Religious Relics Transferred From Moscow to East Ukraine

Russian news-source RIA Novosti reports that relics of St George and a fragment of the Holy Cross have been transferred from Moscow to a cathedral in Donetsk (trans. via Google, tidied up a bit):

“We took them to the holy land, holy relics will remain here forever. We want bloodshed in Donbas to cease, and to be at peace “, Natalia Mezentceva, the vice-president of the Foundation of Saint Boniface (Moscow), which organized the event, told reporters.

Beforehand, the relics were brought to the location of troops belonging to the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, where they were venerated by the fighters.

Back in June, the same Foundation arranged for relics to be brought to the Black Sea Fleet, in a ceremony that also involved “Regional Development Minister Igor Slyunyaev, and employees of the Ministry of Regional Development of Russia”.

The Foundation has a website here; it appears to be a charity focusing on drug and alcohol addiction.

The Foundation plans to bring other religious items to Donbas: these include relics of Ilya Muromets, and the Holy Fire from Jerusalem next Easter.

Anti-Vax HCG-Tetanus Conspiracy Theory Backed By Catholic Groups In Kenya

From LifeSiteNews:

…According to a statement released Tuesday by the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association, the organization has found an antigen that causes miscarriages in a vaccine being administered to 2.3 million girls and women by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Priests throughout Kenya reportedly are advising their congregations to refuse the vaccine.

“We sent six samples from around Kenya to laboratories in South Africa. They tested positive for the HCG antigen,” Dr. Muhame Ngare of the Mercy Medical Centre in Nairobi told LifeSiteNews. “They were all laced with HCG.”

Dr. Ngare, spokesman for the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association, stated in a bulletin released November 4, “This proved right our worst fears; that this WHO campaign is not about eradicating neonatal tetanus but a well-coordinated forceful population control mass sterilization exercise using a proven fertility regulating vaccine. This evidence was presented to the Ministry of Health before the third round of immunization but was ignored.”

It was reported last month that Catholic Bishops in Kenya were warning against the vaccine.

LifeSiteNews also carries a choice quote from Brain Clowes, of Human Life International in Virginia, who explains the nefarious motivation behind it all:

“Racism,” is Brian Clowes’ first explanation.  “Also, the developed countries want to get hold of their natural resources. And lately, there is the whole bogus global warming thing.”

There are several articles about Human Life International on Right Wing Watch. It’s not clear to what extent the organization is behind the current scare in Kenya, but it has been promoting the claim that the jab is a secret sterilization plot for many years.

In 1995, the organization’s campaigning featured in an academic paper entitled “Damage to Immunisation Programmes from Misinformation on Contrceptive Vaccines“, by Julie Milstien, P. David Griffin and J.W. Lee and available here. The authors wrote:

This publicity campaign apparently stemmed from reports in the scientific literature of a clinical trial carried out to assess the effectiveness of a prototype antifertility vaccine designed to provide protection against unplanned pregnancies for a period of one to two years, carried out by a group in India led by [Professor G. P.] Talwar. The active ingredient in this vaccine is a subunit of human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), a hormone necessary for the initiation of pregnancy and produced in large amounts throughout pregnancy. It is hCG which is detected by pregnancy tests. The hCG used in the clinical trial was coupled with a protein ‘carrier’ so that it would stimulate the production of antibodies against hCG and thus prevent pregnancy. In the case of the study in question, the protein carriers used were diphtheria and tetanus toxoids, which are available relatively cheaply and produced under conditions which make them acceptable for human use.

There is no connection between tetanus immunisation programmes and this small clinical trial, carried out in India in 1994, and not sponsored, supported, nor executed by WHO. However, in order to discredit the development of anti-hCG vaccines, the information concerning these two separate activities has been erroneously linked and distorted to confuse people. Unfortunately this confusion can result in endangering the lives of infants and of their mothers by interfering with their access to immunisations.

After these rumours were spread, attempts were made to analyse TI vaccines for the presence of hCG. The vaccines were sent to hospital laboratories and tested using pregnancy test kits which are developed for use on serum and urine specimens, and are not appropriate for a vaccine such as ‘IT, which contains a special preservative (merthiolate) and an adjuvant (aluminum salt). As a consequence of using these inappropriate tests, low levels of hCG-like activity were found in some samples of TT vaccine. The laboratories themselves recognised the insignificance of the results, which were below the reliable detection capability of the kits and were due to a nonspecific interaction between the adjuvant or other substances in the vaccine and the test kit. However, these results were misrepresented by the ‘pro-life’ groups with the resulting disruption of immunisation programmes.

That was almost 20 years ago. In 2006, a British journalist – Tom Whipple, now with the London Times  – covered the same issue for the Sri Lanka Daily Mirror:

It was at a pro-life conference in Colombo that I first heard about the United Nations’ plans to sterilise the female population of the developing world. The press release for the “Asia under siege” anti-abortion roadshow introduced the case: “The so far unsuspecting and vulnerable Sri Lankan people will learn about the harm that women are exposed to through birth control potions. They will be told how government departments are pressurised into implementing racist and ideological policies enforced from abroad.”

Whipple cited studies which again show the accusation to be false – and on Twitter he has now said that he left the Catholic Church over to the issue.

It’s true that the WHO has been developing a hCG anti-fertility vaccine, but with rather less ambitious aims than the Kenyan Bishops fear; in 2004, the body explained that:

A number of agencies have been trying for some years to develop a totally new method of contraception—immunocontraception—based on the production of an immune response to specific molecules. The Programme’s work in this area has focused on the development of an immunocontraceptive based on, and directed against, human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), a protein produced by the early embryo to allow successful implantation in the endometrium. A successful anti-hCG vaccine could theoretically provide long-lasting protection against pregnancy (approximately 6 months), without producing the endocrine and other metabolic disturbances often associated with long-acting hormonal preparations.

Granted, this was more than ten years ago; but a browse of the American Journal of Reproductive Immunology‘s special issue for July 2011, on Contraceptive Vaccines, shows that such an hCG vaccine is still in the process of development. The editorial (which is free to view), by Rajesh K. Naz of West Virginia University, includes the following:

The hCG vaccine is the first vaccine to under Phase I and II clinical trials in humans. Both efficacy and lack of immunopathology have been well demonstrated for this vaccine. At the present time, studies are focused on increasing the immunogenicity and efficacy of the birth control vaccine and examining its clinical applications in various hCG-producing cancers.

Here’s what Clowes wants us to believe: that the originators of the vaccine published their findings in 1994, despite the need for secrecy; that large numbers of twenty-first century health professionals have been co-ordinating on a covert and highly unethical (indeed, illegal) project that risks destroying the credibility of all international health interventions, motivated by greed and racism; that the programme has managed to continue despite exposure by groups like IHL; that vast numbers of women have been sterilized already without anyone noticing any impact on demography; and that professional scientists working on the subject are under the false impression that the vaccine is still at trial stage.

Claims that vaccinations are a secret sterilization plot have also adversely affected anti-polio vaccination programmes – most famously in Nigeria, where local Islamists promoted a parallel conspiracy theory about oestrogen.

Footnote

The LifeSiteNews article also includes the following quote about the Kenyan anti-vaxxers:

Why, they ask does it involve an unprecedented five shots (or”jabs” as they are known, in Kenya) over more than two years and why is it applied only to women of child-bearing years, and why is it not being conducted without the usual fanfare of government publicity?

“Usually we give a series three shots over two to three years, we give it anyone who comes into the clinic with an open wound, men, women or children.” said Dr. Ngare. “If this is intended to inoculate children in the womb, why give it to girls starting at 15 years? You cannot get married till you are 18. The usual way to vaccinate children is to wait till they are six weeks old.”

I don’t think most people would struggle to grasp why a campaign against neo-natal tetanus would focus on “women of child-bearing years”, and a bit of googling shows that a course of five shots is actually normal. As to why girls aged between 15 and 17 are included, despite not being able to get married until they are 18 – perhaps someone ought to explain the way of the world to Dr Ngare.

Yehuda Glick Supporters Reject “Extremist” Tag

From the JTA, via the Forward:

Yitzhak Glick cannot stand hearing his younger brother referred to as a right-wing “extremist.”

“He is a man of peace and a huge supporter of religious dialogue,” he told JTA on Tuesday, one week after his brother Yehuda was shot in the chest and stomach outside Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Center by an assailant who fled on a motorcycle.

Further:

“Glick is an exceptional right-wing activist, who also befriends secular Jews and left-wingers,” columnist Roy (Chicky) Arad wrote in Haaretz days after the shooting. “In contrast to (right-wing lawmaker Moshe) Feiglin, who insists that visits to the Temple Mount should not be regarded as part of the discourse on human rights but rather as an issue of Israeli sovereignty, Glick views the matter as a question of freedom of worship for members of all religions, so he manages to reach a broader audience.”

Also complaining about the “extremist” tag is Honest Reporting:

The reality of Rabbi Glick’s views is quite different than the way he is being described. He is a proponent of the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Temple Mount is considered the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. Those familiar with the Rabbi know that his goal is not to supplant Muslim prayer in that place. He is actually an advocate of allowing all prayers there.

Certainly, taken in isolation, Glick’s vision is not the same thing as “right-wing extremism”, although it should be noted that Glick is associated with Feiglin: the attempted murder occurred in the presence of Feiglin’s aide, and occurred as Glick was leaving a meeting on the subject of the Temple in which Feiglin had also taken part.

And it’s impossible to divorce Glick’s wish for “allowing all prayers there” and the political reality that such a provision would represent an Israeli encroachment at a time of continuing conflict. As the Economist notes:

In the ever-contested ground of the Holy Land, prayer is not just an act of personal devotion: it implies ownership. Jews were allowed to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, another contested city. But when a settler massacred Palestinians in 1994, the site was divided into Jewish and Muslim areas. Palestinians fear a similar cycle of provocation, violence and concession to Jewish radicals in Jerusalem.

There are strands within Judaism and Christianity that look forward to the destruction of the Islamic structures on the site: in 1969, a mentally-disturbed follower of Herbert Armstrong attempted to burn down al-Aqsa, and in the 1980s a group of Israeli extremists plotted to blow up the structures at the site. In 2007, a “Night to Honor Israel” organised by Christians United for Israel in the USA included one speaker who said that God had told her “that Dome is coming down.” This is not Glick’s intention, but it shows there are practical risks involved.

Glick was interviewed last year for an apocalyptic documentary by “Glenn Beck’s End-Times Prophet” Joel Richardson. He writes:

Rabbi Glick is a courageous man of faith, but he is most certainly not an extremist. He is a man of peace. The extremists are not only those who sought to take Glick’s life, but also the left wing media that have cast Glick as a radical right-wing agitator before they even took the time to know who he really is. Let us pray that he comes to know Yeshua the Messiah.

I wonder how that last sentence will go down. Richardson also has a warning; as he explained to WND:

 “Scripturally speaking, we look at the career of the Antichrist, who will be a deceiver, and he’s able to engage in a seven-year covenant with Israel (Daniel 9 and Isaiah 28) so he emerges seemingly as a man of peace that is able to engage Israel on a political level… Most likely, this covenant will allow concessions with the Jews such as allowing them to rebuild their Temple, and in the middle of that he will violate that covenant. Right now, the atmosphere is not such that the Muslims would allow the Jews to share the Temple Mount, but something is going to happen that would force them to accept that.”

Larry Jacobs on the WCF: “We’ve Never Said we’re Against Anything”

The Deseret News reports on a planning meeting for next year’s World Congress of Families event in Utah:

The managing director of the World Congress of Families said the group has no animosity toward anyone but simply wants to affirm and defend the natural family.

“We’ve always focused on the positive,” Larry Jacobs told the Deseret News. “We’ve never said we’re against anything. Our focus is about why the natural family is better for society.

“We never go in with an agenda of, ‘We’re against this.’ It’s always about what we’re for, which is beauty, goodness and truth, and the natural family is where those start.”

That would be same Larry Jacobs who is infamous for his support for authoritarian anti-gay measures in Russia. Here he is in 2013, expounding on his theme with “End Times” conspiracy theorist Rick Wiles:

Jacobs: The Russians might be the Christian saviors to the world; at the UN they really are the ones standing up for these traditional values of family and faith.

Wiles: Well look the city government of Moscow passed a 100 year ban on gay parades.

Jacobs: And the homosexual propaganda—the law in the Russian Duma it passed on first reading, it would ban propaganda to minors, preventing them from corrupting children. What a great idea and the rest of Europe is going the other way, legalizing LGBT propaganda.

How could anyone have formed the impression that Jacobs not in fact “always focused on the positive”?

The Deseret News also has a quote from the CEO of the Utah-based Sutherland Institute, which will be hosting next year’s meeting:

Acting Sutherland CEO Stanford Swim said the planning and the efforts of the World Congress of Families is “about as important a work as is being done anywhere.”

Swim took charge of the Sutherland Institute after “different visions” led to the departure of Paul Mero in August; Mero previously co-wrote The Natural Family: A Manifesto, with the WCF’s founder, Allan C. Carlson. Stanford is the son of the late Gaylord Swim, who founded the Institute, and he is the President of the GFC Foundation (“serving God, Family, and Country”), which provides grants to the Sutherland Institute. SourceWatch has some further background here, noting links to the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity; there’s also a rather more positive profile at Philanthropy Roundtable.

The WCF’s plan to meet in Utah has generated some controversy.

Abuse of Children Accused of Witchcraft in UK Cited in USA as Evidence of Witchcraft

From Jennifer LeClaire, news editor at Charisma News:

It started a little later than usual, but spiritual witchcraft is rising—and rising rapidly—in South Florida this October. My community is home to a large population of witches, pagans, Wiccans and other heathens who practice one form of witchcraft or another. Your community may not have palm trees and beaches, but it’s likely got a few witches, pagans, Wiccans and heathens practicing witchcraft.

A quick scan of the latest news reveals that reports of witchcraft-related child abuse are on the rise in London; two children were tortured and dumped on the streets over witchcraft in Akwa Ibom; a pastor who runs several churches in Kiambu and Meru was found practicing witchcraft; authorities have tied Texas drug smugglers to witchcraft, cartels and a house explosion; and seven people accused of witchcraft were burned to death in Tanzania.

It’s shame that LeClaire’s “quick scan” apparently didn’t involve any actual absorption of content, since  several of those articles are actually salutary warnings against the kind of scaremongering that she’s promoting.

Anyone who simply takes LeClaire at her word will come away from the article believing that witches are abusing children in London and Nigeria, when in fact what’s actually going on is that children are being abused and abandoned after being falsely accused of witchcraft. Further, many of these accusations are the result of teachings that have gained ground within African churches (most famously in Nigeria through the “ministry” of Helen Ukpabio). LeClaire would be better employed dealing with this urgent problem among her co-religionists, rather than attempting to whip up suspicion against harmless Wiccans in South Florida.

However, it is possible that LeClaire has been misled by some regrettably confusing headlines in the UK media. These include “Rise in cases of ritual child abuse linked to witchcraft beliefs reported, say police” (the PA); “Witchcraft and ritual child abuse cases rise in London” (the BBC); and “Ritual child abuse linked to witchcraft on the rise in the UK” (the Daily Mail).

Such headlines are accurate, insofar as children are indeed being subjected to abusive “deliverance” rites to supposedly “cure” them of witchcraft; but a casual and uninformed reader will assume that such statements in fact refer to rituals that are being performed by witches. Among LeClaire’s core readership, this in turn risks resurrecting the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” panic of the 1980s that caused so much needless suffering.

But even if we allow an honest mistake here, what about her example from Tanzania? According to the source she cites (an AFP report):

A local rights group, the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), has estimated as many as 500 “witches” are lynched every year, based on reports that counted some 3,000 people killed between 2005 and 2011.

Many of those killed were elderly women, the centre said.

The rights group said some are targeted because they have red eyes — seen as a feared sign of witchcraft, even if they in fact that is the result from the use of dung as cooking fuel in impoverished communities.

It’s grotesque that LeClaire would promote news of these deaths, not as a warning that witchcraft accusations are an absolute bane, but as evidence that “Your community… [has] likely got a few witches, pagans, Wiccans and heathens practicing witchcraft.”

No, 4-Year-Olds in Canada Are Not Being Taught “How to Behead”

A lurid headline at WND:

Canada Mosque Teaches 4-Year-Olds How To Behead

The obvious implication is that very young children are being recruited to perform what has now become the most notorious killing method of Jihadi fanatics in Syria and Iraq. As WND hack Chelsea Schilling explains:

Video footage of the Islamic Jaffari Center in Thornhill, Ontario, shows children as young as 4 years old watching and learning to conduct beheadings in a play that reportedly took place two years ago.

The video was featured on the Canada’s Sun News Network television program, “Byline with Brian Lilley.”

…News of the mock beheading comes only a week after a Muslim convert beheaded a woman at an Oklahoma company.

However:

Toronto Sun columnist and liberal activist Tarek Fatah, author of “The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism,” explained that the play depicts the martyrdom of Muhammad’s grandson and brother.

In other words, the character carrying out the beheadings is the villain of the story. And it’s clear from the video that the child actor has not in fact learnt “to conduct beheadings”: he stands poised next to the victim with a toy sword or stick, but the act itself is not depicted. This makes as much sense as saying that children playing Roman soldiers in a Passion Play have been taught how to nail someone to a piece of wood.

Fatah knows that the report’s premise is nonsense, but he doesn’t want to disoblige his conservative interviewer. As a compromise, he instead focuses on the general sanguinary nature of the subject matter:

Fatah said he doesn’t believe the parents and teachers at the Islamic Jaffari Center were “trying to make the kids into radicals.”

“After all, these are the victims of radicals,” he said. “Most Shiite Muslims today are being slaughtered by fellow Muslims. So that context has to be there. This was not some ISIS or al-Qaida or Taliban type of people”

Lilly interrupted, “They are acting out history. But you can see from Canadian eyes, though, why you look at this and go, this is strange, especially considering the history of this mosque.”

Fatah replied, “I know. I think – how do I put it most kindly? – I think somebody needs to talk to them and try to make them understand that celebrating death, no matter of whom [sic], is a bizarre experience. It desensitizes bloodshed among kids.”

That’s a valid opener for a debate – but it doesn’t support the headline’s claim. And the problem of “desensitization” is actually more in evidence in comments below the article:

 I suggest we take thousands of pigs and infect them with the Ebola virus and send them to all the muslim communities of the world and some goats too. They like goats and sheep, espescially the males. Hopefully the virus will spread throughout the muslim world. It’s the only way to get rid of them.

Etc…

Chinese “Angel” Used To Promote Nigerian Witch Hysteria

Nigerian sceptic Leo Igwe has drawn attention to a Facebook post by a certain Pastor I.C. Ezeugwu, in which Ezeugwu describes an event he held in “a remote village in Edo State”:

I titled the crusade “Operation Kill the Witches”. This title was necessitated as a result of the activities of witches in that village which included destroying the destinies of young people.

…Ladies and gentlemen, JESUS rules the world. By the anointing of God upon my life and by the power in the Blood of Jesus, I release your destinies and your glory, and I command any hand holding your progress and advancement in life to wither in the name of Jesus. Any witches/wizards and any wicked uncle/aunties, any man/woman holding your destiny and glory, let the fire from heaven consume and destroy them one after the other in the mighty name of Jesus.

The post is dated from August 2013, although it continues to garner “Amen” comments. As of today, the post has 9,631 “Likes” and 3,775 “Shares”

Ezeugwu’s post is illustrated with a photo of what appears to be a dead human figure with wings; presumably, this is supposed “evidence” of the existence of witches:

Angel I.C. Ezeugwu

That’s not an image I have seen before, although apparently it’s been doing the rounds for a while; in May 2013, Pulse234 published it under the heading: “PHOTO: Witch Woman With Wings: Real or Fake?

It  in fact shows an art piece called Angel. It was created in 2008 by two Chinese artists, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. The photo was taken while the model was on display at the Saatchi Gallery in London. It’s a “life size sculpture in fibre-reinforced polymer and silica gel”.

Ted Cruz Tells Middle East Christians To “Stand With Israel”

From Tristyn Bloom at the Daily Caller:

Sen. Ted Cruz was booed offstage at a conference for Middle Eastern Christians Wednesday night after saying that “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.”

…”If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews,” he said. “Then I will not stand with you. Good night, and God bless.” And with that, he walked off the stage.

The report also includes a short video.

Cruz was speaking at the Inaugural Summit Gala Dinner of In Defense of Christians, a new initiative to highlight the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East and Sudan. The organisation groups “Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories” together as “the Holy Land”; its president is a Lebanese businessman named Toufic Baaklini, and the Board of Advisors ranges from James Zogby through to John Ashcroft. According to Cruz’s own account:

“I told the attendees that those who hate Israel also hate America,” Cruz said. “That those who hate Jews also hate Christians. And that anyone who hates Israel and the Jewish people is not following the teachings of Christ. These statements were met with angry boos. I went on to tell the crowd that Christians in the Middle East have no better friend than Israel. That Christians can practice their faith free of persecution in Israel. And that ISIS, al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah, along with their state sponsors in Syria and Iran, are all part of the same cancer, murdering Christians and Jews alike. Hate is hate, and murder is murder.”

Baaklini has now issued a statement about the disruption:

“As Cardinal Rai so eloquently put it to the attendees of the In Defense of Christians’ inaugural Summit gala dinner: ‘At every wedding, there are a few wedding crashers.’ In this case, a few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of all other faiths and all people of good will.

“Tonight’s injection of politics when the focus should have been on unity and faith, momentarily played into the hands of a few who do not adhere to IDC’s principles.  They were made no longer welcome…”

Prior to the event, the Washington Free Beacon had already drawn attention to “pro-Hezbollah and pro-Assad speakers” billed to appear, also including quotes from Rai.

The fiasco brings into sharp relief some of the tensions around support for Christian minorities in the Middle East. For a large segment of US Christianity, support for Israel and philo-Semitism are now central to religious belief and activism: but these priorities reflect a particular ideological/political and cultural outlook that reflects American society today. But this is very different from the context of Christians living in traditional Middle Eastern societies,  particularly those belonging to local denominations and churches less connected with the West. Strands of historic Christian anti-Jewish discourse are less likely to have been expunged, and even where ancient religious prejudice against Jews is not an operative factor, there’s no reason why the automatic support for Israel we find with Christian Zionism would follow.

There’s also a more pertinent explanation for why Cruz’s speech was not well received; as the Daily Caller article (perhaps surprisingly) notes:

Many Christians in the Middle East take issue with Israeli military policy, which has made life for Palestinian Christians in their homeland very difficult, and driven many from their homes. “Israel’s policies have led to demographic pressure that’s made the West Bank and Gaza far more Muslim than in 1948,” explained one Middle East analyst.

I’m reminded of an incident from 2006, when Reps. Joseph Crowley and Michael McCaul withdrew a draft resolution on the plight of Palestinian Christians, rather than acknowledge Palestinian complaints about the occupation as a factor in their decline.

So who will Middle East Christians turn to, if Americans demand a form of Christian Zionism in return for solidarity? A 2013 report from Vatican Insider, describing “Russia’s ‘Protectorate’ over Middle East Christians“, has the obvious answer.

UPDATE: I’ve just come across an article in the Algemeiner by CAMERA’s Dexter Van Zile that appeared a couple of days ago; Van Zile draws attention to concerns from the Middle East Christian Committee (MECHRIC) that the conference will “promote support for Assad in Syria and normalization with the Mullahs in Iran”, and claims that a weak section on Iran was added to the IDC site only after CAMERA noted its absence. Further:

The conference has also attracted the attention and generated some criticism in a French language newspaper, L’Orient Le Jour. On August 28, the paper published an article asking if the summit was intended to promote the interests of Tehran and Damascus.

The paper reported that one of the backers of IDC’s conference was Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese businessman who was born in Nigeria and made his fortune in that country.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Chagoury was close to Nigeria’s military dictator Sani Abacha, and that because of his association, Abacha, “helped him land lucrative business contracts in construction and other areas.” After Abacha’s death, Chagoury was forced to return $300 million to that country to unfreeze his bank accounts.

The article is headlined “Has Pro-Christian Conference Been Hijacked by Pro-Iran/Hezbollah Dhimmis?” The word “Dhimmi” here is of course polemical hyperbole, deployed to suggest that the participants are making choices due to internalized oppression or coercion.

UPDATE 2: Interesting commentary from Matt K. Lewis, drawing on Russ Douhat:

Douthat is suggesting that the crowd wasn’t booing Israel, instead, they were booing Cruz for playing politics — for having the audacity to lecture them about their own business.

Remember that Republican debate where the crowd booed a gay soldier? The optics were horrible, but here’s what I always suspected. I always suspected that they weren’t booing the soldier so much as they were booing the media for setting them up.

They were booing the media for the unseemly way they were using this soldier to advance the notion that conservatives are anti-gay. They were booing the media for focusing on this one wedge issue when there are so many important issues. They were booing the media for framing the debate when it should really be up to Republicans to select their nominee. They were booing because they were being used as a pawn — as a backdrop — to make a larger point (at their expense, no less).

Yakunin Outfit Hides Involvement of Larry Jacobs and Don Feder in Conference Committee

At Mother Jones, Hannah Levintova has an interesting detail about what happened when she asked the World Congress of Families about its involvement with a “Large Families: The Future of Humanity” conference currently taking place in Moscow:

 WCF managing director Larry Jacobs and WCF communications director Don Feder were listed on the forum’s seven-member organizing committee.

As of last Friday, when Mother Jones asked WCF for comment, Jacob and Feder were still on the list of organizers. By Sunday, the committee list had disappeared from both the English and Russian versions of the website of the Istoki Fund, an endowment run by Vladimir Yakunin, a close adviser to President Vladimir Putin who codirects several of the conference’s sponsoring organizations. The original page, including the committee list, is archived here. A copy of the original press release on the site of another Yakunin-affiliated conference sponsor has also vanished. (Here’s the Russian original.)

Levintova previously noted the members of the committee here; they include the billionaire businessman Konstantin Malofeev (blogged here) and Archpriest Dmitri Smirnov, who heads the Moscow Patriarch’s commission on the family.

The conference had originally been scheduled as a WCF event, although the WCF formally withdrew due to the “geopolitical situation”. Jacobs issued a statement a few days ago:

The Russian Organizing Committee determined they wanted to go ahead a conference anyway. We understand, as they do, that the conference that convenes this week in Moscow is not a part of the World Congress of Families.

A few World Congress of Families personnel plan on attending the conference as individuals and supporting our Russian civil society friends who are working to protect the unborn child and the natural family. Though we will be present, as was agreed by the International Planning Committee many months ago, the WCF is not financially supporting the conference in Moscow this week and we have not lent our name to what should be a very interesting conference.

So why the need to scrub the details from the Istoki Fund? Levintova notes a problem with Yakunin and with one of the other organisers, Elena Mizulina:

Yakunin and Mizulina are currently on [Office of Foreign Assets and Control]‘s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list. Once someone is on the list, American citizens and businesses “are generally prohibited from dealing with them,” according to OFAC, which administers economic and trade sanctions.

The Human Rights Campaign (the USA’s “largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization”) has called on the US Treasury to investigate.

Mizulina previously featured on this blog last year, after she became the inspiration for a sexually explicit painting by Konstantin Altunin. The AP describes her as “Vladimir Putin’s new morality crusader, spearheading efforts to curb gay rights, punish online cursing and impose a tax on divorce.” Yakunin, meanwhile, has appeared on numerous occasions; alongside his links to US religious conservatives through the WCF, his World Public Forum initiative has built links with international academics, religious figures, and some other more eccentric characters.

The Moscow Times has some details of the conference itself; there are few surprises:

In choosing conservative values, Russia represents “the final hope” for the modern world, which has been corrupted by the Western debauchery of individualism, consumerism and globalization, participants of a Moscow forum agreed Wednesday.

…Participants lashed out against abortion, same-sex marriage and gay pride parades as threats to Russia’s traditional spiritual core.

President Vladimir Putin sent a greeting to participants via an official from his administration. In his message, Putin spoke about the “large-scale demographic crisis” that civilization faces and “the erosion of moral values” around the world.

UPDATE: Right Wing Watch has some further details, including a link to the schedule. RWW notes in particular the presence of Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, and the far-right French politician Aymeric Chauprade.

The line-up also includes other Americans, such as Austin Ruse (who has his own links with Yakunin and Malofeev) and Evelyn Beahr of Movieguide (Ted Baehr’s daughter), and participants from western Europe, Africa, China, and Iran. There are also two speakers from Ukraine: Sergey Belyakov of the Parents’ Committee of Ukraine, will speak on “Family Policy in Ukraine: Conclusions and Warnings for Russia”, while Bishop Panteleimon Povoroznyuk will discuss “Family Crisis in the Modern Ukraine”.

Keeping the British end up are Ben Harris-Quinney of the Bow Group, and Thomas Ward of the National Association of Catholic Families and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

Christian Zionist Elvis Drama Sees Poor Reviews and Box-Office Takings

From the Hollywood Reporter:

Faith-based Elvis musical drama The Identical bombed at the North American box office, falling outside the top 10 with $1.91 million. The independent movie cost more than $32 million to make and market.

Identical is playing in 1,956 theaters. If the theater count was rounded up, its debut would mark the third-worst opening of all time for a film playing in 2,000 or more locations, not accounting for inflation…

The story concerns not Presley himself, but rather a fictional “Drexel Hemsley” character whose twin brother is adopted by a Tennessee preacher played by Ray Liotta.

The film currently has 53 “rotten” reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, versus just two “fresh” positive assessments. And the positive reviews damn with faint praise: the Hollywood Reporter itself describes the film as “passably palatable”.

The film has, however, been heavily promoted by Drew Zahn at WND. In a piece last week, Zahn described it as a “Hollywood Hit”, and highlighted a scene set in 1967 in which Ray Liotta, playing a Tennessee preacher, urges support for Israel during the Six-Day War:

Liotta’s character tells his 1967 congregation why the war a world away is so important: “What does that have to do with the Christian church in the state of Tennessee? Everything! It has to do with everything! We are commanded by the Word of God to give Him no rest from our prayers. For who? Today for Israel. If we love God we must love what God loves, and God loves his chosen people!”

The article includes an embedded video, in which executive producer Yochanan Marcellino (the director’s father) expands portentously on the same theme:

…It is our responsibility now as it was then [in 1967] for Zion’s sake, not to be silent. We are commanded in Scripture to give God no rest from our prayers for Israel. I encourage you to hear God’s heart for his chosen people, and the miracle he performs for Israel during the Six-Day War.

Alas, however, Zahn’s follow up piece on the “Hollywood Hit” is less up-beat: under the headline “Christians Sabotage Gospel in Hollywood”, the author rebukes Christians for failing to support the film, and warns that the church needs to “get serious about culture war”:

The moviemakers spent tens of millions marketing this film – a budget most Christian movies could only dream about – through churches, Christian radio and other key outlets. The movie stars big Hollywood names like Ashley Judd, Seth Green and Ray Liotta… It also delivers a profoundly Christian message in the context of a story that you don’t have to be a pew-sitter to love.

In other words, it’s just the kind of film that could take Christ outside the church walls. All it needs to succeed and to see more films like it made, to see the candle become a blaze in our culture, is for Christians to go see it. That’s it.

But even Zahn is forced to concede that the film “has some flaws”.

The film is produced by City of Peace Films, of Nashville. Marcellino also has an associated company, City of Peace Media, which in 2012 brought together various Christian singers for a CD called iStandforIsrael (tagline: “for love of God and country”).