Walid Shoebat Claims Jewish Ancestry “On Both Sides”

A particularly strange exchange between self-described “ex-terrorist” Walid Shoebat and Christian Zionist radio host Sid Roth:

Sid:… you also told me that on both sides of your family there’s Jewish ancestry and you went a bit further; most of the Palestinians you tell me have Jewish ancestry. Why do you say that?

Walid: Well, because I researched the archives of my family heritage, the Shoebat clan comes from Harris Ben Cobb [see below], a Jew who converted to Islam. Before him he knew Harris Ben Cobb comes from a Ashomel Ben Adaya, no Muslim has the name Shomoel in fact if you look at Wikipedia Shomoel Ben Adaya was a Jew who created [sic] to Islam in Yemen.

This makes little sense. First, Samaw’al ibn ‘Adiya was a pre-Islamic Arab poet in Yemen who was either a convert to Judaism or of Jewish descent, not a Jewish convert to Islam (as “Shmu’el Ben Adaya”, he has a street named after him in Jerusalem). Second, “Cobb” is an English surname, and “Harris” is an English first name. Perhaps there’s a Jewish “Ben Cobb” surname of which I am unaware, but either way, it seems unlikely that a person with such a name would be the origin of the Palestinian Shuaybat clan, or that the family of such a person could be traced back to a sixth-century Yemeni poet.

It’s also not clear how he would have Jewish ancestry on his American side. According to his own account in Why We Left Islam (blogged here), he states that (pp. 19-20):

My maternal grandfather, F.W. Georgeson… was a great friend of Winston Churchill.

Frederick W. Georgeson was the mayor of Eureka, California; according to a 1915 biography here, he was born in Scotland, and his wife was from Iowa and named Thompson. However, elsewhere he names Georgeson as his “Great Grandfather”, and from the birth date (F.W. was born in 1858) it seems likely that there is at least one intermediate generation (Incidentally, Georgeson’s supposed association with Churchill appears to have eluded the attention of historians and biographers).

Shoebat’s more general point of a genetic link between Jews and Palestinians has some scientific validity, although it’s a strange line for him to make, and in his case his argument is based on a supposed special access to knowledge:

…in all Palestinian homes you will find the Star of David in front of every home. The Star of David you will find Palestinians who still observe many things Jewish. Eating the lamb standing up comes from Exodus.

That “in all Palestinian homes you will find the Star of David” is a new one to me.

UPDATE: Shoebat now explains:

First off, you stated “”Cobb” is an English surname, and “Harris” is an English first name.”
end quote.

You misspelled the name, it is “Al-Harith Ben Ka’ab” and he has no links to any English names.

And indeed, no one in the world can deny his CONNECTION to Samuel Ben Adaya who according to Al-Ma’rifa is of Bani Dayan.

Actually, I didn’t misspell the name, although I’ll plead guilty to assuming that Roth and Shoebat had managed to produce a competent transcript between them.

Shoebat further explains that both Al-Harith Ben Ka’ab and Ben Adaya were members of the “Bani Dayan”, although I have not been able to trace further references to this particular group. Who exactly Shoebat means by “Al-Harith Ben Ka’ab” remains unclear, too; there was a sixth-century Christian martyr in Yemen named Al-Harith ibn Ka’ab (var. Harith ibn Kaleb, or St Arethas), who was executed by Dhu Nuwas, but also a more general  Banu Harith b. Ka’b group, which adopted Judaism in the pre-Islamic period. Of course, the existence of Jewish tribes in Arabia at this time is well-known and uncontroversial. Shoebat concedes that describing Ben Adaya as a Jewish convert to Islam was “a slip”. For some reason, Shoebat did not make clear to Sid Roth that the figures he presents as having special significance for his family history lived 1,500 years ago.

Shoebat also wishes it to be known that a 1929 newspaper report mentioned F.W. Georgeson meeting Winston Churchill in 1929, when Churchill was touring the west coast of the USA, and that a 1982 newspaper report recalling the incident described Georgeson as Churchill’s “old friend”. However, I have yet to find any references to the two men’s friendship in biographies of Churchill.

WND Puffs Unofficial “Sequel” to Mel Gibson’s Passion

From WND:

‘PASSION OF THE CHRIST’ ‘SEQUEL’ LOOKING FOR YOU
Makers of ‘The Resurrection’ seek ‘spiritual producers’ for revolutionary film

The reason that the word “sequel” is in quotation marks is because the proposed film has no connection whatsoever with the makers of The Passion of the Christ:

 …the makers of “The Resurrection, the unofficially dubbed “sequel” to Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” are building a grassroots movement – and looking for you – to help create a film that proclaims not only the love of Christ, but also His triumph over the grave.

Inevitably, it turns out that the opportunity to be a “spiritual producer” in fact means an opportunity to donate money. But who has “dubbed” the so-far unmade film a “sequel”? According to a Christian Post report from March, we’re told only that

Hollywood promoter and producer David Wood… plans to produce what some in the Christian filmmaking community and beyond believe will be “God’s sequel” to the film, depicting the events surrounding the resurrection and the 40 days that followed.

Wood announced his plan “after wrapping up the 4-day Kingdom Economic Yearly Summit (KEYS) in Los Angeles which featured a network of Christian leaders in the movie and promotional marketing industries”; Wood was the “Local Host” at this event, which brought together “Marketplace Spiritual Fathers & Mothers”. This seamless blend of salesmanship and spirituality can also be seen in Wood’s bio blurb:

David Wood is the Executive Producer and Owner of Dread Warrior Productions, a media and funding company. He is also the co-founder of The Global Apostolic Council, a spiritual think tank group.

David has been in the Media, Technology and Fundraising business for 30 years doing numerous productions, casting, and promotions with companies such as MTV, HBO, NBC, CBS, Fox TV, and Universal Studios, to name but a few.

He now spends all of his time working on God’s business with such global thinking groups as the Global Apostolic Council, Global Day of Prayer, Groundwire, Mission America Coalition, Power to Change, Cities of the World, the International Prayer Council, the Institute for Global Affairs, K.E.Y.S., The Barnabas Group, Wedgewood Circle in addition to actively executive producing and developing media projects.

A few of the projects David is currently involved with is the movie, The Resurrection, a film many believe will be God’s sequel to Mel Gibson’s hit, The Passion of the Christ. David is also the Executive Producer of the International Pan Pacific Film Festival, which is a family faith film festival.

He is also currently working on a new family faith web media and community platform called, Good News Network. The big play for David is a $500 million dollar raise to build a movie studio facility in Hollywood for God in the family faith area so his team can control all aspects of production, distribution, finance, marketing, etc.

The film has number of sponsors, as well as a “Stewarding Council” that includes industry specialists and religious figures.

Wood’s “Dread Warrior Productions” does not appear to have a website, and the grandiose-sounding “Global Apostolic Council” seems to be the same thing as the “Global Apostolic Council 4 California“:

The Global Apostolic Council 4 California is committed to building strategic alliances to encourage global corporate unity in the Body of Christ. It is our desire to unify the local and statewide Church in California, in a new wineskin, touching the arts, entertainment & media through prayer & God’s love, in order to reach beyond our territorial limits to affect the global Church and the world!

We acknowledge that we are a part of a larger Body of believers, worldwide, that is called of God to complete His work prior to His return. Through developing strong relationships, uniting in prayer and developing divine strategies, we want to do our part in gathering the local Body of Christ in California through the “Global Gate of Hollywood”.

We use the term “Global Gates” to refer to seats of power, places of influence where key decisions are made. The Bible teaches that designated elders sat at the city gates and made decisions and exercised authority that affected their region, the surrounding territories and in some cases, the world! (Ps. 24:7)

Wood is listed as one of ten committee members, as is Wolfgang Kovacek of “HisPowerPortal”. Kovacek also has a website of his own, where his various business and network achievements are listed alongside professional religious activities such as (link added):

Executive Producer and Director of “Hollywood Transformation”, a 42 Minute documentary about what God’s plan is for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. He was invited to South Africa to present the video at the International Prayer Council.

That documentary includes input from the likes of Lou Engle and Ted Baehr.

In June 2011, the “Global Apostolic Council for California” held a Global Day of Prayer, oddly in Jacksonville, Florida. Numerous pastors are listed as “partners”, the best-known being Ché Ahn (“I want to encourage every believer who is in town to make it to this historic event”) – Ahn is close to C. Peter Wagner and Engle, and the above reference to “Global Gates” has a familiar ring to anyone who knows anything about their movement’s Dominionist rhetoric. The blurb for one of The Resurrection‘s “Stewards”, Michelle Seidler, specifically references the Dominionist “7 Mountains” concept.

The official websites for The Resurrection (there are two of them) feature an impressive mock-up poster, complete with indistinct film credits at its base, although so far there is no script or even any casting; according to Wood,

Rather than financing the film through investors or a studio system at the beginning, the vision we have is a global marketing campaign via grassroots marketing, social media, crowd funding that will then unite all believers in Christ. The global marketing strategy will proceed through all stages of production, casting, editing, music, etc.

There is, though, a funding countdown clock, currently set at 176 days. As of today, $7,635 has been raised.

As Ever, Nadine Dorries MP Defends Herself By Making Attacks

Also: Now Director of Company Previously Controlled by Chairman of  Mid Beds Conservatives 

From the Birmingham Mail:

The MP who took time off from her duties to appear on I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! has claimed a Birmingham MP is no better – because he missed work to recover from open heart surgery.

 …Mr McCabe hit back, saying: “Imagine equating time off for open heart surgery with a paid for holiday on a reality TV show. Says all we need to know.”

But even once the reason for Mr McCabe’s absences had been pointed out to her, Ms [Nadine] Dorries repeated the comment.

I blogged on Dorries and the TV show here.

Dorries’ attack on McCabe is completely true to form: she has never yet retreated from a vicious line of attack just because it happened to be manifestly unsustainable or vilely unfair. Back in 2010, she used Harry Cole and Paul Staines to smear one on-line critic as a benefits cheat, on the grounds that this person was able to use Twitter – when it was pointed out that the person concerned was in fact employed but waiting for an operation on her feet, Dorries simply snorted that she was making it up:

Really? An operation on both feet for arthritis? Let’s put aside that surgeons never operate on both feet at the same time. This is a medical breakthrough. Hips and knees, yes, now feet! Amazing.  Twitter followers conned again.

Perhaps McCabe should brace himself for something in this vein.

More recently, Dorries refused to back down after accusing a journalist of lifting the content of a letter she had sent to a rival newspaper, even after the journalist provided photographic evidence which proved that the same letter had been sent to him personally in her name by her office.

More serious, however, has been her use of false accusations of stalking, including making complaints to the police, to discourage investigations of her expenses and of the veracity of her various statements.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph‘s Rowenna Mason has a useful round-up of quotes from Dorries since her return – these include the claim that other female MPs are “jealous” of her, and self-justifying references to time spent away from Parliament by other MPs (ignoring the fact that these absences were largely during the Parliamentary recess period, and did not involve eating an ostrich cloaca). She has also taken advantage of the fact she was voted off the show early to minimise the amount of time she was AWOL: “I’ve had three sitting days away. I think that is an important thing to remember”.

There’s also this detail:

Ms Dorries admitted that she is likely to get paid by ITV for her appearance but refused to give a figure, because the tax has not been calculated yet.

Why Dorries is apparently unable to give a gross earnings figure is unexplained. Calculating the tax payable, though, may be tricky, as Dorries recently became sole director of a company through which it appears she intends to funnel her media earnings. The company’s existence was noticed earlier this month; Metro reported that

…she has set up a showbusiness company, Averbrook, describing herself in registration documents as a ‘writer commentator/TV radio personality’.

When director of a previous company, she described herself as an MP.

(see update 2 below for more about this) However, the company was not in fact “set up” by Dorries; Averbrook already existed, although it seems to have been dormant. Political Scrapbook has the details:

…Directorship of the mysterious non-trading firm, Averbrook Ltd, changed hands at the beginning of October from Dorries’ election agent, Andy Rayment.

…Instead of setting up a new company, which may have drawn attention from the press, Dorries became a director of 18-year-old Averbrook Ltd.

…Rayment and Dorries have long enjoyed a cosy relationship, with favours stretching way back. In 2010, Rayment rejected and downplayed complaints of Dorries smearing a blogger for investigating her notorious anti-abortion claims.

I’m not sure about Rayment’s role as “election agent”; I understand him to have been Chairman of the Mid Bedfordshire Conservative Association in 2010. Certainly, though, he was more than happy dismiss concerns about Dorries’ conduct while he was in that role, as I noted here; now it appears that they have had a private business relationship of some sort.

UPDATEMetro writes that:

Fighting back criticism, Ms Dorries told the MP: ‘I think with your 63 per cent attendance record, you should be quiet.  Obviously been taking a few holidays of your own!’

Mr McCabe replied: ‘Imagine equating time off for open-heart surgery with a paid for holiday on a reality TV show.’

The timeline is as follows: on 22 November, the Daily Mail quoted McCabe:

Labour MP Steve McCabe mocked Miss Dorries’s claim to be working, saying: ‘I’m sure her constituents will be greatly relieved to hear that she is going to do part of her job from her five-star hotel.’

This was after Dorries had been ejected from the programme, but before her flight back to the UK. The Twitter exchange took place a few days later (GMT timestamped):

Nadine Dorries MP ?@NadineDorriesMP
Labour MP Steve McCabe who reported me to Standards Commissioner for time in jungle during half term has attendance record of just 63% !!
11:41 AM – 26 Nov 12

Steve McCabe ?@steve_mccabe
Imagine equating time off for open heart surgery with a paid for holiday on a reality TV show. Says all we need to know about Nadine
10:31 AM – 27 Nov 12

Steve McCabe ?@steve_mccabe
@NadineDorriesMP Imagine equating time off for open heart surgery with a paid for holiday on a reality TV show. Says all we need to know.
1:24 PM – 27 Nov 12

Nadine Dorries MP ?@NadineDorriesMP
@steve_mccabe I think with your 63% attendance record, you should be quiet. Obvioulsy been taking a few holidays of your own!
2:25 PM – 27 Nov 12

Those last two Tweets are bundled together as a “conversation”, so Dorries can’t pretend she didn’t see McCabe’s explanation for his absence (it was also McCabe’s most recent Tweet at the time Dorries replied to it).

Meanwhile, Unity from Ministry of Truth observes:

Unity @Unity_MoT
@NadineDorriesMP : If @steve_mccabe having 63% attendance is bad, what do you call your own 59.3% attendance between 2005 and 2010?
6:07 PM – 27 Nov 12

UPDATE 2: From Bedford Today:

[Dorries] said it would be “illegal” for her to list herself as an MP.

She said: “I don’t sell my services as a politician. It would be illegal to list myself as selling services as a politician.

“But if I write a column for a national newspaper then it has to be accounted and I have to pay tax on it.”

It’s not clear why it would be “illegal” for her to describe herself as being an MP – it seems obvious to see “occupation” as referring to the person of the director, rather than to the nature of a company’s business.  A look around Companies in the UK brings up numerous references to “Parliamentarian” and “Member of Parliament” – some of these relate to appointments that are clearly part of an MP’s position or party role; others appear to be social enterprises that would be part of an MP’s wider civil society activities; but some look like ordinary businesses. However, no-one understands any of this as “selling services as a politician”.

On the other hand, the form for appointing a director asks only for “Business occupation (if any)”, along with the instruction “if you have a business occupation, please enter here. If you do not, please leave blank”. Leaving aside Lembit Öpik’s strange notion that MPs are “basically” self-employed, most people would see a distinction here between salaried employment and “business occupation”. This means that it would be reasonable to leave “Member of Parliament” off the form.

Incidentally, it seems that the Times and Citizen (which runs Bedford Today) has exclusive local access to Dorries; she was angered when her office sent a statement in her name to Bedfordshire on Sunday in October, and Darren Isted, who writes for the local Comet, recently complained that she “won’t speak to local paper”. Her reply (1, 2):

I do speak to local journalists, just not you. My choice, free world, learn some manners… I have had far too many journalists stalking my elderly mother + my kids to give any of you the time of day

Further:

never had problem when Bob was there [at the Comet – RB], however, experience with Beds on Sunday has made me decide on own policy

I asked the Times and Citizen if this means they have a special arrangement with Dorries, and I received a reply via Twitter from one of the paper’s journalists, Ben Raza:

There is no type of special arrangement. If she has a problem with other outlets/media you will have to ask her about it.

He added that the paper has “certainly not been afraid to publish negative stories where appropriate”, and he gave four examples: here and here, and in a third tweet, here (that’s the one mentioned above; not actually negative) and here.

Meanwhile, the dispute with Bedfordshire on Sunday probably relates to the paper’s coverage of payments to her daughter.

Museveni Prays About “The Sins of Uganda”, Wins Praise from US Christian Right

From the Kampala New Vision:

At the National Jubilee Prayers in Namboole, President Yoweri Museveni made history when he openly repented his sins and the sins of Uganda…

Highlights:

We confess sins of idolatry and witchcraft which are rampant in our land. We confess sins of shedding innocent blood, sins of political hypocrisy, dishonesty, intrigue and betrayal.

Forgive us of sins of pride, tribalism and sectarianism; sins of laziness, indifference and irresponsibility; sins of corruption and bribery that have eroded our national resources; sins of sexual immorality, drunkenness and debauchery; sins of unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred and revenge; sins of injustice, oppression and exploitation; sins of rebellion, insubordination, strife and conflict.

…I renounce all the evil foundations and covenants that were laid in idolatry and witchcraft. I renounce all the satanic influence on this nation. And I hereby covenant Uganda to you, to walk in your ways and experience all your blessings forever.

The “National Jubilee Prayers” commemorated 50 years since Uganda became independent from Britain; Museveni has been president for slightly more than half that period of time, since early 1986. Signs of advancing “big man” syndrome have been increasingly evident in recent years (e.g. see here).

This is not the first time that Uganda has been thus “covenanted”; Museveni’s wife Janet dedicated Uganda to Jesus at an event back in 2000. Museveni’s warning that “witchcraft” is “rampant in our land” is troubling, given the fatal consequences of witchcraft accusations against women in Uganda, but Museveni’s prayer has primarily come to wider notice due to the context of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

At WorldNetDaily, Michael Carl saw the New Vision report as an opportunity to discuss Uganda with Scott Lively:

Massachusetts pastor and activist Rev. Scott Lively believes Museveni is a model for other national leaders.

“The Museveni prayer is a model for all Christian leaders in the world. The leaders of the West have declined in proportion to their degree of rejection of God,” Lively said.

“This incident is also important as a contrast to the picture being painted of Uganda by the godless left of a backwards, violent and savage culture intent on murdering homosexuals,” Lively said.

“On the contrary, Museveni is calmly and confidently setting the course of his nation by the guidance of the Bible, in a way that also shows great courage and resolve,” Lively said.

Lively is known exclusively for his anti-gay obsessions, and he visited Uganda in 2009 to whip up hysteria on the subject. WND adds:

The bill had included the death penalty for those who commit multiple acts of homosexual behavior, but the provision has been removed, BBC News reports.

Lively said he didn’t agree with the death penalty provision but supports the nation’s strong stance against homosexual behavior.

As I’ve written previously (and has been widely noted elsewhere), the Anti-Homosexuality Bill as published includes capital punishment for “Aggravated Homosexuality”. This was spun by supporters as referring to homosexual rape and the deliberate/reckless spreading of HIV,  but a close reading shows that it also covers anyone convicted twice of anything deemed a crime under the new law. This means activity between consenting adults, as well “facilitating” such activity. Anyone “in authority” (vaguely defined) also has a legal obligation to report suspects to the police.

Apparently, such “serial offenders” will now be locked up for life rather than executed, but even that’s not completely confirmed; the BBC report is based on a statement from an MP who said he “was not allowed” to go into detail, and Box Turtle Bulletin notes:

I can’t tell you how many times there have been pronouncements that the death penalty was dropped only to find out that it was still in the bill. But I’ll try.

Thirteen examples follow, and the author, Jim Burroway, writes that this is “just what I was able to find quickly this morning”.

The role of the US Christian Right in Uganda has been controversial for some time; while Lively remains a Museveni enthusiast, Rick Warren has played down his past associations with the regime.

In the UK, Scott Lively is supported by the lobby group Christian Concern, run by Andrea Minichiello Williams; a year ago the group described him as “helping people live by Christian principles”, and the group’s legal advisor, Paul Diamond, spoke alongside Lively at a “banquet” event in September 2011.

Footnote: for some unexplained reason, the WND article comes with an old library photo of Museveni standing alongside Walter Kansteiner, who was United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 2001 to 2003. The photo dates from March 2003.

Franklin Graham: Islam is “Wicked” and “Evil”, but Mormonism as a “Cult” is “Calling People Names”

Franklin Graham, 2010:

Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of Rev. Billy Graham, called Islam “wicked” and “evil” on Sunday during a televised town hall-style discussion about American’s feelings about the religion. 

“They want to build as many mosques and cultural centers as they possibly can so they can convert as many Americans as they can to Islam,” Graham said on ABC’s “This Week.” 

Graham went on to profess his love for “the Muslim people,” but said he has “great difficulty with the religion.”

More on the fall-out from that here.

Franklin Graham, 2012:

A month after the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed an article describing Mormonism as a “cult” from its website, ministry head Franklin Graham clarified on Wednesday that he was unaware of the article’s existence.

…”If I want to win a person to Christ, how can I call that person a name? That’s what shocked me, that we were calling people names.”

And I discussed that one here.

Meanwhile, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association still has plenty of articles about “cults” on its website, some with quotes attributed to Billy Graham personally. The site doesn’t name specific groups any more, but its definition continues to conflate groups characterised by a dysfunctional authoritarianism – which is the popular understanding of “cults” – with groups that simply hold religious views that have some association with Christianity but which the BGEA regards as unorthodox. That conflation explains why the now-deleted page where Mormonism was named as a cult also included Unitarianism on the list – and I very much doubt that a presidential election involving a Unitarian, almost certainly running as the Democrat candidate, would have given Franklin Graham any reason to think again about “calling people names”.

And as regards Islam, Graham Jnr is more than happy not only to fire off denunciatory adjectives, but to use the religion itself in his own arsenal of name-calling; as he explained in the run-up to the election:

“I can’t say categorically [that Obama is not a Muslim] because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama,” he said.

(H/T Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

Telegraph Discovers Pope Doesn’t Think Jesus was Born in Year 1

From Nick Squires at the Telegraph:

Jesus was born years earlier than thought, claims Pope

The entire Christian calendar is based on a miscalculation, the Pope has declared, as he claims in a new book that Jesus was born several years earlier than commonly believed.

…The assertion that the Christian calendar is based on a false premise is not new – many historians believe that Christ was born sometime between 7BC and 2BC.

But the fact that doubts over one of the keystones of Christian tradition have been raised by the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics is striking.

Not really; the Pope is merely stating a fact that anyone with even a passing interest in the Bible has known for years, and which is utterly unproblematic for Roman Catholics or other Christians.

I have in my possession a Roman Catholic Bible published by James Duffy in Dublin in 1865, which comes with an “Approbation” by Paul Cullen, the Archbishop of Dublin.  A “Historical and Chronological Index” at the back of the book places “Christ is born” at AD 1, while the Old Testament chronology in the same work places the birth of Adam at 4000 BCE (expressed as year 1 AM, or “Anno Mundi”). It’s not clear whether this is prescriptive or purely conventional, but a few decades later the 1909 Catholic Encylopedia was more than happy to acknowledge that

From the evidence it seems that the date of the Nativity given by Dionysius Exiguus is not the right one, for it is after Herod’s death. Tertullian and Irenæus are nearer to the truth with the years 2 or 3 B.C.; but it must be placed still further back, and probably the year 7 B.C. will not be found to be much astray.

The Encyclopedia comes with Nihil Obstat from Remy Lafort, described as “Censor”, and an Imprimatur by the Archbishop of New York, John Cardinal Farley. These do not amount to an official endorsement, but they do indicate that a work is regarded as free from doctrinal or moral error.

I also have a New Jerusalem Bible, which was created in the 1980s and 1990s and which comes with a Nihil Obstat from John Deehan and an Imprimatur from Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster. The date given for the birth of Jesus in the “Chronological Table” at the back of the book is a very tentative “6? 4?”.

The vagaries of the conventional dating were also explicitly acknowledged by Pope John Paul II, in his 1994 Tertio Millennio Adveniente:

..the two thousand years which have passed since the Birth of Christ (prescinding from the question of its precise chronology) represent an extraordinarily great Jubilee, not only for Christians but indirectly for the whole of humanity, given the prominent role played by Christianity during these two millennia.

In short, what the Telegraph describes as “striking” is a complete non-issue.

And that’s not just true for Roman Catholics; according to a note at the back of the Good News Bible, published by the American Bible Society in the 1960s and 1970s for a popular readership:

…the original calculation was later found to be wrong by a few years, so that in fact the birth of Christ took place about six years “before Christ”.

There are probably thousands of other sources, in English and other languages, which show that all reasonably educated Christians, and not just secular historians, accept that Jesus was not born in 1 CE; I’ve just referred to a few that I happened to have to hand. The date is a convention, and it’s not a “keystone” of any doctrinal significance whatsoever.

The Telegraph article also has the detail that Pope Benedict

…also weighs in on the debate over Christ’s birthplace, rejecting arguments by some scholars that he was born in Nazareth rather than Bethlehem.

This is where the truly interesting historical and religious debate is to be found – yet the Telegraph, which is supposedly reasonably high-brow, passes it over in one uninformative sentence.

(H/T Zwingli Redivivus)

Mail on Sunday‘s “Secret MI5 Dossier” on Abu Qatada Reveals Stuff We Already Knew

From Abul Taher and Robert Verkaik at the Mail on Sunday:

Secret MI5 dossier: Hate preacher Abu Qatada issued orders to kill British citizens after 9/11

Damning new evidence on hate cleric allowed to walk free from jail

…Hate preacher Abu Qatada issued orders to kill British and American civilians after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to a secret MI5 report seen by The Mail on Sunday.

…The MI5 case file on Qatada was discovered abandoned in the British ambassador’s residence in Tripoli by The Mail on Sunday after the toppling of Colonel Gaddafi last year.

…It says: ‘In arguing the legal case for the attacks of September 11, Abu Qatada advocates fighting jihad against America and the West. 

‘However, he goes further to include not only the aggressor (the American government), but anybody associated with the aggressor (its civilians) as prospective targets.’

…MI5 says Qatada issued the fatwa about ten years ago, when he was on the run in the UK from MI5 and counter-terrorism police trying to detain him under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001.

That last paragraph means that the Mail‘s “damning new evidence”, taken from a “secret M15 dossier”, in fact refers to information that has been in the public domain for years. Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory’s The Suicide Factory (2006) contains the detail that

Abu Qatada used his time on the run [from December 2001 to November 2002, following changes in British law after 9/11] to publish an essay on the internet offering a legal justification for the 9/11 attacks. (p. 108)

Given the nature of the 9/11 attacks, one wonders how Abu Qatada might have argued “the legal case for the attacks” without including a justification for attacking civilians. And while Britain can be inferred from the phrase “America and the West”, the text does not quite support the heading’s promise of specific “orders to kill British citizens”. The Mail goes on to relate other details about  Abu Qatada taken from the “dossier”, although again there’s nothing new.

Mysteriously, the Mail’s report comes with a mock-up illustration of the quotes, complete with blacked-out words and the title of a document: Radicalisation of Muslims in the United Kingdom. Underneath is written:

Jihad: The documents found in the ambassador’s Tripoli residence. Qatada justifies attacks on civilians in nations allied to America

This reference to “documents” is weirdly ambiguous: if “the MI5 case file on Qatada” is different from the Radicalisation of Muslims document, why is that title placed above the quotes? And if it’s the same document, why is it called “the MI5 case file on Qatada” when it’s clearly a more general study?

Taher discussed the Radicalisation document in an earlier piece for the Mail last year:

The 200-page document, titled Radicalisation Of Muslims In The United Kingdom – A Developed Understanding, was found by a Mail on Sunday reporter in the abandoned residence of the British ambassador in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. 

The research paper, which was intended to be read by only MI5 agents and officers, was produced after studying 90 terror suspects investigated by the security service.

The “research paper” provides general sociological data about “the causes of radicalisation”, such as experiences while in prison. It’s a potentially useful work, although without a proper understanding of its methodology – which the paper does not provide – it’s impossible to evaluate its findings properly.

Footnote

The Radicalisation document may perhaps also have drawn on a study produced in 2009 by the Quilliam Foundation, which made the claim that Abu Qatada had been smuggling inflammatory statements and fatwas out of prison. That study was called Unlocking Al-Qaeda: Islamist Extremism in British Prisons, although some press reports at the time named it as Al-Qaeda in Prisons. For some reason, it has since been removed from the Quilliam Foundation website.

Anti-Gay Pastor in Liberia Rants against President Sirleaf

Liberia’s “Christian Media Center” has issued a new statement demanding that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf “Save Liberia from Rise of Homosexuals”; however, the author throws in a few other digs:

The Center in a release said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is not a Christian and heads of religious organizations have to be very careful how they deal with her when it comes to such issues.

The Faith Based Media Group reminded Liberians about president Sirleaf’s prolonged attacks on ELWA Ministries one of the Christian land marks of Liberia, and it took the grace of God to redeem ELWA.

The Center said no one calling on the name of JESUS will attack any religious institution let alone the church institutions as the president did.

Christian Media Center noted that President Sirleaf and her Children have over the past six years invested huge amounts of their ill-gotten wealth from Liberia’s natural resources in the United States, South Africa and Great Britain Countries that have capped Gay rights as civil liberties and under no condition will she willingly sign such bill into law except protests from the streets of Monrovia.

The CMC’s CEO is a man named Philip Sandi, who was thrown out of the Liberian Council of Churches in 2011 for allegedly “destructive and offensive behavior” and ” inflammatory utterances, emails and publications”. He is a former Secretary General of the Press Union of Liberia, and an ordained minister in the Don Stewart Christ Pentecostal Church (Stewart is a Prosperity preacher based in Pheonix, AZ, and the heir to A.A. Allen; his name became affiliated with the Liberian denomination after a link was made in 1986).

Sandi’s conspiratorial obsession with the subject of homosexuality rivals Scott Lively or Martin Ssempa; in July he opined that:

God abhors homosexuals and lesbians because their acts are not only sinful but one intended to end the human race… the president is inconsistent on this issue and there are close friends of the president in the Liberian clergy that are either homosexuals or supporters of the act.

ELWA Ministries (“Eternal Love Winning Africa”), meanwhile, is a radio outreach of the Sudan Interior Mission (today known as “Serving in Mission“), and it has had a prominent presence in Liberia since 1954 – today, it also encompasses a hospital, a youth camp, and a school. However, the construction of a new ministerial complex has encroached on ELWA-owned land, resulting in a legal dispute; Sandi has led protests against the development, writing a piece entitled “By Grabing [sic] Elwa Land You Are Fighting God Madam President” (“she is not only a liar but an agent of the devil… even Judas Iscariot was replaced… REPENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!”) and apparently gaining the support of “a group of pastors based in Atlanta Georgia, USA under the banner ‘Concerned Pastors for ELWA (COPE)'”.

The ministerial complex is being constructed by China, and the dispute has brought the Chinese Embassy into the story; Front Page Africa reported in September:

The Chinese envoy said the Ministerial complex value US$60 million if completed will accommodate ten ministries and agencies  something he said will save the Government of Liberia millions of dollars on rent and promote collaboration between Ministries and agencies in the country,

…Said Envoy Zhao: “China has nothing to do with the land issue between the Government of Liberia and the management of ELWA, and we will continue to support the Government and people of Liberia in its ongoing developmental drive.”

…”I will appreciate you to cover this issue without mentioning anything on the ELWA land issue[“] he pleaded with journalist attending a meeting at the Chinese Embassy in Monrovia.

Sirleaf met with ELWA a few weeks later; Information Minister Lewis Brown afterwards claimed that “ELWA representatives used the occasion to clarify that the Christian Mission has no desire to stand in the way of development, as it may have been misconstrued by some members of the public.”

Of course, from this distance it’s difficult to determine whether Brown’s statement is accurate or to assess the rights and wrongs of the legal dispute. But either way, does ELWA – or SIM – really want to be associated with Sandi’s ludicrous bombast and anti-gay hate?

Patriarch Kirill Takes Book Tour to Israel, Visits Holy Sites in Jerusalem and Jordan

From the Jerusalem Post:

Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein on Sunday met in Jerusalem with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I, who is currently in Israel on an official visit as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Kirill arrived in Israel as part of a world tour promoting his book, Freedom and Responsibility, which has been published in more than 15 languages, including Hebrew.

The book, a collection of the patriarch’s speeches and articles, discusses the modern confrontation between secular, liberal values and religious ideals, arguing that religion can complement and supplement non-religious frameworks of ethical principles.

“Through your book, many people will be exposed to your words of wisdom,” Edelstein said at a press conference in the King David Hotel. “You have made great efforts to [advance] universal values and I hope that they will be realized in our life time.”

A rather more caustic view of book was provided recently by Nick Cohen, who perused a copy of the English edition:

“The most fundamental conflict of our present era is the clash between the liberal mode of civilisation on the one hand and national culture and religious identity on the other,” Kirill begins…. I must emphasise that by liberalism the patriarch does not mean rampant individualism but any human society that tolerates “sin” providing sinners “remain within the law of land and do not harm others”. No charge is too wild to throw at such hell holes. “The human rights concept is used to cover up lies, falsehood and insults against religion and national values,” Kirill fumes. Secularism is diseased – “infected with the bacillus of self-destruction”. Secular countries allow women to control their fertility and tolerate homosexuality. They are nominally free “but defenceless against evil”.

Cohen’s also detects anti-semitism in a reference to “Jewish philosophers”, although the context is not given. Of course, Cohen’s purpose is polemical, and there may be more to the book than just these kind of quotes, but their tone is in keeping with a general authoritarian strand we see in Russian Orthodoxy. I discussed all this in further detail here.

Kirill also met with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilus III, and presented him with a “certificate for seven bells that will be installed at the belfry of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Jaffa.” He also consecrated the Church of All Saints in Russia, which was begun in 1911 but left unfinished between 1914 and 2003, and he dealt with the problem of the Holy Sepulchre’s retrospective $2.3 million water bill; earlier this month, Theophilus sent an appeal for help to Russia which Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin would “thoroughly study”, and it has now been reported that the bill has been written off “after Patriarch Kirill met with Israeli President Shimon Peres”. The unpaid bill had threatened to force the site’s closure, and it had been reported that “the other Christian denominations which jointly manage the church are said to support the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in its battle”. Given the historic animosities between the various Christian groups at holy sites, that’s quite something.

Kirill then travelled on to Jordan, where he visited the Russian Pilgrim House by the river Jordan; according to Interfax, the building and its site “was provided to Russia by the Kingdom of Jordan free of charge for unlimited use in February 2007 during the official visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Jordan.” Kirill also used the visit to award “a Sergius of Radonezh order to Vladimir Kozhin, the head of the Russian presidential property management office, for his work for the good of the Russian Church” (Kozhin, incidentally, has also done work for the good of Putin – his signatures appears on a 2005  contract for a “£600 million Italianate palace” near the Black Sea coast, including “indoor cinema, a summer amphitheatre, a casino, swimming pools, a gym and a clock tower”).

Leaving Jordan, Kirill reflected on his visit:

“These are new important steps, which are aimed at increasing the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Holy Land. When we speak about increasing its presence, we do not mean the increase of its physical presence, but we primarily believe it is important to ensure that as many our pilgrims visit the Holy Land as possible,” Patriarch Kirill says.

The Patriarch said an increase in the number of pilgrims will strengthen people spiritually and will “increase Russia’s ties with the countries where holy places are located.”

I noted the restoration and reclamation of Russian Orthodox sites in Jerusalem in 2008; I also noted Time‘s description of the church as Putin’s “main ideological arm and a vital foreign policy instrument”. At that time, the Greek Theophilus had expressed concern at Russia’s “aggressive policy”; the water bill appears to have had a conciliating effect there, too.

UK Islamist Announces “Fatwa on Malala” to be Issued at Red Mosque, Islamabad

As others have noticed, British fringe Islamist Anjem Choudary has announced a conference to take place in Pakistan at the end of the month. It will supposedly include a “Declaration of Fatwa on Malala Yousafzal”, to be delivered by his timorous old associate Omar Bakri Muhammad.

Choudary, of course, is a sociopathic narcissist who spends most of his ample free time trying to think up ways to gain self-publicity through being monumentally offensive; it is therefore distasteful to draw further attention to his stunts. However, in this instance, there is apparently an international dimension worth noting: the conference, on the general theme of “Shariah 4 Pakistan”, is billed as due to take place at the Lal Masjid in Pakistan.

The Lal Masjid is also known in English as the “Red Mosque”. We cannot know whether Choudary really has booked the mosque as his venue, and it’s highly likely that he expects that an intervention by the authorities that will allow him to announce a cancellation. However, a recent Los Angeles Times following Malala’s shooting contained the following detail:

…During Friday prayers at Islamabad’s Red Mosque, site of a 2007 government siege against Islamic extremists that ended in more than 100 deaths, an imam belittled the girl for her admiration of President Obama and criticized the media for focusing so much attention on her.

“All the media is showing is the bleeding head of this child. Why don’t they show the dead bodies torn apart in drone attacks?” the imam said in his sermon.

It’s not immediately clear who this “Imam” is, although the mosque has been associated with various militant and violent figures; a 2011 report at Asia News related that:

The imam of Islamabad’s famous Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) has accused the government of “corrupting the country”. He has called on the “soldiers of Islam” to fight “to create an Islamic nation” where “Sharia laws can be enforced”.

In 2007, the mosque was the site of a siege; the BBC reported:

Students at the mosque and its attached religious schools have waged a campaign for months pressing for Sharia law.

…Security forces began a full-scale siege of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) last week, not long after mosque students abducted seven Chinese workers they accused of running a brothel.

Dozens were killed in the ensuing shoot-out, although one of the militant mosque leaders, whose mother, brother, and son all died, himself escaped “dressed as a woman in a traditional black burqa”. The deaths during the operation have been raised by the Taliban as a bit of whataboutery in relation to its failed attempt to murder the schoolgirl Malala.

Choudary’s conference flyer and associated website promise only a “trial” for Malala; as usual, he sails as close as he can to the wind while making a token effort not to cross the line into open incitement – but it’s blindingly obvious that he’s hoping to whip up militants who have already shown a willingness to kill.