Thursday, December 22, 2016

Australia: Major Terror Attack Averted in Melbourne


-- plus, Australian Christian Lobby's Canberra headquarters bombed
by Elizabeth Kendal

On the morning of Friday 23 December, some 400 heavily armed police raided homes in five of Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs.

Explosive Christmas Day attack planned, ABC
bottom left: Flinders Street Station.
top left: St Paul's Cathedral
right: Federation Square
The raids were the culmination of weeks of intensive investigations and monitoring by Victoria Police, Australian Federal Police, and ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation).

Seven suspected Islamic terrorists were arrested. Of the five being held in custody, four are Australian-born of Lebanese descent, while a fifth is an Egyptian-born Australian citizen. Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton described them as “self-radicalised . . . [but] inspired by ISIS and ISIS propaganda”.

According to reports, the terror plotters were preparing to attack Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station, St Paul’s Cathedral and Federation Square using Improvised Explosive Devices and other weapons such as guns and knives, most likely on Christmas Day.

Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin said this event had concerned him “more than any other” over the past few years. “They had moved very quickly from an intention to a capability and developed capability, including quite progressed plans, we will allege,” Mr Colvin said.

“We’ve heard about Federation Square, we’ve heard about the Flinders Street train station and St Paul’s Cathedral. We believe that they were narrowing down exactly what their plan was, but that’s all in one very small part of Melbourne’s CBD.”

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described it as "one of the most substantial terrorist plots that have been disrupted [in Australia] in recent years".

Christmas services will continue at the cathedral as planned, albeit under heightened security. “We will be alert, but not afraid,” said Dean of St Paul’s, Dr Andreas Loewe. “We thank the police and ASIO for their excellent work.”

Meanwhile in Canberra

Just days earlier, on the evening of Wednesday 21 December, a van loaded with multiple gas canisters was driven at speed into the headquarters of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), in the heart of the Australian capital, Canberra. The driver then ignited the canisters, triggering a massive explosion. The blast blew out the widows and ignited a fire, resulting in significant damage.  Fortunately no-one was working inside the building at the time.

Canberra headquarters of the Australian Christian Lobby
report, includes videos: ABC  (22 Dec 2016)
A conservative Christian lobby group which lobbies for religious freedom and pro-family values, ACL has received multiple death threats during the course of the year, mostly for its reasoned defence of traditional marriage.

The driver survived the attack and after presenting at a Canberra hospital with severe burns, was flown to Sydney for specialist burns treatment. The police are not releasing the bomber’s name, only that he is “an Australian citizen”. While Canberra police have launched an investigation, they have already publicly asserted that the attack was not politically, religiously or ideologically motivated, something ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton finds difficult to swallow. "I think something of this nature, that appears to be so deliberate, is an attack against the sort of things that we've been saying in the public square," he told ABC radio. Mr Shelton said he bore the bomber no malice, but was praying for his recovery and for his family.

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Elizabeth Kendal is international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Indonesian Blasphemy Trial Begins


By Elizabeth Kendal

Updating previous post: Ahok's Blasphemy, 29 November; and Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 383, Indonesia: 'Blasphemy' fuels tensions, 9 November.

Jakarta's Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama
in the defendant's chair, 13 Dec 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

The blasphemy trial against Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese Christian Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama commenced this morning [Tuesday 13 December].

Outside the heavily guarded court, hundreds of anti- and pro-Ahok supporters protested, kept apart by some 2,000 police. Anti-Ahok forces chanted, “Jail Ahok, jail Ahok, jail Ahok now”.

The panel of judges will hear from 30 witnesses and see 50 pieces of evidence. The trial, which is being televised live, is being rushed through the court and expected to conclude early in the New Year.

Fired Up

At a rally over the weekend, attended by Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Indonesia correspondent Adam Harvey, the cleric Habib Muhsin Alathas re-asserted the Qur’anic/Islamic principle that Christians should never have authority over Muslims. Referring to Ahok as “the son of Satan”, he railed against the governor using crude, racist and provocative terms.

“Some of you come to the headquarters of the pig’s pimple, shaking hands with him, and even kiss his hand,” he said. “You have been kissing the hand of someone who is not circumcised — you’re better off kissing a goat’s arse. . . So, if this thin eyes [Indonesian sarcasm for the Chinese] does not go in jail, we will go out onto the street once more, right?”

Australia National University's (ANU) Indonesia expert, Associate Professor Greg Fealy told the ABC that while he does not believe Ahok has blasphemed, “there's probably no way out for him now except to go through this court process, which is very likely to find him guilty I suspect.”

Likewise, Professor Tim Lindsay Melbourne Law School expects Ahok will be convicted, for not only has a fatwa has been issued, but the massive rallies have terrified the authorities. Consequently, he expects the judges will run with public opinion without paying much attention to the evidence.

Writing on the Wall

Reporting from Jakarta, ABC Indonesia correspondent Adam Harvey noted that Ahok looked deeply anxious as he entered the court. Harvey opined, “He can see the writing on the wall.”

Ahok broke down in tears twice as he testified. Insisting that he would never intentionally insult the Qur’an or hurt Muslims, he spoke of his deep affection for his Muslim godparents, and recalled how he helped poor Indonesians to perform the Hajj pilgrimage when he was a district chief a decade ago.

Once the clear front-runner in the gubernatorial race, recent opinion polls indicate that Ahok has now slipped to second place behind Agus Yudhoyono, the son of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

But the gubernatorial race is doubtless the last thing on Ahok’s mind now. If found guilty, which most analysts believe he will be, Ahok faces up to five years in prison.

The court has now adjourned until Tuesday 20 December.

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Elizabeth Kendal is international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Indonesia: Ahok's 'Blasphemy'

Indonesia: Ahok’s ‘Blasphemy’
By Elizabeth Kendal

Having concluded their investigations, Indonesian police have now named Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese Christian Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama a suspect in a blasphemy case. Speaking to a press conference on Wednesday 16 November, the head of the National Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim), Comr. Gen. Ari Dono, confirmed: “Although there are different opinions among police investigators, most agreed that the case should be settled in an open trial.”

Now that Ahok has been named, Islamic fundamentalists are demanding he be arrested and incarcerated, as is normally the case with blasphemy suspects in Indonesia. Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) spokesperson Munarman told the Jakarta Post: “Because Ahok still runs free, we have decided to stage another protest. Ahok should be jailed, it is the legal procedure. All suspects charged under Article 156 (a) of the Criminal Code in Indonesia’s history are always imprisoned.” The next protest is slated for Friday 2 December.

Recommended: ABC's 7:30 Report, by Samantha Hawley.
Jakarta Governor Ahok suspect in blasphemy case.
As tensions soar, debate swirls around whether the charge is political or religious. Ahok himself is certain he is not guilty of blasphemy. Not wanting to blame Islam, he maintains the charge is purely political and is confident that any testing of the charge will see him acquitted. Meanwhile, Indonesia's fundamentalist Islamic clerics are certain Ahok has indeed blasphemed, giving them exactly what they were looking for: a means of removing him from the gubernatorial race.

As for Ahok’s political opponents, they are merely riding the wave, exploiting Islamist outrage for their own benefit.

POLITICS

On 15 February 2017, Jakartans will go to the polls to elect a new governor. The contenders were announced on 24 September. It will be a three-way race pitting incumbent Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama and Deputy Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat against the Anies Baswedan – Sandiaga Uno and Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono – Sylviana Murni tickets. Analysts are expecting a two-round contest.

Ahok, the early favourite and frontrunner, is backed by Megawati Soekarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
Anies Baswedan, the former culture and education minister, is backed by Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra Party and the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).
Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono is backed by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s (i.e. his father’s) Democratic Party, the National Mandate Party (PAN), the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the United Development Party (PPP).

This is a high stakes election. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has even commented that it “feels like a presidential election”.  In a piece entitled “Not Just Another Election” (Asian Studies Association of Australia, 6 Oct 2016) Dr. Dirk Tomsa comments: “The deep involvement of Jakarta’s most powerful party leaders in the nomination process certainly indicates that this election has implications for the national level, not least the 2019 presidential election. But apart from reorganising power and patronage in the capital, the Jakarta poll will also yield critical insights into other aspects of electoral politics in Indonesia, especially the nature of campaigning and voter mobilisation and, given Ahok’s background as a Christian ethnic Chinese, the salience of ethnic and religious sentiments among the Indonesian electorate.”

RELIGION
Protesting Ahok: 24 Sept 2014

Indonesia’s fundamentalist Muslims have long opposed Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. Elected as deputy governor in 2012, running with Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”), Ahok ascended to the governorship in the wake of Jokowi’s 2014 election to the presidency. In a foretaste of things to come, Jakarta’s Islamic hardliners – led by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) – were quick to protest, vowing to resist the “kafir” (unclean), “infidel”, “devil” governor.

With early polls showing Ahok the clear frontrunner, Islamic fundamentalist clerics moved quickly to remind Muslims that it is a sin for Muslims to vote for non-Muslims, citing verses such as Sura 5:51 ‘. . . Do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies [awliya : allies / friends / guardians / leaders] . . .’   And as linguist and Islam expert, the Reverend Dr Mark Durie notes, “In Indonesian translations of the verse 5:51 is rendered ‘do not take Jews and Christians as your leaders (pemimpin-pemimpinmu)’.”

In a commentary piece entitled, “Violent Protests in Indonesia Blow an Ill Will for Religious Tolerance” (10 Nov), Durie refers to “Ibn Kathir, an authoritative medieval commentator on the Qur’an, [who] explained this verse as follows: Allah forbids his believing servants from having Jews and Christians as allies or patrons, because they are the enemies of Islam and its people, may Allah curse them.” According to Durie, Ibn Kathir makes it clear that the only valid law is Islamic Sharia Law; that only a Muslim can rule over Muslims; and that anyone who looks to an infidel for political or legal direction should be considered an infidel – an apostate.

'Believers should not choose a non-Muslim
as their leader,' cleric Alwi Wahid.
As tensions escalated, an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News film crew led by Indonesian correspondent Samantha Hawley visited the Al Furqon mosque in central Jakarta. Cleric Alwi Wahid’s message was clear: “Be careful on the judgement day,” he preached. “God will ask you, why did you choose the infidel as the leader, while I have warned you not to. Believers should not choose a non-Muslim as their leader,” he said before warning the congregation that there would be “bad consequences” for those who vote for a non-Muslim.

The believers, said Hawley, seemed convinced. “I refuse to vote for Ahok,” one man told the ABC. “I am a Muslim and Ahok is an infidel, that’s it.”

Mohammad Siddik from the Indonesian Supreme Council for Islamic Propagation told Hawely: “Muslims call the people not to vote for Ahok because we are also guided by our faith, by the Koran.” He also warned that a non-Muslim being elected to the governorship could lead to instability.

AHOK’S ‘BLASPHEMY’

Unsurprisingly, the feisty, straight-talking Ahok eventually responded. In a speech to city officials on 27 September, Ahok made light of the clerics’ objections, saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, you don’t have to vote for me because you’ve been lied to [or fooled] with Surat Almaidah 51 [Sura 5:51] and the like. That’s your right. If you feel you can’t vote for me because you fear you’ll go to hell, because you’ve been lied to [or fooled], no worries. That’s your personal right. These programs will go forward. So you don’t have to feel uncomfortable. Follow your conscience, you don’t have to vote for Ahok” (translation by Sidney Jones).

By 5 October, video footage of the speech had gone viral on youtube and Islamic fundamentalists were claiming that Ahok had blasphemed against the Qur’an and the clerics.

On 10 October, Ahok apologised “to all Muslims and anyone who felt offended”, saying it was not his intention to slight Islam or the Qur’an. But it was in vain. Having taken up the Sharia cudgel of anti-blasphemy, his opponents were not about to put it down.

On 1 November, the Lowy Institute published an important piece by Indonesia expert Sidney Jones. In her article entitled, “Why Indonesian extremists are gaining ground,” Jones slams Indonesia’s “spineless political leaders [who] have allowed extremists to seize the momentum and foment religious hatred against the governor”. She explains how the anti-Ahok campaign “brings together violent extremists, moralist thugs and powerful political interests. And because of the latter, no one dares challenge it.” She laments that conservative Muslim opposition to Ahok is no longer merely “noise in the political background” but a serious threat to Indonesian unity and security. She wonders why no-one – not the President nor Vice-President nor any pluralist politician – said “Let’s stop this in it tracks”, or did anything to try to cool tempers or even defend the constitution.

On 11 October, the day after Ahok apologised, the Indonesia Ulama Council (MUI) – Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body – held a meeting in which they determined that Ahok had indeed committed blasphemy and should be prosecuted.

Jones elaborates:
“In a statement to the media, the MUI said:
Surah al-Maidah [Qur’an, chapter 5] explicitly forbids non-Muslims from becoming leaders.
Based on this surah, ulama are obliged to convey to all Muslims that it is obligatory to choose a Muslims leader.
Every Muslim must understand the truth of this surah as a guideline for choosing leaders.
To say that the prohibition against making non-Muslims leaders is a lie constitutes an insult to the Qur’an.
To say that ulama who use Surah al-Maidah as their evidence for forbidding non-Muslims from becoming leaders are liars constitutes blasphemy toward ulama and the Muslim community.”

Police are currently working to complete Ahok’s case dossier so the trial can commence.

PROSPECTS

Even before Ahok had been officially named as a suspect some 100 lawyers had come forward to defend him.  So as to maximise transparency, the trial will be open to the public and televised live. President Joko Widodo wants it over in two weeks.

Human Rights Watch campaigner Andreas Harsono, told The Australian’s, Amanda Hodge, that he fears the country’s blasphemy laws have proved such an effective political tool that they will be used more frequently. “I think by next February Ahok will be detained,” said Harsono. “I don’t think even the political ¬forces that support Ahok can turn this around. I hope I am wrong.”

Speaking to Kate Lamb of The Guardian, Harsono said: “I have studied more than 200 blasphemy cases in Indonesia since it was written by President Sukarno in 1965. Over this 50-year period I think there was only one case where the suspect was acquitted. I don’t think Ahok can survive this prosecution, he is very likely to end up in jail.”

According to Horsono, a newspaper editor was acquitted of blasphemy in 1968, while in 2012, Alexander Aan, a 30-year-old civil servant from Sumatra, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison after he declared on his Facebook page he was an atheist.

As Hodge notes: “Indonesia had its chance to repeal its blasphemy laws — a legacy of the dying days of the Sukarno era. The late, liberal Muslim scholar and former president Abdurrahman Wahid led an unsuccessful 2009 petition of the Constitutional Court, arguing the laws violated the enshrined right to religious freedom. His daughter Yenny says he was motivated by the escalation of blasphemy charges under successor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono [SBY].

“The Setara Institute says 15 blasphemy cases were tried from 1965 to 1998. In SBY’s 10 years in power, from 2004 to 2014, some 51 cases were tried, with a 100 per cent conviction rate.”

Pitan Daslani, a senior political analyst for the Jakarta Globe writes (8 Nov): “Objectively, Ahok can only be punished if proven guilty according to Article 156A of the Criminal Code, which stipulates the parameters on defamation of religion. . .

“Article 156A of the Criminal Code prescribes a maximum five-year jail term for anyone who ‘utters feelings or commits acts intentionally that [a] contains enmity, misappropriation, or defamation of a religion’ and ‘[b] has the intention to prevent others from adhering to any religion that is based on belief in one God.’

“These two factors must be fulfilled to justify his perceived offense.”

Ever-popular; Ahok campaigns in Jatinegara,
Tuesday 15 Nov.
While the situation is indeed dire, some political analysts believe Ahok could still manage to turn the situation around. “Of course,” surmise analysts at Coconuts Jakarta, “even if Ahok plays his cards perfectly, there is still the chance that he could lose in court and be found guilty of blasphemy, landing him in jail and almost certainly putting an end to his political career.

“But let’s not forget that Ahok is among the savviest politicians in all of Indonesia. Before he came to Jakarta, he was incredibly popular as the regent of East Belitung, a province with a much higher percentage of Muslims than Jakarta. With a heavily publicized trial, he will have a platform to not only defend himself but also essentially campaign to the whole of Jakarta and Indonesia on a nearly daily basis.

“His loose lips might have gotten him into this mess, but Ahok’s sharp tongue may yet get him out of it and ultimately win him the race.”

WATERSHED

Whatever the outcome, this is a watershed moment for Indonesia. Indonesia will either appease Islamists and further Islamisation OR resist Islamists and reject Islamisation.

At the very end of the ABC’s 7:30 Report video report, Samantha Hawley asks Abu Jibril, the leader of fundamentalist activist group Majelis Mujahidin, what he thinks of the idea that a Christian could one day be president of Indonesia?

“If Ahok does not get the punishment he deserves,” responds Jibril, “not according to the demands of Muslims, then Muslims will get angrier. And when they get angrier, we don’t know what will happen.”

One thing we do know is that Indonesian Islamists are receiving strong support from transnational Islamists.  On 29 October, photographs appeared on social media of non-Indonesian and fully armed members of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, (previously known as the al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front, Syria) holding signs that read “Sentence Ahok or We Will Sentence Him with Bullets”, and of jihadists standing in front of a large wooden box labelled “Ahok’s Coffin”.  And on 4 November, as Indonesian Islamists prepared to rally in the street of Jakarta, Islamic State used their messaging services to encourage their supporters to use the rally “to fan the flames of jihad” across the country.

On 27 November, the National Police hinted that some radical groups linked to Islamic State (ISIS) were planning to infiltrate the 2 December rally.

Whatever the outcome of Ahok’s 'blasphemy', Indonesia will not be the same.

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Elizabeth Kendal is international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Understanding Islamic Terrorism as a Tactic of Asymmetric Conflict

On Saturday 19 November, I addressed the annual national conference of the Australian Christian Nation Association (ACNA). The Sydney-based organisation works to raise awareness of Australia’s Christian heritage and to preserve the Christian values on which the nation was founded.

Themed ‘Islamic Terrorism and Australia’s Response,’ the conference speakers covered areas including media, prison chaplaincy and policy.

My presentation – Understanding Islamic Terrorism as a Tactic of Asymmetric Conflict – draws heavily on material in my new book – After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016) – in particular, chapters 3 “Hasten to Success” and 7 “Myth-busting the Syrian Crisis.”

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Understanding Islamic Terrorism as a Tactic of Asymmetric Conflict 
By Elizabeth Kendal
Sydney, Australia, 19 November 2016

Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is the head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars and a leading scholar in the global Muslim Brotherhood movement. During an interview on Egyptian television in February 2013, he made a most incredible admission.

Defending Islam’s law mandating death for apostasy, Qaradawi said, “If they [Muslims] had gotten rid of the punishment [usually death] for apostasy, Islam would not exist today.”

His admission confirms what a Coptic missionary working in the Middle East once told me: “If there was ever true religious freedom in the Muslim world, it would not be long before there was barely a Muslim left.”

Islam is so philosophically weak that it can only retain its adherents through terror -- by threatening ‘death for apostasy’ and ‘death for blasphemy’.

Likewise, it is precisely because Islam is militarily weak that it resorts to terrorism. After all, what is a suicide bomber but “a poor man’s smart bomb”?

Of course, it has not always been this way; Islamic armies have not always been weaker than the non-Islamic armies.

For a thousand years – from the 7th to the 17th Century – Islam was militarily strong.

Sultan Mehmed II rides
into Constantinople, 1453.
First it was the Arabs, who conquered the Arabian Pen, the Holy Land, Mesopotamia and Persia, north Africa and Spain. Then it was the Turks, who, after invading Anatolia in the 11th Century, moved into the Balkans, conquering the Slavic holy land of Kosovo in 1389 and Constantinople – the capital of Eastern Christianity – in 1453.

By the time the Turks had arrived at the Gates of Vienna in 1529, the armies of Islam had devoured three quarters of the Old Christian World.

Crusade historian Thomas Madden writes:

“When we think about the Middle Ages, it is easy to view Europe in light of what it became rather than what it was. The colossus of the medieval world was Islam, not Christendom. The Crusades are interesting largely because they were an attempt to counter that trend. But in five centuries of crusading, it was only the First Crusade that significantly rolled back the military progress of Islam. It was downhill from there. (. . .)

“By the 15th century, the Crusades were no longer errands of mercy for a distant people but desperate attempts of one of the last remnants of Christendom to survive. Europeans began to ponder the real possibility that Islam would finally achieve its aim of conquering the entire Christian world.

“(. . .) Of course, that is not what happened. But it very nearly did.”

The defeat of the Ottoman Turks at the Gates of Vienna in 1683 is generally regarded as the pivotal moment when, after a millennium of advance, a millennium of success, Islam was finally stopped in its tracks. Subsequently, Islamic military and imperialist power began to fade and crumble beneath the rising industrial, military, scientific, technological, economic and imperial power of energised, post-Reformation Europe.

Islam might have been in retreat and in decline, yet five times a day, day after day, year after year after year, the call to prayer continued to ring out. And while the call to prayer is both a statement of faith and a call to faith, it also holds out ONE promise. Can you pick it?

Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest. 
Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest. 
I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but Allah. 
I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but Allah.
Hasten to the Prayer, hasten to the Prayer.
Hasten to success, hasten to success.
Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest.
There is none worthy of worship but Allah.

The promise is, come to Islam and you'll come to success – a success that is understood in purely worldly and material terms: prosperity and power.

As Palestinian-American Islamic philosopher Isma’il al-Faruqi explains, “Falah [success] – or positive achievement in space and time of the divine will – is the Islamic counterpart of Christian ‘deliverance’ and ‘redemption’.”

Islam and Christianity are NOT the same! They are, in fact, polar opposites.

Christianity teaches that humanity’s problem is sin, which separates us from God and results in eternal death. The only solution to which is forgiveness, which God provides through Jesus Christ. Through faith, the believer is rescued, saved, delivered – redeemed. Christians then are called to go into all the world and share the Good News of what God has done.

Islam, on the other hand, teaches that humanity’s problem is ignorance, the solution to which is guidance, which Allah provides in the Quran and through the example of Muhammad. Islam rejects the concept of original sin, and maintains that humanity does not need saving.
Rather: those who submit to Allah guidance are promised success.

For a 1000 years, Muslims were able to reach out and take what Allah had promised – success, power and privilege – because they had the military capabilities to do so.

From the 17th Century however, Islam went into retreat and in decline as an energised, post-Reformation Europe literally rode over its head.

For Muslims, this reversal of fortunes has been truly shocking – and indeed, totally unacceptable. The Islamic response has been two-fold:

(1) Islamic resistance. The 18th C, but especially the 19th C and into the early 20th C – was an era of especially bloody Islamic resistance as Muslims preferred to kill rather than accommodate those they believed were beneath them.

(2) Islamic Reformation.  From the mid 18th C Islamic reformers such as al-Wahhab called Muslims to return to traditional, fundamentalist, pure Islam and strict Sharia observance. This, they maintained, was the only way to reverse Islam’s fortunes so that Islam might be successful once again.

Sayyid Qutb (1906 - 1966) 
Naturally, the call for Islamic Reformation grew loader and more urgent after the crushing blow of WWI, the dissolution of Ottoman Empire, the abolition of the Caliphate, and the breakup of the Arab world under Western mandates. In the wake of these and other ‘catastrophes’, Islamic reformers such as Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb called for Islamic Reformation, while stoking the fires of grievance and victimhood and railing against the West’s never ending “international crusaderism.”

And all the while, five times every day, from mosque minarets all around the world, muezzins continued to sound the call: “hasten to success, hasten to success”.

And all the while, across the Middle East, global post war trends such as rapid population growth and rapid urbanisation were converging with economic distress and poor governance to produce mass disaffection – a trend that was picked up by the fundamentalist, reforming clerics in the slums of Tehran, Riyadh, Cairo, Homs etc who posited: “Islam is the Solution.” Eventually, in 1979, mass disaffection converged with Islamic reformation to produce – Islamic Revolution.

A successful Islamic revolution in Iran saw power transferred from the US-allied Shah to fundamentalist Shi’ite clerics. Later the same year, an attempted Islamic revolution in Saudi Arabia, though it failed to overthrow the US-allied House of al-Saud, succeeded in that it empowered fundamentalist Wahhabi, Sunni clerics who now pull the strings in Saudi Arabia, albeit covertly from behind the benign facade of the US-allied House of al-Saud. Islamic reformation had shifted into overdrive – globally.

The result: Islam is back!   
(Reading from After Saturday Comes Sunday, page 59)

“Today, after centuries of decline and decades of weakness, Islam is back, and back with a vengeance.

Chibok girls (Christians) Nigeria.
Kidnapped,  enslaved and Islamized
by Boko Haram. 
“Islamic expansion is back and with it, invasion, conquest and colonization, including predatory migration. Subjugation is back and with it, the repression and persecution of non-Muslims and the inequity and injustice of dhimmitude (subjugation) which includes the demand for jizya (tribute or protection money as mandated in the Qur’an in Sura 9:29). Sharia (Islamic law) is back and with it, barbaric, cruel and inhumane punishments, including death for blasphemers (be they in Pakistan or Paris) along with lashings, amputations, beheadings, crucifixions and burnings—all live-tweeted for our entertainment and edification. By July 2014 the Caliphate was back, and with it, the mass slaughter of men, the enslavement of women and children, ethnic-religious cleansing and even genocide.

“Islam is back, which means the sword is back above the necks not only of Christians but of all who will not yield—all who dare stand in the way of Islam’s success. None of what we are witnessing today is “unprecedented”, none of it!
ISIS in Raqqa, Syria.

“It is sobering to realize however, that the main reason Islam is back in the twenty-first Century is because, having forgotten history, having forgotten the threat of Islam, the West has sided with Islam, aided Islam, funded Islam, armed Islam, appeased Islam, romanticized Islam and protected Islam, all the while failing to confront the philosophical weakness of Islam, a weakness Islam counters through gross human rights abuses such as the cruel subjugation and persecution of unbelievers, denial of freedoms, and penalties such as death for blasphemy and death for apostasy.”


BUT – while Islam is back, it is still as yet militarily weak; not weaker than you and me, but weaker than any national army and any state that isn’t in chaos. And because Islam is military weak, it MUST fight asymmetrically.

Consequently, it is imperative that we understand how asymmetric conflict is prosecuted, not the least because we are integral to it.

ASYMMETRIC CONFLICT

An asymmetric conflict is one fought between unequal forces: one weak, one strong. It might be a case of persecuted, repressed or occupied peoples (weak) taking on their oppressive overlords (strong) in a struggle for liberty. On the other hand, it might be a case of separatists, usurpers or even terrorists (weak) taking on the state (strong) in a grab for power.

Examples of recent asymmetric conflicts include the Vietcong (weak) versus the USA (strong); the Afghan mujahideen (weak) versus the Soviet occupation (strong); Bosnian Islamic-secessionists (weak) versus the State of Yugoslavia (strong); Muslim ethnic-Albanian separatists in Serbia’s Kosovo province (weak) versus the State of Serbia (strong); Muslim militias (weak) versus the State of Ivory Coast (strong); Benghazi Islamic-secessionists (weak) versus the   Libyan regime in Tripoli (strong); the Afghan Taliban (weak) versus NATO (strong).

In all the examples listed above, the weak prevailed against the strong. In fact, it seems to be becoming increasingly difficult in this technological age, for a strong force to prevail against a weaker foe that has perfected the art of asymmetric warfare.

Traditionally, a weaker force would not pick a fight with a stronger force unless it believed it stood a fair chance of winning. That is because traditionally, the only alternative to winning was losing, which usually meant dying.

Today however, there is an alternative to winning or losing. Today, political mileage is up for grabs. Today, militarily weak groups like Hamas achieve their goals precisely by picking a fight they know they cannot win and then making political mileage out of being weak and getting clobbered!

source

Lacking military might, weak forces must rely on Psychological Operations (PSYOPS). 

Psychological Operations can be aimed at convincing the enemy not to fight – i.e. to go home (as the Vietcong did with the US in Vietnam) or convincing the enemy to surrender on its own turf (as Islam is doing in the West today).

Psychological Operations can also be aimed at securing military aid from an even stronger power – a superpower.

You might ask: Why would a strong democracy want to get involved in a conflict far away against a state that is no threat to them? Answer: they don’t – at least not unless there is something to gain from it. Any intervention must serve the superpower’s economic and/or geo-strategic interests; it has been this way since wars began.

However, in today’s world, no democratically elected leader will intervene in a foreign conflict if they fear it might cost them their political life. Consequently, before they can intervene, an elected government must first undertake a massive campaign to saturate the electorate with propaganda, so as to establish that the weak force (often Islamic jihadists) are worthy victims, and the stronger force (often a market competitor) is an evil regime.

What’s more, the development of internet technologies, mobile phones and social networking has made disseminating propaganda easier than ever.  

We are drowning in propaganda.

Two of the most commonly used tactics that weak forces use to generate propaganda and establish narrative are the use of human shields, and the false flag operation.

Human Shields

When a weak force provokes the enemy from behind a line of unarmed civilians, they can be said to be exploiting human shields. The strong force must then decide whether it will withhold fire (so as to protect civilians), or return fire in which case civilian casualties are all but guaranteed. If they return fire, the “massacre” will then be reported, along with sensational (often staged) images, by eager, gullible journalists who accept the narrative unquestioningly in their rush for the exclusive scoop. The media disseminates the propaganda, and then, just as expected, a compassionate society will have an emotional response.

This is precisely why Islamic jihadists establish bases in, and fire rockets from, markets, hospitals, schools and kindergartens, UN posts and safe havens, even from behind pro-democracy rallies.

Jaish al-Islam parade 50 cages of Alawite captives
through the streets of Douma and Eastern Ghouta, Syria (Nov 2015).

False Flags

A “False Flag” operation is one in which the weaker force perpetrates an appalling attack that is then attributed to the enemy. Generally this means acquiring enemy uniforms and then brutally slaughtering disposable civilians while making sure there are plenty of observers, especially reporters who are desperate to be first with exclusive stories and sensational images. The Houla massacre and the sarin gas attack in Ghouta are two examples of False Flag operations in Syria.

German war correspondent Jugen Todenhofer calls it “massacre marketing” – saying (referring to rebel activity in Syria): “It is among the most disgusting things I have witnessed in an armed conflict”.

 Houla Massacre (Syria, May 2012)
Child survivor: the family (all dead) was Sunni and pro-government.
The father was a retired Syrian soldier.
To get into the house, the killers  ('rebels')
-- who 'had big bushy beards and shaved heads'  (i.e. takfiri / Salafi-style) --
claimed (falsely) to be shabiha  (pro-government militia).  

 

Terrorism

Terrorism is a Psychological Operation (PSYOP): a weapon of the weak used to extract concessions from the strong. Though people die in a terror attack, they are not the actually targets of the operation. A terror attack is deemed successful when the public is so terrorized it is able to pressure the government to appease the terrorists so they (presumably) won’t do it again. Of course they always do ‘do it again’ escalating the terror and increasing the demands with each subsequent attack.

Every time we give in to Islamic terrorism, or fall for the PSYOPS of Islamic jihadist and propagandists, we strengthen and advance Islam.  We cannot afford to be doing that, for while Islam might be militarily weak today, there is no guarantee that it will stay that way. 

In Mesopotamia, transnational jihadists – Arabs, Africans, Europeans, Chechens, Uighurs, Turkmen and other Asians – already get around in tanks (including US Abrams Tanks) and have sophisticated automatic weapons. They already have access to US-made TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) anti-tank missiles; and increasingly to Man-portable air-defense systems (also known as MANPADS or shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles) which can shoot planes out of the sky.

Eventually Islamic powers and their jihadist proxies (including ISIS and al-Qaeda) will be able to conduct crippling cyber-warfare, and will have access long-range missiles, nuclear material and possibly even electro-magnetic pulse weapons.

If the West continues to side with Islam, aide Islam, fund Islam, arm Islam, appease Islam, romanticize Islam and protect Islam, all the while failing to confront the philosophical weakness of Islam – then eventually Islam will no longer be militarily weak and the West will be devoured.

Consequently, it is urgent that we understand exactly what is going on – so we can reject the propaganda, resist the terror, confront the ideology and turn back this battle.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

CHINA: Persecution of Church to escalate as Zhejiang experiment goes national

This article first appeared on Morning Star News

Persecution of Church to escalate as Zhejiang experiment goes national.
by Elizabeth Kendal

In October 2012, South China Morning Post ran a series of articles on China’s looming leadership transition. One line might prove prophetic, although not in the way intended: “For clues about how China’s leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping might manage the world’s second-largest economy, Zhejiang province is a good place to start looking.”

After explaining that the years that Xi Jinping spent in Zhejiang (2002 to 2007) – as party secretary and as governor – “are regarded as a transformative period, during which Zhejiang expanded its private sector and moved toward cleaner, more innovative industries,” the author posits that as President of the People’s Republic, Xi Jinping would doubtless work the same magic on a national level.

Similarly, for clues about how President Xi Jinping intends to manage religion and what is possibly the world’s second-largest evangelical Christian population (after the USA), Zhejiang province is a good place to start looking.

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President Xi Jinping 

photo REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
souvenir showing Xi and Mao,
Beijing (source)
Since assuming office in March 2013, President Xi Jinping has worked doggedly to consolidate power around himself as the “core” or hexin. To this end, Xi has been purging dissent (primarily through an ‘anti-corruption’ campaign), escalating repression, increasing censorship, tightening the reins on civil society. Reportedly a compulsive micro-manager, Xi has moved at speed to acquire control over every aspect of government. Australian academic Geremie Barmé has labelled Xi China’s “COE” or Chairman of Everything.

In the spirit of Lenin and Mao, Xi maintains that all elements of society should “serve socialism” and “be consistent with Marxist-Leninist thinking”. Positing Communism as an “attainable goal” of the Party, Xi has revived Chairman Mao’s dictum about the Party’s tight control over culture – particularly creative arts, literature and religion.

CCP moves to Sinicize Christianity

China analyst Willy Lam opines that it is no accident that President Xi’s campaign to “Sinicize Christianity”, so as to put Christianity into the service of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), was launched in Zhejiang.

“The aggressive Sinicization of Christianity, which started in 2013, is evidenced by the new policy of the so-called wujin (五进; literally “five penetrations” or “five introductions”) and wuhua (五 化 ; literally “five transformations”), which was initiated in Zhejiang Province. Xi, who was Party Secretary of Zhejiang from 2002 to 2007, apparently wanted to start this experiment in a region which has centuries of interaction with Christian organizations in the West.”

See: Xi’s Obsession with “Cultural Renaissance” Raises Fears of Another Cultural Revolution 
By Willy Lam, China Brief, 8 Feb 2016

Lam’s revelation that Xi had wanted to launch his experiment “in a region which has centuries of interaction with Christian organizations in the West”, begs the question: “Why?” Was Xi testing the waters to see what a Western, or even a domestic, response might look like?  The reality is, Zhejiang – and particularly, Wenzhou city – is more than its Western connections, for as Xi would well know, it is nothing other than China’s Christian heartland.

Zhejiang’s business hub, Wenzhou – a city of some 10 million – is believed to have the largest Christian population of any city in China. The proliferation of churches, Christian-run businesses and sizable, influential Christian minority has earned Wenzhou the title, “China’s Jerusalem”. Indeed the city is famous for its many successful Christian entrepreneurs who actively promote Christianity in their workplaces. It is primarily because Wenzhou’s Christian entrepreneurs hold so much economic power that Wenzhou’s churches have had so much freedom for so long. So why would President Xi start his experiment to Sinicize Christianity in Zhejiang rather that some quiet backwater? It is doubtless because if the experiment succeeds in Zhejiang, it will likely succeed anywhere in China.

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The Zhejiang Experiment Begins
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Qucheng Tang Church
June 2015 (CAA)
CCP moves against the Cross

On 8 January 2014 Zhejiang’s Communist Party secretary, Xia Baolong – who had been Deputy Party Secretary under Xi Jinping – was conducting an inspection in Zhoushan (north-east Zhejiang) when allegedly he was suddenly shocked by the proliferation of large churches. While passing a church in Baiquan town, Xia reportedly objected that the cross atop the church was “too conspicuous”, and demanded that the local Religious Affairs Bureau “rectify” the problem by removing it. And so began the campaign to de-Christianize the landscapes and skylines of Zhejiang.

This was never a campaign about building regulations. Rather it was in every way an attack on the church to (literally) bring down Cross and rein in the church, so as to force the church to bring her message and her administration into the service of the Party.

Wenzhou, 21 July 2014 (UCA)
In its battle against the cross and the church in Zhejiang, the CCP has forcibly removed from some 1800 crosses from their churches, much to the distress of faithful believers for whom the cross is the ultimate symbol of grace, salvation, transformation and hope, for the individual and the nation. Not only have crosses been removed, but dissenting churches have been demolished and protesting church members have been beaten and arrested.

In April 2015, as the campaign lurched into its second year and casualties mounted, Beijing-based Christian human rights lawyer, Zhang Kai (37) wrote on his blog: “Seeking justice, promoting reconciliation and advancing rule of law are an historic mission, called for by God, that Christian lawyers must answer and cannot shirk. Confronted with cases of oppression of Christian belief, more Christian lawyers are willing to withstand the pressure and walk alongside those who suffer.”

CCP moves against lawyers

On 1 July 2015 the CCP enacted a National Security Law which paved the way for increased nation-wide repression and persecution, purportedly in defence of “national security”.  Dr Eva Pils, a China law expert at King’s College, University of London, opined that the national security law “manifests a neo-totalitarian ambition to reach into every sector of society”. Maya Wang, a China researcher for Human Rights Watch, expressed concern that the law “includes elements that define criticism of the government as a form of subversion”.

Zhang Kai (centre) in Wenzhou
25 Aug 2015, RFA
Then, in a massive crackdown commencing on the weekend of 11-12 July 2015, the CCP arrested some 300 prominent human rights activists and lawyers, including several who were defending religious cases, in particular cases from Zhejiang. By this time, Zhang Kai had relocated to Wenzhou where he had taken up residence in a local church and was advising churches on their constitutional rights. Despite having been temporarily detained on 10 July – during which time he was interrogated and warned not to get involved – Zhang persisted in providing legal advice to more than 100 churches. On 14 July, in the midst of the crackdown, Zhang Kai announced the formation of “Lawyers for Protection of the Cross”, a group of some 30 Christian lawyers from across the country who would take on the Zhejiang church cases.

Zhang Kai was arrested on the night of Tuesday 25 August 2015, and “disappeared” into China’s secretive and notorious “black jail” system, accused of “inciting disorder” and “spreading fiction”.

CCP moves against TSPM

Chongyi Church: youtube
Also criticizing CCP policy in Zhejiang was Pastor Gu Yuese, the senior pastor of China’s largest CCP-approved and registered Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church: the 10,000-strong Chongyi Church in the Zhejiang capital, Hangzhou.

Hoping to protect themselves from “blowback” (negative consequences), the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and associated China Christian Council (CCC) cut Gu loose, officially dismissing him on 18 January 2016. 

Pastor (Joseph) Gu was arrested on 27 January 2016, and “disappeared” into China’s “black jail” system on charges pertaining to corruption. The very fact that the TSPM and CCC thought they could protect themselves, shows the degree to which they had misread the situation.  On 29 January, the authorities arrested Li Guanzhong, chairman of the CCC in Zhejiang’s Pujiang County and senior pastor of Puyang Christian Church in the city of Jinhua. Li and his wife Zhang Shuzhen were likewise “disappeared” into China’s “black jail” system and held incommunicado, without access to legal representation, on criminal charges pertaining to corruption. Like Gu, Li had protested CCP policy in Zhejiang. In July 2014 he had resisted CCP pressure to destroy his own church’s cross. In January 2016 he resisted the CCP’s order that all TSPM churches fly the Chinese flag.

By early February 2016 eight influential TSPM and CCC leaders had been arrested and were being held incommunicado on criminal charges pertaining to corruption.

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Zhejiang Experiment Goes National
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New Regulations for Churches 

On 8 September 2016, the Chinese government released a deliberative draft of its new Regulations on Religious Affairs. While Friday 7 October was designated as the day the government would stop receiving public comments and bring the law into effect, no public announcement has as yet been made.

The regulations give the CCP total control over religion. Unregistered and unapproved religious activity will no longer be tolerated; registered churches will be obliged to follow strict guidelines; and all building will be tightly regulated, doubtless to reduce Christianity’s visibility, just as in Zhejiang.

Click here to see an English translation of the deliberation draft: New Regulations on Religious Affairs.

New Regulations for Lawyers

Not only has the CCP set the stage for a flood of persecutions and prosecutions against the church, but it is also poised to hamstring and tightened the noose around China’s human rights lawyers.

When Zhang Kai was arrested in August 2015, he was held in solitary confinement and in darkness for six months until 25 February when, under extreme duress, he made a televised “confession” in which he repented of his “crimes”, retracted his criticisms of the CCP, and advised other lawyers against getting involved. Upon his release on 23 March, Zhang returned to his mother’s home in Inner Mongolia subject to strict bail conditions that he stay out of politics and refrain from speaking to the media.

In late August Zhang posted a video on WeChat in which he retracts his former statement, which he said was made under duress after experiencing a six-month detention that was “all black and no daylight”.  On 31 August security police from Wenzhou City surrounded Zhang’s mother’s Inner Mongolia home, arrested Zhang and took him away. 

When the Ministry of Justice’s amended “Administrative Measures for Law Firms” come into effect on 1 November, then all China’s lawyers will be officially banned from speaking out about human rights abuses. Even silent protests, such as walking out of a courtroom, will be prohibited.

Click here to see report by China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD): Revised Measures on Law Firms Further Curb Independence of Chinese Lawyers, 3 Oct 2016.

So, for clues as to how President Xi intends to manage China’s churches, “Zhejiang province is a good place to start looking”, for the Zhejiang experiment is about to go national.

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Selected background pieces by Elizabeth Kendal


Legitimising Persecution,  (National Security Law) 15 July 2015



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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016). See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Syria: Blinkered in Aleppo

by Elizabeth Kendal - 24th August 2016
first published by Lapido Media, using the title "Aleppo Horror: Be careful whose side you're on"


Is the Western media blinkered in the midst of Aleppo horror?

FOR every bloodied child in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, there is a bloodied child in the government-held west of the war-torn city.

While an estimated 250,000 people remain in the rebel-held east, more than a million – including some 40,000 Christians – remain in the government-held west.

Churches – which operate freely in western Aleppo – describe the fighting in July as the worst they have ever experienced. On one day alone in mid July, some 250 rebel rockets rained down on Aleppo’s Christian quarter in the space of four hours.

Struggle

On 25 June, the Syrian Government launched the Castello Operation aimed at severing the rebel supply-line that runs through the north of the city en route to Turkey. Advancing under Russian air cover, Syrian forces approached the Castello Road from the north and from the south in a pincer manoeuvre.

source
By 26 July the rebel supply-line had been cut and two days later, rebel-held eastern Aleppo was besieged. The government opened three humanitarian corridors and promised four more.

The strategy is as old as war itself: cut the supply, besiege the city, increase the pressure and then open the vents to allow the escape of human shields and surrendering fighters.

Syrian forces liberated Homs by this means. Indeed, the US-backed, mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces recently liberated Manbij from Islamic State this way.

But if these rebels have learned anything it is how to fight asymmetrically. Aware of the propaganda value of human shields, the rebels convince them to stay.

In this they were aided by US Secretary of State John Kerry who echoed rebel claims that the humanitarian corridors ‘could potentially be a ruse’.  Consequently, only a few dozen families trickled out, with most opting to stay.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu described them as ‘hostages’, claiming they actually were unable to flee as the rebels had mined the humanitarian corridors and set snipers over them.

Omran Daqneesh (5)
Had the family of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh – whose gut-wrenching image adorned newspapers across the globe last week -   escaped through the humanitarian corridors opened then he would not have ended up sitting bloodied in the back of an ambulance. Moreover his brother, Ali, 10, would not have died.

On 31 July, rebels belonging to Jaysh al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) launched a counter-offensive in south-western Aleppo, and by 6 August had broken through the siege. Western mainstream media cheered loudly for what the Institute for the Study of War described as ‘a major victory for al-Qaeda in Syria’.  On 7 August the Jaysh al-Fatah Operations Room released a statement declaring its intention to take the jihad into western Aleppo so as to capture the entire city.

Rebels

Jaysh al-Fatah is an al-Qaeda-led rebel coalition dominated by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and Ahrar al-Sham (a Salafist outfit modelled on the Taliban). Because the Jaysh al-Fatah coalition also includes a few much smaller US-backed militias, Jaysh al-Fatah profits from US weapons and US protection. To quote the Russian President, the ‘terrorists’ might be ‘rough and cruel people, but they’re in no way primitive or silly’.

The US has proscribed Jabhat al-Nusra (Jabhat Fatah al-Sham) as a terrorist organisation and agreed with Russia that it should be targeted. However, the US has not been able to convince its ‘good rebel’ proxies to disengage from their al-Qaeda affiliated allies - and this has hampered US anti-terror efforts.

Convincing US-backed rebels to disengage from Jaysh al-Fatah will be even more difficult now that Jaysh al-Fatah – which already holds the provincial capital of Idlib – has achieved such success in Aleppo. Islamic fighters – including displaced Islamic State jihadists – will be flocking to join the ranks of Jaysh al-Fatah now.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in western Aleppo is deteriorating rapidly.

Electricity is limited and, due to recent fighting, the flow of water and the main supply line have been cut, meaning water, food, fuel and medicines are all scarce.

As the rebels – around 95 percent of whom are foreign: Chechens, Saudis, Uzbeks, Chinese Uyhgurs among others – press in on western Aleppo, loyalist Syrians feel both the war and the prospect of slaughter inching closer.

‘Hope’

Despite the dire situation, western Aleppo’s churches of all denominations continue to serve and minister as funds are pumped in from churches and Christian advocacy groups on the outside.

Aleppo’s Saint Elias Cathedral (Orthodox) is caring for some 4,000 families recently displaced from southern Aleppo’s 1070 district – half of them Muslim, half of them Christian.

Similarly, Jesuit priest Fr Ziad Hilal said the churches are working to feed the hungry, regardless of their religion.

He said: ‘We have a big kitchen, this kitchen was sponsored by ACN (Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need) and other associations, and a lot of people come – we give about 7,500 meals every day. 

‘It is a lot, and the team is a Muslim and Christian team, and a lot of the people who benefit from these meals are Muslims. So, on one side things are dark, things are sad – on the other hand we see the activities of the Church there and how the people, especially the Christian associations, are helping. These provide a sign of hope. Our mission is important there.’

That Western mainstream media cares so little about the plight or fate of loyalist Syrians is nonsensical, for of all the groups in Syria today, loyalist Syrians (non-Islamist Muslims, Alawites and Christians) are the group with which most westerners would have the most in common. Instead, the media apparently cheers rebels who represent everything they abhor and would slaughter them in a heartbeat. If there is one thing al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) agree on, it is the treatment of infidels.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She publishes a weekly Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin to help facilitate strategic prayer; serves as the Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom; and is an Adjunct Research Fellow in the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology.

Elizabeth Kendal has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).  

For more information see: www.ElizabethKendal.com


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Middle East Crisis Entirely Predictable

Sir John Chilcot right to say hindsight not required
by Elizabeth Kendal

How often do you hear it said that the current crisis in Middle East is “unprecedented”?

Despite being routinely parroted by our political, academic and media elites, this assertion is absolutely false.

Those who make this claim are either embarrassingly ignorant of history, or desperate to excuse their utter cluelessness and/or deflect criticism from their catastrophic policy failures.

Surely one of the most pivotal sentences in the 150 page executive summary of Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry is one found on page 129 under the heading “Lessons”, subheading “The decision to go to war”, in paragraph 828: “When the potential for military action arises, the Government should not commit to a firm political objective before it is clear that it can be achieved.”

Could the US-led West's objectives in Iraq have been achieved? 

Iraq straddles one of the most volatile religious fault-lines on the planet. Consequently, even the most basic understanding of Iraq’s sectarian dynamics and history would have given anyone considering war cause for concern.

Likewise, anyone with a basic understanding of the Islamic worldview would have known that an invasion of “infidel” forces would have triggered Islamic resistance. Furthermore, anyone with knowledge of the history of Muslim-Christian relations in the Middle East would have anticipated the consequences for local Christians should Islamic resistance be triggered or an Islamic order restored.

The events of 1979—the successful Shi’ite revolution in Iran and the failed Sunni revolution in Saudi Arabia—heightened Islamic and sectarian zeal, and set in motion the wheels of global Islamic radicalisation. One generation later, the Middle East was a radicalised Islamic tinderbox just waiting for a spark. Had Western policy-makers truly understood and appreciated that fact, then they might have heeded the warnings and accepted an alternative. Yes, there were alternatives!

In late 2002, Russian President Vladimir Putin advised the administration of President G. W. Bush that instead of going after Saddam Hussein, it should concentrate on the real sponsors of Islamic terror, specifically Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and put an end to the Saudi funding of Wahhabi extremism.
Presidents G.W. Bush and Vladimir Putin (2002)
As terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky explains: “Russian experts warned that the problem in Iraq was not just Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction, but rather the prevailing radical militant trends. They urged the Americans to be ready to deal with radicalized populations, Sunni Islamist militancy, a radical Shiite population under Iranian influence, the flow of al-Qaeda operatives, and Kurdish-Turkish and Turkman-Arab hatred—all of which were likely to intensify in reaction to an American invasion of Iraq.” The Kremlin’s position was that rather than defeating terrorism, a US-led invasion would actually create and open new venues for terrorism.

In receipt of an abundance of intelligence from all sides, the onus was on Western policy-makers to assess that intelligence. Unfortunately our political leaders were ill-equipped for the task. Lacking knowledge of history and understanding of religion; blinded by arrogance [“where everyone else failed, we will succeed!”] and hamstrung by bias [“we are not going to listen to Russia!”], they were incapable of discerning wisdom from fantasy, or interest-driven propaganda from plain hard reality.

When US-led forces bombed and invaded Iraq in 2003, and removed Saddam and the Baathists by force, they liberated not “the Iraqi people”, but the Iraqi Shi’ites—facilitating the rise of the “Shia Crescent”.

By 2005 Iraq, once part of a north-south Sunni bloc, was fully integrated into an east-west "Shia Crescent" (more accurately known as the Axis of Resistance) with Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1982 vision of a continuous arc of Iranian influence extending from Tehran “to Jerusalem . . .  through Kabala” (in southern Iraq) awaiting only its final installment.

That Iraq’s political realignment would trigger Sunni resistance in Iraq, and have regional implications for oil and gas pipeline politics, and existentially imperil the region’s US-allied Sunni regimes—was entirely predictable.

Driven from their home in Mosul, by ISIS/ISIL fighters,
Assyrian Christian refugee, Radwan Shamra and son, Martin (3),
stand on the roof of St. Ephraim Syrian Orthodox Church
in Amman, Jordan. 1 Oct. 2014.
(Photo: Warrick Page/The New York Times)
That conflict in Iraq would attract international jihadists, and result in the genocide of minorities—including the region’s indigenous Christian nation (the Assyrians)—was all entirely predictable to anyone with knowledge of history and understanding of religion.

Sir John Chilcot was absolutely right to reject Tony Blair’s contention that the difficulties encountered after the invasion could not have been foreseen.

“We do not agree that hindsight is required,” Chilcot said. “The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability and al-Qaida activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion.”

What a pity the Chilcot report had not been released in 2010, before the US-led West chose to back regime change in Damascus.

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Elizabeth Kendal is a long-time religious liberty analyst and advocate, author of the weekly Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin. She serves as the Director of Advocacy at Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) in Canberra, Australia, and is an adjunct research fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

Her second book, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East, (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA) was released in June 2016. For more information see: www.ElizabethKendal.com