Wednesday, February 23, 2011

096. February Update. Incl. Afghanistan, Indonesia, Macedonia

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 096 | Wed 23 Feb 2011

By Elizabeth Kendal

Let those who fear the LORD say, 'His steadfast love endures forever.' (Psalm 118: 4 ESV)

FEBRUARY 2011 UPDATE -- During February we prayed for . . .

ARAB STREET, where minority Christians wait to see what will emerge out of the chaos.

* UPDATE (1): POLISH PRIEST MURDERED IN TUNISIA. On Friday18 February Tunisia's caretaker government approved a general amnesty of political prisoners, some 2,500 of whom were convicted under the former regime's tough anti-terrorism laws. The same day Polish priest Father Marek Rybinski (34), missing for several days, was found dead in a garage at the Salesian school in the Manouba district of Tunisia where he had worked since 2007. No group has yet claimed responsibility and the government is reporting the slaying as a crime of 'fascist terrorists'. Motivated by the brutal murder of Father Rybinski, around 15,000 pro-secular Tunisians rallied in Tunis last Saturday 19 February. Waving banners bearing slogans such as 'Jews, Christians, Muslims: all Tunisians', they called for Tunisia to remain secular and tolerant. The battle for Tunisia has begun.

* UPDATE (2): UNRELENTING VIOLENCE AGAINST COPTS IN EGYPT. On 8 February in Elias Hanna, Minya Province, where there is no church for some 600 Copts, a mob of around 80 Muslims attacked a small group of Copts praying together in a house owned by the Diocese, injuring five. In Rafah (near Gaza) the Church of St George was torched on 16 February. Walls left standing bore graffiti saying, 'No to Christians in Muslim Land.' The next day Christians in El-Hathatah, Minya Province, huddled together inside Saint George's Church as Muslims surrounded and stoned the building. Police did not respond to calls for help, leaving Coptic youths to defend the property. On 18 February Islamic militants broke into the home of the Coptic building contractor who built St Mary and St Michael church in Talbiya. After scrawling 'Islam is the solution' and 'The Church has to be demolished' across the walls, they abducted his 18-year-old daughter, Nesma Sarwat.

ETHIOPIA, where the federal government, due to ethnic federalism, seems unwilling or unable to intervene as Christians living in majority Muslim autonomous regions suffer rising levels of Islamic intolerance, violence and imposition of Sharia Law.

INDIA, where the dangerous ideology of fascist Hindutva (radical, militant Hindu nationalism) advances unchallenged.

* UPDATE: HINDU NATIONALISTS REAP REWARDS IN MADHYA PRADESH. As reported in RLPB 095, the combined Hindu nationalist forces, the Sangh Parivar, held a social kumbh in Mandla, Madhya Pradesh, over 10-12 February. Christianity was vilified and Christian 'missionaries' were portrayed as blood-sucking bed bugs that must be killed. Militant Hindu nationalism was proffered as the only path to equity, prosperity, harmony and national security, although these are the exact opposite of what Hinduva actually delivers. On Thursday 17 February by-elections were held for the Assembly seats of Kukshi and Sonkutch, two of Madhya Pradesh's long-time Congress strongholds. In a crushing blow for the Congress Party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wrested both from it. State BJP president, Prabhat Jha, said the results showed that the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes were 'drifting away from the Congress', adding, 'This has given us enough fuel to work more vigorously towards the welfare of tribals and SCs in the state and associating them with the party in a major way.'


FEBRUARY 2011 ROUND-UP
-- also this month . . .

* AFGHANISTAN: CHRISTIAN PRISONER APPEALS FOR PRAYER

According to reports, Said Musa (45), an Afghan Christian imprisoned in Kabul, will soon be executed for the 'crime' of apostasy (rejecting Islam). Musa was one of about 25 Christians arrested on 31 May 2010, after Noorin TV screened scenes of Afghan Christians worshipping the Lord and being baptised. Himself an amputee, Musa has spent the past 15 years working for the Red Cross, fitting amputees with prosthetic limbs. A father to six young children, Musa converted to Christianity eight years ago. He was arrested as he attempted to seek asylum at the German embassy. In jail he is being repeatedly mocked, beaten and sexually abused. No local lawyer will defend him and the government refuses entry to the country for any foreign lawyer who would. In a letter smuggled out of the prison, Musa appeals for believers to pray that he will be transferred to a safer prison and that he will be able to testify to his faith, encourage other believers, and honour Christ as he gives his life.

* INDONESIA: INTOLERANCE AND VIOLENCE ESCALATING

On 8 February hundreds of enraged Muslim fundamentalists rioted in Temanggung, Central Java, after Temanggung District Court ruled that Antonius Richmond Bawengan, a Christian man convicted of blasphemy, be imprisoned for five years. The mob was demanding he be handed over for execution. Enraged, the Muslims stoned police, stormed the courthouse, bashed a priest and torched two churches and a school. The riot came only two days after a Muslim mob attacked a home in Banten, West Java, where members of the Ahmadiyah Muslim sect were meeting. Sickening mobile phone footage shows three Ahmadiyah men being stripped naked and stoned, stabbed and bludgeoned to death while onlookers cheered and chanted 'infidel' and 'Allah akbar' (Allah is great). Police showed no sympathy, saying they had warned the Ahmadis not to provoke trouble by upsetting the locals. One MP even recommended that Ahmadiyah sect members be relocated to an uninhabited island 'for their own sake'. In Indonesia the Ahmadiyah are the 'canary in the mineshaft' -- it is first the Ahmadiyah, then the Christians. The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) is planning to hold a mass demonstration outside the State Palace on 1 March to call for an 'Islamic Revolution'.

* MACEDONIA: ALBANIAN MUSLIMS PROTEST ABOUT MUSEUM-CHURCH


Plans to build an archaeological museum in the style of a medieval church in Skopje's old Kale Fortress has led to ethnic-religious clashes between ethnic Macedonians, who are mostly Orthodox, and members of Macedonia's large ethnic Albanian minority, who are mostly Muslim. Balkan Insight reports: 'The museum was being constructed on the foundations of a recently excavated 14th-century Orthodox church in the old fortress . . . .' However, Albanian Muslims regard the church construction as an insult and accuse ethnic Macedonians of trying to gain a foothold on 'their' side of town. They said they would only support the project if a mosque were built beside the church, a request that was rejected as the site has no Islamic cultural heritage. On 11 February around 100 members and supporters of the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) attacked and demolished the partially constructed museum-church and the authorities subsequently abandoned the project. (The DUI is Macedonia's largest ethnic Albanian political party, arising out of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) which fought Macedonian Security Forces in 2001.) However, on 13 February clashes erupted between groups supporting and opposing the museum-church project. Because Albanians organised further protests for 19 February police have mobilised around the site to prevent further clashes. Tensions simmer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

095. India: two million (est.) Hindus and Tribals at Social Kumbh

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 095 | Wed 16 Feb 2011

INDIA: TWO MILLION (EST.) HINDUS AND TRIBALS AT SOCIAL 'KUMBH'
Christians described as blood-sucking bed bugs that must be killed.

By Elizabeth Kendal

The Sangh Parivar (combined Hindu nationalist forces) held their second 'Samajik Kumbh' (social gathering) on the banks of the Narmada River in Mandla, Madhya Pradesh, on 10-12 February 2011. In the preceding two weeks some 28,000 volunteers from the RSS (a Hindu nationalist paramilitary) distributed literature to some 80,000 families across all 19 districts of the neighbouring Mahakoshal region, home to Madhya Pradesh's largest city, Jabalpur. According to one priest, many Christians were forced to sign forms declaring their intention to accept Hinduism. Alarmed by the abundance of the virulent anti-Christian propaganda, Christian leaders in Mandla petitioned the High Court for protection and the weekend church services were held under police guard.

An estimated two million tribals and Hindu devotees drawn from all over Mahdya Pradesh and central India attended the event. According to Christian eye-witnesses, speeches delivered on the final day particularly vilified Christianity and Christian 'missionaries'. Using familiar language, one speaker raged: 'Christians are like bed bugs, who hide under the guise of so called missionary work, and drink the blood of the innocent vulnerable people and bed bugs should be killed or else they will continue drinking blood.' (AsiaNews, 14 February 2011)

The social Kumbh is a key element in the Sangh's strategy to advance Hindutva (fascist Hindu nationalism) through the tribal belt for political gain. According to the Sangh's propaganda, India's national security, territorial integrity and sovereignty are under threat from foreign forces seeking to divide and weaken India. The only solution, according to the Sangh, is national unity through Hindu solidarity. To this end the Sangh tells the indigenous, non-Aryan, non-Hindu, traditionally Congress Party-voting tribals that the only reason they do not know they are Hindus is because secular governments have neglected to educate them. Fortunately (so the propaganda goes) the Sangh is there to 'inform' and 'enlighten' the tribals so they can 'return' to their Hindu roots, join the Hindu mainstream and (literally) fight for mother India.

The first social Kumbh was held in February 2006 in the tribal district of Dangs, Gujarat, a long-time Congress stronghold known for its sizable Christian minority. According to the Sangh it was a great success because, they claim, the pace of 'reconversion' of Christians to Hinduism subsequently gathered momentum in the area. According to local RSS chief, Sharad Dhole, about15,000 Dangs Christians 'returned to the Hindu fold'. Also some 70 pastors are said to have embraced Hinduism and are now active in the service of the Sangh, holding reconversion ceremonies every 25th December (Indian Express 12 February 2011). Furthermore the BJP (Hindu nationalist) candidate Vijay Patel won the Dangs seat in the December 2007 Assembly elections by more than 11,000 votes, defeating Madhu Bhoya of the Congress. Then, in Gujarat's October 2010 municipal polls, the BJP fielded five Christian candidates on its Dangs ticket and swept the district. According to Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, Christians in Dangs support the BJP because of its 'development politics'. However, this is a Sangh deception. The equity, liberty and national salvation the Sangh holds out as sweet-smelling bait to the hungry, poor and marginalised will never materialise under Hindutva.

The next social Kumbh will be held in Chhattisgarh, drawing in tribals and Hindu devotees from across Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa. According to the Sangh's website this social Kumbh 'will accelerate the work of Sri Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati', who, it falsely claims, 'was brutaly (sic) murdered in 2008 by Christian missionaries.' (The Sangh used the August 2008 Maoist assassination of Swami Laxmanananda as an excuse to launch a massive communal pogrom against Christians. Hundreds died and some 500,000 were displaced, many of whom still languish in camps. The Sangh lumps Christians and Maoists together because they both seek an end to the inequities of the Hindu caste system.)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT THE SPIRIT OF GOD WILL --

* work powerfully in all Christians who are being pressured, threatened or seduced by the Sangh Parivar, enabling them to discern between truth and lies and to remember the awesome greatness and faithfulness of their Lord, looking to him and trusting him with steadfast hearts.

* defuse the communal reaction potentially ignited by the Sangh through the recent Mahdya Pradesh social Kumbh; may tribals and Hindus reject all provocation to hatred, intolerance and violence, and may they too be given discernment.

* use the Kumbh's focus on Christianity to achieve the exact opposite of what the Sangh intended: may the Kumbh ignite mass curiosity for the gospel along with an appreciation of the ministry and witness of believers in Mahdya Pradesh.

Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:11 ESV)


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TWO MILLION HINDUS AND TRIBALS AT SOCIAL 'KUMBH' IN INDIA

India's combined Hindu nationalist forces, the Sangh Parivar, held their second social 'Kumbh' in Mahdya Pradesh on 10-12 February 2011, attended by an estimated two million Hindu devotees and tribals. As in the 2006 Kumbh in Gujarat, pamphlets, posters and speakers vilified Christianity. This year one speaker referred to Christian missionaries as blood-sucking bed bugs that must be killed. 'Enlightening' the indigenous, non-Hindu tribals to 'return' to their Hindu roots has been an effective vote-winning strategy in Hindu nationalist (BJP) local electoral victories. However, the harmony, equity and liberty the Sangh deceptively claims Hindu solidarity will bring are actually anathema to the Sangh. In reality it wants to perpetuate Hindu caste privilege and sees Christianity as its primary obstacle. Please pray for India and its Christian minority.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

094. Ethiopia: persecution escalates in Muslim areas

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 094 | Wed 09 Feb 2011

ETHIOPIA: PERSECUTION ESCALATES IN MUSLIM AREAS

By Elizabeth Kendal

The simplistic portrayals of Ethiopia as 'Orthodox Christian' or 'a Christian island surrounded by hostile Muslim neighbours' are misleading. These descriptions ignore the reality that Ethiopia is the legacy of a Christian empire that incorporated many diverse peoples. The Tigray-dominated north and the Amhara-dominated central highlands comprise the Christian heartland. These two Semitic tribes together comprise 45 percent of the population and most of the elite. The periphery is highly diverse and includes many animist and Muslim peoples. Unity is fragile and divisive forces are strong.

Before the Communist Revolution of 1974, Ethiopia was an Amhara-dominated kingdom. After Mengistu's Marxist regime fell in 1991, the new Tigray-led government federalised the state, controversially devolving power to nine autonomous, ethnic regions (just as Tito did in Yugoslavia and as has recently been done in Kenya). By enabling a degree of self-determination, ethnic federalism was supposed to prevent Amhara domination, end cultural conflict and diminish divergent forces. In reality (as in Yugoslavia) it has had the opposite effect: it has weakened the state while magnifying ethnic differences and interests. The largest ethnic group, the Omoro (about equal Muslim / Christian), complain of Tigrayan domination and want to secede. In September 2009 the International Crisis Group lamented that the international community was neglecting 'the increased ethnic awareness and tensions created by the regionalisation policy and their potentially explosive consequences'.

Ethiopia's Constitution (adopted in December 1994) states: 'The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Any law, customary practice or a decision of an organ of state or a public official which contravenes this Constitution shall be of no effect' (Article 9.1). Complicating ethnic tensions is the trend of rising Islamic intolerance. According to the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, Saudi-funded entities are exacerbating tensions between traditional Sufis and new Wahhabis, as well as between Muslims and Christians. In recent years Christians living in Muslim-dominated areas have been subjected to escalating persecution and application of Sharia law. To maintain 'harmony' and to appease restive Muslims, the Federal Government made religious incitement and religious defamation criminal offences in 2008. While Article 27 of the Federal Constitution guarantees 'Freedom of Religion, Belief and Opinion' it also provides that religious freedom may be limited by law in the interests of public safety.

In August 2010 Tamirat Woldegorgis (early 30s and father of two), a Protestant Christian in Ethiopia's southern town of Moyale, Oromia region, was arrested after a Muslim co-worker accused him of inscribing 'Jesus is Lord' on a cloth. The accuser changed his statement several times before the local imam testified that Woldegorgis had written the offensive words on a Quran. Despite the absence of evidence, Woldegorgis was sentenced on 18 November 2010 to three years in prison for allegedly defiling a Quran. He was then transferred to Jijiga Prison in Ethiopia's Somali Region Zone Five which is governed according to Sharia. Consequently his life is greatly imperilled. Two friends who recently brought him food were fined for supporting a criminal imprisoned for defaming Islam. Authorities have reportedly offered to release Woldegorgis if he will convert to Islam (Compass Direct News, 29 November 2010).

International Christian Concern (ICC) has reported several violent attacks on Christian leaders in recent months. Of great concern is the report that harassed and persecuted Christians in the southern city of Besheno, Oromia region, have recently had notices posted on their doors warning them to convert to Islam, leave the city or face death. According to ICC, three leading Christians from an evangelical Christian community of about 30 believers have been forced to flee and two have been forcibly converted to Islam.

Intolerant, repressive, fundamentalist Islam is spreading, exerting itself and testing the limits in Ethiopia's autonomous ethnic regions. Are minority Christian groups in restive Muslim-dominated areas going to be protected according to the Federal Constitution, or will they be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, stripped of their constitutional rights and handed over to the dictators of Islam in exchange for promises of 'harmony' and national unity?

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* protect Tamirat Woldegorgis and deliver him safely back to his family; may the family all know the sustaining presence of the Lord, their provider.

* protect the Christians living in restive Oromia and Islamic Somali, particularly the persecuted and threatened Christians in Besheno.

* grant Christian leaders great wisdom to know how to be 'wise as serpents and innocent as doves' (Matthew 10:16 ESV).

* give the Federal Government much wisdom, strength and courage to tackle the issue of constitutional rights and the supremacy of the Federal Constitution over regional Islamic courts.

Please pray for Ethiopia, a state of immense geo-strategic value in the Horn of Africa.

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PERSECUTION ESCALATES IN MUSLIM AREAS OF ETHIOPIA

The Ethiopian Government federalised the state in 1996, devolving power to nine autonomous, ethnic regions. Rather than appeasing and pacifying Ethiopia's diverse peoples, this ethnic federalism has only undermined nationhood while magnifying ethnicity and differences. Divisive forces are now stronger than ever. Furthermore Ethiopia's traditional Sufi Muslims are being radicalised by Saudi (Wahhabi) entities, inflaming religious tensions. Protestant believer Tamirat Woldegorgis (30s) is in an Islamic prison, having been falsely accused of defacing a Quran. Also Christians in the southern town of Besheno are being told they must convert to Islam, leave or die. Persecution and application of Sharia law are increasing. Yet the central Government appears loath to intervene lest self-determination, 'harmony' and 'national unity' be undermined. Please pray for the Church in Ethiopia.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

093. Dreams of revolution grip Arab world: Christians vulnerable

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 093 | Wed 03 Feb 2011

Christians more vulnerable than ever as . . .

DREAMS OF REVOLUTION GRIP ARAB WORLD

By Elizabeth Kendal

When hundreds of international Sunni jihadists infiltrated and seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on 20 November 1979, they attracted little interest. The eyes of the world were fixed on Iran where, on 4 November 1979, Shi'ite fundamentalists had seized the American Embassy, taking 66 American citizens hostage. Whilst the Iranian Revolution and the siege in Mecca were totally unrelated, both had the same goal: the removal of a brutally repressive and corrupt, US-allied regime.

In Iran, the revolutionaries were successful primarily because their demands were political -- liberty, human rights, improved living standards and more -- and because the US administration of President Carter chose to support them. It took 12 months of protests and strikes (from January 1978 to January 1979) to force the Shah into exile. The Islamists merely rode the wave and then filled the vacuum. It soon became clear to many Iranians that their revolution would not bring them their hoped for liberty, prosperity and dignity.

In Saudi Arabia, the revolutionaries failed because they seized the Grand Mosque instead of the Royal Palace, opening the way for the Saudi regime to denounce them on religious grounds. Furthermore, because their overtly religious demands included the demand to end alliances with 'infidels', Saudi Arabia's Western backers rushed to the aid of the House of al Saud, rightly perceiving their oil supply was endangered. The Saudi regime only survived by a hair's breadth, and only through the involvement of French special forces.

Whilst the siege in Mecca was reported as a 'domestic incident', it most certainly was not. Not only were the jihadists an international force, the incident sent shockwaves through the Sunni Muslim world. A massive, violent, Islamic and anti-US uprising erupted in Pakistan and two Americans were killed as the US Embassy was besieged and torched. This in turn inspired protests against US Embassies and consuls in Turkey, Bangladesh, India, Kuwait, Philippines and Libya. Though the rioters were Sunnis, they praised the Iranian Shi'ite revolutionaries for defeating 'American imperialism' which they said supported tyranny.

The House of al Saud subsequently brokered a deal with the kingdom's Islamic clerics. The regime would support the religious establishment as it advanced Islamic fundamentalist ideology and global jihad (holy war). In return the religious establishment would support the House of al Saud. Fortunately for the House of al Saud, the Soviets -- perceiving US weakness -- invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, giving the Saudi regime a jihad it could support far from home, and subsequently jihads in Bosnia, Kashmir, Kosovo, North Caucasus and Somalia. So while the Sunni revolutionaries failed to achieve their goals, Sunni fundamentalism reaped huge rewards. Meanwhile, the emerging Arab middle class grew increasingly angry and disillusioned because secularism was being maintained by tyranny rather than by reason.

Sunni Islamists have doubtless learned from this history that there is an art to revolution. In Egypt today the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is lying low and attending to the protesters' needs for food, water and medical assistance, just as Hezballah has done in Lebanon and Hamas has done in the Palestinian Territories. The Islamists know they need an acceptable facade and in a strategic master-stroke, the MB is lining up behind Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei. ElBaradei doesn't mind, for he does not regard the MB (the mother of Hamas) as in any way extremist.

Today a smug Iran and a nervous Saudi Arabia both note that the present Middle East unrest is targeting America's allies. Hezballah has displaced Saad Harari in Lebanon and Abbas is virtually besieged in Ramallah. In Tunisia the regime of Ben Ali has collapsed. Riots persist against the secular, US-allied regimes in Egypt, Yemen and in Jordan. In Jordan, the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, is now in dialogue with the regime of King Abdullah II. Western hopes that 'transition' will lead to something better (as was once predicted for Iran) or that an Islamic leadership will be moderate (as was also predicted for Iran) are likely to be dashed, for the 'Arab Street' has been thoroughly Islamised and radicalised. While the US faces losing all its geo-strategic gains in the Middle East, Israel may once again face existential threat as Egypt would need only to reverse its policy on Gaza and open the Rafah Crossing -- for humanitarian reasons of course!

Lost amidst the noise and chaos are the region's Christian minorities. Already viewed as 'infidels' and allies of the enemy (i.e. America and Israel), the Church is now more vulnerable than ever. As US influence diminishes in the Middle East, so too does the protection of the Christian minorities. Furthermore, militant Muslims may well decide to exploit the chaos to do some under-the-radar removal of Christians. For instance, on Sunday 30 January eleven Coptic Christians were massacred inside their homes in Sharona, Al Minya Province. Christians cannot hope in the US and the UN -- our hope must rest in the one who is eternally supreme and always sufficient: Yahweh Sabaoth (lit. the Lord of Hosts; the commander of heaven's forces).

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* draw the region's Christians into dependent prayer and then answer their prayers, protecting them, providing all their needs, and making his presence known.

[God] has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?' (Hebrews 13:5b-6 ESV)

* awaken Arabs across the Middle East to the fact that Islam -- because it is repressive rather than liberating, and legalistic rather than transformative -- can never be the solution for those yearning for freedom and dignity. Pray for an Arab Awakening! (Ephesians 3:20,21)

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CHRISTIANS VULNERABLE AS CHAOS GRIPS EGYPT

For decades now the West has supported corrupt, repressive Arab dictatorships as a means of preventing religious, Sunni Islamic fundamentalist revolutions that would threaten oil supplies. However, because secularism has been maintained by tyranny rather than by reason, the emerging Arab middle class has grown disillusioned and angry. Meanwhile there has been effectively a revival of Islamic fundamentalism, sponsored primarily by Saudi petro-dollars. Today the 'Arab Street' is in revolt against its dictators. Unfortunately it is probable that Islamists will quietly ride the wave and fill the vacuum. Christians are more vulnerable now than ever. On 30 January militant Muslims exploited the chaos to slaughter eleven Coptic Christians in al Minya Province. Please pray for the Church in the Arab world.