Friday, December 9, 2011

Al Qaeda Cell in Turkey Accused of Planning to Bomb Churches

Indictment reveals Christian targets in Ankara, along with Parliament and U.S. Embassy.
By Barbara G. Baker
ISTANBUL, December 9 (Compass Direct News) – A large-scale Al Qaeda plot to bomb “all the churches in Ankara,” as well as the Turkish Parliament and U.S. Embassy in the Turkish capital, was made public today.
In an exclusive splashed across the front page of the daily Taraf newspaper, contents of an official indictment against 11 alleged Al Qaeda militants arrested in July revealed the homegrown terrorist cell’s alleged plans to attack Ankara’s churches as well as their Christian clergy.
Prepared and filed by the Special Prosecutor’s Office in Ankara, the 50-page indictment outlined the militants’ revised “jihad” strategy to begin focusing their attacks against Turkey before waging war against the United States and other countries.
“It is more advantageous to wage jihad against Turkey than the United States,” documents seized in the July 14 raid near Ankara reportedly declared. “Let’s blow the Parliament into the sky!”
Quoting from deciphered CDs and other materials, the indictment noted that the extremists reportedly referred to Turkey as a “war zone,” labeling the Turkish government as “apostates” and calling the Turkish state “Satan.”
Among the CDs, detailed maps, sketches and building diagrams, police also discovered lists of the names and home addresses of Christian clergy and other church workers residing in Ankara.
The news took Christian leaders in Ankara by total surprise, according to one Turkish Christian leader in Ankara.
“No one has had any news about this until now,” he said.
In addition to chapels on Ankara’s British, French, Vatican, Italian and Greek embassy grounds, the capital city has several international churches as well as a handful of Turkish Protestant congregations.
According to Taraf, police investigators were tipped off to the militant cell’s activities by citizens living outside Ankara who filed a claim that their son had been kidnapped by Al Qaeda. Police reportedly tracked one of the suspects for six months before nabbing him a week before the others.
Starting from the city of Bursa, a branch of Turkey’s Anti-Terror police began investigations in various municipalities that resulted in the arrest of suspects last July in a duplex apartment in Sincan, a town on the outskirts of Ankara. Video footage found at the scene indicated the men had undergone training in the use of Kalashnikov rifles.
Police seized 700 kilos (1,500 pounds) of explosives, along with assault rifles, ammunition, bomb-making instructions and detailed maps of Ankara.
According to documents summarized in the indictment, Al Qaeda leaders strictly forbade the members of the cell to enroll in Turkey’s required military service, recognize the authority of Turkish courts, send their children to public schools, perform Muslim prayers under the leadership of state-salaried prayer leaders or vote in national elections. Those who disobeyed were warned they would be punished.
Further guidelines noted in the suspects’ diaries came from their leaders in Afghanistan, instructing them how to conduct themselves if arrested: “Stay relaxed under interrogation, refuse to accept charges by giving reasonable answers, and do not provide any information regarding the community.”
Although Al Qaeda’s violent interpretation of Islam receives little public backing in officially secular Turkey, Ankara admits that “dozens” of Turks have received training in Afghanistan.
The 2003 bombings of the British Consulate, a British bank and two synagogues in Istanbul that killed 58 people were attributed to Al Qaeda-affiliated operatives. A 2008 attack also blamed on Al Qaeda left three assailants and three Turkish policemen dead outside the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul.
In 2010 Turkish authorities made several mass arrests of suspected Al Qaeda members and sympathizers, indicating a significant support network for its cause within Turkey. But terrorism experts have maintained that the local group focused mainly on fundraising and recruitment in Turkey for jihad activities overseas.
In a related development, Istanbul authorities confirmed today that police were searching for three identified Al Qaeda extremists and five other individuals involved in a $3.5 million heist from a Turkish businessman’s bank account.
According to Aksam newspaper, the militants used false identities and bribed bank employees to steal the funds, designated to support the Al Qaeda cause. Four bank employees have been arrested in what police said was one of the first “fiscal terrorism” operations in Turkey.
Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News

Wither America on Religious Freedom?

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Monitoring
Special to ASSIST News Service

After Hillary Clinton's UN speech declaring gay rights are
human rights.

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- During the week of 12-16 Dec 2011, the US will have two opportunities to either defend OR diminish religious liberty. Religious liberty is already in decline in the US (see Religious Liberty Monitoring, label: USA). But by the end of next week we should know exactly what path the Obama administration intends to take with regard to domestic and international religious liberty policy. Will the tide be turned OR will the Obama administration add momentum to the flow of world forces in this age of escalating persecution? Whither America?

The US and the OIC: implementing UNHRC Resolution 16/18

As I have noted previously, far from being a breakthrough for free speech, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's (OIC's) new Resolution 16/18, "Combating intolerance . . ." is actually more dangerous than resolution 2005/3, "Combating Defamation of Religion". Indeed, the strategic shift from defamation to incitement actually advances the OIC's primary goal: the criminalisation of criticism of Islam. For, in Resolution 16/18, the OIC has deliberately and strategically adopted the language of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 20.2, which mandates: any advocacy of hatred that "constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law".

As The International Islamic News Agency (IINA) reported on 1 Aug 2011, implementation of the resolution will require that domestic and international laws be enacted to prevent the incitement that results "from the continued defamation of religions." In other words, anything that could have been deemed defamation under Resolution 2005/3 will doubtless now be deemed incitement under Resolution 16/18 -- incitement which must be prohibited by law.

The question no one seems to be asking is: What is it that makes some people highly incitable to reactionary violence and destruction?

For full background see: UNHRC Resolution 16/18 
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 21 Aug 2011.

The first meeting pursuant of Resolution 16/18 took place in Istanbul on 15 July 2011. The next meeting will be held in Washington from 12-14 December 2011. It will be hosted by the Reverend Suzan Johnson Cook, (profile New York Times) the new US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

In July 2010, Foreign Police magazine noted that the Reverend Suzan Johnson Cook's appointment was "welcome but curious". For while theHarlem-born Johnson Cook (54) has an impressive, indeed phenomenal, resume -- particularly in urban evangelistic and pastoral ministry -- she has no experience at all in religious liberty or foreign policy.

I would suggest that when it comes to dealing with the propaganda and religio-political strategies that threaten religious liberty both domestically and internationally, then lack of religious liberty background puts the cause of religious liberty at a serious disadvantage. A cynic might even question whether this was exactly why Rev Johnson Cook -- described by the New York Times as "Billy Graham and Oprah rolled into one" -- was appointed.

Concerning the forthcoming US-OIC meeting, Judson Berger of FOX News notes: "Critics describe the get-together . . . as a Trojan horse for the long-running OIC push for restrictions on speech.

"A key worry is that the meeting could become a platform for Islamic governments to push for hate-speech laws which, in their most virulent and fundamentalist form, criminalize what they perceive as blasphemy.

"'It's just an astonishingly bad decision,' said Nina Shea, who sits on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and serves as director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom."

See: Free Speech Concerns Ahead of Meeting With Muslim Nations on Religious Tolerance
By Judson Berger for FoxNews, 11 Nov 2011

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) prepares for closure.

The US International Freedom from Religious Persecution (IFRP) Act 1998 tied international religious freedom to US foreign policy by mandating that sanctions be leveled against regimes deemed to be severe violators of religious liberty. As such, the US IFRP Act caste a veil of protection over many of the world's vulnerable religious minorities by ensuring that dictators had a reason to reign in their most intolerant and belligerent elements.

There is little doubt that the financial crisis of August 2008 robbed the US of her economic leverage, which in turn robbed the US Freedom from International Persecution (US IFRP) Act 1998 of its power. This is why persecution has increased so dramatically since Aug 2008. With the veil of protection stripped away, vulnerable religious minorities are now finding that impunity is the order of the day. And impunity is like fuel to the fires of persecution.

Despite this new reality, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) -- a Commission created by the US IFRP Act -- is still desperately needed. As violent persecution escalates globally, the USCIRF's role in monitoring religious liberty and advising the President, the Secretary of State, the US Congress and indeed the world, is more important than ever. 

When impunity is the order of the day, the last thing the persecuted want or need is silence. Indeed, with violent persecution increasing, it is imperative that truth-revealing, hope-inspiring, silence-shattering speech be enabled and magnified, lest the persecuted simple slip from our consciousness into deadly darkness.

Consequently, it is profoundly disturbing that the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) will cease to exist from Friday 16 December 2011 unless funding is reauthorised before then.

USCIRF Announcement 

6 December 2011

Dick Durbin May Block Religious Freedom Commission's Renewal to Force Feds to Buy Prison He Wanted for Gitmo Detainees.
Faith McDonnell, 5 Dec 2011

New foreign policy priority: LGBT (Gay) Rights. 

On Tuesday 6 December, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, in recognition of International Human Rights Day.

The principle focus of her speech was LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) Rights.

As this report from Associated Press reveals: "The Obama administration is making gay rights a foreign policy priority as the U.S. government agency monitoring international religious rights [the USCIRF] prepares to close.

Secretary of State Clinton's speech, which has been received with great excitement in the Gay community, has some serious worrying elements. (Transcript)

Excerpts and comments:

"In the 63 years since the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] was adopted, many nations have made great progress in making human rights a human reality. . . In many places . . . the ability of religious minorities to practice their faith freely has been secured.
[Is this a "Mission Accomplished" statement?]

"Today, I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways, they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm. I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT] people . . .

"Now, raising this issue, I know, is sensitive for many people and that the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest on deeply held personal, political, cultural, and religious beliefs.
[Note: undefined "religious beliefs" are, in and of themselves, deemed to be an obstacle to the human rights of LGBT people.]

"Of course, it bears noting that rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights."
[This implies that any religious teaching that conflicts with "human rights" as defined by the UN and "international community" will be rejected as erroneous interpretations, unrepresentative of the faith: i.e. the Islamic fundamentalist teaching that homosexuals should be killed; and the traditional mainline Christian teaching that homosexuals couples are not eligible for marriage which is defined as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.]

"Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings."
[Considering the fact that Mrs Clinton is speaking to a highly diverse audience, what does she mean by "our religion" and "our culture"? Clearly Mrs Clinton is asserting here that all religions and cultures are not only inherently the same, but inherently compassionate and inspirational as well. Of course the dhimmis and dalits of this world -- human beings who want their human rights protected FROM abusive religion and culture -- might disagree.] 

"It was not only those who've justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it. And let us keep in mind that our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source."
[NOTE: "dignity" is not defined. To one it may mean right to live in peace and security according to the traditional understanding of human rights, while to another, dignity might include the "right" not to be offended, or the "right" not to have your religious or lifestyle choices challenged.] 

The following paragraph is especially concerning.

"But progress comes from changes in laws. In many places, including my own country, legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality. And practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before fears about change dissipate."(emphasis mine)
[This is a clear, unambiguous warning that laws will soon be enacted to teach us not to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. How long will it be before anti-defamation or anti-incitement laws are enacted that will essentially criminalise all criticism of the LGBT lifestyle? Just as the OIC is seeking to protect and advance Islam, so too is the Gay lobby seeking to protect and advance the homosexual lifestyle -- all in the name of "human rights". But this has nothing to do with human rights. This is authoritarian repression and radical social engineering in the name / under the cover of human rights.]

"This morning, back in Washington, President Obama put into place the first U.S. Government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad. Building on efforts already underway at the State Department and across the government, the President has directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons.

"I am also pleased to announce that we are launching a new Global Equality Fund that will support the work of civil society organizations working on these issues around the world. This fund will help them record facts so they can target their advocacy, learn how to use the law as a tool, manage their budgets, train their staffs, and forge partnerships with women’s organizations and other human rights groups. We have committed more than $3 million to start this fund, and we have hope that others will join us in supporting it." (emphasis mine)
[So if the Obama administration fails to reauthorize funding for the USCIRF, then at least we will know where the money is going!] 

See also:
Obama, Clinton to World: Stop Gay Discrimination
By Anne Geran, AP National Security Writer
GENEVA, 6 December 2011 (AP)
Quote: The Obama administration bluntly warned the world against gay and lesbian discrimination Tuesday, declaring the U.S. will use foreign assistance as well as diplomacy to back its insistence that gay rights are fully equal to other basic human rights.

Obama Elevates Gay Rights as a Foreign Policy Priority
Dan Robinson, at the White House for Voice of America, 6 Dec 2011

Clinton Says Obama Wants Gay Rights Over Religious Freedom in Key Speech
By Paul Stanley, Christian Post, 7 Dec 2011

COMMENTARY: Obama, Clinton put world on notice over LGBT rights
Ken Williams - Editor in Chief, SDGLN (San Diego Gay & Lesbian News)
7 December 2011

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This article is an edited version of a posting written for her blog: Religious Liberty Monitoring .

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Bomb Blast in Kaduna, Nigeria Leaves at Least Eight Dead

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

KADUNA. NIGERIA (ANS) -- A powerful bomb blast rocked Kaduna metropolis yesterday, leaving at least eight dead, many badly injured and causing millions of naira worth of destruction to properties and businesses.

Eyewitnesses told Christian Solidarity Worldwide Nigeria (CSWN) that the bombers were on motorcycles, and were heading towards a spare part shop in a busy trading area, before residents heard the sound of an explosion, which killed one motorcyclist.

According to news reports, the National Emergency Management Agency, Red Cross, Federal Road Safety Corps, Police and Army worked for hours to evacuate the injured and the decapitated bodies of victims.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)  says the Kaduna State Commissioner of Police is reported to have attributed the explosion to gas cylinders and batteries in the shops. However, CSW reports, Mr Sunday Mba, the Chairman of the Spare Part Seller’s Union, has said that shops in the area do not sell gas and that a battery explosion would not cause such extensive damage.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the Red Cross has confirmed that the explosion in Kaduna was a bomb, corroborating eyewitness reports made to CSWN; however no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

CSW explained that Kaduna was one of the sites of deadly post-election violence in April. More recently, several people were killed when two villages in southern Kaduna were attacked by armed Fulanis.

Andrew Johnston, Advocacy Director for Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said: “We extend our condolences to the families of those killed in this deadly blast.

“Although the authorities have claimed this was a case of exploding batteries and gas cylinders, eyewitness reports are unequivocal that this was a bomb, detonated in a busy trading area to inflict maximum damage to people and property, and there are suspicions that Boko Haram may have been involved. “We urge the state authorities to take these reports seriously, and conduct a thorough investigation in order to swiftly apprehend the perpetrators of this appalling attack.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663,  or visit .

** Michael Ireland is the Senior International Correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can make a donation online under 'Donate' tab, then look for 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' under 'Donation Category' to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' Michael is a member in good standing of the National Writers Union, Society of Professional Journalists, Religion Newswriters Association, Evangelical Press Association and International Press Association. If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Senior International Reporter

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Family of Convert in Pakistan Seeks to Track Him Down

Christian loses livelihood, relatives for leaving Islam.
When Malik Pauloos of Bhakkar district, Punjab Province finally decided to trust a close relative with the secret that he had left Islam for Christianity, there was no question in his relative’s mind that Pauloos’ relationship with the family was over.

The family had been custodian of an Islamic shrine, the Pir Syed Karamat Shah in Kot Islam, for three generations. Though Pauloos had moved to Karachi, the capital of Sindh Province, 20 years ago to start a scrap business, he had continued fulfilling his duty to prepare the shrine for annual pilgrimages – but after he withdrew from it over time upon his conversion, shrine leaders were asking pointed questions about his adherence to Islam.

“I told him [the relative] to get the shrine people off my back, because I did not want to keep any point of contact with my past life,” Pauloos, 36, told Compass. “Although shocked, my relative said that he would first try and make my family understand the situation, and then they could figure out a way of letting me walk away peacefully.”

Pauloos did not realize that, beyond disowning him, his family would file a police complaint against him because – as a murtad or apostate deserving death – he was said to have committed “blasphemy.” With authorities’ help, family members are trying to track him down, he said.

Days before his baptism in September, a Pashtun scrap dealer heard about his conversion. A couple of Christians the dealer and Pauloos knew were sitting at the dealer’s shop when they started discussing the United States, whose relations with Pakistan have hit new lows in the past few months.

“The Pashtun man proudly claimed that many Americans were converting to Islam, but he was in for a big surprise when the Christians told him that I, a [formerly] devout Muslim, have been actively participating in church activities and had recently converted,” Pauloos said.

The Pashtun trader immediately conveyed the information to Pauloos’ family, and he received a call from one of his cousins, an engineer, who asked him to return to Punjab and explain.

“I told him I could not come back because of my business in Karachi, but he kept insisting that I should return to Bhakkar and deny reports that I had converted,” Pauloos said. “He then started threatening me that if I didn’t return home within three days, they would spread the news and even put the police after me on blasphemy charges. I told him that the threats were meaningless to me. He put down the phone, but before doing so he said that I would be responsible for the consequences.”

The next day his father put up a notice in local newspapers disowning him, he said.

“I called my cousin and told him that now that they had disowned me, they should know that I had indeed become a Christian and would not renounce Christ even if they killed me,” he said.

Pauloos said that he left his business last month and came to Punjab, where he has been traveling from one city to another sharing his experience of Christ.

Baptized in September after spending more than 10 years learning about the Christian faith, Pauloos said he does not regret trusting in Christ as Savior even though he has lost a comfortable life and a successful business and his Muslim family and friends are in hot pursuit to “kill the apostate.”

Family members had begun to grow suspicious when they heard that he was regularly seen in the company of Christian pastors and was avoiding the Islamic shrine and its spiritual head, Baba Raees.

“In fact, Raees had also expressed concern over my lack of interest in the shrine’s activities over the years and had asked one of my cousins to investigate why I wasn’t taking his calls,” Pauloos said. “Fearing that my disclosure would imperil the lives of all Christians connected with me, I told my family that I was keeping contact with the Christians to understand their faith, and that this was merely an education for me. I did not want my family to know that I had lost confidence in Islam and wanted to walk away from the faith of my elders.”

In an attempt to dispel the impression that he had become “murtad,” he visited the shrine one final time in 2010.

“Raees and other people made repeated attempts to judge whether I was still a Muslim or had renounced my faith, but I gave them the same reason that I had given to my family,” he said. “In September this year, I got baptized in Faisalabad. The whole affair was kept a secret because of the security situation in Pakistan.”

A relative told him that his family and Muslims associated with the shrine were using their influence to send the police after him, he said.

“They have publicly announced that I would have to pay for my ‘crime,’ but even death will not deter me from giving up my Christian walk,” he said.

When he told his Christian friends of the threats on his life, many suggested that he relocate to another country, he said, but he told them he would neither leave Pakistan nor yield to the demands of hostile Muslims.

“I will serve the Lord in my country even if it means putting my life on the line,” he said.

Haunted Journey
Stories abound of Muslims coming to Christ through dreams, but Pauloos’ journey began with nightmares.

They began haunting him in 2000, and his health deteriorated as he tried all possible remedies. Increasingly going without sleep, his condition worsened as he spent several nights fearing his nightmares might turn into reality. One day he shared his problem with a Christian acquaintance, who suggested that he visit a pastor and request prayer.

“I went to meet the pastor in Karachi and shared my problem with him,” he said. “He listened intently and then prayed for me. Before he started praying, he asked me if I had faith that Christ could help me. As Muslims, we hold Jesus Christ in high esteem as a prophet and also believe that He performed miracles. I said yes, and the pastor started praying. As he was praying, I felt as if someone was brushing off the dirt from me … I started breathing!”

Before he left, the pastor, whose name is withheld for security reasons, shared some verses of the Bible with him.

“He told me things about Christ that I had never heard or read before and said that I could come visit him whenever I needed help,” he said, adding that he went to the pastor two or three more times for prayer, and his condition began to improve.

Pauloos said that he did not have any nightmares for a year.

“In 2001, I again started suffering from the dreaded nightmares and shared this with the pastor,” he said. “He invited me to his church. It was the first time I had participated in any Christian worship. His congregation welcomed me warmly and gave me immense respect. Then they all prayed for ‘their Muslim brother,’ and this gesture further attracted me toward Christ.”

Increasing contact with the Christians left him “greatly inspired,” he said, and when he found himself on a road in Haripur to meet with an uncle who had been in an accident in northwest Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, he felt himself drawn to a small church building, he said.

“As if on cue, my feet started heading towards that direction,” he said. “I met the church’s pastor and shared with him my experiences in Karachi.”

The pastor, whose name is withheld for security reasons, gave him his first Bible, he said, and he attended his church service a few times.

“But then word about this spread in the city, and the pastor requested I stop going there, because it could endanger the lives of Christians living in the area,” Pauloos said. “He apologized for having to ask me to stop, but I told him that I understood the consequences the congregation would have to face and left the city after a few days.”

Back in Karachi, Pauloos said he started reading the Bible regularly and, in order to better understand it, also initiated contacts with other pastors. He recalled one pastor, whose name is withheld for security reasons, who came from the same caste as his.

“He offered a special prayer for me, asking God to guide me as I searched for the truth,” Pauloos said.

He said that in June, he traveled to Iran and Armenia on business, carrying his Bible the whole time.

“In Tehran I strongly felt that the time had come for me to get water baptism and start a new life in Christ,” he said. “I decided that I would take water baptism as soon as I got back.”


Thursday, December 8, 2011

InterVarsity suspended from New York University

InterVarsity is suspended
 from University-Buffalo.

USA (MNN) ― It happened again. An Intervarsity Christian Fellowship chapter is suspended from another campus. This time it happened at New York's University at Buffalo.

Vice President of Intervarsity Jim Lundgren says the suspension has been a couple of months in the making. "A few months ago, a student leader in the InterVarsity chapter came to the InterVarsity staff there and to a couple of the student leaders in the chapter, and confessed that he was in a same-sex relationship with another student and that he was inclined to continue that relationship and did not believe it was a sin."

In the process of the conversation he asked the leadership what he should do. Lundren says, "The student and the staff worker recommended that he step down from leadership, which he did."

Unfortunately, that didn't end the issue. Lundren says, "Apparently the gay and lesbian group on campus filed a complaint late last week with the university's student government association, saying that InterVarsity was discriminating against a gay student."

While the university has an "all inclusive" policy--meaning anyone can join a student group on campus, Lundren says that wasn't the issue here. "This involved leadership, not membership, because we welcome anyone to be involved in an InterVarsity Chapter, partly because of our commitment to evangelism."

Members of the student association at the university voted on Friday to suspend the school's InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter. Lundgren doesn't believe this suspension will last very long. "We have always been able to see our chapters reinstated because the Supreme Court decisions apply to state-funded schools like this."

The Student Association Senate declined to lift the suspension during a meeting on Sunday, choosing instead to appoint a special investigative committee to determine whether InterVarsity's leadership requirements violate the school's policy.
Lundren says InterVarsity is taking action. "We believe that it's actually the student government association that's breaking the law. So we're sending a letter to the school, reframing what happened, stating the law according to the Supreme Court, and asking that our chapter be reinstated."

This kind of antagonism isn't new to InterVarsity. "We've had 15 of these kinds of things happen this Fall, which generally we've had two or three a school year."

Are these concerted attacks against Christians? Lundren says, "I think 'attack' would be too strong. We have chapters on almost 900 campuses, and even though 15 is a lot, 15 out of 900 is not a majority. On the other hand, the gay and lesbian lobby on many campuses is getting more aggressive and working to attack other Christian ministries."

Lundren is asking Christians to pray for campus ministry which seems to be under more scrutiny.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Inside Embattled Syria: More Hostility Towards Christians

SANTA ANA, Calif., Dec. 6, 2011 /Christian Newswire/ -- While much of the world's attention is focused on the Egyptian elections and American troops withdrawing from Iraq, the situation inside Syria is getting worse, especially for Christians.

There is unrest and chaos in Syria for various reasons. Some of those opposing the government want more freedom from a mistrusted and oppressive regime, while some religious opposition groups want freedom to rule and spread their Muslim faith by force and violence.

Christians, in general, are afraid of what might happen to them in the future, especially if fanatic Muslims take over or obtain more freedom and seek revenge against believers. Some Christians have already reported violent acts against them as a sign of more threats and violence to come.

"Christians inside Syria are caught in the crossfire as they are in many other Middle Eastern countries," says Open Doors President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller. "Until the protests started against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the Christian community enjoyed some protection. Now they are afraid of the future. Will they have to flee their country like Iraqi Christians have done over the last several years? Please lift them up in your prayers."

Because of months of protests and violence against the government of al-Assad, Syria is on the brink of civil war. Thousands of protesters have been killed. Because of the continued crackdown on the protests, there is an international boycott in place. Inside Syria the central government is losing its grip on the situation.

"Criminals, but also radical Muslims, are taking advantage of that lawlessness," says a field worker for Open Doors. "In the city of Homs, for example, the Sunni Muslims gained power on the streets when the government pulled out its troops for a few days. Some of the radical elements in this group have raided several churches. They robbed the churches of their most valuable things."
More threatening is that several fundamentalist Muslim taxi drivers have made a vow that they will harm all women taking their taxis who are unveiled.

"These women, mostly less orthodox Muslims and Christians, are being kidnapped, raped or even killed," says the field worker. "Some months ago two Christian women were kidnapped. One managed to jump out of the driving car, but the other was taken. That woman remains missing. 

This didn't happen in a remote area of the country but in the capital of Damascus. For women the situation is unsafe now. People still go on with their daily routine, but with more caution."
According to the worker, throughout Syria people can see the consequences of the boycott of the country:

"Petrol is running out, or being preserved or thrown out by opposing groups to create more of an issue within the country. You also see in the supermarkets that products are missing. Prices are rising because of the shortages. People stand in lines for hours just to get a tank of gasoline for heat; sometimes they go away empty. With electricity getting cut for few hours a day, no gasoline and no petrol are available as before."

Some Christians are planning to escape Syria in case things get worse as they see the quality of life for them decrease and their rights decline. Syria has more than 20 million inhabitants. About 1.5 million Syrians are Christians. The 100,000 Iraqi Christians that fled to Syria because of the situation in their own country can be added to 1.5 million figure.

Open Doors is helping the local churches in Syria by strengthening leadership. "We deliver Christian literature and provide leadership training. We also support Iraqi Christians that found refuge in the country," says the Open Doors worker. 

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Islamic Rioters Attack Christian Shops in Northern Iraq

Burning of mostly Christian-owned shops in
 Zakho shocked residents of Iraq's Kurdish region.
(Photo: YouTube frame-grab)

First widespread violence against Christians in once-safe Kurdish region.
Attacks against Christian Assyrian businesses in northern Iraq over the weekend, which local sources said were organized by a pro-Islamic political party, marked the first such destruction of Christian establishments in the Kurdish region.

The rampage threatens the frail security of Iraq’s dwindling Christian population, sources said.

After mullah Mala Ismail Osman Sindi’s sermon claiming there was moral corruption in massage parlors in the northern town of Zakho on Friday (Dec. 2), a group of young men attacked and burned shops in the town, most of them Christian-owned. The businesses included liquor stores, hotels, a beauty salon and a massage parlor, according to Ankawa News.

“The interesting thing with this incident is the place where it happened,” Archdeacon Emanuel Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East said. “KRG [the Kurdish Regional Government] is, for the most part, safe and secure, and all inhabitants enjoy prosperity and security, until now at least. The future is, by all means, bleak for the Christians and other minorities living there.”

Some of the assailants waved banners stating, “There Is No God but Allah,” according to Ankawa News. Sources said local authorities were slow in responding, resulting in heavy financial losses.

Thousands of Christians had fled to the Kurdish region since the U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq in 2003.

Mullah Sindi denied accusations that he provoked the violence against northern Iraq’s Christian community, according to Ankawa News. After Sindi’s sermon, a man reportedly stood up in the mosque and said that since there were un-Islamic massage parlors in Zakho, Muslims should go destroy them. The mob started with the town’s only massage parlor and continued to stores selling liquor and three hotels, where they lit fires, according to Ankawa News.

Later on Friday, the mob tried to attack the Christian quarters of Zakho, but authorities stopped them.

Violence also erupted on Saturday morning (Dec. 3) on the outskirts of Dohuk in two Christian neighborhoods, where groups attacked liquor stores and burned a Christian cultural club. Yesterday (Dec. 5) small pockets of violence against Christian communities were quickly extinguished near the Kurdish capital, Erbil, and in the center of Sulaymaniyah, 200 kilometers (124 miles) south.

In Zakho, near the border with Turkey, owners of liquor shops and other establishments whose shops were burned and vandalized found leaflets on the walls of their destroyed shops yesterday (Dec. 5) threatening to kill them if they re-opened, according to Ankawa News. Some of the shop owners were Yezidis, a local religious sect.

The attacks were reportedly organized by the Kurdistan Islamic Union party, which is inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the region’s oldest Islamist parties and founded in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood strives to influence governments in the region toward more Islamic values.

In retaliation for the Zakho attacks, members of the Kurdish ruling party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), on Friday evening (Dec. 2) burned an Islamic Union office in Zakho. Over the weekend, KDP members ransacked and destroyed 10 Islamic Union offices in Dohuk province. The KDP claimed the Islamic Union planned the weekend attacks, and the Islamic Union blamed the KDP for storming their offices in retaliation, according to Ankawa News.

The unrest in the KRG in the last few days is a reflection of the unrest in the region, and as commonly happens, Christians were caught in the middle as innocent victims, Christian sources told Compass.

“I think these attacks were organized,” Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako said. “They might be connected not only to domestic issues, but also to events outside the country. Unfortunately, it’s always the Christians who pay the price.”

The motives of the mobs in Zakho were not purely religious, according to General Secretary of the Chaldo-Assyrian Student and Youth Union Kaldo Oghanna. Some of the young men may have attacked the mostly Christian establishments out of religious motives, but Oghanna said many of them joined the attacks only out of frustration toward the government. Others probably joined for personal benefit, as some members of the mob stole money and even liquor from the shops they destroyed, he said.

Most importantly, however, the attacks reflect the attitude of intolerance and discrimination that threaten the stability, safety and democratic process of the Kurdish region, Oghanna said.

“This attack is not a normal attack,” Oghanna said. “It threatened our businesses, and it is threatening the situation in Kurdistan. They attacked the democracy of the Kurdish region, its safety and security. Of course, we think there are international and domestic influences that made this situation escalate, but we also think this is in the mentality of those people: that they do not tolerate those who are different. This is our real struggle here.”

The greatest challenge of Iraq’s Christian Assyrian community since 2003 has been its dwindling population. The waves of the Iraqi Christian exodus have usually come after violent attacks on their communities. Archbishop Sako said he fears this attack may inspire more to leave.

“Now, maybe, because Christians are shocked and afraid, they will start to emigrate, and this is a bigger challenge,” he said. “We are encouraging them to stay.”