US, January 22, 2015: President Barack Obama met on Wednesday with Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of imprisoned Pastor Saeed Abedini, and their two children in Boise, Idaho. Abedini said that she had been praying a long time for such a meeting, while Obama promised the family to do all he can to bring the pastor home.
“I am extremely thankful the president took the time to meet with our family and told us that securing the release of my husband is a top priority,” Naghmeh Abedini said following the meeting.
“The president was focused and gracious — showing concern to me and my children. I know that this meeting could not have occurred without prayer, and I am grateful to the many people around the country and world who continue to pray for Saeed’s release. The president repeated his desire to do all that he can to bring Saeed home. That means the world to me and my children and has given me a renewed sense of hope.”
Pastor Abedini is serving an eight-year sentence in Iran, after having been arrested in September 2012 while working on an orphanage. The American Center for Law and Justice, which represents Naghmeh Abedini and the couple’s children, has said that the pastor, who was born in Iran but became an American citizen, is being punished for his Christian faith.
During the meeting, which occurred in an office at Boise State University, Obama promised 6-year-old Jacob and 8-year-old Rebekka that he will do all that he can to bring their father home. Abedini told Obama that she prays for him, and believes that their meeting is a result of fasting and prayer.
When Obama announced that he will be visiting Boise this week, Abedini wrote him a letter expressing her hopes that he will decide to meet with her.
“My heart leapt with hope when I heard that you would be visiting my hometown of Boise, Idaho. Since the Iranian government took my husband, Saeed Abedini, almost three years ago, I have been praying and wanting to meet with you,” the letter read.
The ACLJ noted that during the meeting Jacob asked Obama the question: “Mr. President, can you please bring daddy home for my birthday?” Obama then asked the young boy when his birthday is, and after Jacob told him it is on March 17, the president promised he will make every effort to grant his wish.
Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have joined together in prayer and signed petitions calling on Iran to release Abedini, who has faced beatings and other mistreatment while in prison. Obama has spoken to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the phone about freeing the pastor, but the ACLJ has said that more must be done if that goal is to become a reality.
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the ACLJ, said that the law group is grateful that Obama took the time to meet Abedini’s family.
“Pastor Saeed has been wrongly imprisoned for nearly two and a half years. He has been separated from his wife and children. The pain experienced by the Abedini family is impossible to imagine. The meeting between President Obama and the Abedini family is a very welcomed development,” Sekulow reflected.
“It demonstrates the president’s concern and compassion for this family. It also underscores the importance of Pastor Saeed’s case, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Iran merely because of his Christian faith. The face-to-face meeting elevates pastor Saeed’s plight on the world stage — and should send a powerful message to the Iranians — it is time to release pastor Saeed so he can return home to his family.”
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US, January 25, 2015: Louisiana governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate Bobby Jindal shared with thousands of people at his national prayer rally Sunday how he converted from Hinduism to Catholicism, and urged prayers for America’s spiritual revival as well as President Obama and his family.
Jindal, who has described himself as an “evangelical Catholic,” prayed for a spiritual revival to “begin right here, right here in our hearts” as he opened the six-hour prayer rally, “The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis,” at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the home of the Louisiana State University basketball team, in Baton Rouge.
The two-term Republican governor, who was holding his Bible, shared his testimony for about 15 minutes, according to The Associated Press.
He told the crowd of more than 3,000 people how he, though raised a Hindu, became a Christian while a teenager living in Baton Rouge.
He said evangelist Billy Graham helped inspire him to become a Christian, according to The Times-Picayune. He recalled turning up for Graham’s mass prayer rally in LSU’s Tiger Stadium in 1970.
Several people had earlier tried to convert him but it didn’t hit him until he heard Graham and watched a black and white film on Jesus’s death on the cross, he said. “God chose that moment to hit me harder than I’ve ever been hit before,” he was quoted as saying.
“Today is about humbling ourselves before the Lord. Today we repent for our sins,” Tampa Bay Times quoted him as saying.
Jindal emphasized that America not just needs a good leader, but a spiritual revival. “We can’t just elect a candidate to fix our country. … We need a spiritual revival to fix our country.”
He also asked the crowd to pray for Obama and his family.
Asked later about his 2016 presidential run, Jindal said, “We’re praying and thinking about what to do next,” and added it might take “a couple of months” to make an announcement about his possible run.
“Who is president next is less important than what that person has to offer,” Jindal said. “My decision will be based on whether I can bring something unique. … It would be based on political consultants or polls.”
He also said the prayer rally was “not a political event. It’s a religious event.”
Meanwhile, about 400 people protested outside the prayer rally, as the event’s host, American Family Association, has been classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate” group because of its alleged promotion of “discrimination” against gays.
As Jindal weighs his potential candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, there are quite a few viable, Christian, social conservative candidates that are trying to earn and possibly unite the Evangelical support behind them, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; former Arkansas Governor and Southern Baptist pastor Mike Huckabee; retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson; former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum; and former Texas Governor Rick Perry.
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USA, January 17, 2015: Billy Graham is very weak as he’s 96 years old, but his mind is still clear and he talked a little about his preaching in Wisconsin after a recent football game between the Packers and the Cowboys, his son, Franklin Graham, said.
“He’s very weak,” Franklin Graham told NBC in an interview. “He’s 96 years of age so he doesn’t have a lot of stamina and he doesn’t carry on long conversations, but his mind is still clear and we’re thankful for that.”
After the Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, “One of the nurses beside him, she said ‘Dr. Graham did you ever preach there’? He said, ‘oh yes’ and we talked a little bit about that,” said Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
He said he is grateful that God has given him “this much health and that he’s still with us at 96 years of age.”
Last year around the same time, Graham said his father is “doing ok, just ok.”
Billy Graham was hospitalized after his 95th birthday celebration for observation and lung tests in November 2013, and has been very weak since then.
“My father is ready to go to Heaven and whenever that day comes, he’s ready,” Franklin Graham said last January. “He’s worked hard all of his life and faithful to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ his entire life. And so he’s ready to go home and I’m praying that the Lord will leave him a little longer. We need him.”
He said the family still needs Graham. “He’s a great father, been a great friend and just… I enjoy having lunch with him every Sunday. I have my own personal reason for wanting him to stay around a long time.
“He can be this way for many months but he can also get his strength back and that’s what I’m praying. It be God’s will that he can get his strength back because we still have some work for him to do,” Franklin Graham added.
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Europe, January 16, 2015: Over two dozen terror suspects believed to be connected with ISIS have been arrested across Belgium, France and Germany, officials said on Friday. Two terror suspects in the Eastern Belgium city of Verviers were killed in a counter-terror raid on Thursday, and at least 13 others were detained.
The Associated Press reported that beside the arrests in Belgium, another 14 people in total were detained in France and Germany, suspected to be members of ISIS.
Belgian federal magistrate Eric Van der Sypt revealed in a conference on Friday that the terrorists were getting ready to carry out an attack on police officers in the city. A search found that the suspects had four military-style weapons in their possession, including Kalashnikov assault rifles.
Van der Sypt revealed that the suspected terrorists were only hours away from attacking police officers.
“As soon as they thought special forces were there, they opened fire,” the federal magistrate revealed.
“It shows we have to be extremely careful,” he added, noting that the suspects “were extremely well-armed men” equipped with automatic weapons.
In a previous announcement on Thursday following the anti-terror raid, Belgian officers said that a terror cell was operating in Verviers, comprised of fighters that had come back from fighting in Syria.
“I cannot confirm that we arrested everyone in this group,” Van der Sypt said.
Anti-terror officials across Europe have been seeking people connected to Amedy Coulibaly, one of the gunmen involved in the attack in Paris last week on the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Twelve individuals arrested in France during the raids are said to be part of this operation, while a bomb threat on Friday in Paris forced the major Gare de l’Est train station to be evacuated.
Two other men were arrested on Friday morning by German police in Berlin, suspected to have been recruiting fighters to join ISIS in its war in Syria.
The anti-terror raids across Europe follow major attacks on Paris last week, where 17 people in total were killed. The Yemen branch of al-Qaida took responsibility for the attack that killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo, deemed by some in the Islamic world to have caused offense through its drawings of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
French President Francois Hollande met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris on Friday, and noted America has also faced the brunt of terrorism, referring to the 9/11 attacks.
“You’ve been victims yourself of an exceptional terrorist attack on Sept. 11. You know what it means for a country. … We must find together appropriate responses,” Hollande said.
The terror group is also active in Iraq, and has captured several cities across the region. France, the U.S., and a broad coalition of other allies have hit back against ISIS by conducting airstrikes on terror targets in Iraq and Syria.
There have been several reports of ISIS recruiting western foreigners to join its mission to establish an “Islamic State” in the region. Belgian authorities have said that at least 300 of its residents have gone to fight for the jihadists in Syria, and it is not known how many have returned.
Rob Wainwright, the head of the European Union’s police agency Europol, estimated that between 2,500 to 5,000 terror suspects have traveled from Europe to join the fight in Iraq and Syria.
“The scale of the problem, the diffuse nature of the network, the scale of the people involved makes this extremely difficult for even very well-functioning counter-terrorist agencies such as we have in France to stop every attack,” Wainwright said, according to USA Today.
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Iraq, December 10, 2014: The Islamic State released a new pamphlet teaching jihadis why it is permissible, under Islamic law, to enslave, abuse, buy, sell and have forced sexual intercourse with religious minority female and child captives.
The Research and Fatawa (Islamic law) Department of the Islamic State released a set of guidelines last week in the form of a frequently asked questions-style pamphlet, which posed serious ethical questions about the militants’ sex slave practices. The questions are followed up with brief answers, using verses from the Koran and teachings of “Islamic scholars” to justify why Islamic law permits those actions. It also provides certain guidelines for the militants to follow.
According to the document, which was released on Dec. 3 and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, women of opposing religious views are viewed as a part of the al-harb (people of war). Once the women of the al-harb are captured, the pamphlet claims they are sexually permissible for fighters because of their state of “unbelief.”
“Unbelieving [women] who were captured and brought into the abode of Islam are permissible to us, after the Imam distributes them [among us],” the pamphlet reads. “It is permissible to have sexual intercourse with the female captive. Allah the almighty said: ‘[Successful are the believers] who guard their chastity, except from their wives or [the captives and slaves] that their right hands possess, for then they are free from blame [Koran 23:5-6].’”
Although the pamphlet claims that all women of unbelief are eligible to be taken captive and used sexually, the pamphlet says that Islamic scholars are undecided as to whether women who convert to Islam should be eligible for sexual intercourse with fighters.
“There is no dispute among the scholars that it is permissible to capture unbelieving women [who are characterized by] original unbelief, such as the kitabiyat [women believing in the Bible like Jews and Christians] and polytheists,” the pamphlet adds. “However, [the scholars] are disputed over [the issue of] capturing apostate women. The consensus leans towards forbidding it, though some people of knowledge think it permissible. We lean towards accepting the consensus.”
After explaining why it is divinely moral for their fighters to sexually abuse the captives, the pamphlet then addresses certain rules and rituals that militants must follow before using their newly captured religious minority woman or girl.
The pamphlet allows for fighters to have sex with a young captured girl who has not yet reached puberty, if “she is fit for intercourse.” But if she is not fit to have intercourse, the document says it is ok to have sensual relations with her in other ways.
The guide further explains that if a militant comes into possession of a captured virgin, he may immediately begin having sex with the woman, because her genital parts are already deemed pure. But if a fighter comes into the possession of a woman who is not a virgin, the woman must be cleansed.
“If she is a virgin, he can have intercourse with her immediately after taking possession of her. However, if she isn’t her uterus must be purified,” the pamphlet asserts.
The pamphlet also justifies jihadis beating female slaves as a form of disciplinary action but the militant cannot simply beat or torture female slaves just for his own gratification. Additionally, fighters may not hit the women in the face.
Since the captured women are deemed a possession of their master, ISIS justifies the selling of the women, which the militants do frequently with a trafficking center in their stronghold of Raqqa.
“It is permissible to buy, sell, or give as a gift female captives and slaves, for they are merely property, which can be disposed of [as long as that doesn't cause the Muslim nation] any harm or damage.”
There are a few guidelines that the pamphlet highlights that places clear restrictions on the militants. One such restriction is that if the fighter impregnates the captive, he can no longer sell her as she is now the mother of his child.
Also, fighters may not separate a mother from her child through the act or purchasing and selling. A mother or daughter can only be sold separately once the child is fully mature, although the pamphlet does not provide an age for the acceptable level of maturity.
Additionally, fighters may not have intercourse with a captive that is owned by more than one fighter. If two jihadis wanted to save money and buy one captive to share for sex, Islamic law would not allow them to have intercourse with the woman, according to the pamphlet.
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Texas, December 8, 2014: In what activists are claiming is a clear use of excessive police force and a violation of civil liberty, an eighth grader at a Texas middle school was arrested and slammed face-first in the ground by a police officer during a school football game after the student refused to remove his spiritually beloved rosary beads from his neck.
Jacob Herrera, an eighth grade student at Sam Houston Middle School in in Amarillo, Texas, was arrested and detained overnight by local police in late October after he argued with an officer over his right to wear rosary beads on school grounds. The rosary was given to him by his now-deceased brother and has religious and sentimental value to him.
While the Amarillo Police Department holds that rosary beads are symbolism for association with gang violence and asks that students in the Amarillo Independent School District not wear them on school property, Herrera had acquired prior approval from the school’s principal that allowed him to wear rosary beads underneath his clothing while in school.
Before Herrera attended one of the school’s football games on Oct. 29, he was granted further approval from administrators allowing him to wear and display his beads while at the football game, without having to keep them underneath his clothing, his mother claims.
At the game, Herrera was confronted by a police officer working security who told him to remove the beads. Herrera didn’t want to remove the beads and tried to explain to the officer that he had been given permission to wear them.
When Herrera refused to remove the beads, police statements indicate that Herrera was told to put his hands behind his back, which he refused. He additionally did not comply with any of the officer’s other demands, which ultimately led to his arrest and painful physical police treatment.
“My son passed away two years ago, 2012, and he was teaching Jacob, you know about God and how you know, he should wear the rosary to protect him. So Jacob believes that that rosary protects him and its of his remembrance to his brother,” Herrera’s mother, Lori Martinez, told a local CBS affiliate.
According to a witness, Herrera was detained and was treated cruelly by the officers. Later, he had to be taken to the hospital due to injuries inflicted by the officer.
“You know, he handcuffed him, and then crossed him across the street right there and slammed him again and he repeatedly slammed the child on the floor,” witness Marviell Chavez said.
Coming to the legal defense of Herrera, The Rutherford Institute, a legal group dedicated to the defense of civil liberties, sent a demand letter to the Amarillo Independent School District on Dec. 4 demanding that the district rescind its dress code policy that states that students may not wear anything deemed as “gang apparel” by local law enforcement.
The letter also asked the school district to encourage law enforcement to drop its criminal prosecution of Herrera, and also said that the school district should issue a statement condemning the police department’s use of excessive force on young students.
“I think it was excessive force. The school should not be allowing this to happen. He is just an eighth grader,” Rutherford Institute founder John Whitehead said in a Monday interview with The Christian Post. “I understand that this [could be seen as] a gang symbol, but you can’t repress the symbol. It is a matter of religious freedom and is a First Amendment right. I think that they are overreacting to the gang issues, and if you have somebody wearing it legitimately, yes, they should be allowed to wear it. I think it is an important issue or we wouldn’t be involved.”
The Rutherford Institute has given the school district until Friday, Dec. 12, to respond to their demads. If the school district does not respond or give in to the demands by then, Whitehead said the institute has found a local lawyer who will take up Herrera’s case and could pursue a lawsuit against the school and police department.
Although Whitehead said that the letter was sent last Thursday, the Amarillo Independent School District’s communications director, Holly Shelton, told CP that they did not recevied the letter until Monday morning and will conduct a review of the the district’s policy.
“We will be reviewing our policies with the concerns addressed in the letter in mind,” Shelton said.
Herrara’s case is just one case representing a larger issue of school boards and local governments wrongly implementing rules that infringe upon the religious expression rights of their students and even teachers, Whitehead further addedd.
“I have heard of schools that say teachers can’t wear a cross. They can’t wear a reef on their lapel. Well, no court cases have ever held that. It is just an overreaction for political correctness,” Whitehead asserted. “I can see concern over gang symbols, but when you are lumping rosary beads in there with it, and Christian symbols, you got a problem.
“Then, when you have the cops slamming somebody face-down, and he had to go to the hospital over it, an eighth grader, holding him in detention like he is a master criminal, just doesn’t make any sense to me,” Whitehead added.
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Iraq, December 5, 2014: The Assyrian Democratic Movement has announced the formation of the Nineveh Plain Protection Units, a militia largely comprised of Christian volunteers created to defend civilians from ISIS. The NPU also hopes to recapture land that was taken over by the terrorist organization.
There are reportedly between 500 and 1,000 Assyrian volunteers in training with the NPU, which was fomed by the Assyrian Democratic Movement, the primary political party of Assyrians in Iraq, according to Aletia.
“The mission of the NPU will be first to protect the remaining Assyrian lands from further attacks by ISIS, and then to participate in the necessary military campaigns to liberate the Assyrian homeland of the Nineveh Plain from these notorious terrorists,” reads a press release from the American Mesopotamian Organization, which is helping the project by raising awareness and support for the NPU.
“As a means of protection for themselves and other ethno-religious peoples under attack from ISIS, the Assyrian Democratic Movement is now actively recruiting and training young Assyrian volunteers for service in the Nineveh Plain Protection Units, readying them for combat with ISIS,” according to the press release.
David W. Lazar, a Baghdad native who runs the American Mesopotamian Organization, said that the program is being funded by “Assyrian communities in the diaspora,” specifically in the U.S. and Europe, and plans to eventually seek help from the U.S. and European governments.
“As the NPU grow in strength and size, they will become part of the official security forces of the proposed province, ensuring protection for the lands, homes and lives of Iraq’s minority populations,” according to the press release.
“They will be part of national guard, a project Iraq is putting together,” said Lazar. “We will be pushing for creation of Nineveh Plain Province because it’s our right.”
The units are being formed by Assyrian Christians out of frustration with the Iraqi government and military who they feel failed to protect them during the most critical times. They specifically hold the Kurds, a group that runs part of northern Iraq, responsible.
“Kurds told Christians: ‘Relax, stay in your house, we’ll take care of it.’ They got them to hand over their weapons, saying, ‘We can’t have a lot of weapons floating around; that might cause problems,’” claimed Jeff Gardner, who is helping the American Mesopotamian Organization with public relations.
While some Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been successful at pushing ISIS out of certain areas, including the village of Bakufa in northern Iraq, ISIS had driven the Christian population out of the area, which is comprised of 95 houses and is located 243 miles north of Baghdad.
However, after they took back the town, the Kurdish fighters began setting up village militia that was made up of about 70 volunteers. The militia, which is made up of many Christians, now patrol the area around the clock to keep the village free so that their families could return.
“We found ourselves helpless,” Caesar Jacob, deputy to the Christian militia’s commander, told The Associated Press. “We must defend ourselves to defend our land for now and the future.”
The Kurdish peshmerga fighters seem proud of their accomplishments in Bakufa.
“We came here to protect our Christian brothers and their homes,” said Abdul Rahman Kawriny, the local peshmerga brigade commander. “There is constant cooperation and assistance. We are always together.”
It is important to ensure safety once an area is cleared of ISIS, according to Michael Stephens, a Middle East expert at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies.
“One of the biggest problems is that when ISIS leaves an area, it leaves it full of roadside bombs and mines and traps everywhere, which makes the place uninhabitable for anybody who wants to move back,” he told Aletia.
The placement of bombs along roads, and inside homes and churches was also reported by The Christian Post in October.
Both sides of this fight will face a potential harsh winter and displaced people and refugees face an even greater challenge as the U.N. recently announced that its World Food Program ran out of funds and is cutting off its programs in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt.
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Korea, December 02, 2014: After months of controversy and judicial appeals, the government has granted the Christian Council of Korea permission to rebuild the huge Christmas tree on Aegibong peak. The hill, which is directly across the border with the North, is 165 meters high. Considered by some as a tool of “psychological warfare” with the North, the metal shaft and the cross that surmounts it will be visible to North Korean people living up to 10 kilometers from the border.
The official announcement was made this morning by the Seoul Ministry of Defense, who also guaranteed “protection” to the Christian faithful who will gather for the lighting ceremony. The dimensions of the structure are still not clear, “between nine and 35 meters high.” Seoul has not yet decided whether or not to allow the Christian group to restore the original giant tree, demolished in November after 43 years.
For officials of the Park Geun-hye government the destruction of the old tree was “motivated by security reasons. The frame was old and dilapidated. We have not decided if the new can be as high as the original one or whether it will be smaller”. The lighting ceremony is scheduled for 23 December, when the members of the Council will gather for a church service and the singing of some Christmas hymns. The tree will remain lit and visible for two weeks.
Built in 1971 – at the height of tensions between the two Koreas – the huge frame was switched on or off according to the highs and lows of political relations between the neighbouring nations. In 2004, to great fanfare, Seoul declared that the tree “would be lit up again” because “an agreement had been reached” with Pyongyang. However in 2010, after the sinking of the South Korean Cheonan which killed 43 people, the Christmas lights returned.
Turkey, November 30, 2014: A day after calling for inter-religious dialogue to end Islamist extremism, Pope Francis on Saturday visited a 17th-century mosque in Istanbul and spent several minutes in a silent prayer with his head bowed in the direction of Mecca.
The pope made the gesture to promote Christian-Muslim relations at the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque, on Saturday, the second day of his three-day Turkey visit, according to the Vatican Radio.
He removed his shoes before entering the mosque with blue tiles on its walls. Standing next to him was the Grand Mufti, who explained about the Koranic verses illustrated on the stones pillars and the dome.
The pontiff also toured on Saturday the nearby Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine basilica which was turned into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in the mid-15th century before being transformed into a museum.
The pontiff’s visit is being seen as an effort to foster inter-faith relations.
“Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers,” the pope said Friday in a speech to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other political leaders on the first day of his pastoral visit to the cities of Ankara and Istanbul.
“It is essential that all citizens – Muslim, Jewish and Christian – both in the provision and practice of the law, enjoy the same rights and respect the same duties,” the pope added in his speech Friday. “They will then find it easier to see each other as brothers and sisters who are travelling the same path, seeking always to reject misunderstandings while promoting cooperation and concord. Freedom of religion and freedom of expression, when truly guaranteed to each person, will help friendship to flourish and thus become an eloquent sign of peace.”
Also on Saturday, Francis celebrated the only public Mass of his Turkey visit in Istanbul’s Latin Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Holy Spirit.
Surrounded by the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew and leaders of all the other Christian communities, Francis reflected on how the Holy Spirit creates unity among believers. When we let the Spirit unsettle us to move us out of our comfort zones, turning instead to our brothers and sisters “with that tenderness which warms the heart,” then we have been touched by the Holy Spirit, he was quoted as saying.
The pope’s emphasis on having dialogue and improving inter-faith relations comes at a time when the Christian and Yazidi minorities are being targeted and killed in Iraq and Syria, large territories of which are now controlled by the Islamic State, or ISIS, terror group.
The ISIS, an al-Qaeda offshoot, seeks to form an Islamic emirate in the Levant region through “jihad.” In Iraq, ISIS men have killed hundreds of civilians. Numerous members of the Christian and Yazidi minorities have also been killed, and tens of thousands of them have fled their homes. About 5,000 Yazidi girls and women were recently taken captive by ISIS to be sold or given to fighters as slaves.
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Miami, November 21, 2014: Two former George W. Bush administration officials, Elliot Abrams and Michael Gerson, debated Monday whether it is appropriate for presidents to call Islam a religion of peace.
“What is authentic Islam? Is ISIS an authentic form of Islam, or is it not? I think it’s very important that the United States government shut-up about that question,” Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, declared at the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Faith Angle Forum.
“It used to annoy me enormously when President [George W.] Bush, for whom I was working, would say, ‘Islam is a religion of peace,’” continued Abrams, who served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser.
Abrams was speaking on a panel, “Religious Conflict and the Future of the Middle East,” with Shadi Hamid, a fellow with the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
The “real response” to Bush, and later President Barack Obama, declaring the Islam is a religion of peace, he said, should be “where is their theology degree from?”
“For American government officials to be telling Muslims, ‘I know real Islam’ … is ridiculous,” he added. “… It would be an outrage about Judaism and Christianity as well. … For government officials who are 99 percent Christians to be trying to find what is authentic in Islam seems to me to be a fool’s errand.”
Abrams’ comments came during the question and answer session and were not part of his prepared remarks. The whole session lasted about three hours and he made similar remarks later in the session in response to another reporter’s question.
When presidents say Islam is a religion of peace, “the average American thinks this is crap,” he said, because the average American reasons that “the only people doing the beheadings are Muslims, so don’t tell me it’s all wonderful.”
It would be better, Abrams continued, for political leaders to ask, “is there something in Islam that has led some Muslims to behave in a way we consider to be terrible? And what’s the debate within Islam?” Because, “that’s a real description of a real problem,” but, “saying ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ isn’t [realistic].”
After those remarks, Gerson asked for the floor to offer a different point of view.
“We do praise Christianity as a religion of peace on Christmas, we do praise Judaism as a religion of courage on Hanukah and other things. We praise Islam. And every president from now on will praise Islam on religious holidays because their are millions of peaceful citizens who hold this view,” he said.
Gerson was a speechwriter for Bush and may have helped craft the statements that Abrams found objectionable. He now works as a columnist for The Washington Post.
Presidential statements about Islam as a peaceful religion is not only proper due to the many peaceful Muslims who are American citizens, Gerson continued, it is also “theologically sophisticated” because presidents should promote the cause of those who hold values consistent with democratic governance, and this is not unique to Islam.
“Every religious tradition,” he said, “has forces of tribalism and violence in its history, background and theology; and, every religious tradition has sources of respect for the other. And you emphasize, as a political leader, one at the expense of the other in the cause of democracy.
“That is a great American tradition that we have done with every religious tradition that comes to the United States — include them as part of a natural enterprise and praise them for their strongly held religious views, and emphasize those portions that are most compatible with those ideals.”
Abrams countered that Islam is different due to its relationship to terrorists. By calling Islam a “religion of peace” after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Abrams said, Bush was “basically lying about the problem,” because, … the terrorists “view themselves as good Muslims.”
“How is that exclusively a problem with Islam?” Gerson responded, then mentioned other religious groups, such as Christians in Nigeria, who commit violence in the name of their faith.
Part of the role of political leaders, Gerson reiterated, is to acknowledge the parts of every religious tradition that “encourage respect for the other.”
Abrams conceded Gerson’s point but maintained that presidents are not doing that when they call Islam a religion of peace because the presidential statements lack the nuance of Gerson’s argument.
“I think you’re being much more sophisticated than the political statements that have been made, which are blanket statements that say, ‘this has nothing to do with Islam,’” he told Gerson.
“Well, it does have something to do with Islam … even if it is a perversion of it, it has something to do with it, and the sophistication of that statement I think would be interesting to hear from a political leader, but we have not had that.”
A similar debate between actor Ben Affleck and comedian Bill Maher recently gained national attention. Affleck accused Maher of being “gross,” “disgusting” and “racist” for claiming that most Muslims are unsupportive of Democratic norms.
That debate, however, saw both sides paint Islam with broad brushes. The Faith Angle Forum panel, on the other hand, highlighted the complicatedness of the religion and politics issues within Islam and especially in the Middle East.
“It was nice to see Ben Affleck defend Muslims,” said Hamid, an American Muslim, during his prepared remarks. “It was well intentioned and a lot of us were cheering him on because no one defends Muslims in the public sphere. At the same time, Ben Affleck’s analysis was a bit superficial. … I do think Islam is distinctive in how it relates to politics but I don’t think that is necessarily good or bad, I think it just is.”
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