Mega-Mosque “Intimidation” Mystery

A few weeks ago, Douglas Murray of the Gatestone Institute repeated a claim that a Muslim campaigner who had spoken out against plans for a large Tablighi Jamaat mosque in east London had withdrawn from a public inquiry due to alleged “witness intimidation”:

Tehmina Kazi is a member [actually Director - RB] of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, a small but significant voice in the effort to break the stranglehold of the fundamentalists in British Islam… At a previous inquiry into the mega-mosque in 2011, Kazi said in her Proof of Evidence, “The Tablighi Jamaat discourages integration into British society, especially of female members, since they essentially do not communicate with non-Muslims … Instead, female members… are kept secluded and the values surrounding this seclusion are transmitted to their children.”

Now she says that, “Withdrawing was a decision I did not undertake lightly. I did it after consultation with several trusted people and a number of assurances on women’s increased participation and involvement in the new facility.”

…According to Alan Craig [of the Christian People's Alliance], Kazi withdrew because she was “harried and pressured” by “misogynist mosque supporters” while on holiday abroad, just before the inquiry opened. Jenny Taylor of Lapido Media — who has followed this case as closely as anyone — has spoken with Kazi, who has insisted that she had “been neither harried nor pressured but had accepted the reassurances she had been given about the place of women in the mega-mosque community.” Taylor has concluded that the person who persuaded Kazi not to testify was one Mudasser Ahmed.

That quote in which Kazi insists that she was not intimidated was actually given to Ruth Gledhill, and was afterwards cited by Taylor. Craig’s contrasting claim was also earlier repeated by Christian Concern.

Kazi’s on-the-record statement seems clear enough. As Director of BMSD, it’s her job to say what she thinks about the place of Islam in British life, and to argue against authoritarian and supremacist trends among British Muslims. And she’s always been very clear  that she is committed to speaking freely: back in March, she was quoted as telling the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies that “the more of us that speak out, the harder it is for Islamists to silence us”.

It seems most unlikely that she would be cowed into withdrawing, let alone into making a statement to a journalist that does not reflect her true views – and a bit of basic googling shows that the man named by Murray is a mainstream figure whose Unitas Communications company (“a specialist public relations, reputation management and digital communications agency”) appears to be perfectly respectable. Indeed, Kazi has herself worked with Unitas: in its 2012 submission to the Leveson Inquiry (entitled Race and Reform: Islam and Muslims in the British Media), she is described variously as a “consultant”; as a “campaigner for progressive Islam and women’s rights”; and as a “community leader”.

Sunny Hundal argued that Kazi should be taken at her word, and he criticised “the misrepresentation and spinning of a leading liberal Muslim woman’s opinion, just because it doesn’t fit the narrative of some right-wingers”. This prompted Craig to publish details of his communication with Kazi:

The previous Saturday afternoon she had called me, deeply distressed, from her holiday break abroad to tell me that Muddassar Ahmed was pressurising her (“intimidating” was her exact word) to withdraw. She said that Muddassar claimed he had obtained reassurances from Tablighi Jamaat that they would treat women better in future, and he promised Tehmina “they will continue to become more liberal under his influence.”

…”Muddassar is not som1 u want as an enemy – he is 2 well connected in the community,” she texted me in messages that are still on my phone. “Really sorry Muddassar has put you under such pressure and intimidation,” I replied, to which she texted “I’m still shocked that hes supporting them as his wife N***** P***** (my asterisks) is a feminist.”

“It (Muddassar’s intervention) has ruined my break,” she texted further. “It’s always left to me to stick my head above the parapet – I wish others would do so 4 a change,” she added.

So we now have a real and perplexing contradiction between what Kazi told Gledhill and what she apparently told Craig privately. For Craig, of course, her denials are simply further proof of intimidation, but the nature of the supposed hold over her remains somewhat opaque and the image of Kazi being intimidated by Unitas is inherently implausible. Also, the “holiday break abroad” element is difficult to understand: no-one likes to be troubled by work-related matters while on vacation, but if you make yourself available while away you can’t complain about people contacting you.

Kazi enjoys cross-political goodwill: the argument between Sunny, who is a liberal, and Craig, who is a conservative evangelical, has been played out on the shared ground that her views ought to be respected and presented truthfully. The discrepancy in her two statements is troubling.

Geoffrey Dickens: Child Abuse Claims and Satanic Panic

The BBC reports:

The Home Office is facing calls to explain why a 1980s dossier about alleged paedophiles at Westminster was “not retained or destroyed”.

The document was handed to then Home Secretary Leon Brittan by Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens.

Lord Brittan passed concerns in it to the relevant authorities, but the file itself was not kept.

…The Home Office said a 2013 review found the “credible” elements of the dossier which had “realistic potential” for further investigation were sent to police and prosecutors while other elements were either “not retained or destroyed”.

The fact that Dickens gave a dossier to Brittan is old news; in 1983 Dickens announced his intention to give him “a glimpse inside my private files, where people have written to me with information”. Elements of the dossier may indeed have been “credible”, but it’s likely that anything valuable was hidden among dross: most of the news reports on the subject out today appear to have overlooked the important detail that Dickens was an extravagant conspiracy theorist who helped to contribute to the “Satanic panics” that emerged in the UK just a few years later.

Here’s one report, from 1988:

Young people are in danger from the effects of witchcraft which is “sweeping the country,” Mr Geoffrey Dickens, the Tory campaigner against child abuse, warned in the Commons yesterday… Mr Dickens said outside the Commons that now he would be pressing for – or possibly himself introducing – a Bill to make to make it illegal to practise witchcraft, and empowering courts to pass heavy custodial sentences…. “If we are to protect children from their sordid, sexual and diabolical grasp, we must bring in new laws to wipe witches off the face of the earth”.

And from later the same year:

Babies and young children were being sacrified to the Devil in witchcraft rituals all over Britain, according to Tory MP Mr Geoffrey Dickens….

“Six hundred children go missing every year. At least 50 of these children are simply never found again…. With witchcraft sacrifice nothing is ever found”

Dickens also wrote the foreword to a bogus ex-Satanist memoir by a woman named Audrey Harper, called Dance with the Devil. Harper claimed to have been inducted into a Satanic coven in Virginia Water, in a ceremony which involved being smeared with blood; in her original version of the story the blood had come from a sacrificed cockerel, although she later substituted the dead bird in the story with a murdered baby. There’s a good account of the context of Dickens’ endorsement on a website called Swallowing the Camel:

Geoffrey Dickens latched on to Audrey Harper immediately, supporting her and helping her spread the news that, to her knowledge, English Satanists were still sacrificing children… Complaining that “perverted cults which worship the devil can freely publish guides on how to dabble in the occult,” he opined, “The Home Office must act.” He worked closely with Childwatch, a Hull-based organization that used every opportunity to warn the public about Satanic ritual abuse in England. Its founder, Diane Core, declared that up to 4000 English children were being sacrificed by Satanists annually. She publicly aired bizarre stories from alleged SRA survivors, like the “breeder” who claimed her cult froze sacrificed babies so members could defrost and eat them later.

A full account of Dickens’ antics is available from Chris Bray on The Pagan Library, including details of another “dossier”:

AUGUST 17 1988: The Sport has two page article ‘SAVE MY BABY FROM SATAN’ and includes what are to become familiar quotes from Dianne Core and Geoffrey Dickens… Dickens announces that his ‘dossier’ naming ‘perverted members of a sinister Satan Cult’ HAS GONE MISSING ON ITS WAY TO THE HOUSE OF COMMONS. “The sensational Document was passed to CHILDWATCH supremo Dianne Core by a terrified defector from the mysterious O.T.O. whose depraved rituals end in unbridled black magic orgies of sex and violence”. Core sent the dossier to Dickens but ‘ the package whose full contents could have blown British society apart’ – never arrived. Not only are we supposed to believe that such valuable information was sent through the post without registering or recording the package but that Dicken’s Dossier became iretrievably lost in the post. We are expected to believe that no-one thought of making a copy of any part of such valuable information before it was sent as a safeguard against loss and that the people who originally donated the information had also not kept copies and are, furthermore, completely unable to re-construct the data…

AUGUST 24 1988: Hull Daily Mail reports that Dickens’ claims his life is being threatened by vengeful satanists but that he pledges to carry on the fight against black magic rituals and is building up yet another file to present to the Home Secretary. “Evidence is growing of witchcraft & crimes against children” Dickens says but has in 13 months NEVER presented any evidence.

This sort of thing suggests that Dickens’ earlier dossier on child abuse is likely to have been a rather problematic collection of documents.

For all his many faults, Dickens was an energetic campaigner against child sex abuse, and it’s actually rather sad that his efforts became so misdirected  He vociferously opposed the Paedophile Information Exchange, a lobby group that attached itself to gay rights campaigns in the 1970s; the Labour Party and the left’s complacency about and collusion with the organisation has recently come back to haunt it. We also now know that some prominent individuals in British public life were indeed allowed to get away with abusing children to an astonishing extent; in some cases due to extraordinary police negligence, and in other instances for murkier reasons (the politician Cyril Smith appears to have been “protected” by the security services, who would have expected Smith to assist them politically in return).

But Dickens ended up wasting his energy, diminishing his credibility, and causing real harm to innocent people, through a lurid obsession with the occult.

Excursus

Might renewed interest in Dickens’ dossier lead to a new “Satanic panic”? I’m doubtful: although people are willing to seize on ill-founded accusations (as I discussed here) and indulge in the most absurd conspiracy-mongering, there’s now so much material in the news about real paedophiles to work with that the notion of Satanic cults is actually superfluous.

But there are signs of some renewed interest in Satanic ritual abuse; RT (formerly Russia Today) has recently published an article by the 9/11 Truther Tony Gosling alleging that it is being covered up by… erm, Private Eye magazine:

On the really big international scandals, Private Eye cover up for the establishment…In the Jimmy Savile story, despite testimony of ritual abuse ‘The Eye’ mocked psychotherapist Valerie Sinason and other professionals who supported the victims.

…Psychotherapist Valerie Sinason had been talking for years, to anyone who would listen, about Savile. She personally interviewed two of his victims in her London based ‘Clinic for Dissociative Studies’ who told her at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire that they had been repeatedly sexually abused in horrific rituals they described as ‘satanic.’

This refers to a story that appeared in the Sunday Express at the start of 2013, headlined “Jimmy Savile Was Part of Satanic Ring”. According to the report, Sinason had two patients in the early 1990s who told her that they had been abused by Savile during Satanic rituals. The Express article is based entirely on Sinason’s testimony, and it’s significant that none of Savile’s victims who have gone on record have claimed there was a Satanic ritual element to their abuse.

One possibility, it seems to me, is that genuine Savile victims may have had the notion of a Satanic element suggested to them by a psychotherapist obsessed with the subject. Sinason says she doesn’t use “recovered memory” techniques, but one can see how vulnerable adults may have sinister ideas planted in their heads. Here she is in 2011, interviewed by Will Storr for the Guardian:

“I’m an analytic therapist,” she says. “The idea of that is someone showing, through their behaviour, that all sorts of things might have happened to them.” Signs that a patient has suffered satanically include flinching at green or purple objects, the colours of the high priest and priestess’s robes. “And if someone shudders when they enter a room, you know it’s not ordinary incest.”

Another warning, she says, is the patient saying: “I don’t know.” “What they really mean is: ‘I can’t bear to say.’” A patient who “overpraises” their family is also suspicious. “The more insecure you are, the more you praise. ‘Oh my family was wonderful! I can’t remember any of it!’”

Private Eye has been raising concerns about Sinason’s methods for some time.

All this is apparently of interest to Gosling because Private Eye refused to consider his evidence that Israel was responsible for the 7/7 bombings.

Christian Concern Italia

UK religious right group Christian Concern has published a short video interview with Giuliano Palma, who heads an affiliate group called Christian Concern Italia. Like Christian Concern’s CEO Andrea Minichiello Williams (previously blogged by me here), Palma is a lawyer with an interest in religious cases, and he came into contact with Williams while representing a client in Dover. In the interview, Palma discusses legal obstacles faced by Italian Protestants, such as problems getting authorizations for religious marriages, and he complains that the Pope’s recent prayer meeting with Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas also included the head of the Orthodox Church but not any Italian Protestant representatives.

Palma’s website shows that Christian Concern Italia was established in 2012, and there are some photos from a conference, although the speakers are unidentified. His firm, Palma & Parners, is based in Naples, but has a London address care of Camerons Solicitors of Wimpole Street; Camerons represents, on a pro bono basis, the Christian Legal Centre, which is Christian Concern’s legal arm, as well as Christian Concern itself. A lawyer based at Camerons, Paul Coleman, formerly advised Christian Concern before taking up a position as legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (previously called the Alliance Defense Fund) at its office in Vienna. The ADF is a high-profile religious right group in the USA, which also has links with Christian Concern.

Claim: “Over 100 Leaders” Expected at School of Economic Science HQ For Conference

Keynote speakers include Walter Schwimmer, former Secretary General of the Council of Europe

The “Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative” (GCGI) has details of its second joint conference with the School of Economic Science, due to take place at the SES’s Oxford headquarters in September and entitled “The Value of Values: Spiritual Wisdom in Everyday Life”:

This year, we expect over 100 leaders from business, government, academia, civil society, international organisations, youth forums, media and religions to join us at the Conference. Together we will analyse the current state of globalisation and define a more harmonious and peaceful path towards the common good. Please consider joining us, either by submitting your abstract for consideration to present, or by just coming to the Conference, to share your vision and insight with us all.

There seems to be something of a network of international conflabs and publications based around themes of religion or spirituality in global context, and quite often there seems to be an association with Russia or Kazakhstan. I’ve blogged about it on a number of occasions; in the case of GCGI, in 2012 I noted that the organisation had given an award to Vladimir Yakunin, a close associate of Vladimir Putin who is now currently under sanctions in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. In turn, GCGI founder Kamran Mofid is a member of the International Coordinating Committee of  Yakunin’s World Public Forum.

The award to Yakunin was the GCGI’s first; the think-tank followed up a year later with an award for Ian Mason, the School of Economic Science’s principal. It’s a link that’s also of interest: the SES is perhaps best-known for is posters on the London Underground, displaying quotes from philosophers. A 2007 leaflet from INFORM is a useful primer that explains the group’s Advaita Vedanta context, and gives an even-handed account of past controversies:

In 1984, two journalists wrote an “exposé” of the group entitled Secret Cult. Rather than respond to the criticisms publicly, the School reviewed the attack internally, which reinforced the opinion of the critics that the School was a secretive organisation.  However, much has changed in the last twenty years, particularly since the death of the founder Leon MacLaren in 1994. Current leaders acknowledge some of the criticisms of the past and claim that they have sought to make the necessary adjustments… In particular, complaints focused on Leon MacLaren’s authority, which some described as absolute or totalitarian. It is claimed that those who displeased him were dealt with severely and that there was not room for any differences of opinion…

One ex-member who grew up within the group in the 1970s gave her account to the Daily Mail at the end of 2012; inevitably, the c-word (“cult”) appears a few times throughout. An anonymous account by someone who suffered abuse at an SES school can be read here.

One of the conference’s keynote speakers – speaking on “The spiritual heritage as a source of wisdom in the age of globalization” – is Walter Schwimmer, who from 1999 to 2004 was the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. Schwimmer is one of the WFP’s current co-chairs, and he is also close to Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has been President of Kazakhstan since the end of the break up of the USSR: in February 2012, Schwimmer gushed that Nazarbayev (who was in the process of cracking down on opposition movements) is a “a real politician and a wise leader of his nation”. This is not the only WPF link with Nazarbayev: in the run-up to elections in 2011, Yakunin personally gave him a WPF award, and another Austrian WPF member, former Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer is an official consultant” The GCGI’s own links with Kazakhstan were highlighted in May, when Mofid participated in the VII Astana Economic Forum.

Schwimmer has also helped to build links between the WPF and the Universal Peace Federation, founded by the late Reverend Moon (and discussed on this blog from time to time, e.g. here). Vision 2020, the “Japan Unification Movement Newsletter”, reported in April:

Dr. Schwimmer… is currently engaged in the World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations, a non-government organization endorsed by the United Nations, as its co-chair. Dr. Yong Cheon Song, UPF-Japan’s Regional Chair, met with Dr. Schwimmer while Dr. Song was responsible for the UPF Europe. Moved by Dr. Schwimmer’s passion for one Europe, Dr. Song read carefully Dr. Schwimmer’s book entitled ‘The European Dream’. Dr. Schwimmer later helped UPF organize the Europe-Urasia [sic] Dialogue. This time, he came over to Japan at the invitation of Dr. Song.

In Tokyo, Japan-Europe Leadership Forum on April 3rd was attended by 26 current members of the Diet, Japan’s national parliament, 5 foreign ambassadors as well as some 90 scholars, journalists and religious figures. In the following two days, Japan-Europe Special Seminar Program brought 540 guests in Osaka and 650 guests in Sapporo respectively.

We’ve also recently seen a WPF figure linking up with a “World Civilizations” event in China.

UPDATE: I see that Mofid and Mason were also recently involved in an event in Russia called the Altai Forum 2014 (tagline: “A Better Path to a Better World”), although ill-health prevented Mofid’s personal attendance. This was another WPF event.

New York Times Highlights Breakaway Ukrainian Catholic Church

The New York Times has an interesting article by Andrew Higgins about the Ukrainian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church, a breakaway branch of the country’s Ukrainian-Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) with some extravagantly vituperative and conspiratorial rhetoric:

The breakaway church… issued an appeal to Mr. Putin in December to intervene militarily to restore order and defeat what it scorned as “Euro-sodomitic occupation by Brussels programmed by U.S. agents.”

Higgins discusses the group’s leader, a Czech named Anthony Elias Dohnal, and notes an investigation by Ekpres, a Ukrainian newspaper:

…Before the 1989 collapse of Communism in his homeland, then still Czechoslovakia, Mr. Dohnal worked as an informer for Soviet intelligence. The newspaper published what it said was a document from former Czechoslovak archives that identified him as a mole for Soviet intelligence with the code name “Tonek.”

…On its website, however, the sect had responded to suspicions of ties to the Russian secret services by posting what it said was a letter from the Czech Interior Ministry’s Security Committee certifying that there was no record of any past link to secret services by Mr. Dohnal.

The Expres article, entitled “Fake Patriarch”, dates from 2012, and can be seen here – it includes a photograph of a photocopy of the relevant document. However, the Interior Ministry’s letter – dated 2o09, and posted to the church’s website in 2011 – explains (church’s translation):

It is a publicly known fact that Cibulka’s lists are not factual material because they do not contain only the names of KGB agents but also the names of those who were investigated by the KGB. Later on there were new lists issued which no longer contain the names of the aggrieved.

The letter comes with what appears to be a stamp and the signature of Josef Veselý, Director of the Security Department. The church’s website, which is maintained in several languages, carries a number of other aggrieved responses to Expres articles, although given its own highly abusive tirades it seems to be a case of being able to dish it out but not take it.

Dohnal was formerly a Greek Catholic priest and a member of the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat. In 2008, he was was one of four members of the order – along with Metoděj Špiřík, Markian Hitiuk and Robert Oberhauser – who were consecrated as bishops without the approval of the Greek-Catholic Ukrainian Church and the Vatican. Together, the men are known to their supporters as the “Pidhirtsi Fathers” (var. “Pidhirci Fathers”), after the monastery where they were based at the time. They gave their reasons in a letter to the Pope:

Bishops, priests, religious and laymen have opened themselves to the spirit of occultism (homoeopathy, acupuncture, oriental meditations, modern psychological methods…) and syncretism with pagan religions (yoga, zen, martial arts, oriental philosophies…). However, the height of all is that there are still more and more bishops and priests who are homosexuals or paedophiles. In our Greek-Catholic Church there are several homosexual bishops, which is a scandal and decay of Christianity in its substance.

The antichristian system within the Church, enforced by Card. A. Casaroli, Card. A. Sodano and the present Prefect of Congregation for the Oriental Churches (COCh) Card. L. Sandri, has systematically and purposefully disintegrated our martyrish Church and has not only led her into a practical schism but also opened her to the spirit of apostasy…

Alas, the Pope was not impressed, and the “Fathers” were excommunicated. The group retaliated with “an excommunication upon Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II“; Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Moscow doesn’t get off lightly, either, having “betrayed Christ, the Church and the nation” by attending an inter-religious meeting in Astana (discussed by me here).

A Catholic website called Per Christum has some commentary from 2008. The unnamed author (“Asimplesinner”) begins by noting events in 2007, when another priest was excommunicated for links with the SSPX, although there doesn’t seem to be any link between the SSPX and the “Pidhirtsi Fathers”. The author is critical of Bishop Dionysius Lachovicz, the previous General Superior of the Basilian Order and now a UGCC bishop:

During his term as General Superior, he was infatuated with this messianic group and convinced of their savific role in the reform his order. Even against the advice of his general council, Lachovicz made decisions in favour of this group to the harm of his Order and to the Church, not only in Ukraine, but also in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia. In the autumn of 1997, Lachovicz had been warned by the Basilian Superior in Poland, Volodymyr Juszczak (currently Bishop of Wroclaw-Gdansk), and by the entire Basilian provincial council in Slovakia, that this “potential sect” would, in the long run, cause grave damage to the Church if given a special mission within the Basilian Order. Despite such warnings, on 21 October 1997, Lachovicz issued a decree giving this divisive group the canonical status of an “experimental community”, under his own personal authority as General. 

Apparently, Lachovicz sent the men to Pidhirtsi following controversies in  Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

It doesn’t seem to me that the group can be reduced to a Kremlin machination. However, it looks like some of its aims coincide with Russia’s interests – one can therefore imagine Russia providing some support, despite the group’s belief that Patriarch Kirill embodies “the spirit of Antichrist”. As the Times notes:

…nobody can figure out how a small sect with no obvious source of income can maintain an elaborate website in six different languages and a wide range of properties in Lviv and elsewhere.

Glenn Beck Says David Barton to Advise Former Soviet State

Right Wing Watch has a clip from Glenn Beck taking about David Barton:

David Barton is on his way over to one of the former Soviet states… because the Soviets, the former Soviets, called him up and said “uh, hey, you know more about the underpinnings of your Republic than anybody else, and we would like you to help us put those underpinnings together. Because while your country and the west is running from your Constitution, we need to understand it more, because that’s the solution. So, he’s on his way over to the, to former Soviet states, to help them. Is that not incredible?… I think it’s the main people in the government are saying “help us, please, or we will lose our way.”

Barton, of course, is a notorious pseudo-historian, famous for re-writing America’s past to suggest that the Founding Fathers of the USA were all right-wing evangelicals. In 2012, the conservative evangelical publisher Thomas Nelson chose to pulp a Barton tome on Thomas Jefferson after numerous misrepresentations were brought to its attention (in particular, the book was accused of ” glossing over Jefferson’s real record on slaveholding, and minimizes Jefferson’s racist views”). Beck has puffed Barton’s teachings on numerous occasions; in return, Barton promotes Beck to the Christian Right by explaining away Beck’s Mormonism.

So, assuming Beck isn’t simply making it up, and ignoring his boastful slippage from one state to “states”, which “former Soviet state” does he mean? We can probably discount Azerbaijan and any of the -stans (despite Barton’s strangely ambiguous views on Shariah), and it’s unlikely that the Baltic states would have much interest: Estonia is reportedly the world’s least religious country. Belarus, meanwhile, remains under the tight control of a dictator who is hardly going to ask someone like Barton for advice.

I suppose it’s possible that some group in Georgia or Armenia might want Barton’s wisdom, but the most likely candidate is Ukraine. Although some US religious right figures admire anti-gay authoritarianism in Russia, there are longstanding links between Ukraine and American conservatives and evangelicals – and earlier this month saw a government “Prayer Breakfast” in Ukraine organised by the Fellowship. Beck’s phrasing of “on his way over to the, to former Soviet states” may indicate that he was about to say “the Ukraine“, then stopped himself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1llnOjHVd1o

WND: ISIS Offensive May Be a Sign of the Rise of the Anti-Christ

As Iraq slides into chaos, one man claims to have special insight into how things may develop; not because he’s an expert on the Middle East, but because he’s a “prophecy expert”. Over to Joel Richardson at WND, discussing Chapter 8 of the Book of Daniel in a piece entitled “Is prophecy being fulfilled now in Iraq and Iran?”  (emphases added) :

…If the ultimate meaning of the entire vision is eschatological, pertaining to the time of the end, while it may certainly maintain a historical partial fulfillment, it may also very well speak of two forthcoming regional wars… After this time, it appears as though out of the ashes of these wars, in the region stretching from Nineveh (Mosul) to Turkey, we should expect to see the Antichrist arise, starting small but then gaining in power. With Iran already declaring that it will enter the fray in Iraq to respond to the ISIS offensive, the beginning of Daniel’s vision may very well be beginning to unfold right in front of us.

Richardson has made a career out of insisting that the Bible predicts that Muslims will at some point soon come under the spell of the Anti-Christ. His books on the subject are published by WND; one comes with a blurb by Robert Spencer (“A must-read for priests and pastors, students and lay readers everywhere”), and he has also expounded his theories to Glenn Beck. Richardson regularly takes his teachings around churches, and his reach within evangelicalism more broadly was recently demonstrated when Baker Books chose to foreground his endorsement of a memoir by Samaa Habib, a Muslim convert to Christianity.

Chapter 8 of the Book of Daniel, as Richardson acknowledges, appears most obviously to refer to Antiochus IV, the Syrian king who profaned the Jewish Temple in 168BCE. The text was written during this period of persecution, although the author writes pseudonymously as Daniel, a Judean exile in Babylon several centuries previously (a literary convention rather than a fraud).

However, self-proclaimed “prophecy experts” such as Richardson ignore this literary context, and instead insist that the text must indeed have been written ahead of the events it describes via supernatural means. Obscurities and difficulties, therefore, are to be resolved not by referring to the world of the text’s author, but by arbitrarily referring to later religious texts or to whatever newspaper headline happens to fit the interpreter’s interest. It’s a method that has seen Richardson blunder from one farrago of nonsense to another.

In this instance, Richardson focuses on verses 10-12:

It [the symbolic "horn" representing Antiochus] grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down. It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down. And on account of transgression the host will be given over to the horn along with the regular sacrifice; and it will fling truth to the ground and perform its will and prosper.

Richardson suggests that the apparent cosmic elements in the above mean that something else is intended than just Antiochus:

Now, will anyone claim that Antiochus caused some of the angels (stars) to fall from heaven? I certainly hope not. In fact, the Book of Revelation describes precisely the same event, but there it is Satan the dragon, who causes the angels to fall, and it is something that takes place in the last seven years before the return of Christ.

The Book of Revelation was written in Greek two hundred years later, in a very different political context and representing a very different religious agenda. It therefore does not help us to interpret Daniel’s meaning. It is more sensible to refer to Daniel 12 verse 3, where the people of God are compared to stars. That solves the contrived “problem” with more economy than suggesting that the text is about something else altogether.

But Richardson continues:

Next two angels began explaining the vision of the ram and the goat and the little horn, and Daniel is given some profound information concerning the timing of these things. One angel standing on the banks of the River Ulai (which is in modern day Iran) called to the other angel and said, “Gabriel, give this man an understanding of the vision” (v. 16). So Gabriel came to Daniel and said, “Son of man, understand that the vision pertains to the time of the end” (v. 17).

For the author of Daniel – as for Richardson now – “the End” was close. It is a problem for Richardson that history instead actually continued, but it wasn’t so for the text’s author or for the original intended readership.

However, Richardson is astute enough not to bet the farm on his latest prognostication:

Am I saying that this is absolutely how it is going to happen and that “this is that?” Not yet, but I think we can all acknowledge that what is now unfolding in Iraq and Iran makes this all a very real possibility.

Some Notes On the Fellowship In Europe

Euro Prayer Breakfast

The Republic of Macedonia’s ePublika reports on the latest news about its Ambassador in the USA, Zoran Jolevski:

Ambassador Jolevski attends a business lunch in his honor in the Congress, hosted by Congressman Robert Aderholt, member of the Defense Committee to inform the Congress representatives on his new assignment as a Defense Minister…

Ambassador Jolevski, who has been Macedonia’s representative in Washington since 2007 and is a representative in the name dispute negotiations, returns to Skopje soon.

Jolevski first caught my attention a couple of days ago, when I noted his association with this year’s National Day of Prayer event in Washington – he co-led a “Prayer for the Nations” segment – and his friendship with Bill Hightower, a recently-elected member of the Alabama legislature.

The National Day of Prayer, while supposedly bipartisan, is a platform for the religious right: this year’s event saw Shirley Dobson denounce Obama as “the abortion President”, prompting a Democrat participant to walk out. Hightower, however, is involved with a rather more subtle manifestation of religious power in the USA: this is the National Prayer Breakfast, which is organised by a discrete but influential group called the Fellowship (aka the “Family”). A few days ago, Hightower took part in a related Prayer Breakfast in Ukraine, alongside Doug Burleigh, who is son-in-law to the Fellowship’s leader, Doug Coe.

This brings us back to Jolevski, and his business lunch hosted by Robert Aderholt; a 2010 report from Roll Call (“The source for news on Capitol Hill since 1955″) notes (link added):

A handful of Members of Congress have accepted more than $100,000 worth of free international travel from the religious organization affiliated with the “C Street house,” a Capitol Hill townhouse linked to recent Congressional sex scandals.

While most of the Members have taken a trip or two from the Fellowship Foundation, also known as the International Foundation, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) accepted foreign trips worth more than $50,000 over the past four years.

…For example, last month Aderholt spent a week in Greece, Albania and Croatia on a trip funded by the Fellowship Foundation at a cost of about $11,000… Aderholt arrived in Greece in time for the closing of the annual Southeast European Gathering, a Balkan version of the National Prayer Breakfast that he has attended several times on the foundation’s dime.

When I wrote about the Prayer Breakfast in Ukraine, I noted the presence of a participant named Paul Petrie, but I overlooked his significance; a one-post blog by Leo van Doesburg, an activist with the European Christian Political Movement (more on the ECPM here) noted at the end of 2008:

…In December the European Prayer Breakfast organized their annual event in the European Parliament. I had such a great collaboration with the organizors: Paul Petrie and Mary van Kesteren. In this way we could invite key people from the different regions in East Europe to the conference. Also the Dutch vice prime minister, Andre Rouvoet his political assistant, Reinier Koppelaar and MP Esme Wiegman joined the events.

(Van Doesburg also recalled taking part in an “International Leadership conference and Youth Leadership Forum in Skopje organized by the Boris Trajkovski foundation”; Hightower is also involved with this foundation, which is named after a former president on Macedonia who was killed in a plane crash while in office in 2004.)

Petrie is a Canadian living in Brussels; according to his website:

 …He serves a number of European and American organizations in leadership and consultancy capacities. He is an active public speaker, strategist, and mentor in both public and private institutions in Europe and the United States.

According to a bio page on the site, he started out working with Nicky Cruz’s Teen Challenge drug rehabilitation programme in New York in 1966, then founded his own programme in Lexington. A rather diverse career followed, including worldwide travel, a ranch in Zaire, founding a Christian community back in Lexington, and creating “International Outreach Ministries, a Non-Governmental Organization, which now works in 22 nations”. Further (links added):

In 1986 Mr. Petrie and his family moved to Brussels, Belgium, and helped found the organization “a.net” to serve both Belgian and expatriates living there. In the same year Mr. Petrie helped found the Association of Covenant Ministries in North America.

In 1996 Mr. Petrie, with a small group of like-minded professionals, founded the European Prayer Breakfast, which serves Members of the European Parliament, Commission, NATO and the diplomatic corps in Brussels. That same year, in conjunction with a European Parliamentarian, he facilitated gatherings at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg with the same goals. This has led to wide involvement with members of European governments, within and beyond the European Union.

In 2002 Mr. Petrie became foundationally associated with the Middle East Program, an initiative to develop relationships in the Middle East that will promote greater stability and peace in the region.

(Hightower is also involved with the Middle East Program, and he sits on the board of a school called Covenant Christian School.)

The European Prayer Breakfast has a website here; its appearance is bland, and its blurb is instantly recognisable as “Jesus Plus Nothing” Fellowship-speak:

As we look at Jesus of Nazareth and the principles which He taught and by which He lived, we see around Him a group of people He called friends who were central to His life. They had a commitment to each other and to a message which revolutionized the world. These principles hinged on two basic premises: to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus said that all other things hung on the framework of these two commands. This is a simple equation but has amazing power to change the world in which we live. The European Prayer Breakfast (EPB) was established in 1998 on these ideas.

This annual event is a facilitator for such a philosophy. It is a meeting place where people can come together and encourage each other to seek relationships which are focused around Jesus and his teachings…

There’s also a page entitled “The Strategy of Jesus”, consisting of a long quote from Elton Trueblood’s Alternative to Futility:

Jesus was deeply concerned for the continuation of His redemptive, reconciling work after the close of His earthly existence, and His chosen method was the formation of a small band of committed friends. He did not form an army, establish a headquarters, or even write a book. What He did was to collect a very few common men and women, inspire them with the sense of His spirit and vision, and build their lives into an intensive fellowship of affection, worship, and work…

That was written in 1948, and it shows: Jesus is the ultimate self-promoting brand, working through a Rotary Club of networkers. The Babbitt cult lives on. Jeff Sharlet has the background, in his book The Family (p. 186):

One Abram [Vereide] understudy, Dr. Elton Trueblood, made a career of packaging militant fundamentalism in the language of country club banal, churning out best sellers that conflated spiritual war with Cold War; he also drew a paycheck from from the United States Information Agency, for which he headed up the Office of Religious Information. On his watch “spiritual roots” – Christian ones, that is – as the foundation of American democracy became government policy, channeled through private organizations so that the office’s plans would not look like a “propaganda gimmick”.

Documents relating to the 2006 and 2009 European Prayer Breakfasts (including a letter of greeting from Yulia Tymoshenko as Prime Minister of Ukraine in 2009) have for some reason been posted to the website of Romania’s Parliament.

Further details on the European Prayer Breakfast appear in a 2007 book by Terry Wynn, a British MEP and a working-class Christian Socialist. The book, entitled Where are the Prophets?: A Book About Faith and Politics, comes with a blurb by Hightower (this was when he was the head of Tower Strategies Inc, rather than an elected official) and a Foreword by Chris Patten. Wynn became involved following an invitation from Petrie, and he writes:

Each year in the Parliament there is a European Prayer Breakfast, where two to three hundred parliamentarians from across Europe, ambassadors, NATO staff, civil servants from the EU institutions and others, meet together in Brussels. It’s not an easy event to organise and every time someone in Parliament’s administration always tries to put a spanner in the works either because of security reasons or sound system problems but each year it goes off successfully. It is a wonderful occasion and it is good to meet with Christians from across Europe in this way. It always has good music, good fellowship, good food and good contributions from those who read and speak. I’m sure it scares the pants off the secularists.

The Fellowship Comes to Ukraine

From the Religious Information Service of Ukraine:

Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast under the auspices of the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov was held on Wednesday with participation of representatives from the church, NGOs and religious organizations of Ukraine, as well as foreign guests, diplomatic missions and the people’s deputies of Ukraine, Press Service of Verkhovna Rada informs.

…Commenting on the situation in Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov… cited the Bible saying that “the Babylon will always remain destroyed, since its walls are built on human fear and disbelief.”

Oleksandr Turchynov (var. Alexander Turchinov) is himself a Baptist pastor. A photo of the helpfully bilingual programme shows that the event was entitled “New Ukraine: Into the Future with God”.

The original source in Ukrainian can be seen here; it includes a photo (see below) of a list of some special guests:

Alojz Peterie (European Parliament); Frank Heinrich (Germany); Andreas Karlsboeck (Austria); Valeriu Ghiletchi (Moldova); Egidijus Vareikis (Latvia); Bill Hightower (USA); Doug Burleigh (USA); Paul Petrie (Belgium); and Viktor Hamm (USA)

Hamm – originally from Russia – is with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (Vice President of Crusades) and is a friend of Turchynov, but Burleigh is more interesting: he’s son-in-law to Doug Coe, who heads “the Fellowship”, which in turn organizes the USA’s National Prayer Breakfast. The Fellowship, also known as “The Family”, has been the subject of ground-breaking investigations by Jeff Sharlet; a blurb for his 2008 book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power serves as a useful and succinct summary:

The Family is about the other half of American fundamentalist power—not its angry masses, but its sophisticated elites. Sharlet follows the story back to Abraham Vereide, an itinerant preacher who in 1935 organized a small group of businessmen sympathetic to European fascism, fusing the far right with his own polite but authoritarian faith. From that core, Vereide built an international network of fundamentalists who speak the language of establishment power, a “family” that thrives to this day. In public, they host the National Prayer Breakfast; in private they preach a gospel of “biblical capitalism,” military might, and American empire. Citing Hitler, Lenin, and Mao as model leaders, the Family’s current leader, Doug Coe, declares, “we work with power where we can, and build new power where we can’t.”

The Fellowship has been good at working both sides of the aisle; Burleigh features in a 2010 New Yorker article by Peter Boyer, talking about supportive messages Coe received from Bill Clinton. However, this moderate and bi-partisan impression came under critical scrutiny when Jeff drew attention to links between the organisation and David Bahati, the author of Uganda’s notorious anti-gay law. Bahati himself later told journalists that

 …the idea for the bill first sprang from a conversation with members of The Fellowship in 2008, because it was “too late” in America to propose such legislation.

Also of interest from that guest list is Bill Hightower – he’s a member of the Alabama legislature (R-Mobile, and elected last year), and he has hosted events in association with the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. He also has a long-standing interest in the Republic of Macedonia, and is friends with the ambassador, Zoran Jolevski.*

Prayer Breakfast Ukraine

UPDATE (15 June): More on the Fellowship in Europe today.

Footnote

*Jolevski also took part in the recent National Day of Prayer event in Washington DC, listed as leading a “Prayer for the Nations” alongside “Ambassador” Bobby Little (Little is actually with an evangelical group called the “Christian Embassy”, which is why I added quote marks). This is not a Fellowship activity, and it’s an altogether less subtle affair than than the National Prayer Breakfast – this year’s event saw Shirley Dobson denounce Obama as “the abortion President”, prompting a Democrat participant to walk out.

Franklin Graham and Mat Staver Speak At Israel Solidarity Event

From the website of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association:

“I support Israel,” Franklin Graham said Thursday during the 13th Annual Israel Solidarity Event at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. “I support Israel not only because I worship a Jew but because of what the Bible says about Israel and the future of Israel.”

The solidarity event was part of the National Day of Prayer activities, and Franklin Graham was asked to speak about why Evangelicals support Israel.

That was posted on 1 May; for some reason the same details have just appeared on WND as an “exclusive”. The BGEA has always been very good at presenting itself as embodying a benign evangelicalism that transcends the religious right, and perhaps this is why the actual sponsors of the event are not mentioned: Mark Tooley’s Institute on Religion and Democracy, and Mat Staver’s Liberty Counsel.

According to an LC press release:

“For the first time since Harry Truman recognized the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, America’s support of Israel is waning,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “There has never been a more important time for people to stand up for Israel!”

“America shares a common bond through our history, heritage, and faith. Christians and Jews must stand in solidarity to one another, and together they must stand in solidarity with Israel and its right to exist as a sovereign nation. Along with our shared common values, Israel and America also share common threats. We are comforted and assured by the Scriptures that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not intimidated by adversity,” said Staver.

This was also the first Israel Solidarity Event featuring Ron Dermer, who replaced Michael Oren as Israel’s Ambassador to the USA last autumn. Dermer – a former US citizen whose family in Florida are friends with Jeb Bush – is a former senior adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, and like Netanyahu he knows very well what evangelicals want to hear (hint: it’s not that Tel Aviv is “the world’s most gay friendly city” – Staver in particular wants to see Russian- and Nigerian-style anti-gay measures in the USA); according to Tooley, Dermer spoke on

the remarkable, historically unprecedented return of the Jews to their ancient homeland after two millennia.

Graham, meanwhile, went on to discuss anti-Semitism in Christian history:

In the past,” Franklin said, “there were many wicked, evil men who in the name of Jesus Christ used this story to persecute the Jews. To kill the Jews. They called them ‘Christ-killers.’…”

Of course, Graham’s own father famously opined on “two kinds of Jews”, in private conversation with Richard Nixon:

One is called the Synagogue of Satan. They’re the ones putting out the pornographic literature. They’re the ones putting out these obscene films.