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Monthly archives: October, 2016

Iraqi Christians Celebrate Mass In Qaraqosh For The First Time Since Liberation From ISIS

After more than two years of ISIS occupation, a church in Qaraqosh held its first service on Sunday.

Surrounded by charred walls and in front of a ruined altar, dozens of Iraqi Christians celebrated mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Iraqi priests hold the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Iraqi priests hold the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Church bells rang out in the town on the southeastern approaches to Mosul where Iraqi troops, backed by US-led air and ground forces, have been driving back the Sunni Muslim jihadists ahead of a battle for the city itself.

“Today Qaraqosh is free of Daesh (Islamic State),” Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Butrus Moshe – who was born in the town – told worshippers.

“Our role today is to remove all the remnants of Daesh,” he added. “This includes erasing sedition, separation and conflicts, which victimized us.

“Political and sectarian strife, separating between one man and another, between ruler and follower, these mentalities must be changed.”

Iraqi priests hold the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Qaraqosh once had the largest Christian population in Iraq. Reuters

Iraqi priests hold the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Reuters

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A cross is seen on the damaged altar. Reuters

Iraqi priests hold the first Sunday mass at the Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured from Islamic State in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, Iraq, October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Reuters

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An Iraqi Christian soldier lights a candle. Reuters

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An Iraqi Christian policeman attends Mass. Reuters

Qaraqosh once had the largest Christian population in Iraq, and was home to at least a quarter of the country’s Christian community.

However, Kurdish troops stationed to protect the town withdrew on August 6, 2014, leaving ISIS free to move in overnight and take it along with three other Christian-majority towns.

Tens of thousands of people were then forced to flee after ISIS issued an ultimatum to Christians: leave, convert to Islam, pay a heavy tax or be killed.

The town was liberated as part of the Mosul offensive over the past two weeks.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

Source: Christian Today



UK Foreign Office hosts global summit on freedom of religion or belief

“Religious freedom can counter violent extremism” was the key message at a two-day global conference held at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) last week.

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The UK Foreign Office hosted a summit exploring how religious freedom prevents extremism, Oct. 2016. FCO

The conference explored ways to build resilience against extremism and identified opportunities for collaboration.

More than 50 expert speakers and over 170 participants from 38 countries met in London ahead of International Religious Freedom Day on 27 Oct.

The FCO, which is responsible for safeguarding the UK’s national security, stated that “extremism is the biggest security challenge of our age and a significant barrier to global prosperity, development, peace and stability”.

‘Most powerful tool’ to fight extremism

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Baroness Anelay addresses summit, Oct. 2016.

Baroness Joyce Anelay, the Minister for Human Rights at the FCO, said: “Freedom of religion or belief is one of our most powerful tools in the fight against extremism. That is why freedom of religion is so important, and directly relevant to the fight against extremism.

“If we value others, regardless of what – if any – religion they follow, and if we teach our children to do the same, we also give them the tools to reject intolerance. If we lay the foundations for open, equal and plural societies, then we also build communities resilient to extremism; communities where everyone has the intellectual independence to resist hateful ideologies, religious or otherwise.”
The conference heard a first-hand account of the consequences of religious intolerance from a Christian gospel singer from the east-African country of Eritrea who was imprisoned in a metal shipping container for nearly three years because of her faith. Helen Berhane, who was arrested in 2003, described her incarceration as “very harsh”. She was tortured and kept in solitary confinement with little food and air. “Even now when I see a container I imagine [the imprisonment] for 32 months,” she told the BBC.

Berhane’s home of Eritrea isn’t alone in restricting religious freedom. Countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Iran, Burma, Bangladesh and North Korea are also variously accused by human rights organisations. Each of these countries appears in the annual World Watch List of the 50 most difficult places to live as a Christian, published by the charity, Open Doors.

‘The basic human right’

Freedom of religion, many argued, constitutes the basic human right. “In 74% of countries, there are violations of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is the right to believe, not to believe or to change your belief,” said religious freedom campaigner Lord David Alton, who spoke about why a knowledge of religion is vital to understanding today’s world. Violation of Article 18, he added, leads to genocide, persecution and discrimination.”

A key reason for championing religious freedom, the conference heard, is that it provides the best means of challenging erroneous, potentially dangerous interpretations of faith that can lead to violence.

“One of the most amusing and depressing things you hear from people involved in terrorist activity here is the level of religious illiteracy that they have,” said Raffaello Pantucci, Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute. “I can give you a long list of quite amusing stories of individuals who would go off to Syria with a copy of Islam for Dummies,” he said, suggesting how little they knew of the religion they were going to fight for.

David Saperstein, US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, said: “If there are extremist ideas out there, religious freedom empowers more responsible voices to confront those extremist voices.”

Religions must ‘expel’ violent extremism

Few religions are immune from misrepresentation, said Professor Thomas Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University. “Every religion has had some violent extremism, but every religion has to expel it,” he said. “And today … in my view, the biggest threat is Islamist extremism. Muslims need religious freedom to expel this from their midst. They are prevented from doing so by laws that keep them silent.”

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Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyeh at the FCO summit, Oct 2016.

Farr’s opinion was supported by Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyeh, President of the Forum for Peace and Understanding in Muslim Societies, based in the United Arab Emirates. Speaking to the BBC through an interpreter, he said: “Nietzsche said civilisations get sick, and this analogy is appropriate because the Muslim civilisation has become ill. What I’m attempting to do is diagnose that illness and treat from within the tradition itself so that Muslim civilisation can become well again… The treatment is a proper reading of the [Islamic] text and an understanding of the aims and imports of the texts themselves. Therefore, human flourishing; therefore peace. And so religious literacy is very important in understanding the purpose.”
Canon Sarah Snyder, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director of Reconciliation, said: “Many of the states troubled by violent extremism are deeply religious societies… The cooperation of faith leaders is vital to the building of inclusive, plural and peaceful societies.”

She argued that leaders aren’t just Imams, Bishops, Muftis and Chief Rabbis, but ordinary people of faith who have established their moral authority in a community. This is particularly true of women, she said, who “are often seen as the victims of violence, but [also] they are on the front line of peace-building. Women are the ones who, in every single community that’s facing conflict, are leading peace initiatives. They are the first people to spot early warning signs of a shift in that community; they are usually the first people to try and change the negative shifts, and they are tackling extremism with their own young people and their own communities. So we need to see the women as agents of change, not just as victims.”

Source: World Watch Monitor



ISIS Abduct ‘Tens Of Thousands’ To Use As Human Shields In Mosul

ISIS fighters have abducted “tens of thousands” of men, women and children from areas around Mosul to use as human shields, the UN human rights office said on Friday.

The jihadist Sunni militants killed at least 232 people on Wednesday, including 190 former Iraqi security forces (ISF) and 40 civilians who refused to obey their orders, UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing.

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Shi’ite militia are about to launch an offensive against ISIS in west Mosul Reuters

“Credible reports suggest that ISIL has been forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes in sub-districts around Mosul and have forcibly relocated numbers of civilians inside the city itself since the operation began on the 17th of October to restore Iraqi government control over Mosul,” Shamdasani told a briefing.

Nearly 8,000 families, of roughly six people each, were abducted in sub-districts including Shura, she said.

“ISIL’s depraved cowardly strategy is to attempt to use the presence of civilian hostages to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations, effectively using tens of thousands of women, men and children as human shields,” Shamdasani said.

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The United Nations warned ISIS would use civilians as human shields as they retreated from the northern Iraqi town of Mosul Reuters

Up to 900 jihadis have been killed in the offensive to retake Mosul, the US military said on Thursday. It is thought up to 5,000 ISIS fighters were in Mosul ahead of the assault.

Despite significant territorial gains military commanders have said the campaign could take weeks if not months.

General Joseph Votel, the head of US Central Command, told AFP the offensive had inflicted a heavy toll on ISIS.

“Just in the operations over the last week and a half associated with Mosul, we estimate they’ve probably killed about 800-900 Islamic State fighters,” he said.

Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary groups are about to launch an offensive on Islamic State positions west of Mosul, assisting in the military campaign to take back the city, a spokesman said on Friday.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has voiced deep concern at reports that some individuals in the areas south of Mosul have “embarked on revenge killings and have vowed on television that there would be ‘eye-for-eye’ revenge against those who sided with ISIL”, said Shamdasani.

Additional reporting from Reuters.

Source: Christian Today



Madagascar: 1.5m face hunger because of drought, UN says

Some 1.5 million people in southern Madagascar are facing hunger because of a severe drought, the UN says.

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Rice production has dropped up to 60% in some regions, with people forced to turn to imports

Production of staple foods has declined sharply, resulting in higher food prices. Residents are said to be eating seeds and selling animals to cope.

More than half of those affected are acutely food insecure, the UN adds, meaning that they need urgent humanitarian assistance.

The situation has been made worse by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

The lack of sufficient rains in the southern region of Androy alone resulted in an 80% decline in maize production this year compared with the already reduced levels of 2015, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a report.

The drought also affected the production of another staple food, cassava, in Androy and also in Atsimo-Andrefana, where production dropped by approximately half, the agency added.

The situation was also critical in Anosy region.

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“Households are reducing consumption of locally produced crops,” the report said.

“[People are] adopting survival strategies such as consuming seeds, selling their animals and agricultural tools and increasing their consumption of nutritionally inadequate wild foods, such as red cactus fruits.”

Across the country, rice production was also affected, the agency said, with declines of up to 60% in some regions.

Working with the World Food Programme, the FAO said it would help residents and small farms in the worst-affected districts with food, seeds and farm tools, so they could take advantage of the planting season, which starts in November.

Other African nations have also suffered from severe droughts recently, made worse by the El Nino phenomenon.

El Nino is a naturally occurring weather episode that sees the warm waters of the central Pacific expand eastwards towards North and South America, causing unusually high temperatures.

Source: BBC News



Nigerian Middle Belt state: 800+ Christians killed, 800+ injured, 100+ churches destroyed

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The vandalised Evangelical Reformed Church of Christ, Lafia, Nasarawa State. NCSAN

Nigeria’s Middle Belt is the scene of ever-continuing attacks on Christian farmers by mainly Muslim Hausa-Fulani herdsmen, including this past week where attacks have occurred in both Kaduna and Benue states. Now a recent report about another state in the Middle Belt, Nasarawa, shows that it too has been the scene of serious violence against Christians. In the period January 2013–May 2016, 826 Christians were killed and 878 injured. There were 102 churches destroyed or damaged.
Beside these, 787 houses were destroyed, as well as nine shops, and 32 motorised vehicles. Many families were completely deprived of their livelihoods. Around 21,000 Christians were reported as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in different camps inside and outside Nasarawa. Due to the difficult security situation, the authors of the in-depth fact-finding report are convinced that they were only able to report part of what really happened.

Their Nigeria Conflict and Security Analysis Network (NCSAN) report shows that Nasarawa has been engulfed in various forms of conflict since its creation in 1996. Many researchers, policy makers and government officials have explained the conflict in terms of politics, ethnicity and economic contestation over land and resources. In most cases, the religious component of the conflict has been completely downplayed, marginalised, excluded or neglected.

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The 13 Local Government Areas of Nasarawa. nigerianmuse.com

However, field research conducted by NCSAN on the conflicts which occurred from 2013 to 2016 reveals that Christians have been specifically targeted. Emerging evidence suggests there is a strategic agenda to target and persecute ethnic groups that are predominantly Christian.
The targeting of Christians appears to be carried out by the Hausa-Fulani herdsmen and by deliberate government policies to marginalise Christians and Christian communities. This is evident in political power-sharing and domination through traditional rulership. Islamic identity tends to give Muslims undue advantage over the affairs of the state. Indeed, state government policies are crafted to favour Islam and Muslims. The ongoing persecution of Christians in Nasarawa, like many other places in northern Nigeria, has been ignored.

This study unearths the drivers of persecution against Christian communities in Nasarawa and, importantly, it provides the basis for a policy proposition that encourages the need to build common citizenship among the people.

The report is the third in a series published by Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit. The first report highlighted non-Boko Haram violence against Christians in the Middle Belt region of Nigeria. The second report investigated in greater detail violent conflict in Taraba from 2013 to 2015.

Source: World Watch Monitor