Posted by Kendall Harmon

The decision by Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to have his supporters seize and then vacate the parliament building in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone was the act of a man who—at least for now—wants to control rather than destroy the country’s political system.

But this breach has put such a strain on Iraq’s political arrangements, established after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to balance the interests of the country’s sects and ethnic groups, that once this crisis plays out, there may be not much of a system left to control.

Mr. Sadr, the scion of a prominent Shiite clerical family who once led an insurgency against U.S. occupation forces and was responsible for unleashing some of the country’s worst sectarian violence, denies that he seeks outright power.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsForeign RelationsIraq WarPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted May 2, 2016 at 1:02 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

With temperatures in the region of 40C/100F, Iraq is in a terrible way, both politically and economically. The parliament has not been meeting, there are violent protests in Baghdad, and the oil revenue is starting to dry up. Despite this, we are still working on the front line. Yesterday, Dr Sarah Ahmed, FRRME’s Director of Operations in the Middle East, gave out 25 kg bags of flour to over 1,000 Iraqi IDP families in Erbil, Northern Iraq.

Read it all and do not miss the pictures.

Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsEconomyEnergy, Natural Resources* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraqIsraelJordan* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther Faiths* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted April 28, 2016 at 7:31 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

U.S. officials say Secretary of State John Kerry has determined that the Islamic State group is committing genocide against Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria.

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Posted March 17, 2016 at 6:59 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Just as it is starting to turn the tide against Isil, Iraq is running out of money.

Behind the front lines of the Iraqi desert, where the Nineveh provincial police are training to retake their homes in and around Mosul, they are short of one thing: weapons.

“We have been regrouped here since the fall of Mosul,” said Major Ayman, standing over his line of men in blue uniforms. “We have been waiting here for five months but we have no weapons.”

Read it all.

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Posted March 13, 2016 at 5:46 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The resolution on genocide, introduced by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Nebraska, "expresses the sense of Congress that the atrocities committed by ISIS against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide."

"ISIS commits mass murder, beheadings, crucifixions, rape, torture, enslavement and the kidnapping of children, among other atrocities," said the committee's chairman, Rep. Ed Royce, R-California. "ISIS has said it will not allow the continued existence of the Yezidi. And zero indigenous Christian communities remain in areas under ISIS control."

The Islamic State "is guilty of genocide and it is time we speak the truth about their atrocities. I hope the administration and the world will do the same, before it's too late," Royce added.

Read it all.

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Posted March 4, 2016 at 4:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Supporting efforts to resettle vulnerable Syrian refugees is part of the Church of England's mission alongside its work with food banks, street pastors and debt advice services, one its leading bishops says today.

Writing in a blog, Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, says church groups can provide the 'welcoming flesh on the bones' to efforts by local authorities and other agencies to resettle vulnerable Syrian refugees.

"We are talking about a careful, realistic, grown-up setting about the task of welcoming Syrian refugees, just people in extreme need with all the complexities and riches of any human being. This is not the church saying 'look at us being charitable', but the people of God letting their deeds speak for Him," he writes.

Read it all.

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Posted February 29, 2016 at 3:11 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The liberation of towns from the Islamic State has had the surprising effect on my Iraqi friends of making them more despondent than they were before. When they are asked when things will turn around, they shrug and say Allah karim, akin to the English expression “when pigs fly.” Just after Sinjar was “liberated,” my former student from there sent me pictures of his family’s Friday lunch spread before and after they devoured it, labeling them Sinjar “before liberation” and “after liberation.”

Iraq is now face-to-face with the classic “day after” dilemma. Many of its towns are demolished and there is no money to rebuild. There is no agreement on which groups should secure and govern the areas and who gets to go back. The most visceral and volatile barrier is the newfound distrust among the local populations of liberated areas, who see one another as collaborators, bystanders or victims of the Islamic State. Left unattended, these “day after” dynamics will — and have already — lead to internecine conflict and political gridlock that will undermine battlefield victories, similar to what happened in 2010 when military successes of the Sahwa, or Sunni Awakening militias, against Al Qaeda in Iraq were squandered due to a lack of lasting national and local political deals.

This is evident in Iraq’s disputed post-IS territories, where both the Kurdistan regional government in Erbil and the Iraqi federal government in Baghdad feel they have greater claims than ever before....

Read it all.

Filed under: * Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsIraq WarPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted February 22, 2016 at 11:25 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by The_Elves

UZAIR, Iraq — Jews reportedly built the tomb of the Prophet Ezra in Iraq in the fifth century, and the site has undergone many changes since.

The tomb is in the town of Uzair, which is the Arabic version of the name Ezra,
................................
Ezra lived from about 480 to 440 B.C.

Some Muslim Iraqis still have good memories about the Jews who lived in Iraq until the 1950s. The ancient conflict was replaced during that time with peace and cooperation. Ali al-Saadi, a teacher who was born in Uzair and is interested in its history, told Al-Monitor that the senior citizens of the city still remember the names of dozens of their Jewish neighbors. He confirmed that Jews and Muslims lived together in peace and that Jews freely practiced their religious rituals.

Jews lived in Iraq more than 2,500 years ago in Babil, Baghdad and Mosul, among other places. But in the 1940s and 1950s, they were the victims of theft and murder, and they left the country for two reasons. First, they thought that the 1941 Iraqi coup d’etat happened in collusion with the Nazis. Second, Iraqi Jews faced a wave of anger in the wake of the global Jewish emigration to Palestine to build a Jewish state. Most of them were displaced between 1949 and 1950 after Israel was established.

Saadi said, “Jews owned houses and green fields that surrounded the shrine. These are still officially registered in their names in the real estate departments, although Jews are no longer present in Uzair. These houses have a special architecture characterized by wooden ornamented columns and oriels [bay windows].”

The shrine of Ezra has withstood centuries in an area inhabited by a deeply religious Shiite majority...

Read it all

Filed under: * International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq

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Posted February 18, 2016 at 10:05 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The 21 [Coptic] men executed that day [in Libya] were itinerant tradesman working on a construction job. All were native Egyptians but one, a young African man whose identity is uncertain—reports of his name vary, and he was described as coming from Chad or Ghana. But the power of his example is unshakable. The executioners demanded that each hostage identify his religious allegiance. Given the opportunity to deny their faith, under threat of death, the Egyptians declared their faith in Jesus. Steadfast in their belief even in the face of evil, each was beheaded.

Their compatriot was not a Christian when captured, apparently, but when challenged by the terrorists to declare his faith, he reportedly replied: “Their God is my God.” In that moment, before his death, he became a Christian. The ISIS murderers seek to demoralize Christians with acts like the slaughter on a Libyan beach. Instead they stir our wonder at the courage and devotion inspired by God’s love.

While we remember these men’s extraordinary sacrifice, is there not more that we can do to stop this genocide against Christians in the Middle East?

Read it all.

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Posted February 12, 2016 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by The_Elves

Back in 2004, I got to visit a monastery and orphanage for boys that was in Al Qosh, a town about 31 miles northeast of Mosul, the modern Iraqi city that is across the Tigris from what was once Nineveh. The chapel, the old stone walks, a lovely fountain inside an enclosed courtyard; the whole place was a serene, beautiful spot. The tomb of the Old Testament prophet Nahum was nearby.

It was just one of several irreplaceable monasteries and holy spots in an area that goes back more than 25 centuries to the days of the Assyrian king Sennacherib. Recent years have brought true catastrophe in the form of the conquering hordes of ISIS that, among other violations, destroyed the tomb of Jonah in Mosul in 2014. So maybe it should not be a huge surprise that some time in the past 18 months, ISIS destroyed Iraq’s oldest monastery..

Read it all

Filed under: * International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq

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Posted January 24, 2016 at 10:10 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Satellite photos obtained by The Associated Press confirm what church leaders and Middle East preservationists had feared: The oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been reduced to a field of rubble, yet another victim of the Islamic State group's relentless destruction of heritage sites it considers heretical.

St. Elijah's Monastery stood as a place of worship for 1,400 years, including most recently for U.S. troops. In earlier millennia, generations of monks tucked candles in the niches, prayed in the chapel, worshipped at the altar. The Greek letters chi and rho, representing the first two letters of Christ's name, were carved near the entrance.

This month, at the request of the AP, satellite imagery firm DigitalGlobe tasked a high resolution camera to grab photos of the site, and then pulled earlier images of the same spot.

Read it all.

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Posted January 20, 2016 at 10:11 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A child of London’s East End, White explained to his listeners from theological, journalistic, and policymaking circles how years in Iraq and the wider Middle East had made him happy in the face of unspeakable horror.

“There are the days when you are crying, saying ‘why Lord and there are days of immense joy,” the nattily-dressed, pink and blue bowtie-wearing White stated. His cane, indicating White’s multiple sclerosis, and his cross made of nails taken from the cathedral in Coventry, England, destroyed by German bombing in World War II, signified life’s harsher realities..

A singing White explained that he is even happier now than when he was resuscitating the dead from cardiac arrest as a London doctor before he joined the clergy. For “I know that I have got the love of Jesus with me all the time,” he said.

Read it all.

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Posted December 24, 2015 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

According to a blogger in the ancient Iraqi city of Mosul, ISIS (also known as ISIL) leaders there have issued a "fatwa" against children with Down syndrome and other birth defects.

The only source for the story is the Mosul Eye, self-described as a "blog … set up to communicate what's happening in Mosul to the rest of the world , minute by minute from an independent historian." It has been repeated by dozens of mainstream and niche news sites, from the British Daily Mail through Fox News to Breitbart.

According to the Mosul Eye's December 14 Facebook entry, "the Shar'i Board of ISIL issued an 'Oral Fatwa' to its members authorizing them to – in the fatwa's words, 'kill newborn babies with Down's Syndrome and congenital disorders and disabled children.'"

Read it all.

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Posted December 15, 2015 at 4:01 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The interview starts at about 43;30 in--watch and listen to it all.

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Posted November 10, 2015 at 7:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Calling directly on the Prime Minister to increase his current offer to accept 20,000 refugees over the next 5 years to 50,000 the Bishops write:

"We believe such is this country's great tradition of sanctuary and generosity of spirit that we could feasibly resettle at least 10,000 people a year for the next two years, rising to a minimum of 50,000 in total over the five year period you foresaw in your announcement. Such a number would bring us into line with comparable commitments made by other countries. It would be a meaningful and substantial response to the scale of human suffering we see daily."

In addition to "recognising and applauding" the announcements made by the Prime Minister the Bishops offer help from the Church of England in encouraging their churches to provide welcome, housing and foster care to refugees as well as to support the Government in its ongoing efforts.

Read it all.

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Posted October 17, 2015 at 5:09 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

On a mountainside in Iraq’s Kurdish region, at the end of a road that winds through sparse olive trees, stands the fourth-century Mar Mattai monastery. It is Iraq’s oldest monastery, named for the hermit monk who retired here at the dawn of Christianity. The forces of Islamic State are a little more than two miles away. When the weather is clear on the plain of Nineveh, you can see the Islamic State front lines defending Mosul about a dozen miles in the distance.

The vast monastery perched high on Mount Alfaf is hewed from stone, its passages, stairways and terraces exposed to the sun and weather. In the courtyard on the ground level live two families who fled Mosul and the persecution of Christians there.

Four monks live at Mar Mattai. There should be several dozen to judge by the empty rooms along the esplanade. But only these four remain, clad in their black robes and caps embroidered with white crosses. In the Eastern Rite church on the upper level, the monks are standing in the crypt at the far end, their eyes closed, intoning one of the “chants of the Greek church” described by Chateaubriand in his 1811 “Record of a Journey From Paris to Jerusalem and Back.” He admired the Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy) with its notes “held by different voices, some bass, others treble, executing andante and mezza voce, the octave, fifth, and third.” Its beauty, he said, was enough to cure him of a fever.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch HistorySpirituality/Prayer* Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraqSyria* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesOrthodox ChurchOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations

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Posted October 9, 2015 at 8:59 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A Former Archbishop of Canterbury has urged Prime Minister David Cameron to do more to help Christians in the Middle East saying "time is running out".

Lord Carey said more had to be done to support followers of Christ who face persecution or death at the hands of Islamic terrorism.

"Time is running out for Christians in the region," he said.

Read it all.

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Posted October 4, 2015 at 1:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

With civil war in Syria, the emergence of ISIS, and the growing power of Iran, a new Middle East seems to be in the making. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become in some ways a sideline to these other developments. What do you see emerging out of these developments with regard to Israel/Palestine?

For the first time since the collapse of the Oslo process in 2000, I feel a small stirring of optimism and can see a way out. The defining conflict in the Middle East is no longer between Arabs and Israelis but between Sunnis and Shi‘ites. Much of the West hasn’t yet internalized this historic shift. The Saudis are now meeting regularly with Israelis and even allowing those meetings to become public knowledge. This is unprecedented.

During the Gaza War last year, even as anti-Israel demonstrations were happening in the West, Israel was receiving urgent messages from Sunni leaders demanding that it destroy the Hamas regime. Hamas is especially detested by many Sunnis for making common cause with Shi‘ite Iran—it’s the only Sunni Muslim Brotherhood organization to break ranks in the Sunni-Shi‘ite war.

All of which is to say that the Middle East looks very different from the Middle East than it does from the West. When Israelis looks around the region, what we see is that the most intact society left is Israel. I say that with more anxiety than pride, because this is the region in which I live, in which I’m raising a family. My prayer is for a Middle East in which all its peoples will find their safe place. Ultimately, the success of the Jewish homecoming depends on our finding our place in the Middle East.

Read it all.

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Posted September 29, 2015 at 6:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Nearly 30,000 foreign recruits have now poured into Syria, many to join the Islamic State, a doubling of volunteers in just the past 12 months and stark evidence that an international effort to tighten borders, share intelligence and enforce antiterrorism laws is not diminishing the ranks of new militant fighters.

Among those who have entered or tried to enter the conflict in Iraq or Syria are more than 250 Americans, up from about 100 a year ago, according to intelligence and law enforcement officials.

President Obama will take stock of the international campaign to counter the Islamic State at the United Nations on Tuesday, a public accounting that comes as American intelligence analysts have been preparing a confidential assessment that concludes that nearly 30,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Iraq and Syria from more than 100 countries since 2011. A year ago, the same officials estimated that flow to be about 15,000 combatants from 80 countries, mostly to join the Islamic State.

Read it all.

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Posted September 27, 2015 at 6:35 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In a scathing statement, Canon White has now slammed Europe for its response to the migrant crisis. He says it is wrong to focus resources on those already in Europe, when those in real need are the ones left behind.

“I am disappointed by Europe’s response to the refugee crisis,” he said “Not enough is being done to help the most vulnerable, particularly those who have fled religious persecution.

“My charity is providing food, shelter and medicine for hundreds of Iraqi refugee families who have fled ISIS and are now in Jordan. Some have walked across the desert to find safety, with little more than the clothes on their backs.

“When I see angry young men clashing with border police in Hungary and demanding to be let into other EU countries, I feel that the wrong people are at the front of the queue.

Read it all.

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Posted September 19, 2015 at 12:05 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Tens of thousands of demonstrators in Europe rallied on Saturday to express sympathy toward migrants seeking refuge in the region amid the largest migration of displaced people since the end of World War II.

About 30,000 people converged in Copenhagen, according to city police, carrying banners such as “Refugees Welcome.” The rally, as well as smaller gatherings in other Danish cities, was calm and peaceful, police said.

In Hamburg, Germany, more than 24,000 people demonstrated against xenophobia and racism, said a spokeswoman for the city’s police. She said they were mostly peaceful but police briefly used water cannons after some stones and firecrackers were thrown.

Read it all.

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Posted September 12, 2015 at 5:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Mandatory quotas determining how many migrants each European Union country should take in are a "first step", German Chancellor Angela Merkel says.

She was speaking as the EU continues to grapple with a huge influx of migrants, which peaked at the weekend.

The European Commission is set to announce plans on Wednesday, including quotas, to distribute 120,000 migrants among member countries.

Germany says it can cope with more in the future but wants the burden shared.

Read it all.

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Posted September 8, 2015 at 6:34 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

[Middle Eastern Christians]... are the most vulnerable and repeatedly targeted victims of this conflict. Indeed, a hundred years after the Armenian and Assyrian genocide, in which over a million Christians are estimated to have been killed by Ottoman Muslims, the same is happening today in the form of an ethnic cleansing of Christians in the region. Christians have been crucified, beheaded, raped, and subjected to forced conversion. The so-called Islamic State and other radical groups are openly glorifying the slaughter of Christians.

Britain should make Syrian Christians a priority because they are a particularly vulnerable group. Furthermore, we are a Christian nation with an established Church so Syrian Christians will find no challenge to integration. The churches are already well-prepared and eager to offer support and accommodation to those escaping the conflict.

Some will not like me saying this, but in recent years, there has been too much Muslim mass immigration to Europe. This has resulted in ghettos of Muslim communities living parallel lives to mainstream society, following their own customs and even their own laws. Isn’t it high-time instead for the oil-rich Gulf States to open their doors to the many Muslims who are fleeing conflict? Surely if they are concerned for fellow Muslims who prefer to live in Muslim-majority countries, then they have a moral responsibility to intervene.

Read it all.

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Posted September 5, 2015 at 5:25 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Britain should "crush" Isil by taking part in military action in Syria, a former Archbishop of Canterbury suggests today amid mounting calls for further air strikes.

In an article for The Telegraph, Lord Carey says that it is "not enough" to send aid to Syria and admit thousands of refugees to this country.

He argues that Isil needs to be dealt with "for once and for all" and that "air strikes and other British military assistance" may be needed in Syria.

He also says Britain should be prioritising Christian refugees who are victims of "ethnic cleansing" and have been crucified, beheaded, raped, and subjected to forced conversion by Isil.

Read it all.

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Posted September 5, 2015 at 5:01 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Army created the Human Terrain System — at the height of the counterinsurgency craze that dominated American strategic thinking in Iraq and Afghanistan late in the last decade, with much fanfare — to solve this problem. Cultural training and deep, nuanced understanding of Afghan politics and history were in short supply in the Army; without them, good intelligence was hard to come by, and effective policy making was nearly impossible. Human Terrain Teams, as Human Terrain System units were known, were supposed to include people with social-science backgrounds, language skills and an understanding of Afghan or Iraqi culture, as well as veterans and reservists who would help bind the civilians to their assigned military units.

On that winter day in Zormat, however, just how far the Human Terrain System had fallen short of expectations was clear. Neither of the social scientists on the patrol that morning had spent time in Afghanistan before being deployed there. While one was reasonably qualified, the other was a pleasant 43-year-old woman who grew up in Indiana and Tennessee, and whose highest academic credential was an advanced degree in organizational management she received online. She had confided to me that she didn’t feel comfortable carrying a gun she was still learning how to use. Before arriving in Afghanistan, she had traveled outside the United States only once, to Jamaica — “and this ain’t Jamaica,” she told me.

She was out of her depth, but at least she tried to be professional.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationHistory* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryAsiaAfghanistanMiddle EastIraq* TheologyAnthropologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted August 20, 2015 at 7:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A recent substantial donation from the Church of the Epiphany in Doha, Qatar, has enabled Fr Faiz Jerjes, our priest in Baghdad, to serve the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the many internally displaced Iraqis who have fled Da’esh (ISIS)) in the Mosul and Nineveh Plain area and are now at and around St George’s.

Read it all and make sure to catch the pictures.



Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesThe Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East* Christian Life / Church LifeParish Ministry* Culture-WatchUrban/City Life and Issues* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq

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Posted August 12, 2015 at 7:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A year after tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians fled communities overtaken by Islamic State militants, their lives are on hold in exile: They won't go back to Iraq, saying it's not safe for Christians, but as refugees they're barred from working in temporary asylum countries such as Jordan. Expectations of quick resettlement to the West have been dashed.

"We've lost hope in everything," said Hinda Ablahat, a 67-year-old widow who lives with dozens of fellow refugees in plywood cubicles set up in a church compound in downtown Amman, the capital of Jordan. "We've been sitting here for a year and nothing's happened."

About 7,000 Christians from northern Iraq have found refuge in Jordan, including about 2,000 living in church-sponsored shelters.

Read it all.

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Posted August 10, 2015 at 6:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In addition to writing about your own experiences, you personally interviewed U.S., U.K., and Iraqi officials as well as clergy and religious leaders of all faiths. Can you describe some of the insight people of faith had on ISIS?

One of the terrible tragedies in Iraq is the fate of Christians, who were a central part of Iraq. I think there are more Iraqi Christians now in the state of Michigan than there are in Iraq. There were 1.2 million Christians living in Iraq in 2003; today there are 400,000, and most want to leave. I interviewed Reverend Canon Andrew White (vicar of the sole Anglican church in Iraq); he lost a quarter of his flock who were persecuted or forced to pay a tax or be killed. I asked myself, why has the Christian population gone down? It’s ISIS. The terrible violence, you wouldn’t believe it—what they did to people’s children, the churches they blew up and the number of people they have killed. I cite a report in the book about ISIS cooking a two-year-old Syrian girl and serving it to her family.

Can you describe what life is like in Iraq?....

Read it all.

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Posted August 7, 2015 at 5:21 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Four children were killed when Islamic State blew up an historic church in Mosul, Iraq's second city.

The blast destroyed the Mother of Aid church, according to the Kurdish news site Rudaw.

Saeed Mamuzini, of the Mosul branch of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, said the children happened to be near the church, which was more than 1,000 years old and was in central Mosul.

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Posted July 9, 2015 at 12:25 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In a tent city under a highway overpass in Baghdad, refugees from Iraq’s Sunni province of Anbar were unanimous about whom to blame for their misery.

“I hold Americans responsible for destroying Anbar,” said former policeman Wassem Khaled, whose home was taken over by Islamic State, or ISIS, after the Iraqi army fled from Anbar’s provincial capital of Ramadi last month.

“We all know that America is providing ISIS with weapons and food, and that it is because of American backing that they have become so strong,” added Abbas Hashem, a 50-year-old who also escaped from Ramadi and now lives in the makeshift Baghdad camp that is only occasionally supplied with water.

Such conspiracy theories about America’s support for Islamic State are outlandish, no doubt. But they are so widespread that they now represent a political reality with real-world consequences—making it harder for the U.S. and allies to cobble together Iraqi forces that could regain the country’s Sunni heartland from Islamic State’s murderous rule one day.

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

Posted by Kendall Harmon

When Islamic State seized Iraq's largest northern city of Mosul almost a year ago, tribal leader Hekmat Suleiman was sure the extremist militants wouldn't expand further into his hometown.

"We bet Islamic State won't have what it takes to last," Suleiman said in October during a visit to the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil, smoke rising from his shisha water pipe. "We've reached the beginning of the end of extremism."

He was wrong. His hometown of Ramadi fell last month, three days before Islamic State captured Palmyra, a 2,000-year-old UNESCO world heritage city on the Syrian side of its territory.

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Posted June 14, 2015 at 5:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Iraqi city of Mosul fell to the Islamic State on June 10, 2014. When the militants laid out an ultimatum -- convert, pay a tax or be killed -- thousands of Christians and other religious minorities fled to neighboring cities, like the northern city of Erbil.

Even though it’s been more than a year, Erbil’s Chaldean Catholic leader, Bishop Bashar Warda, still vividly remembers what it was like to watch the streams of refugees enter his city.

“It was [a] really sad occasion,” Warda said in an interview with Vatican Radio. “The memories that we have is the queue of thousands of people arriving, tired, crying and leaving behind everything, memories and properties.”

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Posted June 12, 2015 at 5:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said he remained “deeply concerned” that the additional forces weren’t close enough to the front lines and couldn’t serve as spotters to strengthen the airstrike mission. “That is the kind of assistance the Iraqis need, but the president has refused to provide,” Mr. McCain said.

Members of Mr. Obama’s party were also unsettled. Rep. Adam Schiff, (D., Calif.) said that while he supports Mr. Obama’s move, he wasn’t hopeful about the political changes the Iraqis must make themselves in a country starkly divided along sectarian lines.

“In the absence of these reforms, there is little that we can do to convince Sunnis to cast out ISIL,” Mr. Schiff said, using an alternate term for Islamic State. Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.), agreed, saying the U.S. can’t go it alone. “America possesses the greatest fighting force the world has ever known, but we can’t put the Middle East back together by ourselves.”

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

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Days after seizing the Syrian desert city of Palmyra, Islamic State militants blew up the notorious Tadmur Prison there, long used by the Syrian government to detain and torture political prisoners.

The demolition was part of the extremist group’s strategy to position itself as the champion of Sunni Muslims who feel besieged by the Shiite-backed governments in Syria and Iraq.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has managed to advance in the face of American-led airstrikes by employing a mix of persuasion and violence. That has allowed it to present itself as the sole guardian of Sunni interests in a vast territory cutting across Iraq and Syria.

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Posted June 5, 2015 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

When the United States gave more than 3,000 armored Humvees to Iraqi security forces over the past 12 years, U.S. officials could not have imagined that the humble utility vehicles would become a decisive weapon in the hands of Washington’s enemies from the Islamic State.

But that is exactly what has happened. Humvees were some of the 30 vehicles converted into mobile suicide bombs that the Islamic State used to blast through Iraqi security forces’ defenses during its three-day conquest of Ramadi in mid-May. The militants also used an armored bulldozer and at least one U.S.-made M113 armored personnel carrier. There’s a simple reason the militants are using Humvees and other armored vehicles as rolling bombs: Their protective armored plating prevents defenders from killing the trucks’ drivers before the militants can detonate their loads, while the vehicles’ capacity to carry enormous amounts of weight means the Islamic State can sometimes pack in a ton of explosives. Some of the bombs used in Ramadi contained the explosive force of the deadly Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 that devastated a federal office building and killed 168 people.

The attack on Ramadi was the latest assault in which the Islamic State used armored Humvees as shock weapons to breach security force perimeters, scare beleaguered Iraqi troops into fleeing their positions, and become the centerpieces of flashy videos the group released through social media to its supporters around the globe.

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

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Syrian rebels appealed for U.S. airstrikes to counter a new offensive by the Islamic State in the northern province of Aleppo that could reshape the battlefield in Syria.

The surprise assault, launched over the weekend, opened a new front in the multi-pronged war being waged by the extremist group across Iraq and Syria, and it underscored the Islamic State’s capacity to catch its enemies off guard.

The push — which came on the heels of the miltants’ capture of the Syrian city of Palmyra and the western Iraqi city of Ramadi late last month — took them within reach of the strategically vital town of Azaz on the Turkish border.

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Posted June 2, 2015 at 6:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

So nine months into this campaign, is the strategy working, and are the losses of cities like Ramadi temporary setbacks – just bricks and mortar and not symbolic of anything, to paraphrase General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in recent congressional trestimony?

Clearly, the strategy has severe problems. To have any chance of succeeding in its present form, it must be seriously re-tuned or altered.

The first is that the air campaign is proving unable to contain IS. It has had successes, most notably in areas like Kobani or around Mosul, where it has degraded IS at the fringes. On the one hand, where it has utterly rooted out IS, as in Kobani, it is difficult to claim a victory after four months of bombing left the city in ruins and likely in need of billions of dollars to repair. On the other hand, while the IS advance has been stopped in places, not enough air power is available to gut the economic wherewithal of IS. The recent success in Ramadi demonstrates that IS can move where air power is not. The coalition’s undisputed technical superiority does not translate into numerical sufficiency.

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Posted May 26, 2015 at 12:26 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In late April, a commander for Islamic State said his forces were ready to launch an offensive to take Ramadi, and the group called for fighters to redeploy to Iraq from Syria.

Three weeks later, the jihadist group seized the capital of Anbar province after relentless waves of suicide bombings.

U.S. defense chief Ash Carter has blamed Ramadi’s fall mainly on Iraqi forces’ lack of will to fight. But Islamic State’s battlefield performance suggests the terrorist group’s tactical sophistication is growing—a development the Iraqis and the U.S.-led coalition have so far failed to counter, said Iraqi officials, former U.S. officials and military analysts studying the organization.

An examination of how Ramadi fell indicates that Islamic State commanders executed a complex battle plan that outwitted a greater force of Iraqi troops as well as the much-lauded, U.S.-trained special-operations force known as the Golden Division, which had been fighting for months to defend the city.

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Posted May 26, 2015 at 7:01 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Islamic State fighters are celebrating their second major conquest in a week in Syria and Iraq as they pick through the ruins of the historic city of Palmyra.

The sudden advance of the militants into the UN heritage site in central Syria resulted in the rout of a national army, the exodus of refugees and a fresh pulse of regional alarm at the resilience of the self-styled caliphate force.

The UN said one-third of Palmyra’s 200,000-strong population had fled. And Isis militants used social media to show themselves posing amid ancient columns in Palmyra on Thursday. Other images displayed a more familiar theme: the summary slaughter of local men whose blood drenched the road.

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

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Southern Iraq’s long-shuttered museums are also finally reopening. The National Museum of Iraq reopened in February 2015 after a $40 million renovation. And in Nasiriya, a city famed for its step ziggurat, the director of the antiquities museum, Iqbal Ajeel, proudly displayed the museum’s exquisite Sumerian miniatures and naked figurines to her first group of high school visitors since the 1991 Gulf War forced its closure.

Few Iraqis in the south openly champion separation from the rest of the country, but the chasm is widening. It is not only a question of ISIS imposing its rules on personal behavior and punishing people only slightly out of line. While ISIS destroys museums, the south refurbishes them; while ISIS destroys shrines, the ayatollahs expand them; and while ISIS is burning relics and books, the Imam Ali shrine hosts a book fair where scripture shares space with romantic novels. On the new campus of Kufa University, a burned-down wreck under American occupation when last I saw it, three engineering professors spoke of the golden age that awaits a united Iraq, or at least its Arab provinces, once the militias defeat ISIS.

But a dissenting fourth engineer quietly questioned why the south should bother. As long as al-Sistani’s jihad was defensive he supported it, but why, he asks, shed blood against ISIS for a Sunni population that is neither welcoming nor particularly wanted? The further north the militia advances, the more lives are lost, and the returns from the battle diminish. Compared to the south’s mineral wealth, the Sunni provinces offer few natural resources. Much of their territory is desert, and their feuding tribes will only cause trouble. Better, he argued, to safeguard what the south already has. In short, he said, breaking a taboo by uttering a word he claims many privately already espouse, why not opt for taqsim, partition? A heavy silence followed.

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Posted May 21, 2015 at 5:18 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Followers of Christ recall their savior’s warning that they will face persecution, and they recall St. Paul’s teaching that suffering produces endurance and character. Most Christians in the Middle East retain their spiritual hope, but they are losing their temporal hope: They fear that they will never return to their ancestral lands, and that the Christian presence in the region might disappear.

Iraq is home to one of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the world, some of whose members still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. But their numbers have plummeted to around 200,000 from 1.5 million before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. A Christian exodus, if it isn’t reversed, would be a devastating loss for Iraq. Iraqi Christians are well-organized, and for years they’ve tended to the educational, cultural and social needs of the wider society.

Christians have also historically helped stabilize the volatile region. “Christians have always played a key role in building our societies and defending our nations,” Jordan’s King Abdullah has said. “There is no Iraq without Christians,” says Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

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Posted May 15, 2015 at 7:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

"It is impossible to go there, and to meet especially the children, without being determined that they must have a future," the Cardinal said.

But the task ahead is vast: regaining land from Islamic State, rebuilding ruined town and cities, establishing law and order and rebuilding society.

Nichols said that in the project to rebuild Iraq, "the presence of the Christian community is essential".

"I say that not out of a nostalgic sense that this is a Christian community that's 2,000 years old. This not a cultural, historical, or an archaeological issue. This is an issue of how do you build a stable, balanced society, in that region, and I think... the Christian presence is essential to that mosaic."

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Posted April 15, 2015 at 6:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

...it is delusional for these terrorists to think that those who were killed in the line of “duty” are considered martyrs and will be rewarded with paradise. The terrorists who are killed aren’t considered martyrs according to Islamic law, even if they considered their act to be a form of jihad, had sincere intentions and were acting out of ignorance. Good intentions don’t justify illegal acts—and it is totally prohibited by Islam to kill innocent people. Thus terrorist acts like 9/11 in the U.S., 7/7 in London or any other similar horrendous attacks are sheer murder and have nothing to do with jihad.

In sum, the noble form of physical jihad—which is waged by legitimate state authorities to fend off aggression and establish justice—has nothing to do with the supposed jihad of these terrorists, who practice nothing more than the ruthless mass murder of innocents. Jihad is a war fought with honor and guided with moral codes of conduct.

Since terrorist groups have the audacity to interpret from the Quran selectively to suit their own agendas, their deviant ideology must be debunked by intellectual responses. The fight will be stronger with the help of the international media and academia in publishing and broadcasting the voices of authentic Muslim scholars who can counter the extremists’ false claims and their warped interpretation of the Quran.

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

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Assyrian Chris­tians of northern Iraq are among the people who have been massacred and kidnapped by ISIS militants in recent months. Such accounts are depressingly familiar to anyone who knows the region’s history. In fact, this year marks a grim centennial. Besides be­ing the centennial of the Ar­menian Genocide, it’s the centennial of the year that the Ottoman Turkish regime struck at other Christian minorities whom it suspected of being sympathetic to Russia. The Assyrians call 1915 Sayfo, the Year of the Sword.

Assyrian Christians had very deep roots in the region, and their churches use a Semitic language related to Jesus’ own Aramaic. In late antiquity, believers divided over the Person of Christ. The Monophysite branch evolved to become the modern-day Syrian Orthodox Church. Their Nestorian rivals formed the Church of the East, which remained a flourishing trans­continental institution through the Middle Ages.

By the 20th century, the Assyrian community had declined, split between be­lievers affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church (Chal­deans) and the independent Assyri­ans. For historical convenience, the As­syr­ian label is often applied to all the Syriac-speaking denominations, in­cluding the Syrian Ortho­dox. Their combined population in 1914 was around 600,000, concentrated in what is now northern Iraq and the borderlands of modern-day Syria and Turkey.

These people were the targets of the Assyrian geno­cide.

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Posted April 9, 2015 at 6:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Despite the images we’ve seen splashed across the web of Islamic State fighters driving around Syria and Iraq in American Humvees and waving U.S.-made weapons, there really isn’t all that much American military gear floating around out there.

But what equipment has been captured by the radical Islamists has the tendency to float upward toward the leadership who covet the “elite” U.S. gear, according to a group cataloging illicit arms transfers.

Speaking to a small April 7 gathering at the Stimson Center in Washington, Jonah Leff, director of operations for Conflict Armament Research said that American equipment actually “represents a small fraction” of the 40,000 pieces of gear his teams have cataloged in northern Iraq and Syria since last summer. He said that includes only about 30 U.S.-made M-16s and roughly 550 rounds American-produced ammunition.

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Posted April 8, 2015 at 5:56 pm [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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Posted March 24, 2015 at 6:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The proximate cause of Iraq’s unraveling was the increasing authoritarian, sectarian and corrupt conduct of the Iraqi government and its leader after the departure of the last U.S. combat forces in 2011. The actions of the Iraqi prime minister undid the major accomplishment of the Surge. [They] alienated the Iraqi Sunnis and once again created in the Sunni areas fertile fields for the planting of the seeds of extremism, essentially opening the door to the takeover of the Islamic State. Some may contend that all of this was inevitable. Iraq was bound to fail, they will argue, because of the inherently sectarian character of the Iraqi people. I don’t agree with that assessment.

The tragedy is that political leaders failed so badly at delivering what Iraqis clearly wanted — and for that, a great deal of responsibility lies with Prime Minister Maliki.

As for the U.S. role, could all of this have been averted if we had kept 10,000 troops here? I honestly don't know. I certainly wish we could have tested the proposition and kept a substantial force on the ground.

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Posted March 20, 2015 at 4:06 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The images are meant to create an impression, and in this war of images, they don't miss their mark. Heads are cut off: both the heads of human beings and those of statues. Museums are looted, ancient sites are bulldozed. These images are then dispatched around the world.

It is a calculated escalation that Islamic State is pursuing. It may even be that the images of destroyed artifacts are more effective than those depicting executions, because they are televised everywhere and not relegated to the depths of the Internet. And because we can understand the images of destruction -- unlike the photos and videos of executions, which we see as acts of insanity beyond the scope of rational thought.

We aren't just able to kill in the present, that is the message of these images, we are also able to destroy the past: We are the masters of both time and space. The caliphate's goal is to expand its path of destruction into the fourth dimension.

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Posted March 20, 2015 at 7:00 am [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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Posted March 19, 2015 at 5:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Isis militants have attacked a Christian church and cemetery in Iraq, vandalising crosses and defacing religious artefacts in yet another assault on the country’s rich cultural history.

In pictures released by the groups’s media arm, fighters are seen removing a cross and destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary at a church in Mosul, in Iraq. Another image shows a fighter erecting a black Isis flag in place of a cross.

Other photographs being circulated on social media show paintings depicting biblical events, such as the Last Supper, piled up on the floor. The extremist group attempts to justify this destruction by condemning the statues and religious symbols as idolatrous and therefore forbidden.

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Posted March 17, 2015 at 6:59 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Isis is allegedly attacking Iraqi soldiers with roadside bombs containing chlorine gas as allied forces continue a huge assault against the group in Tikrit.

Footage captured by an Iraqi bomb disposal team shows plumes of thick orange gas emerging from a detonated roadside bomb.

The team told the BBC it has diffused “dozens” of chlorine bombs left by Isis militants, which it says are used more as a means to create fear than harm.

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Posted March 12, 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.

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Posted March 8, 2015 at 1:30 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 12:30 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq are living at the edge of extinction.

They are marginalized and under threat from the genocidal actions of the Islamic State in Iraq, resulting in the purging of religious and ethnic minorities from their historic homes.

If immediate action is not taken, the existence of religious and ethnic minority communities, such as Christians, Yazidis, Shabak and Turkmen, will continue on a trajectory of precipitous decline into virtual non-existence.

In the last decade, the Christian community has plummeted from approximately 1.5 million to 300,000.

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Posted February 25, 2015 at 5:40 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 8:59 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Christians in Iraq "do not have much time left" without direct military action on the ground, the Archbishop of Irbil has told UK peers and MPs.

Archbishop Bashar Warda said air strikes were "not enough" to defeat Islamic State militants and "begged" for Western troops to be deployed.

He said Iraq's Christian population was declining and that he would speak to the UK government about further action.

The government has said efforts to defeat IS were "comprehensive".

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Posted February 10, 2015 at 7:20 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 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

But there’s something else. When you watch these clips there’s a troubling ambiguity to them now. One frame around them is: Williams pays tribute to the troops who fought the war and protected him in the desert. He does a lot to make that message explicit, and this part of the performance requires expressions of humility. I’m no solider, I’m no war correspondent, I had no business being there, I’m so grateful for these brave men and women.

When you watch it now, though, you may wonder: Why does this story keep coming up? How is it getting in front of audiences repeatedly over the years?

Let’s take the Lettermen appearance in 2013. Did the show’s producers say, “Hey, it’s the tenth anniversary of Brian almost getting shot out of the sky in the helicopter, let’s have him on…”? Seems unlikely. Letterman says in the clip he either forgot or never knew about the episode. More likely: Williams wanted to talk about it, so they programmed it in. That’s not so modest.

Why is Madison Square Garden halting a hockey game and directing the attention of fans to Brian Williams and his military buddy being “reunited?” Because they knew about this story and thought it would be nice to revisit it 12 years later? Or because NBC promotion people alerted them and asked for the story to be re-told over the PA system?

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Posted February 8, 2015 at 1:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The U.S. has said it won’t be sending soldiers to fight ISIS but some Americans have found their own way there

When the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) surrounded the Yezidi tribes on Sinjar Mountain in August last year, Dean Parker was at his job as a commercial painter in the U.S.. That evening, he saw news reports of Kurdish fighters trying to liberate the mountain.

“I made the decision right there,” says Parker, now sitting in his hotel room in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah. “I was online booking a ticket.

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Posted January 21, 2015 at 7:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

This year recorded the highest number of children caught in conflict zones who were directly and deliberately attacked. The targeting of children in conflict is not new, but it's rising at an alarming rate. In 2014, more children were killed, kidnapped, tortured, raped, forcibly recruited by armed groups and even sold as slaves than at any time in recent history.

The numbers are grim. In Pakistan, over 130 students — most of them 12 to 16 years old—were slaughtered in a Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar earlier this month. In the Central African Republic, where 2.3 million children are entangled in a long-running sectarian conflict, as many as 10,000 children are believed to have been recruited as child soldiers, and more than 430 children were killed and maimed this year — three times as many as in 2013. When violence erupted in Israel and Gaza last summer, more than 530 children were killed, at least 3,370 children injured, and 54,000 children were left homeless, while countless others hid in fear from rockets, artillery and air strikes.

In Syria, where civil war, now approaching its fifth year, has created 1.7 million child refugees, there were at least 35 attacks on schools, killing and injuring hundreds of children. In Iraq, at least 700 children are believed to have been maimed, killed or even executed this year. In South Sudan, an estimated 12,000 children have been recruited and forced to fight in an ongoing civil war that has caused more than a million children to flee their homes. In Ukraine, 128,000 children have been displaced by violence.

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Posted December 29, 2014 at 5:01 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The St. Raphael Cathedral near the Lebanese capital has added more than 1,400 Iraqi refugee families from Mosul alone to its aid rosters since July, all of them having fled the city now occupied by Islamic State fighters.

On Tuesday, several of the uprooted families stood in line at the cathedral in Baabda southeast of Beirut—the seat of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Lebanon—waiting for a food handout. As Rev. Youssef Denha —himself a refugee from Iraq—flipped through the pages of the ledger where he tracked each handout, he set aside any pretense of seasonal optimism.

“This is a holiday of sadness, not happiness. Daesh has left us with nothing,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

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Posted December 24, 2014 at 6:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Although hundreds of thousands of refugees are displaced from their homes in Iraq and their futures remain uncertain due to the siege of the Islamic State, The Vicar of Baghdad wrote in an online Christmas statement that Christian refugees in Iraq have not been deterred from exhibiting joy in the only thing they have left: the unconditional of Jesus.

Writing from his new temporary home in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, the Rev. Canon Andrew White, the only Anglican pastor in Iraq, said that even though ISIS has left these displaced Christian refugees with no homes, no clothes and, in some cases, no families, their faith remains strong in the "refugee child," Jesus.

"All you have got left is the love of that refugee child. That to us in the Middle East is all that matters this Christmas," White explained.

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Posted December 23, 2014 at 6:40 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Flagging morale, desertion and factionalism are starting to affect the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, testing the cohesion of the jihadi force as its military momentum slows.

Activists and fighters in parts of eastern Syria controlled by Isis said as military progress slows and focus shifts to governing the area, frustration has grown among militants who had been seen as the most disciplined and effective fighting force in the country’s civil war.

The group hurtled across western Iraq and eastern Syria over the summer in a sudden offensive that shocked the world. Isis remains a formidable force: it controls swaths of territory and continues to make progress in western Iraq. But its fighters have reached the limit of discontented Sunni Muslim areas that they can easily capture and US-led coalition air strikes partnered with offensives by local ground forces have begun to halt their progress.

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Posted December 20, 2014 at 5:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

They are angry at the loss, frustrated that the battle for Mosul is on hold and that Baghdad has failed to support them. In the meantime, they have backing from the Americans who have visited this camp and offered to start training soon.

"Maybe in the next week. Maybe," says Hamdani. But the Americans have made no promises to provide the weapons Hamdani says he needs. "The weapons come from Baghdad."

So far, Baghdad has delivered one small shipment of 1,000 Kalashnikov rifles and 30 heavy machine guns. It's not nearly enough, says Hamdani, against a dangerous enemy that is well-armed with U.S. weapons seized in Mosul when the Iraqi army collapsed in June. The fleeing Iraqi army left behind millions of dollars worth of U.S. armaments.

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Posted December 19, 2014 at 12:25 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

She took the call herself the night the Islamic State came into Mosul. ‘Convert or leave or you’ll be killed,’ she was told. The callers, identifying themselves as Isis members, knew the household was Christian because her husband worked as a priest in the city. They fled that night.

Like many of their Christian neighbours they sought refuge in the monastery of St Matthew. But Isis took that over, tore down the Cross, smashed all Cross-decorated windows, used it for their own prayers and flew their black flag on top of the church. Across what was Nineveh, Iraq’s Christians spent this year fleeing from village to village, hoping to find safety somewhere.

This woman’s husband and son continued their ministry among the scattered congregations of Iraq. But the wife, who took the call, is now in west London. We spoke there one Sunday morning earlier this year. To attend the morning service in a Syriac church and hear the Lord’s Prayer uttered in the original Aramaic in which Jesus taught it is profoundly moving at any time. But this year the prayers of this beleaguered congregation of Iraqi Christians in Acton have taken on a terrible, plaintive urgency.

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Posted December 17, 2014 at 6:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

As the school year began in Mosul, the largest city controlled by the Islamic State, the extremists sent a message to teachers: Report for work or lose your jobs.

Then, directives bearing the group’s black flag and hung in schools dictated the new order. Males and females were split up. Girls were to swap their gray skirts and blouses for black gowns and veils that covered their faces. Sports were only for boys. Civics classes were scrapped. At the University of Mosul, one of Iraq’s top institutions, the schools of fine arts, political science and law were deemed un-Islamic and shuttered.

The teachers were in a bind. Not showing up meant defying a group that often murdered its foes. But going to work could anger the government in Baghdad, which still paid their salaries. Out of fear, many teachers complied.

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Posted December 15, 2014 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

ISIS fighters stormed a town in Iraq's western Anbar province Saturday, killing at least 19 policemen and trapping others inside their headquarters, in the latest attack in the desert region where it controls large amounts of territory, officials said.

ISIS seized the town of Al-Wafa, 45 km west of Anbar's capital Ramadi Saturday after starting its assault early Friday.

With the capture of Al-Wafa, ISIS now controls three major towns to the west of Ramadi, including Hit and Kubaisa. ISIS and government forces have been bogged down in a monthslong battle for Ramadi.

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Posted December 14, 2014 at 6:14 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Air strikes carried out by the US-led coalition on Islamic State (IS) have inflicted "significant" damage on the group's capabilities, US Secretary of State John Kerry says.

Mr Kerry said the campaign against the militant group could take years, but that the coalition would remain engaged "as long as it takes".

The US said earlier that Iran, not a coalition member, had carried out air strikes against IS in Iraq.

However, Iran has denied this.

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Posted December 3, 2014 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

His views on the Middle East have often put him at odds with the Church. In his 20s, he abandoned a career as a doctor to become a vicar, eventually heading up the Church of England's International Centre for Reconciliation (ICR) where his work took him to the Middle East.

He backed the 2003 invasion in Iraq and afterwards restored St George's, the only Anglican church in the country. He has endured kidnappings, bombings and the recent onslaught of Islamic State, which forced him to leave in the face of grave threats to his life. Now, he is pushing for more war, saying the countries that invaded Iraq must go back in force to stop IS.

When he moves outside his church, White was protected by up to 35 Iraqi guards. But when he meets The Huffington Post UK, he is sitting without protection in a leather arm chair, at his home in Liphook, Hampshire. By White's own estimation, he has spent 70 to 80 days of the year at most in the UK since he went to the Middle East.

A family friend of White's told me he seems to know everyone wherever he is, to which White replies: "The only place I've ever been where I don't know everybody is here." The walls of this room are covered in crucifixes he collects, maps of Iraq and Baghdad and a letter from former US President George W. Bush thanking him for his work there.

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Posted November 25, 2014 at 9:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

[Canon Andrew] White has the optimism of the truly religious but he found this news devastating.“You can’t stop yourself despairing. You can only despair in that situation.”

In parts of the Middle East, Christianity is in danger of extinction. In 1991 there were 1.5m Christians in Iraq. Today there may be as few as 300,000. In Syria and Egypt, in places where there have been churches for almost two millennia, Christians are being persecuted and killed and their places of worship destroyed.

A report by the Pew Research Centre think tank in Washington found Christianity to be the world’s most oppressed religious group. What remains of the Iraqi Christian community has now lost one of its leaders. White, known as “the Vicar of Baghdad”, was recalled last month from St George’s Church by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, because of the danger posed by the terrorist group Isis.

Could the conflict spell the end of centuries of Christian life in Iraq? “If you’d asked me four months ago I would have said no,” says White. “But in the past four months I say yes. What is a Christian life there now? The Bishop of Mosul said recently that for the first time in 2,000 years there was no church in Nineveh [an ancient city that is now part of Mosul]. That’s the reality.”

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Posted November 23, 2014 at 1:04 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was injured in a strike in Iraq's western Anbar province on Saturday, Iraqi security officials told The Associated Press.

The officials said that they did not know the extent of the top militant's injuries. Their accounts could not be independently confirmed, and it was unclear if the strike that might have wounded him was carried out by U.S. forces, which had targeted Islamic State leaders in the north of the country on Friday.

American officials said on Saturday that military aircraft had struck a convoy of armed trucks near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul the day before, and that they believed the vehicles had been ferrying some of the group's commanders. A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said he could not confirm whether Baghdadi had been in the convoy, which was destroyed in the raids, officials said.

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Posted November 9, 2014 at 5:10 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

As illustrated, there are a number of substantial factors that impede a wider Sunni armed pushback against the Islamic State within Iraq, but this does not mean no local gains or progress is possible in the campaign against the group. After US airstrikes began targeting Islamic State positions in northern Iraq in early August, it was apparent that the concentration of air power in support of effective ground forces could be successful in forcing the group to withdraw from territory. This was apparent in Iraq most recently with the breaking of the Islamic State's siege of Amerli by Shia militias and the group's loss of the Rabia border crossing in Ninawa province to the Peshmerga (Kurdish security forces).

However, neither the Peshmerga nor Shia militias have either the means or legitimacy to assert authority over the substantial swaths of predominantly Sunni territory that the Islamic State currently controls in conjunction with local Sunni insurgents. What is required for external airstrikes to be effective in these areas is a Sunni force with local legitimacy to be able to restore the presence and authority of the government. However, with a current severe disconnect between the government and the Sunni population of western and northern Iraq, what is required is deep internal change from within on the part of the government, in addition to a sea change in attitude among Sunni insurgents and their local supporters; whether such change is possible in the foreseeable future is in doubt.

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Posted November 7, 2014 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Mass killings by Islamic State militants have seen 322 members of an Iraqi Sunni tribe killed in western Anbar province, Iraq's government says.

The country's ministry of human rights said more than 50 bodies were found in a water well, whilst 65 members of the Al-Bu Nimr tribe have been kidnapped.

The group's latest attack came on Sunday morning when militants shot and killed at least 50 of the tribe.

IS militants - also Sunnis - control large areas of Iraq and Syria.

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Posted November 2, 2014 at 6:56 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The U.S.-led airstrike campaign is hardly a plausible solution to quelling the encroaching and horrific reign of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, says the Rev. Nadim Nassar, the lone Syrian Anglican minister and director of the London, England-based, Christian charity, Awareness Foundation.

“It can’t be the solution because it only adds to the casualties and destruction to the region,” said Nassar, who spoke at a gathering Oct. 28 at St. John’s (Stone) Church. “The only solution is to dry out external resources that it relies on and all the veins that are feeding it.”

Military response merely provides a distraction, he said, ­­ a “show that they are doing something” —while the situation worsens daily as more than a million dollars a day is pumped into the operations of the Islamic State (known as ISIS or ISIL), a radical group of insurgents in Iraq and Syria and an offshoot of the Islamist militant organization al-Qaeda.

The alternative, said Nassar, is to pinpoint the source of its funding rather than to raise arms.

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Posted October 31, 2014 at 8:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Basima al-Safar retouches a picture of Jesus on an easel outside her house overlooking the flat Nineveh plains, 30 miles north of Mosul.

The murals she paints tell the story of her people, Christians in Iraq. But with Islamic State militants nearby, she is worried that life in Alqosh and towns like it could soon come to an end.

The Assyrian Christian town of around 6,000 people sits on a hill below the seventh-century Rabban Hormizd Monastery, temporarily closed because of the security situation. Residents of Alqosh fled this summer ahead of Islamic State militants. Around 70 percent of the town’s residents have since returned. Still, a sense of unease hangs in the air.

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Posted October 28, 2014 at 7:29 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

They were among the final holdouts. Even as many of their neighbors fled the violence that engulfed Iraq after the American invasion, the three men stayed put, refusing to give up on their country or their centuries-old Christian community.

Maythim Najib, 37, stayed despite being kidnapped and stabbed 12 times in what he believed was a random attack. Radwan Shamra, 35, continued to hope he could survive the sectarian war between his Sunni and Shiite countrymen even after losing two friends shot by an unknown gunman who left their bodies sprawled in a Mosul street. And a 74-year-old too frightened to give his name said he remained despite the trauma of spending three anguished days in 2007 waiting to learn if his kidnapped 17-year-old son was dead or alive.

Now all three men from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and its environs have fled with their families to Jordan, forced out by Islamic State fighters who left them little choice. After capturing the city in June, the Sunni militant group gave Christians a day to make up their minds: convert, pay a tax, or be killed.

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Posted October 27, 2014 at 7:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Iraq's fractured army has begun to regroup and stage modest, localized attacks on the Islamic State militants who routed them last spring and summer, but they are unlikely to be ready to launch a major counteroffensive for many months, senior U.S. military officials say.

"We've seen them start to act like an army," one official said Thursday in a lengthy exchange with a group of Washington reporters who were invited to U.S. Central Command headquarters for the command's most extensive briefings on operations in Iraq and Syria.

The Iraqi security forces, trained for years by the U.S. prior to its departure from Iraq in 2011, have suffered sectarian divisions, a breakdown in leadership and a loss of confidence. To compound the problem, they surrendered tanks, armored personnel carriers and other U.S.-supplied equipment several months ago when IS fighters overtook Mosul.

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Posted October 24, 2014 at 8:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

This “different spirit” is the key to Welby’s thinking, and it is not one that can be entrusted to our politicians. Whether we choose to accept religious belief or not, it does not alter the reality that religious faith and ideologies hold far more power than guns and bombs. In the first three centuries of the Church it had no armies and pitched no battles, yet it overcame the Roman Empire through love and a gospel of God’s peace. Religious leaders need to be given a place at the top table as much as military commanders. Their insights into the role of religious belief as a driving force in individuals’ lives, along with their status, hold great value and potential to change the stakes.

There is an onus, too, on all of our religious leaders to take the initiative and become more outspoken, addressing those both inside and outside of their respective religions:
Religious leaders must up their game and engage jihadism in religious, philosophical and ethical space. Religious justifications of violence must be robustly refuted. That is, in part, a theological task, as well as being a task that recognises the false stimulation, evil sense of purpose and illusory fulfilment that deceive young men and women into becoming religious warriors. As we have seen recently, many religious leaders have the necessary (and very great) moral and physical courage to see the need for an effective response to something that they have condemned. It is essential that Christians are clear about the aim of peace and the need for joint working and that Muslim leaders continue explicitly to reject extremism, violent and otherwise. Any response must bring together all those capable of responding to the challenge.
Justin Welby talks about treasuring and preserving our values, but also of reshaping them. This would appear to be contradictory, but the context suggests that he is referring to both the values that have built peace and progress and also those that we have developed that bear the hallmarks of selfishness and self-preservation.

This is the battle that Justin Welby is calling for.

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Posted October 17, 2014 at 4:56 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Attalaf al Nour, a farmer who lives in Iraq’s Sunni heartland, long enjoyed a simple life that revolved around livestock, crops and trips to the city to sell his grain.

But since July, when Islamic State militants swept into Iraq, his world has been upended by new geographic and political borders that don’t yet appear on any map. They are fracturing Iraq’s fragile cohesion by forcing thousands of families to cross, at their peril, militant checkpoints to reach their markets, schools and jobs.

“Iraq is broken like never before, thanks to Daaesh,” said Mr. Nour, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “We are all divided and our lives are now upside down.”

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Posted October 15, 2014 at 9:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

An Iraqi provincial leader has issued a plea for US ground forces to head off total collapse in the country's largest province, a swathe of territory that could serve as a springboard for an assault on Baghdad by forces of the so-called Islamic State.

The call by Sabah al-Karhout, the president of Anbar's provincial council, will test the nerve of officials in the Iraqi and American capitals. It comes as a rash of suicide bombings in Baghdad late on Saturday killed more than 50 people and wounded nearly 100, mostly in Shiite districts of the city.

Set beside the ongoing failure of US-led airstrikes to turn the tide in the battle for Kobane, a small Kurdish community in the north of neighbouring Syria, and desperate fighting in the oil refinery town of Baiji, north of Baghdad, Mr Karhout's appeal will leave many in the region and beyond wondering how the US and its allies intend to save an entire country, when seemingly they can't save a single town.

Read it all from the SMH.


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Posted October 12, 2014 at 6:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

There are at least three levels of violence. The first demonstrates mere power and greed, with mobs and soldiers driving people out of their homes and businesses and into the streams of refugees. According to United Nations estimates, at least 1 million Iraqis have been displaced during the past four months.

The second level of everyday violence, she said bluntly, is "just shooting people."

On the third level, people move beyond deadly violence into unbelievable acts of terror. A Muslim who fled the fighting, said Ahmed, told her one story about what happened to some Iraqi men who could not flee fast enough. The Islamic State soldiers "lay them on the ground, after shooting them," and then rolled over the bodies with a tractor in "front of their families, just to devastate them."

[Andrew] White said those who survive are left haunted by what they have seen and, in some cases, what they themselves have done.

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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsJudaism

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Posted October 11, 2014 at 5:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The US-led coalition has unleashed more than 40 airstrikes on Anbar since August, helping drive Isis back from the critical Haditha dam.

However, the strikes have failed to blunt the militants’ overall advance, which has accelerated dramatically in the past three weeks. They have taken two military bases and a string of strategic towns, putting the Iraqi government’s already tenuous presence in Anbar at risk. Daily attacks on Iraqi security forces are taking place around the provincial capital, Ramadi.

After the capture of Hit last week, Ramadi and Haditha are now the only two government-held enclaves standing in the way of an unbroken Isis supply line running along the Euphrates river from Raqqa, its de facto capital in Syria, to Baghdad.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted October 11, 2014 at 1:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon




Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryOther Churches

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Posted October 10, 2014 at 4:31 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Two Anglican churches in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Christ Church Plano and All Saints Dallas, recently partnered in hosting the Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew White, Vicar of Baghdad, at their churches, raising more than $200,000 for Canon White’s ongoing missionary efforts in Iraq. “The wonderful links we have in the Anglican world brought us all together and gave the people of our two churches a common purpose: to uphold and support a vital ministry,” said the Very Rev. Canon David H. Roseberry, rector of Christ Church Plano.

Canon White is the Vicar of St. George’s Church, just outside the Green Zone, in Baghdad, Iraq. This congregation is the only remaining Anglican church in the country. He is also the President of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, which promotes peaceful relations and mutual respect amongst religious groups and their members, as well as provides humanitarian aid and assistance to persons and communities in need.

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Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican Church in North America (ACNA)* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the OrdainedStewardship* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq

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Posted October 7, 2014 at 7:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Air strikes ordered against Islamic State (IS) terrorists in Iraq have the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Several Free Church leaders have expressed their doubts, however.

Recalled to Parliament last Friday, MPs voted in favour of Britain's third intervention in Iraq in 24 years. Since then, RAF Tornado jets have flown a number of sorties into Iraq. It was revealed on Tuesday that British planes had bombed vehicles and fighters in Iraq for the first time, aiding Kurdish forces who are battling IS in north-western Iraq.

Speaking in Friday's debate in the House of Lords, Archbishop Welby said that this was a just cause. But he warned that the world would not be able to defeat Islamist extremism by force of arms alone.

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Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalArchbishop of Canterbury --Justin WelbyAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryTerrorism* International News & CommentaryEngland / UKMiddle EastIraqSyria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted October 3, 2014 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Islamic State extremists have herded hundreds of women to be given to its fighters in Syria as a reward or sold as sex slaves and have summarily executed women in professions, according to the United Nations.

About 500 women and girls of the Yezidi and Christian minority communities were given to Islamic State fighters or trafficked for sale in markets in Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, according to a report published today by the UN mission in Iraq and the world body’s human-rights office in Geneva.

“Women and girls are brought with price tags for the buyers to choose and negotiate the sale. The buyers were said to be mostly youth from the local communities,” according to the 29-page report, which cites testimony from witnesses and surviving victims. “Apparently ISIL was ‘selling’ these Yezidi women to the youth as a means of inducing them to join their ranks.” ISIL is an acronym for Islamic State’s former name.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchTeens / YouthViolenceWomen* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraqSyria* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted October 2, 2014 at 4:24 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Islamic State insurgents in Iraq have carried out mass executions, abducted women and girls as sex slaves, and used children as fighters in systematic violations that may amount to war crimes, the United Nations said on Thursday.

In a report based on 500 interviews, it also said Iraqi government air strikes on the Sunni Muslim militants had caused "significant civilian deaths" by hitting villages, a school and hospitals in violation of international law.

At least 9,347 civilians had been killed and 17,386 wounded so far through September, well over half of them since the Islamic insurgents also known as ISIL and ISIS began seizing large parts of northern Iraq in early June, the report said.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationLaw & Legal IssuesViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslam* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted October 2, 2014 at 7:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

As a coalition of Western and Arab countries continues military action to try to defeat Islamic State (IS), it’s timely to hear how the region’s largest Christian minority - in Egypt - is helping to provide humanitarian relief in Northern Iraq.

Coptic Christians themselves faced an onslaught from Islamic extremists only a year ago, but are now providing much-needed practical and psychological support to other Arab speakers in ways that Westerners cannot.

One of the biggest churches in the Arab world, Kasr el-Dobara church in Cairo, is delivering aid alongside agencies such as the UNHCR, Caritas and many others, thanks to its relatively well-paid and well-connected membership.

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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryStewardship* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastEgyptIraq* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesCoptic Church* TheologyEthics / Moral TheologyPastoral Theology

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Posted October 2, 2014 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Christians in Baghdad are still being baptised despite the threat of execution by the radical Islamist group Islamic State* (IS) which is currently fighting to get to the Iraqi capital.

The Anglican priest who has served the beleaguered city for more than a decade, Canon Andrew White, today told ACNS he thought the threat posed by IS was actually one reason the believers wanted to be undergo baptism.

“People really wanted to demonstrate their faith and that’s good,” he said. Publicly identifying oneself as a Christian is a particularly courageous move in a country where IS has been intentionally targeting religious minorities.

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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* TheologySacramental TheologyBaptism

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Posted October 1, 2014 at 5:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Nearly two months on since the US began air strikes against Islamic State (IS) positions in northern Iraq, there are signs that the militants are adapting to the new reality.

Witnesses and tribal sources in IS-controlled areas have told Reuters news agency of a drop in the number of militant checkpoints and fighters using mobile phones less, apparently to avoid being targeted by air raids.

Reuters also reported that militants have been seen to ditch conspicuous convoys of armoured vehicles in favour of motorcycles.

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

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Posted October 1, 2014 at 8:01 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Canon White, the vicar of St George's Church - the only Anglican church in Iraq - said civilians were being killed by coalition air raids in Iraq.

He said: "I've never known the city like it is at the moment.

"Streets which are usually choc-a-bloc with traffic, cars and people are almost empty. People are too fearful to even leave their homes.

"We are at a crisis point. People know IS are coming nearer. People are being killed by the (air) attacks of the coalition."

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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq

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Posted September 29, 2014 at 5:30 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

New U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State fighters failed to stop them from pressing their assault on a strategic Syrian town near the Turkish border on Saturday, hitting it with shell fire for the first time.

The U.S. Central Command (Centcom) said the air strikes destroyed an IS building and two armed vehicles near the border town of Kobani, which the insurgents have been besieging for the past 10 days.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryForeign RelationsPolitics in GeneralTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraqSyria* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted September 27, 2014 at 6:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Christians in the Nineveh region of northern Iraq are unable to celebrate communion for the first time in two millennia, after Islamic State militants captured the area and took over the churches.

Canon Andrew White, vicar of the only Anglican church in Iraq, told the Telegraph that Isil have set up offices in the churches and have replaced crosses with the militant group's black flag.

"Last week there was no communion in Nineveh for the first time in 2,000 years," he said. "All [the churches] are closed, all their people have run away. It is so sad."

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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal* Christian Life / Church LifeChurch HistoryParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Culture-WatchHistoryViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther ChurchesOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* Theology

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Posted September 27, 2014 at 5:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

This persecution has reached well beyond Mosul. As recently as 2003, roughly 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq. After more than 60 church bombings and ISIL's recent campaign to exterminate religious minorities, the numbers have dwindled. Syrian Christians are under equally serious assault, as are Coptic Christians in Egypt.

But history offers a glimmer of hope in the midst of this darkness. It is not just that refugees from persecution often find a home in new countries where their beliefs can flourish, as Catholics and Jews did in 19th century America, and Protestants did before that. The more profound truth is that violence rarely has the final word, even in the country from which a religious minority has been excluded.

The Roman Empire sought to snuff out Christianity on several occasions, most famously during the reign of Nero.

Even when they were not actively persecuted, Christians often were forbidden from owning property and subjected to social stigma. Yet Christianity survived and eventually thrived. Ironically, Christianity's own commitment to human rights — such as the dignity of women — was a key feature of its success.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq

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Posted September 24, 2014 at 12:35 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The United States and several Middle East partners pounded Islamic State targets in Syria Tuesday with waves of warplanes and Tomahawk cruise missiles in an aggressive and risky operation marking a new phase in the conflict.

A statement issued by the U.S. Central Command early Tuesday said that a “mix of fighter, bomber, remotely-piloted aircraft and Tomahawk” cruise missiles destroyed or damaged multiple Islamic State targets in several parts of Syria, where a civil war has been raging for more than three years.

The U.S. statement said “partner nations,” including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, “participated in or supported” the operation. The involvement of these regional allies are key for the legitimacy and logistics of the operation.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationReligion & CultureScience & Technology* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.Middle EastIranIraqSyria* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted September 23, 2014 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The suffering of Iraqi Christian refugees fleeing the depredations of the Islamic State (ISIS) are beyond description, the vicar-general of the Diocese of Zanzibar reports following a visit to Kurdistan last week. The Rev Jerry Kramer writes: “Right now we’re processing all that we saw and experienced firsthand. Honestly, we don’t have the words at the moment. The suffering is so immense. The magnitude of the disaster is beyond comprehension.” Fr Kramer, who served as the rector of an Episcopal congregation in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and was one of the leaders in the grassroots campaign to rebuild the city, but currently is a missionary in Tanzania with Love for the Least ministries stated: “Christians were given 48 hours to leave their homes. “Some paid to stay or converted to Islam.

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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal* Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAfricaTanzaniaMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations

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Posted September 22, 2014 at 6:45 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A briefing by Amnesty International, Ethnic cleansing on historic scale: the Islamic State’s systematic targeting of minorities in northern Iraq, calls the ISIS offensive a genocide, citing several examples of mass killings along with a wave of abductions.

"The massacres and abductions being carried out by the Islamic State provide harrowing new evidence that a wave of ethnic cleansing against minorities is sweeping across northern Iraq," says Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser. "The Islamic State is carrying out despicable crimes and has transformed rural areas of Sinjar into blood-soaked killing fields in its brutal campaign to obliterate all trace of non-Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims."

In more than 20 interviews conducted during three days by a World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation that visited northern Iraq at the end of August, few people could imagine the possibility of returning to their homes. A fourteen-year-old Christian girl from a village on the Nineveh Plain, Iraq, when asked what she thought about the future, replies, "There is no future. Da'ish (ISIS) destroyed our future. We are scared to go back."

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryEcumenical RelationsOther Churches* Theology

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Posted September 17, 2014 at 6:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Christian fathers told to convert to Islam or watch their children lose their heads.

Christians fleeing their communities shot, their dead bodies lined up on the ground, then rolled over by a bulldozer as their loved ones watch.

These are just some of the stories Canon Andrew White and Dr. Sarah Ahmed shared at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Monday.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther ChurchesOther FaithsIslam* Theology

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Posted September 16, 2014 at 7:15 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

For the Rev. Canon Andrew White, in his work as chaplain of St. George’s Anglican Church of Baghdad, the flesh may be weak but the spirit remains strong.

“I have to be honest with you. I’ve never felt overwhelmed. I know I’m doing what I was made to do and what I was created to do,” White said during a forum at All Saints Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on September 14. “The Lord is here, and he has never left us, even in our time of great trial.”

Even in the face of violence, persecution and killings perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), “I’ve never felt discouraged,” he told TLC, because of his deep trust in God. “I never doubt him,” White said. “I always love him and I know he loves me.”

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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* International News & CommentaryMiddle EastIraq* TheologyPastoral Theology

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Posted September 15, 2014 at 4:20 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

Posted by Kendall Harmon

To defeat a disciplined and fanatical insurgency inspired by ideological fervour anywhere, disciplined leadership is fundamental. Without such leadership the security forces are reluctant to engage. When rampant corruption is added to the mix, it is no wonder that West Africa’s putatively most powerful military force has been unable and unwilling to reduce Boko Haram to the pitiful state in which it existed four years ago. Now that the security forces have the benefit of outside help and sophisticated surveillance techniques, it should be easy. But if armies are not fully at one with their political leaders, and if armies believe themselves to be abused, there is no fight.

Victory over Boko Haram is only possible if Mr. Jonathan makes such a victory a national cause and if he and his close followers find a way to strengthen the legitimacy of the state and of key state institutions such as the military. This would involve Mr. Jonathan demonstrating a real belief in the integrity of the nation, casting aside party and ethnic considerations, and showing that he really is the leader of all Nigerians, not just southerners, Christians or the denizens of Abuja.

Until and unless Mr. Jonathan rises to as yet untouched heights of leadership, Maiduguri may well be overrun, and a jejune and greedy movement constitute Nigeria’s first breakaway state. The 19th-century Kanemi-Bornu emirate will then have been recreated in the guise of a fanatical caliphate with no real indigenous roots.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesPolice/FireReligion & CultureViolence* Economics, PoliticsDefense, National Security, MilitaryPolitics in General* International News & CommentaryAfricaNigeriaMiddle EastIraq* Religion News & CommentaryInter-Faith RelationsOther FaithsIslamMuslim-Christian relations* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

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Posted September 9, 2014 at 6:20 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]




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