Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Australia: same-sex marriage debate heats up

By Elizabeth Kendal

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has shifted his position on same-sex marriage. As reported by The Australian (21 May 2013): "Kevin Rudd has thrown his support behind gay marriage as an important social reform for the nation, in a dramatic reversal of his long-held public position.

"After what he calls a difficult personal journey, the former Labor prime minister says he has concluded the secular Australian state should recognise same-sex marriage, while religious institutions should be legally allowed an exemption maintaining their historic position that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman."

What MP Rudd is not talking about is that the legalisation of same-sex marriage requires a change to the definition of "marriage" in the Marriage Act -- and that would have enormous, wide-reaching implications.

In the United Kingdom, in March 2012, a Home Office official asked the Department for Education (DfE) whether schools have a legal responsibility to teach about marriage, and how the introduction of same-sex unions would affect this.

According to the Daily Mail (2 July 2012): "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.'

"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 British 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.

It should also be noted that  the UK's Equalities and Human Rights Commission has deemed religious liberty a "qualified right" which "the state can interfere with" in some circumstances.  The equality regulator has ruled that whilst employees working in the public sector -- specifically marriage registrars, teachers and chaplains -- should be free to express their views on marriage without being disciplined they are not free to "opt out" of duties because of religious beliefs. In other words, religious beliefs will not be accommodated.

A survey has revealed that whilst 74,000 British teachers (17 percent of all teachers) said they would teach "the importance" of same-sex marriage (as required) but would not be happy about it, a further 40,000 teachers said they will refuse to teach on "the importance" of same-sex marriage despite knowing they may face disciplinary action or dismissal.

Meanwhile, France has drafted laws to ban the use of the words "mother" and "father" in the civil code, replacing them simply with "parent"; while the U.S. Department of Education is replacing the terms "Mother" and "Father" on student loan forms with the less gender-specific "Parent 1" and "Parent 2".

Redefining marriage would have a huge impact on society. This debate has not even started in Australia yet. Consequently, most people have no idea just how drastic the consequences could be.

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

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Central African Republic (CAR): Churches targeted as Muslim rebels seize Bangui in an orgy of raping, killing and looting

By Elizabeth Kendal

Human Rights Watch reports on the extreme violence unleashed in the rebel seizure of Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic. "On March 23, the Seleka won a fierce battle against soldiers of the South African Defence Force, who were in the country under an arrangement between former President François Bozizé and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, and were able to enter Bangui unhindered. Seleka troops immediately looted and pillaged the capital. One of the first targets was the Bangui Cathedral, where Seleka rebels entered the church, fired in the air, and robbed the worshipers. . .

"Seleka members used violence against civilians during the looting [of Bangui]. A man who was shot in the throat and survived told Human Rights Watch: 'A Seleka fighter said, "Come give us the money" . . . I said that I had no money…he aimed his [gun] at me and shot once. The bullet hit me right above my head on the right side. I thought to myself, "I am dead, this is it." He shot me again and the bullet hit me on my left shoulder and came out my throat. . . "

Despite the fact that the HRW report contains 3,242 words, a word search for "Muslim" yields zero results and a word search for "Islam" yields zero results while a word search for "Arabic" yields three results, each occurring in the testimony of a female victim.
Quote:
"The day after they captured Bangui, I was in my house, where I live with my younger sister … when many Seleka fighters entered the quarter. I am 33-years-old and my sister is 23. She was 8 months pregnant when they raped us on March 25. They were shooting in the air in front of our house. Two armed men entered the house, threatened us, and forced us to get undressed and lay down on the ground….They both raped us, one after the other. They were shouting bad words in Sango and in Arabic. One of them was shouting the Arabic word charmouta (prostitute in Arabic) while raping me. Then, they left the house. Our neighbor took us to the community hospital, where my sister lost her baby the day after."

Central African Republic: Rampant Abuses After Coup
New Government Should Rein in Ex-Rebel Forces
HRW, 10 May 2013

It is really quite remarkable that the HWR report fails to mention that while Central African Republic (CAR) is French-speaking and 76 percent Christian (Operation World, 2010) the rebels who have seized power in an orgy of violence are Arabic-speaking Muslims.

Similarly, while a report from International Crisis Group (ICG) provides excellent background to the crisis it fails to mention that the rebels are Muslim and the victims are not. While the ICG report contains 1,379 words, a word search for "Muslim" yields zero results; a word search for "Islam" yields zero results; and a word search for "Arabic" yields zero results.

Failure Has Many Fathers: The Coup in Central African Republic
27 March 2013 by ICG Africa Program Staff
By Thibaud Lesueur and Thierry Vircoulon

The truth that can't be uttered

The rebels, who claim to be liberating CAR from the dictator Bozize, hail from Vakaga district: a poor, remote north-east region of CAR at the borders with Chad and Sudan. Vakaga is the only part of the CAR where Arabic is the lingua franca and Islam the dominant religion.

Despite their poverty, the rebels entered Bangui wearing brand new military uniforms, driving brand new pickups and brandishing brand new weapons. Amongst their number were janjaweed from Darfur, Sudan, and jihadis from Mali and Northern Nigeria.

Church leaders report targeted attacks and religious extremism

In a FIDES press release, church leaders denounce 'a rebellion characterised by religious extremism'. They describe a systematic and 'planned desecration and destruction of religious Christian buildings, and in particular the Catholic and Protestant churches'. They lament that the church is paying a heavy price, with churches destroyed and 'priests and religious women' attacked.

In a courageous letter to the new self-proclaimed president -- rebel leader Michel Djotodia -- Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga catalogues Seleka's crimes: 'threats, terror, and psychological torture . . . rape of young girls and women, some of whom have committed suicide [and] recruitment of child soldiers'. Observing that Seleka consists 'largely of foreign Muslims and some from the nation', the prelate notes that 'the Muslim population was largely spared looting', and asks, 'What are the real intentions of this movement against our Christian institutions?' According to one missionary's blog, hospitals and charities have all be looted. 'Rebels do not save anybody or anything,' she writes, 'except for mosques and Muslim traders, who buy the stolen property from them.'

Where are the French troops that liberated Mali?

As Seleka advanced towards Bangui, CAR President François Bozizé appealed to France (the colonial power) and the US for help -- but to no avail. While French troops were already in the country, they would not be ordered to defend Bangui. Desperate for aid, Bozizé appealed to South African president Jacob Zuma, who did send troops. But on 23 March, after fierce fighting, Seleka defeated the South African National Defence Force paving the way for the rebels to enter Bangui on Sunday 24 March unhindered. The 500-plus French troops that are in Bangui have reportedly been securing the airport and supporting the new regime.

CAR civilians not protected

Antoine Roger Lokongo writes (18 April 2013): "The regional peacekeeping force, known as the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in Central African Republic (Micopax), which is European Union-funded, was tasked to protect civilians and secure territory in CAR since 2008. However, they did not stop the Seleka offensive on Bangui nor did they engage the rebels militarily."

Lokongo quotes ICG's Thierry Vircoulon who described Micopax's apparent absence during the violent invasion and looting of Bangui "as 'disturbing', in fact suggesting that 'perhaps they had instructions . . . not to do anything'." In fact the ICG report notes: "At the request of the Seleka, the French army and the MICOPAX already patrol the streets of the capital . . ."

See also: Looking for answers after CAR coup d'etat
Al-Jazeera 25 March 2013

The whole truth might be even more unpalatable

As noted in Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin 210 (14 May 2013), "The questions arising out of this crisis are enormous and ugly. Who is funding and equipping Seleka and with what aim? Why did France -- which intervened in Ivory Coast (to aid Islamic rebels) and Mali (to fight Islamic rebels) not intervene in CAR? Why is the US refusing to send aid? Why did the EU-funded Micopax not do what it is paid to do (protect CAR civilians)?

"In early 2011, Ivory Coast's president Laurent Gbagbo -- who believed in advancing African rather than Western interests -- found himself the victim of regime change at the hands of Islamic forces backed by Western powers pursuing Western 'interests'. Could the same be happening in CAR?"

[See: Ivory Coast: where Islamic and Western interests converge. By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 7 April 2011.]

"President Bozizé had recently signed oil concessions over to Chinese and South African companies. Soon after proclaiming himself president, rebel leader Michel Djotodia promised to 'sort out' CAR's mining and oil contracts. If these contracts are handed to Western powers, then we might have most of our answers."

See: Central African Republic coup leader says will review resource deals
By Ange Aboa and Paul-Marin Ngoupana
BANGUI | Fri Mar 29, 2013
Excerpt:
"In a bid to tap the country's under-exploited mineral wealth, [former president] Bozize had awarded China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) rights to explore for oil at Boromata, in the country's northeast near the border with Chad.

"South Africa's DIG oil is also prospecting in the southeast of the country, near the town of Carnot."

When Djotadia was asked about these licences he is reported to have replied: "'I will ask the relevant ministers to see whether things were done badly, to try to sort them out'.

"Although Central African Republic has deposits of gold, diamonds, oil and uranium, these remain largely untapped, and the coup-prone nation is one of the poorest on Earth. 'We will rely on the European Union to help us develop this country,' Djotodia said. . .

"Djotodia's comments appeared to mark a change of tack from his predecessor Bozize's close ties to South Africa, with which he had signed a fresh bilateral Defense agreement in January."

As far as the Centre for Global Research is concerned: "The coup by Seleka forces has placed the CAR at the center of a struggle for influence between the United States, France, South Africa and China":  i.e. US-NATO vs BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa)

Indeed, analysts note that the coup took place immediately prior to the BRICS Summit in Durban, South Africa (SA).
Official Statement by President Jacob Zuma, 25 March 2013

[More on the developing US-NATO vs BRICS struggle
The Brics are building a challenge to western economic supremacy
Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, united by rejection of the neoliberal model, plan to create their own institutions
By Radhika Desai, The Guardian, 2 April 2013]

Nigerian ambassador to CAR, Prince Roland Ola Omowa, was in Nigeria to deliver a special message from the ousted Bozize to President Goodluck Jonathan as the coup unfolded. He told the Nigerian Guardian that colonial interests in the country have meant that it is constantly watched over and while the discovery of oil and the entrance of China as a player in the CAR economy have not gone down well with entrenched interests.

Meanwhile . . .

Seleka has seized control of CAR's extensive diamond industry. . .
AND
massacred elephants in the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park.

Furthermore, the rebels are saying that they will not put down their weapons until they are guaranteed salaries.  Seleka Lieutenant Ali Alkanto has warned of violent clashes should the new government not pay the rebels.

And according to the Nigerian Guardian, the number of people who have fled from the Central Africa Republic since December 2012 has now risen to 37,000 while another 173,000 people have become internally displaced.

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

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bangladesh: Dhaka becomes a war zone

Background

Bangladesh: dangerous chaos looms
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 204, Wed 3 Apr 2013

Bangladesh: Islam Rising
By E Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 7 April 2013

On Sunday 5 May, Islamists fulfilled their threat to lay siege to Dhaka. By the end of the day, 28 were dead, hundreds were wounded and Dhaka's business district - the Motijheel Commercial Area - resembled a war zone.

At at least 100,000 Islamists enforced a blockade, cutting off Dhaka’s road links with the rest of the country.  Activists from Hefajat-e-Islam -- which translates as "protectorate of Islam" -- marched through six highways, paralysing road transport between Dhaka and other cities and towns.

The Islamists are demanding the government agree to their 13-point list of demands (see list here) - demands that would essentially turn Bangldesh into a Islamic State, Taliban-style.

Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina had urged the group to call off their demonstration, contending that existing law were sufficient to punish blasphemy. She even promised to introduce tougher penalties for those who defame Islam. The Islamists, however, are demanding that those found guilty of defaming Islam be sentenced to death. With their confidence and power and rage growing, the Islamists will not be easily appeased.

This battle is far from over.

Best reports:

Radical Islamists lay siege to Dhaka
By Anisur Rahman, Gulf News, 5 May 2013

Dhaka turns into battlefield
By Jubair Hasan and Yasir Wardad
Financial Express Bangladesh, Monday 6 May 2013

Dhaka: 28 dead as Islamists seek blasphemy law
AFP, Dhaka, 6 May 2013

Those keen to really comprehend the seriousness of the situation in Bangladesh should scroll through the follow photo collections from demotix.

Dhaka seized by Islamists
May 5th, 2013 by Abu Ala
The "Islamists" have seized the capital Dhaka demanding introduction of blasphemy laws and capital punishment of bloggers accused by them as blasphemous. They also demanded shariah law for the country.

Capital Dhaka virtually cut off from rest of the country
May 5th, 2013 by firoz ahmed
The capital city has been virtually cut off from the rest of the country as the leaders and activists of Hefajat-e Islam took position in all the entry points of Dhaka to press home its 13-point demand including the arrest of “atheist bloggers”.

Dhaka turns into a warzone as Hefajat clash with police
May 5th, 2013 by Rehman Asad.

Over 100 shops and 30 buses torched in Dhaka
May 5th, 2013 by Rehman Asad
Jamaat-Shibir activists joined by Hefajat-e Islam men set fire to at least 100 shops and business establishments, looted shops at Baitul Mukarram mosque complex and torched over 30 government buses in the capital.

Ongoing clash in Dhaka leaves many injured and death toll rising
May 5th, 2013 by zakir hossain chowdhury

3 killed as Paltan turns into battlefield in Dhaka
May 5th, 2013 by Rehman Asad

Dhaka paralyzed Hefazat post-siege rally at downtown Motijheel
May 5th, 2013 by Rehman Asad

------------------------------------
Elizabeth Kendal is author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)