Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Not a Single Christian Church Left in Afghanistan, Says State Department

(AP Photo.)
( -- There is not a single, public Christian church left in Afghanistan, according to the U.S. State Department.
This reflects the state of religious freedom in that country ten years after the United States first invaded it and overthrew its Islamist Taliban regime.
In the intervening decade, U.S. taxpayers have spent $440 billion to support Afghanistan's new government and more than 1,700 U.S. military personnel have died serving in that country.
The last public Christian church in Afghanistan was razed in March 2010, according to the State Department's latest International Religious Freedom Report. The report, which was released last month and covers the period of July 1, 2010 through December 31, 2010, also states that “there were no Christian schools in the country.”
“There is no longer a public Christian church; the courts have not upheld the church's claim to its 99-year lease, and the landowner destroyed the building in March [2010],” reads the State Department report on religious freedom. “[Private] chapels and churches for the international community of various faiths are located on several military bases, PRTs [Provincial Reconstruction Teams], and at the Italian embassy. Some citizens who converted to Christianity as refugees have returned.”
In recent times, freedom of religion has declined in Afghanistan, according to the State Department.
“The government’s level of respect for religious freedom in law and in practice declined during the reporting period, particularly for Christian groups and individuals,” reads the State Department report.
“Negative societal opinions and suspicion of Christian activities led to targeting of Christian groups and individuals, including Muslim converts to Christianity," said the report. "The lack of government responsiveness and protection for these groups and individuals contributed to the deterioration of religious freedom.”
Most Christians in the country refuse to “state their beliefs or gather openly to worship,” said the State Department.
More than 1,700 U.S. military personnel have died serving in the decade-old Afghanistan war, according to’s database of all U.S. casualties in Afghanistan. A September audit released jointly by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and the State Department’s Office of Inspector General, found that the U.S. government will spend at least $1.7 billion to support the civilian effort from 2009-2011.
According to that report, the $1.7 billion excludes additional security costs, which the report says the State Department priced at about $491 million.
A March 2011 report by the Congressional Research Service showed that overall the United States has spent more than $440 billion in the Afghanistan war. Christian aid from the international community has also gone to aid the Afghan government.
Nevertheless, according to the State Department, the lack of non-Muslim religious centers in Afghanistan can be blamed in part on a “strapped government budget,” which is primarily fueled by the U.S. aid.
“There were no explicit restrictions for religious minority groups to establish places of worship and training of clergy to serve their communities,” says the report, “however, very few public places of worship exist for minorities due to a strapped government budget.”
The report acknowledged that Afghanistan’s post-Taliban constitution, which was ratified with the help of U.S. mediation in 2004, can be contradictory when it comes to the free exercise of religion.
While the new constitution states that Islam is the “religion of the state” and that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam,” it also proclaims that “followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of the law.”
However, “the right to change one’s religion was not respected either in law or in practice,” according to the State Department.
“Muslims who converted away from Islam risked losing their marriages, rejection from their families and villages, and loss of jobs,” according to the report. “Legal aid for imprisoned converts away from Islam remains difficult due to the personal objection of Afghan lawyers to defend apostates.”
In this image made available from the Afghanistan Presidential Palace, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, shakes hand with new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday, July 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Presidential Palace)
The report does note that “in recent years neither the national nor local authorities have imposed criminal penalties on coverts from Islam.” The report says that “conversion from Islam is considered apostasy and is punishable by death under some interpretations of Islamic rule in the country.”
Also, in recent years, the death punishment for blasphemy “has not been carried out,” according to the State Department.
According to the State Department report, the United States continues to promote religious freedom in Afghanistan--even though the country no longer has even one Christian church.
“The U.S. government regularly discusses religious freedom with government officials as part of its overall policy to promote human rights,” according to the report.

11/10/11 - Christians under siege in post-revolution Egypt

AP PhotoCAIRO (AP) -- Egypt's Coptic Christians have long felt like second-class citizens in their own country.
Now many fear that the power vacuum left after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak is giving Muslim extremists free rein to torch churches and attack Coptic homes in the worst violence against the community in decades.
An assault Sunday night on Christians protesting over a church attack set off riots that drew in Muslims, Christians and the police. Among the 26 people left killed in the melee, most were Copts. For Coptic scholar Wassem el-Sissi, it was evidence that the Christian community in Egypt is vulnerable as never before.
"In the absence of law, you can understand how demolishing a church goes unpunished," he said. "I have not heard of anyone who got arrested or prosecuted."

Once a majority in Egypt, Copts now make up about 10 percent of the country's 85 million people. They are the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Their history dates back 19 centuries and the language used in their liturgy can be traced to the speech of Egypt's pharaohs. Proud of their history and faith, many Copts are identifiable by tattoos of crosses or Jesus Christ on their right wrists, and Coptic women do not wear the veil as the vast majority of Muslim women in Egypt do.
Under Mubarak, the problems of Copts festered even if they faced less violence than they do now. Their demands for a law to regulate construction of churches went unanswered and attacks on churches went unpunished.
Copts shared in the euphoria of the 18-day revolution that ousted Mubarak and like so many other Egyptians their hopes for change were high. Mainly, they wanted to be on equal footing with Muslims.
At Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolution against Mubarak, there were glimpses of a fleeting utopia where coexistence and mutual respect between Muslims and Christians was the rule. The iconic image of Christians forming a human shield around Muslim worshippers during Friday prayers to protect them from thugs and pro-Mubarak loyalists spoke volumes to the dream.
But shortly after Mubarak's ouster, a series of assaults on Christians brought home a stark reality: The fading of authoritarian rule empowered Islamist fundamentalists, known here as Salafis, who have special resentment for Christians.
While the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood has long been Egypt's best organized opposition movement, the Salafis are a new player in politics. They are ultraconservatives, close to Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and more radical than the Brotherhood. They seek to emulate the austerity of Islam's early days and oppose a wide range of practices they view as "un-Islamic" - rejecting the treatment of non-Muslims as citizens with equal rights as well as all forms of Western cultural influence.
The Salafis persistently accuse the Copts of trying to spread Christianity in a Muslim nation, echoing Wahhabism's deep distrust and hostility of other religions.
Mubarak's regime tolerated the Salafis and they expanded in numbers and power over the years. However, after Mubarak's overthrow, they enjoyed more freedom than ever before to go after their No. 1 target - Christians.
Now rarely a month passes without a sectarian incident - a Muslim-Christian love affair or battles over constructing a church.

On Feb. 23, less than two weeks after Mubarak's ouster, a priest was found dead with several stab wounds and witnesses say masked men shouting Allahu-Akbar (God is Great) were seen leaving his apartment. The incident triggered protests in the southern city of Assiut where Christians scuffled with Muslims.
Not long after in March, a Muslim-Christian love affair led a Muslim mob to torch a church in Soul village to the south of Cairo and set it on fire. When Christians held a protest denouncing the attack on the church, they were attacked by Muslim mob wielding guns, knives and clubs. When it was done, 13 were dead and 140 injured.

The next month, thousands of protesters, most of them Islamic hard-liners and members of the Muslim Brotherhood, protested in front of the governor's office in the southern city of Qena to denounce the appointment a day earlier of a new Coptic Christian governor. In the face of the protests, the government replaced the Coptic governor.
Then in May, Islamic ultraconservatives burned a church in the working-class district of Imbaba in Cairo and clashed with Christians leaving 12 dead.
Those riots were triggered by a Christian woman who had an affair with a Muslim man. And when she disappeared, the man spread rumors that Christian clergy had snatched her and were holding her prisoner in a local church because she converted to Islam.
Then a few months passed with no attacks, until Sunday night, now known as the "bloody Sunday."
The Christians were protesting in Cairo over the events of Sept. 30 when a Muslim mob that set fire on a church in southern village of Marynab in Aswan province because they believed the Christians were illegally constructing a new church. Church officials had documents showing they had permission to build a new church to replace a previous, run-down one at the same site.
Under Mubarak-era rules, the building of a church or repairs for an existing one required permission from local authorities and the state security agency but since permission was rarely given, Christians at times resorted to building churches in secret, often in parish guesthouses.
Even before the attack, Muslim protests prompted priests to turn to security officials, who arranged a meeting with local elders and Salafis. In the face of their demands, the priests agreed to take down a cross and bells on the church, according to church officials. Still, after the Christians erected a dome, the mob attacked, setting the church and nearby homes and shops on fire.
Aswan's governor, Gen. Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, escalated the tensions by telling the media that the church was being built on the site of a guesthouse, suggesting it was illegal.
In response, hundreds of Christians marched in front of the governor's office last week, demanding those behind the attack be prosecuted and families who lost homes be compensated. Christians also protested in Cairo, cutting off a main avenue in the heart of the capital, demanding the governor's ouster, until soldiers dispersed them by force.

Days after the Aswan attack, Muslim villagers in the southern province of Sohag tried to storm Saint Girgis church, shouting "No to church construction," as Christians on rooftops rained stones down on them. The assault was prompted by construction of a church in a guesthouse.
On Monday, the Coptic church declared three days of morning for those killed the night before and blasted authorities for allowing repeated attacks on Christians with impunity. The statement lamented "problems that occur repeatedly and go unpunished."
Outside the Coptic Hospital in Cairo, where bodies of 17 slain protesters were brought, a Coptic woman named Iman Sanada with a small cross tattooed on her wrist, lamented the deaths and shrieked: "It's my right to live as a citizen and not a second-class citizen."

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

3/10/11 - Criminalizing Christianity, in Iran and the West

We rightly condemn the persecution of Christianity in Iran -- so why do we react with such dull silence to the creeping criminalization of Christian beliefs and practices in the West?

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By the time this column appears, we may know the earthly fate of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian who is under sentence of death for apostasy from Islam. As of Wednesday, September 28, Nadarkhani had declined his final opportunity to renounce Jesus Christ before a regional court. He could be executed at any time.
Iran's leaders are in a difficult spot, if one of their own making. Whatever they decide, they will be crossing a Rubicon. For a regime riven by internal dissent and despised by much of the population, there are no low-cost options. Killing Nadarkhani has the feel of stepping over a precipice, perhaps setting in motion forces that will operate according to an unpredictable logic of their own. The extremists in Iran who believe Christians will have to die are not necessarily prepared at the moment to start killing them. And there are some officials and clerics, even in the revolutionary Islamic government, who recoil from the prospect of executing one, much less many.
Yet the religious authorities in Iran must be concerned about letting the Christian church grow unchecked. According to the American Center for Law and Justice, more than 280 Iranian Christians were arrested for practicing their faith in the first half of 2011. Others have documented previous cases of arrest and persecution from the last decade. The outside world knows the stories of some, like Farshid Fathi, arrested in September 2010, whose current status is unknown; Mehdi Forootan, a friend of Fathi who spent 105 days in the notorious Evin prison; and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad and Maryam Rustampoor, two young women held for eight months in 2009. The names and histories of others are unknown.
But what is known is that more and more Muslims, from Iran and elsewhere, are reporting dreams and visions of Jesus. The trend is so pervasive that there is a websitededicated to encouraging Muslims who have had such encounters. There is an energy and hope in these reports that is mirrored in the letter sent from Youcef Nadarkhani a few weeks ago. The letter is written in the accents of a pastor, urging and exhorting his flock:
O beloved ones, difficulties do not weaken mankind, but they reveal the true human nature.
It will be good for us to occasionally face persecutions and abnormalities, since these abnormalities will persuade us to search our hearts, and to survey ourselves.
So as a result, we conclude that troubles are difficult, but usually good and useful to build us.
Dear brothers and sisters, we must be more careful than any other time.
Because in these days, the hearts and thoughts of many are revealed, so that the faith is tested. . . .
As a small servant, necessarily in prison to carry out what I must do, I say with faith in the word of God that he will come soon. "However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

Friday, 30 September 2011

29/9/11 - Praying in Paris streets outlawed

Praying in the streets of Paris is against the law starting Friday, after the interior minister warned that police will use force if Muslims, and those of any other faith, disobey the new rule to keep the French capital's public spaces secular.
Praying in Paris streets outlawed
Claude Guéant promised the new legislation would be followed to the letter Photo: AFP/GETTY
Claude Guéant said that ban could later be extended to the rest ofFrance, in particular to the Mediterranean cities of Nice and Marseilles, where "the problem persists".
He promised the new legislation would be followed to the letter as it "hurts the sensitivities of many of our fellow citizens".
"My vigilance will be unflinching for the law to be applied. Praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism, the minister told Le Figaro newspaper.
"All Muslim leaders are in agreement," he insisted.
In December when Marine Le Pen, then leader-in-waiting of the far-Right National Front, sparked outrage by likening the practice to the Nazi occupation of Paris in the Second World War "without the tanks or soldiers". She said it was a "political act of fundamentalists".
More than half of right-wing sympathisers in France agreed with Marine Le Pen, at least one poll suggested.
Nicolas Sarkozy's party denounced the comments, but the President called for a debate on Islam and secularism and went on to say that multiculturalism had failed in France.
Following the debate, Mr Guéant promised a countrywide ban "within months", saying the "street is for driving in, not praying".
In April, a ban on wearing the full Islamic veil came into force. Holland today became the third European country to ban the burka, after Belgium, despite the fact fewer than 100 Dutch women are thought to wear the face-covering Islamic dress.
Yesterday, Mr Guéant said the prayer problem was limited to two roads in the Goutte d'Or district of Paris's eastern 19th arrondissement, where "more than a thousand" people blocked the street every Friday.
However, a stroll through several districts in Paris on a Friday suggests that Muslims spill into the streets outside many mosques.
Under an agreement signed this week, believers will be able to use the premises of a vast nearby fire station while awaiting the construction of a bigger mosque.
"We could go as far as using force if necessary (to impose the ban), but it's a scenario I don't believe will happen, as dialogue (with local religious leaders) has born fruit," he said.
Sheikh Mohamed salah Hamza, in charge of one of the Parisian mosques which regularly overflows, said he would obey the new law, but complained: "We are not cattle" and that he was "not entirely satisfied" with the new location. He said he feared many believers would continue to prefer going to the smaller mosque.
Public funding of places of religious worship is banned under a 1905 law separating church and state. Mr Guéant said that there were 2,000 mosques in France with half being built in the past ten years.
France has Europe's largest Muslim population, with an estimated five million in total.

29/9/11 - More Than 100 Christians Killed in Nigeria’s Plateau State

Entire families slaughtered in month of attacks, apparently with military help.JOS, Nigeria – A rash of attacks by armed Muslim extremists on villages in Nigeria’s Plateau state in the past month have left more than 100 Christians dead, including the elimination of entire families, sources said.
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In a guerilla-type “hit and run” attack on the Christian community of Vwang Kogot, Muslim attackers at about 8 p.m. on Sept. 9 killed 14 Christians, including a pregnant woman. Survivors of the attack told Compass that the assailants raided the village with the aid of men in military uniforms of the Nigerian Army.
Many of the victims were members of a single family surnamed Danboyi.
“We heard gunshots in our village and realized that the sound was coming from a neighbor’s house, so we quickly ran to find out what was happening but saw a soldier at the entrance of the house with a gun ready to shoot at anybody who comes around, and at the same time preventing those inside from escaping,” village resident Markus Mamba told Compass. “We couldn’t get any closer because we were hearing gunshots at random, and we had no weapons with us to use to withstand the might of those soldiers, as there were quite a number of them around the house.”
Hiding, Mamba and others could only observe the killing, he said.
“After the soldiers and the Muslims left, we rushed into the place to see the destruction they did,” he said. “We discovered that 14 people were killed. Among them was a pregnant woman who died with a child in her womb – bringing the number of deaths to 15 persons. We also observed that the victims died from gun and machete wounds.”
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Gyang Badung survived the attack, but his wife, four children, mother, grandmother and a nephew did not, he told Compass.
“I came home in the evening and had my meal, and right after I finished, I heard strange movement around our house and suddenly heard gunshots everywhere as my house was being attacked,” Badung said.
He jumped through his bedroom window and ran to a farm behind his house, he said.
“I waited in the bush, helpless, not knowing what to do until they left,” he said. “I saw more than nine people who came to attack us leaving into the bush and going away from our village. When I returned home, I found out that my whole family had been killed except for two sons, who were injured but survived, and my father who also narrowly escaped and ran into the bush.”
The ages of the children he lost were 15, 9, 5, and 4. His two injured sons are receiving hospital treatment.
Vou Mallam, another survivor of the attack, was with her husband and children when the raiders broke into their house. She escaped death when she found a hiding place in one of the rooms. Her husband, only son and grandchildren were killed.
“After our evening meal, we prayed and asked the children to go to bed,” she told Compass. “Suddenly we heard gunshots in our house, so I quickly crawled into the children’s room and put off the lamp and crawled again to hide under the bed in another place. I saw a soldier with a gun coming into the room, but he did not see me, and I heard some of them saying by the window, ‘There is nobody here.’
“But it was like they heard a movement and immediately started shooting. That was how they killed my husband in the place he was hiding, and my only son and his children in the other room were all killed.”
She said she heard the assailants speaking the Fulani language. Ethnic Fulani are primarily Muslim nomads in Nigeria whom militant Muslims appear to be enlisting to attack Christian communities due to the Fulanis’ expert understanding of the terrain of rural communities, area Christians said. Having lived their lives as nomads with their cattle, the Fulani have acquired the skills to surmount tough environmental challenges, area residents believe.
Dachung Dagai, pastor of a Church of Christ in Nigeria congregation in Vwang Kogot, told Compass that the village has been attacked three times since he arrived eight months ago.
“I was transferred here on Jan. 5,” he said. “The second day of my being in this place, the Muslim attackers attacked this village, and after two weeks they came again and attacked our village, killing two of our members.”
Dagi reported that assault and two subsequent attacks to security agencies, but no action has been taken, he said.
“No help or relief from the government has been received by our people,” Dagai said. “We’ve just been living with the horror of not knowing what will happen next.”
Dagai said their main concern is that Nigerian army soldiers have been involved in each attack.
“What is the government doing about the soldiers?” he said. “In some places, enough evidence has been found against these Muslim soldiers and nothing has been done. Can’t the soldiers be withdrawn from the state? We are not in a war situation on the plateau, and the soldiers were brought for peace-keeping, but they are the ones leading attacks against us. Why can’t they be withdrawn? The government officials have always said they will look into the problems, but nothing has been done.”
Adamu Tsuka, community leader in Vwang Kogot, told Compass that Christians killed in the attack were Mallam Danboyi; Zaka Danboyi; Ngyem Danboyi; Hjan Badung; Naomi Gyang; Rifkatu, 15; Patience, 9; Ishaku, 5; Nerat, 4; Dauda Badung, 22; Martha Dauda, 20; Mary Dauda, 6; Isaac Dauda, 4; Mafeng Bulus, 18; and the unborn child.
“This is the fifth time our people have been murdered,” Tsuka said. “There is nothing we can do. Many of my people have been killed. Please, we want the government to help us do something; if not, we can’t live here again.”
The January attack in Vwang Kogot village left no casualties. The second attack took place in the same month, resulting in the killing of Baba Wang Mwantap. The third raid this year took place in May, when two Christians, Bulus Pam and Irimiya Maisaje, were killed, area residents said.
On Sept. 10, Muslim extremists stormed Vwang Fwil village at about 3 a.m. and killed 13 Christians. Several others were being treated at Vom Christian Hospital, sources said.
On Sept. 8, Muslim extremists attacked Tsohon Foron village, killing 10 Christians, all members of the family of Danjuma Gyang Tsok. The attackers, surviving members of the community say, were assisted in the attack by armed military personnel of the Nigerian Army.
Those killed included Danjuma Gyang Tsok; Polohlis Mwanti; Perewat Polohlis, 9; Patience Polohlis, 3; Blessing Polohlis, 5; Paulina Pam, 13; Maimuna Garba; Kale Garba; Hadiza Garba, 10; and Aisha Garba, 3.
In the village of Zakalio in Jos North Local Government Area, at about 2 a.m. on Sept. 5, Muslim extremists killed seven Christians. The same day another group of Muslim attackers raided the Christian communities of Dabwak Kuru and Farin Lamba in Jos South and Riyom Local Government Areas, killing four Christians.
On Sept. 4, Muslim extremists attacked Tatu village near Heipang, killing eight Christian members of a family – Chollom Gyang and his wife Hannatu and their six children, including a 3-year-old, sources said. They were shot and then butchered with machetes.
The attack on Tatu village occurred less than three weeks after the killing of the family of a Christian identified only by the surname of Agbo and a staff member of the Redeemed Christian Church of God at Heipang on Aug. 15. In addition, on Aug. 20, three Christians were killed at Kwi village and one at Loton village.
Emmanuel Dachollom Loman, chairman of the Barkin Ladi Local Government Council, told Compass that there was no doubt that those who attacked were Muslims.
“I was sleeping when I received a phone call at about 12:30, shortly after midnight, that some unknown persons came to attack and killed all members of a family,” he said. “A few weeks ago, seven members of a family were killed in a similar attack. This is becoming too much to bear; the government should help us in this local government before Muslims come and wipe all of us out one day. I can’t contain this anymore; it’s too much.”
Loman said he has repeatedly reported the attacks to security agencies and the Nigerian government, but nothing has been done to protect his people.
“We have made appeals to the federal government,” Loman said. “We have told them that the Muslims in the area of Mahangar village have lots of sophisticated weapons, and that they are the ones attacking my people, but the federal government has refused to do anything about it.”
He complained to a federal government delegation that came to investigate the killing of eight family members of another family last month, he said, “but our concerns and fears have been ignored.”
Other villages attacked in the past month were Rassa and Rabwat.