not only would not elevate the Sunni majority but would cause cataclysmic upheaval throughout the greater Middle East."

Influx of foreign fighters add to Syria's carnage
By Hala Jaber, The Sunday Times, 17 June 2012
Quote: "Another fatwa, by a fellow Sunni cleric, Adnan Arour, was even more direct, threatening not only Syria's Alawite rulers, but Christians and other minorities who side with them. 'We will chop you up and feed you to the dogs,' Arour said."
(If the link takes you to a subscription page - trying cutting the pasting the title into a google search -- that usually seem to get around it)  Alternatively - here is film footage.

Duplicity drives West's Syria policy
By Bob Rigg, Asia Times Online, 4 July 2012
Quotes: "The West falsely claims that its interest in Syria is purely humanitarian, while it is covertly pouring political and logistical fuel onto the flames of civil war in Syria, escalating the conflict and ensuring ever greater losses of human life."

". . . when the West speaks of human rights, this may well be a front for self-interested geopolitical power plays."

Regime change in Syria: A true story  
By Francois-Alexandre Roy, Asia Times Online, 6 July 2012
This article covers subheadings:
* US and al-Qaeda: same goal this time around
* Turkey's game
* Western media (which includes a reference to the Houla massacre false flag operation).
-------------------------------
Houla massacre

For more on the Houla massacre, now exposed as a false flag operation wherein Free Syrian Army forces disguised as pro-Assad 'thugs' massacred unsympathetic mostly non-Sunni families and blamed the regime, see:

Reconsidering The Houla Massacre – OpEd
By: Paul Woodward
Euraisia Review, 11 June 2012

The UN and the Houla Massacre: The Information Battlefield
By Ronda Hauben, 18 June 2012.

THE HOULA MASSACRE: Opposition Terrorists "Killed Families Loyal to the Government"
Detailed Investigation by Marat Musin
Global Research, 1 June 2012
-------------------------------

Halting Syrian chaos 
By Robert D Kaplan and Kamran Bokhari
STRATFOR via Asia Times Online, 7 july2012
Quotes: "But [Assad's] removal might well hasten the slide into chaos within Syria and in adjacent Lebanon, rather than slow it.

"Assad's departure could even ignite a disintegration of the Syrian power structure into various gangs and militias."

"One can also argue that from a human-rights perspective, chaos can be worse than authoritarianism."

Kaplan and Bokhari recommend that the US hand "Iran (and maybe Russia) a total strategic defeat in Syria" on the grounds that "fighting a proxy war with Iran and Russia there is less desirable for the United States than reaching out to them."

There will be hell to pay for NATO's Holy War
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times Online, 10 July 2012
Quote: "In the event of a post-Assad Syria dominated by hardcore Sunnis infiltrated by Wahhabis and Salafi-jihadists, guaranteed blowback will leave Afghanistan after the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad looking like a ride on Disneyland Hong Kong."

VIDEO

Vatican's Fides News Agency - U.S. Backed Syrian Rebels Killing Christians.
 14 June 2012 (YouTube 3:49mins)

'Attack on Iran after Syria falls major goal of the West'
 8 July 2012 (YouTube 5:18mins)

For further background - see this blog, label: Syria

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

MALI: Islamists destroy heritage and take human shields


By Elizabeth Kendal

The cultural heritage of Timbuktu -- destroyed

Having seized control of northern Mali, al Qaeda-linked jihadists are now destroying the cultural heritage of Timbuktu.

Reached by telephone in an undisclosed location in northern Mali, Ansar Dine spokesman Oumar Ould Hamaha told Associated Press: "The only tribunal we recognize is the divine court of Shariah. The destruction is a divine order. It's our Prophet who said that each time that someone builds something on top of a grave, it needs to be pulled back to the ground. We need to do this so that future generations don't get confused, and start venerating the saints as if they are God."

See: Islamistscontinue destroying Timbuktu heritage
By Rukmini Callimachi, Associated Press 2 July 2012

According to Reuters: "The UNESCO ambassadors meeting in St. Petersburg on Tuesday joined Malian Culture Minister Toure in appealing to global governments and organisations and 'all people of goodwill' to act to prevent the prevent the destruction of the Timbuktu monuments by 'vandals'. 'We consider this action to be a crime against history,' the appeal said.

"Experts are comparing the Timbuktu tomb destructions to similar attacks against Sufi shrines by hardline Salafists in Egypt and Libya in the past year. The attacks also recall al Qaeda attacks on Shi'ite shrines in Iraq in the past decade and the 2001 dynamiting by the Taliban of two 6th-century statues of Buddha carved into a cliff in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan."

See: Timbuktu tomb destroyers pulverise Islam's history
By Pascal Fletcher , Tue Jul 3, 2012

No-one should be surprised, for as history demonstrates, cultural destruction such as this is to be expected when Islamist take power. [see footnote]

The citizens of Gao -- taken hostage

According to Mossa Ag Attaher, a Paris-based spokesman for the Tuareg-nationalist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its offshoot, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), "have mined the area surrounding Gao. Many people are trying to escape, to take the bus to go to Bamako, but the Islamists are stopping them."

The MNLA spokesman told AFP that Gao residents "are facing a serious humanitarian crisis. After the criminal destruction of the shrines of Muslim saints, (the Islamists) are now using the population as hostages, as a human shield to protect itself from an MNLA counter-attack."

A west African source also confirmed to AFP that landmines had been planted around Gao "to prevent a possible attack by troops" from the west African regional bloc ECOWAS.

See: Al-Qaeda has mined access to key Mali town:Tuareg rebels
Monday, 02 July 2012
Also: Islamists smash Timbuktu relics
AEST Tue Jul 3 2012

" 'The population in Gao has been taken hostage,' Bernard Valero, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman, said separately. 'Within the context of war and a food crisis, mines appear to have been laid around the city to prevent people from leaving. This in our eyes is an act of terrorism. ' "

See: Islamists mine Gao
3 July 2012, By John Irish and Tiemoko Diallo

Footnote:

For more on this subject of Islam's destruction of its own history,
see: Islam vs. History
by Daniel Pipes
July 2, 2012

On Islam destroying Christian history:

Surely one the most horrendous "crimes against history" committed in recent decades is the desecration and destruction of well over 100 churches, monasteries and religious sites across Serbia's Kosovo province between 1999-2003.

What makes this "crime against history" so particularly egregious is that, unlike the crimes against history committed in North Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, the crimes against history committed in Kosovo were not committed by militant African, Middle Eastern and "Afghan" Salafi jihadi purists exploiting a security vacuum, but by "white" Albanian Muslims and US-allied KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) personnel under the watchful eye of US-NATO KFOR "protection" forces.

For 60 pages of documentary evidence see: Kosovo Crucified.
This report lists 107 desecrated and destroyed sites; identifies which NATO force was responsible for protecting that site; details the degree of destruction; and provides foundation dates.
For example:
(2) The Church of the Mother of God near Suva Reka;
KFOR zone of responsibility: German;
church razed (terrain cleared, all traces of existence removed);
church founded in 1315.

Around 35 churches and monasteries were subsequently desecrated and destroyed when some 50,000 Albanian Muslims went on an anti-Serb and anti-Christian racial-religious pogrom across Kosovo over 17-19 March 2004.

Quite a few of the properties destroyed dated back to the mid 14th century and contained some of the most exquisite iconography known, but now lost, to the world.