Posted by Kendall Harmon

Thousands of supporters of Nigeria's main opposition party on Sunday demonstrated in the oil-rich state of Rivers, calling for the cancellation of elections locally because of alleged irregularities.

The demonstrators from the All Progressives Congress (APC) converged on the local offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the state capital, Port Harcourt.

"We are here to register our protest that there was no election in Rivers state yesterday (Saturday)," Rivers state governorship candidate Dakuku Peterside told the crowd.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 30, 2015 at 4:40 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In an act of extraordinary heroism, a parish warden stopped an Islamist terrorist from detonating a bomb during Sunday worship at Christ Church Youhanabad near Lahore, Pakistan. Fifteen people were murdered during twin attacks on Christ Church and the neighboring St John’s Catholic Church on 15 March 2015, but the heroism of Zahid Yousaf Goga (pictured with his wife, Akash and three children) prevented further bloodshed.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal* Christian Life / Church LifeLiturgy, Music, Worship* Culture-WatchChildrenMarriage & FamilyReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAsiaPakistan* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations

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Posted March 29, 2015 at 4:40 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Under the shadow of Boko Haram violence, Nigerians head to the polls Saturday (March 28) to elect a president and a deputy in a vote observers say is critical for the country’s stability and economic progress.

In a twist that might have been difficult to predict, many Christians in Nigeria’s north are backing a Muslim candidate to lead their country away from the brink of violence and chaos.

Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the north and the leader of the All Progressives Congress party, is challenging the leadership of incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south who heads the ruling People’s Democratic Party.

Some Nigerians fear that another term for Jonathan would mean institutionalization of corruption and emergence of more Muslim extremist groups in addition to Boko Haram. And they are willing to pin their hopes on a Muslim candidate.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 28, 2015 at 10:14 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In the past six years, Boko Haram has terrorized the northeast region and burned down entire communities, killing thousands of people and abducting many more, including more than 200 missing schoolgirls.

The people driven from their homes are posing a challenge for Nigeria's electoral commission. The U.N. Secretary General's special representative for West Africa and high representative for Nigeria, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, says displaced people must be allowed to vote.

"These elections must be inclusive," Chambas says. "I got the assurance of the electoral commissioner that all efforts would be made to ensure that Nigerians internally displaced, as a result of Boko Haram terrorist activity, are not denied their franchise."

Nigeria is also grappling with a new biometric, voter ID card-reading system, which had hiccups during dry runs ahead of Saturday's vote.

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Filed under: * Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 27, 2015 at 4:10 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Philip Jenkins's contribution to The Globalization of Christianity (edited by Gordon Heath and Steven Studebaker) offers sobering and exciting news by turns.

On the sobering side, he describes the statistical stagnation of Christianity, and compares it to the spread of Islam. For the past century, Christianity has held steady at 1/3 of the human population. It's grown, of course, but it has not grown as a proportion of the world's population.

Islam has. “In 1900, the 200 to 220 million Muslims then living comprised some 12 or 13 percent of humanity, compared to 22.5 percent today, and a projected figure of 27.3 percent by 2050. Put another way, Christians in 1900 outnumbered Muslims by 2.8 to 1. Today that figure is 1.3 to 1, and by 2050 it should be 1.3 to 1. Put another way, there are four times as many Christians alive as there were in 1900; but over the same period, Muslims have grown at least seven-fold” (21).

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Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalGlobal South Churches & Primates* Christian Life / Church LifeChurch HistoryMissions* Culture-WatchGlobalizationHistoryReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted March 27, 2015 at 3:40 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Last month I visited the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan known as Za’atari. With 80,000 occupants, the camp would be the fourth-largest city in Jordan. It occupies a vast desert plain, filled with endless rows of tents that are gradually being replaced with rows of metal-sided caravans. Za’atari is a dreary place, but it is teeming with resilient people.

Residents of camps like Za’atari make up only 20% of the nearly four million refugees who have fled Syria. The rest live in cities, where they are often unregistered and therefore ineligible for services. These refugees tend to live in squalor and are vulnerable to exploitation. Nearly 80% of the refugees are women and children. These figures don’t include the 12.2 million within Syria who are either internally displaced or in urgent need of help.

About 200,000 people have been killed in Syria, many after torture. A photographer, who documented these horrors for the regime but defected, smuggled his photos out of Syria; they were passed on to me by a Syrian non-governmental organization. These emaciated, disfigured corpses could be skeletal Jewish inmates photographed during the liberation of Dachau, but they aren’t. They are Syrian Muslims and Christians—and this is happening now.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchPovertyReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastSyria* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther ChurchesRoman CatholicOther FaithsIslamJudaism* TheologyEthics / Moral TheologyPastoral Theology

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Posted March 27, 2015 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Much has been written about extremist groups such as IS and al-Qaeda, which directly threaten Westerners at home or abroad. But little is understood about Boko Haram, its leaders and its beliefs. This is partly because it has made little effort to explain itself to the wider world, unlike jihadists such as IS who reach out to potential recruits using social media, and partly because journalists are unable to enter territory it controls safely. Moreover, its limited regional focus means that most Western intelligence agencies have viewed it as posing little international threat.

This book by Mike Smith, a journalist, sheds light both on its crackpot ideas—Yusuf insisted that the world was flat and that rain was made by God—and on the deep contradictions faced by people who propose to return to a sixth-century lifestyle. When asked why he had computer equipment and hospital facilities at his home, Yusuf replied, “These are technological products. Western education is different. Western education is westernisation.”

Yusuf’s successor, Abubakar Shekau, is a particularly enigmatic figure who is known largely through the brief videos his group has released. In one he justifies selling into slavery the schoolgirls kidnapped in Chibok: “Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell.” Each time Nigerian forces claim to have killed him, new videos emerge, though security officials question whether the same person appears in all the grainy images.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchBooksReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 27, 2015 at 5:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Anti-IS Sunnis think they should be armed again, as they were when the Americans fought al-Qaeda in Iraq, IS’s predecessor. But nobody is willing to give them weapons. “We wanted a national army,” says Ghazi Faisal al-Kuaud, a tribesman fighting alongside the government in Ramadi. “Instead they formed the Shia equivalent of IS.”

And Shia distrust of the Sunnis grows at a pace that matches that of the losses from its militias. Overlooking Najaf’s sprawling tombs, gravediggers talk of the brisk business they are doing burying militiamen. “I’ve never had it so busy,” says one. “Not even after 2003 or 2006 [the height of Iraq’s civil war].” The Sunnis “never accepted losing power from the time of Imam Ali, so why would they now?” asks Haider, a Shia shop owner. “Wherever you find Sunnis and you give them weapons, you will find IS,” says Bashar, a militiaman. Many Shias feel that the fight against IS justifies them in excluding Sunnis from government and the security apparatus.

The state that IS wanted to build looks more unlikely than ever to become a lasting reality, and that is good. The ruined territory on which it hoped to build, though, may end up even more damaged than it was at the outset.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 26, 2015 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

“Each week that passes we learn of more brutal Boko Haram abuses against civilians,” Mausi Segun, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement. “The Nigerian government needs to make protecting civilians a priority in military operations against Boko Haram.”

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Posted March 26, 2015 at 7:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The road from St. Matthew's brings you to the front line, just six miles from the outskirts of Mosul. Every town and village between here and the occupied city is in the hands of the Islamic State. And now, we're told, for the first time in nearly 2,000 years, there are no Christians left inside Mosul.

Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf: They take everything from us, but they cannot take the God from our hearts, they cannot.

Nicodemus Sharaf is the Archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Mosul, one of about 10,000 Christians who fled the city. We found him living as a refugee in the Kurdish capital, Erbil. He said ISIS fighters were already inside Mosul when he escaped.

Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf: I didn't have any time to take anything. I was told I had five minutes to go. Just I took five books that are very old.

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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Culture-WatchBooksHistoryReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 24, 2015 at 5:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

It was midnight when Babagana crept out of the Boko Haram hideout that had been his home for three days. Once he made his escape, he walked through the forest for hours before he found help. Like the other boys conscripted by the militants, he had been told that he would be hunted down and killed if he deserted.

“I didn’t leave with anything,” Babagana told me. “When the chance came to escape, I only had my pants on. I ran almost naked.”

Babagana was just 16 when militants invaded his town in northeastern Nigeria last May, butchering his parents as he watched, burning down his home, and forcing him to become one of thousands of Boko Haram soldiers.

Babagana still vividly recalls his involuntary induction into a world of misery. Boko Haram militants invaded the rural town of Gamboru in Borno State, burnt down houses and demanded that the local children be handed over to them. Parents who objected were killed, and a couple of children were forcefully taken.

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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryDeath / Burial / Funerals* Culture-WatchChildrenMarriage & FamilyReligion & CultureTeens / YouthViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted March 23, 2015 at 4:30 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Radical Islamic groups are using high-quality videos to recruit young Muslims in the US and Europe to join their fight. Now, a Somali Muslim immigrant in Minnesota is fighting back with his own videos—an animated series called “Average Mohamed” that counters extremist ideas about Islam.

Read or watch it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchMediaReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted March 23, 2015 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

At the beginning of December [2014] I went on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, for a few days to the north of Iraq, to Kurdistan, first to Erbil, the Kurdish capital, and then a three-hour journey to Dohuk. I went to see and know at firsthand the situation of the many thousands displaced by the forces of the Islamic State, which in August last year over-ran Mosul, Iraq’s second city, and then swept across the Nineveh plain, with its many Christian villages.

In one camp, in the grounds of Mar Elias Church, they were putting up their Christmas crib. It was in a tent, a tent like those which had been the shelter for families who had had to flee from their homes, their culture, their churches. As they put up the tent, and placed the nativity figures in it, of Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child, with the shepherds and the angels, it was a indeed a reminder of the reality of the Incarnation: God chose to come down into our midst – he pitched his tent among us.

The advance of ISIS forces, with their distorted fanatical interpretation of Islam, and appalling associated brutality, echoes the invasion of the Mongols centuries earlier, which likewise had devastating consequences for the Christian population of what is now Iraq. Christians and Christianity in the Middle East are under threat as never before. They find themselves ground so often between upper and nether millstones – between the conflict between Sunni and Shia, or between Israel and Palestine.

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Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalArchbishop of Canterbury Anglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)CoE Bishops* Christian Life / Church LifeSpirituality/Prayer* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted March 23, 2015 at 5:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

For all its brutality, ISIS is often praised for its social media savvy and a passion among its members akin to that of a very famous Silicon Valley start-up, says one Muslim social media entrepreneur. The way to defeat the group’s extremism is by harnessing the creativity of entrepreneurs, he says.

Listen to it all (about 4 minutes).

Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationMediaReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsEconomyConsumer/consumer spendingCorporations/Corporate LifeTerrorism* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted March 22, 2015 at 5:05 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

...the trickle of volunteers has come from across the country. On Tuesday, a 47-year-old Air Force veteran with a checkered work history was charged in Brooklyn with trying to join the Islamic State. Two weeks earlier, a computer-savvy 17-year-old boy in Virginia was charged with helping a man a few years older make contact with the terrorist group and get to Syria.

The cases raise a pressing question: Is the slick online propaganda that ISIS has mastered enough to lure recruits, or is face-to-face persuasion needed? A federal grand jury in Minneapolis is investigating whether an Islamic State recruiter gave Mr. Nur and Mr. Yusuf cash to buy plane tickets.

“No young person gets up one day and says, ‘I’m going to join ISIS,’ ” said Abdirizak Bihi, 50, a Somali activist who has worked against radicalization since his nephew left Minnesota in 2008 and was killed fighting for the Shabab.

“There has to be someone on the ground to listen to your problems and channel your anger,” Mr. Bihi said. “Online is like graduate studies.”

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchBlogging & the Internet--Social NetworkingGlobalizationReligion & CultureViolenceYoung Adults* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 22, 2015 at 12:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Boko Haram forcibly married scores of women in Bama after seizing it in September. Nigeria's military announced the recapture of the town on Monday.

Witnesses who were taken under military protection this week to Borno's capital, Maiduguri, 73 kilometres (45 miles) away, said the killing of women began 10 days before Bama was liberated.

The Islamists said if they kill their wives, "they would remain pious until both of them meet again in heaven, where they would re-unite," said Salma Mahmud, another witness.

"He informed them of the situation and the consequence of the takeover of the town by the advancing troops. He warned them that when soldiers killed them, they would take their wives back to the society where they would be forced to marry and live with infidels. The commander said it would be better for them to kill their wives and send them to heaven," the mother-of-seven said.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 22, 2015 at 11:02 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Right now, in Syria and Iraq, militant Islamists are taking over churches by force and turning them in to mosques. In the Church of England, apparently, all that’s needed is an ask. On March 6, in the heart of London, St. John’s Waterloo hosted a Muslim prayer service or “Jummah” in the sanctuary, on consecrated ground. Apparently the “Inclusive Jummah” was exclusive of anything Christian—hence what appears to be the covering up of all Christian imagery so as not to offend the worshippers.

Can you think of anything more bewildering, more offensive to Anglican followers of Jesus Christ and others who are suffering persecution at the hands of radical Muslims—watching their children beheaded by ISIS in places like Mosul, Iraq because they would not deny Jesus Christ? Watching their loved ones burned alive in hundreds of Anglican churches in Northern Nigeria by members of Boko Haram? Watching their relatives and friends be blown up during Sunday worship services by Islamic extremists in Pakistan?

Would it seem to them simply “a strange and erroneous opinion”?

And what sense could they possibly make of the relative silence and inaction of the bishops in the Church of England who are overseers of this church—the Bishop of Southwark, the area bishop who directly oversees this congregation, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury who is, apparently, the patron of St. John’s?

Well, there has been an “apology” by the Vicar of St. John’s, in a joint statement from the Bishop of Southwark. But in fact it isn’t an apology at all. The apology is only for the “offence” that it caused, for the “infringement” of the “guidelines and framework” of the Church of England. There is no acknowledgement that this service denied a core doctrine of the Christian faith. No acknowledgement that it was simply wrong to cover up Christian symbols and to permit a prayer service that begins with the assertion that only Allah is God and Muhammed his prophet.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalArchbishop of Canterbury Anglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)CoE Bishops* Christian Life / Church LifeLiturgy, Music, WorshipParish MinistryMinistry of the OrdainedSpirituality/Prayer* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral TheologyPastoral TheologyThe Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

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Posted March 21, 2015 at 3:07 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

On New Year’s Day, President al-Sisi of Egypt made a remarkable speech. How, he asked, could belief in Islam make Muslim nations a “source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction”?

“Is it possible”, he added, “that 1.6 billion people should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants — that is seven billion — so that they themselves may live?” He was asking where the mechanism of restraining Islamic violence lay.

But this heroic intervention has not sparked a worldwide theological debate among Muslims. The only perceivable response was the slaughter of 21 Egyptian Copts by Isis in Libya.

To understand the lack of protest by moderate Muslims, we need to look at Islam on its own terms and not try to see it through “Christianised” spectacles....

Read it all (requires subscription)

Filed under: * Culture-WatchBooksHistoryReligion & CultureViolence* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 21, 2015 at 1:01 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Jihadists from the Islamic State (IS) group may have committed genocide and war crimes against the minority Yazidi community in Iraq, the UN says.

In a new report, it says IS had "the intent... to destroy the Yazidi as a group."

Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled villages in northern Iraq amid IS advances last summer. Many were killed, captured and enslaved.

Yazidis follow an ancient faith that jihadists regard as devil worship.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 19, 2015 at 4:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A priest in the diocese of Southwark who opened us his church for Muslim prayers has apologised after being told that this was not permitted within a consecrated building.

The Vicar of St John's, Waterloo, the Canon Giles Goddard, said on Tuesday that the event had caused "great consternation", and he apologised for "the offence caused and any infringement of Church of England's framework and guidelines".

The prayers were held on 6 March as part of the Inclusive Mosque Initiative, in the run-up to International Women's Day. They were led by Dr Amina Wadud who campaigns for gender justice in Islam. Men and women sat alongside one another in the church.

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Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* Christian Life / Church LifeLiturgy, Music, WorshipParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* Theology

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Posted March 18, 2015 at 11:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Complaints about the service prompted a meeting on 10 March 2015 between Canon Goddard and the Bishop of Kingston-on-Thames, the Rt. Rev. Richard Cheetham -- who also services as Anglican president of the Christian Muslim Forum. After the meeting Canon Goddard gave an interview to Ruth Gledhill of Christian Today stating everything his church did was legal and within bishops' guidelines.

He added: ‘It is very much about St John’s being a place of welcome. We understand God as a generous God, a God who celebrates love and celebrates life.”

‘We try and make sure we live that out. In that sense we feel very properly Anglican.’

However, Dr. Gerald Bray, director of research at the Latimer Trust at Oak Hill Theological College in London questioned Canon Goddard’s views about Islam and Christianity. Writing on Facebook he said: “The simple truth is that Islam is the only major world religion that is explicitly anti-Christian. The Buddha, for example, could not have known anything about Jesus and did not develop his ideas in contrast to Christ. Muhammad, on the other hand, knew about Christians and Jews and could easily have become one or the other himself. Instead, he concocted his own religion based on elements of Judaism and Christianity and regarded it is the culmination (perfection) of both. You could say that Islam is related to Christianity in much the same way as Mormonism is, but this does not constitute 'a common tradition’.”

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Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* Christian Life / Church LifeLiturgy, Music, WorshipParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted March 18, 2015 at 11:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Nigerian army said on Tuesday it had repelled Boko Haram from all but three local government districts in the northeast, claiming victory for its offensive against the Islamist insurgents less than two weeks before a presidential election.

At the start of this year, Boko Haram controlled around 20 local government areas, a territory the size of Belgium, in its bloody six-year-old campaign to carve out an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria.

But a concerted push by Nigeria's military and neighbors Chad, Cameroon and Niger has regained considerable ground. At the weekend, Nigerian government forces recaptured the city of Bama, the second biggest in northeasterly Borno state.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 17, 2015 at 5:04 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

On a damp and dreary Saturday two months ago, several hundred mourners gathered outside City Hall here for a memorial service honoring Dr. Maher Hathout. Born in Egypt and trained as a cardiologist, Dr. Hathout, 79, had devoted decades to espousing a moderate version of Islam and reaching across denominational lines to other faiths.

So there was nothing surprising about the presence of rabbis and priests, Sikhs and Episcopalians at the service. The unexpected moment came when a man in a different sort of vestment, the dark blue uniform of the Los Angeles Police Department, knelt before Dr. Hathout’s widow and presented her with the carefully folded triangle of an American flag.

For the man in the uniform, Deputy Chief Michael Downing, that moment distilled the uncommon role he has within the department. While his full title aptly describes his investigative mission — commanding officer of the counterterrorism and special operations bureau — it omits what has become the signature element of his 33-year career. In a city with a history of traumatic, adversarial relations between the police force and various minority groups, Muslims among them, Chief Downing has forged bonds that are both durable and contentious.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesPolice/FireReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted March 14, 2015 at 11:28 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Saudi Arabia defended its human rights record on Saturday in its first public reaction to international criticism over last year's sentencing of liberal Saudi blogger Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for "insulting Islam".

The first 50 of Badawi's lashes were carried out in January, prompting strong criticism of the kingdom's rights record in Western countries, including its laws on political and religious expression and the status of Saudi women.

"Saudi Arabia expresses its intense surprise and dismay at what is being reported by some media about the case of citizen Raif Badawi and his sentence," said a statement carried on state media and attributed to an unnamed "foreign ministry official".

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchBlogging & the InternetGlobalizationLaw & Legal IssuesMediaReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsForeign RelationsPolitics in General* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyAnthropologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 11, 2015 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Memories of Boko Haram's murderous spree in his Nigerian hometown haunt Tom Gowon, 9, as he sits on a patch of grass at a refugee camp, sipping steaming porridge from a plastic mug.

"I was lucky because I was not killed," said Gowon, recalling the assault on Baga, Nigeria, in early January. "But they shot and killed my father. My mother was kidnapped by the militants."

Children such as Gowon bear the brunt of Boko Haram's rampage since its fighters kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls last year and conquered enough territory to declare a caliphate that covers one-fifth of Nigeria.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchChildrenReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaChadNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 11, 2015 at 5:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram’s vow of allegiance to Islamic State shows it’s being weakened by a military offensive by government forces and neighboring countries, according to analysts including Martin Roberts at IHS Country Risk.

Boko Haram made the pledge of unity with Islamic State as forces from neighboring Chad and Niger joined Nigerian soldiers in strikes against the group. In fighting over the weekend, the armies took control of Damasak, about 700 kilometers (435 miles) north of the capital, Abuja, from rebels who had held the territory for five months. Nigerian soldiers on Monday killed “a number” of insurgents in northeastern Adamawa state and seized anti-aircraft guns and ammunition, military spokesman Colonel Sani Usman said in an e-mail on Tuesday.

Read it all.


Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeriaMiddle East* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 10, 2015 at 7:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Forces from the group calling itself Islamic State launched a fresh offensive to overrun a string of Christian towns in northeastern Syria on Saturday, setting off violent clashes with local fighters mobilized against the militants.

A mixture of Assyrian Christians and Kurds fought off the Islamic State assault, activist groups said, just a week after extremists took about 250 people in the area—many women, children and elderly men.

The contested towns are along the Khabur river in al-Hasaka province, a strategic gateway that would help Islamic State consolidate territory it holds in Iraq and Syria. The population of the area is predominately Christian, while the Kurds are a minority.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraqSyria* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted March 8, 2015 at 12:30 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

CORNISH: Sitting next to Ala is Magdy Khaleel. He's 46 and Egyptian. He teaches architecture at the Technical University of Dresden. He says the fear of the protesters was very real.

MAGDY KHALEEL: We have families here and some people have been attacked, so we are a little bit worried. When you are sitting, you don't know who is with you in the metro or in the tram. You don't know he's with PEGIDA or against PEGIDA, so this has increased the feeling among people - so I should be careful, maybe he stab me. This is not comfortable life, you know? But we found some solidarity from different communities here in Dresden as well.

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Posted March 8, 2015 at 12:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS), according to an audio statement.

The message, which was not verified, was posted on Boko Haram's Twitter account and appeared to be by the group's leader, Abubakar Shekau.

Boko Haram began a military campaign to impose Islamic rule in northern Nigeria in 2009. The conflict has since spread to neighbouring states.

It would be the latest in a series of groups to swear allegiance to IS.

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Posted March 7, 2015 at 5:16 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

“We’re moving on Salahaddin,” said Badr Organization spokesman and military commander Karim al-Nouri. “And there are three names that strike fear in the heart of daesh: Hajj Qassem Suleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and Hadi al-Amiri.”

These three figures might not be household names in Indiana, but in Iraq they are the biggest stars within the constellation of Shiite militias that are now trying to drive the Islamic State out of Tikrit, the capital of Salahaddin province. Suleimani, who is the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, regularly travels around the Middle East to lend support to Tehran’s allies; Muhandis, who is the leader of the Kataib Hezbollah militia, was convicted for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait; and Amiri is the commander of the Badr Organization, one of Iraq’s largest and most prominent Shiite militias. Together, they form the backbone of Iranian influence in Iraq, which is at its highest point in almost four centuries.

Iraq’s Shiite militias have seen their influence skyrocket since last summer, as they have played a central role in beating back the Islamic State’s advance in Baghdad and the surrounding area. Tikrit, however, presents them with new challenges: It is the largest predominantly Sunni city that they have sought to reclaim, and U.S. officials have warned of a sectarian bloodbath if the militias launch an offensive there.

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Posted March 7, 2015 at 11:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

As a convoy of trucks carrying smoked fish cruised along the border of Niger and Nigeria last week, a Nigerien Air Force plane swooped low and opened fire, destroying the trucks and forcing the drivers to flee into Nigeria on foot.

The ill-fated fishmongers, Nigerien officials said, were collaborating with Boko Haram to sell their goods in Nigeria, despite Niger’s recent ban on cross-border fish trades. (Residents of Niger are called Nigerien; those from Nigeria are known as Nigerian). According to the Nigerien government, Boko Haram taxes goods transported through the territory the group controls to add to its cash reserves and finance terrorism, and the recent ban is intended to choke the Islamist group’s resources.

This alleged collaboration between rural fish traders and members of Boko Haram sheds some light on the group’s murky funding tactics, which differ sharply from those of other terrorist groups. In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has profited from illicit oil sales and bank lootings. Al Qaeda weaved an intricate financial web of sympathetic mosques, fake charities, and drug sales. In Afghanistan, the Taliban taxes opium and raisins. But in the largely impoverished Lake Chad basin, Boko Haram is now raising money by ignoring the rich and targeting the poor, an unusually cruel tactic that takes struggling innocents and pushes them over the financial cliff.

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Posted March 6, 2015 at 6:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Western leaders have long urged Muslims to do more to counter jihadist ideology. This month Barack Obama said moderate Muslims, including scholars and clerics, had a responsibility to reject “twisted interpretations of Islam” and the lie “that America and the West are somehow at war with Islam”. On February 23rd Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, urged Muslim leaders to say that Islam is a religion of peace—“and mean it”.

Muslims have not taken kindly to such hectoring. Yet they are starting to debate the role that Islamist ideology plays in extremism. On February 22nd Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque, part of a university that is the Sunni world’s oldest seat of learning, declared that extremism was caused by “bad interpretations of the Koran and the Sunna [the doings of the Prophet Muhammad]”, and that what was taught in Islamic schools and universities needed to change.

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Posted March 5, 2015 at 3:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The persecution of Christians reached historic levels in 2014, according to Open Doors USA, which estimated that 100 million Christians around the world face dire consequences for practicing their faith. North Korea topped the list of offending nations, with Iraq third and Syria fourth. Other regimes among the worst for Christians were Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, and Nigeria.

In Iraq and Syria in 2014, the so-called Islamic State ravaged Christian towns and forced Christians to flee or face death. In mid-February of this year, the world witnessed a video allegedly portraying the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by militia in Libya allied with the Islamic State. Christians have been repeatedly targeted in the midst of that nation’s civil war....In late February, 90 Christians were kidnapped in northeastern Syria.

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Posted March 5, 2015 at 6:40 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A video released by Boko Haram purporting to show two beheadings shows that it is "incorporating itself into the Islamic State", an organisation that monitors terrorist groups has warned.

Veryan Khan, editorial director of the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium [TRAC], told Fox News that the latest release "shows Boko Haram is not a mere copycat of ISIS; rather, it is incorporating itself into the Islamic State."

ISIS supporters are "already starting to call Boko Haram the 'Islamic State Africa," Khan said.

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Posted March 4, 2015 at 5:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877/78-1960) wended his way into my doctoral research in 1999. Ian Markham commenced his study of Nursi in 2002. Of the relatively short list of English-language scholarly books about Nursi, several contain an essay by one or both of us. Markham, however, has gone steps farther than I. He included a chapter on Nursi in his Theology of Engagement (Blackwell, 2003); and significantly, of the English-language scholarly books on Nursi, Markham’s name is on the front cover of three, including the two texts under review here.

Who is Nursi? A Kurdish-Turkish scholar and spiritual leader, his public career overlapped two world wars, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and Turkey’s subsequent efforts to establish a different kind of government and national identity. His disciples — an extensive global community — see him as an Islamic restorationist, a God-sent reviver of the religion for the 20th century and beyond. Hence, they often refer to him by the honorific Bediuzzaman, that is, Wonder of the Age. His disciples are ardent students of his legacy, having produced more than 5,000 pages of thematically organized Qur’an commentary, practical spiritual guidance, and correspondence, most of which is published as the multi-volume Risale-i Nur (Epistles of Light). Nursi’s biography is compelling; but wading into his Risale can be daunting. He has his modern-day detractors, the government of Russia among them. Ian Markham’s Nursi projects offer guidance toward understanding and appreciation of Bediuzzaman.

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Posted March 4, 2015 at 7:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

An urgent national debate is needed to address the disproportionate number of Muslim men among groups convicted of using and selling young teenagers for sex, according to a landmark report.

Failings by police and care professionals led to more than 370 young girls in Oxfordshire falling victim to “conveyor-belt” sex crimes over the past 15 years, a serious case review published yesterday concluded.

It came after six young Oxford girls suffered years of abuse from multiple offenders, some of whom travelled the length of the country for sex in bedsits and guest houses. A review of agencies dealing with the victims identified an “undeniable” link between men of Pakistani heritage and “indescribably awful” crimes across England.

Read it all (requires subscription).

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Posted March 4, 2015 at 5:01 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Nigeria’s bishops have condemned Boko Haram’s use of children to commit suicide bombings.

“We deplore the fact that young children are used to commit such crimes, and the fact that young Nigerians are used by politicians to intimidate and inflict violence on their political opponents is a disturbing symptom of breakdown of family values in our society,” the bishops said at the end of a five-day meeting on the theme, ‘Good Families Make Good Nations’.

“We wonder: Who are the parents of these young Nigerians? Do these young ones not belong to families?” it said.

It said that many families were currently facing challenges caused by the Boko Haram insurgency and the heightened tension occasioned by the coming general elections, now scheduled for March 28 and April 11.

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Posted March 4, 2015 at 4:40 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The area that the MNJTF will be covering draws the force's first limit.

Military and diplomatic sources have confirmed that MNJTF soldiers will only operate between the outskirts of Niger's Diffa border town, and the towns of Baga and Ngala in Nigeria.

In other words, the regional force's main task will be to secure the Nigerian side of Lake Chad, which represents "only 10 to 15% of the entire area where Boko Haram operates", according to a diplomat based in the region, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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Posted March 3, 2015 at 5:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Sadiqu al-Mousllie sees humor as a good way to fight growing anti-Islam sentiment in Germany.

He lives in Braunschweig, in western Germany. Earlier this month, he decided to go downtown and hold up a sign that read, "I am a Moslem. What would you like to know?"

"This is a bridge of communication," the Syrian-born German says. "Some people dared to ask, some others not, so we went to them and give them some chocolate and a say of our prophet to know what Muslims are thinking about."

Mousllie, 44, says he hopes to do it every other week.

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Posted March 3, 2015 at 1:28 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Nineteen of an estimated 220 members of an Assyrian Christian community kidnapped by Islamic State (IS) in north-eastern Syria have been released, activists say.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said an Assyrian commander had told it of the releases.

Some reports say the releases were made in exchange for a sum of money.

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Posted March 2, 2015 at 3:45 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

It offends many Muslims that their religion is connected automatically to the terrorism and cold-blooded massacres that are currently creating chaos in Iraq, Syria and Libya. They believe that terms like “Islamic terrorism,” “Jihadism” and “Islamo-fascism” carry an unfair implication that all Muslims are likely to support such crimes.

“Stop saying these words, they hurt,” a Toronto imam, Hamid Slimi, urged the federal government at a recent conference. He’s the former chairman of the Canadian Council of Imams, currently at work on a global campaign, Muslim Messengers of Peace.

Everyone can sympathize with law-abiding, peace-loving Muslims when they feel accused by implication of atrocities committed far away by people with whom they have no real connection except their religion. But the connection is not as distant as they might like to think.

Read it all from the National Post.

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Posted March 1, 2015 at 4:20 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

...propagandists for jihad describe life under IS and wartime domesticity. Ms Mahmood gloats about microwaves and milkshake machines seized from non-believers. But they also express the pain of leaving families and the feeling of being very foreign in the Middle East. In a series called “Life of a Muhajirah [emigrant]”, a pregnant woman posts a picture of her ultrasound and worries that her husband will be become a shahid (martyr), though she accepts that this may be God’s will.

By establishing a caliphate, IS, unlike previous jihadist groups, is attempting to build a state. That has opened up roles for women. Fighting, though, is off-limits. “Women in the Islamic State”, a document published in January by an all-female unit of IS known as the al-Khansaa Brigade (translated into English by the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think-tank in London), explains that women should be mothers and homemakers, while men are by nature restless; “if the roles are mixed the basis of humanity is thrown into a state of flux and instability.”

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Posted March 1, 2015 at 3:15 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

President Obama isn’t alone in grappling with how best to counter ISIS and its brand of Islamic extremism—and convening summits for just that purpose. Earlier this week, the Muslim World League, a Saudi-backed alliance of Islamic NGOs, wrapped up a little-noticed three-day conference in Mecca on “Islam and Counterterrorism.” With the patronage of Saudi Arabia’s newly minted King Salman bin Abdulaziz and a keynote address by Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Sunni Islam’s most prestigious university, al-Azhar in Egypt, the program sought to address the nature of terrorism, its relationship to Islam, and what the Muslim community can do to prevent its members from becoming radicalized. The proceedings offered a counterpoint to the U.S. government’s narrative about the nature of the Islamic State and how to confront the group.

Obama has been criticized recently for attempting to delink ISIS (or ISIL, as he would put it) and other terrorist groups from Islam. The president has been sounding this note since the fall, when he insisted, “ISIL is not Islamic.” And there’s reason behind his rhetoric. Obama is seeking to combat rising Islamophobia in many parts of the world, assure Muslims that the United States is not at war with Islam, and fight a war against a barbarous terrorist organization that seeks its legitimacy through Islamic theology. Earlier this month, the White House and State Department hosted a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), during which the president once again insisted, “We are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” and “No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism.” The president hasn’t gone so far as to deny any connection between terrorism and Islam, but he tends to acknowledge the link by noting how ISIS and similar groups exploit Islam to justify violence while their true motivations are wholly distinct from their faith.

At the conference in Mecca, by contrast, speakers seem to have been less certain that Islamist terror can be divorced from Islam....

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Posted March 1, 2015 at 2:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The historian Tom Holland tweeted...[yesterday] morning: ‘What ‪#ISIS are doing to the people & culture of ‪#Assyria is worthy of the Nazis. None of us can say we didn’t know....’

There are a few thousand Assyrians in Britain, many of whom were given right of entry because their grandfathers fought alongside the British in two world wars. They are immensely proud of their heritage, and fond of the British Museum where so much of it remains safe; can one imagine how they feel watching footage of these savages destroying what their ancestors built and which they hoped to pass on to their descendants?

There are currently Assyrian troops fighting alongside the Kurds on the front line with Isis, but they are short of weapons. They say they have got little military support from the West, just as they have received little political support in the past; before the latest crisis broke out Assyrians in Iraq campaigned for a safe haven in the Nineveh Plains where they and other minorities, namely the Yazidi, could protect themselves inside the country. Without support from the Americans, the Baghdad government would not agree, and in light of recent events it seems like a reasonable request now.

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Posted February 28, 2015 at 1:02 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Early in the summer of 2007, a doctoral student named Mehnaz M. Afridi traveled from her California home to a conference in southern Germany. Her official role was to deliver a paper on anti-Semitism in Egyptian literature, a rather loaded subject for a Muslim scholar. Seventy miles away, she had another appointment, and an even riskier agenda.

After the conference concluded, Ms. Afridi drove to the former concentration camp in Dachau, Germany. As she stood before the dun bricks of a crematorium, she prayed. “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un,” she said in Arabic, meaning, “Surely we belong to God and to him shall we return.”

“I didn’t know that moment would be defining my role,” Dr. Afridi, 44, said a few weeks ago. “I didn’t even realize then that I was at a crossroads. People see the Holocaust and Islam as two separate things, but these stories of faith and catastrophe are not opposites. They are companions.”

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchEducationHistoryReligion & CultureViolence* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslamJudaism* TheologyAnthropologyEthics / Moral TheologyTheodicy

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Posted February 28, 2015 at 9:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

For months he taunted, knife in hand, his voice slightly muffled behind the mask that became the grim symbol of Islamic State barbarism.

But when the identity of the killer known as “Jihadi John” was revealed Thursday, the profile that emerged was disturbingly familiar: a young man whose parents’ decision to immigrate to the West afforded him a comfortable life and an education, but who ultimately found identity and succor in extremist ideology.

His name is Mohammed Emwazi. And despite friends’ descriptions of a polite and quiet man not capable of violence, Emwazi’s links to extremist groups appear to have been long-standing, and he was well known to counterterrorism officials in London before he went to Syria.

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Posted February 27, 2015 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Austria’s Parliament passed a law Wednesday (Feb. 25) that seeks to regulate how Islam is administered, singling out its large Muslim minority for treatment not applied to any other religious group.

The “Law on Islam” bans foreign funding for Islamic organizations and requires any group claiming to represent Austrian Muslims to submit and use a standardized German translation of the Quran.

The law met with little opposition from the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic population, was backed by Austria’s Catholic bishops, and was grudgingly accepted by the main Muslim organization. But it upset Turkey’s state religious establishment.

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Posted February 26, 2015 at 11:08 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

An interim government would be “alien to the constitution” says Mohammed Bello Adoke, the attorney-general. Mr Jonathan told the FT such a government could only emerge from a military coup. However, he could theoretically push back the polls and extend his tenure on a rolling six month basis by declaring the nation at war with Boko Haram insurgents. This would require the — unlikely — endorsement of two-thirds of the National Assembly. Alternatively if for whatever reason no winner emerges by May 29, the senate president, former army colonel David Mark, would stand in with 60 days to organise elections.

The fear is that without popular legitimacy, any government — military or civilian — will struggle to repair the fissures that will appear should Gen Buhari’s followers in the north believe him to have been cheated of victory. The same applies to a lesser degree to Mr Jonathan’s supporters, with former warlords in the oil-producing Niger delta threatening to take up arms again should he be bullied out of office. In such a febrile environment, there is a risk of ethnic killing especially in the north — as happened in 1965 in the run up to the Biafran civil war.

Nigeria has withdrawn from the brink on a number of occasions since. This time the army, potentially divided and already pinned down by Boko Haram, might have difficulty containing violence across many fronts, and the country’s future as one nation would be at stake. “These next five weeks are among the most dangerous in Nigeria’s history,” says Nasir el-Rufai, a former government minister contesting the Kaduna state governorship.

Read it all (emphasis mine).

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Posted February 26, 2015 at 6:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Given that the connection of Islam to Muslim-majority cultures is particularly strong, does there not need to be, nevertheless, a proper distinction between religion and culture? Should not this be so, even if many cultural practices and values are derived from a particular religious tradition? The problem with identifying culture entirely with religion is that contextualization can begin to look very much like capitulation. The issue becomes sharply focused in the debate about “insiders,” or followers of Jesus within Muslim communities who maintain their Muslim identity. To what extent has there been conversion if people continue to participate in the salat (ritual prayer), make the shahada (the Muslim profession of faith), derive their knowledge of Jesus and devotion to him mainly from the Qur’an and the Hadith, and so on? Other questions concern the relation of communities of such followers (if they are in communities) to other local churches and the worldwide church. Also, how are persons and cultures to be transformed by the Gospel if the status quo ante is largely maintained? There remain serious questions about whether such communities or persons will be allowed to survive within the Dar al-Islam (House of Islam).

We must remember that evangelists and missionaries stand within the apostolic tradition and are not semidetached from it or outside it altogether. This means, for instance, not making up elements of contextualization but using the rich and varied sources of Christian tradition—for example, in patterns of worship, liturgy, the public reading of the Scriptures, and forms of private devotion. In Islamic contexts, we are particularly fortunate that so much has been taken from Eastern Christian traditions and can be reappropriated without violence to the integrity of the Gospel. The problem sometimes is that Western Christian missionaries, and even Westernized indigenous Christians, are unaware of this rich heritage waiting on their doorstep or are suspicious of it. In some places, Islam is an import into an existing Christian culture; elsewhere, both Christianity and Islam have come from outside. Whatever the case, rich resources for inculturation are available because of the historic interaction between Muslims and Christians. Let us use them!

The book represents a brave attempt at assessing the many opportunities and problems for Christian witness in Muslim contexts. I hope it is only the beginning and that some of the issues raised in this review essay will be tackled at the next conference and in any publications that result from it.

Read it all (requires free registration).

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Posted February 26, 2015 at 5:40 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The World Council of Churches condemns the latest attacks and atrocities by the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) most recently against Christian villages in the region of Khabour in the governorate of Hassake, Syria. According to reports received, in the early morning of 23 February large numbers of IS fighters attacked these villages, killing a number of civilians, taking approximately 100 people captive, and provoking a mass exodus from these communities. These attacks seem to be attempts at opening a new corridor towards the Turkish border that could facilitate the procurement of both weapons and mercenaries.

Read it all.

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Posted February 25, 2015 at 5:41 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In other words the Muslim states have often denounced “terrorism,” but only by defining that term to exclude any and all attacks against Israel and miscellaneous other depredations, such as against Americans in Iraq, undertaken in the name of “national resistance.” To countenance terror in some cases is to countenance terror, period. Who, after all, would support terror on behalf of causes that he opposes? Just as the only meaningful test of support for free speech is support for speech with which one does not agree, so the only meaningful measure of opposition to terrorism is to condemn it even if carried out in the service of a cause of which one approves.

This the Muslim world remains reluctant to do. Palestine is its signature cause. Although the Palestinians did not invent terror, it was Fatah and kindred Palestinian groups that in the 1970s, with their attacks on airplanes, ships, trains, embassies, and even the Olympic Games, made terrorism the scourge of international life that it is today and inspired others to emulate their deeds. Yet how many Muslim voices can be heard anywhere decrying Palestinian terror? Even the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, which has repeatedly renounced terrorism, continues to honor child-murderers and pay stipends to imprisoned terrorists and the families of deceased terrorists. Its official news agency described last summer’s killers of three Israeli teens as “martyrs.” This past November, when four rabbis were hacked to death in prayer in Jerusalem, Abbas condemned the deed, but that same day, as Palestinian Media Watch has documented, Fatah’s Facebook page signaled to the Palestinians that he did not really mean it. It posted a clip from a television interview with one of Arafat’s bodyguards describing how Arafat sometimes bowed to foreign pressure to condemn terror attacks but would do so insincerely because, the guard explained, Islam allows lying under such circumstances. Any viewer would grasp the implication that Abbas was acting in the same manner as his predecessor.

Aside from playing semantic games with the word terrorism, there is another reason that helps to explain why the world’s Muslim governments maintain a strong front in defense of terrorism even while surveys, like Pew’s, suggest that most Muslims reject violence against civilians. The political dynamics of any community are shaped only in part by the proportion of people who believe one thing or another. They are also shaped by the intensity with which views are held. A huge advantage accrues to those who, in Yeats’s line, “are full of passionate intensity.” Today, in the Muslim world, the passionate ones are the Islamists.

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Posted February 25, 2015 at 5:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

[ISIS] ...militants have kidnapped dozens of people from Christian villages in Syria, a human rights watchdog has said.

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the militants stormed at least two villages, inhabited by the ancient Assyrian Christian minority, shortly after dawn, taking some 90 civilians captive.

Nuri Kino, the head of the activist group A Demand For Action, quoted villagers who fled the attacks as saying between 70 and 100 people are being held.

A number of children are understood to be among them.

Read it all.

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Posted February 24, 2015 at 5:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The brother of two of the 21 Coptic Christians murdered in Libya last week has thanked their killers for including the men's declaration of faith in the video they made of their beheadings.

Speaking on a live prayer and worship programme on Christian channel SAT-7 ARABIC yesterday, Beshir Kamel said that he was proud of his brothers Bishoy Estafanos Kamel (25) and Samuel Estafanos Kamel (23) because they were "a badge of honour to Christianity".

Harrowing scenes of the murders have been seen around the world. The last words of some of those killed were "Lord Jesus Christ".

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Posted February 21, 2015 at 4:26 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

...privately, the Saudi view is that the air campaign against ISIS, now more than six months old, is not working.

"Having simply these pinprick attacks on certain areas is not going to resolve the issue," says Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief who also served as the ambassador to the U.S. from 2005-7.

An outspoken member of the royal family, Faisal, 70, no longer holds a senior post. But his views are considered to reflect the general thinking of the Saudi leadership.

He says the air strikes against ISIS are too limited and not well coordinated. In addition, he insists the coalition effort is undermined by politics in Europe and mistrust in the Middle East.

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Posted February 20, 2015 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

ithin the narrow bounds of its theology, the Islamic State hums with energy, even creativity. Outside those bounds, it could hardly be more arid and silent: a vision of life as obedience, order, and destiny. Musa Cerantonio and Anjem Choudary could mentally shift from contemplating mass death and eternal torture to discussing the virtues of Vietnamese coffee or treacly pastry, with apparent delight in each, yet to me it seemed that to embrace their views would be to see all the flavors of this world grow insipid compared with the vivid grotesqueries of the hereafter.

I could enjoy their company, as a guilty intellectual exercise, up to a point. In reviewing Mein Kampf in March 1940, George Orwell confessed that he had “never been able to dislike Hitler”; something about the man projected an underdog quality, even when his goals were cowardly or loathsome. “If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.” The Islamic State’s partisans have much the same allure. They believe that they are personally involved in struggles beyond their own lives, and that merely to be swept up in the drama, on the side of righteousness, is a privilege and a pleasure—especially when it is also a burden.

Fascism, Orwell continued, is
psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.
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Posted February 20, 2015 at 5:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India said on Tuesday that his government would not “accept violence against any religion, on any pretext” and that it would take forceful steps to prevent and prosecute such crimes, in a speech widely interpreted as a response to a series of attacks on Roman Catholic churches in and around New Delhi.

“My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the minority or the majority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly,” Mr. Modi said at a New Delhi ceremony to honor the recent canonization of two Indians by the Vatican. “I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard.”

For weeks, church officials and rights campaigners have urged Mr. Modi to address a growing sense of insecurity among the country’s religious minorities, which include large populations of Muslims and Christians.

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Posted February 17, 2015 at 6:34 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Authorities in the landlocked African nation of Niger have arrested 160 suspected Boko Haram militants allegedly involved in deadly attacks near that country's border with Nigeria, a national police spokesman said Tuesday.

The arrests happened over the last two days in Niger's Diffa region, which borders Nigeria. Those taken into custody include Kaka Bunu, who police spokesman Adil Doro said was "involved in the recruitment of (Boko Haram) members."

Some of the suspects fled south, only to be arrested while on the run or in "their hiding places," said Yakubu Sumana Gawo, the governor of Niger's Diffa region.

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Posted February 17, 2015 at 7:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Egyptian army launched airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya hours after the release of a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts kidnapped by Libyan Islamists in December 2014 and January 2015. One may be tempted to say that President Sisi’s response to these murders is comparable to King Abdullah’s after a Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh, was burned to death by ISIS. However, a closer examination of both leaders’ reactions shows a number of significant differences.

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Posted February 17, 2015 at 5:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has called for a United Nations resolution allowing international forces to intervene in Libya.

There was no other choice, he told French radio. "We will not allow them to cut off the heads of our children."

Egyptian jets bombed IS targets on Monday in response to a militant video of the apparent beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians.

Rival militias have been battling for control in Libya since 2011.

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Posted February 17, 2015 at 5:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

It is with great sadness I write you today about the heinous murder of 21 Egyptian Christians at the hand of the so-called lslamic State branch in Libya. These men from the Upper Egyptian city of Samalout are no different from thousands of other Muslim and Christian Egyptians in Libya, seeking employment to support their families back home.

Except that these 21 were specifically chosen for their Christian faith. The video of their beheading expressed the lslamic State's intention to increasingly target the Copts of Egypt. This morning the Egyptian government launched airstrikes on lslamic State positions. lt has declared a week of mourning, banned further travel to Libya, and will work to facilitate the return of all Egyptian citizens. The foreign minister has been dispatched to the United Nations to discuss the necessary international response.

The Anglican Church in Egypt and the world expresses its deep condolences to the families of these men, and also to his Holiness Pope Tawadros ll, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Please join me in praying for peace in Libya, Egypt, and the entire Middle East. Please pray the international community will act in wisdom, correctly and efficiently, and support Egypt in its war on terror. Please pray the churches of Egypt will comfort their sons and daughters, encouraging them to resist fear and hatred. And please pray for the perpetrators of this terrible crime, that God would be merciful to them and change their hearts.

Jesus tells us in John 16:33, "ln the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."

Such cheer may seem impossible, but it is God's promise. Please pray for us, that we may live lives worthy of his name, and hold to the testimony exhibited by the brave Egyptians in Libya.

--The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis is Archbishop of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa

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Posted February 16, 2015 at 2:10 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

"The terrible cruelty of the murders in Denmark, Libya and Nigeria call for deep compassion for the bereaved and killed. The killers seem to rejoice in ever more extreme acts carried out to inflict ever greater terror. We must all weep with those affected, and know that in the love of Christ all evil will be overcome.

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Posted February 16, 2015 at 10:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Pope Francis on Monday denounced the murder of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIL militants in Libya. The Islamist terrorist organization released a video of the killings on Sunday.

Speaking in Spanish to an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland, the Holy Father noted those killed only said “Jesus help me.”

“They were murdered just for the fact they were Christians,” Pope Francis said.

“The blood of our Christian brothers is a witness that cries out,” said the Pope. “If they are Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it is not important: They are Christians. The blood is the same: It is the blood which confesses Christ.''

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Posted February 16, 2015 at 9:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Egypt's Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East and are estimated to account for around 15% of the country's population.

"Coptic" is used to describe the native Christians living in the country, where Christianity is a large minority religion.

The Coptic Orthodox Church was founded in the first century by Saint Mark the apostle, who wrote the second Gospel of the New Testament.

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Posted February 16, 2015 at 8:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon




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Posted February 15, 2015 at 2:14 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A video has emerged showing the beheadings purportedly of 21 Egyptian Christians who had been kidnapped by Islamic State (IS) militants in Libya.

The footage shows a group wearing orange overalls, being forced to the ground and then decapitated.

Egypt's National Defence Council is to meet in emergency session to discuss its response to the killings.

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Posted February 15, 2015 at 2:02 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Nigerian militants attacked villagers and paramilitary forces in neighboring Chad on Friday, killing at least six people in a clash that appeared to be revenge for Chad sending combat troops to fight the Islamic insurgency.

The Boko Haram insurgents were said to have arrived in the early hours of Friday as part of a group of thousands of Nigerian refugees flocking to Ngouboua, a village located north of the capital, Ndjamena, according to military officials and civilians who spoke to The Wall Street Journal.

The gunmen killed six people—five civilians and a paramilitary officer. They also wounded three other officers while four members of Boko Haram were killed, according to these people.

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Posted February 13, 2015 at 1:01 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In an attempt to find a peaceful alternative for those in the Islamic world who advocate violence for political and religious goals, Christians in the West shouldn’t distort the history of Christianity, or stand idly by while others do so. Letting this version of events shape perceptions of Christian history invariably means a portrait of religion as a force of darkness, while science and technology will always be beacons of sanity and light.

The narrative portraying religious conviction as antithetical to reasoned comity among people and nations is easy enough to fall into. At the national prayer breakfast last week, for instance, President Obama compared the excesses of the Crusades and the Inquisition to the terrorism of today’s radical Islam. The president went on to condemn (rightly) those who advance their religious convictions with violence.

But what he and many others miss is the conviction that Western core values come from a faith in which God enters into human history precisely to save the world from the erring reason that fails, among other things, to recognize that terrorism is an affront to God and humanity.

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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & CultureViolence* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relationsSecularism* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted February 13, 2015 at 5:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

When Islamic extremists snatched more than 270 girls from the Chibok boarding school in Nigeria in the dead of night, protests broke out worldwide. The U.S. pledged to help find them, and the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag was born.

Some 10 months later, most are still missing. The Boko Haram extremist group sees the mass kidnapping as a shining symbol of success, and has abducted hundreds of other girls, boys and women. The militants brag to their new captives about the surrender of the Chibok girls, their conversion to Islam and their marriage to fighters.

"They told me the Chibok girls have a new life where they learn to fight," says Abigail John, 15, who was held by Boko Haram for more than four weeks before escaping. "They said we should be like them and accept Islam."

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Posted February 11, 2015 at 8:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

What do the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East, many of them threatened with extinction in lands where they have survived since the dawn of their faith's existence, most need from their co-religionists in the West? Some want more military support, but others take a different view. That difference emerged during a visit to London by Archbishop Bashar Warda, the top Catholic cleric in Erbil, the only Iraqi city where Christians live in significant numbers.

At a meeting yesterday in the House of Lords, co-organised by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the archbishop reminded people of the hard realities facing his flock. As of a result of last year's onslaught by Islamic State, perhaps 400,000 people fled their homes in Mosul and the neighbouring Nineveh Plain and many sought refuge in the adjacent area controlled by the Kurdish regional government. The displaced include Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities. Of the 300,000 or so Christians who remain in Iraq (down from 1.4m a couple of decades ago), the great majority now live in Kurdistan, of which Erbil is the capital.

Iraqi Christians are practical, energetic sorts, the archbishop told his British hosts, and they are not sitting around bemoaning their fate. Huge efforts are being made to get the displaced families, who are now holed up in tents, portakabins and half-built shopping centres, into better accommodation where they can become economically active and their children can pursue studies. The archbishop is working hard to start, by next autumn, a new university which will be Catholic in inspiration but open to all faiths.

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Posted February 11, 2015 at 7:59 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram continues to strengthen its hold over Nigeria’s Muslim-majority north-eastern states, and the Nigerian government seems to be permanently on the back foot.

This week, the government announced it has decided to postpone the Presidential election that was due to be held on February 14th, saying that it needs more time to wrest control from Boko Haram, and ensure a safe and secure poll.

Boko Haram’s stated aim is to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the north of Nigeria, and ultimately to impose sharia law across the whole country. But the religious agenda doesn’t tell the whole story.

Listen to it all.

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Posted February 11, 2015 at 5:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon




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Posted February 10, 2015 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Boko Haram insurgents from Nigeria bombed a Niger border town, killing five people, and carried out attacks in neighbouring Cameroon, kidnapping a bus full of passengers, military and local sources said on Monday.

The jihadist sect has killed thousands of people and kidnapped hundreds in a bid to impose its rule in northeastern Nigeria, and stepped up cross-border incursions into Cameroon.

An intensification of attacks near Lake Chad, a crossroads between Nigeria, Chad, and Niger, has sent tens of thousands of Nigerians fleeing across the borders. The escalating crisis prompted Nigeria to postpone its 14 February presidential election.

With the Nigerian army struggling to contain the militants, bordering countries have launched a regional offensive against them, spurring a series of revenge attacks inside Niger and Cameroon.

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Posted February 10, 2015 at 5:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Jonathan has been sharply criticized for his management of the Boko Haram crisis and some Western leaders suggested the postponement was a last-ditch effort to shore up his vote.

But church leaders in the war-hit regions welcomed the move.

“Many Christians here had not collected their voter cards and this may afford them time to do so,” said the Rev. John Bakeni, the secretary of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri.

Bakeni said the Maiduguri region does not favor Jonathan but most people have accepted the electoral commission’s explanation of wanting to tackle insecurity in the northeast.

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Posted February 10, 2015 at 5:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

This country’s opposition joined the U.S. and local business leaders on Sunday in criticizing the government for postponing a tight presidential election, as the political mood shifted sharply in Africa’s largest democracy.

Many voters here learned Sunday morning that the Feb. 14 election would be delayed six weeks. The decision came the night before from Nigeria’s electoral commission after the military said its campaign against Boko Haram, the Islamist group it has been battling for nearly six years, couldn’t spare the soldiers needed to ensure a safe election.

But the move—taken a week before what polls indicate would be the closest election in Nigerian history—touched a nerve in this country, whose military spent decades overturning or postponing elections until it allowed civilian rule in 1999.

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Posted February 9, 2015 at 5:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Obama administration has touted the modest successes in recent months of Iraqi forces and paramilitary fighters, backed by U.S. air power, as they have fought to wrest towns, villages and parts of Iraq’s rugged countryside from the Islamic State.

Now, the renewed U.S. campaign in Iraq faces a greater challenge as American advisers scramble to prepare Iraqi forces for an offensive to reclaim some of Iraq’s most important cities, which remain under the militant group’s control.

Attempting to take back the city of Mosul, the country’s ­second-largest, as well as Tikrit and Fallujah, will test not only the fighting power of Iraqi forces and the country’s fragile sectarian compact but also President Obama’s indirect strategy for containing the Islamic State.

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Posted February 9, 2015 at 5:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Nigerian government’s military campaign against the Islamist militants of Boko Haram began in 2009, but it was the abduction of the schoolgirls last year that thrust Nigeria into the spotlight and alerted the world to the growing threat of a force that now controls large swaths of Africa’s most populous country. As the continent’s top petroleum producer and the home to rapidly growing telecommunications and entertainment industries, a secure, efficient Nigeria could be a beacon of stability in tumultuous West Africa. But should the country crumble under economic mismanagement and an insurgency that already has free rein over territory roughly the size of Costa Rica in northeastern Nigeria, it risks pulling much of the unstable region down with it.

Whoever wins this month’s election won’t have an easy job. The next President will be tasked with addressing the corruption, military weakness and economic inequities that have enabled Boko Haram to thrive. He will also have to cope with the plunging price of crude, which has seen the oil-dependent government’s revenue tumble. Recent opinion polls conducted by research group Afrobarometer show that the election is too close to call.

Many Nigerians and outside observers fear that a long-standing rivalry between Buhari’s largely Muslim base in the north and Jonathan’s southern Christian supporters could erupt into bloodshed over election results that would benefit no one but Boko Haram. “You can be sure Boko Haram are watching what is happening with the elections,” says Jacob Zenn, an Africa analyst for the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based research institute. “They are likely to take advantage of any instability to carry out attacks.”

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Posted February 8, 2015 at 3:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Prince of Wales has described the extent to which young people are becoming radicalised as "alarming" and one of the "greatest worries".

In an interview with Radio 2's The Sunday Hour, Prince Charles spoke of his hopes to "build bridges" between different faiths.

He also spoke of his "deep concern" for the suffering of Christian churches in the Middle East.

He is currently in Jordan on a six-day tour of the region.

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Posted February 8, 2015 at 11:20 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The horrific murder of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh has generated shock and outrage around the globe. And if recent history is a guide, this brutal act will only deepen opposition to ISIS, and to violent extremism more generally, in Jordan and other predominantly Muslim nations.

At the Pew Research Center, we’ve been asking questions related to extremism on our international surveys for over a decade, and what we’ve generally found among Muslim publics is that support for extremism is low, while concerns about it are high.

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Posted February 7, 2015 at 10:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

They came in the dead of night, their faces covered, riding on motorcycles and in pickup trucks, shouting “Allahu akbar” and firing their weapons.

“They started with the shootings; then came the beheadings,” said Hussaini M. Bukar, 25, who fled after Boko Haram fighters stormed his town in northern Nigeria. “They said, ‘Where are the unbelievers among you?’ ”

Women and girls were systematically imprisoned in houses, held until Boko Haram extracted the ones it had chosen for “marriage” or other purposes.

“They were parking” — imprisoning — “young girls and small, small children, parking them in the big houses,” said Bawa Safiya Umar, 45, whose 17-year-old son was killed when her town fell under Boko Haram’s control. “They parked 450 girls in four houses.”

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Posted February 6, 2015 at 6:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Boko Haram fighters have killed about 90 civilians and wounded 500 in ongoing skirmishes in a Cameroonian border town near Nigeria, the latest sign of the Islamic extremist group’s extended threat across the region.

An estimated 800 Boko Haram militants have waged gruesome attacks, including burning to death civilians, on the town of Fotokol since Wednesday. Cameroon’s information minister, Issa Tchiroma, told The Associated Press that they’ve also burned churches and mosques in addition to looting livestock and food.

Security experts believe the fighters crossed into Cameroon from nearby Gamboru, a Nigerian border town that had been a Boko Haram stronghold since November. Gamboru was retaken earlier this week when Chadian and Nigerian air strikes, supported by Chadian ground troops, drove them out.

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Posted February 5, 2015 at 4:32 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Declarations of outrage swept the Middle East on Wednesday as a region already steeled to the brutality of the Islamic State expressed horror at the group’s killing of a Jordanian pilot by setting him on fire.

The region’s leaders have denounced the militant group on many occasions in the past, but the spectacle of an Arab pilot being burned alive in a cage triggered some of the harshest reactions yet.

Images of the grisly killing of Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh were broadcast on TV channels around the region, and the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat headlined its coverage with a single word: “Barbarity.”

“This killing really strikes at home for audiences across the region. Most of the people executed by [the Islamic State] have been foreigners, but this time it was an Arab-Muslim man,” said Labib Kamhawi, a political analyst based in the Jordanian capital, Amman. “That has had a bigger impact on people.”

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Posted February 4, 2015 at 3:28 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

He came from Algeria seeking a better life, anticipating an escape from poverty, oppression, and hopelessness. In Paris, he found a low-skill job and had children and grandchildren. As French citizens, they had the right to an education and health care. But they grew up in the ghettos that ring France’s major cities, surrounded by families like theirs, literally on the margins of society. Unable to integrate fully, they had few opportunities for economic advancement. Paradise was never gained.

This story has been repeated millions of times in the countries of Western Europe, with immigrants and their families ending up poor and excluded. In the worst-case scenario, they are recruited by extremist groups that seem to offer what they are missing: a sense of belonging, identity, and purpose. After a lifetime of marginalization, participation in a larger cause can seem worth the lies, self-destruction, and even death that inclusion demands.

In the wake of the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris and the thwarting of another attack in Belgium, Europe needs to take a good look at itself.

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Posted February 2, 2015 at 7:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Boko Haram, the terrorist organization that controls vast swaths of territory in northeastern Nigeria and has expressed support for the Islamic State, has grabbed headlines around the world for recent outrages, including what may have been one of the worst terror attacks of the modern era and attacks using bombs strapped to girls, one perhaps as young as 10.

Little attention, however, is being paid to another humanitarian crisis spawned by Boko Haram that, if left unattended, has the potential to destabilize the region and bolster the group for years to come.

As Boko Haram has advanced, tens of thousands of people have fled into fragile neighboring countries that are ill equipped to provide shelter. This influx of refugees is sowing the seeds of a prolonged humanitarian and security crisis. The United States should lead an urgent international response to address the emergency and prevent greater damage.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchPovertyReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted February 1, 2015 at 12:35 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Female-only mosques may exist in China, Chile and India, but Muslim leaders say this could be the first in the U.S.

The inaugural prayer Friday marked the launch of the Women's Mosque of America, a nonprofit that hopes to create a space where Muslim women can "bring their whole self," learn more about their faith and foster bonds of sisterhood.

"Muslim women haven't had a forum," Yasmeen Ruhge, a cardiologist from Pasadena, said as she waited for the service to begin. "When we go to the mosque we have to sit on one side. Not that we aren't equal, but this gives us a freedom to talk as all women and create an independent role."

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureUrban/City Life and IssuesWomen* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted January 31, 2015 at 1:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

There is not much information on life in territories Boko Haram controls. Unlike ISIS, Boko Haram does not overtly intend to establish governance structures or provide public services. The administration of a heavily populated metropole like Maiduguri might be beyond Boko Haram’s capacity. Rather than occupying Maiduguri, Boko Haram might conduct a series of bloody raids targeting the federal facilities, military, and police. It would not be surprising if Boko Haram tries to take control of the airport and airbase.

Borno and the northeast generally support the political opposition instead of the governing power. A credible presumption is that most Nigerians in the northeast would support Mohammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) against incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). However given Boko Haram’s presence, it is unclear whether many in Borno will actually be able to cast ballots. Indeed, a large scale Boko Haram attack on Maiduguri, with the loss or destruction of the airport and the airbase, would be a major blow to the Nigerian government and could have consequences for the February 14 elections. It would also reinforce the widespread view among Nigerians outside the northeast that the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan is failing to provide for the security of its citizens, a view that increases support for Buhari in parts of Nigeria that have previously not supported him.

In this pre-election period, Boko Haram has been a political football between the PDP and the APC. Boko Haram’s perspective appears to be ‘a plague on both your houses.’ It may have tried to assassinate Buhari and the Shehu of Borno, and it has also threatened death to Jonathan many times.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesPolice/FireReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted January 30, 2015 at 4:28 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

As Christianity has taken many twists and turns in its history, so has Islam, and so might it again, only this time moving toward the more open posture of most contemporary Western Christians. The Christian experience should caution us against assuming there is something intrinsic to Islam that mandates that Islamic societies be anti-modern. In fact, in the 16th through 20th centuries, liberal ideas were imported into Muslim societies with remarkable success, and harmonized with Islam, especially in the Ottoman Empire. Less happily, at critical moments in Islamic history, reactionary interpretations—or misinterpretations—of the Quran and Shariah triumphed over others.

Fortunately, some Muslims have begun to reinterpret ancient traditions in light of modernity and begun their own, albeit often-quiet reformations, distressed by the authoritarian elements smuggled into their tradition. They are intent on synthesizing—as have so many branches of Judaism and Christianity—features of their religious traditions with democratic ideas. Such reformations have been institutionalized successfully in several countries with significant Muslim populations, such as Turkey and Tunisia.

We can only hope that, with the quickening pace of historical change in modernity, Islam can adjust more rapidly than Christendom, so that a broad-minded form of the religion will prevail. Muslims will have to recognize what the West, through many centuries of hard experience and reflection, has learned: that religious texts arose in a particular context and must be reinterpreted in the new context of modernity; that pluralism within one’s own tradition and the tolerance of other faiths must be appreciated anew; and, finally, that the coercive imposition of faith will generate only nominal or hypocritical, not authentic, conversions.

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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted January 30, 2015 at 11:20 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In a recent study, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue estimated that of the 3,000 Western Europeans thought to have travelled to Syria and Iraq, about 500 were women. It is difficult to know for sure how many of these are British, but accounts on social media suggest they make up a significant proportion.

The report, entitled Becoming Mulan, found that the sentiment of building a new home for Muslims was the main draw for women, although some did express a willingness to fight. The title of the report quotes one girl who tweeted that she wanted to "pull a Mulan" by heading to Syria, a reference to the Chinese legend about a woman who took her father's place in the army, which inspired an animated film.

The report's co-author Ross Frenett explains why this was interesting. "We found this particularly striking because the first cultural reference she can come up with is actually a Disney movie, which is fascinating because these people are Western, but also simultaneously loathe Western society," he says.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchViolenceWomen* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted January 29, 2015 at 5:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Nigeria's army failed to protect Baga's civilians despite warnings that militants were going to attack, rights group Amnesty International has said.

Some reports say as many as 2,000 people died in Boko Haram's raids on the north-eastern town this month, but the government puts the toll at 150.

Amnesty quotes an unnamed senior army source as saying the Islamist militants told residents about the offensive.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted January 28, 2015 at 5:11 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who took the helm of the world’s last absolute monarchy Friday, faces turbulence at home and abroad but is unlikely to change the course set by his predecessors.

“We will continue adhering to the correct policies which Saudi Arabia has followed since its establishment,” the king said in his first speech after succeeding his half-brother, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who died early Friday at the age of 90.

Salman, 79, was serving as defense minister when Saudi Arabia joined U.S.-led airstrikes against the Islamic State. During his tenure, Saudi forces in the south came under attack by Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Houthis, now the dominant military and political force in Yemen, are backed by Saudi Arabia’s main rival and greatest threat in the region — Iran.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastSaudi Arabia* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted January 27, 2015 at 11:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

As campaign season ramps up ahead of Nigerian general elections on February 14th, President Goodluck Jonathan has sought to downplay an insurgency in the country’s northeast that has been raging almost as long as he has been in power. The rise of Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based militant Islamist group best known for vicious attacks on military targets and its penchant for kidnapping women and girls and conscripting men and boys, has stymied Jonathan’s government since the former vice-president ascended to the presidency in 2010.

The insurgency has killed an estimated 11,000, according to the Council on Foreign Relation’s Nigeria Security Tracker. Unable to defeat it, the Jonathan campaign has chosen to all but ignore it as the president asks his people for an additional four-year term. But that strategy backfired on Saturday night, as militants swept into the strategic northern capital of Maiduguri just hours after Jonathan stumped for support from city residents.

The militants, who reportedly infiltrated the city of two million disguised as travelers on local buses, laid siege to key military installations and battled into Sunday. The Nigerian army eventually beat them back, but the fact that they were able to penetrate the city undetected raises questions about the military’s ability to defeat the movement....

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted January 27, 2015 at 5:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

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Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)CoE BishopsEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC Parishes* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslamSecularism

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Posted January 26, 2015 at 7:22 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Is Boko Haram becoming Africa’s Islamic State? In its bloodlust and ambition to hold territory, it certainly resembles the jihadists in Iraq and Syria. Boko Haram has carved out a “caliphate” the size of Belgium in the impoverished north-eastern corner of Nigeria. And like IS, it is exporting jihad across post-colonial borders...

What started as a radical but mostly political movement in 2002 has turned, especially since a heavy-handed crackdown in 2009, into a jihadist insurgency that has grown more violent every year. In April 2014 it abducted 276 girls from the town of Chibok. Some fled, some died, and many were sold into slavery or forced to “marry” fighters. Now the uprising is spreading to other countries. A week ago, 80 Cameroonians were kidnapped. Chad is sending troops to help Cameroon; Niger and Benin also feel threatened.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted January 26, 2015 at 5:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Boko Haram is about more than disenfranchisement and a quest for identity.

Its mission is to establish Islamic law — or at least Boko Haram’s version of it — over Nigeria. It is driven by a religious fundamentalism that sanctions the deliberate destruction of churches and the slaughter of worshipers.

On Christmas Day it targets churches. There’s nothing secular about Boko Haram.

No less than Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has said so himself. Claiming credit for a massacre that took place in the northeastern Nigerian town of Baga — in which hundreds were shot on sight or dragged from their homes and killed — Shekau said in a YouTube video, according to the Associated Press: “We are the ones who fought the people of Baga, and we have killed them with such a killing as he [Allah] commanded us in his book.”

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted January 24, 2015 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Nigeria’s campaign against Islamist Boko Haram insurgents is being hampered by “cowards” in its armed forces, its presidential security adviser said in a rare public sign of high-level unhappiness with the effort.

In its bloody uprising to carve out a breakaway Islamic caliphate, Boko Haram has seized much of Nigeria’s northeast and poses an existential threat to Africa’s most populous state and biggest energy producer, as well as at least three of its neighbors.

Boko Haram claimed a Jan. 3 attack on the town of Baga that killed scores, possibly hundreds, of civilians and left the extremists in control of the headquarters of a regional multinational force, including troops from Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted January 23, 2015 at 5:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

While much will be made in the coming months of France’s intelligence failures, the West’s inability to appreciate the role that women play in terror should come under the highest scrutiny. Take the role of women in the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL. While the group oppresses many women, many also flock to its ranks. Roughly 10 percent of its Western recruits are female, often lured by their peers through social media and instant messaging. The percentage is much higher in France: An estimated 63 of the 350 French nationals believed to be with the group are women, or just under 20 percent.

This story is both a new one and an old one. Women have long been involved in terror of all stripes, from female neo-Nazis in Europe to Chechen “black widow” suicide bombers.

Indeed, despite stereotypes about their domesticity and passivity — the idea that they must always be under men’s influence or tricked into joining — women are drawn to groups like the Islamic State by many of the same forces as men: adventure, inequality, alienation and the pull of the cause.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolenceWomen* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyAnthropologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted January 23, 2015 at 5:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In the video...TIME foreign correspondent Simon Shuster discusses how French colonialism and immigration policies throughout Europe helped fuel migration from the Muslim world.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryEurope* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted January 22, 2015 at 3:19 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

I’ve never been a fan of global conferences to solve problems, but when I read that the Obama administration is organizing a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism for Feb. 18, in response to the Paris killings, I had a visceral reaction: Is there a box on my tax returns that I can check so my tax dollars won’t go to pay for this?

When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. And this administration, so fearful of being accused of Islamophobia, is refusing to make any link to radical Islam from the recent explosions of violence against civilians (most of them Muslims) by Boko Haram in Nigeria, by the Taliban in Pakistan, by Al Qaeda in Paris and by jihadists in Yemen and Iraq. We’ve entered the theater of the absurd.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsEconomyThe U.S. GovernmentForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralOffice of the PresidentPresident Barack ObamaTerrorism* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted January 22, 2015 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The tide of foreign volunteers crossing from Turkey into Syria to fight for Isis cannot be stopped, the Turkish Prime Minister has warned, with authorities unable to close the porous 510-mile border between the two countries.

Ahmet Davutoglu, whose government has been accused of not doing enough to stop jihadi fighters from Britain and other countries crossing into Syria, told The Independent that Turkey could not put “soldiers everywhere on the border”. He added: “In any case, there isn’t any state on the other side [of the frontier].”

Turkey plays a crucial role in the Syrian crisis because of its long border with the country, part of which is now controlled by Isis. Mr Davutoglu described how Turkey’s close relations with Bashar al-Assad – “I visited there 62 times in 10 years” – soured in 2011 when “Assad started to kill his own people”.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureTravelViolence* Economics, PoliticsForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryEuropeTurkeyMiddle EastSyria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam

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Posted January 21, 2015 at 6:11 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Why did the Security Council condemn Boko Haram now?

The scale of the attack likely forced the council to adopt its first statement on the threat of Boko Haram, and was aimed directly at the Nigerian government's sensitivity to foreign criticism, says Darren Kew, an expert on Nigeria at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

"The government is very sensitive to international embarrassment and this announcement will get its attention. With an upcoming election, it will push President Goodluck Jonathan to take more comprehensive action in Boko Haram," Mr. Kew says.

The attacks have also involved troops of neighboring countries and bled over the Nigerian border, making the problem a regional one. Most recent was the seizure of hostages in Cameroon on Sunday, with about 24 later released.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted January 21, 2015 at 4:10 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A Supreme Court that has extended the reach of religion into public life in recent years ruled Tuesday (Jan. 20) that spirituality can overcome even prison security concerns.

The court came down decisively on the side of a Muslim prisoner whose beard had been deemed potentially dangerous by Arkansas prison officials. Growing a beard, the justices said, was a Muslim man’s religious right.

The unanimous opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, had been widely anticipated despite two lower court decisions upholding the state’s no-beard policy. The ruling extended the high court’s reverence for religious beliefs and observances. In its last term, the justices allowed family-owned businesses with religious objections to deny health insurance coverage for contraceptives, and the court also upheld prayers at municipal government meetings.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesPrison/Prison MinistryReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted January 21, 2015 at 11:04 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]




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