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Pay Up or Die: Christians in Iraq Update

This man fled from Mosul by car. He checks on his belongings before walking to the Khazair checkpoint. He hopes to travel to Erbil. Many others arrive without any belongings. UNHCR / R. Nuri

Iraqis flee from Mosul. UNHCR / R. Nuri

Have you been following the news about Iraq, ISIS (now IS) and what’s happening to Christians in areas IS controls? Take a quick look with us.

This past Saturday, as reported in Breaking Israel News and other media outlets, the Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) “issued a deadline for Christian residents of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, to leave, pay, convert or die.

The Islamic State is requiring residents of Mosul to pay the jizyah:

Jizya (sometimes written as jizyah and pronounced “jiz-yuh”), as explained by Forbes, “is the term for a tax paid by non-Muslims. The tax is the result of a centuries old contract called a dhimma. Under a dhimma, non-Muslims who lived in a Muslim state were protected under the law so long as they paid the tax: they were referred to as ahlu dh-dhimmati (people of protection) or simply al-dhimma or dhimmis. The arrangement is sometimes referred to as a ‘residence in return for taxes.’”

The Guardian noted Christians and Muslims lived together in peace in the city of Mosul. An estimated 100,000 Christians lived in Mosul before the U.S. invaded Iraq prior to 2003. The estimated population before last month’s takeover was 5,000. Now Christians are fleeing and The Guardian reported that there are as little as 200 Christians left in the city.

More than a month ago, the Anglican Communion News Service described the growing crisis: “An estimated half a million people, including hundreds of Christian families, are fleeing the area with many attempting to find refuge in the nearby Kurdish provinces of Northern Iraq. At least one Assyrian church in Mosul has been burned down in the recent violence.”

Also in June, Tanenbaum Peacemaker Rev. Canon Andrew White described the growing violence in Iraq:

“Iraq is now in its worst crisis since the 2003 war. ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Group), a group that does not even see Al Qaida as extreme enough, has moved into Mosul, which is Nineveh. It has totally taken control, destroyed all government departments. Allowed all prisoners out of the prisons. Killed countless numbers of people. There are bodies over the streets. The army and police have fled, so many of the military resources have been captured. Tankers, armed vehicles and even helicopters are now in the hands of ISIS.”

For the moment, we are grateful that Andrew is safe. He returned to England on July 15 and, on July 19, sent out a request for prayers on his Facebook page:

“We seriously need your prayers. ISIS have stated they will start killing all the Christians in Mosul from mid-day Saturday unless they convert or pay jazeera tax, this is really serious we need your prayers.”

Meanwhile, Christians who have chosen to stay in Mosul are afraid. But, at the same time, they have found support from their Muslim friends as reported in The New York Times

“A Muslim woman sitting next to her in the pew reached out and whispered, ‘You are the true original people here, and we are sorry for what has been done to you in the name of Islam.’”

At Tanenbaum, we call on all of us to acknowledge what is happening to the Christians in Mosul and to the entire society of which they were such an integral part. We thank our Peacemaker in Action, Andrew White, for what he has done to support the Christian community in Iraq and to overcome the conflicts. We are committed to working with him and our Peacemakers – and to keep pursing a time when we will have a more peaceful world that truly accepts difference.

We Are All Human Beings

Despite the rockets and the airstrikes wreaking havoc in Israel and Gaza, Peacemaker in Action Yehezkel Landau’s organization Open House held its annual Summer Peace Camp. Seventy Arab and Jewish children gathered at the peace education center in Ramle, Israel did what all children should do during the summer – they had fun together.

While the latest war in Gaza further complicates hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, a twelve-year-old camper relays her belief that there can one day be peace – by reminding us of what we too often forget in times of conflict:

“We are all human beings.”

To read more about this lesson in perseverance, click here for Open House’s July 2014 newsletter, Summer Peace Camp in the Midst of War.

Summer Peace Camp in the mixed Jewish-Arab village of Neve Shalom/Wahat as-Salaam.

Summer Peace Camp in the mixed Jewish-Arab village of Neve Shalom/Wahat as-Salaam.

Top news stories you need to know

A collection of top news stories from July 4 – July11, 2014:

ISIS destroys shrines, Shiite mosques in Iraq •  Netanyahu calls father of slain Palestinian teen • 63 women and girls escape Boko Haram after clashes With Nigerian Military • ISIS shows off child recruits • Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination • Learning More About The Hindu Religion

"Pictures posted on the Internet by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) showed Sufi shrines were demolished by bulldozers. (Photo: Twitter)" - Al Arabiya NEWS

“Pictures posted on the Internet by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) showed Sufi shrines were demolished by bulldozers. (Photo: Twitter)” – Al Arabiya NEWS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ISIS destroys shrines, Shiite mosques in Iraq
Jihadists have destroyed at least six Shiite mosques and four shrines devoted to Sufi and Sunni Arab figures in Iraq’s Nineveh province. Images of the destruction using explosives and bulldozers were posted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/IS).

Netanyahu calls father of slain Palestinian teen
After a suspected revenge attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the father of Mohammed Abu Khdair, whose son was kidnapped and burned alive by suspected Israeli right-wing extremists.

“I would like to express my outrage and that of the citizens of Israel over the reprehensible murder of your son,” Netanyahu said. “We acted immediately to apprehend the murderers. We will bring them to trial and they will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law,” he continued.

“We denounce all brutal behavior. The murder of your son is abhorrent and cannot be countenanced by any human being,” Netanyahu expressed.

63 women and girls escape Boko Haram after clashes With Nigerian Military
Nigerian security sources have reported that 63 girls and women have escaped from Boko Haram, the group that is trying to create an Islamic state located in northern Nigeria. The hostages were captured as a group of 68 girls and women during a siege that left their village of  Kummabza burned to the ground.

The Nigerian women and girls found the opportunity to escape during fighting between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram.

Over 200 schoolgirls abducted in April from Chibok remain held captive by Boko Haram in Nigeria.

 

ISIS Shows Off Child Recruits in Front of their "Registration Office" -SYRIA: direct

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ISIS shows off child recruits
Using Twitter, a pro-ISIS combatant named al-Simsim published a picture of young children recently recruited by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. “May God give them strength,” was al-Simsim’s message in addition to a comments that children are “racing to join the ranks” of ISIS.

The children were photographed in ragged clothing in front of an ISIS “registration office” in al-Bab, a town in the Aleppo province of Syria.

Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination
Faith-based advisers for President Obama are divided over an upcoming executive order that would legally prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation among federal contractors. The key issue is if this directive should allow a religious exemption. A letter to the president this Tuesday, July 8 stated:

“An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.” The letter was signed by over 100 signatories.

Last week, a letter requesting an exemption had been signed by former advisory council members along with Obama’s former chief liaison to evangelicals. Their request stated, ““A religious exemption would simply maintain that religious organizations will not be automatically disqualified or disadvantaged in obtaining contracts because of their religious beliefs.”

Learning More About The Hindu Religion
After reviewing a map developed by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, Arizona authors learned that Hinduism has the second largest number of members in their state. On a visit to the Ekta Mandir temple in Phoenix, Sarah Ventre narrates her compelling experience.

July 15: A day of prayer and reflection to stop the violence and bloodshed

Before turning to the subject of this blog – the escalation of violence involving Israelis and Palestinians – I am painfully reminded that destructive and hate fueled violence is occurring in far too many places across our globe. So even as I focus on that flashpoint of the Middle East, I believe that we must simultaneously remember that every person experiencing war and violence is one of us. A human who is suffering. And a person who comes from a family and a community.

That said, I want to share something we recently learned, in case it resonates with you. There is a small Muslim/Jewish movement from Israel/Palestine that is calling on people to dedicate the Jewish fast day of 17 Tamuz (July 15), which coincides this year with the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, as a day of prayer and reflection, focusing on stopping the horrible violence and bloodshed that is currently taking place in that land.

Our former colleague and friend, Rabbi Jonah Geffen, who shared this information with us said, “I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to gather our Muslim/Jewish/Christian sisters and brothers in prayer and reflection. Not politics. Simply focusing on peace through a joint day without food.”

We agree, but believe that this is a moment that people of all beliefs and none can share. A day of fasting, a day of committing ourselves to real solutions and an end to violence.

Sincerely,

Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO

P.S. If you are interested in taking part in the day, here is the the invitation that Rabbi Geffen found on Facebook:

ימי הצום בלוח העברי והמוסלמי מתאחדיםהזדמנות לעצור הכולבביתבעבודהבקהילה
להתכנס אל מול הדםהנקם והאימה למקום אחרלחשבון נפשללקיחת אחריותלתיקון
למפגש עם העצמי ועם האחרלשתוק ביחד ולדבר,
לבחור מחדש בחיים
מדובר ביוזמה משותפת של יהודים וערבים שתתקיים ב– 15 ביולייום שלישי הבאלשביתת רעב משותפת בת יום,כנגד האלימותבשעות אחהצ יתקיימו אירועים משותפים ברחבי הארץשל יהודים וערביםחילונים ודתיים,פלסטינים וישראליםשל דיבורלימוד ותפילהובסופם עם צאת הכוכבים יתקיים “איפטאר“- שבירת צום משותפת.
מוזמנים:
לשתףלצוםלקחת זמן לחשבון נפש וליזום אירוע ‘לבחור בחיים‘ באזור מגוריכם
שנזכה לתקן!

ايام الصيام حسب التواريخ الاسلامية والعبرية تلتقي.
فرصة لايقاف كل شيئفي البيتفي العملفي المجتمعللاتحاد معا ضد سفك الدماءضد الانتقام وضد الخوف والانتقال لمحاسبةالنفسلتحمل المسؤوليةلللتغيير والاصلاحللاجتماع مع النفس ومع الغيرللتكلم معا وللصمت معالاختيار الحياة من جديد.
الموضوع هو مشروع لقاء مشترك للعرب واليهود بتاريخ ١٥/٧ يوم الثلاثاء المقبللاضراب مشترك عن الطعام ليوم واحد ضد العنف.وفي ساعات ما بعد الظهيرة ستقام لقاءات مشتركه في انحاء البلادعرب ويهودعلمانيون ومتدينونفلسطينيين واسرائيليينللحوار,للتعلم وللصلاهوفي النهايه مع ساعات المغرب يكون افطار جماعي لكسر الصيام.
مدعوون بشكل شخصي.
الرجاء النشر.
صيام وحساب للنفس ومشروع مشترك “نختار الحياة” في مناطق سكنكم.

Days of fasting in the Jewish and Muslim calendar come together.
An opportunity to pause. At home. At work. In the community.
To come together in the face of blood, revenge and fear,
to a place of looking inwards, taking responsibility, and making a difference.
To meeting myself and the other, to be still and to talk to one another.
Another chance to choose life.
A joint Arab and Jewish initiative that will take place on July 15th, next Tuesday, of a mutual hunger strike against violence. All over the country joint events will take place in the afternoon, of Jews and Arabs, secular and religious, Israelis and Palestinians, to talk, learn and pray. At the end of the events, when the stars come out, an Iftar will take place, a mutual breaking of the fast.
We invite you to share, to fast, to look inwards and to initiate a “Choosing Life” event where you live.
May we make a difference!

 

“The Vicar of Baghdad”: Peacebuilding in Iraq’s Red Zone

On Thursday, July 3rd, Peacemaker Rev. Canon Andrew White spoke with fellow Peacemakers in Action during a monthly call. When asked about his safety, White’s voice reverberated through the technological static: “Peacemaking is not about making peace in comfortable, safe places.”

That is how Rev. Canon Andrew White lives his life: beyond comfort zones and within the lawless and chaotic Red Zone in Central Baghdad, Iraq.

Lovingly dubbed the “Vicar of Baghdad,” Andrew is a steadfast leader in Baghdad not only for his church, Saint George’s Episcopal Anglican Church, but also as head of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, a relief and reconciliation program that supports the masses (Christians and Muslims alike) and coordinates reconciliatory efforts between Sunni and Shia leaders.

Andrew’s daily efforts, logistical challenges and reality are documented in “The Vicar of Baghdad”, a new three-part Vice Media special. Vice Media, known for being outspoken and bold in their news coverage, intimately portrays Andrew’s work on the ground. The candid look into Andrew’s daily life begins in a car; the camera shakes while lights flash red down a dimly lit street. From the passenger seat, Andrew narrates the situation, “It’s dangerous just sitting here.” These words color his actions, whether he is aware of it or not. He persists with his mission, guided by his peacebuilding practice and faith. Despite multiple kidnappings and death threats he does not sit still. Andrew is constantly on the move, visiting his parishioners and standing in solidarity with those in Iraq.

The Vicar of Baghdad has been filmed in 12-17 minute long installments. Each video is a window into the poverty, marginalization and hardships experienced in Iraq. With a backdrop of dry wit and humor, Andrew’s innate exuberance and the joy of his people are not fully dampened by their situations. The harsh environment does not mar his faithfulness, as he calmly proclaims, “My faith is everything.”

In recent days, the militant group the Islamic State, or IS, formerly called ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), continues to encroach upon Baghdad. According to Andrew, the country’s infrastructure is failing and people are dying daily. Iraq’s problems deepen with their presence and ongoing sectarian violence. Currently, Andrew and his people are surrounded by constant gunfights and dwindling outside communication. Unwavering, he continues to fight for peace and solidarity in Iraq.

Vice Media – The Vicar of Baghdad      

Part 1:

 

Part 2:

Part 3:

A Personal Statement from Tanenbaum’s CEO

Across the world, I join with the men and women who are horrified and profoundly saddened by the murder of three young men – Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar. Across much of Western media, we have seen their smiling faces reflecting the energy of young lives full of hope. We have heard their names. In many cases, we have listened as mothers, aunts, relatives begged and prayed that the boys would return alive. But they did not. Instead, they were murdered, left alone under dirt and rocks.

It is time that all people across the world – of all religions and political persuasions – condemn these killings especially because they appear to have been based on the boys’ Jewish identities and perhaps also their national one.

We need to remember Naftali, Eyal and Gilad. But if we want to stop such senseless slaughters, we need to do more.

We also need to remember the faceless others, who are also dying because of their religions and identities. In the last year, how many Syrian children lost their lives because they were on “the wrong side?” or from “the wrong Islamic tradition?”  How many Muslim children have died recently in Myanmar? How many Coptic Christian children are being killed in Egypt?

Together, we need to condemn the senseless bloodshed around the globe.

With sadness,

Joyce S. Dubensky

 

Addendum:

With great sorrow I learned about the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teens, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gilad Shaer. My heart remains heavy through this holiday weekend in the US as news has reached us that Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teen, was also kidnapped then burned to death near his Jerusalem home and that violence and fear has gripped the land.

No mother should endure the torment of not knowing whether her child will be targeted or killed because of his or her religion or national identity.

At Tanenbaum, we fear endless cycles of violence. We fear a society desensitized to bloodshed and the fate of our children.

Each of us is responsible. And it is our responsibility to imagine what peace could bring and then find ways to support it. One way is to recognize and respect our diversity and to promote both nonviolence and inclusion.

With sadness,

Joyce S. Dubensky

Peacemakers provide counselling services to abducted girls

Nigerian Peacemakers in Action Pastor James and Imam Ashafa to Help Provide Counselling Services to Abducted Girls

The extremist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria in April. The much-publicized incident has garnered international support via social media with the “#BringOutGirlsBack” campaign. Boko Haram is Nigeria’s main perpetrator of religion-based violence, deepening the Muslim/Christian divide and threatening the right to religious freedom.

In light of these recent events in Nigeria, Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa have sprung into action alongside Family Health International (FHI) 360 and USAID. Wuye and Ashafa’s joint project, the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, will collaborate as one of the three groups working to provide counseling services to 57 recovered girl students from the Government Secondary School Chibok who were abducted by Boko Haram in April. The search continues for the remaining schoolgirls.

The Government Secondary School Chibok girls who escaped from Boko Haram have undergone significant trauma. The Nigerian state emphasized their willingness to provide services and support to the girls and to help them find their families.  Governor Kashim Shettima has expressed his concern for the girls to be rehabilitated and back in new schools. That’s where Peacemakers Pastor James and Imam Ashafa can help.

The Interfaith Mediation Centre is dedicated to working with their partners in order to provide services, including therapy for the girls. As Pastor James describes the deeply important project, he speaks about using a faith-based approach for recovery. The Interfaith Mediation Centre will work with the state-implemented structure and use their unique faith-based approach to counseling, recovery, and conflict resolution. They remain dedicated to helping the girls and other women who are survivors of the Boko Haram abductions.

Controversy at the 9/11 museum: Top 5 news stories

Last week’s top news, from our perspective:

Film at 9/11 Museum Sets Off Clash Over Reference to IslamAngry Muslims in Central African Republic call for partition • Army approves ‘humanist’ as religious preferenceBusiness Window Stickers Protest Mississippi Law • British PM accused of fueling division with Christian talk

 

Image credit: Flickr user kbrinker

Film at 9/11 Museum Sets Off Clash Over Reference to Islam

Past the towering tridents that survived the World Trade Center collapse, adjacent to a gallery with photographs of the 19 hijackers, a brief film at the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum will seek to explain to visitors the historical roots of the attacks.

The film, “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” refers to the terrorists as Islamists who viewed their mission as a jihad. The NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who narrates the film, speaks over images of terrorist training camps and Qaeda attacks spanning decades. Interspersed are explanations of the ideology of the terrorists, from video clips in foreign-accented English translations.

The documentary is not even seven minutes long, the exhibit just a small part of the museum. But it has over the last few weeks suddenly become a flash point in what has long been one of the most highly charged issues at the museum: how it should talk about Islam and Muslims.

Angry Muslims in Central African Republic call for partition

In this dusty town at the heart of the Central African Republic, many angry Muslims advocate a simple solution to the threat of religious violence from Christian militias terrorising the country’s south: partition.

Bambari lies near the dividing line separating Central African Republic’s Christian south – where mobs have lynched hundreds of Muslims and torn down their homes – from a northern region controlled by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels.

Seleka seized power last year, saying they had been excluded by southern tribes from the country’s oil, gold and diamond wealth. But their 10 months in power – a murderous orgy of looting and extortion – sparked a sectarian backlash that is driving Muslims from the south despite the presence of French and African Union peacekeepers.

Army approves ‘humanist’ as religious preference

Lt. Col. Sunset R. Belinsky, an Army spokeswoman, said Tuesday (April 22) that the “preference code for humanist” became effective April 12 for all members of the Army.

In practical terms, the change means that humanists could face fewer hurdles in trying to organize within the ranks; military brass would have better information to aid in planning a deceased soldier’s funeral; and it could lay the groundwork for eventually adding humanist chaplains.

The change comes against a backdrop of persistent claims from atheists and other nonbelievers that the military is dominated by a Christian culture that is often hostile to unbelief. In recent years, activists from the broad spectrum of freethinking organizations have demanded equal treatment as the tradition-bound military grapples with the growth of the spiritual-but-not-religious population.

Business Window Stickers Protest Mississippi Law

In conservative Mississippi, some business owners who support equal treatment for gays and lesbians are pushing back against a new law that bans government from limiting the free practice of religion.

Critics fear the vaguely written law, which takes effect July 1, will prompt authorities to look away from anti-gay actions that are carried out in the name of religious beliefs — for example, photographers refusing to take pictures for same-sex couples because they believe homosexuality is a sin.

Hundreds of businesses, from hair salons to bakeries and art galleries, have started displaying round blue window stickers that declare: “We don’t discriminate. If you’re buying, we’re selling.”

British PM accused of fueling division with Christian talk

A group of scientists, academics and prominent writers accused British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday of stoking sectarian divisions through his repeated description of Britain as a “Christian country”.

The public figures, including authors Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett, said they respected the Conservative leader’s own religious beliefs, which he has addressed in a series of statements.

But they took issue with his characterization of Britain saying, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, the country was actually a “plural society” of largely “non-religious” people.

Building peace in Sri Lanka

As I made my way to my parents’ home this past weekend for the holiday, I could not help but think back to last week and meeting Dr. Jayantha Seneviratne (Jay). Jay is the husband of Tanenbaum’s Peacemaker in Action in Sri Lanka, Dishani Jayaweera, and her partner in founding and leading the Centre for Peace-Building & Reconciliation (CPBR). Jay was in New York to visit with his son and I could not help but be reminded of his pilgrimage as I making mine.

Jay took time to stop by our office and update us on the situation in Sri Lanka and the efforts of the CPBR. His news was not the best, but it was hopeful. As forces within the current government are trying to consolidate their powerbase, some of the less scrupulous among them have had no problem fanning the flames of the sectarianism that drove the 30 year civil war that ended in 2009.  At the same time, the forces working for a sustainable peace are also gathering strength and developing networks amongst themselves that make them a more united front.

In this tense setting, efforts to create relationships between the Sinhala and Tamil communities are now critical for a peaceful future, and creative methods to foster communication, especially among the young generations, are needed. Jay shard one such project with us and I though some members of the wider Tanenbaum community might find it interesting. The project used photography to show commonalities between the communities and start conversations across entrenched boundaries. The link to a description of the work is here, and those of you who want to see some of the great photography that was produced can see it here.

Mihai MorarChief of Staff

Building peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

DRCLast month Peacemaker Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda met with rebels fighting in the Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was part of a mission created at the DRC’s request for the purpose of encouraging the members of the Mai Mai and Kata Katanga militia groups to stop destroying villages and displacing people. The militia groups have been using violence to push for the independence of the Katanga region, which has led to a humanitarian catastrophe in the province (according to the UN mission in DRC).

The DRC asked Bishop Ntambo and 12 others from the Katanga province, including government ministers, political leaders and church representatives, to meet with rebels, open dialogue about their concerns, and find a path towards ending the violence. The group traveled to difficult to reach areas throughout the Katanga province. They met with the Mai Mai and Kata Katanga rebel groups, listening to their concerns and providing counsel.

The militia groups, along with their children and wives, voiced their desire that young people should be able to return to school after leaving the militias. They also asked for jobs in exchange for laying down their weapons. After dialogue and negotiations, the rebels agreed to put down their arms. The government agreed to build roads in the Katanga province, an isolated area with no roads or access to services, and agreed to create jobs to help the people meet their basic necessities.

According to Bishop Ntambo, peace is in process.