FaithWorld

Attack fears cloud Christmas for Baghdad Christians

baghdad (Photo: Pictures of victims killed in an attack of Our Lady of Salvation church shown there on Christmas Eve in Baghdad December 24, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

Normally on Christmas Eve, Ban Zaki puts on festive clothes and takes her family to Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation church for lively holiday celebrations.

Not this year.

Dressed in black and fighting back tears, she has brought her three children to the church to honour her late husband, who was killed along with 51 others when Iraqi forces stormed it after militants took hostages during Sunday mass on Oct 31.

“He died on this spot,” 49-year-old Zaki said, pointing to the marble floor of the Catholic church. “This year, there will be no festivities, no celebrations. The images of the attack and how they killed my husband here in this place are still in front of my eyes. Those were four hours I won’t forget for the rest of my life,” she said.

The attack triggered a fresh exodus of Christians from some Iraqi cities amid renewed fears that Sunni Islamist militants were trying to drive Christians out of their homeland. The U.N. refugee agency said last week that some 1,000 Christian families, roughly 6,000 people, had fled to Iraqi Kurdistan from Baghdad, Mosul and other areas.

Read the full story here.

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No Christmas festivities for some Iraqi Christians

iraq christmas (Photo: Refugee Iraqi Christians attend a pre-Christmas mass at Chaldean Catholic church in Amman December 22, 2010/Ali Jarekji)

Some church leaders in Iraq have told Christians not to celebrate Christmas except with prayer after lethal attacks and continuing threats by militants against the Iraqi Christian community.

“No Santa Claus, no celebrations, no gifts this year,” Archbishop Louis Sako, chairman of the Chaldean archbishops in Kirkuk and Sulaimaniya, said on Wednesday. “We don’t have the right to jeopardize others’ lives.”

In a new threat published on an Islamist website, the local affiliate of al Qaeda threatened more attacks against Iraqi Christians. Insurgent attacks have panicked Iraq’s minority Christian community. Thousands have fled to the semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region or overseas.

India Congress scion Rahul Gandhi says radical Hindus a threat

gandhis (Photo: Rahul Gandhi with his mother Sonia Gandhi, in New Delhi May 21, 2009/B Mathur)

Rahul Gandhi, seen as an India prime minister in waiting, told the U.S. ambassador radical Hindu groups could posed a bigger threat to the country than the Islamists who attacked Mumbai in 2008, a leaked cable showed. The comments made to Timothy Roemer last year were immediately criticised by the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), adding to political sparring that has deadlocked parliament and pushed policymaking into limbo.

Gandhi’s comments, made in response to a question from Roemers on the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group, referred to religious tension created by more extreme BJP leaders, according to the cable dated August 3, 2009. It was released by WikiLeaks and published on Friday by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

Gandhi said there was evidence of some support for the LeT among Indian Muslims, the ambassador wrote, according to the cable.  “However, Gandhi warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community,” Roemer wrote. The ambassador added a comment that “Gandhi was referring to the tensions created by some of the more polarizing figures in the BJP such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.”

India says local Islamists bombed Hindu pilgrim city Varanasi

varanasi 1 (Photo: After the blast in Varanasi December 7, 2010/Stringer)

India said Wednesday a home-grown Islamist group with ties to Pakistani militants was behind a bomb attack in one of its holiest cities, Varanasi, and local media reported two people were questioned over the attack. Home Secretary Gopal Pillai said traces of explosives were found at the site of Tuesday evening’s blast in the northern city that killed a two-year old girl and injured 37 Hindu worshippers and foreign tourists.

Pillai said the crude bomb was set off by the Indian Mujahideen (IM), a local group India says has been trained by militants based in Pakistan, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The IM claimed responsibility for the attack in an email to local media, police said. That email was traced to a Mumbai suburb and two people were questioned over it, local media said.

“The main players of Indian Mujahideen are based in Pakistan and they are definitely running the game from there,” Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjeev Dayal told a press conference. Pillai has said it was “too premature” to say if individuals or groups operating from Pakistan were involved.

Hardline Pakistan imam offers reward to kill Christian woman

qureshiA hardline, pro-Taliban Pakistani Muslim cleric on Friday offered a reward for anyone who kills a Christian woman sentenced to death by a court on charges of insulting Islam. The sentence against Asia Bibi has renewed debate about Pakistan’s blasphemy law which critics say is used to persecute religious minorities, fan religious extremism and settle personal scores. Non-Muslim minorities account roughly 4 percent of Pakistan’s about 170 million population. (Photo: Maulana Yousef Qureshi in Peshawar, February 17, 2006/str)

Maulana Yousef Qureshi, the imam of a major mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar, offered a $5,800 (3,700 pounds) reward and warned the government against any move to abolish or change the blasphemy law. “We will strongly resist any attempt to repeal laws which provide protection to the sanctity of Holy Prophet Mohammad,” Qureshi told a rally of hardline Islamists.

“Anyone who kills Asia will be given 500,000 rupees in reward from Masjid Mohabat Khan,” he said referring to his mosque. Qureshi, a cleric who has been leading the congregation at the 17th century Mohabat Khan mosque for decades, later told Reuters he was determined to see her killed. “We expect her to be hanged and if she is not hanged then we will ask mujahideen and Taliban to kill her.”

Scathing U.S. view of French unrest and Muslim integration in WikiLeaks

burbs 1 (Photo: Local youths watch firemen extinguish burning vehicles during clashes in the Paris suburb of Aulnay sur Bois, early November 3, 2005/Victor Tonelli)

The U.S. embassy in Paris turns out to be one of the sharpest critics of France’s track record in integrating its Muslim minority. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now have its unvarnished view of the 2005 unrest in the poor suburbs of Paris and other large cities. It is a scathing indictment that goes beyond even what many of the government’s domestic critics at the time were saying. It may also go beyond most if not all of the criticisms of domestic policy found in cables from other European capitals (has anyone found anything more devastating elsewhere?). Here is our overall news report on the cables. Some excerpts from the key cables are copied below.

burbs 2For FaithWorld, it’s especially interesting to see what the embassy says about “what the violence is not”. Back in those days, some American media were throwing around terms like “Paris intifada” and “Muslim riots” as if Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” had reached the outlying stations of the Paris Metro network. The cables are clearly written to refute that view. Yes, many of the rioters came from a Muslim background, but this was a socio-economic protest by a growing underclass, as we have argued in earlier posts such as  “Smoke without fire – there was no ‘Paris intifada’ in 2005″ and “Why we don’t call them ‘Muslim riots’ in Paris suburbs.” (Photo:  Hooded youths from poor suburbs of Paris taunt riot police during a nationwide protest against a youth jobs law,  in Paris March 28, 2006/Jacky Naegelen)

If religion had to be brought into the issue, it would have to be mentioned as an underlying cultural background on both sides — something that French politicians and editorialists didn’t do and don’t like. But this cable did do that in one of its most striking quotes — “The real problem is the failure of white and Christian France to view their darker, Muslim compatriots as real citizens.” As Le Monde put it: “The Americans’ logic has never been explained in such transparent fashion.”

Sidelining Islamists holds risks for Egypt

egypt elex (Photo: Police carry away ballot boxes after polls closed at Mahalla El Kubra, north of Cairo November 28, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has been pushed to the sidelines of mainstream politics after an election it said was rigged, a step that may empower radicals who say an Islamic state can only be achieved by force.

The Islamist group that held a fifth of seats in the outgoing parliament cannot be certain to retain any seats after Sunday’s first round of voting, which Egyptian monitors said was littered with abuses. The group may now withdraw from the race.

President Hosni Mubarak’s party is assured of victory. But reducing the Brotherhood’s presence to a rump — at best — looks like a heavyhanded show of strength by authorities nervous about dissent before Egypt’s presidential vote next year.

“The Jury is Out”: WikiLeaks shows U.S. trying to understand Islam in Turkey

turkey 3 (Photo: A commuter ferry sails past the Blue Mosque in Istanbul September 4, 2010/Osman Orsal)

The WikiLeaks documents from the U.S. embassy in Ankara show several attempts by American diplomats to understand the role of Islam and the Islamic world in the political stand of the governing AK Party of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Their efforts can be summarised in a subtitle of a cable in 2007 purporting to show “the truth behind the AKP’s “secret Islamic agenda.” It said simply: The Jury is Out.”

Following are some interesting excerpts, with links to the full documents:

20 Jan 2010 — WHAT LIES BENEATH ANKARA’S NEW FOREIGN POLICY

1. (C) There is much talk in chanceries and in the international media these days about Turkey’s new, highly activist foreign policy …  The ruling AKP foreign policy is driven by both a desire to be more independently activist, and by a more Islamic orientation…

turkey 52. (C) Does all this mean that the country is becoming more focused on the Islamist world and its Muslim tradition in its foreign policy? Absolutely. Does it mean that it is “abandoning” or wants to abandon its traditional Western orientation and willingness to cooperate with us? Absolutely not. At the end of the day we will have to live with a Turkey whose population is propelling much of what we see …  Turkey will remain a complicated blend of world class “Western” institutions, competencies, and orientation, and Middle Eastern culture and religion.

Russia’s Islamist rebels mull language switch to Arabic or Turkish

grozny (Photo: Workers clean blood from the sidewalk outside the parliament building in Grozny October 19, 2010 following a suicide attack there that killed four people/Kazbek Basayev)

Militants waging an Islamist insurgency in Russia’s mainly Muslim North Caucasus region have proposed using either Arabic or a Turkic language as a lingua franca for their affairs. The insurgents now communicate with each other largely in Russian, also the main language of the dozen or so Islamist web sites they are affiliated with, and of their video addresses.

The insurgency leader, Chechen rebel Doku Umarov, suggested earlier this month that a “state” language be formed for the self-styled Caucasus Emirate, a grouping of Muslim republics including Chechnya and Dagestan that want to quit Russia.

Arabic was proposed due to its status as “the language of Islam,” while a Turkic group language was suggested due to the historical and linguistic links of dozens of languages spoken in the North Caucasus. Last week a member of the Caucasus Emirate, Abu Zaid, posted a long appeal on kavkazcenter.com in favor of Arabic as a state language for the Caucasus Emirate, calling it “the international language of jihad.”

Egyptian opposition voters face pitfalls, Muslim Brotherhood cries foul

egypt 1 (Photo: Posters of candidates of the banned Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria, 27 Nov 2010/Goran Tomasevic)

It seemed too good to be true when Amira Antar walked into the polling station to vote for Egypt’s Islamist opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, unimpeded by security forces or hired thugs. She quickly found out it was. After she made her choice, the polling station supervisor unfolded Antar’s ballot, ticked the candidate of President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party and put her now spoiled paper in the box.

“I was standing at the door and I saw what he did and honestly my heart broke. I don’t know what to do or who to complain to. I don’t think I’m going to vote again,” said the 22-year-old, voting for the first time in a parliamentary poll. The Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned but allowed to run candidates as independents, says the vote is marred by mass violations including ballot stuffing and bullying. The government says it has ensured a free and fair election.

Events took a different turn at Sayeda Zainab school in Mahalla El Kubra where Muslim Brotherhood voters scuffled with security men trying to keep them out of the polling station. “Where is the democracy they promised us? Where is the free and fair election?” asked a frustated Abdel Hay Ismail, 50.  Read the full story by Dina Zayed here.