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Post-Zionism Baffles Washington Post: The Media Project, November 28, 2014 November 28, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Islam, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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Soldiers_Western_Wall_1967It comes as no surprise that Jordanian officials believe that Israel bears responsibility for tensions over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But is it proper for the Washington Post to believe it, too?

The Post is well within its rights to make this assertion on its editorial page. I may disagree with its arguments, but opinion journalism is designed to offer these arguments. The classical model of Anglo-American journalism, however, mandates a news story offer both sides of a story equal time.

I have my doubts about a recent article by the Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief entitled “Relationship between Israel and Jordan grows warier amid tensions in Jerusalem”. My reading of this piece leaves me wondering if it is unbalanced, incurious, incomplete, or lacking in context. Could it have been written from a mindset that blames Israel first?

Or is there something more at work here? The Post appears to be ignorant of the change of religious Zionist sentiment in Israel. Could the Temple Mount be a flashpoint between Muslim Arab and Israeli Jews in 2014 because Judaism has changed?

The story with a dateline of Amman opens with the Jordanian perspective on the recent clashes over the Temple Mount. The lede states:

Jordan’s king and his people are bristling with anger over Israeli actions at a sacred site for Muslims in Jerusalem, threatening to turn a cold peace between Israel and Jordan into a deep freeze.

After defining the issue from the Jordanian perspective, the second sentence states why this is of consequence.

The rising animosity between Jordan and Israel, whose governments are tethered by a peace treaty, could undermine U.S.-led efforts to fight Islamist extremists. It also threatens a multibillion-dollar natural gas deal that is important to both countries.

The story continues with analysis, ending with the line: “A king who cannot protect the mosque or that delicate arrangement may lose the support of his people.”

A quotation from a Jordanian official closes out this section, placing the blame on the changing “status quo” on the Israelis.

“The Israeli extremists are playing with fire.”

A counterpoint from unidentified Israeli officials is offered that serves to identify the actions in question.

Israeli officials say they were forced to temporarily restrict access to the mosque in response to rioting, after a Palestinian’s recent attempt to assassinate a prominent activist who agitates for Jews to have the right to pray at the site. The first and second Jewish temples once stood at the site, a spot considered the holiest in Judaism.

If the article ended at this point, the lack of balance would not be as problematic. Written from Amman, the parameters of the piece could have been set as the view from that country. However, at this stage of the story we are only a third of the way into the piece, and the article now opens up with further commentary and analysis from the Jordanian perspective.

The problem for the Jordanians — and from the tone of the story up to this point for theWashington Post, too — is the Israeli response to terrorist attacks launched by Palestinians against Jews who seek to pray at the Temple Mount.

Half a dozen descriptive paragraphs follow developing these arguments before we hear an Israeli voice — who speaks not to the issues raised by the Jordanians, or to the cause of the alleged change of the status quo — but to the problems instability brings to the region. This is followed — 23 paragraphs into the story — by a denial by the Israelis of any change in the status of the Temple Mount.

Immediately afterward, Netanyahu emphasized that Israel had no intention of changing a delicate “status quo” agreement that grants Abdullah custodial rights over al-Aqsa and other holy sites in Jerusalem, most prominently the raised esplanade known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The next day, Israeli police lifted age restrictions and allowed all Muslim men to attend Friday prayers at the mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

The article closes out with further Jordanian claims. A reader unencumbered with knowledge of the region or the religions involved, might well scratch his head and ask “what was all the fuss about?”

A terrorist attack led to the short term closing of the Noble Sanctuary. It has since been reopened and the Israeli government has reaffirmed the status quo. Why are the Palestinians and Jordanians so exercised about this?

If all one knew was what one read in the Post, it would not be unreasonable to conclude the Jordanians and Palestinians are a childish excitable people — full of bluster, quick to take offense, and slow to reason.

The story dances round the religious element in this story that provides the necessary context. There has been a shift in Israeli sentiment about the Temple Mount in recent years. As a detailed article in Ha’aretz pointed out last week, religious Zionists have a new attitude about the Temple Mount.

[B]efore 1967 – and afterward – all the leading poskim (rabbis who issue halakhic rulings), both ultra-Orthodox and from the religious-Zionist movement, decreed as one voice that it is forbidden to visit the Temple Mount, for the same halakhic reasons. … Indeed, in January 1991, Rabbi Menachem Froman could still allay the fears of the Palestinians by informing them (in the form of an article he published in Haaretz, “To Wait in Silence for Grace”) that, “In the perception of the national-religious public [… there is] opposition to any ascent to the walls of the Temple Mount… The attitude of sanctity toward the Temple Mount is expressed not by bursting into it but by abstinence from it.”

Ha’aretz reports that in 2014 this school has lost ground.

No longer. If in the past, yearning for the Temple Mount was the preserve of a marginal, ostracized minority within the religious-Zionist public, today it has become one of the most significant voices within that movement. In a survey conducted this past May among the religious-Zionist public, 75.4 percent said they favor “the ascent of Jews to the Temple Mount,” compared to only 24.6 percent against. In addition, 19.6 percent said they had already visited the site and 35.7 percent that they had not yet gone there, but intended to visit.

The growing number of visits to the mount by the religious-Zionist public signifies not only a turning away from the state-oriented approach of Rabbi Kook, but also active rebellion against the tradition of the halakha. We are witnessing a tremendous transformation among sections of this public: Before our eyes they are becoming post-Kook-ist and post-Orthodox. Ethnic nationalism is supplanting not only mamlakhtiyut (state consciousness) but faithfulness to the halakha. Their identity is now based more on mythic ethnocentrism than on Torah study, and the Temple Mount serves them, … as an exalted totem embodying the essence of sovereignty over the Land of Israel.

The religious element is missing from the Post’s report. Could not an awareness of the change in Israeli society, a shifting center of religious-Zionism from halakha to ethnic-nationalism which if successful would see the restoration of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount motivate Muslim fears?

Without the context of religion to explain these currents, the article leaves itself open to charges of paternalism. By not rising above a parochial American mindset, the paints Arabs (Jordanians and Palestinians) as an immature and excitable people that cannot be held accountable for their actions.

Even if the Post is allergic to mentioning the topic of religion, there is the problem of context. The article tells us little about the Israeli side of the story. Why is the Temple Mount a source of controversy now? Since Israel defeated Jordan Arabs in the 1967 Six-Day War and took possession of the Noble Sanctuary, as it is called by Muslims, what has changed?

The answer given by Jordan, and unquestioned by the Post, is that some Israeli officials are thuggish bully boys, engaged in loutish behavior for short term political gain. I have no doubt that some politicians fit the bill, but as an explanation for recent events, it is unconvincing.

First printed at The Media Project

Westminster Hall debate highlights persecution of Christians in the Middle East: The Church of England Newspaper, November 22, 2013 November 25, 2013

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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Christians are in danger of being driven out of the Middle East, MP Fiona Bruce warned last week, urging the British government to aid the victims of the campaign of terror waged by militant Islamists.

In remarks made at a Westminster Hall Adjournment Debate on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Mrs. Bruce, the member for Congleton (Cons.) highlighted findings of a newly released report prepared by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).  The report, “Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2011-2013”, found that intolerance had grown in 20 of the 30 countries surveyed.

“In virtually every country in and around the [Middle East], Christians report suffering either high, high to extreme, or extreme persecution,” she said.

Christians “have suffered from a domino effect of violence that began in Iraq, spread to Syria and overshadows Egypt, leaving the survival of the Church in jeopardy.”

“We should be crying out with the same abhorrence and horror that we feel about the atrocities towards Jews on Kristallnacht and on other occasions during the Second World War,” she said.

The member for Upper Bann, David Simpson (DUP) told the gathering ““Every hour, a Christian is tortured and murdered somewhere in the world.”

“Surely, in this day and age, something more can be done to protect people and their faith,” he said.

David Burrowes MP said: “The term ‘Christian persecution’ is sometimes bandied about carelessly… if there is Christian persecution in this country then at worst its victim is likely to be sued, but in the Middle East the victim will be killed. That is the stark reality that we are facing…”

The member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Tom Geatrex (Lab.) warned of problems facing Christians in Malaysia, where a court “has effectively outlawed the Bible, particularly in the eastern states of Malaysia”, after ruling that the word “Allah” may only be used in the context of the Muslim faith.

Other members of Parliament spoke of the persecution Christians faced in Iran, Egypt, Syria and Turkey. Mrs. Bruce observed the problem of militant Islam was not confined to the Middle East. “Western Muslims are going to fight alongside jihadists in Syria… returning home to become potential jihadists themselves.”

“Western countries are not fully grappling with this problem,” she said.

Foreign Office Minister, Hugo Swire MP, said the government was aware of the problem and noted that “protecting human rights, including religious freedom, is an important part of British foreign policy.”

EU Grant for Zanzibar cathedral: The Church of England Newspaper, October 18, 2013 October 27, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Tanzania, Church of England Newspaper, EU.
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Christ Church Cathedral in Zanzibar has been awarded a grant by the EU to build a heritage and education centre on the cathedral’s precincts to commemorate the abolition of slavery.

Construction on the coral stone Gothic cathedral began in 1873 on the site of Zanzibar’s old slave market, with the altar located on the spot of the slave market’s whipping post. Consecrated in 1903 the church has a barrel vault cement roof and incorporates perpendicular Gothic and Islamic architectural details.

Funds from the EU grant, supported by the U.S. State Department and the Governments of Tanzania and Zanzibar, will also go towards the material upkeep and repair of the cathedral.. The project will also provide heritage management training to the Wakf commission, which administers Islamic institutions on the island and is responsible for over 50 per cent of the historic housing stock in Stone Town, the island’s capital.

The project will be implemented by World Monuments Fund and its partners, the Anglican Church of Tanzania, the Zanzibar Stone Town Heritage Society and the UK charity Christian Engineers in Development.

“Our hope is that the preservation and promotion of this historical site in Zanzibar will fuel a sense of common belonging for the Zanzibari people and of ownership of their cultural heritage; it should contribute to building national identity in the diversity, tolerance and solidarity between faiths, communities and peoples.” said the EU Ambassador to Tanzania, Filiberto Ceriani Sebregondi.


Intended Consequences–The Times & Jewish Jerusalem: Get Religion, September 20, 2013. September 20, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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Choosing determines all human decisions. In making his choice man chooses not only between various material things and services. All human values are offered for option. All ends and all means, both material and ideal issues, the sublime and the base, the noble and the ignoble, are ranged in a single row and subjected to a decision which picks out one thing and sets aside another. Nothing that men aim at or want to avoid remains outside of this arrangement into a unique scale of gradation and preference.

Ludwig von Mises, On Human Action. (San Francisco: Fox  Wilkes, 1996 4th rev. ed.) p 3.

Newspaper writing is about making choices. They range from choosing a topic and its parameters to the style of writing, the story’s length and the degree of context down to the language used. Choices are conscious and unconscious. While I should think about the framing of a story — being aware of the worldview I bring to an issue — before I write. I do not do it as often as I should.

But the preconceived notions and assumption I bring add value as I can stories in their historical/political context. I am able to discern if issue X is important, urgent or tired. Spin from PR flacks seldom moves me. Yet I have never written a sports story and can draw upon no well of knowledge to make an informed choice.

The conscious and unconscious choice applies to language. When I write “marriage equality” rather than “gay marriage” I am making a political choice with my vocabulary that signals the editorial stance of the publication or my personal views. This was especially true when I wrote for the Jerusalem Post. Through my upbringing and culture I knew to write “Jerusalem” as it would not have occurred to me to write “Al Quds”. But I learned to say “Judea and Samaria” not the “Occupied Territories” and “separation barrier” not “the wall” in line with the newspaper’s editorial policies. The vocabulary I brought to a story, whether innate to my worldview or learned from my employers, framed the article.

Choice results in consequences, whether intended or not. Let me draw your attention to the work of The Times foreign correspondent Michael Binyon to illustrate this point.

Binyon has penned a superior piece on one of the major under reported stories from the Arab Spring — the plight of Arab Christians. Taking as its news peg a report on a conference of church leaders in Amman hosted by King Abdullah of Jordan The Times article entitled “Middle East Christians face a bleak future” takes an indirect, but highly effective route in telling its story. It is a master class lesson in the craft of newspaper writing.

Yet this story also rang alarm bells within the Jewish community in Britain. “Did conference speakers call for the expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem?”, a prominent Jewish activist asked me after she read the article. “Had the Church of England gone over to the replacement theology camp?” This did not appear in a surface reading of the paper, but I immediately grasped her concern when I read the story again through her eyes.

The Times lede is beautifully written.

Their churches have been bombed, burnt and ransacked. Thousands flee their homes to seek safety in exile, as ­Islamist extremists incite mobs to ­attack the dwindling communities that remain. Christians in the Middle East are today facing the ­greatest dangers they have known for centuries.

Moving from a strong opening, the article succinctly gives the who, what, when and where — before moving into an extended treatment of the why. Again, this is nicely and professionally done — you see the hand of a professional at work here.

The article then passes to a serious of comments and observations from participants, that give substance to the theme articulated in the lede. And at the end we hear from Church of England (hurrah!).

The Anglicans were well represented. The Episcopal bishops of Egypt and Jerusalem were joined by the Rev. Toby Howarth from Lambeth Palace and former Bishop Michael Langrish of Exeter representing the Archbishop of Canterbury. Mr Howarth made the point that Western Christians too often had a skewed assumption that Christianity was an import to the Middle East rather than an export from it. And he underlined the importance of intra-Christian and intra-Muslim dialogue.

He was also one of the few speakers to note the importance of women in faith issues. Only two nuns joined the panel of 80 male clerics. One male speaker said that if faith issues were left to women half the problems would disappear immediately.

Aside from the male cleric’s patronizing comment about women — and what did he mean by saying that if half the people (men) left you would have half the problems you now have? — there seemed little objectionable in these comments, and nothing that would suggest an anti-Jewish attack from the CoE.

But further up in the article, we read that Arab Christians

had taken a full part in the wars against Israel and were in the forefront in the fight to maintain the Arab presence in Jerusalem and prevent its judiacisation.

In the worldview of my British Jewish friend the “judiacisation” reference prompted concerns that at this conference Christian Arabs had called for a Judenfrei Jerusalem. Though former Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs of Iran are the best known proponents of driving the Jews into the sea, the expulsion of Jews from the Arab world — from Morocco to Iran — in the years since 1948 is an open wound in the Israeli psyche. If some Christian Arabs had made this call — echoing their political leaders in the Palestinian Authority or other Arab states — had the Church of England and the bishops of Egypt and Jerusalem remained silent. By their silence were Anglicans implying consent to the calls to de-Judiaze Jerusalem?

If true, this was quite a story. “Church silence on Jew bating” would have been a fun headline, while the church journals would take a story on Anglican Replacement Theology.

To find out, I thought I would ask. A checked with Canon Toby Howarth from Lambeth Palace (the shorthand way to refer to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s staff). Dr, Howarth told me he had no knowledge of any calls from conference speakers to expel the Jews. I also raised the issue with the Bishop of Egypt at breakfast on Thursday — we were both attending conference at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. He had no memory of any anti-Semitic comments from the conference podium, but added that from the perspective of the Christian Arab, the judiacisation controversy was not about expelling Jews from Jerusalem, but Jews expelling Arab from Jerusalem.

The last patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem had been removed from office after he had been accused in acquiescing to the sale of church lands to Jewish businessmen. The gentrification of Jerusalem was forcing Arabs out of the city by pricing them out of the housing market or removing housing available to Arabs from the market, the bishop said.

Which perception is true? Both, none, one?

Had The Times intended to press this button in their story about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. I think it most unlikely. But the use of “judiacisation” without explanation prompted some readers hear things that other readers did not.

First printed in Get Religion.

Ceylonese bishop defends govt against UN criticism: The Church of England Newspaper, September 13, 2013 p 6. September 12, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of Ceylon, Church of England Newspaper, UN.
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The Church of Ceylon’s Bishop of Kurunegala, the Rt. Rev. Shantha Francis has chastised critics of administration of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, saying Tamil and Sinhalese citizens of the island nation enjoyed full and equal civil rights.

The bishop’s comments as reported by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) on 26 August 2013 came at the start of a six day visit by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay to the country.

Speaking at a 31 August press conference Ms. Pillay stated that democracy activists lived in a climate of fear. Some who who met or wanted to meet her during the visit had been threatened by security forces, she said, and critical voices in Sri Lanka are “quite often attacked or even permanently silenced”.

Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director endorsed Ms. Pillay’s findings. Her “take on the human rights situation during her visit very much echoes our own findings. Being critical of government policy in Sri Lanka is highly risky, and the extent to which people are being harassed into silence is shocking.”

However, the SLBC said Bishop Francis had likened the president to King Dutugemunu, a second Century BC Sinhalese king who drove out Tamil invaders.

The bishop rejected claims there was no freedom in Sri Lanka, saying the government’s economic development programme benefited Sinhalese and Tamils, while “freedom of democracy is now prevailing in the country.”

Sri Lanka was “fortunate” to have a president who treated all ethnic groups equally, the bishop is claimed to have said. However Amnesty International’s Polly Truscott declared: “The UN and Commonwealth must respond effectively to these latest concerns raised by Pillay.”

Bishop of Guilford elected president of CEC: The Church of England Newspaper, August 11, 2013 August 16, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, EU.
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The 14th Assembly of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) has elected the Bishop of Guilford, the Rt. Rev. Christopher Hill, to serve as president of the pan-European ecumenical group.

Comprising 115 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Old Catholic Churches and 40 associated organizations from across Europe, delegates to last month’s meeting of the CEC Assembly also approved a new constitution “to help the European Churches to share their spiritual life, to strengthen their common witness and service, and to promote the unity of the Church and peace in the world.”

The social and economic plight of immigrants in Europe was one of the primary issues debated by the Assembly. Delegates learned the Social Charter of the Council of Europe, the EU’s human rights watchdog, will take up a complaint filed by the CEC against the Netherlands for systematic ill-treatment of illegal aliens.

Delegates also voted to move the organization’s headquarters from Geneva to Brussels in order to be closer to the European Union and related institutions. Home to the organization since 1959, the Geneva office will be closed, but a subsidiary office in Strasburg while remain open for the present.

Bishops downplay Palestinian terrorism in Middle East Statement: Anglican Ink, August 1, 2013 August 1, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Church of England, Israel, Roman Catholic Church.
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The Bishop of Exeter and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton met last week with Israel’s Ambassador to the UK to share the churches’ concern over the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

In a statement released on 25 July 2013 that downplayed Israeli security concerns in the face of Palestinian terror attacks, the Rt. Rev Michael Langrish, the Church of England’s lead bishop on the Middle East Peace Process and the Rt Rev Declan Lang, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales department for international affairs, said in their meeting with Ambassador Daniel Taub they “discussed the grave problems confronting the peoples of the Holy Land, including the rise of extremism, settlement building and the impact of the separation barrier on communities.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Archbishop Welby to tour Holy Land: The Church of England Newspaper, June 30, 2013 p 6. June 28, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel.
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The Lambeth Palace press office reports the Archbishop of Canterbury will make his first visit Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories this week.

Archbishop Justin Welby will meet with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, tour biblical sites and meet with government and civil society figures.

The press statement said the Archbishop was “making this trip early in his ministry because of the significance of the region, the importance of the relationships that his office has there, and because he is keenly aware of the particular pressures on the region at the moment – not least the devastating conflict in Syria, and its impact more widely.”

Accompanied by the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, the Bishop of Egypt and primate of the province and the Bishop in Jerusalem the Rt Rev Suheil Dawani, Archbishop Welby is scheduled to meet the Coptic Patriarch, Pope Tawadros II and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb.

In Jerusalem, the Archbishop will meet the Patriarchs and Head of Churches in Jerusalem and representatives of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

He had been scheduled to meet Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, but the Ashkenazi chief rabbi has suspended himself from ministry and will refrain from carrying out any official roles during a police inquiry into charges of fraud and bribery allegations. Police raided his home and office last week following an undercover investigation into his financial dealings. The Chief Rabbi denies  the allegations.

Archbishop Welby will visit the Church of the Resurrection, the Western Wall, and Yad Vashem as well as the church hospital in Ramallah.

The Israeli press has welcomed the new Archbishop’s visit. An editorial in Arutz Sheva noted: “Archbishop Welby’s visit is highly symbolic. It is a sign that he is willing to embrace Christianity’s (and his own) Jewish roots, which is particularly important at a time when many in the Church – especially on the Left – are distancing themselves from the biblical concept of the Jews as the people destined to reside in the land of Israel.”

Bishop urges govt not to arm Syrian rebels: The Church of England Newspaper, June 23, 2013 p 7. June 27, 2013

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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Arming Syria’s rebels will make a bad situation worse, the Bishop of Bristol has warned. “The history of the Middle East seems to be that today’s allies are tomorrow’s enemies.  Remember Iraq”, the Rt Rev Mike Hill wrote on his blog at the diocesan website on 14 June 2013.

The situation in Syria was bleak he observed. The Civil War between the asylum regime and the Islamist dominated opposition has led to 90,000 deaths. The use of chemical weapons by the regime was a “truly shocking way for any Government to behave and is totally inexcusable, “ and could escalate beyond the bounds of Syria.

“When I heard that our Government had been complicit in lifting the ban on sending arms to the ‘rebels’ in Syria, I was worried,” Bishop Hill wrote.

“Surely such a move brings with it some unmanageable risks.  Will sending more lethal weapons in to Syria mean more deaths not less?  What kind of Trojan Horse is the rebel movement?  What different interests lurk within their ranks? There is plenty of evidence that both sides of this conflict have been involved in atrocities.  How do we guarantee that these arms will only fall into the hands of ‘moderates’?  What will happen to all these weapons when, please God, the fighting comes to an end?  These are questions that need to be answered,” before arms are sent to Syria, he said.

The best way forward “is to work with Syria’s allies to bring about a ceasefire,” he argued.

While negotiations have so far failed to end the fighting “I would rather we kept trying this course of action rather than send more weapons to a bewilderingly complex situation.”

“I have seen first-hand the disorder that follows civil war.  Even when conflict ends, people retain their weapons, ‘just in case…’  The result is a violent and potentially ungovernable society.  Syria already has this and it’s time for the international community to bring this bloodshed to an end, not add to it or sow the seeds for future instability,” Bishop Hill said.

Europe facing a “crisis of values” José Manuel Barroso tells religious leaders: The Church of England Newspaper, June 16, 2013, p 7. June 19, 2013

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László Surján, Herman van Rompuy, Bishop Michael Langrish, and José Manuel Barroso (l to r) at the EU secretariate in Brussels

The Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Rev. Michael Langrish, represented the Anglican Communion last month at a gathering of faith leaders in Brussels. Bishop Langrish along with 19 representatives from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist faiths were invited to voice their ideas about the future of Europe, about the European values, social issues and questions of solidarity with leaders of the EU.

On 30 May 2013 they joined José Manuel Barroso, President of the EC, Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, and László Surján, Vice-President of the EP to discuss the theme “Putting citizens at the heart of the European project in times of change”.

In his speech President Barroso underlined his belief that religious communities had an extremely important role in European life.

“As we are taking action to move Europe out of the economic crisis, it is clear that we also have to weather another crisis: a crisis of trust, a crisis of values. We have to bring citizens back at the heart of our common project of European integration, by debating why it makes sense to act together as a Union. I strongly believe that the active involvement of religious communities is essential in this undertaking. The religious leaders I have invited today have an important contribution to make to this EU-wide debate on the future of Europe,” he said.

The Rev. Dr. Gary Wilton, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative in Brussels said: “This year’s event confirmed the high standing of the Church of England in the Brussels context as well as the clear expectation that we will make a significant contribution to the high level dialogue.”

According to a statement released by the Diocese of Exeter, Dr Wilton reported that Bishop Langrish’s comments about the importance of intermediate institutions including the family were “well received” as was “his second intervention about virtue ethics”.

Church of Scotland pulls anti-Israel report from its website: The Church of England Newspaper, May 19, 2013 p 7. May 22, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Israel, Presbyterian/Church of Scotland.
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The Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council has withdrawn a report that claimed Scripture provided no warrant for Jewish claims to the land of Israel.

Prepared for the 18 May meeting of the church’s General Assembly the ten-page report entitled “The Inheritance of Abraham” urged the Church of Scotland to join the boycott and divestment movement against Israel. It also said “claims that scripture offers any peoples a privileged claim for possession of a particular territory” were unfounded.

Scripture based claims raised “an increasing number of difficulties and current Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians have sharpened this questioning,” the document said, adding that it believed Jews felt they had a right to take Palestinian land “as compensation for the suffering of the Holocaust”.

The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Anti-Defamation League and the Israeli ambassador denounced the report and urged it be withdrawn. “This report not only plays into extremist political positions, but negates and belittles the deeply held Jewish attachment to the land of Israel in a way which is truly hurtful,” Ambassador Daniel Taub said.

The report did draw support however from Palestinian activists. The Rev. Stephen Sizer, rector of Christ Church Virginia Water said “Church of Scotland is to be commended for their report.”

He defended the report from its detractors saying “in no sense does the report disenfranchise anyone from legitimate rights to citizenship in Israel and Palestine, merely the claim made by some Zionists that the Bible mandates an exclusive right to the land for the Jewish people alone.”

“On the contrary the Hebrew Scriptures repeatedly insist that the land belongs to God and that residence was always conditional,” Mr. Sizer said on 8 May.

However on 9 May 2013 the report was removed from the Church of Scotland’s website and a statement posted in its place saying the Church and Society Council had agreed to rewrite the report with a “new introduction to set the context for the report and give clarity about some of the language used.”

IRS targeting Jews too?: Get Religion, May 13, 2013 May 13, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Politics, Press criticism.
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Fear not religion news reporters, you too can jump into one of the hottest news stories on the wires. Buried deep within an article reporting on the Internal Revenue Services’ harassment of conservative advocacy groups lurks  a religious liberty news story. That may not sound too exciting but you could rephrase it this way for your editor: the IRS has created a religious test defining what it means to be a loyal Jew.

On Friday a second-tier IRS official told a gathering of tax lawyers the IRS had engaged in discriminatory audits against conservative groups. The initial story from the AP wire reported that the IRS admitted its mistake, but the mistake was an innocent one:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service inappropriately flagged conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status, a top IRS official said Friday. Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups. In some cases, groups were asked for their list of donors, which violates IRS policy in most cases, she said.

“That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. “The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added. Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice.

The story expanded exponentially over the weekend as further details emerged. By Sunday morning it had reached the level of Watergate allusions. The Daily Callerreported that on Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” commentator George Will raised the specter of impeachment.

Now the question is, how stupid do they think we are? Just imagine, Donna Brazile, if the George W. Bush administration had an IRS underling, he’s out in Cincinnati, of course, saying we’re going to target groups with the word ‘progressive’ in their title. We’d have all hell breaking loose.”

Will noted that one of the items in the 1973 impeachment articles of then-President Richard Nixon, which ultimately led to his resignation, described the Nixon administration’s use of the power of income tax audits in a “discriminatory matter.”

“This is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate summer here in Washington,” Will said. “’He has, through his subordinated and agents, endeavored…to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner,’ — Section 1, Article 2, the impeachment articles of Richard Nixon.

Other outlets developed collateral stories on the IRS enemies list. The Jewish Press reported that along with the tea party pro-Israel lobbying groups had been subjected to enhanced IRS scrutiny.

… There is evidence the IRS also targeted pro-Israel groups whose positions were potentially inconsistent with the administration’s. For example, in 2010, the passionately pro-Israel organization Z STREET filed a lawsuit against the IRS, claiming it had been told by an IRS agent that because the organization was “connected to Israel,” its application for tax-exempt status would receive additional scrutiny.  …

Breitbart developed this story, adding historical context and suggesting  there was a “common thread: opposition to Obama, and instigation or support of these IRS inquiries by left-wing groups and mainstream media institutions devoted to defending the administration.”

What has not been developed yet is this paragraph in The Jewish Press story:

And at least one purely religious Jewish organization, one not focused on Israel, was the recipient of bizarre and highly inappropriate questions about Israel.  Those questions also came from the same non-profit division of the IRS at issue for inappropriately targeting politically conservative groups. The IRS required that Jewish organization to state “whether [it] supports the existence of the land of Israel,” and also demanded the organization “[d]escribe [its] religious belief system toward the land of Israel.”

The implications of this paragraph are profound. Is the state seeking to control religious doctrine for political ends through the coercive power of its tax authority?  There are some red flags in The Jewish Press story. Though it is characterized as a news story, the article is a one-sided advocacy piece written by an individual closely associated with one of the organizations under IRS scrutiny. No names, dates or details are given though a powerful quote is supplied. Absent a name, it is difficult to judge its veracity.

But … Here is an opportunity for religion reporters to add their expertise to the IRS audit scandal. Let it not be said that religion reporting is a cul-de-sac – – the hints inThe Jewish Press story open the door for an energetic reporter to explore allegations of political malfeasance and corruption, separation of church and state issues, foreign policy, and perhaps a dose of good old-fashioned anti-Semitism. This is going to be fun.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in Get Religion.

West Indian bishops call for push back against Cameron’s gay agenda: The Church of England Newspaper, May 5, 2013 p 7. May 7, 2013

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of the West Indies.
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The House of Bishops of the Church the Province of the West Indies (CPWI) has urged Caribbean political leaders to reject demands of the government of Prime Minister David Cameron and the Obama administration that it legalize gay rights and gay marriage.

In a statement released on 25 April 2013 at the close of the meeting in Barbados, the bishops said “the dangling of a carrot of economic assistance to faltering economies” in return for supporting the gay agenda “should be seen for what it is worth and should be resisted by people and government alike.”

At the October 2011 Commonwealth heads of Government meeting in Australia Mr. Cameron threatened countries that did not conform to his government’s views on homosexuality with losing aid payments. On 6 Dec 2011 Pres. Obama directed US government agencies working with overseas governments and organizations to push the administration’s support for the gay agenda.

The West Indian bishops reiterated their belief in marriage “defined as a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman” and said same-sex marriage was “totally unacceptable on theological and cultural grounds.”

“Matters related to human sexuality have been elevated to the level of human rights” by the US and Britain “and are being promulgated as positions which must be accepted globally.”

Britain could no longer dictate its morality to the people Caribbean. “The threat and use of economic sanctions are not new experiences for us, neither is the claim to a superior morality convincing for peoples who have known the experience of chattel slavery in our past.  While claiming to invoke human rights as the basis for such imposition, we submit that the same principle must allow us the right to affirm our cultural and religious convictions regarding our definitions of that most basic of social institutions, marriage,” the bishops said.


Massacre in Damascus: The Church of England Newspaper, April 29, 2013 May 1, 2013

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper.
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Six days of fighting in Damascus’s Jdaidet Artouz and Jdaidet Al-Fadel suburbs have killed several hundred civilians, anti-regime activists have claimed. The deaths follow an offensive by troops and irregular militias loyal to President Bashar al-Assad to secure the capital and open the roads south to the city of Dara’a.

On 22 April 2013 the Foreign Secretary said the reports of the massacre underscored the urgent need to bring the conflict in Syria to an end.

“I am appalled by the reports of the killing by Syrian Government forces of dozens of people, including women and children, in the town of Jdaidet Al-Fadl, a suburb of Damascus. This is yet another reminder of the callous brutality of the Assad regime and the terrible climate of impunity inside Syria,” said William Hague.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 80 had died, but said the death toll could be as high as 250. Another activist group put the number at 483.

On 17 April 2013 a meeting of Christian NGOs in Istanbul called the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP) released a statement urging the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria to pay particular attention to the country’s “vulnerable ethnic and religious minorities”.

“Religious liberty organisations are united in their concern for the plight of Christians and other minorities in Syria,” said Paul Robinson, the chief executive of Release International. “We believe the international community must act now to protect them. And we are calling on Christian leaders around the world to unite in calling for prayer for peace for this troubled nation.”

Jewish Identity and the Western Wall: Get Religion, April 14, 2013 April 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Civil Rights, Get Religion, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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You couldn’t, he thought, find three Jews in the world who would agree on what it meant to be Jewish, yet there were apparently fifty million of these people who knew exactly what it meant to be German, though many of those on deck have never set foot in Germany.

Alan Furst, Dark Star, (1991), p. 380.

Who is a Jew? What is a Jew? Who decides who is a Jew? These questions lie beneath the surface of a Washington Post story that reports on the controversy of women worshiping at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The article entitled “Women challenge Orthodox practice at Israel’s Western Wall” links the political dynamics of the pressure being brought by American Jews upon the Israeli government to accommodate non-Orthodox Jewish worship at what the Post calls “Judaism’s holiest shrine” with an Israeli local news item. Yet the story could have fleshed out the religion ghosts — telling a non-Jewish, non-Israeli audience why this is the something more than a turf battle over worship space.

Because this article is written from an American secular Jewish perspective  — the Post states its support of the protesters in its lede — only half the story is told. The presuppositions of the author — call them biases or perspectives or relative truths — prevents a reader from understanding the political and religious calculus here. It begins:

JERUSALEM — A long-running battle over worship at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest shrine, was rejoined Thursday as Israeli police arrested five Jewish women who wore prayer shawls at a morning service, contrary to Orthodox practice enforced at the site. The arrests came two days after disclosure of a potentially groundbreaking plan that could allow for non-Orthodox services to be held in the area on an equal footing with those conducted according to Orthodox tradition.

Note the verb being used in second clause of the lede sentence: “enforced”. The Post is characterizing the dispute as one of power — he who has power can enforce his will. What trajectory would the story have taken it different verb were used stating that Orthodox practice is not merely enforced but required by law? The story then moves to quotes from the women activists and an “ultra-Orthodox heckler”, before moving to the political, summarizing the history of the dispute, taking it up to recent discussions in the cabinet:

[Prime Minister] Netanyahu asked Natan Sharansky, chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, to come up with a plan for worship at the Western Wall that would accommodate the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism that are dominant overseas. The move signaled an increasing awareness in the Israeli government that the confrontations over ritual at the Western Wall are driving a wedge between Israel and Jewish communities abroad.<

Sharansky’s solution presented to American Jewish leaders was to build a platform “south of the main prayer plaza; men and women could pray together there, and women could lead services.”

The article closes with a quote from the Western Wall Orthodox rabbi who said he was in favor of the separate facilities and an Israeli reform rabbi who is given free reign to sound off on his views on the Orthodox hegemony of Judaism in Israel.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform movement in Israel, said that Women of the Wall had succeeded in making religious pluralism at the shrine a major issue of Jewish concern. “The Wall has become an ultra-Orthodox synagogue,” Kariv said, adding that Thursday’s arrests sent a signal that undermined Sharansky’s proposal. “You can’t make a serious attempt to reach a compromise while maintaining a situation where the rights of one side are seriously breached,” he said.

Still, Kariv predicted that if the proposal is implemented, the area set aside for non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall “will become the main platform for the vast majority of Israelis and Jews.”

I am not a Jew and have no dog in the fight between the traditional and progressive strands of Judaism. I am concerned with good journalism, though, and find this story unbalanced and incomplete.

Unbalanced because there is no explanation as to why the Orthodox object to bare-headed women leading prayers (as the accompanying photo from the Post shows) next to a gathering of Haredi men praying. While supporters of change have their say in this story supporters of tradition do not. I should say that I know the Talmud rejects the practice — but I do not know if other non-Jews know this. Without an explanation of the religious issues a casual reader might well assume that this is an issue of power.

It was an issue of power in 1928. On the Day of Atonement that year, 28 September 1928, a riot erupted when British police torn down wooden barriers separating male and female worshipers at the Wall. Protests from Jewish communities around the world greeted this action which in turn were followed by protests from Arabs in Palestine against Jews worshiping at the Wall. The British ban on sex segregation barriers became a ban on Jews at the Wall from 1948 1967 when it was under the control of Jordan.

When Israel took control of the Temple Mount area the Wall came under the authority of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. In the 1980s American and English emigrants to Israel began the Women at the Wall movement which sparked a riot by Haredi men at the wall in 1989. In 2003 Israel’s Supreme Court disallowed women from reading publicly from the Torah or wearing traditional prayer shawls at the plaza built by the Ministry in front of the Wall. However, it held the government must build a second area for women and mixed sex groups — as well as non-Orthodox Jews — on the site of Robinson’s Arch.  Sharansky’s solution is to expand this site — which is not under the control of the Ministry.

Without explaining the religious elements — the objections of the Orthodox or the determination of Jewish women to worship at the wall rather than near — the story is incomplete. Without touching upon the history behind this section, it’s context, a casual reader might well suppose this is just about power.

What does the wall symbolize for the religious Jew or the secular Israeli? Is this a continuing chapter in the saga of who is a Jew, what does it mean to be a Jew, and who gets to say who is a Jew? Written for an American or Diaspora audience — the story is incomplete.

First published in Get Religion.

God or mammon in Iran: Get Religion, April 8, 2013 April 9, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Iran, Islam.
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The New York Times article “Power Struggle Is Gripping Iran Ahead of June Election” offers a detailed examination of the Iranian political scene as the country prepares to elect a successor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Well written and intelligently crafted, the article, as the lede notes, discusses the:

power struggle ahead of the June election between Mr. Ahmadinejad’s faction and a coalition of traditionalists, including many Revolutionary Guards commanders and hard-line clerics.

However a religion ghost lurks beneath the surface of this front page story. A knowledgeable reader will be able to discern what lies behind the political dispute from the text of the New York Times story — but though the information is there the article will likely not inform the typical reader as to what is really happening.  The article does aptly summarize the recent moves by Pres. Ahmadinejad to undercut the power of his opponents. The Times notes:

At the funeral of Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader, he was photographed embracing the former president’s mother, a display that was denounced by the clerics, who forbid physical contact between unmarried men and women who are not closely related. But urban Iranians, many of whom have moved far beyond the social restrictions set by the Islamic republic, viewed his action as a simple gesture of friendship.

Despite his early advocacy of Islam’s role in daily affairs, the president is now positioning himself as a champion of citizens’ rights. “He more and more resembles a normal person,” said Hamed, a 28-year-old driver in Tehran who did not want his last name used. “He doesn’t allow them to tell him what to do.”

In speeches, he favors the “nation” and the “people” over the “ummah,” or community of believers, a term preferred by Iran’s clerics, who constantly guard against any revival of pre-Islamic nationalism. He has also said he is ready for talks with the United States, something other Iranian leaders strongly oppose under current circumstances.

Writing at Commentary magazine’s blog Jonathan Tobin argues the article’s liberal/conservative, left/right worldview masks the issues.

The differences between Ahmadinejad and Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are, no doubt, quite real. But they ought not to be interpreted as a sign that the regime is in danger of falling or there is any significant divergence between them and their followers about keeping an Islamist government or maintaining the country’s dangerous nuclear ambitions.

But unfortunately that is probably the conclusion that many of the Times’s liberal readers will jump to after reading the piece since it brands Ahmadinejad and his faction as the “opposition” to the supreme leader. That may be true in the literal sense but, as even the article points out, that is the result of the fact that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei worked together to wipe out any real opposition to Islamist hegemony in 2009 as the United States stood silent.

The religion ghost materialize towards the end of the Times article when it touches upon Pres. Ahmadinejad’s support for Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei as the next president of Iran.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s support of Mr. Mashaei, his spiritual mentor and the father-in-law of his son, is a particular stick in the eye for the conservatives, as well as a subtle appeal to more progressive Iranians. In messages filled with poetic language, Mr. Mashaei repeatedly propagates the importance of the nation of Iran over that of Islam.

Leading ayatollahs and commanders say that Mr. Ahmadinejad has been “bewitched” by the tall, beardless 52-year old, whom they have called a “Freemason,” a “foreign spy” and a “heretic.” They accuse Mr. Mashaei of plotting to oust the generation of clerics who have ruled Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and of promoting direct relations with God, instead of through clerical intermediaries. He and his allies, they say, are part of a “deviant” current.

Buried in the paragraph above is the theological or ideological grounds the dispute between the two factions. In 2011 the New York Review of Books reported that Pres. Ahmadinejad’s clerical opponents “hate” Mr. Mashaei.

The mullahs who make up the country’s conservative establishment hate Mashaei because he is reputed to be in contact with the Twelfth Imam—a messianic figure who, according to the dominant branch of Shiism, has been in a state of “occultation” (in effect, hiding or concealment) since the tenth century.The ramifications of Mashaei’s alleged “gift” of having relations with the Twelfth Imam are enormous. Most Shia Muslims endorse a dynastic line of claimants to the leadership of Islam that began with Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, who was elected caliph in 656 and murdered five years later. There were eleven more of these hereditary imams, or guides, and all but one of them met a violent death at the hands of their enemies—the forebears of today’s Sunni community, who had rejected the dynastic principle and established their own caliphate. According to the Shia tradition, in 941 the Twelfth Imam was occulted, promising to reveal himself at an unspecified moment in the future to end vice and confusion.

The prospect of an infallible imam who might return at any moment (having miraculously retained his youth) holds obvious attractions for an embattled minority religious community, and the history of Shiism is full of controversial figures who have alleged—or let it be alleged on their behalf—that they have met the Twelfth Imam. But these claims are a challenge to Shia clerics, who regard themselves as the rightful intermediaries between God and the community. What if someone from the community claims to be in direct contact with the imam, and can transmit his wishes to society? In that case, the clergy becomes superfluous.

What are the motivations at work among the various actors? The prospect of financial gain or the accumulation political power are certainly present. But it is also important to stress the place of ideology or religion in the affairs of men. While the outward workings of the dispute between Pres. Ahmadinejad’s faction and the clergy are taking place on the material or carnal plain — I would argue the real battle is over revelation. How does God communicate to his creation?

Which leads to the journalistic question. How much context is too much? It is easy to report on power struggles — but hard to report on ideology, on motivation. I would argue that when reporting on a theocracy such as Iran the theological divisions are more important to understanding the story than any other factor. Can a reader understand story unfolding in Iran without an appreciation of the Twelfth Imam? No.

Is Christian Zionism off the radar for the NY Times?: Get Religion, January 24, 2013 January 25, 2013

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Comments given to an American church audience in 2011 by an Israeli rabbi, who stood for election this week to the Knesset on the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) ticket were a one-day wonder over the weekend in the Israeli press. Atlanta-native Jeremy Gimpel was lambasted by the liberal press in Israel for allegedly calling for the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim mosque built atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, to be destroyed and replaced with a new Temple.

The controversy was also an example of the importance of fleshing out religious ghosts in a story. The American and Israeli press that picked up this issue focused on the political angle. If they had developed the religious elements of the story they would have turned a campaign “gotcha” story about one politician into a better story about the links between Christian Zionists in the U.S. and conservative religious political parties in Israel. Looking into the faith element would have made this a better political story.

Let’s run through the coverage first then ask the faith questions that were left unasked.

On Saturday Ha’aretz’s English language website ran a profile of Gimpel following a broadcast the previous day on Channel 2 of comments made by the rabbi in 2011 to a church in Florida.

The Times of Israel summarized the controversy this way:

Fending off a frenzy of political criticism over a 2011 speech in which he appeared to speak with relish of the theoretical prospect of the Dome of Rock being “blown up” and a new Jewish Temple being built in its stead, prospective MK Jeremy Gimpel claimed in a TV interview on Sunday that he had actually been telling a joke meant to “parody” the extremists who want to destroy the 1,300-year-old Muslim shrine.

Statements Gimpel has made in the past, examined by The Times of Israel, indeed show no record of him explicitly calling for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock. They do indicate that he considers the golden dome atop the Temple Mount an alien element which he wishes would be replaced by the third Jewish temple.

A candidate for the Orthodox, right-wing Jewish Home party, Gimpel also sports a long history of hard-line statements that would raise eyebrows in many circles in Israel and large parts of the Jewish world, including calling the Jewish outlook of non-Orthodox Jewish movements “nonsense” and questioning whether Israel is truly a democracy because it forbids freedom of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount.

The Israeli political left jumped on Gimpel, with former foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s  liberal Hatnua party calling for his disqualification from the election for allegedly having uttered hate speech. The Anti-Defamation League’s Israel office weighed in also, saying they were appalled a rabbi would condone terrorism, Forward reported.

The New York Times‘ Israel correspondent picked up the story and it appeared in Monday’s edition on page A9 under the headline: “Rightist Israeli Candidate’s Remarks Cause Stir”. I imagine the American angle — Gimpel is a dual Israeli-American citizen and the Florida setting of the speech — prompted the editors to give the story space. The Times‘ article repeated the basic facts of the story of the speech and fleshed out the Israeli political context. It also carried the incendiary quotes that raised the ire of the left.

During a November 2011 lecture about biblical prophecies at the Fellowship Church in Winter Springs, Fla., Jeremy Gimpel, who is now a Jewish Home candidate, told the audience: “Imagine today if the dome, the Golden Dome — I’m being recorded so I can’t say blown up — but let’s say the dome was blown up, right, and we laid the cornerstone of the temple in Jerusalem. Can you imagine? I mean, none of you would be here, you’d all be like, I’m going to Israel, right? No one would be here. It would be incredible!”

After this mention of religion, the Times moves back into politics. This was unfortunate for if they had done some simple internet searching they would have learned some interesting things about the Florida church that calls into question Gimpel’s explanation.

A look through the website of the Fellowship Church in Winter Springs shows it to be a non-denominational Protestant Church that identifies itself as being part of the Christian Zionist movement. Among its outreach projects are the Temple Mount Faithful, whose mission according to its website is:

The goal of the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement is the building of the Third Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in our lifetime in accordance with the Word of G-d and all the Hebrew prophets and the liberation of the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation so that it may be consecrated to the Name of G-d.

How credible is Gimpel’s explanation that he was making a joke that satirizes the views of those who want to destroy the Dome of the Rock and replace it with the Third Temple?

There are also questions that were left unasked as to what Gimpel meant when he told the Christian audience that if the Third Temple were rebuilt they would all “going to Israel.”

The question “why” a group of Central Florida Christians would go to Israel is not examined. Perhaps this statement from the Temple Mount Faithful website provides context for Gimpel’s words.

It is the view of the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful that the redemption will proceed in an orderly fashion according to G-d’s plan.

  • First is the foundation of the modern state of Israel and the miraculous victories that G-d gave the people of Israel in the wars against 22 Arab enemy states.
  • Second is the regathering of the people of Israel from all over the world to the Promised Land.
  • Third is the liberation and consecration of the Temple Mount and fourth is the building of the Third Temple.
  • The final step is the coming of the King of Israel, Messiah Ben David.

The existence of the state of Israel and the return of the people of G-d to the Promised Land is the biggest G-dly event and miracle in the history of mankind – ever. This was predicted by the prophets of Israel. We are calling all the nations to link arms in support of this people and the State of Israel to help her complete this process of redemption. We are not allowed to forget that the redemption of the people of Israel is a condition for the redemption of the earth. Also, we remember what G-d said over 4,000 years ago to Abraham, the father of the Israelites: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”.

The articles note that Gimpel states he was conducting a Bible study on prophecy — but again does not ask what prophecies and why they would be of interest to a non-Jewish audience? By not exploring the religious angle the Times is missing the story. Politicians say dumb things all the time. Leaving the story on that plane makes it old news the moment the it is printed. Exploring the faith angle opens up far more interesting and important questions.

Did the Times simply play follow my lead and not bother with the religion angle? Did they choose not to follow it, or just did not see it? And does the reason for the omission matter? Did ignoring the faith element in this political story leave this incomplete? What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.

Yousef Nadarkhani re-arrested: Anglican Ink, December 27, 2012 December 27, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Iran, Persecution.
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Yousef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor jailed sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam but released after an international protest campaign was re-arrested at his home on Christmas Day, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports.

In a 26 December 2012 statement, CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “We are disappointed to hear Pastor Nadarkhani has been returned to prison in such an irregular manner. The timing is insensitive and especially sad for his wife and sons, who must have been looking forward to celebrating Christmas with him for the first time in three years.”

Born in a non-practicing Muslim family, Mr. Nadarkhani (35) converted to Christianity as a young man and for ten years led of a network of house churches in Rasht in Iran’s Gilan province on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea.  On 12 Oct 2009 he was brought before a political tribunal after he complained about new government regulations requiring that his two sons be instructed in Islam.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Freed Iranian pastor travels to London to thank CSW for its support: The Church of England Newspaper, December 2, 2012 p 6. December 7, 2012

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The Iranian pastor sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam but released after three years imprisonment following an international protest campaign, was granted a special visa last month to travel to London to address Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s National Conference.

On 10 Nov 2012 Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani spoke to the For Such a Time as This conference through an interpreter thanking Christians in the West for their prayers and petitions on his behalf.

“It is the opportunity for me to share about what the Lord did for me and to thank you because you supported me by your prayers, you supported my family in a very difficult time,” he said.

“My prayer is I ask the Lord to bless you for what you did for me as a small member of the body of Christ. Today my presence here is the will of God and the result of what your prayers did for me.”

Last month’s trip, which included a visit to Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London, was the first for the Iranian Christian leader since his release from prison.  “It was a pleasure to welcome Pastor Nadarkhani to our conference and to hear his testimony of faith and perseverance, and of his love for God, for his family and for his nation. His quiet courage, integrity and lack of recrimination cannot fail to have inspired anyone who heard him to deepen their own commitment to their faith,” CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said.

First published in The  Church of England Newspaper.

Self censorship and the New York Times: Get Religion, December 5, 2012 December 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Al Qaeda, Free Speech, Get Religion, Islam, Persecution.
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An International Herald Tribune report about Pakistan seems a bit confused as to what constitutes sectarian violence. Written under the title “Christian Aid Worker Is Shot in Pakistan” the article from the New York Times’ international edition ties together three different stories in one article. But it does not want to say why.

This story with a dateline of Hong Kong is a compilation of Pakistani press reports and wire service bulletins. As per its ethical reporting standards, the Times‘ man acknowledges his debt to these sources, though he did make a few phone calls to provide some original material to the stories. As this is a first report on the incidents I am not that concerned with how complete it is or if all the facts are properly nailed down. My interest in in how the reporter laid out his story given what he had in hand.

And it is the construction of the article and the unwillingness to state the obvious that leads me to say the Times has lost the plot.

The shooting of Swedish missionary, an attack on a Ahmadiya graveyard, and the kidnapping of a Jewish-American aid worker all have something in common (it is called militant Islam) but the Times’ reporter appears at a loss as to how to put the pieces together. Last month the New York Times brought on board as its CEO Mark Thompson, the former Director General of the BBC. It also appears to have taken on board Thompson’s policy of treating Islam with kid gloves.

Here is the lede:

HONG KONG — A Swedish woman doing charity work through her evangelical church was shot outside her home in Lahore on Monday, according to news reports from Pakistan. A gunman riding a motorcycle fired at the 72-year-old woman as she got out of her car in the upscale Model Town neighborhood.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The article then goes into the details as they were known of the attack and then links to the second subject with this transitional sentence:

But early Monday morning in Model Town, gunmen tied up the caretakers of an Ahmadi cemetery and desecrated more than a hundred grave markers, the Express Tribune newspaper reported.

The Times gives details of the attack on the graveyard, notes that Ahmadiya Muslims are “considered heretical by mainstream Muslims”, and recounts past terror attacks and government fostered discrimination against the Ahmadiyas.

The story closes with the tale of a kidnapped American aid worker Warren Weinstein seized by al Qaeda last year. Details of Mr. Weinstein’s plight are offered and a quote from an earlier Times story is offered.

Mr. Weinstein, now 71, also appeared in a video in September, embedded below, in which he appeals for U.S. acceptance of the Qaeda demands. At one point he addresses Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, saying:

Therefore, as a Jew, I’m appealing to you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Jewish state of Israel, one Jew to another, to please intervene on my behalf. To work with the mujahideen and to accept their demands so that I can be released and returned to my family.

These three stories share the common theme of extremist Muslim violence against religious minorities in Lahore: Christians, Ahmadiyas and Jews. What then is the problem I have with this article, you might ask?

Look at the second sentence of the story.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The choices the Times is offering the reader are: a) the shooting of the Christian missionary was a sectarian act; or b) it was not a sectarian act but somehow linked to the attack by Salafist Muslims against an Ahmadiya graveyard. Perhaps I am thick but I do not see the distinction between a and b. Are they not both sectarian attacks?

And by adding in Mr. Weinstein’s case, which also took place in Lahore and also has a religious element — an American Jew being held captive by Muslim extremists who is forced to make a plea to the Israeli prime minister for his life — the militant Islam links are all there. But the Times does not want to connect the dots.

Why? Maybe the author was in a rush to get something into print quickly and mangled his syntax. Or is this an example of the Times‘ stifling political correctness? Is the Times heading the way of the BBC and self-censoring its stories?

In March 2012 the Daily Telegraph carried a short item reporting on Mark Thompson’s decision not to broadcast a show that might be offensive to Muslims.

Although the BBC was willing to disregard protests from Christians who considered its decision to broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera as an affront, Mark Thompson, its outgoing director-general, is more wary of giving airtime to Can We Talk About This?, the National Theatre’s examination of how Islam is curtailing freedom of speech.

Lloyd Newson, the director of the DV8 physical theatre company which staged the new work, challenged Thompson to screen his production during a platform discussion at the theatre.

He pointed out that Jerry Springer: The Opera was a lot more controversial because it was a “satire”, whereas his work, consisting of a series of comments and factual statements set to dance, is “a factual piece”.

Thompson’s spokesman tells me: “We are currently working with the National on various ideas. There are currently no plans to broadcast Can We Talk About This?, but this is not due to the play’s content or themes.”

In the past, Thompson has conceded that there is “a growing nervousness about discussion about Islam”. He claimed that because Muslims were a religious minority in Britain, and also often from ethnic minorities, their faith should be given different coverage to that of more established groups.

Has more than Mark Thompson crossed the Atlantic from London? While the Times has long been a bastion of PC reporting, its aping of the BBC’s supine stance on Islam is disappointing. The hiring of Mark Thompson did not cause the New York Times to engage in self-censorship on Islam — but I suspect courage will not be one of the strengths he will bring to his new post.

First posted in GetReligion.

No Catholics in the new Europe: Get Religion, November 30, 2012 November 30, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Anglican Ink, EU, Roman Catholic Church.
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This is a great country. I’ve been privileged to live and work abroad, but there is no place like America. It’s a cleaner, cheaper, nicer place. Big cars, big hair, the big country — purple mountains majesty, amber waves of grain and all that — makes me proud to be an American. Give me a political landscape dominated by God, guns and gays and I’m happy. Yet, I must admit there are some things Europeans do better than Americans. I take away nothing from the observations made in Philip Jenkins book, “The New Anti-Catholicism, The Last Acceptable Prejudice”, but the Europeans do anti-Catholicism or anti-clericalism much better than we do.

While it is the French who have unfairly earned a reputation as cheese-eating surrender monkeys in the American psyche, it is the the European establishment — Matthew Arnold’s chatter classes — who deserve the accolade. But as church-eating surrender monkeys.

Religion has no place in the public square in European political life. In January the Irish Independent reported the Irish Labour Party had called for a secularist litmus test for senior civil servants. Catholics were bad people who needed to be kept under close scrutiny lest they undermine the government.

All senior officials in state bodies which are likely to have to deal with the Catholic Church should be screened to ensure that they will not show inappropriate deference to the Catholic Church. Those who feel they are ‘Catholic first and Irish second’ should seek promotion in other organs of the State.

Such sentiments are not exceptional. The news this week of the appointment of a new EU health commissioner offered an illustration of this Weltanschauung. On 28 Nov 2012 the BBC and the DPA (the German wire service) reported the European parliament had given its approval to the appointment of Malta’s Foreign Minister Tonio Borg as health commissioner. For those who missed this news here are extracts from the DPA story:

Maltese Foreign Minister Tonio Borg will be the European Union‘s new health commissioner, EU governments confirmed Wednesday, giving the appointment its final blessing. Borg, 55, will replace John Dalli, who resigned last month over claims he did nothing to stop an acquaintance from using his ties to ask a Swedish company for money to influence new EU tobacco rules.

Borg has vowed not to water down the rules, which he has identified as a priority and has said should be ready in January. Borg‘s nomination had proven controversial, after some EU parliamentarians raised concerns about his conservative views on abortion and homosexuality. He has pledged to abide by the EU‘s human rights charter, regardless of his personal views on social issues.

The story received more play from the Times of Malta and Malta Today, which ran a provocative second day story based upon an interview with a Swedish MEP.

Cecilia Wikström, the Liberal Swedish MEP who had dubbed Tonio Borg “a dinosaur that does not belong in our modern world” when the former foreign minister was nominated for the post of EU Commissioner, has reiterated her stand that Borg’s personal political standpoints did not make him fit for the post of health and consumers affairs policy Commissioner.

And these objectionable beliefs are?

“Borg is a very well known politician with a high education [who] would have been a fantastic leader of Europe a couple of decades ago,” Wikström said, pointing out that his conservative beliefs might put him at loggerheads with several aspects of his portfolio. “Had Borg’s portfolio been on something else, like fisheries, culture, higher education or even the internal market, he would have been a wonderful commissioner. “Since Borg’s portfolio deals with rights and the choices people make, I think this is going to be complicated for him,” Wikström said, mentioning as an example, sexual and reproductive health rights that would include the provision of safe and legal abortion for women.

Ms. Wikström, who also is a Lutheran minister, believes Borg’s Catholicism to be incompatible with government service, save in areas that don’t matter much like Fish & Agg.

The only mainstream English-language report on Borg’s appointment that I have seen that raises these questions was the New Scientist – the British science news weekly. Its article “Staunch conservative to be new EU health commissioner” framed the story around the objections to Borg’s Catholicism.

Borg is Catholic and is known for his conservative views on abortion, homosexuality and divorce. For example, he is a supporter of the Embryo Protection Act currently being debated in the Maltese parliament. If approved at the end of November, the bill will prevent experimentation on human embryos, ban egg and sperm donation, and prohibit the freezing of embryos for IVF procedures other than in a few special cases.

The article reported on the grilling MEPs gave to Borg during his confirmation hearings.

Some MEPs questioned Borg’s stance on abortion, recalling how he tried to incorporate the ban on abortion, even if the mother’s life is at risk, into Malta’s constitution. Borg replied: “The laws on abortion are a matter of national law… These are not matters within the competence of the Commission and the Union.”

But in the end Borg’s appointment was approved on a 386 to 281 with 28 abstentions. The New Scientist rounded out its story with comments from liberal MEPs who warned they would be watching Borg for signs his faith was influencing his job, and with comments from International Planned Parenthood and a stem cell researcher who said that:

“Although I do not dispute his technical skills, there is the risk that personal views, especially when radical in nature, will interfere with or slow down important projects which have already been endorsed by public opinion,” he says.

From the classical journalism perspective, the New Scientist story is incomplete. We have the back and forth between Borg and his critics, but the comments and critical observations offered that would give context are one-sided — Planned Parenthood and a stem cell researcher. Nothing is offered from those on the opposing side of the argument. That, however, is not a surprise, as the New Scientist’s reputation is one of being on the secular left — and I do not fault them for being true to their editorial line.

But from the mainstream media we have next to nothing. The wire services and the short BBC item do not do justice to the ethical issues at play. Part of the problem is the lack of space and resources. Not all stories can be covered and editors must pick and choose how they utilize their space on the page and their reporter’s time. However, I also believe there is an agreement in just about all newsrooms that the criticisms raised by the New Scientist are valid. This belief that religion belongs to the private sphere of life and is not welcome in the public square permeates the European press.

A response I hear from supporters of the secularist model runs along the lines of “If you want to hear a sermon go to church”, meaning the worlds of faith and news are so far apart that one should not trespass on the other. I do not agree. Incorporating faith or ethical issues into journalism is not proselytizing. It is being faithful to the dictates of honest fair and full reporting.

First printed in GetReligion.

Yousef Nadarkhani thanks Christians for their prayers: Anglican Ink, November 26, 2012 November 26, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Iran, Persecution.
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Yousef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor jailed sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam but released after an international protest campaign was in London this month to thank Christian Solidarity Worldwide for its advocacy on his behalf.

On 10 Nov 2012 Pastor Nadarkhani spoke to the For Such a Time as This conference through an interpreter thanking Christians in the West for their prayers and petitions on his behalf.  The following Sunday he preached at Holy Trinity Brompton in London, speaking to the plight of Christians in Iran.

He told the CSW conference his visit was an “opportunity for me to share about what the Lord did for me and to thank you because you supported me by your prayers, you supported my family in a very difficult time,” he said.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Church of Sweden backs Israel boycott campaign: Anglican Ink, November 21, 2012 November 22, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Church of Sweden, Israel, Politics.
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Archbishop Anders Wejryd addressing the Swedish Church Assembly on 21 Nov 2012

The Kyrkomötet  –  the Church Assembly of the Church of Sweden — has asked its government to support the Palestinian Authority’s bid for membership at the United Nations and called for a boycott of Israeli products manufactured in Judea and Samaria.

On 21 Nov 2012 the annual synod of Sweden’s state Lutheran church adopted a series of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel resolutions during its annual meeting in Uppsala.  A longtime critic of Israeli policies, the Kyrkomötet today also gave its backing the Kairos Palestine Document and called for Israel’s withdrawal from East Jerusalem and the “occupied” territories.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

What has God got to do with drones?: Get Religion, October 24, 2012 October 24, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Afghanistan, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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“It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,”a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.

So began Peter Arnett’s 8 Feb 1968 report from the town of Ban Tre. Published in the New York Times under the headline “Major Describes Move“, time has improved the quotation to various forms of “we had to destroy the village to save it”. Questions of the proportionality of  response to a threat have been present in war reporting from the start of the craft in the Nineteenth century to the present conflict in Afghanistan. However the questions raised by Peter Arnett have been debated for more than a millennium in the theological and philosophical speculations of “just war” theory.

The moral issues surrounding the use of unmanned drones has been been raised from time to time in the U.S. press and addressed by my colleague Mollie Hemingway on the pages of GetReligion. However, the European press has been particularly exercised over their use in the battle with the Taliban. Tuesday’s Guardian in London gave the issue the front page treatment in its story on the activation of an RAF squadron operating from Britain that will control drones flying over Afghanistan. However the Guardian approaches the issue of ethics without reference to religion.

The article entitled “UK to double number of drones in Afghanistan” begins:

The UK is to double the number of armed RAF “drones” flying combat and surveillance operations in Afghanistan and, for the first time, the aircraft will be controlled from terminals and screens in Britain.

In the new squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), five Reaper drones will be sent to Afghanistan, the Guardian can reveal. It is expected they will begin operations within six weeks. Pilots based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire will fly the recently bought American-made UAVs at a hi-tech hub built on the site in the past 18 months.

Details of the new squadron’s operations are discussed and then the story moves to the moral issues involved in the use of unmanned drone attacks.

The use of drones has become one of the most controversial features of military strategy in Afghanistan. The UK has been flying them almost non-stop since 2008.

The CIA’s programme of “targeted” drone killings in Pakistan’s tribal area was last month condemned in a report by US academics. The attacks are politically counterproductive, kill large numbers of civilians and undermine respect for international law, according to the study by Stanford and New York universities’ law schools.

After raising the moral issues, the Guardian steps back somewhat and dives into eight paragraphs of operational details before resurfacing with this statement.

The MoD insists only four Afghan civilians have been killed in its strikes since 2008 and says it does everything it can to minimise civilian casualties, including aborting missions at the last moment. However, it also says it has no idea how many insurgents have died because of the “immense difficulty and risks” of verifying who has been hit. …In December 2010, David Cameron claimed that 124 insurgents had been killed in UK drone strikes. But defence officials said they had no idea where the prime minister got the figure and denied it was from the MoD.

Let me start off by commending the Guardian‘s reporter for raising the moral issues surrounding the targeted killing of America and Britain’s enemies. A story published the same day in the Washington Post on the administration’s plans to create kill lists of enemies was silent on the moral issues — though it did mention that there had been legal challenges to the government’s use of drones to kill American citizens in enemy ranks. As an aside, I am surprised by the lack of outrage over the targeted killing program from the press. America has been down this road before. The Phoenix program in Vietnam sparked congressional hearings and a steady flow of moral outrage up through the Carter Administration.

Was it sufficient for the Guardian to put forward the objections of some American law school professors when raising the moral issues of drone warfare? There are any number of philosophers and theologians who could have offered cogent critiques of the morality of drone warfare — Britain’s smartest man, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has been outspoken in his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and has lectured on the issue of “just war” to military audiences. The choice of whom to quote, of course, lies with the author — but my sense of this story is that the religious element is outside the reporter’s knowledge. Ethics for the Guardian is not tied to religion.

This is, for me, is the journalism question in this story. There is an ethical ghost here — but what sort of ethical ghost, secular or religious?

The Christian tradition holds that morality without religion is impossible. There can be ethics without religion, but these ethics are necessarily incomplete or flawed. In his book Morality after Auschwitz, Peter Haas asked how Germany could have willingly participated in a state-sponsored program of genocide. His answer was that:

far from being contemptuous of ethics, the perpetrators acted in strict conformity with an ethic which held that, however difficult and unpleasant the task might have been, mass extermination of the Jews and Gypsies was entirely justified. . . . the Holocaust as a sustained effort was possible only because a new ethic was in place that did not define the arrest and deportation of Jews as wrong and in fact defined it as ethically tolerable and ever good.

If there is no God, there is no good and evil, no right and wrong, or as Fyodor Dostoyevsky said in the Brothers Karamazov, “If there is no immortality, then all things are permitted.”

Against this view we have philosophers and ethicists such as Prof. Peter Singer of Princeton University who have argued  “that an intellectually coherent ethic has to be independent of religion and that’s an argument that goes right back to Socrates and Plato.”

Whether unconsciously or by choice, the Guardian has come down on one side of this argument. There is no God.

For those of us who are unpersuaded that there can be right or wrong without a God, should it have provided the arguments of religious ethics when addressing morality? Or should we take another newspaper?

What say you GetReligion readers? How should intelligent journalism address this question?

First printed in GetReligion.

Romney on the Palestinian work ethic: Get Religion, July 31, 2012 July 31, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Press criticism.
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The elected Christian is in the world only to increase this glory of God by fulfilling His commandments to the best of his ability. … Brotherly love, … is expressed in the first place in the fulfillment of the daily tasks given. … This makes labor in the service of impersonal social usefulness appear to promote the glory of God and hence to be willed by him.

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism (1905/2002),pp. 108-9.

Reporters on the campaign trail have a difficult task. They must report faithfully on the words and actions of their subject — while at the same time rendering these words and actions interesting and intelligible to their readers. The two do not always go hand in hand as campaign handlers works very hard to make sure their candidate does not stray from a script, keeping “on message” at all times. It is a good day then, when a candidate says something new, interesting or controversial for it allows a good reporter to show his command of the craft.

The presumptive Republican Party presidential candidate has been taking some hits for comments made on his latest overseas tour. Some members of the press corp have been putting a bit of stick about in their coverage of Mitt Romney, characterizing his latest comments as insensitive gaffes. Romney is not ready for prime time is the song playing on the campaign radio right now.

A 30 July 2012 story in the Washington Post entitled “Romney faces Palestinian criticism for Jerusalem remarks as he heads to Poland” is representative of this style of reporting. But in their zeal to play gotcha with the Mittster and focus the criticisms, the five WaPo reporters credited on the story have overlooked ethical and religious ghosts that might well have made this a better piece. And what is better? Better is an article that peals away on campaign cant giving a fresh look into the mind of Mitt Romney.

Let me walk you through this story and show you what I mean. The lede begins:

JERUSALEM — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney angered Palestinian leaders on Monday when he suggested here that the Israeli economy has outpaced that of the Palestinian territories in part because of advantages of “culture.”

Palestinians said that Romney was ignoring long-running Israeli restrictions on crossings from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which are an enormous drag on commerce.

“All I can say is that this man needs a lot of education. He doesn’t know the region, he doesn’t know Israelis, he doesn’t know Palestinians, and to talk about the Palestinians as an inferior culture is really a racist statement,” Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said in an interview.

Though this appears in the domestic politics section of the Washington Post, the Post’s reporters have written a story about the opinions of second-tier Palestinian government officials. An accusation of racism is leveled at the top of the story by a Palestinian official in response to Romney’s comments on culture.

The article notes Romney’s  comments on the sharp economic disparity between Israel and Palestine and recounts the words that led to the racism charge. Citing a 1998 book by Harvard economics professor David Landes entitled “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” Romney said:

“Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference,” Romney said, repeating the conclusion he drew from the book, by David Landes. “And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.”

A decision was made by the authors of this narrative to enter the story through the door of response to comments. Why? As we go deeper into the article there are signs the Romney campaign were unhelpful. It moves to denials by the Romney campaign of any “attempt to slight the Palestinians.” The article did note that Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist, pushed his boss deeper into the mire: “Reporters pressed him to explain what Romney meant by ‘culture,’ but he declined to do so.”

The action shifts to Washington with comments from the Obama campaign and World Bank officials before it moves on to the next leg of Mitt’s overseas adventure. A diagram of the article’s content and perspective would be: Key Sentence: Romney is a racist Palestinian official claims — Palestinian quote — Romney quote — Romney campaign non-explanation — Obama response critical of Romney — Expert voice critical of Romney — Close as scene moves to Poland.

The Romney campaign appears to have been unhelpful and their man comes off badly from their actions. Yet what is also missing is an inquiry by the Post into Prof. David Landes and his book — which would go a long way toward answering the question of “what is culture?”.

And it is here was have the ethical and religious ghosts to this story for Landes’ book places great stress on the role of religion in economic development.

Two avenues of inquiry immediately present themselves — corruption and Islam. Is Mitt Romney saying that the Muslim culture of the Palestinian Authority is less conducive to economic advancement than the Jewish culture of Israel? Sociologists have been debating the role of religion and economic growth for over a century — most famously we have Max Weber’s “Protestant work ethic” thesis. The National Bureau of Economic Research released a paper last year entitled “Religious Identity and Economic Behavior” that found in the U.S. there were differences between the faith groups/denominations on their attitudes toward work.

We randomly vary religious identity salience in laboratory subjects to test how identity salience contributes to six hypothesized links from prior literature between religious identity and economic behavior. We find that religious identity salience makes Protestants increase contributions to public goods. Catholics decrease contributions to public goods, expect others to contribute less to public goods, and become less risk averse. Jews more strongly reciprocate as an employee in a bilateral labor market gift-exchange game.

While Islam did not play a part in this study, recent academic studies have sought to include the attitudes toward work in the Muslim world and define an  Islamic work ethic. Is the economic success of Israel due to its Jewish culture — and are the economic failures of the surrounding states tied to their Muslim cultures?

And then there is corruption. It is odd the Washington Post article would stress the economic disadvantages of the security check points and trot out an expert to say this is a cause of the problem — some commentators have taken this idea and rather foolishly run with it even further. Why I saw it is odd is that the World section of the Post has featured articles discussing the problem of corruption for the economic, social and political development of the Palestinian Authority. A March 2012 Palestine Public Opinion Poll identified corruption as a significant problem in the PA.

73% say there is corruption in the PA institutions in the West Bank while only 62% say there is corruption in the institutions of the dismissed government in the Gaza Strip. These percentages are similar to those obtained three months ago. In the context of the recent step by the PA in the West Bank to submit corruption cases to courts, we asked the public if it thinks the PA is serious about fighting corruption: 53% said it was serious and 43% said it was not serious.

Is corruption a Muslim problem or a Palestinian problem? I don’t think so. In my own work I have reported on the problems of corruption within the Christian churches of the Palestinian Authority, and have written dozens of stories over the years about corrupt and crooked bishops from the U.S. to Africa.

Also, please hear what I am not saying — I am not saying Israeli security measures do not have some degree of harm for the Palestinian Authority’s economy — I am saying that there are other factors involved that may play as great or a greater role.

And, I am also saying the Washington Post story missed an opportunity to tell us more about Mitt Romney. There is a hundred years of sharply contested scholarship on the intersection of religion and economic advancement. Given Romney’s Mormon faith and its pronounced views on this topic I would have thought that this area would be explored in any story on culture and the economy emanating from the campaign. What we have is a rather tired and predictable story that advances a silly claim by a Palestinian functionary and partisan campaign officials. It is not really worth the time it takes to read.

What say you Get Religion readers? Did the Post miss the story? Was it justified in playing “gotcha” in light of the apparent unhelpful Romney campaign? With five reporters on the story should it have cracked open the covers of the book that formed Romney’s thinking on nations and culture? Or, because I write about religion, do I see it everywhere? Was this really just a Romney gaffe story? Or, has the press decided the trip was a failure and hence everything that arose from it must be deemed a failure?

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock. First published in Get Religion.

Jewish leaders urge Synod to reject Palestine motion: The Church of England Newspaper, July 1, 2012 p 7. June 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Jewry, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Israel, Judaism.
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The Board of Deputies of British Jews has urged General Synod to reject a private member’s motion to endorse the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).

The chief executive of the Board of Deputies, Jon Benjamin told The Church of England Newspaper “there are many programmes and organisations seeking to promote tolerance and understanding, bringing both sides of the conflict together. EAPPI doesn’t claim to try to do that, but just focuses on the perceived iniquities of the Israelis — and by implication Jews abroad who support Israel.”

The first clause of the motion “Palestine and Israel” brought by Dr. John Drinnen of the Diocese of Hereford will ask synod to “affirm its support for: (a) The vital work of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), encouraging parishioners to volunteer for the programme and asking churches and synods to make use of the experience of returning participants.”

General Synod Paper 1874a states the EAPPI programme was established in 2002 at the request of the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem and its volunteers “spend about 3 months in Israel and the West Bank including East Jerusalem.”

“In Hebron they escort Palestinian girls to Cordoba School which lies between two Israeli settlements in the heart of this Palestinian town and the girls often suffer threats and attacks by extremist settlers on their way to and from school. Across the West Bank they monitor checkpoints at the separation barrier, where people queue for up to four hours every morning in order to get to work, school or hospital. The International Red Cross and UN humanitarian and human rights agencies rely on the statistical data and eyewitness accounts collected by the EAs at check points or house demolitions. Local people, say they feel safer, and that the world is watching, when they see EAs at work,” the paper said.

In a letter published in the Jewish Chronicle, Mr. Benjamin said Synod would be mistaken if it assumed the EAPPI was the “gold standard in dispassionate and fair reporting from the Holy Land.”

EAPPI’s “lack of balance” was “no mere oversight”, he argued. “The stated purpose of the EAPPI programme is to bear witness to hardships faced by Palestinians at checkpoints or caused by the security barrier,” but “to hear only those voices, and to compound these views further by meeting only Israelis on the political fringes, no effort is made to engage with ordinary Israelis or to appreciate their own aspirations for peace. Instead, they become inclined to a view that there can be no dialogue with Israel, except through boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

Dr. Drinnen did not respond to our request for comments but Ben White writing in the Electronic Intifada denounced the board’s comments as a “misrepresentation” and “smear” of the EAPPI. A spokesman for EAPPI told Mr. White that “EAPPI is surprised and disappointed at being described as ‘anti-Israel’ when we work closely with many respected Israeli NGOs.”

However, the independent Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor last year stated EAPPI was a “biased” organization that “presents a one-sided Palestinian narrative, participating in activities commemorating the Palestinian ‘Nakba’ (catastrophe) and promoting the ‘right of return’. The organization ignores terror attacks against Israelis and blames Israel for the conflict.”

“EAPPI consistently demonizes Israel, making accusations of ‘apartheid,’ ‘war crimes,’ and ‘Bantustans’.” NGO Monitor said, and was active in the boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel.

Mr. Benjamin told CEN there “clearly are hardships faced by Palestinians and they should be addressed,” but to “blame Israel alone is clearly absurd. The EAPPI methodology cannot fail to promote bias.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Pray for conversion of the Middle East, Jerusalem conference urges: The Church of England Newspaper, June 24, 2012 p 6. June 25, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Islam, Israel, Judaism.
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The Altar of Christ Church, Jerusalem

A conference of Middle Eastern Christians and Messianic Jews meeting in Jerusalem has pledged to work and pray for  the conversion of the Middle East through building the “kingdom of God” in the Middle East and fostering peace and harmony amongst Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Meeting from 7-12 May 2012 at Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem with a grant of support from the Israel Trust of the Anglican Church – a ministry of the CMJ — the “At the Crossroads” conference brought together more than seventy delegates from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Palestinian Authority, Cyprus, Armenia, Turkey, Europe and North America with worship and presentations in Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, Hebrew and English.

While the bulk of the conference was closed due to security concerns over Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) protests, two talks were opened to the public.

The Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White and Pastor Ali Pektash spoke to the power of conversion and reconciliation.   Pastor Pektash shared his conversion story also, stating that he had been a Muslim and while on pilgrimage to Mecca he had a dream where Jesus spoke to him – sparking his conversion to Christianity and a road that led to the ordained ministry.

The second public address was given by Taysir Abu Saada, author of Once an Arafat Man, who spoke to the power of Christ to reconcile enemies.  The love of God, he told the conference, allowed believers to rake risks crossing ethnic, political and religious divides “to work together to expand God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in this troubled and unstable region,” a statement from the conference reported.

Delegates adopted a six point statement that sought to evangelize the region, work towards piece between Christians, Muslims and Jews, to protect and advocate for persecuted Christian groups, to foster communications amongst the churches, and to “proclaim that ‘Egypt my people, Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance’ will indeed become a blessing in the midst of the earth.”

“It is all too easy for Christians in the Middle East to become ghettoized due to their minority status and the many ethnic and political divisions,” one conference organizer noted in an email to The Church of England Newspaper.

“Consequently we often fail to see how God is working in our midst. Our focus must extend beyond these conflicts and only the survival of existing Christian communities. Without ignoring the suffering and injustice in so many parts of our region, we should focus on the call of Jesus to expand God’s sovereignty by making disciples, recognizing the crucial role Jewish believers in Israel have in the Great Commission to bless their neighbors with the Good News,” the organizer said.

“ And equally so, the followers of Jesus in the surrounding nations have a unique role in helping Israel become part of the blessing that God intends for this region,” he added.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Foreign Office reports no govt persecution of Christians in the Sudan: The Church of England Newspaper, June 17, 2012 p 5. June 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan, House of Lords.
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Bishop Ezekiel Kondo of Khartoum and Archbishop Rowan Williams

The Foreign Office reports there is no evidence of an anti-Christian pogrom being waged by the National Islamic Front government in Khartoum.

In a written statement given in response to a question from the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Foreign Office Minister Lord Howell on 23 May 2012 said “We have no evidence that there is a state orchestrated campaign against Christians. However, recent rhetoric by government leaders on the north-south conflict has led to tension between communities and fear of attacks against South Sudanese in Sudan, many of whom are Christians.”

The government’s view of the conditions in Sudan is at odds with reports from Sudanese Christians and NGOs. Southern Christians living in the North were stripped of their Sudanese citizenship and are being expelled to the South, forcing hundreds of thousands into refugee settlement. In a 12 Oct 2011 speech to university students in Khartoum, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan stated: “Ninety-eight percent of the people are Muslims and the new constitution will reflect this. The official religion will be Islam and Islamic law the main source [of the constitution]. We call it a Muslim state.”

Last year Bishop Ezekiel Kondo of Khartoum reported that in his home province, South Kordifan, now on the Khartoum government’s side of the border between North and South, the Islamist government was engaged in the religious cleansing of the province, driving Christian Nuba across the border and burning the region’s principle town of Abyei.

The violence prompted a statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. “Numerous villages have been bombed. More than 53,000 people have been driven from their homes. The new Anglican cathedral in Kadugli has been burned down,” Dr. Williams reported, adding that “many brutal killings are being reported.”

However in his statement to Parliament last month, the minister said the British government was “very concerned by a recent attack on a church in Khartoum, although there was no evidence of state involvement. We welcome the announcement from the Ministry of Religious Guidance and Endowments of an investigation into the incident and urge them to ensure this enquiry is thorough, independent and timely. We continue to remind the Government of Sudan of their obligation to protect all of their civilians, including those in religious groups.”

In response to a second question from Bishop Peter Prince concerning the disputed border provinces, Lord Howell said the British government had pressed both sides to come to the negotiating table.

“We are also encouraging the Government in Sudan to put in place a political process of constitutional reform that will address the needs and views of all its people, including those in the conflict affected states of Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei,” Lord Howell said.

In May 2011, the Sudanese army occupied Abyei following a three-day clash with South Sudanese troops. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that a dispute over who could vote in the independence referendum in the state led to the clashes. Sudan had argued that the Miseriya, a nomadic northern tribe that roam into Abyei in order to feed and water their livestock, should be included in the referendum, while South Sudan maintained that only the Ngok Dinka people who reside in Abyei should participate.

After the Sudanese Army entered the province, approximately 130,000 Ngok Dinka residents were displaced to the south and forced to seek assistance from aid agencies. Last week Sudan agreed to honour UN Security Council Resolution 2046 and pulled its troops out of Abyei.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said his organization welcomed the troop withdrawal. But the resumption of peace talks “must not be allowed to obscure the Sudanese government’s responsibility for the creation of humanitarian crises not only in Abyei, but also in Darfur and most recently, in the Nuba Mountains, where access is being denied to a civilian population that is deliberately targeted by the military and faces imminent starvation.”

Lord Howell told Parliament the UK has worked hard to “ensure United Nations Security Council Resolution 2046, which supports the roadmap, dealt with Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State under a Chapter VII mandate.”

“We continue to remind the Government of Sudan of their obligation to protect civilians and allow humanitarian access to both states. I welcomed the news that South Sudan have withdrawn their remaining security forces from Abyei on 11 May, and we now urge the Sudanese security forces to do the same,” the minister said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Iranian truths, Iranian lies: Get Religion April 19, 2012 April 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Bahá’í, Get Religion, Iran, Islam, Press criticism.
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called upon Iran last week not to proceed with its nuclear weapons program, warning that deployment of atomic weapons by Teheran would destabilize the Middle East, a story prepared by AFP reported.

Speaking at a dinner in Norfolk, Virginia Mrs. Clinton was quoted as saying:

There is no clear path. We know that a nuclear-armed Iran would be incredibly destabilizing to the region and beyond. A conflict arising out of their program would also be very destabilizing

The story continues in this vein: further warnings from the West, denials from Iran and so forth. It is rather a snooze in that this story has been written several dozen times before. I wrote a few of these for the Jerusalem Post at one time — but the Secretary of State was Condoleezaa Rice. Times, words and speakers change, but the same messages have been offered up by Obama and Bush Administration speakers.

What has this to do with GetReligion’s mandate? Where’s the hook, you ask? It comes towards the close of the story which the Telegraph entitled “Hillary Clinton warns nuclear-armed Iran would be ‘destabilising’.”

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in February that possession of a nuclear bomb “constitutes a major sin” for Iran, reiterating a fatwa – or religious edict – that he made in 2005.

Clinton revealed that she has been studying Khamenei’s fatwa, saying that she has discussed it with religious scholars, other experts and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“If it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then it is a starting point for being operationalised,” Clinton said in Norfolk.

As this was a wire service story that reported a speech given by the Secretary of State, the opportunities for AFP to develop the leads offered by Mrs. Clinton’s words are slight. However, I would have expected the Telegraph to have investigated this fatwa, which Commentary magazine called a “ruse” that had bought the Iranians five more weeks to develop the bomb.

Neither was the editor-in-chief of the London-based Arab newspaper, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat,  impressed by the U.S. government’s study of the fatwa. In an editorial entitled “The Security Council for Fatwas,” Tariq Alhomayed hammered Iran and stated Mrs. Clinton was naive and out of her depth —- not knowing that in Islam a believer may follow the principle of taqiyya to lie when facing danger.

it is absurd to talk about an Iranian fatwa when negotiating with Tehran, for countries – like individuals – have reputations and histories that cannot be ignored, therefore the reputation of a bad country, like the reputation of a bad individual, is not based on statements or fatwas, but rather past deeds! Therefore, when US Secretary of State Clinton talks about the Iranian fatwa, we can be certain that she has not heard about Iranian taqiyya [the practice of precautionary dissimulation emphasized in Shiite Islam whereby adherents may conceal their religion when under threat]!

… the claim that we can rely on a fatwa that prohibits the possession of nuclear weapons, reminds us of the famous Arab proverb: “the thief was asked to swear [his innocence], and he swore [falsely] and said “yes, this is the way out [of the predicament]!” If this fatwa is one of the merits of dialogue with Iran, then by God we are truly facing a disaster in the region!

I’ve written about the practice of taqiyya in GetReligion before, and have noted the Western press’s seeming inability to comprehend this practice. It may not matter in the great scheme of things if the Telegraph or the New York Times is unaware, or loathe to report on taqiyya. But when governments are clueless — that spells trouble.

As an aside, I had been thinking about the general question of fatwas before I read this article — and perhaps I chose it for that reason. A contact in Pakistan sent me a copy of a fatwa released by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that called upon Muslims to combat the Baha’i faith. My friend (an Anglican bishop in Pakistan) translated the letter, written on stationary from Khamenei’s office, as saying:

In the name of God All members of the Baha’i cult are guilty as being infidels and are regarded as “Najes” (an Islamic term for being inherently unclean/dirty), thus people are advised to avoid proximity in food and other things because of their contagious nature and it is paramount that the believers combat the schemes and devious nature of this misled cult.

I mention this in that the author of this Baha’i fatwa is the author of the no-nukes fatwa.

A wire service story is almost always limited by space and written for a general audience. I cannot fault AFP for not developing Mrs. Clinton’s remarks. But it would have improved the story tremendously, changing it from just another in a list of worthy diplomatic stories (a polite phrase for tedious) if the press had asked some questions. Mrs. Clinton consulted religious scholars: which ones? She spoke with the prime minister of Turkey: what did he, an Islamist, tell her? What is the weight of a fatwa from Khamenei? Is he credible? Is it comparable to a papal encyclical that must be followed, or is it an earnest wish? What is the implication of a London-based Saudi-backed newspaper saying taqiyya is something “those Shi’ites” do?

It is a shame that these angles were not addressed in the news sections, but only picked up in opinion pieces.

This a classical example of a religion ghost. The outward subject is nuclear proliferation. But the DNA of this story is one of religious restraint over the production and use of nuclear weapons.

Perhaps the author was a aware of the concept of taqiyya, but chose not to address the subject? In Western eyes taqiyya is inherently dishonorable. Yet how does one report upon this subject through Western eyes in a Western newspaper without loosing sight of the cultural and religious environment that produced a moral teaching that holds that the ends justify the means and that lying can be a moral good? Is this even a fair question?

What say you GetReligion readers?

Addendum: MEMRI reports that the no-nukes fatwa never existed — it was a propaganda ruse by the Iranian government. Curiouser and curiouser.

First printed in GetReligion.

Conservative applause for Katharine Jefferts Schori: The Church of England Newspaper, April 13, 2012 p 7. April 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Israel, The Episcopal Church.
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Conservative groups in the United States have applauded Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s rejection of divestment from Israel, saying they hope her words guide the churches’ debates on boycotting Israel.

In a 25 March 2012 speech in Los Angeles, Bishop Jefferts Schori stated “the Episcopal Church does not endorse divestment or boycott.”  She told those attending a “Middle East Peacemakers” luncheon that “a two-state solution with a dignified home for Palestinians and for Israelis” and for “deeper engagement, people of different traditions eating together, listening to each other’s stories” was the way forward for peace in the region.

“It’s not going to be helpful to endorse divestment or boycotts of Israel. It will only end in punishing Palestinians economically,” the presiding bishop said.

The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani told the luncheon that he hoped Anglicans would continue to show their solidarity with their compatriots in Israel and Palestine.  Building Christian institutions was a major goal of the diocese, he said, as “we are losing so many young families and young people who leave and look for a better future outside our land,” the bishop said.

Jerusalem must “remain open for all,” the Bishop said, adding, “We need your support to work for peace and justice.”

Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East, a pro-Israel lobbying group, applauded the Presiding Bishop’s comments.

“We are totally supportive of Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori,” said the Rev. Bruce Chilton, Professor of Religion at Bard College and Fair Witness Executive Committee member.  “Fair Witness has long held that if the American Church can play a role in ending the occupation and bringing peace to this region it will be by helping to build up a viable sovereign Palestinian state through economic investment, while simultaneously avoiding boycott and divestment to allay the parties’ fear and distrust so they can find their way back to the negotiating table and a just two-state solution.”

“Prophetic Christian peacemaking is not a particularly easy venture,” he said, noting that “far too often we fall into the trap of simplistic blame casting, accusing either the Palestinians or the Israelis of not wanting peace and seeking to punish whichever party we perceive to be in the wrong.  But that approach only hardens leaders on both sides and makes it less likely that they will take the brave step of returning to the negotiating table and making the necessary compromises.”

“I am pleased and proud to see my church take such a highly principled and productive stand,” Dr Chilton said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church plea for the MeK: The Church of England Newspaper, March 2, 2012, p 3. March 7, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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Camp Liberty

The Archbishop of Armagh and six bishops of the Church of England have endorsed a public letter printed in the Guardian last week calling for the government to forestall a tragedy in Iraqi, as the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki begins moving 3,400 Iranian political refugees from their home in Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty – “a new base that amounts to nothing more than a prison.”

Archbishop Alan Harper, joined by the Bishops of Bath & Wells, St. Albans, Oxford, Gibraltar, Stepney and Hull, along with the former Bishop of Oxford Lord Harries, leaders of the bar, members of Parliament and senior academics, stated Camp Liberty “is to be surrounded by a 4m-high wall, its residents will not have freedom of movement inside or outside the camp or access to their lawyers and family members, while sanitation, water and eating facilities are limited.”

The signatories to the 23 February 2012 letter said that they had “watched in horror” the refugees’ treatment at the hands of the Iraqi government and were concerned for their safety.

The Iraqi government has stated it will move the Iranian exiles, members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MeK) to Camp Liberty by April 2012.  The MeK, allies of Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iraq war, is considered a terrorist organization by Iran and its members subject to arrest and imprisonment.

Following the U.S.-led conquest of Iraq in 2003, MeK members living in Iraq acquired “protected persons” status.  However as coalition forces withdrew from Iraq and the regime strengthened its ties with Iran, tensions mounted such that in April 2011 Iraqi troops attacked Camp Ashraf killing 34 and injuring 325.

Baghdad signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UN in December 2011 agreeing to transfer the MeK to a temporary transit facility where United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would begin the process of their resettlement outside of Iraq.

However, the MeK members sent to Camp Liberty have been subject to police surveillance, harassment from members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and poor living conditions.  The open letter called upon government and the UN to “stand by the Camp Ashraf residents and protect their internationally recognised rights” and not “merely watch the Iraqi PM make a mockery of the UN and the principles it stands for.”

Government foreign policy isn’t working Clare Short claims: The Church of England Newspaper, March 2, 2012 p 3. March 7, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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A “fair” foreign policy coupled with aid was a moral duty, Clare Short, told a meeting at Ripon Cathedral last week.  And it was also the “intelligent” thing to do the former Secretary of State for International Development and Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood said in the first of this year’s St. Wilfred lectures on the theme of “Questions of Right and Wrong – the role of faith in contemporary society”.

In her 23 Feb 2012 talk, Ms. Short addressed the question “Aid – moral duty or national self interest?”  She opened her talk by asserting that giving aid was often a cloak for poor foreign policy choices.  “What is in our ‘intelligent self interest’ in a safer, more sustainable world which will be a better place for everyone, for all our grandchildren, is also what is morally right.”

“By the time New Labour got to Iraq, and the disgraceful air traffic control British Aerospace sale to Tanzania that was authorized by the British government, and the disgraceful Saudi Arms deals, that you could say there was all this ‘dirty stuff’ going on over here but we could say ‘oh we’ve got a lovely development policy over here’, and then something’s going wrong with morality. Because if you are using [aid] to camouflage other behaviour that is completely questionable then that’s not a moral outlook and I don’t believe that it is an intelligent self-interested outlook either.”

“What is morally right and what is in our intelligent self-interest is the same thing,” Ms. Short argued.

Britain was “on the wrong track in its foreign policy,” she claimed, stating that it had “made some good moves in its development policy – but you can’t be doing the wrong thing over here and the right thing over there, and then say we ‘belong with the sheep rather than with the goats’.”

“And if you won’t change that strategy for moral reasons, then the equivalent, perhaps, of ‘burning in hell for all time’ would be to see that ugly, divided, conflict- ridden world of suffering where we have to draw a circle round ourselves and try to protect ourselves from the turbulence and trouble that will otherwise come upon us,” the former minister argued.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Archbishop returns from private tour of Israel: The Church of England Newspaper, February 10, 2012 p 6. February 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of Canterbury met with Anglican, Muslim, Druse and Jewish leaders last week during a private tour of Israel and the West Bank, returning on Feb 2 in time for the start of General Synod.

The Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani reports that Dr. Williams met with the Chief Rabbis of Israel, Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar in Jerusalem, Muslim and Druse leaders at St Margaret’s Guest House in Nazareth, and the heads of the Christian Churches in Jerusalem.  Dr. Williams and his party also toured Jericho, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Dr. Williams’ tour demonstrated the “importance of constructive dialogue and co-existence between all religions,” the diocese said, as well as the need to “consolidate the peace process between the people of this region.”

The archbishop and his party pilgrims also visited St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in the village of Zababida in the northern West Bank and met with the mayor and the governor of Jenin.

Idealism and Italian Taxes: Get Religion, February 16, 2012 February 16, 2012

Posted by geoconger in EU, Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism.
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Plans to end property tax exemptions for the Catholic Church are one of the top stories in the Italian press this morning. On 15 Feb 2012 Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti released a statement saying he will introduce legislation requiring the Catholic Church to pay taxes on all its commercial properties.

Reporting on church – state issues is hard enough for American newspapers, covering overseas disputes is near impossible for most. The amount of information needed to bring a reader up to speed before he can appreciate the issues often serves to prevent a story from every being written.

The only English-language story I’ve seen on this breaking news item comes from Bloomberg BusinessWeek. It does a fair job of summarizing the facts, but is unable to give the story any context. Which will likely mean that this story will be given a pass by U.S. editors. That would be a shame.

Some GetReligion comments have argued that the effort in reporting overseas religion stories is not worth expending. They follow the Neville Chamberlain line.  Speaking of the need to appease Hitler in the face of his demands for the Sudetenland the prime minister told the House of Commons:

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.

No trenches here, but how much time should the U.S. press devote to a religion story from a far-away country and about a conflict of which we know nothing?

But lets put a stopper in the philosophical bottle and turn to the story … The key points from Bloomberg are:

The church currently pays property tax only on buildings designated as “purely commercial,” based on an Italian law originating 20 years ago and extended in 2006. The wording is ambiguous when it comes to clinics that have a chapel or monasteries that offer bed and breakfast accommodation.

The Catholic Church owns about 100,000 properties in Italy, a third of which are commercial, according to the Italian Radical Party, which historically has challenged the church.

Bloomberg offered this background detail explaining the prime minister’s announcement.

Following a complaint by the Radical Party, European Union regulators opened a probe in 2010 into Italian tax breaks on real estate granted to the Catholic Church, saying they may distort competition.

The outcome of the investigation will be made public by next month and if the decision goes against Italy, the EU could order the country to pay a fine and to demand that the church reimburse the government for unpaid taxes of the last five years, the secretary of the Radical Party, Mario Staderini, said in an interview in Rome on Dec. 21.

Does this tell the full story? Reading the Bloomberg report by itself one would miss some key issues and perhaps draw some false conclusions. The Radical Party’s request for EU intervention arose from its belief that the state’s policy of not taxing church property was anti-competitive. It gave the church an unfair advantage by reducing its costs and allowing it to undercut its commercial competitors — or serves as a form of state subsidy to the church.

The Italian press agrees the church should pay property taxes on commercial real estate — which is somewhat extraordinary. The great fun of the Italian press is that it offers a Rorschach test of the Italian psyche. All of the newspapers are working from the same inkblot, but they see different things emerging from the darkness.

The moderate middle is pleased the Catholic Church is paying its fair share. It also hopes this announcement will silence the perpetually aggrieved anti-Catholic left. A front page article entitled “Ici, svolta sui benne della Chiesa” in La Stampa, (the Turin-based newspaper has the largest circulation in Italy and is center-right in its politics) stated the Church:

is responding cautiously in courtly style .. while the antiecclesiastica (anti-clericalists) are satisfied even though the measure will not be complete as many had hoped.

However La Stampa notes that some of the criticisms and claims from the left are simplistic as there is no one entity known as the church that owns property.

Arriving at a revenue figure from church owned properties is a very complex task. The properties are owned by a galaxy of legal entities different, ranging from dioceses to congregations, religious orders to the Italian property of the Vatican itself.

Writing about this controversy in January before the prime minister’s announcement, the Guardian took a different line, likening the tax exemption to tax avoidance. What do you think of this opening?

It has long been regarded as more of a national sport than a misdemeanour. And it has long benefited from the seemingly boundless indulgence of the Italian Roman Catholic church.

But now the head of the Italian bishops’ conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, has unambiguously declared that “evading taxes is a sin”. He called for “serious, effective and relentless” action against tax dodgers.

The cardinal’s remarks are a boost to the technocratic government of Mario Monti, which is running a high-profile drive to root out evasion as it struggles to eliminate Italy’s budget deficit and start paying back the country’s €1.9tn (£1.6tn) public debt.

Among those often accused of avoidance, if not evasion, is the church itself. Its premises are exempt from property tax.

This is comically bad and plays into national stereotypes. Those eye-ties are all crooks at heart, the Guardian tells us.

Avvenire, the newspaper owned by the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference (CEI), notes that many newspapers seem to have missed the point that this new law applies to all non-profits — not just the Catholic Church.

… it should be remembered for the umpteenth time, this category [tax exempt institutions] is not identical with the Catholic Church, it includes properties of faiths who have registered with the the state and extends to all non-profit entities. Without this necessary clarification (that often the media tends to “forget” as happened yesterday), they will want to read the full official statement …

With regard to exemption from local property reserved for all non-commercial entities the Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance, Mario Monti, told the European Commission Vice President, Joaquin Almunia, that it intends to present to Parliament an amendment to further clarify and define the question.

Avvenire argued the “real news” from the prime minister’s announcement was that the government was going to introduce a:

mechanism tied to strict guidelines established by the Minister of Economy and Finance to the identify the proportional relationship between commercial and noncommercial activities performed within the same building.

The official line was offered by Msgr. Domenico Pompili.

We look for the exact wording of the text so that they can express a detailed opinion. … As has been stated several times, and most recently by the President of the CEI, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, any intervention aimed to introduce clarifications to the existing formulas will be received with the utmost care and responsibility.

One must also look to the reason for the exemptions, Msgr. Pomili said, adding we “hope the state takes into account the social value of the vast world of nonprofits.

So where is the problem? The Bloomberg story is correct, but the Catholic newspaper would say that it missed the point that not-for-profits in Italy are not the same thing as the Catholic Church — and that they are willing to pay their fair share. The Catholic argument that the church provides social services — and that was one of the reasons the tax exempt law was introduced twenty years ago — is also missing.

But these surface issues don’t speak to the question of the relationship between church and state. The European Union is intervening in Italy (at the request of one Italian political party) to re-order the relationship between the state and the Catholic Church. EU values and EU law trumps Italian values and Italian law.

What does this intervention mean for established churches — like the Church of England, the Church of Greece, the Church of Sweden et al? What does this mean for the individual believer when transnational entities have supremacy over the political aspects of his life in issues ranging from abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, or immigration. How far can the EU go to press its agenda on individual states?

And then there is the question of idealism in reporting. Should newspapers concern themselves with the happenings of people very far away debating issues of which we know nothing? Is knowledge of the wider world a form of Orientalism — as defined by Edward Said — where we safe at home can view the doings of the other with detached amusement? Or are there universal themes or norms played out in the world which are relevant to us — even if they take place in the back of the beyond? Or, as the Guardian might put it, what more could we expect from Italians and Catholics?

What say you GetReligion readers?

Basilica of St. Peter photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

First printed in Get Religion.

Council of Europe assemby calls for ban on euthansia: The Church of England Newspaper, February 3, 2012, p 7. February 10, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Church of England Newspaper, EU.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has called for its member states to ban euthanasia.

On 25 January 2012 the Strasbourg-based assembly adopted resolution 1859/2012 entitled “Protecting human rights and dignity by taking into account previously expressed wishes of patients” to establish principles governing living wills and advance directives in Europe.

A living will or advance directives is a legal document endorsed by an individual when they are of sound mind that sets out their wishes relating to a medical intervention or treatments, should they not be able to express their wishes at the time of the intervention.

In debating the measure, MPs argued that living wills had been abused in some cases to permit euthanasia.  PACE adopted a series of guidelines to govern the crafting of the documents and adopted the resolution stating: “Euthanasia, in the sense of the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit, must always be prohibited.”

The Assembly also recommended “that the Committee of Ministers [the 47 national ambassadors in Strasbourg] bring the Resolution to the attention of member states, with a request for implementation.”

While PACE has no authority to bind member states, including the U.K., its decisions guide the deliberations of the European Court of Human Rights, which is scheduled to review the case of Koch v. Germany, where the court will review Germany’s ban on assisted suicide. In 2011 the ECHR ruled in Haas v. Switzerland that the European Convention of Human Rights did not create a right to suicide.  In light of last week’s resolution, the court will be asked to decide whether suicide and euthanasia is a violation per se of the right to life guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights.

Dr Grégor Puppinck, Director of the European Centre for Law and Justice – a pro-life pressure group – stated “this resolution is a clear indication that the growing majority of Europeans is opposed to euthanasia.”

The “many abuses” occurring in states such as Holland which permit euthanasia are “alarming and constitute violations of true human rights,” he claimed.

Dr. Puppinck urged those European States that have legalized euthanasia to conform their laws to the “principles set forth by the PACE.”

Lambeth meeting for Mahmoud Abbas: The Church of England Newspaper, January 18, 2012 January 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Israel.
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Dr. Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace on 17 Jan 2012 : Photo - Marcin Mazur, CCN.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The President of the Palestinian Authority has met with leaders of the Christian Churches of Britain in London following his talks with the British government over the stalled Middle East peace process.

The meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and Dr. Rowan Williams comes at a nadir in Anglo-Israeli relations and on the same day the Israeli Foreign Ministry chided Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as being grossly “ill informed” about the conflict in the Middle East.

According to a statement released after the 17 Jan 2012, President Abbas told the church leaders that Israel and the Palestinians must resume peace talks.  The Arab Spring provided a “rare opportunity” to bring peace to the region, the Palestinian leader said.

President Abbas and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams were joined by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool Patrick Kelly and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland David Arnott in the private meeting at Lambeth Palace.

Dr. Williams said the British church leaders “continue to share the hopes of the Palestinian leadership for a lasting and just peace in the Holy Land, and we pray for the courage on all sides to break the current deadlock.”

He noted that “young people in Israel and in the Palestinian territories long for justice and stability and they must not be let down. We were deeply grateful to President Abbas for taking time to share with us his concerns and aspirations” Dr. Williams said.

Archbishop Kelly, who last week travelled with other Catholic bishops to Israel and Palestine to meet with Christian leaders, said “we witnessed the effects of occupation and insecurity on the people of this land. There is an urgent need for strong and creative leadership in order to address the core issues of this long conflict.”

On 17 Jan, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told the Israel Hayom newspaper that Mr. Clegg’s accusation that Israel was carrying out “deliberate vandalism” by building settlements in disputed territories was “gratuitous and ill informed.”

The Deputy Prime Minister’s comments served to harm the peace process as it would allow the Palestinians to continue to refuse to negotiate or compromise.

At a London press conference on 16 Jan, Mr. Clegg standing alongside Mr. Abbas said: “The continued existence of illegal settlements risks making facts on the ground such that a two-state solution becomes unviable.”

“That, in turn, will do nothing to safeguard the security of Israel itself or of Israeli citizens. That is why I condemn the continued illegal settlement activity in the strongest possible terms,” he added.

Speaking through a translator, President Abbas told reporters, “This is exactly what we wanted to hear officially from the government of the United Kingdom.”

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians had no interest in resuming peace talks. “For the last three years, the Palestinians have refused to enter negotiations, thinking they could impose preconditions upon us,” the Israeli press reported Mr. Netanyahu telling Israeli lawmakers at closed parliamentary committee meeting.

“The Palestinians have no interest in entering peace talks. I’m ready to travel now to Ramallah to start peace talks with Abu Mazen [Abbas], without preconditions. But the simple truth is that Abu Mazen is not ready.”

Acceptable lies and the New York Times: Get Religion, December 23, 2011 December 24, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Israel, Press criticism.
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The New York Times has an extraordinary article that extols the virtues of lying and doublespeak in a recent “Memo from Jerusalem.” Well, you might ask, what of it? How does a dodgy story on the Arab-Israeli conflict fall within the ambit of GetReligion? What is the religion/journalism hook you ask?

To which I respond: lying is a sin or bad manners or ethically challenged behavior from a Western perspective. Lying is not always a sin in Islam — that is to say lying to non-Muslims is not a sin, bad manners or ethically challenged behavior. The Times ties itself in knots trying to excuse lying by the Palestinians, even going so far as to raise instances of Israelis behaving badly. However, the moral equivalence argument expressed in the Times-patented insouciant world-weary tone, which holds that as both sides are dissemblers we should not cast aspersions, does not work here.

Ignorance of Islamic moral standards, or perhaps the reluctance to raise the precept of taqiyya has placed the Times in the position of endorsing cant.

Take a look at this 20 Dec 2011 article entitled “Finding Fault in the Palestinian Messages That Aren’t So Public.” The editorial voice of the story states that news agencies that translate into English the statements made in Arabic by Palestinian leaders are doing a disservice to the cause of peace.

The Times argues that statements in English that are tailored to a Western audience by Palestinian leaders that speak of peace and reconciliation should not be juxtaposed against by statements made in Arabic by the same Palestinian leaders to their constituencies that call for the destruction of Israel and death to Jews.

The article begins by observing that:

A new book by an Israeli watchdog group catalogs dozens of examples of messages broadcast by the Palestinian Authority for its domestic audience that would seem at odds with the pursuit of peace and a two-state solution.

This claim is “not new” the Times notes. As:

For years, many Israeli and Palestinian analysts have said that what Palestinian leaders tell their own people in their own language — as opposed to English-language statements tailored to opinion in the rest of the world — is the truest reflection of their actual beliefs. This has had the effect of further entrenching the sides to the conflict and undermining confidence that it can ever be resolved.

Let’s stop and think about what the Times has just said. It is true, the article concedes, that Palestinian political leaders are saying one thing to the West and another to their own people. The lede sentence in the story soft peddles the results of this lying: it “would seem at odds” with the peace process. However, the follow up sentence states this explicitly: it has had “the effect of further entrenching” Palestinian revanchist views.

The article quotes one of the lead authors of the study on Palestinian media doublespeak on why this is problematic, but the story then pivots with a sentence that sets the theme and context of the article.

Some Israelis struggle with the practice of monitoring the Palestinian news media, acknowledging the importance of knowing what is being said in Arabic, yet disturbed by how its dissemination is exploited by those not eager to see Israel make concessions.

The article offers examples of this doublespeak, but then introduces contrary Israeli and Palestinian voices that criticize the book. This criticism, however, is not that the results of the study are untrue, but that these truths are inconvenient to the political agenda of the Israeli left, which the Times also conflates as being co-equal to the cause of peace.

The Times then offers its critque.

Some of the examples publicized by the Israeli monitoring group are old ones that have been repeated over the years, and some of its interpretations are arguable.

A Palestinian critique is offered.

“This is not a serious attempt to solve the problem of incitement,” said Ghassan Khatib, the spokesman for the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank. Mr. Khatib said that the authority had significantly reduced the level of incitement on the Palestinian side in recent years. “The question is,” he said, “are the Israelis improving or reversing in this regard?”

And the story concludes with voices from the Israeli left.

“There is peace making and there is peace building,” said Itamar Rabinovich, who served as Israel’s chief negotiator with Syria and as Israel’s ambassador in Washington, explaining why the contentious messages in Arabic are so damaging. The lack of peace building, he said, is part of the failure of the Oslo peace process that began with accords signed in 1993 but has not yet produced a Palestinian state.

In one of the most egregious examples of Palestinian doublespeak, Yasir Arafat spoke in a mosque in South Africa in May 1994, only months after the signing of the Oslo accords, and called on the worshipers “to come and to fight and to start the jihad to liberate Jerusalem.”

As the ambassador to Washington at the time, Mr. Rabinovich said he found himself in the awkward position of having to explain to anyone who would listen that jihad, usually translated as holy war, could also mean a spiritual struggle, in order to justify continuing the peace process.

Still, he said, it is not by chance that those focusing on Palestinian incitement and publicizing it are “rightist groups who use it as ammunition.”

Where is the religion hook then? It comes in the form of a religion ghost — meaning that there is a religion element to this story that is omitted. And this omission is crucial, I believe, in understanding the story.

As it is written, the Times piece is a defense of sophistry and comes across as being morally dubious at best. By excusing the doublespeak the Times engages in the “soft bigotry of low expectations” — to quote a favorite of its editorial board, President George W. Bush. It belittles those who expose this duplicity by arguing that truth telling will block a two-state solution.

Are the Palestinians masters of moral duplicity then, as the Times would have us believe? Or are they acting according to the lights of their own moral and ethical system?

Writing in the Winter edition of the Middle East Quarterly, Raymond Ibrahim discusses the concept of dissimulation [taqiyya] in Shia and Sunni ethics.

While the Qur’an is against believers deceiving other believers—for “surely God guides not him who is prodigal and a liar”— deception directed at non-Muslims, generally known in Arabic as taqiyya, also has Qur’anic support and falls within the legal category of things that are permissible for Muslims.

Ibrahim explains that Shia communities living as minorities in Sunni areas were permitted to dissemble about their religion in order to avoid persecution. But among the Sunni community,

… far from suffering persecution have, whenever capability allowed, waged jihad against the realm of unbelief; and it is here that they have deployed taqiyya—not as dissimulation but as active deceit. In fact, deceit, which is doctrinally grounded in Islam, is often depicted as being equal—sometimes superior—to other universal military virtues, such as courage, fortitude, or self-sacrifice.

Palestinian leaders have used taqiyya in their war with Israel. In an incident dismissed in the Times article as being “old” news, Ibrahim reports on a speech by Yasser Arafat that offers an example of this strategy.

More recently, and of great significance for Western leaders advocating cooperation with Islamists, Yasser Arafat, soon after negotiating a peace treaty criticized as conceding too much to Israel, addressed an assembly of Muslims in a mosque in Johannesburg where he justified his actions: “I see this agreement as being no more than the agreement signed between our Prophet Muhammad and the Quraysh in Mecca.”  In other words, like Muhammad, Arafat gave his word only to annul it once “something better” came along—that is, once the Palestinians became strong enough to renew the offensive and continue on the road to Jerusalem.

The implications of this way of thinking offend Western sensibilities, Ibrahim writes.

Yet most Westerners continue to think that Muslim mores, laws, and ethical constraints are near identical to those of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Naively or arrogantly, today’s multiculturalist leaders project their own worldview onto Islamists, thinking a handshake and smiles across a cup of coffee, as well as numerous concessions, are enough to dismantle the power of God’s word and centuries of unchanging tradition. The fact remains: Right and wrong in Islam have little to do with universal standards but only with what Islam itself teaches—much of which is antithetical to Western norms.

What then are we to make of this story about Palestinian doublespeak? The Times concedes it exists, but down plays its importance and gives prominence of place in its article to those who see the exposure of lies as being harmful to the cause of peace.

Would ascribing all divergence between what the Palestinian leaders say to the West and what they tell their own people to taqiyya answer the questions raised in this story? Or does cant play a role in any of this? What say you GetReligion readers?

But where ever the line may be found between lying to advance the faith and cant, the omission of this religion element to the story by the Times does a disservice to its readers.

First printed in GetReligion.

Arab Spring a security threat to Britain, Defence Chief warns: The Church of England Newspaper, December 23, 2011 p 6. December 23, 2011

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General Sir David Richards

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Arab Spring could lead to outbreaks of Islamist unrest in Britain, the Chief of the Defence Staff has warned.

In a lecture given to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on 14 December 2011,General Sir David Richards said radicalization born of the regime changes across the Middle East might well pose a domestic security threat for the U.K.

However, the collapse of the euro was Britain’s most immediate danger.  “I am clear that the single biggest strategic risk facing the UK today is economic rather than military,” Sir David said.

“This is why the eurozone crisis is of such huge importance,” he said, as “no country can defend itself if bankrupt.”

In his year in review address to the RUSI, the defence chief highlighted Britain’s strategic risks and opportunities.  The United States’ new strategic focus on Asia had lead to a refinement of the special relationship between the U.S. and U.K.  “I know this does not mean it will turn its back on Europe and NATO but countries this side of the pond need to think through what this means to us,” he said.

“NATO is the bedrock of our security,” Sir David said, and had “guaranteed peace in Europe for 60 years and, as Libya and Afghanistan demonstrate, enables us to project power efficiently in concert with others to pursue our national interests.”

But a changing world will see “new groupings” emerge.  “The most obvious is our alliance with the French,” he said, adding that military ties were now stronger than the “Entente Cordiale of a century ago.”

The military alliance with France was a “vehicle for joint action.  Libya sealed this for us and demonstrated the benefits to Britain, Europe and NATO of having a solid Franco-British core.”

He added that the UK “will require other carefully chosen alliances over the coming decade through which to influence the strategic landscape and help determine the outcome of fast moving crises, all at minimum cost. “

The nature of the risks facing Britain was also changing. “What is happening in Syria is in many experts view becoming a proxy conflict between Shia Iranians and Sunni Arabs,” Sir David said.

There was also the “risk that the Arab awakening leads to fissures and internal conflict that could be exported, including militant Islamism,” he said.

Departing from his prepared speech the general added that militant Islam and the Arab world have “diasporas reaching back to this country, as does Pakistan and other states struggling with instability.”

Jerusalem residency row ends: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 30, 2011 p 6. October 1, 2011

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Bishop Suheil Dawani

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Israel’s Ministry of the Interior has granted a residency permit for the Bishop in Jerusalem allowing the Rt Rev Suheil Dawani to live in Jerusalem. In an email to supporters, the bishop reported that on 26 September the Ministry approved his permit, ending over a year’s bureaucratic obfuscation and delay.

In August 2010, the Ministry declined to renew the bishop and his family’s residency papers, claiming the bishop had been engaged in fraudulent land deals on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Bishop Dawani and his family were ordered to leave the country, “immediately.”

The bishop denied the allegations, and after the Ministry declined to respond to the bishop’s letters, his lawyers initiated legal action in February, 2011.

International and domestic political pressure was quickly brought to bear. On 6 April, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem released a statement saying they “strongly support the religious freedom rights” of Bishop Dawani, and were “deeply concerned by the precedent of the attempt to deny residency in Jerusalem by the Israeli authorities to a leader of one of the Churches of this Holy City.”

On 28 March, Foreign Office minister Lord Howell stated the British government was “very concerned” by the revocation of Bishop Dawani’s residency permit, adding that Foreign Secretary William Hague had “raised this with the Prime Minister of Israel.” Private representations had also been made on the bishop’s behalf by the US government, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi of Israel and other Anglican leaders with the Prime Minister’s office.

No reason has been given for the government’s change of mind, the bishop reported. But he did want “to thank all of you, my friends and colleagues throughout the Anglican Episcopal Communion and the worldwide Christian community, for your continued support throughout this time. It has been deeply appreciated and most encouraging knowing that we have been kept in your thoughts and prayers as we awaited this most heartening outcome.”

Washington bishops in plea for prisoners’ release from Iran: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 23, 2011 September 28, 2011

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Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, © freethehikers.org

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Episcopal and Roman Catholic Bishops of Washington have travelled to Iran along with two American Muslim leaders to plead for the release of two American hikers imprisoned on espionage charges.

Bishop John Chane and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, along with the executive director,  Nihad Awad, and chairman, Larry Shaw, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) had been invited to Tehran to meet with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian media reported.

The four were quoted by the Iranian press as having “voiced hope that their request for the release of the two Americans materializes, so that they could effectively work for the release of Iranians imprisoned there upon their return to America.”

Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were arrested on July 31, 2009 after they strayed into Iran while hiking along the Iraq-Iran border in Kurdistan.  Shourd was released last year “on humanitarian and medical grounds” and President Ahmadinejad on Sept 13 said the two other hikers would be released upon posting bail of $500,000.

On August 21, Bauer and Fattal were each sentenced to eight years in prison by a revolutionary court in Tehran on charges of espionage and illegal entry.  Shourd was also convicted in absentia.

A report in the state-run FARS news agency indicated the hikers release may be conditional upon the release of Iranians jailed in the US.  FARS stated “more than 60 Iranian nationals are being held in US prisons, 11 of them on political grounds and without any proof or evidence.”

The Iranian news agency said that during their meeting with President Ahmadinejad “the four American religious leaders expressed the hope that the trend of developments would move in a way that they can push for the freedom of the Iranian inmates in the US.”

Iran’s judiciary has not given any timetable for the release of Fattal and Bauer, but U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week said Washington had received word through a number of sources that their release was imminent.

It was reported this morning that the two would be released on bail later today.

Anti-Christian hate crime conference convened: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 16, 2011 p 7. September 19, 2011

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Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk addresses the opening session of an OSCE meeting on combating hate crimes against Christians, Rome, 12 September 2011. (OSCE/Jens Eschenbaecher)

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Europe must do more to combat hate crimes against Christians, delegates told a Sept 12 human rights conference in Rome organized by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Hate crimes created a “climate of fear and suspicion” which had the “potential to create insecurity within and between communities, and instability both within and between OSCE States, the director of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Janez Lenarčič told the meeting.

“Hate crimes are a security issue, and may contribute to de-stabilising regional or even inter-state relations,” he said.

It was “indisputable that hate crimes against Christians occur in the OSCE region,” the director told the gathering of approximately 150 representatives of the OSCE’s 56 participating States, religious communities and non-governmental organizations.

According to information collected by ODIHR for its annual hate crimes report, there have been cases of desecration of places of worship, arson and other property damage, and attacks on worshippers and religious leaders.

“Such attacks instill fear, not just in the individuals they target directly, but also in the wider community, particularly where the Christian community in question belongs to a minority,” said Ambassador Lenarčič.

To be considered a hate crime, an act must have two components, he said.  “There must be a criminal act targeting individuals or property,” and the “target of the offence, whether victim or property, is selected by the perpetrator who is guided by a bias motive and because of a real or perceived connection to a group – in this case, a religious group.”

Evaldas Ignatavičius, Lithuania’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, said constant attention is required to build religious acceptance and combat the corrosive spread of hate and discrimination against religious practices and beliefs.

“It requires an ongoing process of open reflection, improved education at all levels and public awareness building and legislative action if we are to stamp out this most insidious form of human rights violation,” he added

Among the speakers at the meeting were Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, and Massimo Introvigne, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on combating intolerance and discrimination against Christians and members of other religions.

The agenda for the gathering stated its purpose was “to provide a platform for experts and practitioners to discuss hate-motivated crimes and incidents against Christians in the OSCE area, in addition to sharing best practices in the area of prevention and response.”

Diplomatic stand-off over the site of Jesus’ baptism: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 9, 2011 p 9. September 8, 2011

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Jordan River between the Israeli and Jordanian sites

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Israel was guilty of falsifying history and breaking international law, Jordan’s tourism ministry has declared, after it formally re-opened to pilgrims the Qasr al-Yahoud—the traditional site of Christ’s baptism on the West Bank of the Jordan River.

Closed following the 1967 Six Day War, the Qasr al-Yahoud is located in a restricted military area in Israel and is directly across from the al-Maghtas (Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan), the site Jordan claims is the true place of Christ’s baptism.

The two sites have long played host to pilgrims, but the closure of Qasr al-Yahoud since 1967 has given the Jordanian site a leg up in the battle for Christian tourist cash.  In March 2010 media magnate Rupert Murdoch’s two daughters were baptized at the al-Maghtas site in a service attended by Jordan’s Queen Rania.

The ceremony sparked controversy last week after Wendy Murdoch told Vogue magazine that former Prime Minister Tony Blair was one of the children’s godfathers and had participated in the ceremony.  An 18-page photo spread in Hello! magazine of the service pictured film stars Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman as godparents, but omitted mention of the former prime minister.

In 2000 the Qasr al-Yahoud was opened by Israeli to pilgrims who could visit the shrine under military escort.  The outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada in 2001 closed the shrine, which was only re-opened for religious ceremonies during the Orthodox Epiphany, the Catholic Annunciation and the Orthodox Easter. Last September however, the site was opened to visitors and the area cleared of land mines and barbed wire.

According to a translation made by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) of the Jordanian newspaper Al-Arab Al-Yawm, on July 27, 2011, the Jordanian Tourism and Antiquities Minister Dr. Haifa Abu Ghazaleh filed a complaint with the Vatican that Israel had “violated international law and charters by establishing the place called Qasr al-Yahoud and a baptismal site [there], and by holding an [inauguration] ceremony attended by [representatives of] several [Christian] religious streams, in order to provoke Jordan and mislead the world regarding the location of the real baptismal site, which is on Jordanian soil.”

Dr. Abu Ghazaleh added that “grave violation is a provocation [both] to Jordan and to the Vatican, represented by Pope Benedict XVI, which recognizes that the site of Christ’s baptism is on the Jordanian side of the river. It is also a violation of international law because… the [Israeli] site was established on land that the international charters recognize as being under occupation… This is one of an entire series of grave violations of the international laws, charters, and principles, and an attempt to falsify the facts of human history.”

The dispute prompted a meeting between Jordanian officials and Israeli army officers at the midpoint of the King Hussein Bridge that links the two countries, but no accord was reached.

On July 30 the Jordanian interior ministry convened a meeting of government officials, MPs and Christian leaders to defend its claim to possession of the true baptismal site.  The meeting generated a statement which said: “The archeological findings, and all testimony, prove that the [authentic] baptismal site is on the east [bank]. It is important to distinguish the baptism of Christ from the baptism [of other Christians], which can take place anywhere. From a historical and religious perspective, the [real] spot where Christ was baptized is on the east [bank] of the river and is called al-Maghtas, [and is] in Jordan.”

Anglican Archdeacon Luay Haddad told the Khabarjo.net website: “For the Christians, this issue is a very important one, and the reaction should be addressed [to people] both inside and outside [Jordan]. It is not enough to issue a communiqué stating that the site of Christ’s baptism is on the east [bank], because everybody [already] acknowledges this fact. We must inform our brothers west of the river that we remain loyal to the [Jordanian] site…

“The opening of the site on the west [bank] comes at an unsuitable time, and contains an element of provocation. [The authenticity of the Jordanian site] is firmly established in the eyes of the church and from the perspective of archeology, religion and tourism. The church documents clearly confirm this, and it is acknowledged by the church’s supreme authorities… It is also supported by the New Testament and by testimonies of the fathers of the early church.”

The Anglican Church believed the opening of the Israeli site was “a grave mistake in terms of history and religion.”   He called on Christians to “disregard Israel’s plans whose transparent [goal]… is to spark a conflagration and create new confusion in the region.”

“We hope that all the Christians, especially those in the Holy Land, will be wary of these dubious [Israeli] plans, will take a clear stand against this [new baptismal] site, and will announce that the site on the east [bank] is the only [authentic] site of Christ’s baptism.”

However the archdeacon’s claims appear to be stronger than history would allow, as both sides can show ample historic evidence for their claims.  The Vatican Information Service noted that while Pope Benedict XVI visited the al-Maghtas in 2009, he had expressed no opinion on the dispute between the two claimants.

In the sixth century the Emperor Anastasias order a basilica to be built to mark the spot and St John’s Monastery was constructed on the west bank.  The east bank of the river has also yielded Byzantine ecclesial ruins tied to Jesus’ baptism, but the historical record remains unclear.

The sixth-century pilgrim Antoninus of Piacenza (Intinerarium 12.4) reported that “Not very far from the Jordan where the Lord was baptized there is the monastery of St John.”  The actual spot of the baptism was marked by a votive column crowned by a metallic cross, planted in the middle of the river between the two banks.

However, this report is also suspect as The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910) notes that Antoninus was “the last writer who saw Palestine before the Moslem conquest. Although he covered in his travels nearly the same extensive territory as the Spanish nun, [Egeria] his work contains but few details not found in other writers; it is, moreover, marred by gross errors and by fabulous tales which betray the most naive credulity.”

Qaddafi ousted: The Church of England Newspaper, Aug 24, 2011 August 24, 2011

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Two days after rebel troops breached the defense perimeter around Tripoli, the situation in the Libyan capital remains uncertain, with Christ the King Anglican Church reporting attacks against the city’s Catholic Church and sporadic violence.

The four decade rule of Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi appears to have come to an end on Aug 21 after rebel troops entered the city after encountering what was reported as only light resistance from the Khamis brigade commanded by one of Qaddafi’s sons.

Col. Qaddafi’s whereabouts remain unknown, and rebel troops have surrounded the Bab al-Azizya—the presidential compound.  Western television networks have broadcast anti-Qaddafi celebrations in the city’s Green Square, and on Aug 22 the rebel coalition’s Transitional National Council chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil reported that two of the Libyan leader’s sons, including heir-apparent Saif al-Islam had been captured.

However, on Aug 23 Saif al-Islam surprised foreign journalists when he visited their hotel in the heart of the city, disputing claims he was a prisoner of the rebels.  The regime continues to control the national television network and pro-Qaddafi military units remained in control of pockets of the city.

US President Barack Obama welcomed the collapse of the Qaddafi regime, saying his government would “continue to stay in close coordination with the TNC. We will continue to insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected.”

On Aug 22, Prime Minister David Cameron stated “the latest information is that the vast majority of Tripoli is now controlled by free Libyan fighters, although fighting continues – and some of it is extremely fierce.”

Qaddafi’s “regime is falling apart and in full retreat,” Mr. Cameron said, adding “our task now is to do all we can to support the will of the Libyan people, which is for an effective transition to a free, democratic and inclusive Libya.”

While Libya appears to be free of the Qaddafi regime, foreign policy experts are not optimistic the new regime will be democratic or inclusive.   Jonathan Schanzer of Washington’s Foundation for the Defense of Democracy predicted a “bigger battle” may be on the horizon.

“Qaddafi exploited tribal hatreds in Libya for four decades. He also robbed the country of any semblance of civil society. Now, after months of fighting, the country is awash with weapons. There should also be concerns about the ideology that will ultimately characterize the new Libya, when the guns have gone quiet. Qaddafi’s Green Book, a bizarre amalgam of socialism and Islam, was the ideology he imposed on Libya. Nobody there ever embraced it, but other ideologies were effectively banned. With Qaddafi’s ouster, we open Pandora’s Box,” Mr. Schanzer said.

In an email from the worn torn city to the Bishop of Egypt, the Rev. Hamdy Doud, an associate vicar of Christ the King Church in Tripoli, wrote: “At last, things are getting better” and internet communications have been restored.

“We praise the Lord for our safety here in Tripoli in such difficult situation,” Mr. Doud wrote.

“Now all people here are so glad of experiencing improvements and developments. But we still need to pray for the current transitional time to witness safe consequences of development. The Catholic Church was stolen by force last night, but we thank God that nobody was hurt. For the time being it is not safe to move around, and it will take us some time, but we are glad of having some relief,” he wrote.

The prime minister stated Britain was ready to assist with the transition to democracy.  “We have a strong mission already in Benghazi consisting of Foreign Office, military and aid specialists, and we will establish a British diplomatic presence in Tripoli as soon as it is safe and practical to do so.

“Six months ago this country took the difficult decision to commit our military to support the people of Libya,” Mr. Cameron said.

“I said at the time that this action was necessary, legal and right – and I still believe that today.

“It was necessary because Qaddafi was going to slaughter his own people – and that massacre of thousands of innocent people was averted.

“Legal, because we secured a Resolution from the United Nations, and have always acted according to that Resolution. “

“And right, because the Libyan people deserve to shape their own future, just as the people of Egypt and Tunisia are now doing,” the prime minister said.

Christian population in the Middle East rising: The Church of England Newspaper, July 15, 2011 p 8. July 18, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has launched an appeal to sustain the Christian communities in the Holy Land.

The Archbishop’s call comes amidst a sharp decline in the Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East over the course of the 20th Century. However, in recent years the Christian population of Israel has grown sharply, with the Pontifical Mission to Palestine reporting the return of Christian emigrants from abroad to the Holy Land.

In his address to the General Synod’s July 2011 Group of Sessions, Dr Rowan Williams said that he “returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there… We know our brothers and sisters there are suffering; and we don’t always ask ourselves often enough what our response needs to be.”

He asked Anglicans to support the financial appeal “with which we might assist projects of community development and work creation, especially among Palestinian Christians.”

A demographic study published in 1998 by the Oxford University Press entitled Christian Communities in the Arab Middle East noted that in 1914, Christians constituted 26.4 per cent of the total population in what is now Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, while by 1995 they represented 9.2 per cent of the population.

However, the decline has not been evenly spread. While Christians have fled from areas controlled by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, in Israel their numbers have grown rapidly. The Statistical Abstract of Israel 2008 reports that Israel’s Christian population grew from 120,600 in 1995 to 151,600 in 2007, representing a growth rate of 25 per cent — a rate faster than the growth of the country’s Jewish population.

Dr Williams’ appeal comes ahead of a joint conference with the Archbishop of Westminster scheduled for 18/19 July at Lambeth Palace. “The rate of emigration from Christian populations in the Holy Land has been growing steadily for a long time” the Archbishop of Canterbury said in an introductory video.

“People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say that the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance… not just its historical reality, but to its present and future viability” added Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

However, the Pontifical Mission to Palestine, an agency created by Pope Pius XII in April 1949 to coordinate all the Catholic aid activities in favour of the Palestinian refugees and victims after the War of 1948, reports that Christians are now returning.

The mission’s regional director Sami el-Yousef told EWTN News the number of Christians living in the Holy Land had stopped falling, and perhaps even increased slightly.

“In recent years I think we have not witnessed any waves of emigration out of the Holy Land,” Mr el-Yousef said. Some families that emigrated in past years have recently returned, he reported.

Fury over Dr. Williams’ Palestine remarks: The Church of England Newspaper, July 1, 2011 p 6. July 6, 2011

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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has come under sharp criticism from Palestinian activists, who have accused Dr. Rowan Williams of being an ill-informed right-winger bent on “demonizing Islam” and supporting the Israeli government.

However, a spokesman for Dr. Williams tells The Church of England Newspaper that Kairos Palestine had improperly construed the archbishop’s remarks about the plight of Christians across the Middle East to be an endorsement of Israeli government policies.

In a June 14 interview with the BBC Radio 4 programme World At One, Dr. Williams noted that life for some Middle East Christians was “becoming unsustainable.”

There was a “hemorrhaging of Christian populations from the Holy Land,” the archbishop said, adding that the “fact that Bethlehem, a majority Christian city just a couple of decades ago, is now very definitely a place where Christians are a marginalized minority.”

“It’s not ethnic cleansing exactly because it’s been far less deliberate than that I think,” Dr. Williams said.

“What we’ve seen though is a kind of Newtonian passing on of energy or force from one body to another so that some Muslim populations in the West Bank, under pressure, move away from certain areas like Hebron, move into other areas like Bethlehem. And there’s nowhere much else for Christian populations to go except away from Palestine,” the archbishop told the BBC.

On June 18, Mr. Rifat Odeh Kassis, the coordinator for Kairos Palestine wrote to Dr. Williams stating his remarks on Muslim extremism as the “the greatest threat facing Christians in Palestine and the primary reason for our emigration” were “inaccurate and erroneous.”

He added the archbishop’s “statements about Bethlehem are particularly faulty and offensive especially when you say that the movement of Muslims into the Bethlehem area, where space is limited, is forcing Christians to leave.”

“Equally shocking,” Mr. Kassis said, was Dr. Williams’ silence on Israeli actions that Kairos Palestine believed were one of the “major reasons that push not only Christians to emigrate, but also many other Palestinians.”

Kairos Palestine was disappointed that Dr. Williams did not speak with a “different voice than the one in mass media and other right wing political parties, which exploit our sufferings to fuel some Islamophobic tendencies and negative images about Islam.”

No stranger to the Middle East’s political fracas, Kairos Palestine was formed by a group of Palestinian clergy in 2004.  According to the Jerusalem-based think tank NGO Monitor, Kairos “advocates a supersessionist theology, exploits related themes to demonize Israel, denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel, and ignores the extreme harassment and violence committed by Palestinians against Christians.”

A spokesman for Lambeth Palace told CEN Kairos’ concerns were overblown.   “This is partly a fall out from a misquote on the BBC website,” he said.

The spokesman noted that on June 14 the BBC’s website stated:  “Dr Rowan Williams said there was a ‘haemorrhaging of Christian populations from the Holy Land’ because of violent extremism, and in Bethlehem they were now a ‘marginalised minority’.”

The following day, the BBC rewrote the introduction to the story.  The introduction to the link to the interview now read: “Dr Rowan Williams said there was a ‘haemorrhaging of Christian populations from the Holy Land’, violent extremism driving Christians from Egypt, and in Bethlehem they were now a ‘marginalised minority’.”

Islamists win third term in Turkish elections: The Church of England Newspaper, June 17, 2011 p 8. June 21, 2011

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, the AKP, has a third four year term following general elections in Turkey on June 12.  The Islamist-backed AKP won approximately 50 per cent of the votes cast, giving it 326 of the 550 seats in parliament—31 seats short of the majority needed to overturn the secular constitution instituted in the 1920’s by Kemal Atatürk.

The consolidation of power by the Islamist AKP is ”overwhelmingly bad,” observed Barry Rubin, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.  The AKP “will be in power for four more years, infiltrating institutions, producing a new constitution, intimidating opponents, altering Turkish foreign policy, and shifting public opinion” against the West “to dislike Americans and Jews more.”

However, the AKP’s failure to increase its margin has disappointed its supporters.  As Jürgen Gottschlich of Der Spiegel notes, this AKP victory “almost seems like a defeat.”

On the eve of the vote, the suffragan bishop in Europe, the Rt. Rev. David Hamid released a pastoral letter to the Church of England’s congregations in Turkey, noting Sunday’s vote would be an “important election”

He observed, that “some of the questions facing the country such as its duty of care for minorities, the future integration into the EU, the continuing development of a foreign policy that may be a bridge between East and West, are certainly of interest to us all in Europe.”

Bishop Hamid added that he had also seen reports on Turkey’s “internal debate about changes to the present set of constitutional checks and balances” and on press freedoms.

The bishop asked Anglicans in Europe to pray for the people of Turkey as they cast their votes.  “We are aware of the growing importance of Turkey in today’s world,” Bishop Hamid said, “and of the challenges that any government will face in continuing to build a flourishing, modern society.”

The world has noted the contrast between the stability of Turkey on the one hand and the struggles of its Arab neighbours on the other. We pray for a deepening role for Turkey as a beacon of democracy, tolerance and economic growth which benefits all its citizens.”

Jerusalem hearing for Bishop Dawani cancelled: The Church of England Newspaper, May 27, 2011 p 8. May 30, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel.
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Bishop Suheil Dawani

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The May 18 court hearing to review the Israeli government’s refusal to renew the residency permit of the Bishop in Jerusalem has been postponed, following a motion by the Attorney General of Israel to move the case to the country’s Supreme Court.

Bishop Suheil Dawani reports the original hearing was to have been held in the Jerusalem District Court last week.  However, government prosecutors filed a motion for a change of venue.

In August 2010, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior declined to renew the bishop and his family’s residency papers.  The government claimed the bishop had been engaged in fraudulent land deals on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.   Bishop Dawani and his family were ordered to leave the country, “immediately.”

The bishop has denied the allegations, protesting his innocence.  After the Ministry of the Interior declined to respond to the bishop’s letters, his lawyers initiated legal action in February.

International and domestic political pressure has been brought to bear in support of the bishop.   On April 6, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, the umbrella organization for the Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops of the Armenian Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran Churches released a statement in support of Bishop Dawani.

The Heads of Churches said they “strongly support the religious freedom rights” of Bishop Dawani, adding they were “deeply concerned by the precedent of the attempt to deny residency in Jerusalem by the Israeli authorities to a leader of one of the Churches of this Holy City.”

In a written statement released on March 28, Foreign Office minister Lord Howell stated the government was “very concerned” by the revocation of Bishop Dawani’s residency permit, adding that Foreign Secretary William Hague had “raised this with the Prime Minister of Israel.”

Private representations have also been made on the bishop’s behalf by the US government, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi of Israel and other Anglican leaders with the Prime Minister’s office, but so far have had no effect on the dispute.

No date has yet been scheduled for the Supreme Court hearing.

Camp Bastion crosses: The Church of England Newspaper, April 29, 2011 p 6. May 1, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Afghanistan, Church of England, Church of England Newspaper.
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A chaplain serving with the 3rd Battalion of The Parachute Regiment at Camp Bastion has found a novel way to meet the pastoral needs of his troops in Afghanistan.

The Rev. Robin Richardson, who returns to Britain on April 24 after a six month deployment hands out crosses made from the wire fencing surrounding the camp to paratroopers in Helmand Province.

“Towards the beginning of the tour, some of the lads asked me if I had some crosses I could give them,” Padre Richardson said.  “I found a few at Camp Bastion, and I gave them out. I ran out very quickly.”

“So I wandered around our camp at Shahzad, trying to find something I could fashion into a cross. And I noticed some discarded Hesco wire, and I saw lots and lots of crosses.”

The wire is part of the fortified perimeter of Camp  Bastion, with gravel and sand held in place by wire mesh.   “I got busy with some bolt-cutters and a hammer and a drill,” the padre said, “and I started making small crosses out of the discarded wire.”

“A lot of the lads have asked if they can have one,” he said. “And they’ve been wearing them, and understanding a bit about what lies behind it.”

Improvisation has been one of the hallmarks of Padre Richardson, who has kept a blog during his deployment overseas.  On April 5, the padre described a field baptism of a young soldier.  “That we had no kind of font or baptistry was irrelevant. We had a big blue plastic barrel that the lads dunk themselves in after a patrol to cool down, and we had a mug cut from the container that held a mortar round.”

Friends of Adam, the young man, “those he lives alongside, and with whom he had discussed his decision, his choice, his desire to be baptized” stood with the young man beside the barrel as the padre read “words I’ve prayed with lads in CPs during the tour, words I prayed with a young man as he laid critically ill in a hospital bed and now words of promise for Adam at his baptism.  Words from the book of Joshua chapter 1 that God had promised a faithful soldier thousands of years earlier.”

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

“There was silence as I baptised Adam,” Padre Richardson wrote, “until he stood and his mates, some of toughest most professional soldiers you could find, paratroopers all, clapped and stepped forward wide-armed to congratulate their friend. I needed a few moments to let it all sink in. It was quite simply one of those moments that help to remind you what it’s all about.”

Turkey’s Gülen movement under criminal investigation in the US: The Church of England Newspaper, April 21, 2011 p 7. April 21, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Terrorism, Turkey, Washington.
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Fethullah Gülen

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has commenced an investigation into the activities of Turkish Muslim leader Fethullah Gülen and his educational and charitable network.

Called the “world’s top public intellectual” in 2008 by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines, Gülen is a controversial figure.  Considered an inspirational religious leader by millions of Turks and Muslim followers around the world, he has also been called the “world’s most dangerous Islamist” by US investigative journalist Paul Williams.

In 1998 Gülen left Turkey after the government sought to arrest him for seeking to overthrow the government.  He fled to the United States and currently lives in a 45-acre compound in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Over the past decade Gülen has built a network of schools across the world that allegedly call for the creation of a global caliphate.

In the United States, the Gülen movement has opened 125 schools that receive government assistance under the “charter school” system.  The federal investigation, according to the March 21 Philadelphia Inquirer report, is not linked to terrorism but to allegations that Gülen school employees, granted visas to enter the United States to teach at the schools, are forced to kick back 60 per cent of their salaries to the Hizmet, or Service, movement Gülen founded.  Prosecutors have declined to comment, however, as the investigation is on-going.

A spokesman for Gülen told the Inquirer the reclusive imam has no relationship to the schools, though he might have inspired the people who founded them.

Since his arrival in the United States, Gülen has cultivated media, religious and political leaders.  At a Jan 20, 2011 meeting hosted by the Rumi Forum, a Turkish think tank in Washington, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, the Rt. Rev. John B. Chane praised Gülen as a “magnificent man.”

“In the 50 books he has written he has probably been one of our greatest voices. He is a scholar and communicator who has really addressed — not only the role of religion — but the place of religion as an antidote to violence throughout the world, stressing the importance of the need to come to the table for dialogue and conversation,” the bishop said.

The bishop added to his postprandial encomium saying “I really want to make a point in recognizing him and honoring him for the work he continues to do for global peace among all of God’s children.”

However, diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks and published in the Turkish newspaper Taraf on March 17 show US government officials in Washington and Ankara were concerned with the growing influence of the Gülen movement.

One 2005 cable said the Gülen community seems to espouse “moderate Islam,” but  as it had a global mission of fostering Islamism, it was an open question how the movement would act once it consolidated its hold on power.  “It is not possible to confirm the Turkish police are under the control of the Gülen community members, but we have not met anybody who denies it,” one cable said.

Turkish analysts in the West have also questioned the motives and methods of the Gülen movement.  On Dec 3, 2010, Dr. Sebastian Gorka of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies linked the Gülen movement to the “soft jihad” campaign waged by Islamists who seek to use Western institutions and liberties to bring about the mastery of the world by Islam in an interview with WABC’s John Batchelor Show.

Bishop Chane told The Church of England Newspaper he was “troubled by references that have been made about Gülen being a soft jihadist. Clearly the use of the word jihad demonstrates a significant lack of understanding of the term and a baffling use of the word soft.”

“If in fact there is an investigation underway that links Gülen to radical, religiously motivated terrorists then let the facts of the investigation be known,” the bishop said.

Govt backs Jerusalem bishop in residency row: The Church of England Newspaper, April 1, 2011 p 9. April 1, 2011

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Israel.
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Bishop Riah Abu al-Abbas

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The government has given its backing to the Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, in his dispute with the Government of Israel over the bishop’s right to visit Jerusalem.  However, the intervention by the Foreign Office appears not to have shifted the Israeli government’s views, which may be driven more by factional battles within the diocese, than the Arab-Israeli dispute.

In a written statement released on March 28 in response to a query from the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries, Foreign Office minister Lord Howell stated the government was “very concerned” by the revocation of Bishop Dawani’s residency permit.

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague had “raised this with the Prime Minister of Israel last November. Our embassy in Tel Aviv continues to press regularly,” Lord Howell said.

On March 3, the Diocese of Jerusalem released a statement saying that “all Anglican bishops” in Jerusalem, who had not held Israeli passports, historically had been “granted residency permits to allow them to live in Jerusalem where the Bishop’s residence, diocesan offices and cathedral are located.”

The bishop and his family had renewed their permits in 2008 and 2009, but when they attempted to renew their permits last year, the bishop was told by the Ministry of the Interior that his documents would not be renewed.  The government said “Bishop Suheil acted with the Palestinian Authority in transferring lands owned by Jewish people to the Palestinians and also helped to register lands of Jewish people in the name of the Church.”

“There were further allegations that documents were forged by the Bishop. The letter also stated that Bishop Dawani and his family should leave the country immediately,” the diocese reported.

Bishop Suheil Dawani

Bishop Dawani responded that the allegations leveled against him were false,.  His letters protesting his innocence of the charges have so far gone unanswered nor have his accusers been publicly identified.  On advice of legal counsel last month the bishop filed suit in a Jerusalem court seeking legal redress.

The diocese stated that private representations had been made on the bishop’s behalf by the UK and US governments, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi of Israel and other Anglican leaders with the Prime Minister’s office, but so far had no effect on the dispute.

The bishop’s residency dispute appears to have begun at the same time as the long-drawn out legal dispute between Bishop Dawani and his predecessor, Bishop Riah Abu al-Assal, came to a close.

Last year, an Israeli court banned Bishop Riah, an Arab Israeli, from trespassing on diocesan property and has rejected his claims of ownership of a church school in Nazareth.  Over the course of the three year battle, charges and counter charges of fraud, forgery and violence were leveled against the bishops by their partisan opponents.

The Jerusalem bishops’ battle centered round a dispute over Christ Church School in Nazareth.  Shortly before his retirement in March 2007, Bishop Riah established a charitable trust staffed by members of his family and sought to transfer the assets and administration of the diocese’s Christ Church School over to the “Bishop Riah Educational Campus.”

The diocese said Bishop Riah had collected tuition fees from the students while the school’s expenses, including staff salaries, were being paid by the diocese.  In his court filings Bishop Riah countered that he had provided the funds for building the school, which employed his son as headmaster, and that he had raised funds for the school in his personal rather than episcopal capacity.

Following attempts at mediation, the diocese brought suit against Bishop Riah and his family trust for possession of the school and the tuition fees, and on Jan 22, 2008 a magistrate court granted the diocese control of the assets pending final adjudication.  In April 2010 a final decision was handed down by the Israeli courts on the real estate.  It denied Bishop Riah all rights and access “without express written permission of the diocesan Bishop Suheil Dawani,” or involvement “at all in any matter, without exception, in the matters of church and the school.”

Bishop Dawani’s troubles with the Ministry of the Interior began shortly after the court handed down its decision in the Christ Church Nazareth school case.