200 Lashes for Saudi Rape Victim, Campaigning Lawyer Who Complained of “Jungle Shariah” Has Licence Revoked

Back in July, the Saudi Gazette reported on an appeal following a rape trial:

THE Supreme Judicial Council has ordered re-sentencing of seven men who raped a girl in Qatif a year-and-a-half ago, said the girl’s lawyer.

The Council said the sentences given by the Qatif Court were too lenient, Abdulrahman Al-Lahem, the rape victim’s lawyer, told the Saudi Gazette.

The girl herself had been sentenced to 90 lashes for being in a car with non-relatives, and there was some jubilation that the sentencing would be re-examined:

“This is a great victory for us,” said Al-Lahem…

“I felt relieved,” AG (name withheld), the rape victim told the Saudi Gazette.

“I feel like my dignity has been restored.

“The thought of the lashing has been haunting me ever since,” said AG.

However, a new report shows that AG’s reprieve was actually some kind of sick and sadistic joke:

An appeal court in Saudi Arabia has doubled the number of lashes and added a jail sentence as punishment for a woman who was gang-raped…the judges said she had been attempting to use the media to influence them.

The three judges – one of whom is named by the Arab News as Soliman Al-Muhanna and by CNN as Saad Al-Muhanna – also revoked Al-Lahem’s licence to practice. Al-Lahem had described the original sentencing as “jungle sharia”.

Al-Lahem has been in the public eye for several years, and he has been profiled by both Time and the Washington Post. He was jailed in 2004 for several months for defending three reformists who had called for a constitutional monarchy and who had dared to suggest that the National Human Rights Association was less than independent. Earlier this year he was shortlisted for a Bindman’s Law and Campaigning Award from Index on Censorship, and his recent cases have included defending a chemistry teacher who had said some positive things about Judaism and Christianity, and representing someone who had posted on a discussion board the opinion that homosexuality is connected to a genetic disposition. He has also opposed a judge who forced a woman to divorce a man from an “inferior” tribe (he called the decision “racist and ignorant”), and he has led investigations and prosecutions of abuses by the “morals police”. Last June, following more than one death in police custody, al-Lahem said that

“It’s the governmental body that violates human rights the most…The commission members say they are acting in the name of religion, a claim that has given them immunity against any criticism…This campaign will end the sacredness surrounding the commission and will pave the way for its reform.”

The Washington Post noted that

…Lahem’s involvement in any case has come to mean trouble, or at least intense scrutiny, for judges across the kingdom.

That opinion is clearly shared by Judge Soliman Al-Muhanna, who has decided to do something about it.

The brutal decision to lash AG comes just a few weeks after the execution of Egyptian Mustafa Ibrahim for witchcraft. A US-based Saudi activist observed then that

“This man was murdered in cold blood while the Saudi king is in Europe being touted as a reformer.”

Name variations: Abdulrahman Al-Lahem, Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem, Abdul Rahman Al-Laham, Abdulrahman al-Lahim, Abdul Rahman al-Lahim

Saddam’s Baptistry

At Truthdig, former air-force colonel David Antoon tells the remarkable story of what happened when he accompanied his son to the orientation session at the United States Air Force Academy in 2004. He compares this with his own experience in the 1960s:

Never, during my four years at the academy and subsequent pilot and combat training, was the word warrior used; nor, whether as a cadet or officer, did I ever encounter “Christian supremacist” rhetoric.

In 2004, however,

…The orientation began with a one-hour “warrior” rant to appointees and parents by the commandant of cadets, Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida. The fact that the word warrior had replaced leadership was a signal of what was to follow.

…my son’s orientation became an opportunity for the academy to aggressively proselytize this next crop of cadets.  Maj. Warren Watties led a group of 10 young, exclusively evangelical chaplains who stood shoulder to shoulder.  He proudly stated that half of the cadets attended Bible studies on Monday nights in the dormitories and he hoped to increase this number from those in his audience who were about to join their ranks.  This “invitation” was followed with hallelujahs and amens by the evangelical clergy.

There follows a more general discussion of the controversy over evangelical proselytism in the military, and how the academy dealt with media scrutiny when this came to light:

The response from academy leaders was telling. They at first denied the reports of Watties’ “hell-fire” threats.  Under media pressure, they later claimed the violations were committed by a visiting reserve chaplain, when in fact they were by the recent Air Force Chaplain of the Year himself: Watties. In an interview after receiving his Chaplain of the Year award, Watties boasted of baptizing young soldiers in Saddam Hussein’s swimming pool.  It is difficult to think of more inflammatory and Crusader-like behavior in an Arab nation.

I think I can imagine some rather more “Crusader-like” activities than taking over a swimming pool, but given the context it does look like a needless provocation. Funnily enough, the swimming pool-baptism story was also a detail I came across a few weeks ago when I stumbled across an article in Alpha News from earlier this year. The article was by Canon Andrew White, the British Anglican “vicar of Baghdad”. Alpha News is the newsletter of the Alpha Course, a British evangelical programme designed for enquirers into Christianity.

White is a man of considerable personal courage (and stamina – he has MS) who has undertaken a good deal of humanitarian work and who has highlighted the desperate situations of Iraqi Christians in the face of increasing Islamic fundamentalism and inter-ethnic strife. He also acted as a mediator during the Bethlehem siege of 2001, and enjoys respect (and a high media profile) for his inter-faith work. Unfortunately, however, his judgement is sometimes questionable. As regards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has decried criticisms of Israel in the name of maintaining a balanced neutrality; but according to one sympathetic interview, his Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East is specifically “Israeli run”, and he reportedly holds the Christian Zionist belief that any opposition to Israel is a priori “dangerous”, because “you remove God’s blessing and protection from yourself”. According to one Anglican clergyman with links to Palestinian church leaders, White is considered “persona non grata” over the way he conducted his mediation. He also remains a strong supporter of the invasion of Iraq.

This brings us back to Saddam’s swimming pool, and to White’s article:

…We have had several people come to faith, and it’s wonderful to be able to baptise these people.

The previous incumbent of the place where we work, Saddam, built us a wonderful baptistry. It may have been a swimming pool for him, but for us it’s perfect for baptising people.

We also baptise the children in a red washing-up bowl. In the days when I wasn’t living in a war zone, we used to have questions about whether you baptise children or adults. Now we have no time for that kind of thing, we just do it.

One assumes these children are members of his long-standing local Anglican congregation. Also:

…We meet in the very room where Saddam Hussein used to have his Republican Guard meetings, his Cabinet.

Around that same Cabinet table we worship God and lead people to God. It’s wonderful to see how God has worked, how he has changed people, not just people who are searching, but people who have already come to faith and need to develop it further.

I’m sure White sees this as simply “redeeming” a bad place through putting it to a good use. But in the context of a belligerant Christian supremicist rhetoric from Watties and his US colleagues, perhaps a bit more discretion would have been sensible.

(Truthdig hat-tip to Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Incidentally, White has links with two other people I’ve blogged in the past: Georges Sada and Irene Lancaster. See here for background to the picture.)

Tennessee Prosperity Gospel Evangelist Meets African Presidents

From the Chattanoogan:

Dr. Steve Ball, a Chattanooga area church and community leader, arrived in Kenya on Wednesday and will be traveling to Uganda and Rwanda through next Tuesday at the invitation of international spiritual leader, Bishop Robert Kayanja of the Miracle Centre in Uganda (a church with more than 80,000 members).

He will participate in meetings with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, President Museveni of Uganda, and the president of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, as well as 3,000 pastors and community leaders in Rwanda and some 500+ Ugandan business leaders.

Throughout his visit to Africa, Dr. Ball will be participating in a multi-national crusade taking place in Rwanda’s National Stadium.

Ball, who pastors the Metropolitan Tabernacle Ministerial Fellowship in Chattanooga, is not someone of whom I was previously aware. His website informs us that

Greatness lies within you…
You can walk in power!
You can live in prosperity!
You can experience healing and hope!
Everything about you is built to GO FORWARD!
You are purposed for success!
You have a devil-conquering destiny!

It also tells us that he

…networks with and mentors “spiritual sons” across America and around the world.

He and his wife are hosts on TBN’s Praise the Lord! show.

American preachers enjoy considerable access to African presidents such as Kagame and Museveni, as I have blogged a number of times in the past – Californian evangelist Rick Warren intends for Rwanda to become the first “Purpose-Driven Nation”, following precepts derived from his Peter Drucker-inspired book The Purpose-Driven Life, while Museveni and his wife have been praised for taking evangelical advice on combating AIDS (with mixed results). Earlier this year, Museveni was praised by healing evangelist Morris Cerullo, who opined that “You are the right man in the right country at the right time and God has blessed your leadership”.

Bishop Robert Kayanja (whom I profiled here) is the link-man in many of these cases; as well as hosting Cerullo and Ball, a few months ago he brought Benny Hinn to Uganda, which backfired somewhat when Kayanja had some kind of spiritual experience on stage, suggesting that Hinn had greater spiritual power and leading to rumours that Hinn had exorcised him. Hinn was soon followed by the aptly-named US evangelist Creflo Dollar, whose lavish lifestyle is currently under the scrutiny of the Senate Finance Committee.

The Kigali New Times has some details of the latest crusade in Rwanda, although Steve Ball is not mentioned:

About fifty people claimed to have been healed by the power of God at the opening of Pastor Kayanja’s Miracle crusade on Friday evening at the Amahoro National Stadium.

…One man jumped out of his wheel chair, and a woman dropped her clutches after the pastor’s prayers.

A man who claimed lost his sight for ten months claimed to have regained it.

…The convention was attended by many dignitaries including the Mayor of Kigali City, Dr. Aisa Kirabo Kacyira.

(Meanwhile, Ed Brayton has written a very interesting piece for the Michigan Messenger on Keith Butler, an exponent of the Prosperity Gospel who is poised to become Michigan representative on the Republican National Committee. The piece provides a good overview of the movement as a whole.)

Gilbert Deya to be Extradited over “Miracle Babies”

The Nairobi Nation reports:

Bishop Gilbert Deya is to be returned to Kenya to face trial for claims that he was involved in baby-trafficking, a London court has ruled.

…During the hearing which began on Wednesday, the Kenya Government alleged that Mr Deya stole five children between May 1999 and December 2004 and tried to pass them off as his own.

He is accused also of conspiracy to murder a police officer in Kenya.

However, his lawyer, Mr Ben Cooper, said his client is a victim of a political vendetta by the Kenya government because of his criticism of it.

Deya claims that his 57-year-old wife – and a number of female congregants – had given birth to “miracle babies”, conceived through prayer and brought to term after a few weeks. Interestingly, women who sought such pregnancies were obliged to travel to Deya’s clinic in an impoverished district of Nairobi, where they were anesthetised before being presented with a baby. The fact that the babies’ DNA did not match the parents was put down to the “miracle”. Deya’s wife Mary was jailed in May, as I blogged at the time.

Mary Deya had attempted to prove the miracles with a dramatic hospital visit:

…His wife arrived at a hospital in Nairobi on Saturday, carrying a new-born baby, a handful of blood-stained clothes and a placenta.

However, doctors said they did not believe she had given birth. James Kiarie, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at Kenyatta National Hospital, said: “I have conducted a thorough check of the birth canal and there are no signs of pregnancy or after-birth.”

Gilbert claimed the police had intimidated the doctors, and uttered a curse against Kenya:

“The hand of the wrath of God of Israel is upon you. You are so merciless to the infant mothers. You have snatched them on the street of Nairobi, you have brought a curse upon the nation.” warned Deya…”Your wicked, demonic police, who might have been trained by the devil from hell are attempting to rape the holy Woman of God. Your unfaithful government have taken their evil hand, laid it upon my family and disgraced me and my children, Oh Kenya! You are doomed, you are cursed,”

The scam continues to have tragic consequences in the UK. The Guardian reported on one case in September 2005:

An infertile couple who claim to have given birth to a “miracle” baby are to go to court in an attempt to win back custody of the child from social services.

The couple, who cannot be named, are going to the high court to oppose the baby being put up for adoption. The authority, Haringey council in north London, will resist the application.

…The legal battle over the fate of Baby C has already cost more than £1m. He has had six care placements in less than two years, and two adoption attempts have fallen through because attempts to clarify his status have taken so long.

…The 38-year-old woman told the high court that Baby C was the second of three “miracle” babies born to her after prayers, and she was pregnant with him for just 27 days. She said the first of her babies died soon after birth in Kenya and the third was taken by Kenyan authorities.

However, all may not be lost for Deya: Kenya is currently preparing for an election, and opposition party ODM-Kenya stands a reasonable chance of winning. According to a report from the African Press in March, Deya

…revealed that there is a deal that has been struck between him and the ODM-Kenya leadership…Deya says he has been offered to become Kenya’s High Commissioner to London if ODM-Kenya takes over power in Kenya after the coming elections.

…The man does not lack surprises to tell the Kenyans. When asked about the child trafficking case in Kenya and how he could be given such a high position when Kenya wants to prosecute him, Deya says that the new government of ODM-K has entered into a memorandum of understanding with Deya Ministries that the charges will be dropped if ODM-Kenya takes over, thereafter, his appointment will be made public on the 25th of February 2008.

I gave a fuller account of Deya’s background – including his production of videos with titles like Jesus Healed a Woman with Three Breastshere.

2007 has been a bad year for African evangelists: numerous scandals have been reported, ranging from male rape through to the use of an electric shock machine to impersonate the Holy Spirit.

Antony Flew, David Marsland, and Right Now!

Back in 2005, I blogged philosopher Anhony Flew’s conversion from atheism to some kind of Intelligent-Design inspired deism, and his subsequent disavowal of this change in his opinion. However, it appears that Flew has since re-embraced belief in God, and a new book bearing his name – entitled There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind – has received considerable media comment. A New York Times interviewer found that Flew didn’t appear to know anything much about the content of his supposedly co-authored volume, and that he seemed somewhat vague and confused. Flew, it is claimed, is being manipulated in his dotage by exponents of Intelligent Design, who believe that Flew’s endorsement is a powerful argument from authority in the effort to have their theories recognised as proper science. Flew’s supporters have responded by asserting that the Times report was a travesty, and that Flew remains intellectually vigorous and clear-headed.

I have no idea whether Flew’s latest book is evidence of a failing mind. What should be remembered, though, is that he has a history of sounding-off on subjects about which he knows little – presumably he feels that his analytical skills as a philosopher mean he doesn’t need to bother with much actual research. This was in evidence when he first stepped back from supporting ID:

I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction…I have been mistaught by Gerald Schroeder…it was precisely because he appeared to be so well qualified as a physicist (which I am not) that I was never inclined to question what he said about physics.

This was in a letter to Richard Carrier, who made it public with the following commentary:

this attitude seems to pervade Flew’s method of truthseeking, of looking to a single author for authoritative information and never checking their claims…As Flew admitted to me, and to Stuart Wavell of the London Times, and Duncan Crary of the Humanist Network News, he has not made any effort to check up on the current state of things in any relevant field.

Another source well regarded by Antony Flew is Richard Lynn, a University of Ulster-based researcher who studies supposed IQ differences between blacks, whites, and Asians. Historian of biology John M. Lynch notes a recent New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, for which Flew has provided a sympathetic entry on eugenics. Lynch quotes the final paragraph:

In the United States, three people, Mark Haller, Kenneth Ludmerer, and Daniel Kevles, published polemical and abusive histories of the eugenics movement. Extracts from the third of these were serialized in the New Yorker, while the New York Times Book Review described it as “a revealing study by a distinguished historian of science.” For an alternative and better-informed view of this work by Kevles see pp. 15 – 17 of the first chapter of Richard Lynn’s scholarly Dysgenics: Genetic Deterioration in Modern Populations (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996).

Lynch comments:

End of entry. Dan Kevles is indeed a “distinguished historian of science” and his work, In the Name of Eugenics, is recognized by historians (but apparently not philosophers like Flew) as the standard history of the eugenic movement – a “polemical and abusive” history it is not, unless one actually has well-developed sympathies for the eugenicists and racists that populate Kevles’ pages. And why would we go to a book by Richard Lynn…unless Flew himself shared significant aspects of Lynn’s thought?

In fact, Flew and Lynn are long-time political allies in the UK. Flew was a patron of the recently-defunct Right Now! magazine, an organ of the radical right which also held a number of conferences (some at the central London headquarters of the “Mark Masons”). Searchlight, a UK anti-fascist magazine, has reported on Right Now! a couple of times. The first report notes that:

In later issues Right Now has toned down some of its more overtly racist articles. Recognising that most people are genuinely appalled by the crass racism and stereotyping of the sort pushed by the BNP, Right Now seems to be favouring a more sophisticated form of racism in the guise of eugenics. Not only does this give a pseudo-scientific justification for racist beliefs, it also helps justify an anti-welfare agenda.

One eugenicist interviewed was Professor Richard Lynn, the Ulster-based academic who has specialised in IQ studies. “There is solid evidence that, on average, blacks have smaller brains than whites,” Lynn told Right Now’s editor Derek Turner. “Higher intelligence of the Oriental and Caucasian peoples was probably an evolutionary adaptation to the problems of survival in cold northern environments. Human beings first evolved in tropical Africa where survival is relatively easy. Then some of them migrated northwards into Eurasia and they found life wasn’t so simple. They had to survive through cold winters, build shelters, make clothing and fires and hunt animals in order to survive. They had to become more intelligent to survive.”

A second Searchlight report, not available on-line (1), describes a 2006 Right Now! conference that included around twenty BNP members, including none other than “Rev” Robert West, whom I last discussed just a few days ago. Lynn was also a speaker there. However, the conference also involved the radical “libertarian” right, represented in particular by Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance.

This “libertarian” angle perhaps explains why Flew was willing to support Right Now! as a patron. It also explains why another of the magazine’s patrons was Professor David Marsland, whom I’ve blogged before. Marsland’s views on social policy have made him a hero to the radical “libertarian right”, and this site shows him in 2003 receiving a “Liberty in Theory Award” from Timothy Evans, a well-known Libertarian Alliance activist (and opponent of CND). Marsland, while a free-market fundamentalist, has a curious view of “liberty” more generally. These views were laid out in a 2004 presentation to the Springbok Club, where he explained how to win the “War on Terror”:

Halt or segregate air flights into or out of Britain by Arabs.

…Strengthen anti-terrorist legislation to allow on suspicion indefinite secret imprisonment (without appeal, without visits and without any privileges), tough interrogation, and where necessary summary execution by authorised agents.

…Reduce the need for prisons in Iraq by authorising summary execution of known enemy. Throw journalists, servicemen or anyone else who seek to file lying and negative reports about conditions in terrorist prisons in Iraq or elsewhere into these same prisons for an indefinite term.

Censor prejudiced and negative reporting of the war against terrorism by British media. Neutralise by military means any Arab media providing a propaganda outlet for terrorists. (2)

The Springbok Club is a London-based organization which pines for the return of white rule over Africa. Journalist Johann Hari wrote about the club for the New Republic a few months ago, as part of a profile of right-wing historian Andrew Roberts:

In 2001, Roberts spoke to a dinner of the Springbok Club, a group that regards itself as a shadow white government of South Africa and calls for “the re-establishment of civilized European rule throughout the African continent.” Founded by a former member of the neo-fascist National Front, the club flies the flag of apartheid South Africa at every meeting. The dinner was a celebration of the thirty-sixth anniversary of the day the white supremacist government of Rhodesia announced a Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, which was pressing it to enfranchise black people…The British High Commission in South Africa has accused the club of spreading “hate literature.”

Marsland was not only a patron of Right Now!; he has the same position with the lobby group “Anglican Friends of Israel”. This does not mean, of course, that Anglicans for Israel necessarily approves of Marsland’s other activities (and we certainly would not suggest any AFI sympathy with Lynn’s views), but I would certainly not want to be associated with him.

(Hat tip: Pharyngula)

(1) David Williams, “Right Here, Right Now!“, in Searchlight, December 2006, pp. 14-15.

(2) The speech also appears in Right Now!, October 2004, pp. 10-11.

Interfaith Agreement

Mohammed Naseem, chairman of the UK Birmingham Central Mosque:

…He went on to express his concern…that there were “4 organisations running the world” – the Bilderberg group, the Trilateral Commission, McKenzie and Co Public Relations, and Common Purpose.

He stated that the Bilderberg group was a secret organisation, which holds secret “invitation only” meetings. He stated that the job of Trilateral Commission was to identify those people in power in a given country who would be willing to accept the Bilderberg’s agenda for their own country. He stated that the job of the McKenzie organisation was to facilitate the policies of a leader such as Tony Blair.

Dr Naseem stated the fourth organisation – Common Purpose was “seeping through society like branches of cancer”…He added that one of the activities which took place in the Common Purpose seminars is “brain-washing,” and that Common Purpose was seeking to identify “the leaders of the future” so that they would eventually “sing from the same hymn book” – which was prepared by Bilderberg, The Trilateral Commission, McKenzie and Co. and Common Purpose.

Hal Lindsey, US Christian Zionist author (link added):

…powerful forces outside of our government – like the shadowy international Money Trust members of the “Bilderberg Group” – made a decision to force the formation of the North American Union along with the amero. There decisions have been instituted in the past via the Trilateral Commission, which is the dba for the nefarious Conference on Foreign Relations. Destroying the American dollar could force the crisis that would force the creation of the North American Union. To quote the title of a book of the 1960s era, “None Dare Call It Conspiracy.”

(I looked previously at Lindsey’s “Money Trust” conspiracy theory here)

Christian Zionists Complain of Being Ignored by Bush

From Onenewsnow, a few days ago:

The group Christians United for Israel is calling on President Bush to refrain from pressuring Israel into territorial concessions at an upcoming Mideast Summit in Annapolis, Maryland.

…Dr. Jim Hutchens, the Washington area director of Christians United for Israel, says the president has a noble goal of fostering Mideast peace, but is receiving poor “religious” advice.

“I must believe that there is advice that’s being given to him, probably by clergymen, perhaps even theologians. But the advice would be based upon replacement theology — and that is that the church is the new Israel, and that the Israel of the Old Testament has been superseded. Thus the term ‘super-sessionism’; it’s been superseded by the church,” says Hutchens.

This “replacement theology” can be contrasted with Christian Zionism, which believes that God has a continuing role for Israel – but (on the whole) that Jews who die without converting to Christianity will be going to hell anyway.

Hutchens’ complaint is of interest because it suggests that Bush is not quite as committed to appeasing Christian Zionists as we might think. Indeed, someone might like to break it to Hutchens that perhaps Bush is not receiving ministrations from “theologians” on the conflict at all, but is instead making do with political scientists and such. He’s right to feel let down, though – at the CUFI conference in July (blogged here and here), founder Pastor John Hagee revelled as he read out a letter of support from Bush:

“I appreciate CUFI members and all event participants for your passion and dedication to enhancing the relationship between the United States and Israel. Your efforts set a shining example for others and help lay the foundation of peace for generations to come. Laura and I send our best wishes for a memorable event. May God bless you. George W. Bush, President of the United States.”

Hagee presented a sanitised image at the July CUFI conference. The real deal, though, can be seen in this older sermon. Fasten your seatbelts:

Paul Cameron Speaks to British Far-Right Front Group

Ex-Gay Watch notes that US anti-gay activist Paul Cameron recently addressed a meeting in the UK of the Christian Council of Britain, a front-organisation of Nick Griffin’s far-right and racist British Nationalist Party. Quoting from the organisation’s website:

The CCoB is launching a series of public debates on morality and family values and how current and proposed legislation is destroying freedom of speech, preaching and individual moral choice. The inaugural conference is in London on October 26th 2007, where the subject is ‘The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill (Proposed Amendments) – Morality and Family Values. Introduced by the CCoB Moderator, the Rev. R.W.B. West, our speaker is Dr. Paul Cameron of the Family Re[se]arch Institute, Colorado, USA.

Cameron is notorious for a string of inflammatory pseudo-scientific publications, and his statistical “research” is often cited by the US Christian right in their efforts to oppose gay rights. As the Southern Poverty Law Center reports:

“Homosexuality is an infectious appetite with personal and social consequences,” is how Cameron describes the phenomenon he studies. “It is like the dog that gets a taste for blood after killing its first victim and desires to get more victims thereafter with a ravenous hunger.”

…Religious right action groups including Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition promote Cameron’s statistics on their Web sites. The Christian Communications Network, a public relations firm run by anti-abortion zealot Gary McCullough — media adviser to Operation Rescue and the parents of Terri Schiavo, whose feeding tube removal sparked a major controversy — publicizes Cameron’s findings to religious newspapers and helps distribute tens of thousands of his heavily footnoted pamphlets to church congregations.

I blogged on Cameron here.

RWB West, meanwhile, is the absurd “Reverend” Robert West; I played a role in bringing him to public attention last year. West, whose “Apostolic Church” denominational affiliation is obscure (an established group of the name disavows any knowledge of him), was a Conservative Party town councillor who addressed a meeting of the far-right British Nationalist Party last year. I transcribed a section, in which he described multi-racial society as

…a transgression of God’s will…Adam and his descendants were commanded by God to fill the earth, not to come to one part of it, namely England. The refusal of Adam’s surviving descendants through Noah to spread out led to God’s judgement at Babel, and his confusing of the tongues…The blossoming of what I call the proto-race…into many nations was to be a manifestation of God’s glory, like light passing through a prism.

A similar statement on the importance of racial separation appears on the CCoB website.

The Christian Council of Britain also tried to hijack conservative Christian protests against Jerry Springer: The Opera, although the group leading the protest, Christian Voice, quickly repudiated any association. West was also denounced by other Christian groups, and the Conservative Party made it clear he was unwanted. West soon defected to the BNP, and lost his seat at the last election. Given that the CCoB website has been largely inactive for the last 18 months or more, I had thought we had seen the last of West. Alas not, it seems.

The revamped CCoB website has no mention of Clive Potter, who at one point was supposed to be the CCoB’s president; Potter received unwelcome attention back in July, when it was revealed that he was the unmarried live-in partner of a BNP activist who acted as the (since removed) “media consultant” to the British affiliate of the US abstinence organisation, Silver Ring Thing (they claim to share a bed, but without having sex).

Cameron’s visit to the CCoB comes shortly after BNP leader Nick Griffin spoke to Young Americans for Freedom at Michigan State University.

“Rev” Robert West

Palestinian Pastor Flees Ramallah

More bad news from the “Holy Land”, as a Palestinian-American pastor is forced to flee from Ramallah:

…Pastor Isa Bajalia, 47, a US citizen born in Birmingham, Alabama, said that he had been threatened over the last two months by a Fatah security official from the Tanzim militia who also demanded $30,000 in protection money. Bajalia said he had moved to nearby Jerusalem since the threats began.

…For the last decade he served as pastor for a group of 30-35 people in Ramallah, holding Sunday services in private homes and carrying out missionary work among the Palestinians, who are predominantly Muslim.

…Initially, Bajalia said he was treated with respect, but some suspicion, by the locals, and viewed as an outsider coming in with a foreign concept. The pastor said the threats began about two months ago after a group of church workers were seen praying on behalf of Palestinians.

The unnamed official reportedly warned Bajalia that he faced the same fate as Rami Ayyad, who was murdered in Gaza last month by Islamists. Despite this, the threats against Bajalia appear to be more opportunist than religiously-inspired; doubtless Bajalia has made himself unpopular in some quarters with his proselytising activities, and the Fatah official has sought to use this for personal gain. However, it should be noted that Bajalia was complaining about harassment from PA officials back in 1997.

Bajalia is the son of Palestinian Greek Orthodox immigrants who relocated to the USA. According to his website, he himself became a Baptist and then a Charismatic. He trained at the Rhema Bible Training Center, which was founded by the late Kenneth Hagin and which emphasises financial prosperity and personal success for believers (the “Word-Faith” movement, which I discussed here). His church appears to have been an outreach of the Living Word Church in Pelham, Alabama, which has deleted its website but which can be accessed through Wayback. Living Word (which also has affiliated churches in Kenya, Mexico, and Russia) is headed by Pastor Truett Murphy. However, Bajalia’s website also shows links with another Rhema church, the Decatur Christian Fellowship. While some Rhema figures stress Christian Zionism – particularly Kenneth Copeland – it is not a central issue, and many Rhema churches are independent of each other.

The plight of Christian Palestinians is a matter of some controversy: strong supporters of Israel tend to blame the situation squarely on Palestinian Muslims, deliberately ignoring (or even dismissing) the context of the occupation, while strong supporters of the Palestinians risk underplaying the real pressures from Palestinian Islamists and corrupt officials. I looked at the issues in more detail here and here.

Bajalia’s relocation to Jerusalem is in contrast to what happened to another American-Palestinian pastor, Khader El-Yateem, whose Palestinian-American wife was refused entry into Israel last year (as I blogged here).

(Things are not all well for Christians across the border, either, where the The Narkis Street Baptist Church in Jerusalem was recently torched, apparently by Jewish extremists.)

Name variation: Pastor Issa Bajalia

Kiev Patriarch Meets Brownback and Voinovich

From Interfax-Religion:

The leader of the self-declared Kiev Patriarchate Filaret Denisenko discussed a possibility of establishing the united Orthodox Church in the Ukraine with US Congress Members.

Friday a Kiev issue of the Kommersant daily reported that Denisenko met with Republican Senators George Voinovich and Sam Brownback, and Gus Bilirakis, the head of the support group to the Greek Orthodox Church in the House of Representatives.

Interfax takes a strong pro-Kremlin line, and it intensely dislikes Patriarch Filaret, whose self-governing (“autocephalous”) church rivals the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine. Invariably, Filaret is described as a “schismatic”, and the idea that he is backed by the Americans is something Interfax would be keen to publicise, and perhaps exaggerate.

Brownback’s interest in Ukraine is long-standing. According to a 2004 Hill report:

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) has emerged as the next likely chairman of the U.S. commission that monitors human rights in Ukraine…The new chairman will help shape U.S. policy toward Ukraine and neighboring Russia and, by extension, take part in efforts to curb nuclear-weapons proliferation, global terrorism and arms and drug trafficking, sources close to the commission said…The new chairman will help frame a clear and consistent U.S. position regarding Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, a Republican aide said…

Filaret’s trip to Washington follows in the footsteps of Serbian Bishop Artemije Radosavljevic, who has successfully lobbied Brownback and Voinovich to oppose an independent Kosovo (along with Rick Santorum, as I blogged here).