Sunday, May 18, 2003

From A conservative blog for peace correspondent Lee Penn
DC insiders begin lobbying for ‘régime change’ in Iran
Lee Penn: The ‘boys’ want WW3, and they will do anything to get it.

Rumsfeld adviser wants to build more nukes; says we can win a nuclear war
Lee Penn: As I was saying ... the ‘boys’ WANT a Third World War.

From David Virtue
From an obituary for the Revd William Ralston:
Episcopal traditionalist respected for his intellect, dies
by Ann Stifter

The Rev. William H. Ralston may have seen God in secular classics.
Homer and Haydn; Shakespeare and Schumann.
He also saw the divine in spiritual classics.
Traditional prayers and time-honored methods.

...He took a stand for tradition at a time when others were siding for
change to something a little more contemporary.

"He was a man who stood for the essentials of the Christian faith and
he would not shrink from defending that faith," ...
"And at same time was a compassionate individual."

..."I learned from him that a person can be firm in their beliefs but kind
and gentle in their tolerance of other people's beliefs." [End.]

A similar life lesson I learnt long ago from a similar gentleman, the Revd Peter Laister, who died last October.

Christian persecution around the world
Martyrs aren't just names on a church calendar

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR CHRISTIANS IN IRAQ?

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo
The Barnabas Fund (UK)

700,000 Christians fear the establishment of an Islamic state governed
by Shari'ah.

The political and constitutional future of Iraq is an immediate concern
for Iraqi Christians. According to Archbishop Sleiman of Baghdad, "If
the influence and pressure of extremist groups, which are regaining
their vigour, increases in the future, I don't know what kind of future
can be envisioned." Christians in Iraq fear rule by the majority Shia
Muslim population. On 14 April Shia clerics made it clear that they
wanted Iraq to become an Islamic state governed according to Shari'ah.
Judging by past events this does not bode well for Christians, for in
1991 when the Shia rebelled against Saddam Hussein in Basra the first
district attacked was the Christian quarters of the city. Shia
hostility to the presence of US and British troops is increasingly
evident as many took to the streets of Nassiriya to demonstrate on 15
April, while the main Shia opposition group boycotted talks with the US
and Britain held at the Talil air base. In a Friday sermon on 2 May,
in the town of Kufa, Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq Sadr specifically called
for the Shari'ah to be imposed, not only on Muslims but on Iraqi
Christians as well. Such anti-western feeling could still lead to
Iraqi Christians being associated with the 'invading' armies, leading
to attacks on Christians.

The news agency ZENIT reported Father Nizar Semaan, a Syrian Orthodox
priest, in the context of the Shia pilgrimage to Karbala, as saying,
"we see these events with apprehension, not because we are against
freedom of belief and religion which we want as the foundation for the
new Iraq, but because we are familiar with the mentality and culture of
Shiite Muslims and we know that what they want is a theocratic Iraq
founded on Islamic law. There is a danger that we Christians may have
to choose between remaining in Iraq as second-class citizens deprived
of our rights, or leaving this land of our fathers. We are sorry to
see that while the Shiite gatherings were broadcast far and wide, no
media attention was given to Christians in Iraq who at the time were
celebrating Easter. While we are praying for peace and true freedom
and democracy, our Shiite Muslim brothers were chanting slogans for an
Islamic state and a new war. I hope the rest of the world will see the
danger and continue to help Iraq become a truly secular and democratic
country were all groups are respected."

The more moderate Iraqi National Congress (INC), an umbrella
organisation sponsored by the US and made up of Iraq's major opposition
groups, has already discussed draft constitutions, some of which
describe "Shari'ah as the source of tomorrow's legal norms" in Iraq.
The INC is dominated by Sunni, Shia and Kurdish groups. Christians,
who make up 3% of the population, fear that it will be difficult for
them to have their say in the building of a new Iraq.

The Chaldean church recently issued a statement asking that any future
Iraqi constitution should guarantee them the right to, "profess our
faith according to our ancient traditions and our religious law, the
right to educate our children according to Christian principles, the
right to freely assemble, to build our places of worship, and our
cultural and social centres according to our needs."

It seems unlikely that the US would knowingly allow a new Iraq based on
Shari'ah, yet many Christians remain nervous. This is especially
because, according to Secretary Colin Powell, the US would see no
objection to "an Islamic form of government that has as its basis the
faith of Islam" and is democratic. Many Christians would prefer a more
overtly secular or pluralistic democratic constitution. Otherwise, in
the words of one man in Baghdad, "it is going to be like Iran...all
Christians are afraid now." The small Iraqi Jewish community, mainly
resident in Baghdad, are also afraid of the creation of an Islamic
state.

[The US has no right to 'allow' or 'not allow' the kind of government in Iraq, anyway, unless Iraq actually were a threat to it - which it wasn't.]

EMERGING FROM THE WAR

Half of Iraq's Christians live in and around Baghdad where looting and
pillaging has been rife since the city was taken over by US troops.
Some churches, like other public buildings, have been broken into and
vandalised, adding to the damage of church property that was sustained
during the bombardment of Baghdad by the coalition forces.

Despite widespread fears, there have been no reported attacks on
Christians by Muslims as a result of the war, either in Iraq or other
countries in the Islamic world. This is probably partly due to the
well publicised anti-war stance taken by many western Christian
leaders.

NEWS FROM EGYPT

CHRISTIAN COUPLE IMPRISONED FOR CONVERSION

Naglaa, a Christian convert from Islam, and her husband Malak have been
held in prison since mid-February in an effort to force Naglaa to give
up her Christian faith and return to Islam.

Naglaa and her husband Malak Gawargios Fahmy were arrested at the
airport as they tried to leave Egypt for Cyprus. They were sentenced
to be detained for four days by the El Nozha District Attorney.
However, on 26 February this was extended for a further 45 days and for
another 45 on 18 March, and the couple are still being held despite
this period having now passed. Police are trying to force Naglaa to
give up her Christian faith and return to Islam, to leave her husband,
and to raise her children as Muslims.

In 1996 Naglaa Hassan Ibrahim, then a student at Ain-Shams University,
was baptised after spending three years exploring the Christian faith.
The same year Naglaa married Malak, a Christian.

Barnabas Fund was informed of the couple's plight by senior church
leaders in Egypt involved with their case. "Becoming Christian
shouldn't be a crime punishable by a prison sentence," the Fund was
told by Egyptian church leaders who lament that "it is strictly
forbidden to convert from Islam to Christianity ... although the
opposite happens hundreds and even thousands of times. Freedom of
religion should be a human right to all, and conversions should take
place with each person's own accord."

The ostensible reason for the couple's arrest in February was that
Naglaa had a forged passport and ID card. Conversion from Islam to
Christianity, although technically not illegal, is not recognised by
Egyptian law, and it is prohibited for Christian men to marry Muslim
women. Since Naglaa acquired her passport as a Christian woman after
her marriage it may have been viewed as bogus by the police as she is
still a Muslim in the eyes of the law. Similarly since there is no
capacity for converts to change their religious identity on their ID
card, so this too may have been considered technically bogus.

APOSTASY IN EGYPT AND ISLAM

All the major schools of Islamic law (Shari'ah) agree that converts
from Islam (apostates) should be put to death, their marriages
annulled, and their children and property taken away. This tradition
is upheld and taught by most Muslim religious leaders around the world
today. In countries like Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia the death
sentence for leaving Islam is actually part of the law. Whilst in Egypt
there is technically no law banning apostasy, converts are still
actively punished by the police and often face imprisonment, beatings
and torture on various pretexts in order to try to force them to return
to Islam. Some have died in prison. Several have had to flee the
country. Converts have sometimes been arrested under the country's
emergency legislation which allows for the holding of suspects without
charge or trial for indefinite periods.

APOSTASY CAMPAIGN

Barnabas Fund is currently engaged in a major international campaign on
behalf of converts like Naglaa focusing on the Islamic law of apostasy
and the treatment of converts in Islamic societies. The Fund is
calling upon Muslim religious leaders to vocally condemn the harsh
treatment of converts and to make public statements calling for a
reform of Shari'ah teaching on apostasy to clearly affirm that Muslims
who choose to convert to another faith are free to follow their
personal convictions without fear of punishment or harassment. Further
details of the campaign can be obtained by contacting Barnabas Fund or
visiting the Apostasy Campaign pages on our website
http://www.barnabasfund.org/Apostasy.htm

FURTHER ATTACKS ON CHRISTIAN CENTRE FEARED

Barely a month after a local army unit attempted to attack and demolish
the perimeter wall of the Patmos Centre, Church leaders at the centre
believe another attack is imminent in the next few days.

Staff at the Patmos Centre, a Christian centre for physically and
mentally handicapped children 30 kilometres east of Cairo, have faced
seven attacks in the past six and a half years and now fear another
will occur in the next few days. On 5 April soldiers under the command
of a Lieutenant General were only prevented from destroying the
centre's perimeter wall by staff who bravely lay down in the path of
the bulldozer.

Soldiers from the local army unit are seeking to destroy the wall
supposedly in order to conform with a new law passed on 25 January
which requires all buildings to be at least 100 metres from the Cairo-
Suez road. The wall stands 50 metres from the road and was built ten
years ago in full accordance with the law at the time. Under the
Egyptian constitution such new legislation cannot be enforced on
existing buildings and can only be applied to future construction.

Workers at the centre point out that the local army barracks' own walls
also stand 50 metres from the road and no attempt has been made to
demolish these. Similarly many other buildings in the area are much
closer to the road, including some 15 mosques which stand only 5 - 10
metres from the road. Likewise no attempts have been made to demolish
any of these buildings. Instead the Christian Patmos Centre has been
singled out.

Church leaders say that the Minister of Defence, who has been opposed
to the centre since 1997, ordered extreme and conservative Muslim
officers from the local army unit to enforce the law on the Patmos
Centre. Conversely other government representatives, including the
President's office and the Ministry of the Interior, have conversely
intervened positively in the past to protect the centre from
intimidation and attacks by the military.

Staff at the centre say that, although they are not forced to do so by
law, they are willing to co-operate if they can see evidence that the
same rules are being applied equally to the neighbouring buildings.
They particularly believe that the army should set a good example by
first demolishing its own fences. In singling out the Patmos Centre
the army risks sending out a message that Egypt's laws can be
selectively applied in order to victimise Christians.

The Patmos Centre has been serving the local community in Egypt for
fifteen years. The centre is providing love, care and support for both
mentally and physically handicapped children and orphans, and is
legally registered with the Egyptian authorities. It receives between
500 - 1000 visitors every day.

In previous attacks in 1996 and 1997 some buildings at the centre
suffered severe damage. In February 2002 significant sections of the
perimeter wall were levelled and trees outside the centre uprooted.
Staff who have protested against the attacks have at times been
threatened and beaten. One teacher at the centre had his arm broken
during an attack in February 2002.

BOMB KILLS CHRISTIAN CONVERT IN LEBANON

A Jordanian convert to Christianity has been killed by a bomb planted
outside the home of a missionary couple in Tripoli, North Lebanon.

Initially the Police stated that Jamil Ahmad al-Rifai, 28, had himself
planted the bomb; but it is now apparent that he was killed when coming
to the aid of the Dutch missionary, Gerrit Griffioen, 52, and his
family.

At 11.30pm, Tuesday 6 May, Griffioen's German wife, Barbel, 44,
realised there was an intruder in their garden. The Dutchman called to
al-Rifai, his next door neighbour, to help; by the time they entered
the garden the intruder had fled. Griffioen proceeded to extinguish the
fuse and then gave chase. Meanwhile al-Rifai was carrying the couple's
three children out of the house; after that he returned to the garden.
The 2kg bomb detonated when he was either trying to diffuse it or
simply move it further away; the blast made his body almost
unidentifiable.

The family survived the blast without injury, though according to
Beirut's Daily Star one of their children, a 9-year-old boy was
slightly hurt. Griffioen has been repeatedly threatened during his 20
years of work in Lebanon. He is a widely known and well respected
Christian leader.

A man, going by the name of Mohammad, is being held in connection with
the bombing. Recently he had been attending meetings run by the
Griffioens claiming that he wanted to become a Christian.

Last November American missionary Bonnie Penner Witherall was shot
dead by an unidentified gunman in Sidon. Both Sidon and Tripoli are
known to be centres of radical Sunni Islam.

Happy 83rd birthday, Pope John Paul II
I don't know how to write it in Polish, so с днëм рождения!

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