Georgian Orthodoxy and the Christian King

Religioscope carries an interview with Basil Kobakhidze, a Georgian ex-priest who is known for his criticisms of religious extremism and alleged abuses within the Georgian Orthodox church (I wrote a blog entry on him here). Among other topics, he discusses a church plan to restore the monarchy:

L’an dernier, le patriarche a néanmoins directement essayé d’organiser un scénario de transition politique. Il est allé chercher le dernier descendant de la famille princière des Bagration. Ce jeune homme, le prince David Bagration, a toujours vécu en Espagne et ne parle pas un mot de géorgien. L’Eglise l’a marié en grande pompe à une descendante d’une autre branche des Bagration, de manière à symboliser l’union de la Géorgie. Le nouveau couple princier devait avoir un enfant, qui aurait dû être élevé par le patriarche, pour en faire le futur souverain chrétien de la Géorgie.

Patriarch Ilia II called for a constitutional monarchy in a sermon in 2007; opposition politicians expressed support, and another church figure enthused over the prospect in mystical terms:

…Archpriest Tariel Sakinchilashvili, has stated that the Patriarch will name and bless the Georgian monarch in the very near future.

‘He appeared on earth thirty years ago, when our Patriarch was enthroned’, said Fr Tariel. ‘I am convinced that Georgia will discover the name of its monarch this year. At first many will be amazed, public opinion may be divided, but in the course of about three years everything will take shape’.

…’The Lord’s Anointed is among us now, he became thirty when the Patriarch announced that the rebirth of the monarchy was vital. Obviously, he is a representative of the Bagration royal family and an Orthodox Christian’.

This was an obvious reference to Prince David; although raised in Spain, he moved to Georgia a few years ago, and he is reportedly an altar server for the Patriarch. His family’s website notes that:

The Royal House of Bagrationi has contributed greatly to the history of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The kings of this Royal House were very much concerned with strengthening the Georgian Church, and were constantly working toward this objective.

He is also Grand Master of a couple of chivalric orders: the Order of the Eagle of Georgia and the Seamless Tunic of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Order of the Holy Queen Tamar (I wrote a blog entry on the curious “chivalric” sub-culture here).

The marriage (which Ilia blessed but was absent from for medical reasons) was meant to end a dispute over the succession, but it has foundered and there is so far no heir to be raised to be a “Christian king” (the family website contains no mention of Prince David’s wedding or his Bagration-Gruzinsky in-laws). Kobakhidze repeats a claim that the marriage has been sabotaged by the Georgian government, although no evidence is given.

It is the case, though, that the Georgian authorities were wary of the marriage; Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili claimed that it was a “Russian project” and that the bride had been “forced” to divorce her previous husband to facilitate the union. This was despite the fact that Prince David had joined Georgian soldiers on the front line in 2008 and had denounced “the true face of Russia”.

Also supporting the restoration of the monarchy is the militant Orthodox activist Malkhaz Gulashvili, whom I blogged here. However, his appeal to President Saakashvili was an absurdly unattractive pitch; he opined that  “Saakashvili can become a Georgian Franco” if he were to restore the monarchy.

WorldNetDaily Warns Bible Might Predict Destruction of Saudi Arabia

More mangled pseudo-scholarship from Joel Richardson, who at WorldNetDaily asks a Great Religious Question to Which the Answer is No:

Does the Bible predict destruction of Saudi Arabia?

Middle-Eastern media outlets are reporting that Israel may be about to launch a major attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Last week, Israel Today reported that Saudi Arabia had given Israel permission to use its airspace for an attack, and now the Iranian Fars News Agency has reported that a squad of Israeli jets has even landed at a military airstrip in Saudi Arabia. Could this development have any significance with regard to biblical prophecy? I believe it could.

And the reason is – because the weird symbolism of the Book of Revelation allows just about any interpretation to be imposed upon it:

As the story unfolds, we are introduced to the seven-headed beast, a being which represents the seven world empires of history that have sought to destroy Israel. In that the beast is seen to be a reflection of Satan the dragon, it is also believed that these gentile empires have been Satan’s primary vehicles or strongholds in the earth. The first world empire that made efforts to destroy the Hebrew people, of course, was Egypt. Egypt was followed by Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. This brings the number of empires to six. There is one more. Each one of these empires share the commonalities of having possessed the same destructive anti-Semitic spirit. Each sought, but failed, to exterminate the Jewish people.

…Identifying “Mystery Babylon” is actually far simpler than it might seem. The prototype of the ultimate last-days Babylon, of course, was simply Babylon, the spiritual and economic capital of the Empire of Babylonia. Later in the first century, however, the Apostle Peter, writing from Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, referred to Rome as “Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13). In this, we see that the early church understood “Babylon” to be a concept that migrated. Babylon is a symbolic codeword that refers to the capital of the reigning beast empire. In the first century, the persecuting beast empire was the Roman Empire. But today, the anti-Semitic beast empire of the earth is the Islamic Empire.

Where to begin? Yes, the early church regarded Babylon as Rome – but that was because of Roman persecution of Christians, not because of how the Roman Empire treated “the Hebrew people”. The author of Revelation’s villain is Nero, not Vespasian or Titus. The seven-headed beast thus simply represents Rome, which, as everyone knows, is famous for having seven hills. That’s the simplest solution to the problem of the “seven heads”: there’s no need to go ransacking ancient history looking for other empires that have attacked Israel, much less speculate about some future empire which isn’t even hinted at in the text of Revelation.

And Richardson’s “six world empires” that “made efforts to destroy the Hebrew people” is botched, anyway. Obviously, his schema is derived from the vision in Daniel 2 in the Hebrew Bible, but it’s not a close reading: Daniel’s vision is concerned with Asian empires from Babylon through to the Hellenistic period – Egypt does not figure, and Daniel’s empires are listed because they were successive world powers, not because of their antipathy to Israel. Richardson’s list is just his own speculation – and why would Persia be included as part of “Mystery Babylon”, when the Bible regards Cyrus as a Messiah who restored the Jews following the Babylonian capivity?

And if attempts to “extermine the Jewish people” are the author of Revelation’s primary concern, and he really did have a supernatural power to foresee the future (rather than writing for his own time and context, as with comparable Apocalyptic texts), surely he would have referenced the Third Reich?

As for Saudi Arabia, Richardson notes that it exports “radical Islamic pro-jihad” literature, while simultaneously being reviled across the Muslim world as corrupt. Thus,

As the spiritual and economic capital of the reigning anti-Semitic beast empire of our day, Saudi Arabia/Mecca may be identified as the Great Prostitute of Revelation 17 and 18… As I have traveled the nation, after teaching on this subject, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has rejected the idea outright.

Maybe he should meet a wider range of people…

Apparently, Saudi Arabia is likely to be destroyed because “the Saudis are collaborating with the Jewish nation, the enemy of all enemies, to launch an attack on Iran”. This is despite the fact that supporting Israel is supposed to be a good thing. Such is the convoluted thinking of Christian Zionism, in which bizarre speculations about geo-politics and global war seem to have completely displaced the historic concerns of Christianity.

Mosab Hassan Yousef Update

The National Review Online has an editorial on the case of Mosab Hassan Yousef:

Mosab Hassan Yousef must have encountered nearly everything on his unlikely journey. But surely he never ran across anything as stupid as the American immigration bureaucracy.

As has been widely reported,  Yousef is threatened with deportation due to his past links to Hamas – even though he was spying for Israel:

…The department bases its argument on Yousef’s autobiography, Son of Hamas. In it, he reports that when Shin Bet agents showed him pictures of Hamas members who were suspected of involvement in a March 2001 bombing, he told the agents that he’d driven some of the members to safehouses. Of course, this is the kind of thing that spies do routinely — assist the enemy when asked, especially in small ways, so as not to blow their cover. Common sense indicates that our material-support rules don’t apply to support that’s provided — at the behest of a U.S. ally — within a broader attempt to bring down a terrorist organization.

If Yousef returns to the West Bank, he risks execution. Obviously, DHS doesn’t believe he’s a threat, or it would detain him; in fact, the FBI has advised DHS that Yousef is not a threat. He has converted to Christianity and has become vocal critic of Islam.

This is a reasonable assessment of what’s probably going on – various other commentators, though, are suggesting that the deportation threat is coming directly from “the Obama administration” as part of a pro-Muslim conspiracy.

But (as I asked previously) why would he be returned to “the West Bank” even if he is deported? Surely he would simply arrive at Tel Aviv? There’s something of an elephant in the room here  – and there’s a piece of evidence from the Israeli right that would perhaps assist Yousef’s case for remaining in the USA. The Jerusalem Post reported the following in April:

Thousands of Palestinian collaborators who have moved to Israel in search of protection live here without basic human rights, financial assistance or adequate social benefits, according to a first-of-its kind report on the living conditions of those who have risked their lives for the Jewish state.

Published last month by the Legal Forum for Eretz Israel, the report highlights the plight of more than 6000 individuals and their families who are either not officially recognized, or only partially recognized, as being collaborators with Israel, and who are basically left to fend for themselves after being deemed traitors by the Palestinian authorities.

“There are literally thousands of threatened people who have been living in Israel for more than ten years with a special [temporary] permit but who are not allowed to work and do not receive health benefits,” said [Michael] Teplow [var. Michael Tupelow], explaining that many are employed on the black market for very low pay and under terrible conditions. “These people go through serious mental anguish every three months when their permit has to be renewed. They never know if they might be suddenly arrested [by the Israeli authorities] and returned across the border.”

Perhaps this isn’t surprising – while Yousef was motivated by humanitarian concerns, many other Palestinian collaborators were coerced by Israel; the BBC noted last month that

Some do it for money, some are compromised sexually, others may do it for the promise of medical treatment unavailable in the Palestinian territories.

It is unlikely that Israel is going to care about such Palestinians’ long-term interests. However, this context does not feature in any of the discussion about Yousef’s case. It appears that Israel’s support for him has not gone further than a letter of recommendation, although his Shin Bet handler has broken the rules to speak on his behalf.  If Yousef faces a “death sentence” if deported, it’s because Israel either cannot or will not look after its collaborators – but this doesn’t seem to be a subject that anyone wants to talk about in any detail. Is the USA to take in all collaborators under threat, or just those who convert to Christianity and link up with conservative “anti-jihad” pundits?

Meanwhile, among those supporting Yousef is Walid Shoebat, who promotes the conspiracy-theory version of the situation on OneNewsNow:

Like Yousef, Walid Shoebat is a former Muslim who converted to Christianity and became an outspoken critic of Islam. He says authorities are trying to find something in Yousef’s book that would allow them to accuse him of terrorism.

…”We have an administration that basically wants to fight against repentant terrorists while they want to release the real terrorists in Gitmo [Guantanamo Bay, Cuba],” he notes. “I think the reason is because Mosab Hasan Yousef speaks against Islam openly. He talks about the Koran and Islam as being evil. They don’t like this kind of thing, and they want to extradite him.”

Although Shoebat is keen to endorse Yousef,  Yousef would be wise to keep some distance: Shoebat’s own story is far less impressive – and is coming under renewed scrutiny with the recent humilitation of Ergun Caner. Caner is being demoted by Liberty University after discrepencies in his story of being an ex-jihadist came to light; the Religious News Service reports that:

Other terrorists-turned-Christians have invited scrutiny as well, including U.S. citizens Walid Shoebat, author of Why We Want To Kill You, and Kamal Saleem, who has worked for Focus on the Family, and recently wrote The Blood of Lambs. Like Caner’s book, their books purport to be insider explorations of radical Islam.

…Skeptics point out Shoebat and Saleem claim to have carried out their terrorist activities in the 1960s and 1970s, long before modern Islamic radicalism emerged in the 1980s. They also question why, if their terror claims are true, they’ve been able to retain their U.S. citizenship.

In Shoebat’s case, he’s a birth American on his mother’s side, but he and Saleem do seem to have rather an easy time of it when compared with Yousef’s current difficulties.

Searchlight Names EDL Leader “Tommy Robinson” as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon

(Updated and amended)

Searchlight‘s Hope Not Hate website carries an article about EDL leader “Tommy Robinson” – and reveals his real name:

Searchlight can exclusively reveal that the leader of the English Defence League is a former British National Party member… Self-proclaimed EDL leader Tommy Robinson is really Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, from Bedford.

…The revelation that Robinson had been a member of the BNP explains why so many of the initial EDL activists also attended BNP meetings in the Luton/Bedford area.

…It also explains the real reason why Robinson felt the need to hide his face.

“Tommy Robinson” has now confirmed his identity as Yaxley-Lennon on Facebook.

So why has this come out now?

The exposure of his identity follows a split in the EDL that is mostly being fought over the internet.

Paul Ray, self-styled spiritual guru of the EDL, has posted a series of messages on his Lionheart blog, in which he and his friend Nick Greger announce their intention to take control of the EDL. Ray was the original mover in creating the EDL, although he quickly fell out with the other leaders and moved abroad to Malta. Ray has focused his efforts on making Crusader-themed anti-Muslim promotional videos.

I’ve blogged this saga on numerous occasions; indeed, the Searchlight article includes some material lifted from me (particularly here, and annoyingly without credit). The article adds:

…It is thought that Ray and Greger were responsible for the appearance of a video on YouTube that unveiled Robinson as Stephen Yaxley along with a series of photographs, following outlandish claims by Ray that the EDL led by Robinson threatened to kidnap and harm members of Ray’s family.

This is not quite the full story: on 14 June a video appeared entitled “EDL leader Tommy Robinson Unmasked” (H/T Contemporary Anarchist), posted by “EDLmediauk” (who does not have any other uploads), and this appears to be the video to which Searchlight refers. However, although this video showed photos of Yaxley-Lennon, it didn’t give his name. His name does appear, though, in a mysterious video that was uploaded on 11 October 2009 by a certain”mrmuppet100” and entitled “English Defence League”; the same photos were displayed over audio of “Tommy Robinson’s” voice, and a comment was  added underneath the upload:

hey its steven yaxley………….

I originally thought that Ray took himself far too seriously to have chosen such a pseudonym as “mrmuppet100“, but the new video uses imagery from the Muppet Show to make fun of Yaxley-Lennon and other EDL leaders – that was probably also the sense in which “mrmuppet” meant to use the name. The new video also has some stylistic similarities with Ray’s videos, and it also derides Chris Renton – whom Ray particularly dislikes – and Joel Titus, the EDL youth leader whom I’ve blogged about previously. The photos of Yaxley-Lennon in the new video appear to have been taken directly from the October video, since the face of another person is edited out in the same way.

UPDATE: 1 Million United writes:

…’Robinson’ has not been seen since the story broke.

The EDL are keeping all talk of his subsequent disappearance off of their forum and official websites. Of course, the real clue is this; ‘Tommy Robinson’ deleted his Facebook account very shortly after the story broke and his cover was blown. He is no longer even listed on the admins list of the official EDL Facebook group.

1 Million United also has a screenshot of a statement on the EDL Media Facebook page:

We are aware of the article in the recent edition of Searchlight and also the article published in the Hope Not Hate website. We are not ignoring the article and are in the process of looking into its comments with regard to various issues.

We will update you later and in the meantime please just treat the article with the contempt it deserves.

Not Supporting Israel Explains Unfortunate Events: Oil Disaster Edition

Pastor Carl Gallups, who last year brought us “Jesus saw Satan as Baraq Ubamah“, is back with a new video; as before, over to WorldNetDaily:

Is oil catastrophe fulfillment of Genesis prophecy?

“April the 19th, Israel celebrates its independence in 2010,” Gallups says in narration on the video. “On April the 19th, Fox News reports that the U.S. will no longer automatically support Israel in the United Nations. The next day, on April the 20th, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explodes. Coincidence? Or the hand and judgment of God?”

…In the Book of Genesis, God told him, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse … .”

Here’s the Fox News report:

The Obama administration is reportedly signaling another major shift in policy towards one of its staunchest allies, Israel, and this shift could change the way it votes at the Security Council. The change would mean an end to the US’ use of its veto power in the United Nations Security Council when certain anti-Israel resolutions are introduced for a vote.?

Reports surfaced a couple of weeks ago, that a senior US diplomat met with Qatar’s foreign minister in Paris. They discussed the possibility that the US was giving serious consideration to not using its veto if a vote on Israeli settlements was to come up. It has been the policy of successive administrations to veto virtually all anti-Israel resolutions at the Security Council.?

While the Israeli spokesperson at the United Nations would not comment on the reports, US officials at the UN told Fox News that there is no such initiative before the Security Council and they are not “pursuing or encouraging such action”, but some critics believe they are playing a game of smoke and mirrors.?

So, the US has perhaps been “considering” this for a while; reports “surfaced a couple of weeks ago”, but the story only reached the attention of the omniscient creator of the universe after it had appeared on Fox. And God’s response to the development – which actually reflects long-term US opposition to settlement-expansion – is to blight the Gulf of Mexico around the same time as Israel’s Independence Day.

Gallups – who also promotes birther conspiracy theories – is pastor of the wonderfully Landoveresque Hickory Hammock Baptist Church in Milton, Florida. He also has a radio show, which has interviewed Alan Keyes, Joe Kovacs, Orly Taitz, and Mario Appuzzo.

But is he for real? A few days ago he posted a strange interview on his church’s website:

“The videos that I have produced concerning the question ‘Is Barack Obama the antichrist?’ are first and foremost, ‘novelty’ pieces and ‘political satire.’ How so many people who claim to be so ‘enlightened’ could have missed that is beyond me. The same type of stuff was done with Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Saddam Hussein and Hitler,” Gallups said.

…When asked what the most surprising reaction to his videos was, Pastor Gallups responded, “Well, you expect some of the leftist media or the rabid Obama supporters to miss the satire or the novelty element. That certainly has happened. There have been hit pieces scattered all over the net calling me all kinds of ugly names. Again, that was to be expected.”

…Gallups said, “Amazingly, I think Rachael Maddow, an outspoken leftist and Obama supporter ‘got it’ more than anyone else who reported on the videos. She noted within her report that it clearly ‘had to be’ satire. She got it, and biblical ‘scholars’ didn’t. Funny, huh?”

So how much of his other Biblical teaching is just “satire”? Does his congregation take it as such? Does WorldNetDaily know this? This is weird – he is a Biblical fundamentalist, and at the time his “Satan as Baraq Ubamah” piece was presented as being in earnest. Indeed, he even revised his video after an initial round of debunking. It seems to me that he’s simply thrown in the towel on that one, and he’s attempting to save face by announcing it was just a joke all along and that therefore those who called him out have been shown up (He’s not alone in this: I had a similar response from Joel Richardson when I debunked his claim that the stage setting for Obama’s 2008 primary acceptance speech was based on the pagan Pergamum Altar, which the Book of Revelation calls “the Throne of Satan”).

And as for “ppsimmons”, under whose name the videos are posted and who supposedly conducted the interview:

Ppsimmons, himself, and his staff produce other vids. Ppsimmons chooses, thus far, to remain anonymous. He feels that it adds to the “allure” of his site.

UPDATE: Right Wing Watch notes:

Yesterday, Cindy and Mike Jacobs of Generals International hosted a special webcast with Chuck Pierce on their website that focused primarily on explaining how the BP oil spill in the Gulf is due to President Obama’s poor treatment of Israel. 

Jacobs explained that years ago Bob Jones prophesied that following the death of Oral Roberts, the Gulf Coast would be hit with an oil spill and two hurricanes.  Apparently that prophecy is now coming true and it is because God is angry with Obama’s attitude toward Israel.

And from Rick Scarborough:

Our government, since the current administration has taken over, has been more courteous and kind to our enemies in the Middle East than they have to our allies. They way they’ve treated Israel has been shameful and I think a lot of the tragedy we’re facing right now could be attributed to that, if in fact you believe there is a God in Heaven, and you believe that the Bible is true, and you believe that God keeps his promises and also holds forth the judgment the he promises to those that transgress his law.

WorldNetDaily Publishes “Forensic Analysis” Showing Obama’s “Fealty to Islam”

A new pundit on WorldNetDaily reveals the shocking truth about Obama’s Muslim “fealty” – step forward one Pieder Beeli:

Often we can tell the truth about what someone believes by performing an inferential or forensic analysis. We analyze what is implied rather than what is explicitly stated…

Of course, “performing an inferential or forensic analysis” is just a pompous and vacuous way of asserting special analytical acumen – and to me, it “infers” that Beeli in fact is lacking in just this attribute (cf Ellis Washington). And indeed, this proves to be the case: he picks a few comments by Obama he doesn’t like the sound of (probably brought to his attention by conservative websites), and ranks these in terms of pluses and minuses in relation to Christianity and Islam. He laughably calls this “forensic linguistics”:

When speaking of the origins of Islam, why does Obama use the word “revealed”? In his Cairo speech, Obama said, “I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed [emphasis added].” One does not expect a Christian to suggest that God revealed Islam to Muhammad for the simple reason that if God did such, then Christianity is wrong… Why would not Obama instead choose to say, “when Islam was invented” or “fabricated” – or at least use the more equipoise “when Islam began…”?

…Similarly, when referring to the foundational book of Islam, why does Obama regularly and forcefully append the word “holy”?

…Concerning the foundational texts of Islam and Christianity, then, forensic linguistics tell us that the score is Islam +1, Christianity -1 (that’s minus 1).

…Obama shows a deference to align public policy with Islam. However, he shows a strong refusal to align public policy with Christian principles. When the context is Christianity, Obama warns against “sectarianism” and supports “secularism” (really, atheism).

Beeli also sees the hand of Obama behind Mosab Hassan Yousef’s immigration problems, even though it’s unlikely that the case has even crossed his desk:

While all historic schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence affirm the death penalty for apostasy, Obama has not allowed this fact to entertain hesitancy in sending Mosab to certain death.

He concludes:

While Obama may not be a Muslim, his fealty toward Islam and multiculturalism far exceed his fealty toward Christianity… our cumulative Obama score is Islam +4, Christianity -3.

Beeli has a PhD in physics from Notre Dame, and he also battles the theory of evolution; he is a signatory to the self-proclaimed “Growing list of eminent Scientists who are sceptical about the Claims of Darwinism“. This blog notes a contribution to the student newspaper

In the middle of the Observer are the editorial pages, called “Viewpoint.” The most interesting letter to the editor is from Pieder Beeli, a graduate student in physics. On the topic of biological evolution, he takes umbrage with the neo-Darwinian “fish to man theory that is dogmatically taught” at Notre Dame.

Beeli challenges the professors in the anthropology department to respond with proof of one instance where “an organism gains beneficial genetic information… from random mutational events” as it “develops to a state of greater complexity.” In his last paragraph, Beeli goads them a bit: “After 136 years of Darwinism, they certainly should be able to produce one example.”

(The blogger later triumphantly notes that “While I eat, I page through The Observer, looking to see if a prof from the anthropology department answered Pieder Beeli’s challenge. Nothing.”).

In 2000, Beeli corresponded with David Markowitz of the physics department at the University of Connecticut. Markowitz wrote that:

I received an email from a reader named Pieder Beeli bearing on questions of science, religion and evidence. He wrote in part, “May I suggest that you read Warrant and Proper Function by Alvin Plantinga. I especially had the chapter Is Naturalism Rational? in mind after finishing your editorial. There are multiple usages of the word “science.” One of the senses in which you used it is more appropriately called “naturalism.” Of course science is bigger than naturalism and should be able to bear on it. E.g. “Is naturalism rational?” etc…” So I dutifully bought the book by Plantinga, who is a philosopher at Notre Dame. Reading it is a punishment for a crime I did not commit.

Pieder also recommends books in other areas; he is a fan of Gold: The Once and Future Money by Nathan Lewis, and he complains that

Ironically a single unwitting Jew, Bernake, is committing terrorism on the US comparable to all the rest of the 1.2 B Muslims combined.

Ticking another of the usual boxes seen with his sort of character, he also here references the Roman Empire:

The “dark ages” and the fall of the Roman Empire was largely due to monetary policy.

But Pieder isn’t just a keyboard warrior; we read from March that he had an encounter with Rifqa Bary, the teenage ex-Muslim:

17-year-old Rifqa Bary stood outside courtroom 63 at the Franklin County Courthouse. The frail girl wore a lavender sweater and a huge smile while she greeted supporters. One of those was Pieder Beeli, who drove his wife and five children over from Dayton to meet the teen for the first time.

“She needs to be protected by some adults who will stand up and defend the American notion of equality under God,” Beeli said.

Mosab Hassan Yousef Deportation Threat

As has been widely reported, Mosab Hassan Yousef is facing the possibility of deportation from the USA; Yousef is the son of a senior Hamas figure, and he gained some media attention in 2008 for moving to America and announcing his conversion to Christianity (I blogged on this at the time). He subsequently revealed that he had worked with Israeli security services to undermine Hamas terrorist operations, and his memoir, Son of Hamas, has garnered consderable interest. He gives an account on Facebook:

It began when I arrived in America January 2, 2007. I walked into the airport like anyone else on a tourist visa. Seven months later, I went to the Homeland Security office, knocked on their door and told them, “Hey, guys, I am the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, my father is involved in a terrorist organization, and I would like political asylum in your country.”

They were shocked. They didn’t expect it. I told them, hey, you didn’t discover me. You didn’t catch me. I came to you and told you who I am to wake you up. I wanted them to see that they have huge gaps in their security and their understanding of terrorism and make changes before it’s too late.

I filed an application for political asylum. Not surprisingly, on February 23, 2009, they told me that I was “barred from a grant of asylum because there were reasonable grounds for believing [I] was a danger to the security of the United States and because [I] engaged in terrorist activity.”

More hearings followed. When they demanded evidence to support my claim that I was not a terrorist or a security threat, I filed a draft of my book, Son of Hamas. Surely this would make everything perfectly clear…

Recently, I received a document in which Homeland Security senior attorney Kerri Calcador claimed that, “In the book, the respondent discusses his extensive involvement with Hamas in great detail. For example, in one portion of the book, a member of Shin Bet shows the respondent a list of suspects implicated in a March 2001 suicide bombing and asks the respondent whether he knows the individuals. The respondent indicates that he does know five of the people on the list and states that he previously drove them to safe houses.”

On page 5, Calcador concluded that, “At a bare minimum, evidence of the respondent’s transport of Hamas members to safe houses—discussed above in the Statement of the Case as but one example of the respondent’s involvement with Hamas—indicates that the respondent provided material support to a [Tier I] terrorist organization.”

Is she kidding? Either Homeland Security’s chief attorney has zero reading comprehension, or else she intentionally took the passage out of context. And I am not sure which is worse.

Even a child reading the book can see that, during that time, I was working as a secret agent for the Shin Bet (Israeli’s internal security service, comparable to our FBI)…

Various conservative groups have taken up the cause, some inevitably suggesting this is some sort of Islamic conspiracy by the US government.

I have sympathy for Yousef’s predicament, as he tells it: some may regard his spying for Israel as a betrayal, but those who support Palestinian rights (and that includes me) should recognise that the responsibility lies with Hamas, whose terrorism and religious extremism clearly alienates thoughtful Palestinians and puts some, like Yousef, in impossible situations. As I blogged recently, Yousef is against the Israel occupation, and his co-author in Son of Hamas is very critical of Israel. Yousef has also posted an article from Haaretz to his website which contains the following from his former Shin Bet handler:

“I handled no few agents who had ideological motives, who did not want to see more killings. Many were critical of Israel and Mosab is no Zionist. From his point of view, the War of Independence was the Nakba…”

And although he has converted to Christianity, he has said that he doesn’t wish to be seen as a “spiritual trophy”. However, there is one unencouraging sign on this front; Christian Zionist author Joel C. Rosenberg (background here and here) writes on his blog that:

Mosab Hasan Yousef, author of the New York Times best-selling non-fiction book, Son of Hamas, will be speaking by videotape at the 2010 Epicenter Conference next week.

That puts Yousef in depressing company: the 2010 Epicenter Conference includes the like of Tony Perkins, Kay Arthur, and William Boykin. Is this to be Yousef’s future, to be wheeled out at these rallies evermore to make our flesh creep with awful disclosures about the evils of Islam, like Walid Shoebat? Of course, Yousef probably feels indebted to those who have supported him in the USA, but one hoped for something better. I blogged on the 2008 Epicenter Conference here.

There’s also a bit of humbug from Rosenberg on the subject:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security may soon deport Mosab back to the West Bank where he very well could be assassinated.

But Rosenberg regards the West Bank as being part of Israel – and although the deportation threat does seem on the face of it to be excessively bureaucratic, surely the primary responsibility for looking after Yousef should be with Israel, rather than the USA?

Yousef has a court hearing on 30 June. Of special interest to me, the judge has the excellent name of Rico Bartolomei.

One Law for All Suggests Recommendations on Challenging Sharia Courts

The One Law for All “No Sharia Campaign” has produced a report, entitled Sharia Law in Britain: A Threat to One Law for All & Equal Rights. I gave my general views on the campaign in November here; this report suffers from the same limitations which I identified then. Most of it is simply polemic, drawing unsystematically on a variety of news reports and statements on Muslims websites: we read of Islamic penalties doled out in places such as Iran; inequitable decisions and unenlightened attititudes emanating from sharia judges in the UK; and instances of individuals submitting to “voluntary” shariah decisions either as the result of bullying or without informed consent. There is no attempt to quantify or differentiate; for example, we’re told that “A Sharia court in Britain has even issued a death sentence against a writer in 1999”; although the authors give a reference to a newspaper report, they don’t mention that this was a stunt by the now-banned Al-Muhajiroun.

However, despite these problems the last two pages of the report includes some useful specific recommendations about what should be done to ensure that everyone has equal access to justice:

1) We recommend that a Human Rights case be initiated to challenge Muslim Arbitration Tribunals and/or Sharia Councils.

Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 prohibits public authorities from acting in any manner contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Section 6(3) defines what is meant by a “public authority” and this expressly includes courts and tribunals, but the extent to which Sharia Councils and MATs are so classified has not yet been tested in court.

Article 6(1) of the ECHR states that everyone is: “entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal.” As has been amply demonstrated in this report, Sharia Councils and MATs are not impartial, as they discriminate against women in particular, and are unfair for the same reason. As a result of case law, the definition of “public bodies” also includes charities and semi-charitable organisations because of the effect their services have on the general public, therefore we aim to establish that Sharia Councils are also bound by the Human Rights Act even though they are not officially labelled as tribunals.

The Human Rights Act describes an eligible claimant under the Act as a person who “is (or would be) a victim of the unlawful act.” Therefore, to challenge Sharia Councils or MATs, a claimant needs to be found who is suffering or might suffer because of the decisions of these bodies, and who is willing to proceed on the aforementioned grounds.

2) We recommend an amendment to the Arbitration Act under which the Muslim Arbitration Tribunals operate in a similar way to which the Canadian Arbitration Act was amended, to exclude religious arbitration.

In 2006, the Canadian Arbitration Act was amended to state that family arbitration which was not conducted exclusively in accordance with Canadian secular law did not constitute family arbitration, and would not have any legal effect. This was applicable both to Sharia courts and also the Jewish Beth Din equivalent. It is our recommendation that the same be done in the United Kingdom. The wording of the amendment to the Act we propose would specifically prohibit arbitration tribunals from hearing family law cases and exclude all religious tribunals from the Arbitration Act…

3) Because of the many difficulties related to people lacking awareness of their rights in the UK and being unduly in the thrall of family or community pressure, we recommend launching a major and nationwide helpline and information campaign to inform people of their rights under British law. The campaign should be conducted in partnership with women’s groups and with family law organisations.

4) It is also possible under the EU Citizens Rights Initiative to propose legislation that would apply across the European Union. Given that Sharia law is a concern in a number of EU states, we recommend this course of action as a means of addressing the issue EU-wide.

5) Additionally, we recommend the strengthening of secularism and the separation of religion from the state, the judicial system and education in order to more fully protect citizenship rights.

This seems to me to be a measured and sensible approach; it shows confidence in the strength of our legal traditions to meet the challenge, in contrast to authoritarian calls for suppression. However, as regards the 1996 Arbitration Act I would prefer an amendment simply affirming that civil courts will not enforce or recognise decisions where there is evidence of gender bias; this would be a better expression of secular principles, as singling out a religious motivation is simply an inversion of giving religion special treatment.

Of course the abuses and retrograde attitudes highlighted by the report should be called out and challenged, although, as I’ve written before, it would be unhelpful if “sharia” were to become simply a synonym for “legally-sanctioned religious oppression”, the way “fatwa” has come to be understood as meaning “death sentence”. In the US, unremarkable niche financial products for Muslim customers who wish to arrange their finances in accordance with sharia principles have provoked ridiculous howls of outrage, and there is an effort underway to paint any Muslim who does not repudiate his or her religion’s legal traditions in toto as being an extremist (see here and here).

(H/T: Edmund Standing)

Bishop who Consecrated Helen Ukpabio as an “Apostle” Speaks at Lakeland Mega-Church

Ignited Church is a neo-Pentecostal mega-church in Lakeland, Florida, pastored by Stephen Strader. The church came to prominence in 2008 when it hosted Todd Bentley and the “Lakeland Revival” – an event which various neo-Pentecostal leaders promised would herald a new dawn, but which instead ended in fiasco and sexual scandal for Bentley. Strader’s church still enjoys a high profile within neo-Pentecostalism; a newsletter that was posted to InJesus (now in Google cache) advertises some “Special Events”, including

1. April 14  Bishop NE Moses

Bishop Moses is a high-profile Nigerian evangelist, and he featured on this blog in February when I noted his consecration of Helen Ukpabio as an “Apostle” the previous August. Ukpabio, as I have blogged numerous times, teaches that personal misfortune can be caused by “child witches” who need to undergo “deliverance”; the idea of “child witches” has caused a great deal of misery in Akwa Ibom state in Nigeria, and in other parts of Africa. International exposure of the situation has had some positive results, with state governor Godswill Akpabio promising laws against witchcraft accusations and recognition for Sam Ikpe-Itauma, who runs a hostel for children stigmatised as witches. Ukpabio, however, has fought back: she warned Akpabio to “remember what happened to Saddam Hussein”, and set her lawyers and police on Ikpe-Itauma, whom she accuses of being a “wizard”. Members of her church also invaded a conference on subject organised by the Nigerian sceptic Leo Igwe.

Bishop Moses praised the attack on Leo’s conference in his ranting speech at Ukpabio’s “Apostolic” consecration:

You did the right thing. Listen, you did the right thing. We shall not run and get into our bedrooms. We shall not allow the enemy to take over. Do you understand what I’m saying?… The enemy is attacking! Witches attacking! Wizards attacking! Atheists attacking!

Bishop Moses’ visit to Lakeland is not his only association with Strader; in 2003, Strader reported to supporters (also in Google cache, but not directly accessible) that

We are in Lagos, Nigeria doing a “Spiritual Release” Conference for Pastors & Lay Leaders… Our hosts, Bishop N.E. Moses is so WONDERFUL! He and his wife are catering our meals to our hotel room to ensure that we get safe, home cooked African meals!

Of course, I’m sure that Strader does not share Bishop Moses’ enthusiam for Ukpabio, and that he is just as appalled as most other people by the plight of children accused of witchcraft. However, neo-Pentecostalism is a transnational movement, and it is natural that American neo-Pentecostal leaders will want to avoid public controversies that might damage international unity or give the impression that Africans are not equal partners. Clearly, there are also bonds of personal friendship.

At the same time, though, neo-Pentecostalism claims to be a movement which is guided by God, often in very specific ways, and the mantle of “Apostle” is meant to signify particular spiritual authority; Strader himself is an “Apostle”, and a member of Peter Wagner’s International Coalition of Apostles (ICA). Ukpabio is not an ICA “Apostle”, but her Apostolic endorsement by a man who has links to someone who is an ICA member does not give a particularly good impression. And it’s not the only unfortunate association with “child-witches”; in 2006 I noted links between a Wagner associate named Gwen Shaw and Combat Spirituel in Congo.

ICA “Apostles” are not shy when it comes to explaining how God is working through them as leaders to achieve various goals; surely, therefore, they should be up to the task of challenging a distortion of neo-Pentecostal Christianity which is responsible for widespread tragic consequences?

Ken Hutcherson Officiates at Rush Limbaugh’s Fourth Traditional Marriage

In 2004, Pastor Ken Hutcherson organised a “Mayday for Marriage“, to defend “traditional” marriage against homosexuality; in 2007, the Daily Telegraph described him as

An advocate of a “biblical stance” against divorce and homosexuality.

According to this site, meanwhile:

Hutcherson said that in the past year [2004], he’d censured five members of the church, including some for ending marriages without just cause.

However, he’s prepared to take a rather more relaxed view when it comes to powerful conservative ideologues with whom he is friendly; Joe Lambiet notes:

The preacher who signed [Rush] Limbaugh’s and wife Kathryn Rogers‘ marriage license, Washington State-based mega-church boss Ken Hutcherson, is an internationally known critic of the gay rights who believes that many of the world’s ills stem from homosexuality.

Limbaugh bragged about his fourth wedding as he returned to his show today, calling the nuptials a perfect moment in the best weekend of his life.

The certificate also shows that one of the witnesses was his brother David, who is more closely associated with the Christian Right.

A guide to Limbaugh’s previous marriages can be seen here. It appears that his first two marriages were ended by his wives, while his third wife had been married previously; perhaps, therefore, there is some fundamentalist legalism which allows Hutcherson to officiate without offending against his strict “Biblical stance” in favour of traditional marriage. Limbaugh’s previous traditional marriage had been officiated over by Clarence Thomas.

I blogged on Hutcherson previously here; in 2007 he visited Latvia with anti-gay activist Scott Lively, where they made links with a militant anti-gay pastor named Alexei Ledyaev (Lively has also been active in Uganda). Hutcherson is known for making statements on homosexuality in which – for some reason we can can only speculate on – he feels the need to assert aggressively his own masculinity; one sermon quote is particularly well-known:

On a Sunday…Hutcherson was preaching on gender roles. During his sermon, Hutcherson stated, “God hates soft men” and “God hates effeminate men.” Hutcherson went on to say, “If I was in a drugstore and some guy opened the door for me, I’d rip his arm off and beat him with the wet end.”

Somewhat bizarrely, Limbaugh’s wedding ceremony with Hutcherson was followed by a reception at which Elton John was the hired performer; the singer has since come under criticism for agreeing to take part.

(Hat tip: RightWingWatch)