Thursday, September 26, 2013

Peshawar, and the battle for Pakistan

 context of Peshawar Church Massacre

The Sunday 22 Sept 2013 terrorist attack at All Saint's Church, Peshawar, came as the government was reportedly preparing to broker peace with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP: the Pakistani Taliban).

Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party won Pakistan's May 2013 parliamentary elections on a platform that included brokering peace with the TTP.

At an All Parties Conference (APC) in Karachi on 9 September -- in which the US-led "War on Terror" and US drone attacks were blamed Pakistan's domestic terrorism -- PM Sharif won approval from the leaders of Pakistan's political parties to proceed with talks.

Emboldened by the scent of weakness, the TTP upped the ante.

On 14 September, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud issued two conditions for talks: the release of 50 jailed militant commanders, and the complete withdrawal and all 150,000 Pakistani military troops from the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as North West Frontier Province).

The very next day (15 Sept) the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, headed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of Imran Khan -- who has long advocated for peace with the Taliban -- announced that the withdrawal of troops from Malakand Division would commence in October and that the civil administration would take over control of Swat and other districts accordingly.

ASSASSINATION IN UPPER DIR: 15 Sept 2013

Within hours, the TTP responded by assassinating Major General Sanaullah Khan Niazi, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Swat and Malakand Division. Killed along with him by a roadside bomb in the Upper Dir district near the Afghan border, were his right hand man, Lieutenant Colonel Tauseef, and Lance Naik Irfan Sattar.

PESHAWAR CHURCH MASSACRE: 22 Sept 2013

On Sunday 22 September, as up to 600 worshippers were mingling at the close of the service, two Islamic militants armed with automatic rifles and grenades entered the grounds of All Saint's Church, Peshawar. After slaughtering many, they detonated their explosive vests, triggering two huge explosions that blasted shrapnel through the believers. The death toll, presently 89, continues to rise; more than 150 were wounded, many critically. The internet images are shocking and deeply moving.

Two different wings of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have claimed responsibility. A spokesman from TTP Jundullah claimed: 'They [Christians] are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them. We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.' Later a spokesman from Junood ul-Hifsa claimed the attack was in response to US drone strikes. This was the most deadly terrorist attack on Pakistan's Christian community in modern history.

See: Taliban suicide attack on Pakistani church leaves dozens dead
Attack on congregation leaving service in Peshawar is most deadly in history of Pakistan's Christian community
By Jon Boone in Islamabad, The Guardian, Mon 23 Sept 2013

Excerpt:
"Explosions ripped through the congregation of 500 people, including many women and children, as the service at All Saints church was coming to an end and worshippers were about to receive a free meal of rice in the courtyard outside.

"Witnesses said the interior of the 130-year-old building was turned into a bloodbath, with severed limbs scattered around and the walls pockmarked with ball bearings used as shrapnel by the bombers.

"'I saw myself in the air and then on the ground inside a huge fire of ball,' said Sabir John, a worshipper who lost one of his arms in the blast. . ."

In a short BBC news video a BBC reporter talks with a father as he grieves over the coffin of his 11-year-old daughter. The reporter, listening intently, marvels that, 'somehow he manages to talk of forgiveness'.

PEACE TALKS OFF

On Monday 23 September, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called off plans for peace talks with the TTP. “We had proposed peace talks with the Taliban in good faith but . . . because of this attack, the government is unable to move forward with what it planned and envisaged,” he said.

It has been mooted, however, that PM Nawaz Sharif's appeal for peace talks was a farce designed purely to demonstrate the futility of peace talks. If this is true, then Sharif may have been gambling that talk of peace would actually trigger terrorism, giving him the grounds and political support for a full scale military assault on the tribal regions (primarily for the purpose of self-preservation) and/or appeals for military aid.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has no interest in peace with the Pakistani government, for not only would peace with the government actually be against TTP principles, but the TTP has no reason to broker for peace, for they believe they must and can win the battle. Indeed, as Sameera Rashid demonstrates so clearly, "Taliban militants are not an easy foe to talk to because of their strategic superiority over the law and order apparatus of Pakistan."

Likewise, senior military figures have no interest in peace with the Taliban -- especially if peace involves a military withdrawal and the release of militant prisoners. The Pakistani military has fought long and hard, losing many soldiers in the process, to bring a measure of security to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They are not about to surrender this territory back to the militants.

It is not outside the realm of possibility that Peshawar's Christians were sacrificed -- i.e. the attack may have been permitted (if not set up) by officials in either the military or the government or both -- to legitimise military action and/or requests for military aid.

While appalling, this is not even remotely far-fetched, as those who watch Pakistan and remember the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti will well know. [Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in broad daylight by militants on a motorbike who rode into Islamabad's most secure diplomatic precinct armed with automatic weapons, assassinated the minister in his car, and then escaped without a trace.]

Writing for Gatestone Institute on 25 Sept 2013, Raheel Raza comments: "In Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), considered to be one of the world's largest intelligence agencies, has not contained the violence unleashed upon Pakistan's minorities. According to some recent reports, there is a special squad, financed by petrodollars and sanctioned by the authorities, created exactly for the purpose of killing minorities -- and this is seemingly why nobody to date has been brought to justice. Recently there have also been massive jailbreaks, freeing hundreds of terrorists."

See: The Danger In Our Midst
by Raheel Raza, September 25, 2013

Writing in Asia Times online, Sameera Rashid blames Islamisation. "The Tehrik-i-Taliban (the TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban) and other militants didn't simply sprout out from nowhere. The process of Islamization, introduced ham-fistedly in the Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq era, impacted on the country's education system, legislation and the general moorings of society and gave rise to notion of an exclusivist Sunni Muslim identity."

Rashid notes that sectarian outfits and militant paramilitary organisations, supported by the security establishment to fight proxy wars have joined hands with the Taliban to fulfill their strategic designs. She also notes that Taliban sympathisers exist within the law enforcement agencies and are believed to be responsible for providing militants with maps and other forms of support. She insists the government must stop excusing the militants and blaming the West, and instead, make a serious effort to tackle the domestic causes of terrorism.

See: Delusional reality of Pakistani peace
By Sameera Rashid, 26 Sept 2013

A moving account of the Peshawar attack can be found of Sameera Rashid's blog
Dear Imran Khan, where were you when my church was attacked?
By Sameera Rashid, 24 September 2013

THE BATTLE FOR PAKISTAN: LAND FOR PEACE

In 2005, the then Prime Minister General Pervez Musharraf brokered peace with an alliance of al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban forces by ceding South Waziristan (Feb 2005) and then North Waziristan (Sept 2006). Once free and settled in their sanctuary, the jihadist promptly hoisted the black flag and declared the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan.

See Talibanistan: The Establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan
Pakistan's "truce with the Taliban is an abject surrender, and al Qaeda has an untouchable base of operations in Western Pakistan which will only expand if not checked
By Bill Roggio, September 5, 2006

PEACE TERMINATED

Then mid 2007 saw the stand-off at the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in the heart of the capital, Islamabad. On 10 July 2007, Pakistani forces stormed the mosque. Official government sources put the death toll at around 100, while Islamist sources claimed more than 2000 were "martyred". On 16 July 2007 the al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban alliance based in Waziristan announced the termination of the peace deal with the Pakistani government -- and The Battle for Pakistan resumed.

Full details see: The Battle for Pakistan
By Elizabeth Kendal, 30 Oct 2007

By April 2009, the al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban alliance had advance to within around 100 km (60 miles) of Islamabad (the capital of nuclear-armed Pakistan) and Rawalpindi (military headquarters).

See: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 002
PAKISTAN: ISLAMABAD CHURCH ON THE THRESHOLD OF WAR
-- 'land-for-peace' brings Islamabad into al-Qaeda-Taliban's sights.
-- a special prayer bulletin for extraordinary times.

By Elizabeth Kendal, Wed 29 Apr 2009

In May 2009, the government launched a military offensive into Swat, liberating Mingora from Taliban control. Mullah Fazlullah, the commander of the Swat chapter of the Pakistani Taliban, fled into Afghanistan.

Since fleeing Swat, Mullah Fazlullah has organised terrorist activities from his base in Kunar and Nurustan areas of Afghanistan, where he reportedly enjoys the hospitality of the Governor of Kunar province. He reportedly controls between 1,000 and 1,500 diehard terrorists, most of who are linked to the Swat chapter of TTP.

THE BATTLE CONTINUES

Concerning the15 Sept 2013 assassination of Major General Sanaullah Khan Niazi in Upper Dir, analyst Bill Roggio notes that Gen. Sanaullah served as the senior military commander in Swat when it was ruled by the Taliban between 2007 and 2009, after the government negotiated multiple peace deals with Taliban commander Mullah Fuzlullah.  Roggio believes the 15 Sept 2013 assassination was "likely carried out by forces loyal to Fazlullah, who also commands Taliban fighters in Dir and in the greater Malakand Division, a region comprising the northern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Fazlullah, who is also known as Mullah Radio for his radical sermons that are broadcast throughout the northwest, is a senior Taliban commander who has opposed polio vaccinations. He has vowed to continue the fight to regain control of Swat and the surrounding districts. Last year, he ordered the assassination of Malala Yousufzai, the young schoolgirl who passionately spoke out against the Taliban in Swat, and accused her of violating sharia, or Islamic law."

Indeed, TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid has credited the assassination to TTP's Swat chapter, under the command of Mullah Fazlullah. "Our men did it," he said.

According to Awami National Party (ANP) spokesman, Senator Zahid Khan, militants have been returning to Swat and other parts of Malakand division and reinforcing their positions, emboldened by the provincial government's eagerness for "peace", talking advantage of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party's "soft corner" towards militants.

TALIBAN SEES OPPORTUNITY

As a senior Western diplomat based in Islamabad notes: "The killing of General Niazi and the Peshawar suicide attack clearly send out a powerful message. The Taliban are saying they don't want peace talks."

In recent weeks, IHS Jane's has been told by both Pakistan's security officials and Western diplomats that the Taliban believe they have an opportunity to enlarge their influence in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan once international coalition troops leave at the end of 2014.

"They [Taliban] are seeing themselves gain victory after victory. Their military strategy right now seems to suggest they see an opportunity to continue their fight and increase their influence," said one Pakistani security official.

CRACKDOWN ANTIPICATED; BACKLASH EXPECTED

During the government's 2009 military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban, persecution of Christians soared, particularly in Punjab, as madrassas-educated, thoroughly radicalised Muslims reacted violently against what they perceived as a US-backed war against Islam.

If the government is serious about protecting minorities (as it claims) -- security must be bolstered at all churches and throughout all Christian districts. Any state that regards its Christians as expendable is destined to be impoverished.

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

PHILIPPINES: Moros take the battle to Zamboanga

Clashes broke out on Mindanao in the early hours of Monday 9 Sept, between rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) intent on marching into Zamboanga city to raise their flag over the city hall and declare independence, and Philippine Army troops blocking their path.
Rebel elements occupied Lustre, Santa Catalina and neighbouring barangays (villages), seizing an estimated 170 residents to use as human shields. 

That evening, Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco said in a statement, that the MNLF rebels were holding at least 87 people hostage in Kasanyangan, 20 at the Santa Catalina mosque, 20 at the Talon-talon mosque, 10 in Camacop Santa  Barbara, and an undetermined number of people at the SDK building and the Fernandez store in Lustre.

Abdul Sahrin, secretary-general of the Moro National Liberation Front, blamed the faction of former MNLF leader Nur Misuari, a Moro nationalist, for carrying out the attack which led to over 2000 people being immediately displaced.

But Monday 9 Sept was just the beginning.

By 13 September, the crisis had displaced 5,600 families or 24,880 people. By 14 Sept, the death toll had reached 52 (43 MNLF rebels) and the number of displaced / "evacuees" had risen to 39,260.

By 15 Sept, the total number of "evacuees" had reach 61,838; by 16 Sept it was 72,159; and by 17 Sept it was 82,106. By 18 Sept the number of evacuees had risen to 110,000, and by this time 1,114 homes had been burned, several car bombs had been detonated and the number the hostages had risen to 149.

By 20 Sept, the tide was turning with only around 50 fighters remaining in Zamboanga city.

By 22 Sept, a sense of "normalcy" was starting to return, however numerous infectious diseases had broken out amongst the children holed up in Zamboanga's evacuation centres, including measles, upper respiratory tract infections, diarrhoea, and various skin diseases.

That evening Philippine media reported that 99 MNLF fighters had been killed and 117 had either been captured or had surrendered. By 6pm on Thursday 25 Sept, that figure had risen to 125 MNLF fighters dead. "There were also 136 who have surrendered excluding the 36 who have surrendered earlier."

See TIMELINE: Crisis in Zamboanga City
By Andrei Medina, GMA News (updated regularly)

GMA news reported on Monday 23 Sept, 15 days into the crisis, that government troops had found drug paraphernalia in buildings occupied by the rebels. Philippine Army 7th Civil Relations Group commander Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said a captured rebel had tested positive methamphetamine hydrochloride. "They are using Shabu to make them more ferocious and pitiless," he said.

On Wed 25 Sept, it was believed that around 20 hostages were still being held captive by MNLF fighters.  By this time some 10,160 homes had been burned.

On the evening of Thursday 26 Sept, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, spokesman for the military, said 162 MNLF forces had been captured and 138 had been killed since the start of the crisis on 9 Sept.  It was also reported that a total of 188 hostages had been rescued, including six rescued that day. 

Today, Friday 27 Sept, 19 days into the crisis, the fighting has not yet finished; however the rebels are splintered, hungry and running out of ammunition. When the fighting does end, "Phase 2" of the operation will commence. That will involve clearing the area of bodies, booby traps and bombs.

Julie S. Alipala reports for Inquirer Mindanao (Friday 27 Sept 2013): "Death is in the air in the villages of Santa Catalina, Santa Barbara and Rio Hondo here, with the bodies of slain Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels rotting on the battlefield.

"Col. Ignacio Obligacion, commander of Task Force Igsoon, said on Thursday he had been requesting the Crisis Management Committee, through the village officials, to send something to cover the stench.

"'The stench has been there for days. I’m worried about an outbreak of disease,' Obligacion said.

"One task force officer, who asked not to be named, said his unit had to end the fighting as quickly as possible because the stench had become unbearable."

Journalist Carolyn O. Arguillas describes the situation, saying Zamboanga City is "down on its knees with a humanitarian crisis of a scale never before experienced."

For background and an explanation of why MNLF has renewed its war with the Government of the Republic of Philippines, see:

PHILIPPINES: Religious Liberty in Bangsamoro
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 180
By Elizabeth Kendal, 10 Oct 2012

For more on the MNLF claim, see:
Moros take the battle to Sabah.
Having already lost their liberty, Sabah's Christians now face losing their peace.
By Elizabeth Kendal, 15 March 2013

See also: Philippines struggles with Muslim rebels
By Richard Heydarian, Asia Times online, 24 Sept 2013

In 2008, the Government of the Republic of Philippines, led then by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, brokered a peace deal with the MILF that essentially created an Islamic sub-state within the state in violation of the constitution. The Supreme Court had to intervene on the eve of the signing to issue a restraining order. The MILF responded by unleashing terror across North Cotabato.
See Philippines: Update on Gov-MILF peace deal.
By Elizabeth Kendal, 14 Aug 2008

And now history repeats itself. For by brokering a peace deal with the MILF that violates its peace deal with the MNLF, short-sighted politicians more interested in securing a legacy for themselves than doing the right thing have, yet again, unleashed disaster upon the long-suffering peoples of the southern Philippines.

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

EGYPT: Grassroots radicalisation introduces new dimension into cycle of violence

plus: Egypt's Sad Reality
By Elizabeth Kendal


When the Egyptian military, under the leadership of General Abdel Fatta el-Sisi, ousted the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government of President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013, it triggered an explosion of violence against Copts (the Christian, indigenous people of Egypt) as Muslim Brotherhood (MB) elites and supporters blamed Copts / Christians for the coup.
See: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 218 (10 July 2013).

Once the Copts had been sufficiently terrorised and subjugated (i.e. put in their place), the MB got down to business, strategising on how to challenge the military head on.

In an article entitled, "Why the Ikhwan has not lost in Egypt, and why the challenge is just beginning" published in the July edition of Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky writes: "The Ikhwan's [MB's] spiritual guides are now calling for a violent intifada against the military: a confrontation where the military's superior firepower would create numerous martyrs, thus reinforcing and affirming the Ikhwan's own claim of victimhood.

"The distance to an Algerian-style civil war is very short."

This is something I noted in June 2012.
See EGYPT: echos of Algeria as SCAF trumps Islamists

Bodansky elaborates (July 2013):

"Ikhwan leaders are actively preparing at the highest level for a rather imminent escalation of the fighting. On 14 July 2013, the Ikhwan's supreme leadership issued a formal guideline for the struggle against the military towards the restoration of Islamist governance.

"The document urges 'shedding blood and dividing the army'. The document states that 'emerging victorious over the enemy requires patience, faith and determination'. The main undertaking to attain the Ikhwan's ultimate goal are 'disbanding the Egyptian army, dividing it and distorting its image'. The document stresses the importance of 'sparking bloodshed' in the upcoming phases of the confrontation, with emphasis on encouraging 'martyrs' and 'sacrifices' from among the Islamist masses.

"The document then provides guidelines on how to restore 'the collective consciousness' and original goals of Egypt's Islamic revolution."

Bodansky writes that the document decries the army as a puppet of America, and its supporters as westernised. "The Ikhwan's objective," explains Bodansky, "is to portray the military coup as a US conspiracy against Muslim Egypt."

Bodansky notes that the document concludes with what is essentially a threat: "The Egyptian army in its current situation will not be able to provide stability." (emphasis mine)

Bodansky continues: "The imminence of the threat was clarified in a decree issued the same day by the Ikhwan's spiritual leader, Muhammad Badie which permitted all Islamist protestors to break the fast of Ramadan since they are in a 'state of jihad' and are 'waging a battle for the control of Egypt'.

"Badie compares the struggle against the Egyptian army to the Battle of Badr (the decisive battle waged between the forces of the Prophet Mohammed and the Jewish tribe of Quraish in 624). Badie compares Cairo's Rabia al-Adawiya Mosque -- the Ikhwan's centre -- to prophet Mohammed's camp in Medina. 'The ruling against those who leave Rabia al-Adawiya Square is akin to the ruling against those who flee the battle and jihad against the infidels,' Badie wrote. On the basis of the decree, Badie ordered Ikhwan leaders to prepare for 'the second Battle of Badr' on the battle's anniversary on Ramadan 17 (July 26, 2013)."

This provides the context for the two "sit-ins" in Cairo which drew thousands of MB supporters to camp in the streets for six weeks.

MB challenges military.

As noted by Amnesty International, these protest sites were dangerous, violent places, where those who voiced objections were beaten, raped, tortured and killed. The "sit-ins" comprised bands of violent, armed MB supporters who provoked the military from behind a screen of human shields: i.e. thousands of women and children.

Military moves against MB

What occurred on Wednesday 14 Aug, when the military went in as promised to disperse the "sit-ins" and clear the streets, was a massacre, a bloodbath. While it was doubtless much worse than the MB leadership imagined it would be -- with the army massacring over 900 Egyptians in four days -- a massacre was exactly they had sought. This would be great for propaganda; great for recruitment. 

MB supporters react against Copts

The 14 August crackdown triggered another explosion of violence against Copts / Christians -- the worst anti-Christian violence Egypt has seen in contemporary times.

Over the next few days, churches, monasteries and other Christian properties, including schools and businesses, were torched and looted by rampaging MB supporters in Sohag, Minya, Beni Suef, Fayium, Asyut, Alexandria, Suez and Cairo. Bible Society bookshops in Assiut and Minia were destroyed. Three nuns taken out of the Franciscan school in Bani Suef were paraded 'like prisoners of war' through mob-filled streets on until a courageous Muslim woman rescued them and took them into her home. Two other Christian women who fled from the school were observed being hit, groped and spat on as they fought their way through the mob.
See: RLPB 224 (21 Aug 2013) 

For more details see, Egypt: Mass Attacks on Churches
Christians Say Pleas for Protection Fell Largely on Deaf Ears
Human Rights Watch, 22 Aug 2013

While violence was recorded all across Egypt, Minya province in Upper Egypt was worst hit and Delga, the town nearest the Giza-Luxor highway, bore the brunt.

Samir Lamei Sakr, a prominent Christian lawyer, told The Guardian: "As soon as the crackdown in Cairo started [14 Aug], all the loudspeakers at the main mosques in Delga issued calls for jihad." Christian properties were marked. Sakr's home was attacked and he was hit with 13 shotgun pellets. His cousin, however, was killed by Islamists who then tied his body to a tractor and dragged it around the town. Bishop Macarius told The Guardian that though they called for help, "no one answered. Not the police, not the army, not the fire service." Even churches within sight of the provincial police headquarters were burned. More than 100 forcibly displaced Christian families fled Delga with nothing and have nothing to return to.

Emergency Law was established for one month, military officers were installed as governors and 14 governorates were placed under 7pm-6am curfews.

Suicide bombing challenges regime

On 5 Sept, Egypt's Interior Minister narrowly escaped a serious assassination attempt when a suicide bomber blew up his car as the minister's convoy drove through Nasr City. Ten police and eleven civilians were wounded in the massive explosion which ripped off the front of one building.

On 12 Sept, the state of emergency was extended for a further two months.

Security forces storm Delga

On Monday 16 September, heavily armed Egyptian troops stormed into Delga, arresting 56 and liberating the town from two months of Islamist control.  

According to Stratfor Intelligence (16 Sept), the military could have liberated Delga from as early as 22 Aug, but instead spread "exaggerated rumors about the persecution of Copts to justify operations". Rather than spread "exaggerated rumors" of persecution, I would suggest that the military chose to "exploit" very real and very severe persecution "rather than prevent it, to legitimise military violence, military rule and requests for military aid" -- just as was anticipated in RLPB 224, 21 Aug 2013.

While Christians are understandably relieved, Ahmed Salah, a local human rights lawyer, believes the crackdown was less about protecting Christians and more about exploiting the state of emergency to take revenge on those who have attacked police and stolen their weapons. Officials from the Interior Ministry all but confirmed that the military action had nothing to do with protecting Christians. The New York Times reports (16 Sept): 'Interior ministry officials said the [military] expedition was an attempt to capture a single fugitive Islamist, and it may depart soon. The overwhelming force, they said, was merely for self-protection [as] the surrounding province of Minya is still considered a bastion of Islamist support for Mr. Morsi.'

See (recommended): In Islamist Bastions of Egypt, the Army Treads Carefully, and Christians Do, Too
By David Kirkpatrick for the New York Times, 16 Sept 2013

Copts / Christians fearful of backlash

The NYT article (above) both reports the experiences of Christians and gives voice to their fears. "Christian residents [in Delga] said opportunists in the town had tried to demand money to protect local Christians from further attack, recalling a tax [jizya] levied on Christians centuries ago. [see Qur'an 9:29]

"'The thugs are asking for money for protection,' said the Rev. Yoanas Shawki, 33. The security forces met no resistance when they arrived early Monday, interior ministry officials and local witnesses said, although a resident said the police later used tear gas to disperse an afternoon rally. Ministry officials said the expedition was hunting Assem Abdel Maged, a veteran leader of the Gamaa al-Islamiya, so far unsuccessfully.

"Magid Nessim, a Christian, said he feared the security forces might soon leave again. 'There could be retaliation attempts against Copts,' he said, 'from Islamists or other people who are angry now at the army's presence.'"

The violence in Egypt is settling into a pattern / a deadly cycle
(1) The MB challenges the military (resisting the coup),
(2) the military responds with force,
(3) MB supporters react with violence against Copts / Christians (who they blame for the coup).

Then the cycle starts again.

Recruiting for the "Free Egypt Army"

-- thousands of Algerians have already volunteered

Meanwhile, Bodnasky reports, "The Ikhwan  [has] dispatched several leaders – both religious and former military – to Arab countries with strong jihadist traditions in order to recruit jihadist volunteers for the Ikhwan's 'Free Egyptian Army' to fight the Egyptian military, reverse Morsi's ouster, and unleash a jihad against Israel and for the liberation of al-Aqsa.'

"Algerian security officials warned that the Egyptian recruiters had already signed up a few thousand Algerian volunteers. Among then recruited Algerians are dozens of street leaders and commanders from the Algerian civil war."

With the MB recruiting jihadis in Algeria and beyond, we can only anticipate that terrorism against the state will escalate.

At first glance it might appear that Egypt is heading back to the 1990s, when terrorism was routine, the state was under emergency rule, and the jails were full of Islamic militants and MB provocateurs. But it is not so!

In the 16 years since al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya killed 58 foreign tourist at Luxor, a massive amount of grassroots radicalisation has occurred courtesy of Saudi Arabia's clerical establishment. Today, Egypt's Copts / Christians are at risk not only from militants and military, but from mobs -- mobs made up of their own neighbours -- radicalised grassroots Muslims -- MB supporters who blame Copts / Christians their victimisation. And of the three -- militants, military and mobs -- the mobs may well prove to be the most deadly.

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

------------------------------------
EGYPT'S SAD REALITY
------------------------------------


The present crisis results from the convergence of several strategic trends: in particular, the arrival of 'democracy' after decades of Saudi-sponsored Islamic radicalisation in a state that is hurtling towards collapse.

Egypt's population has exploded, doubling in one generation to more than 92 million; consequently the state is straining under weight of a massive youth-bulge. On top of this, Egypt has high unemployment (over 40 percent), high illiteracy (45 percent), high level of familial marriages (35 percent), as well as critical food and fuel shortages and looming bankruptcy.

As a desert nation with little arable land, Egypt must import most of its food. While bread is a staple of the Egyptian diet, 70 percent of wheat must be imported, as must fuel. And while the government has long subsidised the cost of bread and fuel, it can no longer afford to do so, for Egypt is running out of money. 

Saudi money keeps Egypt afloat and the Saudis have long wanted their nemesis, the Muslim Brotherhood -- which advocates republicanism and rapprochement with Iran -- not just out of power, but crushed. In this, the interests of the Saudis, the Egyptian military and the Salafis converged. [Te profoundly anti-Shi'ite Salafis prefer the Saudi model, where Muslim bureaucrats / administrators run the state and bear the burden of governance while funding Muslims to get on with business of advancing Islam.]

Furthermore, despite Egypt being the most populous Sunni Arab state and a major centre of Sunni Islamic learning, Egypt is not as strategically significant as most Egyptians would like to think. In reality, Egypt's strategic significance begins and ends with its ability to secure the Suez Canal and the Sinai-Israeli border. The military know this; it gives them confidence to act as a law unto themselves. Had Morsi appreciated this he would not have antagonised the military.

Though the military deposed Morsi, it does not want to govern Egypt. The military doesn't want the burden of governance; it doesn't want to take the blame when Egypt's systemic economic and demographic problems can't be solved quickly and painlessly to the peoples' satisfaction. A puppet will do nicely for that! What the military wants is to control power in pursuit of its own interests. And because the military is the most strategically important institution in Egypt, it can act as a law unto itself.

While Christians are understandably delighted to see the Muslim Brotherhood out of power and repressed, they need to understand that the military is acting with Christians or secularism or religious freedom in mind. The military's interim constitution appeases the Salafis by retaining all the Islamist elements that have caused Copts and other Egyptian Christians so much grief.

The truth is, the military cares nothing for Christians and with money coming from Saudi Arabia it need have no interest in protecting Christians, only in protecting itself and crushing the MB. What's more, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have promised to compensate Egypt for any losses they suffer on account of US and EU sanctions; so the miliary can crackdown as hard as it likes on whoever it likes.

Remember, this is the same military that drove tanks into Copts at Maspero in October 2011, killing 28, when the Copts led protests against the escalation in sectarian violence under the SCAF in the wake of the fall of Mubarak. This is the same military that fired live ammunition at Coptic monks and bulldozed the security walls of Coptic monasteries, removing their security so Arab raiders and jihadis could attack and plunder them. Remember, General al-Sisi is a Morsi-appointed, pro-Salafi Islamist, the same al-Sisi who gave approval to the practise of soldiers performing "virginity tests" on young women arrested in Tahrir Square.

The military will kill Christians in a flash if it believes it is in its interest to do so. It will also ignore or exploit the serious persecution of Christians, rather than prevent it, if it believes it is in its interests to do so. The situation in Egypt is incredibly serious.

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

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Church's R2P

-- churches have a responsibility to prepare believers to respond to and endure persecution
By Elizabeth Kendal

R2P -- Responsibility to Protect -- is a United Nations (UN) initiative that encourages independent states to see sovereignty not as a right that allows them to act however they please within their own borders, but as a responsibility.  It comes in response to increasing levels of violence within, as distinct from between, states.

Much of this violence is either sectarian (as in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan) or is greed based but fueled by ethnic-religious hatred (as in Kachin State, Burma; the Nuba Mountains, Sudan; Papua, Indonesia). In each of the above case, Christians are facing extreme persecution, even genocide.

It is no accident that religious violence has escalated markedly over recent decades. Trends such as the emergence of religious nationalism, the revival of fundamentalist Islam, the advance of cultural Marxism and the loss of Western influence have converged with the trends of massive population growth, rapid urbanisation and mass migration to create what analyst Gregory Copley describes as "a perfect strategic storm". 

The US International Religious Freedom Act of Nov 1998 was a direct response to escalating religious persecution. But the economic crisis of late 2008 ripped the teeth out of the Act and now persecution with impunity is the order of the day.   To use Isaiah's imagery, the Church is facing a mighty "flood" of persecution.

Christians across the Western world are largely oblivious to all this; partly because their churches (in general) are addicted to entertainment and/or they are living in denial and/or they are cruising along with an erroneous view of persecution which they regard as something one might learn about in a Church History course. 

I am absolutely convinced that most Western Christians, including many church leaders, view the subject of persecution as irrelevant to Western Christians.

This is not inconsequential!

Firstly: the believer who regards another Christian's suffering as "not my concern" or "not something I want to be burdened with" has rejected (albeit subconsciously) the theology of our union with Christ along with the teaching that the Church is the family and body of Christ. Such an attitude not only grieves the Lord, it can lead to judgment (Ezekiel 34, Matt 25:41-45).

Secondly: persecution is stirring in the West on account of Culture Change which is driven by cultural Marxism's promotion of moral and cultural relativism. A godless, essentially Marxist state ideology is being imposed at the cost of religious freedom. Is the church prepared?

Jesus warned us that persecution would come (John 15:18 to16:4) so that in being prepared, we would endure. Yet I would suggest that the church, in general, is not prepared and that many believers and churches will struggle to endure. There will be "shipwrecks", with many believers battered and many passengers lost at sea at a time when the world needs Christians to be firm in faith, exalting the Lord.

We need to stop watching believers and churches sailing into the future unprepared. Our cruising days are over! Much needs to be done to awaken the church and prepare her to face the storms ahead. Christian pastors, teachers and leaders must see this as part of their R2P!

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This article was first published in Ambassador magazine, the magazine of Melbourne School of Theology and the Centre fore the Study of Islam and Other Faiths (Melbourne, Australia).

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

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Humanitarian/Moral Intervention: an exercise in duplicity

-- and jihad comes to Maaloula village (Syria)

In Aug 2012, US President Barak Obama went on the public record saying: "We have been very clear to the Assad regime -- but also to other players on the ground -- that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus; that would change my equation. . ."

"We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that's a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons."

President Obama's "red line" speech was little more than a piece of political theatre aimed at establishing a platform of moral high ground from where the US-NATO could safely (politically if not practically) launch a military strike on Syria. It also signaled to the rebels exactly what the US would require if it was to justify and legitimise a military intervention on their behalf.

If a US military strike on Syria eventuates, it will be nothing other than an act of naked aggression in pursuit of economic and geo-strategic ends. To call such an intervention "humanitarian" or "moral" is duplicitous in the extreme. 

If the US-NATO was genuinely motivated by humanitarian and moral issues, then:

Why is there no red line in North Korea, the world's most serious and vile human rights abuser; a prison-state where citizens are being tortured, worked and starved to death on a daily basis by the world's most criminal regime?

Answer) North Korea has the world's most effective deterrent: nuclear weapons. [The effectiveness of this deterrent has been noted by other rogue regimes that are now racing to adopt it.]

Why is there no red line in Sudan, where genocidal jihad is eliminating the non-Muslim and non-Arab citizens from the resource-rich regions of Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile? Having used aerial bombardment, ethnic cleansing and aid blockades to create famine conditions, the Arab supremacist, Islamist regime in Khartoum is now using starvation as a weapon of mass destruction. So why is there no red line in Sudan?

Answer) Because the US doesn't want to risk upsetting Sudan's president -- the lying, cheating, racist, Islamist General Omar el-Bashir -- whom they consider to be an ally in the war on terror. [Actually Bashir is nothing of the sort. He is allied to Iran and together they are actively sponsoring Islamic terrorism throughout the Sahel.]

Why is there no red line in Burma, where the Christian Kachin suffer systematic persecution, torture, war, ethnic cleansing, aid blockades and violent racial and religious hatred at the hands of the Burmese military as it seeks to exert total control over Kachin land so the duplicitous regime in Naypyidaw can exploit it?

Answer) Because Burma has moved out of China's sphere of influence into the West's orbit, bringing with it massive economic and geo-strategic opportunities: such as cheap labour (cheaper than China), new markets for Western goods, and a new ally in the South China Sea. For such gains the Kachin can be sacrificed!

Why
is there no red line in Indonesia, where occupation, colonisation, Islamisation, militarisation and brutalisation are facilitating the slow genocide of the predominantly Christian indigenous Melanesians of Papua?

Answer) Because the US and UK don't want to offend Indonesia and risk it drifting out of the West's sphere of influence into China's orbit. Indonesia is allied to the US in the war on terror and in the South China Sea. Indonesia purchases massive amounts of military aid from the USA – an arrangement which would be compromised if the Indonesian military was ever found to be abusing human rights (which is why it never will be, despite the fact that it systematically does). [In August, Indonesia signed a deal to purchase eight Apache attack helicopters from the USA at a cost of over $500 million. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is smiling, but human rights monitors are feeling ill.] Alliances, trade, mining concessions and military aid – for such gains the Papuans can be sacrificed.

Why
is there no red line in the Central African Republic (CAR), where foreign armed, backed and funded Arabic-speaking Islamic rebels (locals and foreigners) have seized control of the French-speaking predominantly Christian state? Seleka rebels are out of control -- killing, raping and looting with impunity. A massive humanitarian crisis is unfolding. Why is there no red line in CAR?

Answer) Because in CAR, French and Western interests are being served by regime change. In Ivory Coast, France intervened with helicopter gun-ships to empower Islamists because Alassane Ouattara promised to serve France's neo-colonial interests. In Mali, France intervened with tanks to expel Islamists because they were threatening France's neo-colonial interests. In CAR France stood back and watched as Islamists seized power, presumably because the Islamist regime would serve France's neo-colonial interests. For mining contracts and a guarantee that economic exploitation will continue, the Christians of CAR can be sacrificed.

For details on all these situations, including the situation in Syria, see Religious Liberty Monitoring.

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Humanitarian/moral interventions are a post Cold War phenomenon arising out of NATO's need for a reason to exist. While the UK's David Cameron referred to the prospective US strike on Syria as a humanitarian intervention, Obama and Kerry are making no such claims. Obama and Kerry want to bomb Syria to make a moral statement and to demonstrate strength supposedly from the moral high ground. A critical purpose of the strike will be to prove to the world that when the US makes a threat it follows through, no matter what! 

A limited air-strike in Syria will deliver no strategic gains and advance no US interests. What it will do is trigger retaliation -- maybe retaliatory strikes on Israel and/or other US allies in the region along with the mobilisation of Hezballah and Iranian militant proxies around the world for terrorist attacks on US and allied assets, including tourists.

One consequence of a US strike will doubtless be civilian deaths, including those that will result from rebel invasions of government-held areas. Indeed, even as the Syrian regime prepares for US strikes, this is already happening:

Jihad comes to Maaloula village

On Wednesday 4 September, al-Qaeda-linked jihadists seized control of a mountaintop hotel and nearby caves in Maaloula, a regime-held Christian mountain village in the densely populated west of Syria.

"The siege of Maaloula, a village of about 2,000 where people still speak a version of Aramaic [the language of Jesus], began early Wednesday [4 Sept] in classic Islamic terrorist fashion when a Jabhat al-Nusra rebel blew himself up at a regime checkpoint near the entrance to town.

"That sparked a vicious gun battle with Syrian soldiers, and when it was over eight of them lay dead. . .

"The rebels took over the Safir Hotel and some caves overlooking the town and began shelling residents below.

"As the fighting raged . . . more than 80 frightened villagers took shelter in a convent that's already home to 13 nuns and 27 orphans.

"'It's a war,' a frightened nun who asked not to be identified told the Associated Press. 'It has been going from 6 a.m. in the morning.'

At the time of publication, Syrian government reinforcements were racing to Maaloula from Damascus some 40 miles away.

See: Christian village in Syria besieged by rebels with Al Qaeda ties
By Corky Siemaszko / New York Daily News,
Wednesday, 4 September 2013 (includes photos)

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Christians who have long been accustomed to just asuming that Western governments hold the moral high ground and are making reasonable decisions based on ethical considerations, need to wake up.

We are living in days of ugly and amoral realpolitik. As such, Christians need to stand together in solidarity, looking out for the Body of Christ, not expecting Western governments to do it; for they won't (at least not unless it is in their economic, geo-strategic and political interests to do so!).

Having been complicit in Church decimation from Kosovo to Baghdad and Aleppo; and complicit through strategic silence in Church decimation from Kadugli to Laiza and Bangui, Western governments are fast becoming an enemy of the Church of Jesus Christ. 

So now we must turn to another question: where is the red line for the Church? When will churches start getting serious about this situation? How many Christians have to die before the church falls to its knees and looks to their covenant God that the battle might be turned back at the gate?

The Church should have no illusions: there is only one worthy of our faith; only one worthy of our trust. We must stop trusting in economic leverage, military might, alliances with power and earthly "strongmen" – for they will only fail us. We have an ally and his name is Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts). Strength to turn back the battle lies with him. (Isaiah 28:5-6)

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