Saturday May 18, 2013
Demolitions, land grabs continue unabated on semi-autonomous island.
By Our East Africa Correspondent
ZANZIBAR, Tanzania, May 18, 2013 (Morning Star News) – Islamic extremist attacks and land grabs on this semi-autonomous island off the coast of Tanzania have continued unabated even as violence has increased on the mainland.
The May 5 bombing of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Arusha killed a 45-year-old woman, a 16-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. Of the two Tanzanians and four foreigners arrested – now officially identified as one from Saudi Arabia and three from the United Arab Emirates – only one Tanzanian national reportedly remains in custody as a suspect.
While Islamic extremist activity has increased in Tanzania, Christians on the Zanzibar archipelago have recently suffered attacks by Islamists and the separatist group Uamsho (Re-awakening). Uamsho, the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation, has issued explicit threats to Christians on Zanzibar Island since October 2012.
At midnight on April 20, Islamic extremists in Kianga, 16 kilometers (11 miles) from Zanzibar City, demolished most of the Pool of Siloam church building, a church leader said. Three suspects were arrested, only to be released after three days.
“When we tried to follow up the case, we found out that some of the information concerning the pulling down of the church was missing,” church pastor Israel Baraka Elijah told Morning Star News. “Hence, we decided to give up all together.”
Damages were estimated at $2,500, he added. Muslim extremists had attacked the church building before, setting part of it on fire on Feb. 19 and battering it with sledge hammers in November 2011.
Buildings aren’t the only targets. Suspected Islamic extremists on Feb. 17 shot and killed the Rev. Evaristus Mushi, a 56-year-old Roman Catholic priest, in the Mtoni area outside Zanzibar City. The murder came nearly two months after the Christmas Day shooting of another Catholic priest, the Rev. Ambrose Mkenda, that seriously injured him. Uamsho had left leaflets threatening to kill church leaders of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Tanzania Assemblies of God and Pentecostal Church denominations.
The Islamist group is fighting for full autonomy of the Zanzibar archipelago; it arose after Zanzibar’s primary opposition, the Civic United Front, formed a government with the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party in 2010.
How Uamsho’s separatist agenda could overlap with Islamic extremists’ objectives on the mainland remains to be seen, but the Zanzibar-based group has increased in stature by appealing to Islamist sentiments. While Tanzania’s population is 34.2 percent Muslim and 54 percent Christian, according to Operation World, the Zanzibar archipelago in the Indian Ocean about 25 miles off the Tanzanian coast is more than 97 percent Muslim.
Islamists burned several church buildings in various parts of Tanzania last October after an argument between two children about the Koran resulted in a Christian boy allegedly defiling Islam’s sacred book (see Morning Star News, Oct. 19, 2012). In Kigoma, on the western border, two church buildings were set ablaze on Oct. 14, 2012, and the roof of another one was destroyed. In Dar es Salaam, where two boys’ argument over the Koran set off the violence, three church buildings were set on fire on Oct. 12, and another was destroyed on Oct. 18.
The attacks on church buildings came after Muslims began falsely asserting that Christians had sent the Christian boy to the Muslim boy to urinate on the Koran in the Mbagala area of Dar es Salaam on Oct. 10, sources said.
On Oct. 17, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania leaders released a statement saying church buildings had also been set ablaze in Mdaula, Mto wa Mbu, Tunduru and Rufiji. The Mbagala attacks, they stated, resulted from inflammatory statements by local religious leaders.
On the island of Zanzibar, Islamist attacks have been relatively primitive, but extremists have more subtle ways of oppressing the church. When a non-Muslim organization or person buys land from a Muslim, church leaders said, Islamic extremists commonly force the sellers to return the money, claiming, “Why receive money from an infidel?”
Those who resist such pressure are persecuted, they say, and partisan government machinery does not help matters.
Anna Filipo Barihuta, a 55-year-old widow whose late husband had sold land to a church in 2007 only to have Muslim extremists destroy it in 2008, finds herself the object of Islamists’ hostility as they try to wrest the land from her.
The Pentecostal Assemblies of God Church in Chukwani, outside Zanzibar City, is still the owner of the land, but the Muslim extremists have been challenging that in court. At a hearing on the disputed land on April 28, the court postponed the case until Aug. 19, Barihuta said.
“When I returned from court,” Barihuta said, “I found a heap of human feces at the door of my house, which to me is a warning sign that I was no longer wanted in the place.”
An Islamic sheikh who asked not to be named for security reasons concurred that Muslims are pressuring her to leave the area.
“The Muslims always say I am an infidel, and that I have welcomed a big infidel,” she said. “The Muslims claim that my family forcefully entered the area and that we allowed the church to be built in an Islamic environment, but they want to put up a mosque instead of the church.”
In their bid to contest Barihuta’s late husband’s right to have sold the land to the church, the extremists have altered the name of the woman who sold it to him from Amina Zadiki to Amina Sarehe, Christian leaders said. The sons of Amina Sarehe are denying the land was sold to Barihuta’s late husband, Harun Gikaru, they said.
Since 2008, the church and the former owner have spent 10 million Tanzanian shillings (US$6,000) on legal fees, Barihuta said.
“This case has drained the family resources, such that at the moment I am not able to meet the cost of paying the school fees for my eight children, one boy and seven girls,” she said. “Four of my children are in high school.”
Barihuta added that she is behind on payments to the attorney.
“I see that if justice is not done then soon,” she said, “I will lose the whole land, including that which I sold to the church.”
In Fuoni, about six kilometers (nearly four miles) from the capital, a pastor whose name is withheld said his church has endured constant attacks.
“Every Sunday when we are worshipping, the Muslims throw stones on our church’s roof to interrupt our service,” he said. “At times, the Muslims forcefully enter into the church and switch off the sound systems, saying it is disturbing the residents.”
In Mbweni, a Church of God congregation has also suffered at the hands of extremist groups. Muslim extremists prohibited the church from worshiping on land it purchased on May 24, 2012, even after a district commissioner verified church ownership.
The extremists complained to Regional Commissioner Abdalla Mwinyi that residents did not need a church there, spurring Mwinyi to write to the church, “We have to listen to the voice of the residents. Please do not worship or construct the church, because it is a residential site.”
The stunned church protested in writing, and in July 2012 Zanzibar church leaders sent a delegation to the regional commissioner’s office to air their grievances, with Muslim leaders also present. The commissioner became furious, church leaders said.
“I am shocked at the letter that the church wrote,” Mwinyi told the group, according to the church leaders. “This is not the Tanzania mainland. I need a written apology saying, ‘We are sorry for using strong words,’ then I will allow the church to worship.”
The church complied, church leaders said, but Mwinyi still prohibited them from worshiping at the site. One Christian leader quoted Mwinyi as saying, “We only know of one religion in Zanzibar, which is Islam.”
In Kianga, Uamsho helped a gang of more than 50 people ruin a building belonging to the Church of God on April 4, 2012.
“The church was pulled down, leaving no place to worship,” said a church leader whose name is withheld. “No arrest has been made up to this point.”
The church is trying to erect a new structure.
“The sad news in Zanzibar is that all the bishops have been earmarked for assassination,” the pastor said. “It seems as if the government has no voice, yet we have a constitution which provides for freedom of religion. We need prayers. We are like people in fire. We welcome all those who are willing to help us put out this fire.”
In Maungani, some 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Zanzibar City, a Baptist Church pastor said his building was destroyed by Muslim extremists last Nov. 11. The previous Sept. 23, his children narrowly escaped death when his oldest was knifed, he said.
The local primary school unregistered their children, and the family has been forced to leave the area after receiving death threats from the Muslim community, he said.
Chipping Away at Church
On the archipelago’s island of Pemba, Muslim extremists in Wete have consistently shown hostility toward churches. Wete has only an Anglican and a Catholic church, and in 1970 the Muslim community pressured the Anglican congregation to move to a gravesite outside town.
In May 2012, several powerful Muslims encroached on that land and begun putting up structures, church leaders said. Others started cutting the barbed wire that marked the church boundary and began removing the sign of the cross on the land. The church has filed a court case, but encroachment has expanded.
The church building is in danger of collapsing due to loosening soil as buried bodies decay, church leaders said. The building has a large crack and a leaky roof.
“If nothing is done, then the church will collapse, the Muslims will take the church premise and soon there will be no church in Wete,” said a Christian whose name is withheld. “Our members are decreasing owing to sustained threats of attacks. Sometimes we are two, while other times we are 15.”
Friday May 17, 2013
By Lauren Williams, April 26th The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The abduction of two Christian bishops in Aleppo earlier this week has heightened Christian fears and deepened sectarian tensions in Syria and the region, senior Christian leaders told The Daily Star Thursday.
As The Daily Star went to press, there was still no news of the fate of Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yazigi, the Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox archbishops of Aleppo respectively, who were kidnapped late Monday.
The two were snatched by foreign gunmen – allegedly Chechens fighting with the Islamist opposition Nusra Front – after returning from a humanitarian mission to retrieve two other kidnapped priests, according to church sources and Syrian state media.
Yazigi’s brother, Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yazigi, was visiting Beirut from Damascus Thursday to meet with other Christian leaders amid heightened efforts to secure the bishops’ release.
But until now, their precise location and the exact identity of their captors remain shrouded in mystery.
Fearing the rise of an intolerant form of Sunni Islam, Christians, who make up 10 percent of Syria’s population of 23 million, have remained largely loyal to Syrian President Assad’s regime.
The regime, led by the secular Baath party, has in turn pitted itself as a bulwark against extremism and a protector of minorities.
Christian alignment with the regime has been reinforced by the formation of Christian civilian militias. The Popular Committees were formed to “defend’ Christian neighborhoods in Damascus and elsewhere, and recently appear to have been absorbed into the regular army and given military uniform and weapons.
Fears have also been raised by the increasing presence of the Nusra Front and a recent announcement by its leadership pledging allegiance to Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahri.
Pointing to figures that suggest some 30,000 Christians have fled the violence and hundreds of churches been damaged, church leaders have made comparisons to the persecution of their community in Iraq during the fallout of the last decade’s bloody sectarian wars.
Antioch Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, spiritual leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, issued a statement in Lebanon on April 8 warning: “There is no safe place left in Syria.”
“The future of Christians in the Middle East is closely bound up with that of Syria’s Christians,” he said.
“Many Christians from Lebanon fled to Syria between 1975 and 1992 and again in 2006. Similarly, the majority of Iraq’s Christians fled to Syria, where many still are.”
Laham said the threat to Christians was caused “not by Muslims but by the current crisis, because of the chaos it causes and the infiltration of uncontrollable, fanatical, fundamentalist Islamist groups. They may be provoking attacks against Christians.”
Some Christians have attempted to remain neutral, while others have sided with the opposition, claiming the regime itself has deliberately fostered sectarian tensions and is capitalizing on minority fears to legitimize its position and shore up loyalty bases.
The Syrian National Coalition, which recently appointed George Sabra, a Christian, as its leader, placed blame for the archbishops’ capture firmly in regime hands.
Respected former coalition leader and moderate Sunni cleric, Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, meanwhile, said that the kidnappers were “pouring oil on the fire.”
Meeting with a Lebanese delegation that included Christian leaders in Damascus Sunday, Assad vowed to step up a fight against Al-Qaeda.
“Syria and Lebanon have always been pioneers in promoting unity and cohesion, particularly through nationalist, pan-Arab and Nasserite parties, which contributed greatly to spreading and bolstering pan-Arab nationalist sentiments,” Assad said in statements carried by state news agency SANA.
Some Christian leaders have gone further, criticizing the church itself for failing to take a stronger stand to prevent politicizing Christians earlier on in the crisis.
Italian Reverend Father Paulo Dall’Oglio, who ran an interfaith monastery in Syria before being expelled from the country in June 2012, has been active in promoting interfaith dialogue since the outbreak of the uprising. He told The Daily Star that whoever was responsible for the kidnappings, the incident served to legitimize an oppressive regime.
“The [church’s] recognition of the right of the Syrian people to democratic change was incoherent,” he told The Daily Star Tuesday following news of the kidnap.
Whatever the origin of those fears – or the extent to which they are justified – none doubt the effect such incidents will have on the region’s Christians.
“It is difficult to know who did this or who’s agenda it is serving. ... But we do know the outcome: It’s a setback for the revolution,” Dall’Oglio said.
Laham told The Daily Star Thursday the incident was an “escalation” and would heighten fears and dampen any hopes for urgently needed dialogue. “It’s a strike against the courage of the people,” he said. “They are really afraid now, wondering if they might be next.”
Describing it as a “setback,” Laham said: “Because of this fear, we need to become even more engaged in contact and dialogue, to come together in order to build a trusting atmosphere.”
“We are all affected, not just Christians, by the situation in Syria ... but the Christians are particularly affected by these acts.”
“We are all Syrian citizens and we are all affected as citizens.
He said he feared the regional fallout, particularly in Lebanon.
“It is a very dangerous scenario, especially in Lebanon, because we are small and have such diversity,” he said. “We are very concerned.”
Friday May 17, 2013
Analyst assesses brutality following reports 2 archbishops kidnapped
By Michael Carl WND Faith, 4/27/2013
The strife caused by the civil war in Syria is affecting all people there, but an analyst for International Christian Concern fears that Christians have the most to lose.
In fact, ICC Middle East analyst Aidan Clay says Christians appear poised to lose no matter who wins in the civil war between jihadist rebels and an Islamic power structure belonging to President Bashar al-Assad.
Most recently, officials have confirmed that two Orthodox archbishops have been kidnapped, allegedly by Syrian rebels. They are Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo Boulos Yazjic and Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Aleppo Yohanna Ibrahim. They reportedly were kidnapped while on a humanitarian mission to Aleppo.
Clay said the ICC is deeply concerned about their safety. “Though people from every political, ethnic, and religious background are suffering and targeted in Syria’s civil war, Christians have found themselves in a very unique and frightening situation, having widely chosen not to take up arms or to openly support either the rebels or the regime,” Clay said. “While many Christians have publicly denounced the brutality of President Assad and by no means support the regime, most Christians see little hope in an alternative government which, they fear, will be led by Islamists who will hinder or outright abolish the religious freedoms long experienced by Christian in Syria,” Clay said.
He said the latest kidnappings refresh fears for people. “While this is not the first time church officials have been kidnapped, Archbishops Boulos Yazigi and Yohanna Ibrahim are the most senior church leaders abducted in Syria’s civil war to date,” Clay said. Clay says this is not the first kidnapping carried out by the Syrian rebels. “We remember the murder of Fadi Jamil Haddad, a Greek Orthodox priest, who had been killed outside of Damascus in September after trying to secure the release of a kidnapped victim,” Clay said. “Armenian priest Michel Kayyal and Greek Orthodox priest Maher Mahfouz were also kidnapped by armed rebels in February,” Clay said. “Moreover, there have been several prominent Muslim clerics who have been abducted and killed in the conflict.” Clay observes that there is a growing similarity between the civil war in Syria and the ongoing strife in Iraq. “Syria’s war is increasingly mimicking the war in Iraq where some 200 Christians were kidnapped for ransom between 2003 and 2012, according to the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization,”
Clay said. Clay adds that failure to pay ransom has a heavy price. “If the family is unable to pay ransom, the Christian is often killed,” Clay said. A Syrian-born American who identifies himself only as “Zak” to protect relatives still living in Syria says although they’re in danger, his family would rather stay in Syria than emigrate to the U.S. Zak said there are emotional and business roots that prevent Syrian Christians from leaving, including his family. “Those that have some land property when they leave, they will never see it. Land that’s been in a family for generations lost,” he said. In response to the kidnappings, a Russian Orthodox archbishop says that the state of the Christians in Syria rises to the level of a “humanitarian crisis.” In a statement for the Lebanese television network MTV, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk is asking the Syrian government to intervene.
“We call on the Syrian authorities to do everything possible so that the kidnapped bishops are returned,” Hilarion said. Clay said with the war dragging out, Syria’s Christian community will eventually follow in the footsteps of other Middle Eastern Christian enclaves. “Many fear that if the war continues without resolution, Syrian Christians will follow the path of other ancient Christian communities throughout the Middle East such as Iraq where more than half the Christian population has fled and some 900 Christians have been killed following the outbreak of war in 2003,” Clay said. “Syria appears to be following the same path.
Already, most of the Christian community has reportedly fled Homs following the city’s takeover by rebel forces. ICC stands hand-in-hand with Christians in Syria and prays for the immediate release and safekeeping of the two bishops,” Clay said. Christians have been the regular targets of the rebels since the beginning of the civil war. WND reported in December that some analysts believe the civil war is a cover for killing Christians. Although the rebels have denied involvement in the attacks on Christian neighborhoods, Open Doors believes the attacks are aimed at Christians, rather than supporters of Assad’s government. Zak adds that the Syrian Christian community holds the U. S. partly responsible for the Syrian situation. “The opinions of people there I speak to are typically directed towards us. For whatever the issue or our involvement, it’s always us at the bottom or center of it,” Zak said.
“How can America do this? Why do they let this happen? Why are they sending them (the rebels) money and weapons?”
Friday May 17, 2013