Sunday, 30 September 2012

Britain in Palestine. Britain’s historic responsibilities for the Israel-Palestine conflict: Starting an honest conversation

You are invited to attend a one day conference in Edinburgh hosted by the Balfour Project on Friday 2nd November.

The Balfour Project, in association with the Church of Scotland, is organising a one-day conference on the British involvement in Palestine in the first half of the last century. This is a first step in exploring how to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in exactly five years on 2nd November 2017.

The Balfour Project has been created by a group of academics and activists who believe that this anniversary should not pass unremarked. Mindful of Britain’s responsibility for what has come to pass in the Middle East, the Balfour Project will encourage understanding of what led to the Balfour Declaration, and what flowed from it. Through our website, we plan to facilitate a network of educational, political, religious and humanitarian groups who share this conviction. We aim to stimulate conferences, cultural exchanges and the production of multimedia resources.  Above all, we believe that the search for the truth of what took place, and the acknowledgement of wrong-doing, can contribute to justice, peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.

In the morning Dr Mary Embleton, whose special interest is Britain’s involvement in the Middle East, will outline the contradictory promises Britain made to Arabs and Jews, and their consequences for all parties before and during the British Mandate in Palestine. This will be followed by keynote papers from Rev Dr Stephen Sizer, who will talk about the ideas that shaped this period, Professor Mary Grey will talk about the main players and Dr Imad Karam will talk about the consequences for Palestinians today. In the afternoon John Bond OAM, former Secretary of Australia’s Sorry Day campaign, will use the 2008 national apology to Aboriginal Australians to discuss the impact of acknowledgement and apology.
This will be followed by workshops where you can both interact further with the main speakers and pool ideas on how we move forward. How can we create a momentum over the next 5 years towards an acknowledgement of our responsibilities? Can there be a cascade of events, not centrally organised, but all working to the same ends?

Registration is £20 which includes lunch and refreshments. Space is limited so please book your place on the attached registration form.

Marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in 2017, the purpose of the conference is to start an honest conversations about Britain's role in the Israel-Palestine conflict and contribute to justice, peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. 

Mindful of Britain’s responsibility, the Balfour Project will encourage understanding of what led to the Balfour Declaration, and what flowed from it.

The Balfour Project

Decolonising the Mind

Yesterday I attended a workshop led by Sandew Hira from the International Institute for Scientific Research in the Netherlands and hosted by the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

Hira spoke eloquently of the destructive legacy of European colonialism which remains an open wound in much of Africa, Asia and South America, as well as in Europe, especially among those of ethnic minorities.

Although 'decolonization' has begun to impact politics, economics and international relations, Hira insists there is still one dimension of colonialism that has survived, namely, mental or psychological colonialism.
"Mental colonialism created a narrative of race relations that still dominates the discourse in western media: the supposed superiority of western culture and the supposed inferiority of non-western cultures.
This narrative has changed in the course of four centuries of colonialism, but is its basic assumptions are widespread in the educational system and the discourse in the media. It is there in the mind of both the former colonizer and the colonized. Decolonizing the mind means changing the mindset of both groups."
Having completed a PhD thesis examining Christian Zionism and British and American attempts in the 19th and 20th centuries to colonise the Middle East, I found the day both illuminating and empowering.

Through a combination of lectures, discussion and light hearted debate, Hira encouraged a young and articulate audience (I must have been the oldest present) to develop a more assertive decolonial attitude and contribute to a more just, less racist and homogeneous society in Britain.

For more information on the workshop see here

An article by Sandew Hira The Indian Diaspora in Holland

Friday, 28 September 2012

Tablighi Jamaat

Last night Lapido Media, an international religious literacy charity, launched the first in a new series of books designed for journalists on religious literacy in world affairs. Held at the Frontline Club near Paddington, the room was packed with journalists and activists.

Speakers included Jenny Taylor, the founder and Executive Director of Lapido Media, Dr Zacharias Pieri, author of Tablighi Jamaat,  prolific writer, broadcaster and scholar, Ziauddin Sardar; the former BBC war correspondent, Dan Damon, and Jeremy Hunter, the renowned photojournalist.

Dr Zacharias Pieri, is a political sociologist with extensive ethnographic research experience of British Muslim communities. Tablighi Jamaat in Britain is based on two years observation of the TJ in Newham. His current research is directed at identity politics and Islam in contemporary societies.

Tablighi Jamaat, the world’s biggest Islamic revival movement, was founded in India in 1926 to purge the backslidden of British and Hindu influence.
The 'ante-chamber of terror' as the French security service is said to have dubbed the Tablighi Jamaat, or an other-worldly group of Muslims dedicated to piety and preaching? A movement of separatist, supremacist misogynists bent on the Islamisation of Europe, or a misunderstood part of Britain's multicultural mosaic?

The book sets the format for the new series, and contains timelines, pull-out quotes, biographies and background material to improve the media coverage of what Dr Jenny Taylor, a journalist and founder of Lapido Media, describes as the ‘invisibilised religious dimension of so many running stories. ‘We will be publishing handbooks that scratch the itch, and feed the existing news agenda with facts, not our own opinions.

Order Tablighi Jamaat from Amazon here

Additional photos of the book launch here 

See Tablighi Jamaat's website here

See also Islamic revival movement may adapt to avoid Megamosque project collapse

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Middle East Bishops Call for Ban on Anti-Muslim Film

Gerald Butt, writing in the Church Times reports,
Four Anglican bishops in the Middle East and Africa have called for international moves to declare as unlawful all actions defaming people or objects that are considered sacred by people of faith.

Their call was made in response to the film Innocence of Muslims, or Innocence of Islam, produced in the United States, which contains scenes portraying the Prophet Muhammad in ways that are offensive and provocative to Muslims.

The existence of the film, appar­ently made by an Egyptian-born Copt in the US, has provoked a violent reaction across the Middle East and in other Islamic countries. In an attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, in eastern Libya, the US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and three members of his staff were killed (News, 14 September).

The appeal for legislation to ban the publication of material that causes religious offence was con­tained in a letter sent last weekend to the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, by the President-Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusa­lem and the Middle East, the Most Revd Mouneer Anis. The other sig­natories were: the Bishop in Cyprus & the Gulf, the Rt Revd Michael Lewis; the Area Bishop for North Africa, Dr Bill Musk; and the Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa, Dr Grant Le­-Marquand.

The Bishops proposed that an "international declaration be nego­tiated that outlaws the intentional and deliberate insulting or defama­tion of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts, and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith".

They hoped, however, that such legislation would not stifle freedom of expression. Instead, all people, should be "responsible and self-re­straining in expressing or promot­ing offensive or malicious opinions with regard to the religions of the world."

The Bishops said that there were suggestions that "some of the vio­lent responses experienced in the past few years are out of proportion. . . However, it is a fact that people in different parts of the world react differently, especially when it comes to matters of faith" 

Read more here

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Burrswood Christian Hospital Fellowship Day

Burrswood Christian Hospital Fellowship Day is a memorable and joyful annual celebration. This year it took place in September in glorious Autumn sunshine with around 500 members of the Burrswood ‘family'.

It was an opportunity to celebrate the work of this unique Christian hospital, give thanks for the retiring CEO, Dr Gareth Tuckwell, welcome his successor, Fi McLachlan, enjoy the grounds, hear the speeches and attend the afternoon Eucharist presided by the Right Revd James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester.

A large marquee was erected on the lower lawn with live music while we enjoyed a delicious lunch and tea.

Burrswood Hospital seeks God’s healing through Christian ministry and prayer, medical excellence and professional counselling, caring for every aspect of each person’s wellbeing – whether spiritual, medical or emotional. Stillness and beauty provide space for the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in every area of need.

Burrswood staff are committed to working within the mystery of suffering and Christian healing. Their aim is to keep the love of Christ at the heart of care, and to be a sign of the Kingdom of God in a hurting world.

Fi McLachlan has previously been Chief Executive of Mildmay International, a pioneering HIV charity delivering quality care and treatment, prevention work, rehabilitation, training and health systems strengthening in the UK, sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe. Prior to that she was the Director of Organisational Development and part of the International Leadership team of Interserve International.

Burrswood works in partnership with the ME Trust. For more information on Burrswood see here.

For further photos of Burrswood Hospital Fellowship Day see here.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Anti-Islam movie criminal filmmaker misled cast

A political analyst says that the controversial anti-Islam film was made by a man with a criminal record who “grossly” deceived the blasphemous movie’s cast, Press TV reports.

“The entire cast and crew who made the film have repudiated it. They have said that they were grossly misled by its intent and purpose. Their words in the film were overdubbed with new statements.” Pastor Stephen Sizer told Press TV during an interview on Sunday.

The pastor condemned the film’s intent saying it aimed at inciting violence.

“First of all let me say that the Christian community completely denounces the practice of insulting and slandering adherence of other religions or their founders.”

Sizer said that Nakula Basseley Nakula or Sam Bacile, already “a convicted felon” faces “further convictions in the United States” for the way he made the film.

According to Sizer, before making headlines in the media, the controversial clip went on YouTube instead of being shown on the television or in the cinemas. It was then “exploited by eccentric extremist religious leader Terry Jones”.

The analyst went on to say that the film was then “picked up by a religious leader in Egypt who showed samples of the video on his program and clearly upset people in Egypt who had never even heard of the film.”

He added that the violence, misunderstanding, and hatred resulting from the film is repudiated in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

The film's supposed writer and director, a man calling himself Sam Bacile, has said the movie was meant to be a provocative political statement in condemnation of Islam.

The movie’s trailer has caused outrage in many countries across the world. 

Source: Press TV Anti-Islam movie criminal filmmaker misled cast: Pastor

See also The Innocence of Muslims

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Pope and the Forgotten Massacre

The civil war in Syria has given a sense of urgency to Pope Benedict XVI's three day trip starting today, a mission he describes as a pilgrimage of peace for the entire region. According to the Independent, even Hezbollah has hailed the Pope's Lebanon visit 'extraordinary and historic'

With many countries urging their citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon, the timing of the 85 year old Pope's visit is indeed courageous.

What no one has observed so far, however, is that it also coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Sabra and Chatila massacres in Beirut between 16th-18th September 1982 when 1,700 Palestinians were killed by Phalangists supervised by the Israeli army.

According to Wikipedia,
The Israel Defense Forces surrounded the Palestinian refugee camps, controlled access to them, and fired illuminating flares over the camps. In 1982, an independent commission chaired by Sean MacBride concluded that the Israeli authorities or forces were, directly or indirectly, responsible for the events.
If only Pope Benedict would spend an hour visiting the camps this weekend. That would indeed be 'extraordinary and historic', or even miraculous, because as Robert Fisk observes today in The forgotten massacre,
While presidents and prime ministers have lined up in Manhattan to mourn the dead of the 2001 international crimes against humanity at the World Trade Centre, not a single Western leader has dared to visit the dank and grubby Sabra and Chatila mass graves, shaded by a few scruffy trees and faded photographs of the dead. Nor, let it be said – in 30 years – has a single Arab leader bothered to visit the last resting place of at least 600 of the 1,700 victims. Arab potentates bleed in their hearts for the Palestinians but an airfare to Beirut might be a bit much these days – and which of them would want to offend the Israelis or the Americans?
"I have come to Lebanon as a pilgrim of peace," Pope Benedict said upon arrival in Beirut, speaking under a canopy at the airport on a sultry afternoon. "As a friend of God and as a friend of men." He also denounced religious fundamentalism, calling it "a falsification of religion."

The problem is we invariably only recognise fundamentalism in others and not in our selves.

The fact is, peace can only be achieved through reconciliation, and reconciliation requires justice, and justice requires the recognition and atonement for historic wrongs.

That is why there is an historic link, whether we recognise it or not, between the massacres of Sabra and Chatila, with 9/11, and with this week's violent protests across the Middle East targeting US embassies caused by the film 'the Innocence of Muslims'.

Robert Fisk concludes,
Dr Bayan al-Hout, widow of the PLO's former ambassador to Beirut, has written the most authoritative and detailed account of the Sabra and Chatila war crimes – for that is what they were – and concludes that in the years that followed, people feared to recall the event. "Then international groups started talking and enquiring. We must remember that all of us are responsible for what happened. And the victims are still scarred by these events – even those who are unborn will be scarred – and they need love." In the conclusion to her book, Dr al-Hout asks some difficult – indeed, dangerous – questions: "Were the perpetrators the only ones responsible? Were the people who committed the crimes the only criminals? Were even those who issued the orders solely responsible? Who in truth is responsible?"
In other words, doesn't Lebanon bear responsibility with the Phalangist Lebanese, Israel with the Israeli army, the West with its Israeli ally, the Arabs with their American ally? Dr al-Hout ends her investigation with a quotation from Rabbi Abraham Heschel who raged against the Vietnam war. "In a free society," the Rabbi said, "some are guilty, but all are responsible."
Source: Independent

See also Robert Fisk At Last the Truth about Sabre and Chatila

See also Innocence of Muslims

The Syrian opposition and why it will fail

İpek Yezdani, writing in the Turkish Hürriyet Daily News concedes, that Syrian rebels are too fragmented and unruly. The map says it all. Her article is subtitled, "The opposition militants battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are a fragmented rabble that refuses to follow orders, according to activists."
There are more than 30 different rebel groups, including the most prominent rebel group, the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), fighting in Syria, according to officials from the most prominent Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC).

The Jihadists, Islamists, pro-al-Qaida and secular groups that are not under the control of the FSA and which are fighting in different areas of Syria against the Syrian regime forces prove how fragmented and disorganized the Syrian rebel groups were in Syria. 
She reports that an SNC member said mainly Chechens, Libyans and a few Afghans were fighting on the fronts in Syria. “Most of them fight in Syria to be martyrs,” 

Click here to see a full size version of the map showing different rebel groups in Syria.

Read more here

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Real Menace to our Freedoms

Last week, the former US Ambassador Charles W. Freeman delivered a powerful speech to MIT's Seminar XXI at the National Press Club in Washington. It was entitled,  Nobody's Century:  the American Prospect in Post-Imperial Times. Given the tragic developments in the Middle East on the anniversary of 9/11, his remarks were prescient. Some way in he observed,
Since 9/11, Americans have chosen to stake our domestic tranquility on our ability – under our commander-in-chief – to rule the world by force of arms rather than to lead, as we had in the past, by the force of our example or our arguments. And we appear to have decided in the process that it is necessary to destroy our civil liberties in order to save them and that abandoning the checks and balances of our Constitution will make us more secure. Meanwhile, our military-industrial complex and its flourishing antiterrorist sidekick have been working hard to invent a credible existential challenge to match that of the Cold War. This has produced constantly escalating spending on military and antiterrorist projects, but it has not overcome the reality that Americans now face no threat from abroad comparable to Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, or the USSR. The only real menace to our freedoms is our own willingness to supplant the rule of law with ever more elements of a garrison state. 
The so-called “global war on terror” or “militant Islam,” as so many now openly describe it, has become an endless run in a military squirrel cage that is generating no light but a lot of future anti-American terrorism. It turns out that all that is required to be hated is to do hateful things. Ironically, as we “search abroad for monsters to destroy,” we are creating them – transforming our foreign detractors into terrorists, multiplying their numbers, intensifying their militancy, and fortifying their hatred of us. The sons and brothers of those we have slain know where we are. They do not forget. No quarter is given in wars of religion. We are generating the very menace that entered our imaginations on 9/11.
Annie Robbins, writing for Mondoweiss, suggests one of the unintended but hopefully positive likely outcomes.
The killing of the U.S. ambassador in Libya will make further U.S. support for the insurgency in Syria, which is also supported by Al Qaeda and by Libyan Salafist fighters, more unlikely.
According to Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan,
Oliver Miles, the extremely sensible former British Ambassador to Libya, while deploring attacks on Embassies and their staff, made the obvious point on Sky News yesterday that America’s unflinching support for an expansionist Israel was the root cause of hostile attitudes to the USA across the Middle East. His interview was instantly terminated.

Innocence of Muslims

One of the first and most perceptive challenges to the outrageous incitement of Muslims by those behind the film "Innocence of Muslims", comes from a fellow evangelical pastor and film maker, Steve Martin. On his blog The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, he writes,
I have no sympathy for anyone who would assassinate a US ambassador. But I have even less sympathy for filmmakers who spread hatred and for pastors who knowingly incite violence.
He asks,
Which is the true story of America? Is it that of hatred that stokes violence, or of friends who join hands across religious lines to work for the good of all? Those who attacked Amb. Stevens, thanks to sociopaths like Terry Jones and filmmaker Sam Bacile, believe we are a violent people bent on domination. Sadly, there is some truth to that perception. But through the example of Rev. Schenck and others who have so effectively bridged the gap that often exists between persons of different religious views, I believe that goodness and love is the true story of America, and certainly of the Evangelical community. Goodness and love, however, rarely make good news. It's time that they do.
Martin concludes, "Sam Bacile and Terry Jones must be stopped. Evangelicals are the ones who can stop them." Can and must because silence is complicity.

According to Christianity Today, the World Evangelical Alliance has also condemned the video. 
We completely denounce the practice of Insulting and slandering adherents of other religions or their founders. Such inflammatory statements invariably arouse suspicion and confusion", says secretary general Geoff Tunnicliffe. "We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Christian brothers and sisters in countries with Muslim majority populations in condemning both the video and the violence that has followed its publication.
One of the least helpful and most cynical responses to the tragedy, allegedly from a Christian perspective, appears on the anonymous Cranmer blog, "Innocence of Muslims" film Inflames Islamic paranoia
The US film Innocence of Muslims ought to be banned. Not because it mocks Islam and insults Mohammed, but because it looks absolutely dire. The reported budget was $5m, but His Grace could have made it for a fiver: the acting is sub-Neighbours; the screenplay crass and amateurish. It has all the appearance of a Monty Python sketch, minus the brilliant satire and comedic genius of true creative artistry.
Cranmer admits later that his review was written without actually having watched the film but that seems irrelevant when you have an agenda.

Perhaps those who participated in the film can speak with more conviction. According to CNN, a statement released on the behalf of the 80 cast and crew members of "Innocence of Muslims," indicates that they are not happy with the film and were misled by the producer.
The entire cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about its intent and purpose," the statement says. "We are shocked by the drastic re-writes of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred.
Sabeel in Jerusalem offered this response:
We pray that all people of goodwill around the world will be aware that there are forces of evil at work to create tension and enmity between the different religious communities.

Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, together with Friends of Sabeel around the world strongly condemn the intentionally provocative film and its denigrating portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad. We categorically reject such vehicles as instruments of division and demonization.

We pray for calm and a cessation of violence in the wake of the reaction to this unfortunate film, and ask that potentially incendiary situations across the Middle East and Islamic world might be transformed into opportunities for respect of persons, whatever their religion or creed.

We reject all forms of violence, including verbal and other abusive reactions that will only inflame additional cycles of violence. We pray for the families of the US Ambassador and all those killed in Libya, whether their senseless death was provoked by the film or for political reasons.

May the God of peace bless the peace-makers throughout the region, that their efforts will be multiplied a hundred-fold.
For further reporting see:

Rory Carroll in the Guardian Mystery surrounds 'Sam Bacile', maker of controversial anti-Muhammad film and

Guy Adams writing in the Independent Profile: Sam Bacile the middle-aged real-estate developer behind The controversial "Innocence of Muslims" film

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Hidden Iran

One of the joys of the Summer holidays is carefully hand picking a selection of books to take with me to read, unhurriedly and without the usual distractions of home. This week I got to read Ray Takeyh's book, Hidden Iran, on the glorious beaches of the Cote d'Azur. It's been sitting on my 'must read' pile for a couple of years slowly making its way to the top. Having visited Iran twice now, I just wish I had read it years ago.

Subtitled, 'Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic', Takeyh explains the historical, political and diplomatic reasons why the USA and Iran have had such a consistently dysfunctional relationship over the past 60 years. Although published in 2006, Takeyh shows why the present belligerent empasse with Israel was all but inevitable, and why US policy toward Iran must change if we are to avert another war in the Middle East. His concluding chapter 'Getting Iran Right' could have been written yesterday. It should be required reading of every US politician.

A synopsis of the book is available here and excerpts may be read here.

Born in Tehran, Ray Takeya is a senior fellow at the US Council on Foreign Relations, where he concentrates his work on Iran, Islamist movements and Middle Eastern politics. He has held positions at the National Defense University, Yale and Berkeley. His work has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune.

The Council on Foreign Relations review observes,
In Hidden Iran, Ray Takeyh has written a groundbreaking book that reveals how the underappreciated domestic political rivalries within Iran serve to explain the country's behavior on the world stage. A leading expert on Iran's politics and history, Takeyh shows why this country has so often confounded American expectations and inspired a long series of misguided U.S. policies that continue to this day. And yet there is a hidden Iran beyond what we see on the news or hear about from American politicians, one in which political factions jockey for power and influence, politicians fall out of favor only to reemerge a few years later, and the hard-liners, the pragmatists, and the reformers tend to counterbalance one another in the government.
The Amazon review concludes,
Ray Takeyh, a leading expert on Iran's politics and history, has written a groundbreaking book that demystifies the Iranian regime and shows how the fault lines of Iran's domestic politics serve to explain its behaviour. In "Hidden Iran", he explains why this country has so often confounded American expectations and why its outward hostility does not necessarily preclude the normalisation of relations. Through a clearer understanding of the competing claims of Muslim theology, Republican pragmatism and factional competition, he offers a new paradigm for managing Western relations with a rising and largely unknown power. 
"Savvy and accessible . . . Takeyh has written a shrewd, timely guide to Iran's schisms, interests and ambitions, as well as offering a bracing and often nicely acerbic look at U.S.-Iranian relations." --Warren Bass, "The Washington Post Book World"
""Hidden Iran" is a skillful policy brief, written in a smooth, graceful style that is accessible to nonspecialists. Takeyh does not underestimate how difficult it is for the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States of America to find ways of dealing with each other, but he demonstrates persuasively that a policy of more of the same will only produce more of the same." --Gary Sick, "Foreign Affairs"

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Save Silwan

War on Want  published a report today claiming Palestinian families in Silwan, East Jerusalem, have been told they’ll lose their homes by the end of September. Silwan faces one of the largest demolitions Jerusalem has ever seen, and up to 1,000 people could be left homeless.

Apparently, the Israeli authorities plan to demolish large parts of Silwan to build a controversial tourist site. In place of a bustling Palestinian neighbourhood, there are plans to build visitors centres, gift shops and car parks for foreign tourists. The community in Silwan is defiant. They have come together to resist the demolitions.

 But the bulldozers could arrive at any time - War on Want insist it’s vital that we support their struggle to stay in their homes.

For more information see War on Want

Write a polite letter to the Mayor of Jerusalem urging him to respect the rights of the people of Silwan.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Iran: Pastor Nadarkhani released, aquitted of apostasy

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) have today reported that Yousef Nadarkhani, the Church of Iran pastor sentenced to death for apostasy, has been released and is at home with his family.
According to reliable sources, during court proceedings that took place today, Pastor Nadarkhani was acquitted of apostasy, but found guilty of evangelizing Muslims. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment for the latter charge, but released because he had already served this time. 
Pastor Nadarkhani was arrested in his home city of Rasht in 2009 soon after questioning the Muslim monopoly of religious instruction for children, which he felt was unconstitutional. He was sentenced to death for apostasy in 2010, a decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2011. Although the Iranian penal code did not specify death for apostasy, a constitutional loophole allowed judges to refer to Shari’a law and authoritative fatwas to justify such a sentence. Today the pastor had been expected to face new charges for unspecified crimes, but was instead released. 
CSW’s Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas said, "CSW is delighted to learn of Pastor Nadarkhani's release after a long incarceration. We commend the Iranian judiciary for this step, which is a triumph for justice and the rule of law. While we rejoice at this wonderful news, we do not forget hundreds of others who are harassed or unjustly detained on account of their faith, and CSW is committed to continue campaigning until all of Iran's religious minorities are able to enjoy religious freedom as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party.”
Christian Solidarity Worldwide is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Religious Intolerance in Bahrain

Every country could improve its human rights record, right? Even yours and mine. William Dalyrymple, in his book, From the Holy Mountain, published in 1998, noted that Christians living in Syria enjoyed more protection and greater freedom than Christians in any other country in the Middle East. Well, that was then. What about now?

If the Qatari and Saudi backed Sunni Salafist insurgents do indeed overthrow the government of President Bishar Assad, what will be the fate of Christians and other minorities? One does not have to look too far across the Gulf for an answer.

While Shia Iran has been quietly handing back church property seized during the Islamic Revolution, regularly hosts interfaith conferences to improve Christian-Muslim relations and has even given permission for the importation of Farsi Bibles, a very different religious agenda is being implemented in Bahrain.

Reem Khalifa of the Associated Press, has written a disturbing report entitled Plan for Catholic Church Makes Waves in Bahrain, re-posted by the Centre of Christian-Muslim Engagement (CCME).
The building of the largest Roman Catholic church in the Gulf was supposed to be a chance for the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain to showcase its traditions of religious tolerance in a conservative Muslim region where churches largely operate under heavy limitations. 
Instead, the planned church — intended to be the main center for Catholics in the region — has turned into another point of tension in a country already being pulled apart by sectarian battles between its Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities.

Hardline Sunni clerics have strongly opposed the construction of the church complex, in a rare open challenge of the country’s Sunni king. More than 70 clerics signed a petition last week saying it was forbidden to build churches in the Arabian Peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

One prominent cleric, Sheik Adel Hassan al-Hamad, proclaimed in a sermon during Friday prayers last month, that there was no justification for building further churches in Bahrain, adding, “anyone who believes that a church is a true place of worship is someone who has broken in their faith in God.” 

Read the full story on ABC News

Why are Christians the target?

The Christian community awoke this morning, Tuesday, September 4, 2012, to discover with horror that once again it is the target of forces of hatred within Israeli society. In the early hours of the morning, the door of the Cistercian (Trappist) monastery in Latroun was burnt and anti-Christian graffiti was sprayed on the walls.

The monks of Latroun have dedicated their lives to prayer and hard work. The monastery is visited by hundreds of Jewish Israelis each week and they are received with love and warmth by the monks. A number of the monks have learnt Hebrew and promote mutual understanding and reconciliation between Jews and Christians, according to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Sadly, what happened in Latroun is only another in a long series of attacks against Christians and their places of worship. What is going on in Israeli society today that permits Christians to be scapegoated and targeted by these acts of violence? Those who sprayed their hateful slogans, expressed their anger at the dismantlement of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But why do they vent this anger against Christians and Christian places of worship? What kind of "teaching of contempt" for Christians is being communicated in their schools and in their homes? And why are the culprits not found and brought to justice?   

This morning, the Christians in Israel are asking many questions as they grieve and seek consolation and assurances. The time has come for the authorities to act to put an end to this senseless violence and to ensure a "teaching of respect" in schools for all those who call this land home. 

Peace and Love

Fr. George Ayoub

Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
Jaffa Gate- Old City
P.O.Box 14152
Jerusalem 91143 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


Three stories of desecration from Israel-Palestine today. Isolated or interconnected? Random or systemic? Judaization or religious as well as ethnic apartheid?

First, Ben White writes for Aljazeera, Be'er Sheva's mosquerade: A wine and beer festival to be held in a former Great Mosque is an exemplar of contemporary Israeli history
This week, the Israeli city of Be'er Sheva (Beer el-Sabe) will hold a wine and beer festival in the courtyard of the city's former Great Mosque. The municipality's plans have provoked anger from the country's Palestinian citizens, including a legal challenge by minority rights group Adalah, as well as a protest tent and condemnation by community leaders and politicians. This episode is a microcosm of Israel's hidden history, a country where town and country alike is strewn with reminders of the ongoing ethnic cleansing at the heart of the establishment of a "Jewish and democratic" state...
Vandals set fire to the entrance door of the Latrun Monastery early Tuesday and spray-painted slogans against the Christian religion on its walls, including names of West Bank outposts and "Jesus is a monkey".
And remember these are the monks who thought it was a good idea to be on the Israeli side of the Separation Barrier unlike their fellow nuns on the Palestinian side of Latrun. Read more here

And finally, the latest installment in Israel's destruction of Bedouin society, is reported by the Washington Post, Palestinian Bedouin children return to school despite Israeli demolition order

Demolish a school? We can't have educated Bedouin can we? At least not living where we want to build more exclusive colonies for our own people.

see also

Sunday, 2 September 2012

What are your hopes for Jerusalem?

See the video  here

Read the text here

Now this is REAL Blasphemy

The Guardian today reports that a "Pakistani mullah 'planted charred texts' on girl accused of blasphemy."

The subtitle reads "Hardline cleric deliberately framed Rimsha Masih, believed to be just 13, in order to 'get rid of Christians', court hears."

Now that is what I call blasphemy.

And by that I don't mean destroying one's own sacred texts and then accusing a child with Downs Syndrome of the very crime you have committed.

I don't even mean doing so in order to incite hatred and justify ethnic cleansing of her people.

The real blasphemy was the tremerity to think that God would allow him to get away with it.

"For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." (Deuteronomy 4:24)

Read the full Guardian article here

See also the Express Tribune 

Israel Systematically Persecutes Bedouin

Press TV in its program Remember Palestine has conducted an interview with Reverend Dr. Stephen Sizer, active member of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, London to further discuss the issue.

What follows is an approximate transcript of the interview.

 Press TV: There is a very serious issue at hand here where the people are systematically being removed from their lands.

 Dr. Sizer: It’s a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, which require an occupying power to protect the rights of the civilian population. But we see from 1948, there has been a systematic expulsion of the Bedouin from the Negev into townships, which destroys their way of life, they’ve lived for thousands of years with their herds, subsistence farming, living in tents and caves. They have been forced into townships, deprived of their livelihood, their flocks and it’s destroying their way of life. It’s a war crime. What we’re seeing this week, there is home demolitions in those villages just south of Hebron, is a systematic policy to expel them from the land that Israel wants to steal from them.

Press TV: And it seems almost ironic that one of the ways around which a family can prevent their place from being taken over is to prove that you have a permanent resident here which, if you are a Bedouin, that goes against your tradition, it goes against your culture and in most of the cases the people who apply for these permanent resident orders are not granted it anyway. So you’re in a ridiculous Catch 22 scenario.

 Dr. Sizer: Yes. As an occupying power Israel has no right to demand these permits or to treat the Bedouin in this way, but the idea that they need that area of land for security or for a military training ground is laughable. There is plenty of empty space on the Negev to plant military bases. It is purely targeting those villages to depopulate that part of Palestine in order to force the Bedouin off. It has been a systematic policy for decades, which the Israelis are following.

Press TV: Being with ICAHD UK (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), is anything being done?

Dr. Sizer: Well, ICAHD is producing very good simple documents. This one is called 'No Where Left To Go' and it focuses on the Bedouin that live near Jerusalem. 90 percent of them have demolition orders on their homes - their tents, their prefabs. 80 percent of them are refugees because they were forced out of the Negev in the 1940s. It has some very simple charts and statistics, which are very helpful for educational reasons. But one of the practical things that ICAHD is doing is rebuilding homes. We can’t keep pace with the demolitions, which the Israelis are doing, but ICAHD is rebuilding Palestinian homes. It’s a practical constructive way the international society can engage in defying the illegal occupation of Palestine.

Press TV: But wouldn’t it take a stern word from the UK or the US to put a halt to this?

Dr. Sizer: Words mean nothing to the Israelis. There is no one to hold the Israelis accountable - maybe apart from Iran. But no one is holding Israel accountable for it actions so they’ll get away with it. One of the early slogans which the Zionists dreamed up ‘A land of no people for people with no land’ is a myth - because the land wasn’t empty.

But they are trying to create facts on the ground by expelling the Palestinians from the land so that they can keep it for themselves. It’s a form of ethnic cleansing, a form of racism.

But sooner or later, civil society in the West through their boycotts and divestments and sanctions movement through the United Nations, time will come. Someone once said that the arch of history bends toward justice. And the tyrants of this world do not last forever. Society does hold them accountable. And God willing ‘inshallah’ we will hold the Israeli government accountable for its actions.

Press TV: In about twenty seconds Reverend, what happens to these people?

Dr. Sizer: Well, they move on. They survive in the desert. They move on and then the Israelis will track them and force them further into the desert or into these townships where they have to live in appalling conditions that is alien to their culture, their way of life and they become statistics sadly, but through programs like this we remember them and we keep attention on them.

Watch the video here

For more information on ICAHD see here

Download a copy of 'Nowhere Left To Go' here

For other ICAHD resources see here

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Palestinian Christians in the West Bank: Facts, Figures and Trends

Many resources could be found dealing with the status of Palestinian Christians. However, a few of them could be considered comprehensive and up-to-date. This has been confirmed by a recent mapping carried out by Diyar Consortium.

This book aims at creating a reliable database that is essential in developing a shared, comprehensive and ecumenical strategic vision for Christian support in Palestine, so that Christianity survives and thrives.

This book includes different forms of information: statistics, charts and tables about the Christian presence in Palestine, a study on the emigration trends of Palestinian Christians, a study on the attitudes of Christians towards Church-related Organizations, as well as a comprehensive directory of all Church-related Organizations and Institutions in the West Bank.

This is a welcome and timely assessment of the plight of Palestinian Christians living under Israeli military occupation. With up to date facts and figures this book will facilitate more accurate and informed debate on the future of the Church in Palestine. 

Achieving a Peaceful Resolution to the Conflict in Syria

As tensions escalate in the Middle East, the deterioration of the situation in Syria is causing increasing concern. President Obama warned Syria of U.S. military action should the regime of Bashar al-Assad use chemical weapons. According to a new report by the United Nations independent panel probing abuses committed during the country’s ongoing conflict, both the Syrian Government and the opposition forces have perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity. Minority populations in Syria, including Christians, have been targeted by jihadists among the opposition groups.

Christians in Syria—who are an essential component of the fabric of Syrian culture and history—trace their Christian heritage back to the apostolic era and make up about 10 percent of the population of 22 million. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has had close relationship with and partnered in mission with Syrian Churches for most of the last two centuries.

Our Christian Brothers and Sisters in Syria have asked us to urge the US government not to intervene militarily but instead to support diplomacy and peacemaking efforts between the Assad regime and armed opposition groups.

Please support our partners in Syria and urge your political leaders:

-to support a mediated process of cessation of violence by all perpetrators, including the Assad regime and armed opposition groups,

-to call for all outside parties to cease all forms of intervention in Syria,

-to support a strong and necessary role for the United Nations, possibly including observers and peacekeeping forces, and

- to refrain from military intervention in Syria.

For more information please see the Presbyterian News Service Story - "In the Midst of Unspeakable Violence."

Source: Presbyterian Mission Agency