The Biblical Land: Given By God But Not Without Conditions

Posted on August 27, 2017

The presenter in the video above makes a good point. While according to the Old Testament, God issued a land grant to Abraham and his descendants, the biblical texts also tell us that the gift did not come without conditions. It was a contractbasically. And the Israelites failed to live up to it. This is what’s recorded in the biblical narrative. Sadly, many Christians today seem oblivious to the fact that the modern day state of Israel is following the same blind path. Hopefully the above video can make things a little clearer for them.

Back in June of this year, Palestinian Christians published an open letter to the World Council of Churches (WCC) asking that it recognize Israel as an apartheid state. I put up a post about it at the time, commenting that while the document makes no specific reference to Christian Zionism, it does nonetheless assert that Palestinians are suffering “because of one political declaration from a Western empire, based on a twisted theological premise.” And as I also remarked in the same post, the phrase “twisted theological premise” is an apt way of describing Christian Zionism. At any rate, I thought now would be a good time to re-post the open letter to the WCC, and so that’s what I have done below.

You’ll notice that among the signatories to the letter–the one at the very top of the list in fact–is the Arab Catholic Scouts Group. A bit earlier this month a group of Catholic Scouts were on a camp out near the West Bank village of Jibya when they found their campsite under attack by Israeli forces. Here is what a Catholic website reported at the time:

Israeli occupation forces yesterday raided a Catholic children’s scout camp, near the village of Jibya, organised by the Palestinian Holy Family Group from the Latin Monastery of Ramallah. They destroyed the tents and threw sound and gas bombs before they left.

Fortunately, the children were away from the camp attending a class in a hall close to the campsite. No one was injured, but the organisers say the children were very frightened.

The scout leader Samir Habash, said: “We practice our scouting right within the Palestinian natural environment, which is guaranteed by international and local scouting laws, but it appears that this right is forbidden to us because of oppressive occupation measures.”

He appealed to local and international scouting organisations around the world to publicise this barbaric attack, especially because it was targeting children.

The Scouts of the Palestinian Holy Family (for boy and girl scouts) were founded in 1996 and have about 180 members.

If you follow the link to the article you will see a picture of the destroyed tents.

Yes, the belief that “God gave the land to the Jews” has indeed contributed to a lot of suffering. This has been going on for a long time, and as the letter below points out, “the situation is still deteriorating.”

By the way, the letter makes reference to two other documents, one of them being the Amaan Call, issued by the WCC ten years ago following a meeting held in Amaan, Jordan. The other document mentioned is the Kairos Palestinedocument, a letter signed by Palestinian Christians and published in 2009. This latest letter urges Christians of conscience not to “hide behind the cover of political neutrality,” and also calls upon the WCC to support the BDS movement.

In June of this year, the WCC did in fact release a “Statement on 50 Years of Occupation.” The statement notes that “half a century after the 1967 war, there is still no peace and no justice among the inhabitants of the land of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection.” It also asserts that Israel’s “matrix of control – in particular through the ever growing web of illegal Israeli settlements – is increasing rather than diminishing” hopes for peace.

Sadly, however, the statement does not include the word “apartheid,” nor does it endorse the BDS movement.

***

Letter from Palestinian Christians to the World Council of Churches

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. (Isa. 1:17)

Background

As we meet this month in Bethlehem in occupied Palestine, we are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unjust and unlawful Balfour declaration. The injustice was intensified through the Nakba and the influx of refugees, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza, the fragmentation of our people and land through policies of isolation and confiscation of property, and the building of Jewish-only settlements and the apartheid wall.

We are still suffering because of one political declaration from a Western empire, based on a twisted theological premise. Even some churches and Christian leaders supported the establishment of the colonial state in our land, and totally ignored—even dehumanized—the nation, our people who had already existed here for centuries and paid the price for atrocities committed in Europe.

Hundred years later, with thousands of lives lost, towns and villages razed from the face of the earth (though not our memory), millions of refugees, thousands of homes demolished, and continued incarceration of prisoners, our Nakba continues.

A hundred years later and there is still no justice in our land! Discrimination and inequality, military occupation and systematic oppression are the rule. Today, we stand in front of an impasse and we have reached a deadlock. Despite all the promises, endless summits, UN resolutions, religious and lay leaders’ callings, Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, and seeking justice and equality. Humanly speaking, we have reached the “moment of impossible,” as Emeritus Latin Patriarch Sabbah said recently.

Could it be that we have reached this “impossible moment” because things were built from the very beginning—a hundred years ago—on an unjust premise? Should we expect that such an unjust declaration will create anything but strife and destruction?

Today is also an opportunity to remember the 10-year-old Amman Call. We are thankful to those who stood with us back then in costly solidarity—those who stood for truth and justice. We are also concerned that 10 years later the situation is still deteriorating. Like other initiatives advocating end of occupation, the Amman Call did not achieve its goals in building and achieving just peace. We must ask ourselves today why that is.

We are also concerned by Israel’s systemic assault on Palestinian creative resistance, and on our partners worldwide who use this method to pressure Israel to end the occupation. Many new laws were issued in Israel and around the world to oppose this creative non-violent resistance unlawfully, and to stop all effort toward peace. Not only is this an attack on the freedom of conscience and speech but it is also an assault on our right and duty to resist evil with good. Israel is even now trying to prevent pilgrims from visiting Bethlehem, the city of Emmanuel!

While we are grateful for the ‘costly solidarity’ articulated in the Amman Call and exercised by many churches around the world, we are concerned that some churches have weakened their positions in the last 10 years as a result of Israeli pressure. Many still hide behind the cover of political neutrality, not wishing to offend their partners in religious dialogue.

Finally, we meet in an environment of religious wars and persecution in our region. Religious extremism is on the rise, and religious minorities have paid a painful price. We thank you for your efforts toward the refugees and toward ending the conflicts in our region. We also thank you for your support of persecuted Christians in places like Iraq and Syria.

Our Call

“God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness (Justice), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me”. (Matthew 5:10-11)

As we stand in front of this “impossible moment,” it gives us no pleasure to say that “we told you so” eight years ago when we declared the moment as a Kairos moment! We stand facing the impossible, but we have not lost hope, since as followers of the Risen One, we are the people of hope. However, we need you and we need you now more than ever. We need your costly solidarity. We need brave women and men who are willing to stand in the forefront. This is no time for shallow diplomacy Christians. We urge you to hear our call and adopt the following:

1. That you call things as they are: recognize Israel as an apartheid state in terms of international law and in agreement of what a person like Desmond Tutu said and as the UN ESCWA report said: “Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.. We are disturbed by the fact that states and churches are dealing with Israel as if the situation were normal, ignoring the reality of occupation, discrimination, and daily death in the land. Just as churches united to end apartheid in South Africa and whereby the WCC played a courageous and pivotal prophetic and leadership role, we expect you to do the same!

2. That you unequivocally condemn the Balfour declaration as unjust, and that you demand from the UK that it asks forgiveness from the Palestinian people and compensates for the losses. We ask that churches and Christians support the Palestinians in their request for justice.

3. That you take the strongest theological stand against any theology or Christian group that justifies the occupation and privileges one nation over the other based on ethnicity or a covenant. We ask that you adopt and live the theology suggested by Kairos Palestine and that you organize conferences to bring awareness toward this end.

4. That you take a stand against religious extremism and against any attempt to create a religious state in our land or region. We ask that you support us in combating the foundations of extremism and that you seek our council when acting against religious extremism so that you do not jeopardize and harm our standing here.

5. That you revisit and challenge your religious dialogue partners, and that you are willing to even withdraw from the partnership if needed, if the occupation and injustices in Palestine and Israel are not challenged.

6. That you lead campaigns for church leaders and pilgrims to visit Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities on this side of the wall in cooperation with Palestinian tourist and pilgrimage agencies, in response to recent attempts by Israel. We ask that you publicly challenge any attempt by Israel or other Christians that discourage pilgrims from visiting Palestinian places.

7. That you defend our right and duty to resist the occupation creatively and non-violently. We ask that you speak in support of economic measures that pressure Israel to stop the occupation and that you support atheltic, cultural, and academic measures against Israel until it complies with international law and UN resolutions urging the ending of its occupation, apartheid, and discrimination, and accepts refugees to return to their homeland. This is our last peaceful resort. In response to Israel’s war on BDS, we ask that you intensify that measure.

8. That you create lobby groups in defense of Palestinian Christians. We ask that you publicly and legally challenge Christian organizations that discredit our work and legitimacy.

9. We therefore propose as a matter of the greatest urgency that you create a strategic program within WCC similar to the program “To Combat Racism” to lead efforts to lobby, advocate, and develop active programs toward justice and peace in Palestine and Israel and maintain the presence of the Palestinian Christians through supporting their organizations, church work, and peaceful efforts.

As faithful witnesses, we acknowledge, affirm, and continue the long-standing prophetic tradition, especially the one started by the Amman Call and articulated in the Kairos Palestine document. We fully grasp the pressure church leaders are facing here and abroad not to speak the truth, and it is because of this that we are raising this call.

Things are beyond urgent. We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. The current status quo is unsustainable. This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace. As a Palestinian Christian community, this could be our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land. Our only hope as Christians comes from the fact that in Jerusalem, the city of God, and our city, there is an empty tomb, and Jesus Christ who triumphed over death and sin brought to us and to all humanity, new life.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

12 June 2017

Signed By:

Jerusalem
Arab Catholic Scouts Group
Arab Orthodox Society, Jerusalem
Caritas, Jerusalem
Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees—Middle East Council of Churches
Greek Catholic Sayedat AlBishara Association
International Christian Committee
Laity Committee in the Holy Land
National Christian Association
Pontifical Mission Palestine
Sabeel—Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
Seeds of Better life
Union of Arab Orthodox Club, Jerusalem
Young Men’s Christian Association—YMCA
Young Women’s Christian Association—YWCA

 

Gaza
NECC office

 

Bethlehem (NCOB) Network of Christian Organizations in Bethlehem
The East Jerusalem YMCA—Beit Sahour Branch
The Arab Educational Institute
Holy Land Trust, Bethlehem
Wi’am Center, Bethlehem
Saint Afram Assyrian Society
Holy Land Christians Ecumenical Foundation, Bethlehem
Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI)
Arab Orthodox Club, Beit Sahour
Arab Orthodox Club, Beit Jala
Arab Orthodox Club, Bethlehem
The Arab Orthodox Charitable Society, Beit Sahour
Bethlehem Bible College
Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies
Alternative Tourism Group, ATG, Beit Sahour
Senior Citizen Charitable Society
Environmental educational Center, Beit Jala
Saint Vincent Charitable Society, Beit Jala
Shepherds’ Children Society, Beit Sahour
Kairos Palestine
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Hour before the Dawn

[ Ed. note – Another poem by Palestinian poet Nahida Izzat. Nahida is a Muslim. As I read her poem, however, it brings to mind for me, strangely perhaps, the following spoken by Jesus after the resurrection: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The words are from the very last line, in the final verse, in the final chapter, of the Gospel of Matthew.

Indeed, we seem to be fast approaching the end of an age. As Nahida puts it, “Earth is throbbing/The avalanche is fast approaching.” The poem also contains suggestions of a soul preparing to make the journey from life into the afterlife: “Raise your gaze up to the sky/Note the signs to your dwelling place.” Yet worth remembering is that in the post-apocalyptic age to come, heaven and earth will merge. This is the case in Christian theology, at any rate, and I suspect Islam probably has its parallel.

In any event, when I read poetry like this I tend to become convinced that it is the Palestinians (and certainly not the Khazars!!! ) who are the true descendants of the earliest followers of Jesus. Christians should consider that we potentially have far more in common with Muslims than we do with Jews. ]

 

Hour before the Dawn

* * *

Earth is throbbing in curious anticipation

The avalanche is fast approaching

People dazed in deep sleep

Some eyes are peeled as if they know

* * *
* * *

Time to retreat, weary soul

Time to retreat

Rest in a niche where Light descends

Hand it all over to the One Supreme

Carve a hole in your heart, braid your loved ones in

One by one

* * *

* * *

O soul

Put your temporary house in order

Clean up the mess before the storm

Pluck up the weeds and plow the soil

Scatter the seeds for those to come

Give it back better than you received

Stunning… Atrociously beautiful

Humbly put your head down and pray

A modest sign of ample gratitude

* * *

* * *

Raise your gaze up to the sky

Note the signs to your dwelling place

Adorn the garden of your home eternal

Let love flow free, let kindness prevail

Follow your soul, she knows the way

Let her guide you to your heavenly abode

Beneath the Throne of a Gracious Lord

Gaze in amazement at the glorious sight

Wither to nothingness before the Majesty

Splendour no eye had ever seen

* * *

Hezbollah Liberates Al-Nusra Stronghold in Eastern Lebanon

[ Ed. note – This is a major victory for Hezbollah. The last Al-Nusra stronghold in Lebanon, in the Arsal Mountains on the border with Syria, has been cleared of terrorists. In addition to the RT report above, I am also posting a Hezbollah statement expressing solidarity with Christians and paying tribute to Father Jaques Hamel, a French priest murdered by ISIS terrorists one year ago.

Christians all over the world should be grateful to Hezbollah for its defense of Christians in the Middle East. To the brave fighters of Hezbollah: we thank you. ]

From the Islamic Resistance in Arsal to Father Jacques Hamel… A Homage of Brotherhood and Loyalty

Alahed News

For all mankind, they fought. To all the oppressed, they dedicated their victories. Victims of terrorism spread everywhere like the plague; terrorism which does not distinguish among religions and races.

From the Lebanese Arsal outskirts, are Resistance fighters who offered their most precious in the battle of victory for just and humanity against Takfiri terrorism.

As Hezbollah Secretary General His Eminence Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah offered the victory in Arsal outskirts to both Christians and Muslims, the unjustly slain Father Jacques Hamel had his share of the victory.

The Islamic Resistance’s Mujahedeen in the outskirts did not forget their Christian brothers, particularly Father Hamel. Hence, they saluted his sacrifice via message to al-Ahed news website written in French.

The message reads: “Your spirit will never die. Generations will live on your memory. Rest in peace knowing that we will protect our Christian brothers. Peace be upon you. Your brothers in Hezbollah.”

Father Jacques Hamel, born on November 30th 1930, was a French priest in the parish of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray. He was murdered during the Normandy church attack by the Wahhabi Daesh [Arabic acronym for “ISIS” / “ISIL”] terror group on July 26, 2016.

Neither his age nor religious rank were able to spare the 86-year-old priest from the Wahhabi monsters’ claws who never gave any regard to religion nor humanity.

Today, the sons of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon had triumphed for the spilled blood of the unjustly slain priest.

Despite the pain, the wounds and the hardships of Jihad, the Resistance – from the heart of Arsal Outskirts – did not forget to pay tribute to Father Hamel as to assert that the battle with Takfiri terrorism is one, and that their resistance is to defend all humanity and religions.

Accordingly, this is not the first time Hezbollah fighters had honored their fellow Christians as the land of Ma’loula which had been liberated from the Takfiris, bears witness to the purity of the battle these men are waging. This battle is the strongest evidence of the unity of religions in the face of the Takfiri terrorism.


A little bit more about Father Jaques Hamel from Wikipedia:

Hamel was ordained as a priest on 30 June 1958.[12][17] He served as a vicar at the St. Antoine church in Le Petit-Quevilly from 1958, a vicar at the Notre-Dame de Lourdes church in Sotteville-lès-Rouen from 1967, a parish priest in Saint-Pierre-lès-Elbeuf from 1975, and a parish priest in Cléon from 1988. He joined the church in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray in 2000.[18] He officially retired at the age of 75, but was allowed to keep serving in the parish.[13] As a result, he assumed his role as the parish’s assistant priest from 2005 to his death.[18]

With local imam Mohammed Karabila, the president of Normandy’s regional council of Muslims, Hamel worked since early 2015 on an interfaith committee.[12][19] After Hamel’s death, Karabila described him as his friend with whom he had discussed religion and as also someone who gave his life for others.[20]

Hamel died when his throat was slit by two Muslim men, Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean, who both pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.[21][22][23][24] The attack occurred while Hamel was saying Mass in his parish in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray on 26 July 2016.[25][26] During the attack, Hamel said “Satan, go!” when confronted by his killers.[3]


Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray is in the French region of Normandy…


Report from July 27, 2017–one year and one day after Father Hamel’s death…”Satan  go…”…God works in mysterious ways…

Arsal Battle: Nusra Urged to Surrender or Face Death, Battle Almost Over

Alahed News

The Resistance’s accomplishments in its battle in the outskirts of Arsal had been quick and swift. In a few days’ time, the mighty revolutionaries were able to lift the banners of victory over the outskirts’ hills and mountains amid retreats among the ranks of terrorists.

Five days after the start of the offensive in Arsal, the Takfiri al-Nusra Front terrorists are facing an ultimatum: to leave or face eminent death.

As the offensive in the outskirts of Arsal reached its sixth day Wednesday, attention has turned to the looming deadline set by Hezbollah for negotiations with the al-Nusra, and a scheduled evening speech by Hezbollah Secretary General His Eminence Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

With the injury of the Nusra chief of operations Omar Wardi after being hit by resistance gunfire, the terrorist group’s militants retreated, Hezbollah War Media Center said.

The center further added that the area occupied by the Nusra terrorists in the outskirts of Arsal had shrank to 10%.

The coming hours will be crucial in determining the outcome of negotiations with Nusra militants whose positions on Arsal outskirts are besieged.

Source: Hezbollah War Media Center, Translated by website team

A Quote from Jesus that Perfectly Fits the Situation

Yesterday I put up a post on the book  Judaism’s Strange Gods that included a video with comments by a member of Neturei Karta, the group of religious Jews who have called for the dismantling of the state of Israel. In the video, the NK member talks about Jews in Israel who, through such acts as refusing to serve in the Israeli military, have suffered retribution. He refers to such people as having been arrested, beaten, and in some cases even murdered.

It seems very much as if Jewish leaders are leading their people over a cliff. In this, they are not dissimilar from the leaders of America. (No surprise that the two countries have such a “special relationship.”) How does one free oneself from leaders like this? We are talking, of course, about leaders who hold enormous power and who are ever intent upon accruing even more power to themselves. Power to control as many people as possible. A quote from Jesus sums up the situation perfectly–and indeed offers us a way out:

To the Jews who had believed in him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

To Jews who have suffered persecution for taking a moral stand against Israel: Jesus was the Jewish messiah. Shortly before his death in 30 A.D. he predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. Almost exactly 40 years later what he predicted came to pass. Now we have “modern day Pharisees,” as it were, playing with fire in a quest for global hegemony–foolishly providing support for terrorists while attempting to ignite a conflict with Russia (and seemingly coming ever closer to succeeding). Jesus was sent by God to teach humanity how to live at peace with one another. If we follow his teachings, the planet will survive and the human species along with it. If not, we won’t. We are all part of God’s creation, and as such we must learn to love and care for each other–this is Jesus’ teaching in a nutshell. And if we follow that teaching, and if we learn that truth, we will be set free.

Sheikh Imran Hosein Shares his Vision of Contemporary World

Sheikh Imran Hosein Shares his Vision of Contemporary World

STEPHEN KARGANOVIC | 01.06.2017 | WORLD

Sheikh Imran Hosein Shares his Vision of Contemporary World

Sheikh Imran Hosein is a distinguished Islamic scholar, author of many books, expert in Islamic eschatology, international politics and finance, and contemporary socio-economic and political issues. In his work, the sheikh emphasizes Islamic spirituality, ihsan, in the absence of which all knowledge would be confined to the mere perception of worldly reality. The principal themes upon which he discourses are the nature of being, relationship to God and the interrelationship of the three major monotheistic faiths, the Messenger Muhammed (s.a.v.s.) and his teaching, and the nature of contemporary Western society with its deleterious impact on other civilizations and cultures.

Sheikh Imran Hosein has pioneered revolutionary interpretations of the Kuran and the hadises, paving the way for generations of Islamic scholars to come. With all the instruments at his disposal he attempts to educate not just Muslims and Christians, but everyone, as far and as wide as his voice reaches.

His success is based on the application of the correct methodology that he has received from his teacher, Maulana al-Asnari, which he has developed and applied further to the issues of major concern for the contemporary world.

The focal point of sheikh Imran Hosein’s study is eschatology, the religious teaching about the end-times and the ultimate fulfillment of the respective visions of each of the three great monotheistic faiths, with regard to the conclusion of mundane history. Judaism and Christianity have well-developed and even sophisticated eschatological teachings, but until recently Islam in that regard has been lagging behind. Under the inspiration of his revered teacher Maulana Al-Asnari, sheikh Imran Hosein has laid the foundations of an Islamic eschatological philosophy based, naturally, on the precepts of the Kuran and the relevant hadises. Surprising as it may appear, no Islamic scholar before him had ever approached this important and delicate subject in a systematic manner. Taking into account the sheikh’s numerous books and lectures on this subject, it is accurate to say that he has elevated Islamic Eschatology to the rank of a new branch of knowledge within the broad system of Islamic theology. It would not be extravagant to also add that he is now the world’s leading authority on this fascinating subject.

As a teacher of true, traditional Sunni Islamic doctrine, ennobled with the mystic aura of Sufism, sheikh Imran Hosein has acquired a wide following throughout the world of Islam, and beyond. Islam is an exception among the great monotheistic religions in that it has five vibrant major schools, but no central teaching authority or arbiter in matters of religious doctrine. For that reason, and in order to safeguard his co-religionists from the malevolent enticements of erroneous interpretations of their faith, which are often manipulated to serve purposes opposite to its original inspiration and intent, sheikh Imran Hosein places particular emphasis on the development of a proper methodology of doctrinal interpretation. Methodology may therefore be said to constitute the heart of his approach, as he quite correctly maintains that without proper guidelines, grounded in an intellectually rigorous scrutiny of religious texts, no consistent and viable doctrine can possibly emerge.

Confronting head-on the clash of civilizations narrative and boldly disputing the legitimacy of intolerant and extremist schools of thought within the world of Islam, sheikh Imran Hosein is a strong advocate of solidarity between the followers of the three monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity, and Torah Judaism.

Based on his reading of the Kuran and certain hadises, sheikh Imran Hosein is, in particular, a champion of «friendship and alliance» between Muslims and Orthodox Christians. Over the centuries, and during the preceding decades with particular brutality, these two religious groups have been victims of the plundering and conquering ambitions of that portion of mankind that is most frequently referred to as the West. The latter’s main tools of oppression, in the sheikh’s mind, are the world banking and monetary system and NATO. He perceives in that part of mankind the operation of the evil forces of Gog and Magog (Yajuj and Majuj), familiar from the Islamic and other monotheistic eschatologies. By contrast, it is in the form of Eastern Christianity, with its historic roots in Byzantium (to which almost certainly reference is made in the thirtieth Sura of the Kuran, Ar-Rum), which is presently established in Russia, that sheikh Imran Hosein perceives the Empire of Ar-Rum. He regards it as a force for the good, with respect to which the Messenger Muhammed prophesied to his followers thus: «You will conclude an alliance with Ar-Rum».

As a student of geopolitics with a keen eschatological perspective, sheikh Imran Hosein is an attentive and approving observer of Russia’s dynamic and increasingly assertive role in international affairs.

Advocacy of friendly relations and alliance between Muslims and Orthodox Christians by an Islamic scholar of such renown and depth of knowledge as sheikh Imran Hosein, and the interest that he has also displayed in the conditions that prevail in Serbia and the Balkans, should have the beneficial effect of facilitating improved relations between Muslims and Orthodox Christians in that volatile part of the world.

The sheikh’s stance as a reconciler and peacemaker – while earning him affection and respect in many quarters – has made him also a figure of controversy elsewhere. Paradoxically, the latter seems to include some segments of the Islamic community because on many points the sheikh’s insistence on unadulterated traditional Islam clashes with key contemporary political agendas.

I had the honor and the pleasure of conducting this conversation with sheikh Imran Hosein at his retreat on the island of Tobago, in March of 2017.

ISIS in the Philippines–Christians Taken Hostage

It seems ISIS-affiliated terror groups have launched a major attack in the Philippines, on the southern island of Mindanao. President Rodrigo Duterte has invoked martial law on the entire island and sent in government troops, and reports have been coming out of pitched battles, particularly in the city of Marawi.

“But the government troops were surprised when they encountered a 100-strong Maute force armed with high-powered weapons”–so reports the New York Times today. The Philippine Maute terror group, also known as the Islamic State of Lanao, is affiliated with ISIS. Coincidentally, it seems the group has now acquired high-powered weaponry it didn’t possess before.

The attack comes, coincidentally, as Duterte has moved to align the Philippines toward Russia and China, and even–also coincidentally–as Duterte was on a state visit to Russia, no less! A lot of coincidences there for a coincidence theorist, but if you are among those who still retain normal cognitive abilities, it would appear that the US has launched a regime change operation in the Philippines.

Coincidentally, the mainstream media have been attacking Duterte for his anti-drug campaign, and coincidentally also NGOs like Human Rights Watch have been chiming in, and coincidentally as well, the attack comes mere days after Duterte gave this interview with RT:

The US needs to quit trying to boss the rest of the world around, and above all else it needs to get out of the regime-change business. The National Endowment for Democracy should be de-funded and dismantled. But I don’t see any of this happening until some sort of radical change takes place in the United States–and it doesn’t look like we can expect any radical changes coming out of the Trump administration.

Not-so-coincidentally, the terrorists have reportedly taken a priest and several parishioners hostage. Father Chito Suganob and others were in the Cathedral of Our Lady Help of Christians when members of the Maute fighting group forced their way into the Cathedral, taking with them Father Chito and others as hostages,” a statement on the official website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said.

Undated photo of Catholic Church in the city of Marawi, Mindanao Island, in the Philippines.

According to a report here:

Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Peña said he received a call last night from one of the militants, who introduced himself as “a member of the ISIS”, and demanded for a “unilateral ceasefire”.

“They want a ceasefire and for the military to give them access out of Marawi. Otherwise, they will kill the hostages,” Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Peña said.

The prelate said the call was made shortly before 8pm on Tuesday using the phone of his secretary who is among the hostages.

Members of the Maute group forced their way into the church and the bishop’s residence yesterday, and took with them Fr. Chito Suganob, some staff of the cathedral and churchgoers.

Dela Peña said the hostages are being used as “human shield” by the militants.

Odd isn’t it–that the US, which once held at least the trappings of being a Christian nation, now supports terrorists who attack Christians.

While the fate of the Christians is unknown, RT is reporting that government troops have rescued 78 hostages from a hospital in Marawi, as well as 42 others from a school:

Government forces managed to rescue 78 civilians from the Amai Pakpak Medical Center where the terrorists tried to use them as human shields as the army moved in, Western Mindanao Command chief, Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., said according to the PhilStar daily.

The troops also secured 42 teachers who had taken refuge and got trapped at Dansalan College after the city was engulfed in violence.

In a report published today, the New York Times calls the battle on the southern island a “test for Duterte.” Not surprisingly, the article includes a quote from Human Rights Watch:

Mr. Duterte’s “casual reference to the late dictator should be especially alarming,” said James Ross of Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York.

And it also gives publicity to opposition politicians:

Already, several lawmakers have voiced concern, with the opposition leader Francis Pangilinan vowing to “vigorously oppose a nationwide martial law declaration.”

“While there may be isolated terrorist acts in these areas, there exists no Visayas-wide nor a Luzon-wide invasion or rebellion to merit a declaration of martial law,” Mr. Pangilinan said, referring to the president’s threat to expand military rule to the central and northern islands to cover the entire country.

It is a familiar playbook, and it seems to be in play now in the Philippines.

Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis

Photo by thierry ehrmann | CC BY 2.0

After two days lecturing a collection of head-choppers, dictators, torturers and land thieves, Donald Trump at last met a good guy on Wednesday. Pope Francis didn’t ask for a $100bn (£77.2bn) arms deal for the Vatican. He wouldn’t go to war with Iran. He didn’t take the Sunni Muslim side against the Shia Muslim side in the next Middle East conflict. He didn’t talk about Palestinian “terror”. And he looked, most of the time, grim, unsmiling, even suspicious.

So he should have been. Trump’s broad, inane smile on confronting the Holy Father might have been more appropriate for the first of the Borgias, Alexander VI, whose 15th century womanising, corruption and enthusiasm for war would match Trump’s curriculum vitae rather well. But the poor man’s pope, who last year suggested that Trump wasn’t much of a Christian because he wanted to build walls, didn’t seem to be very happy to see the man who called him “disgraceful” for questioning his faith. “One offers peace through dialogue, the other security of arms,” one of Francis’ advisers said of the visit. Which pretty much sums it up.

It was indeed an odd sight to see the head of the Catholic church – whose anti-war, anti-corruption, anti-violence and pro-environment beliefs must surely now represent the secular world – greeting the present if very temporary leader of the secular world, whose policies are most surely not those of the Western people he would claim to represent. For more and more, the Good Old Pope is coming to represent what the Trumps and Mays will not say: that the West has a moral duty to end its wars in the Middle East, to stop selling weapons to the killers of the Middle East and to treat the people of the Middle East with justice and dignity.

No wonder the 29 minutes which the insane president and the sane pope spent together – Francis himself suggesting that they both keep away from the microphones – remain secret. Until, I suppose, Trump starts twittering again. They supposedly chatted about climate change, immigration, even arms sales. O fly upon the wall, speak up. And they talked, we are told, about “interreligious dialogue” and the need to protect Christians in the Middle East. They shared, we were finally informed, “a commitment to life, and freedom of speech and conscience” – which is more than most of Trump’s other hosts would have approved of these past two days.

Trump duly handed over a bunch of books by Martin Luther King which he hoped Pope Francis would enjoy – whether he had read them himself remains a mystery – and the Pope gave Trump some of his own writings on the environment. “Well, I’ll be reading them,” said the US President. A likely story.

When the Pope emerged from his private meeting with Trump, he was smiling in a relieved, almost charming way – like a man who had just left the dentist’s chair – and his joke with the veiled Melania about Croatian cookies, if not quite understood, showed that even a distressed pontiff can retain a sense of humor amid spiritual darkness. Trump thought it all “a great honor”. Not for the Pope, one imagines.

And there was the inevitable send-off from Trump, the kind he probably gave to all the greedy kings and criminals of the Middle East. “I won’t forget what you said,” he told Pope Francis as he left. O but he will, reader, he will.

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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