• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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By the Rivers of Babylon

Hot on the news that Saudi Arabia was banning Jewish tourists (since retracted) comes a report that the Iraqi Governing Council is appalled at the thought of the ancient Jewish Iraqi community returning to the land they fled from in the 1950s and 1960s:

Late last year, the council approved proposed legislation that would have allowed thousands of Iraqis who fled or were expelled from the country to reclaim their Iraqi citizenship — unless they were Jewish, council members said. The proposal did not specifically mention Jews, they said, but it contained language that would have kept in place the revocation of citizenship of tens of thousands of Jews by the Iraqi government in 1950.

Muhammad Bahaddin Saladin,  a member of the council, argues that “as long as the Palestinian problem exists, as long as there is a state of war, then we should not allow the Jews to return…The minister of defense in Israel is an Iraqi Jew. Should we let him return?”

Somehow I doubt that particular problem is likely to arise, and the idea that Jews in general (or even Israelis in general) are responsible for Israel’s actions is a depressingly common one in the region. To his credit, Paul Bremer has declined to sign off on the legislation, while one member of the council, an Assyrian Christian named Yonadam Kanna, had the guts and vision to say that “I think we should allow everyone to return. It should not matter that they are Jewish.”

Israel, of course, refuses to allow Palestinian refugees from 1948 to return to their homes in Israel proper, despite evidence from scholars such as the Israeli Ilan Pappe as to how their accomodation could be perfectly feasible. Allowing Jews to return to Iraq would not only be just, but would put pressure on Israel to treat the Palestinians more fairly. But I suppose that’s a bit too subtle for some.

The Man With the Power

With Jean-Bertrand Aristide in exile from Haiti, the Christian Religious Right are rejoicing. Aristide, of course, was a proponent of liberation theology and had given state recognition to voodoo – an attempt “to rededicate Haiti to Satan”, according to Jim Uttley, a former second-generation missionary to the republic. Reports from ASSIST Ministries describe a corrupt tyrant, and contrast the evil dictator with the good old days of Paul Magloire.

Uttley describes Aristide’s nefarious cunning: “He used his position as a priest to gain power and then used that power as president to sway the hearts and minds of his citizens as well as foreign powers, to do his bidding.” What a shocker! Thank God for people like Uttley who can see past the façade and know better than the Haitians what’s good for them. Meanwhile, Joanne Derstine of Gospel Crusade tells of “pro-Aristide” thugs attacking a boys’ home (Derstine is the daughter of Dr. Gerald Derstine, who set up Christian Zionist groups in central America back in the 1980s.)

Now, Aristide was far from perfect, but there is another side to the story, as described by Peter Hallward yesterday (although Hallward is critiqued by Christian Aid today). I also fail to see why Aristide was worse than Uttley’s hero Magloire, who modernised the country, but who also, according to his Guardian obit in 2001:

scored a time-honoured 99% of the poll when the new system [of elections] was first used soon after his 1950 coup. But corruption, growing repression, the destruction wrought by Hurricane Hazel in 1954, and the theft of subsequent relief funds turned the tide against Magloire.

The difference, of course, was that Magloire was a strict ant-Communist, and in such cases (as with Chiang Kai-Shek or Rios Montt), politically-minded conservative Christians are generally rather more indulgent of corruption and repression.

As for the voodoo, The Revealer weblog currently has a good analysis of how the media are failing to say anything sensible about this religious tradition.

UPDATE (8 March 2004): Turns out that the voodoo priests themsleves are claiming credit for Aristide’s flight to the Central African Republic:

Mr Aristide…adopted as his symbol the cockerel, a voodoo icon. Mr Aristide…was guilty of the voodoo equivalent of hubris and then struck down by its version of nemesis, several voodo priests said this week…