By Fr. George Welzbacher
February 13, 2011
Things are moving so fast in the Middle East these days that what I am about to say as we go to press may be out of date by the time this page is in your hands. But one thing is certain: now is the time for America's devout Christians to join in prayer for our fellow Christians throughout the Middle East and in particular for Egypt's Copts, the ten percent of that nation's population that despite centuries of discrimination and sporadic persecution continues to proclaim itself proudly and defiantly Christian. And whatever you may think of the thirty years regime of Hosni Mubarak, his record in protecting Egypt's Christians from Muslim rage has been creditable. If his admittedly autocratic rule is succeeded by a regime controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, the situation for Egypt's Christians will be grim.
President Obama's initial demand that Mr. Mubarak step down from office at once, a demand whose accomodation would, under the terms of Egypt's constitution, require elections within two months, too brief a time for secular democratic elements effectively to organize, taken together with Mr. Obama's further (and quite incomprehensible) demand, conveyed through his press secretary Robert Gibbs, that " a whole host of important NON-SECULAR [i.e., ISLAMIST] actors" "must" be allowed to play an important role in planning the transition to a new government, would, if obeyed, almost certainly lead to the highly organized Muslim Brotherhood's coming to power in Egypt. That would be calamitous for Egypt's Christians, calamitous for us, and calamitous for the whole Western world. And calamitous for our principal long-standing Muslim allies-Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. No wonder that more experienced hands in our State Department, appalled by this prospect, seem lately to be prevailing upon the White House to MODERATE its demands, to allow TIME for the genuinely democratic elements in Egypt to organize. Still, the Obama administration, in the words of national security adviser Bruce Reidel, professes to have "no worries" about the well attested violent proclivities of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928 in militant repudiation of western secular values. To cite just one example from the Brotherhood's violent past, it was from the ranks of the Brotherhood's off-shoot, Islamic Jihad, that President Anwar Sadat's assassin was recruited. President Sadat's "unforgiveable crime," for which he paid with his life, was his having signed a peace treaty with Israel.
Further cause for skepticism about any Muslim Brotherhood pledge of pacific collaboration in a new Egyptian government is the awkward fact that both Al Qaeda and Hamas have strong links to the Brotherhood. Ayman Zawahiri, second-in-command in Al Qaeda, is a former prominent member of the Brotherhood, while Hamas in its charter officially defers to The Brotherhood's guidance. Both Hamas and Al Qaeda are officially listed by our State Department as terrorist organizations.
But "that was then", we are assured; "this is now." So let's hear what the Brotherhood's leaders are saying NOW. Muhammad Ghannem, a prominent Brotherhood spokesman, told the Arabic-language Iranian news network Al-'Alam on January 31st of this year that the Suez Canal should be closed at once, that the flow of natural gas from Egypt to Israel should be terminated at once-thus depriving Israel of the source of about a quarter of its electricity - and that "the people should be prepared for WAR AGAINST ISRAEL." In 2008 Muhammad Mahdi Akef, at that time the Brotherhood's "Supreme Guide," stated in public that Osama bin Laden, far from being a terrorist, was in fact a "mujahid', a heroic Islamic warrior who should be PRAISED for being "close to Allah on high." About the same time Akef announced that the prevailing situation "requires the raising of young people on the basis of the principles of jihad so as to CREATE MUJAHIDEEN WHO LOVE TO DIE AS MUCH AS OTHERS LOVE TO LIVE, and who can perform their DUTY towards their God, themselves and their homeland." We have numerous examples of what such "duty" entails.
Just this past November (2010) the Brotherhood's new "Supreme Guide," Muhammad Badi, in a Friday sermon on "How Islam Confronts Oppression and Tyranny," mocked the United States as "withdrawing from Iraq, defeated and wounded, and [as] also on the verge of withdrawing from Afghanistan because it has been defeated by Islamic warriors." Mr. Badi concluded with the jubilant prediction that the United States "is experiencing the beginning of its end and is heading towards its demise." Another spokesman for the Brotherhood, Yusuf Qaradawl, recently voiced approval of the killing of American soldiers in Iraq.
All of this is fully in accord with the Brotherhood's omelal motto: "Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, JIHAD IS OUR WAY, and DYING in the way of Allah [i.e., as a warrior for Islam] is our HIGHEST hope. Allabu akbar!" Is it not reasonable then to assume that an Egyptian government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood would be good news neither for America nor for the Christians of Egypt nor indeed for Christians throughout the whole Islamic world. And anything but good news for our ally Israel. Yet these are the people who, as Mr. Obama and Mr. Gibbs insist, must have an important seat at the table in arranging the "transition" to a new Egyptian government. In this demand as in his earlier call for Mr. Mubarak's immediate resignation, Mr. Obama found himself at one with the officially stated position of Iran's foreign ministry. All of this should come perhaps as no surprise given that President Obama invited ten members of the Muslim Brotherhood to attend his major policy speech at Cairo University early in his presidency, just as he has invited leading representatives of Muslim organizations in America, ORGANIZATIONS OFFICIALLY SALUTED BY THE BROTHERHOOD AS IDEOLOGICAL SOUL-MATES, to be his honored guests at White House Ramadan dinners.
This whole course of events puts one in mind of the overthrow of the Russian Czar in 1917 and the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979. Both autocratic governments were followed BRIEFLY by MODERATE administrations that were themselves soon overthrown by ruthless (and vehemently anti-American) TOTALITARIAN regimes. While it's true that, as Mark Twain put it, "history doesn't repeat itself, but it offers rhymes", one can readily surmise what history's next "rhyme" in Egypt will be like.
Meanwhile in the wider Muslim world, mobs abetted by fanatical mullahs are now demanding release with full dismissal of charges for the assassin of Salman Taseer, treacherously slain Governor of Pakistan's province of Punjab, the nation's largest and wealthiest province. The Governor's "crime," for which his murder is popularly applauded as JUST retribution, was his having sought energetically to modify Pakistan's "Death for Apostasy" law, as well as his having interceded on behalf of a Christian mother of five, condemned to death for alleged display of disrespect for Muhammad. Meanwhile, just to cap things off, during a huge rally in Lahore, Punjab's capital, on January 30th, an effigy of Pope Benedict was torched.
And just across the border in Afghanistan a similar hatred for Christians is on display, as the following report makes clear.
* * * * *U.S. Lobbies Afghanistan to Release Christian Converts
Wall Street Journal, January 27,2011
KABUL - The U. S. government and some international Christian organizations are pressing Afghanistan to release two men who CONVERTED to Christianity, were arrested on apostasy charges, and could face the DEATH penalty if convicted.
The U. S. has called on Afghan authorities to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document ENDORSED by Afghanistan that upholds freedom of religion. "We CONTINUE to call for their release, and FREQUENTLY raise the issue with the HIGHEST levels of the government of Afghanistan, expressing our strong concern," said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman of the U.S. Embassy at Kabul.
Afghan officials have been unapologetic. "THE SENTENCE FOR A CONVERT [to Christianity] IS DEATH and there is NO exception," said Jamal Khan, CHIEF OF STAFF at the Ministry of JUSTICE. "They MUST be sentenced to death to serve as a LESSON for others." Apostasy is a capital crime in Afghanistan, where the constitution is based on Shariah, or Islamic law.
The effort to free the two men faces an uphill battle in Kabul. President Hamid Karsai is already bristling against foreign influence, after inaugurating parliament Wednesday under pressure from the West.
One of the detained men, Said Musa, 46 years old, converted nine years ago. He had worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross as a physical therapist in Kabul for over 15 years. After Mr. Musa's arrest in May, his wife and six children fled the country, fearing for their safety.
The second convert, 25-year-old Shoaib Assadullah Musawi, was arrested in November in Balkh province, in northern Afghanistan, after giving a copy of the New Testament to an Afghan friend, who turned him in.
Mr. Musa, in an open letter written in his jail cell in Kabul, said he has been beaten and sexually abused in prison." "The authority and prisoners in jail did many bad behavior with me about my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," Mr. Musa wrote in a letter, which he addressed to supporters as well as to President Barack Obama and the heads of international forces here. Mr. Musawi also said he had been beaten and sexually abused by prison authorities and other inmates.
Officials at the Ministry of Interior denied the two intimates were sexually abused or beaten.
Neither man has legal representation. Afghan lawyers have REFUSED to represent them, AFRAID of the backlash they would face for defending people charged with apostasy in this deeply conservative country. Mr. Musa's arrest came shortly after a popular TV host set off a wave of antiforeigner sentiment when he accused two groups, the Norwegian organization Church Aid and the Church World Service of the U. S., of proselytizing, charges the two groups denied. Mr. Karzai has since expelled both organizations from Afghanistan for alleged proselytizing....
And now comes news of another massacre of Christians in Upper Egypt, occasioned by the collapse of police vigilance in the wake of Mr. Mubarak's present political paralysis. The massacre took place on the same day (January 30) that saw the burning of Pope Benedict in effigy in Pakistan. The grim details are reported in the accompanying flyer.
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What should we make of all this? Well, despite the reports that keep flooding in, just repeat, over and over and over, "Islam is a religion of tolerance and peace." It's what the very best people are saying.
* * * * *Islamists Massacre Two Coptic Families in Egypt
by Gil Ronen
Adar 1, 5771, 05 February 11 10:33
Aruta Sheva (www.IsraelNationalNews.com)
News of an Islamist massacre of two Christian Coptic families has emerged from Upper Egypt with the return of Internet connections to the country, after a one-week Internet blackout imposed by the troubled regime. The massacre took place on Sunday afternoon (January 30) at the village of Sharona near Maghagha, in Minya province, and is being reported by AINA, the Assyrian International News Agency.
According to the report, the Islamist murderers, aided by Muslim neighbors of the Copts, stormed the homes of the families, gaining access to the houses' roofs from the roofs of the families' Muslim neighbors. They killed eleven, including children, and seriously injured four more people.
Anba Agathon, Bishop of Maghagha, told Coptic activist Dr. Mona Roman in a televised interview on Al-Karma TV that the killers are neighbors of the Copts, who "seized the opportunity of the mayhem prevailing in Egypt and the absence of police protection to slaughter the Copts."
The bishop said that he had visited the injured Copts at Maghagha General Hospital and that they informed him that they recognized the main attackers, who come from the same village, Sharona.
"The two families were staying in their homes with their doors locked when suddenly the Islamists descended on them," said Bishop Agathon, "killing eleven and leaving for dead four other family members. In addition, they looted everything that was in the two Coptic houses, including money, furniture and electrical equipment. They also looted livestock and grain."
One group of masked assailants infiltrated the home of Copt Joseph Waheeb Massoud and killed him, his wife Samah, their 15-year old daughter Christine and 8-year-old son Fady Youssef. Another group simultaneously accessed the house of Copt Saleeb Ayad Mayez and shot him dead, along with his wife Zakia, their 4-year-old son Joseph and 3-year-old daughter Justina, Saleeb's 23-year-old sister Amgad, his mother Zakia and a woman named Saniora Fahim.
"The massacre has nothing to do with the mayhem in Egypt," the bishop said, "but the murderers took advantage of the lack of police protection and thought they could commit their crime and no one would notice."
"Why have those Islamists chosen those two Coptic families and not Muslim ones to slaughter and rob? I believe it is because they know that with Copts they can literally get away with murder," accused Coptic activist Dr. Hanna Hanna.
* * * * *Rising Above Roe v. Wade
The Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2011
Are babies better than abortions?
That's not a question we are accustomed to hearing. For the most part, abortion - America's most divisive issue - plays out as a question of competing rights. So it will be this weekend as pro-life and pro-choice legions each mark the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion.
Yet a simple figure released earlier this month by the Chiaroscuro Foundation, a private nonprofit organization, provokes a different question. After crunching the latest statistics from New York City's Health Department, the foundation reported that 41% of pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) in New York city ended in abortion. That's double the national rate.
So again the question. As a society, does the figure say anything about the choice between a baby and abortion? Even for those who believe the choice for an abortion belongs to a woman alone and ought to be unfettered by city, state or federal law, is there ANY ratio such a person would say is TOO HIGH.
The question becomes even more compelling when broken down by race. For Hispanics, the abortion rate was 41.3%--ie., more than double the rates for whites. For African-Americans the numbers are even still more grim: For every 1,000 African-American live births in New York, there were 1,489 abortions.
These numbers can make Roe seem very distant. Years ago, Bill Clinton famously summed up the pro-choice argument as "Safe, legal, and rare." What can the qualifier "rare" mean, however, unless it means that in some fundamental sense, a baby is BETTER than an abortion?
Some, of course, will argue that what they mean is that America ought to devote more resources to helping women prevent getting pregnant in the first place. Whether or not that's as easily done as said, a focus on not getting pregnant does nothing for the woman who is pregnant and finds herself with a hard choice.
So how is New York responding? Earlier this month, the Chiaroscuro Foundation put together a high-profile press conference that brought the archbishop of New York and the leader of one of Orthodox Jewry's most distinguished organizations (Agudath Israel of America) together with the African-American pastor of a large, Harlem church and a Latina who serves as a spokeswoman for Democrats for Life. As the New York Sun pointed out, notwithstanding all this ecumenical focus on New York's distinction as America's abortion capital it elicited nary a peep from the mayor.
Meanwhile the speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn, is pushing a bill designed to make it harder for people who are trying to HELP women keep their babies. Bill 371 targets Crisis Pregnancy Centers, and would require them, among other things, to advertise on site that they do not perform abortions or provide abortion referrals. It tells us something that there appears to be no interest in requiring that, say, Planned Parenthood post in their clinics some telling information of their own: 324,008 abortions nationwide against only 2,405 adoption referrals in 2008, the most recent year for which it reports statistics.
Rather than rehash the allegations against Crisis Pregnancy Centers - e.g., that they often disguise themselves as medical clinics, that they are not upfront about whether they offer abortion - let's stipulate for the sake of argument that they are all true. In the end, a woman who wants an abortion can still walk out and get one, as many do. A woman who doesn't necessarily want an abortion, however, can find all kinds of help; a place to live if her family or boyfriend has kicked her out, training for mother care; and, not least, the friendly face of a caring volunteer.
No doubt there are mothers who regret having their children. Occasionally you even read of one suing a doctor for not alerting her to a disability in her child that would have led her to abort if she had known. Far more common, however, are the websites with women repeating this heart-rending lament. "If only ONE person had encouraged me to keep my baby..."
On the moral claims and counterclaims on abortion, we have a vast chasm. Yet the moral divide can blind us to the possibilities that exist in all human communities. Might that start with recognizing that a 41% abortion rate means that many pregnant women are not getting the social help and encouragement they need to have their babies?
We all know people whose absolutism on a woman's legal right to choose does not prevent them from celebrating and supporting a pregnant woman within their midst who announces she is going to have a baby. So put aside Roe for a minute. And ask yourself this: What kind of America might we have if all pregnant women-especially black and Hispanic -women who are disproportionately aborting--could feel from society that same welcome and encouragement?
Would it be too much to say "Better"?
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