Category : Iran

(NPR) Iranians Are Converting To Evangelical Christianity In Turkey

In a hotel conference room in Denizli, Turkey, about 60 Iranians sing along to songs praising Jesus mixed with Iranian pop music. When the music stops, American pastor Karl Vickery preaches with the help of a Persian translator.

“I’m not famous or rich. But I know Jesus. I have Jesus,” he says, with a Southern drawl. The Farsi-speaking Christian converts shout “Hallelujah!” and clap.

Vickery, who’s part of a visiting delegation from Beaumont, Texas, then offers to pray for each person in the room.

Women with hair dyed blond and short skirts and clean-shaven men in slacks stand up to pray in unison. Vickery puts his hand on one woman’s head and speaks in tongues. One man closes his eyes as tears fall. Another woman raises her hand and shouts “Isa,” Jesus’ name in Arabic and Persian. The room smells of sweat.

Among the parishioners are Farzana, a 37-year-old hairdresser from Tehran, and her daughter Andya, 3, who runs around, taking photos with her mother’s cellphone.

“It feels good. Our relationship to God becomes closer,” Farzana says. She doesn’t want to give her last name because she says her family in Iran might face persecution for her conversion. Her family knows she is a convert and they’re scared for their own safety inside Iran.

Read it all.

Posted in Evangelicals, Evangelism and Church Growth, Immigration, Iran, Religion & Culture, Turkey

(NYT Op-ed) Mustafa Akyol–How Islamism Drives Muslims to Convert out of Islam

As a Muslim who is not happy to see my coreligionists leave the faith, I have a great idea to share with the Iranian authorities:

If they want to avert more apostasy from Islam, they should consider oppressing their people less, rather than more, for their very oppression is itself the source of the escape from Islam.

That truth is clear in stories told by former Muslims, some of which I have heard personally over the years. Of course, as in every human affair, motivations for losing faith in Islam are complex and vary from individual to individual. But suffering from the oppression or violence perpetrated in the name of religion is cited very often.

Take, for example, the words of Azam Kamguian, an Iranian former Muslim, in “Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out,” a collection of memoirs. “I have lived thousands of days in Iran when Islam has shed blood,” he wrote, referring to the violence of the Islamic Revolution. “Islam ruined the lives, dreams, hopes and aspirations of three consecutive generations.” The perpetrator of the mass killings or jailings he talks about was, of course, not “Islam”; it was the Islamic Republic of Iran. But apparently it is easy to conflate the two, extending a resentment of a theocratic regime to the theology it claims to represent.

This trend is certainly not limited to Iran. Authoritarianism, violence, bigotry and patriarchy in the name of Islam are alienating people in almost every Muslim-majority nation….

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Posted in Iran, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Muslim-Christian relations, Politics in General, Psychology

(WSJ) Reuel Marc Gerecht–The Secular Republic of Iran

Few organizations still carry the revolutionary torch. The Revolutionary Guards are willing to kill and die in Syria. The Basij, a “mobilization” force of club-wielding thugs under the command of the Guards, has been willing to murder its own countrymen to preserve the clerical state. But its commitment appears so sharp precisely because Iranian society as a whole has moved on.

Mosques all over Iran are empty at prayer times. In 2015 a Revolutionary Guard commander, Ziaeddin Hozni, revealed that only about 3,000 of the country’s 57,000 Shiite mosques were fully operational. And of the 3,000, some were only functioning during the religious months of Ramadan and Muharram. The Shiites have usually been less diligent than Sunnis in mosque attendance, but lack of attendance is striking in an explicitly Shiite state run by mullahs.

Do not underestimate how these trends influence the protests. Youth unemployment and the ever-rising price of food matter. But even more important is the collapse of the revolution’s civilizing mission among the college-educated children of the ruling elite and the poorly educated urban working class. Nothing in the nuclear accord can revive the fraternity that once bound Iranians together. The current eruptions may well fail to unseat the mullahs. Yet as the great medieval historian Ibn Khaldun warned, there is always another asabiyya, or galvanizing spirit of a superior force, waiting outside the capital, gaining unstoppable momentum.

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Posted in Iran, Islam, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(Christian Today) Pressure mounts on Boris Johnson to approach Pope and Archbishop over British mother jailed in Iran

A former foreign office minister and a senior Catholic have urged Boris Johnson to heed the advice of Tom Tugendhat MP and approach Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury to help negotiate the release of the British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who is imprisoned in Iran.

The support for Tugendhat’s suggestion comes as Christian Today has learned that neither Lambeth Palace nor Pope Francis has, at the time of writing, received any approach from the Foreign Office. Christian Today has approached the Foreign Office for comment.

Tugendhat, the chair of the foreign affairs committee of MPs and Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling, put it to the Foreign Secretary that religious leaders be used to negotiate Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release with the Islamic clerics who run Iran’s judicial system.

‘This poor woman is being used as a political football not only sadly here but in Iran,’ Tugendhat, who is a Catholic, told MPs in the House of Commons yesterday.

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Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Politics in General, Pope Francis, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

(Guardian) Tension mounts in Lebanon as Saudi Arabia escalates power struggle with Iran

Now, more than at any point in modern history, Iran and Saudi Arabia are squared off against each other as a race to consolidate influence nears a climax from Sana’a to Beirut and the tens of thousands of miles in between.

The standoff is seeing new ground conquered, previously unimaginable alliances being mooted and the risk of a devastating clash between two foes whose calculations had long been that shadow wars through proxies were safer than facing up directly.

The shift in approach has been led from Riyadh, where a new regime determined to put Saudi Arabia on an entirely different footing domestically, is also trying to overhaul how the kingdom projects itself regionally – and globally.

The ambitious, unusually powerful, crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been given a mandate by his father, King Salman, to take on what the kingdom and its allies in the United Arab Emirates see as an Iranian takeover of essential corners of the Sunni Arab world.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Saudi Arabia

(LA Times) Iran’s latest culture battle: Should women in cars keep their heads covered?

Reihane Taravati, an outspoken social media activist, was riding in a taxi the other day when she received a stern reprimand from the driver.

Unbeknownst to Taravati, 26, her headscarf — which Iranian women are required to wear as a show of modesty — had slipped down the back of her head, leaving most of her hair exposed.

“Fix your scarf, or the undercover [moral] police will see it,” the cabbie told her. He worried about receiving a ticket in the mail, which would cost him about $30.

As Taravati relayed this story while sipping tea with friends in a Tehran cafe, a debate was raging in the Iranian capital that combines two things that people here obsess over: cars and the way women dress.

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Posted in Iran, Travel, Women

(WaPo) Trump wants to push back against Iran, but Iran is now more powerful than ever

President Trump’s tough talk on Iran is winning him friends in the Arab world, but it also carries a significant risk of conflict with a U.S. rival that is now more powerful than at any point since the creation of the Islamic republic nearly 40 years ago.

With its warning last week that Iran is “on notice,” the Trump administration signaled a sharp departure from the policies of President Barack Obama, whose focus on pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran eclipsed historic U.S. concerns about Iranian expansionism and heralded a rare period of detente between Washington and Tehran.

Many in the region are now predicting a return to the tensions of the George W. Bush era, when U.S. and Iranian operatives fought a shadow war in Iraq, Sunni-Shiite tensions soared across the region and America’s ally Israel fought a brutal war with Iran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Middle East, Politics in General, Theology

(Atlantic) A look at some of the Iranian refugees filling German church pews

Throughout Germany, the pews of churches like theirs are filled increasingly by asylum-seekers. Though two umbrella church organizations told me that they couldn’t provide exact statistics or comment on the nationality of the asylum-seekers attending church, Christoph Heil, a spokesman for the Protestant Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia””which includes 1,300 parishes””confirmed the pattern. “Normally we don’t count the number of asylum-seekers who are baptized because we don’t differentiate between who is an asylum-seeker and who isn’t, but [asylum-seekers asking to be baptized] appears to be a new trend,” he said.

Muslim converts to Christianity that I spoke to in Germany cited the redemptive power of Jesus’s story, and disillusionment with Islam. It’s also worth noting the more earthly forces potentially at work: Germany does not grant refugee status to Iranians as easily as it does Syrians and Iraqis. Around 27,000 Iranians applied for asylum in the EU in 2015, with Germany hosting the overwhelming majority; according to Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, 60 percent of Iranian requests for asylum received positive answers that year. Iranians seeking refugee status must prove that if they are sent home, they stand the risk of being persecuted for their beliefs. In Iran, that often means Christian converts.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Christology, Europe, Germany, Iran, Islam, Middle East, Muslim-Christian relations, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Theology

(WSJ) Bp Demetrios of Mokissos–ISIS Is Guilty of Anti-Christian Genocide

The 21 [Coptic] men executed that day [in Libya] were itinerant tradesman working on a construction job. All were native Egyptians but one, a young African man whose identity is uncertain””reports of his name vary, and he was described as coming from Chad or Ghana. But the power of his example is unshakable. The executioners demanded that each hostage identify his religious allegiance. Given the opportunity to deny their faith, under threat of death, the Egyptians declared their faith in Jesus. Steadfast in their belief even in the face of evil, each was beheaded.

Their compatriot was not a Christian when captured, apparently, but when challenged by the terrorists to declare his faith, he reportedly replied: “Their God is my God.” In that moment, before his death, he became a Christian. The ISIS murderers seek to demoralize Christians with acts like the slaughter on a Libyan beach. Instead they stir our wonder at the courage and devotion inspired by God’s love.

While we remember these men’s extraordinary sacrifice, is there not more that we can do to stop this genocide against Christians in the Middle East?

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Coptic Church, Egypt, Ethics / Moral Theology, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Muslim-Christian relations, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Syria, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

(W Post) Anne Applebaum–No, Iran is not ”˜opening up’

Sanctions have been lifted on Iran, and a moment of change has arrived. President Obama has called this “a unique opportunity, a window, to try to resolve important issues.” The brilliant ex-diplomat Nicholas Burns has said we are at a “potential turning point in the modern history of the Middle East.” And of course they are right. The diplomacy of the Middle East will now change, for better or for worse, forever.

But be very wary of anyone who claims anything more, and certainly be careful of anyone who claims anything more for Iran itself. President Hassan Rouhani is not Mikhail Gorbachev, and this is not a perestroika moment. Iran is not “opening up” or becoming “more Western” or somehow more liberal. Maybe Iran’s foreign minister will now pick up the phone when John Kerry calls. But other than that, the nature of the Iranian regime has not altered at all.

On the contrary, the level of repression inside the country has grown since the “moderate” Rouhani was elected in 2013. The number of death sentences has risen. In 2014, Iran carried out the largest number of executions anywhere in the world except for China. Last year, the number may have exceeded 1,000. Partly this is because Iran’s chief justice has boasted of the eradication (i.e., mass killing) of drug offenders, many of whom are juveniles or convicted on dubious evidence.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Politics in General, Prison/Prison Ministry, Psychology, Theology

(Reuters) Wife of Iran-held pastor hopes to rebuild her marriage amidst great struggle

Naghmeh Abedini is looking forward to reuniting next week with her husband, Saeed, the Iranian-American pastor freed on Saturday after more than three years in an Iranian prison.

But she’s not rushing the reunion.

In an interview at her parent’s home in Boise, Idaho on Wednesday, Abedini said that rebuilding their marriage after her husband’s imprisonment will take time.

The relationship, she said, has been strained in recent months by the publication of an email she sent to friends and supporters late last year. Her note described “physical, emotional, psychological and sexual” abuse by her husband, who she said was addicted to pornography.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Iran, Marriage & Family, Middle East, Missions, Pastoral Theology, Pornography, Prison/Prison Ministry, Psychology, Theology, Violence

Imprisoned Iranian Pastor Farshid Fathi finally released

anian Christian pastor Farshid Fathi was released on 21 December 2015 after five years in prison in Iran for his faith in Jesus Christ.

“We are deeply grateful for your faithful prayers for Farshid while he has been in prison,” Elam Ministries, whose mission is to help expand the church in the Iran region, said in a statement.

“We would like to request that you continue praying for Farshid today and in the coming weeks,” Elam said. “Please pray especially for protection, his family and his adjustment to life outside prison.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Defense, National Security, Military, Foreign Relations, Iran, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Politics in General, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture

(Premier) "Time is running out" to save Christians in Middle East, stresses Lord Carey

A Former Archbishop of Canterbury has urged Prime Minister David Cameron to do more to help Christians in the Middle East saying “time is running out”.

Lord Carey said more had to be done to support followers of Christ who face persecution or death at the hands of Islamic terrorism.

“Time is running out for Christians in the region,” he said.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Syria, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

(CC) Israel’s dreams and nightmares: speaking with Author Yossi Klein Halevi

With civil war in Syria, the emergence of ISIS, and the growing power of Iran, a new Middle East seems to be in the making. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become in some ways a sideline to these other developments. What do you see emerging out of these developments with regard to Israel/Palestine?

For the first time since the collapse of the Oslo process in 2000, I feel a small stirring of optimism and can see a way out. The defining conflict in the Middle East is no longer between Arabs and Israelis but between Sunnis and Shi”˜ites. Much of the West hasn’t yet internalized this historic shift. The Saudis are now meeting regularly with Israelis and even allowing those meetings to become public knowledge. This is unprecedented.
During the Gaza War last year, even as anti-Israel demonstrations were happening in the West, Israel was receiving urgent messages from Sunni leaders demanding that it destroy the Hamas regime. Hamas is especially detested by many Sunnis for making common cause with Shi”˜ite Iran””it’s the only Sunni Muslim Brotherhood organization to break ranks in the Sunni-Shi”˜ite war.

All of which is to say that the Middle East looks very different from the Middle East than it does from the West. When Israelis looks around the region, what we see is that the most intact society left is Israel. I say that with more anxiety than pride, because this is the region in which I live, in which I’m raising a family. My prayer is for a Middle East in which all its peoples will find their safe place. Ultimately, the success of the Jewish homecoming depends on our finding our place in the Middle East.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Inter-Faith Relations, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

[Reuters] Iran may have built extension at disputed site: U.N. nuclear watchdog

Iran appears to have built an extension to part of its Parchin military site since May, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a report on Thursday, as part of its inquiry into possible military dimensions of Tehran’s past nuclear activity.

A resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Parchin file, which includes a demand for fresh IAEA access to the site, is a symbolically important issue that could help make or break Tehran’s July 14 nuclear deal with six world powers.

The confidential IAEA report, obtained by Reuters, said:

“Since (our) previous report (in May), at a particular location at the Parchin site, the agency has continued to observe, through satellite imagery, the presence of vehicles, equipment, and probable construction materials. In addition, a small extension to an existing building” appeared to have been built.

The changes were first observed last month, a senior diplomat familiar with the Iran file said.

The IAEA says any activities Iran has undertaken at Parchin since U.N. inspectors last visited in 2005 could jeopardize its ability to verify Western intelligence suggesting Tehran carried out tests there relevant to nuclear bomb detonations more than a decade ago. Iran has dismissed the intelligence as “fabricated”.

Read it all and for the earlier Associated Press report see AP Exclusive: UN to let Iran inspect alleged nuke work site and follow up here

Posted in * International News & Commentary, Iran, Middle East

(AI) Walter Russell Mead–A Deal Iran’s Hardliners Can Love

So why would the smarter, more far-seeing leaders of the IRG see the deal as a good one? Certainly there are some attractive features from an Iranian perspective. There is the good news about the progressive dismantling of limits on Iran’s nuclear program. here are the cumbersome and weak inspection procedures that allow Iranian negotiators plenty of wiggle room for incremental cheats. There is the delicious reality that the drive to negotiate the deal has weakened the core alliances that are the heart of America’s strategic position in the Middle East. And there’s more: the prospect of an end to the conventional weapons embargo, the windfall gains from unfreezing assets and the boost to Iran’s economy that will come with the end of the sanctions.

But the real reason the deal is a gift to Iran isn’t in the language of the deal itself; it’s the path the deal opens up for Iran in the region. At a time of unprecedented crisis among Iran’s Sunni Arab rivals, the nuclear deal offers Iran a historic opportunity to aim for the hegemony of the Persian Gulf and to achieve the kind of world power that Shi’a religious enthusiasts and Persian nationalists believe is their due. God Himself, Iranian hardliners can tell the Supreme Leader, has opened this door for Iran; it is his duty and his destiny to walk through it.

So what’s Iran’s path? Simple, unfortunately. If Iran ratifies the deal, confines its cheating initially to the margins and then opportunistically pursues an agenda of regional expansion it can move towards the glittering prize that has dazzled Iranian nationalists since the time of the Shah: effective control over the oil resources of the Persian Gulf.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, Energy, Natural Resources, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Iran, Middle East, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(J Post) US-Iran diplomacy fails to bear fruit for Christian pastor imprisoned in Iran

While the White House and Congress prepare for a final showdown over the controversial Iran nuclear deal, three American prisoners and one missing American in Iran are awaiting their own fate.

One of the prisoners is Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American Christian pastor who has been detained in Iran since 2012. He has become the international face of the brutal persecution of Christians by the Islamic Republic.

Abedini was arrested by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps while visiting relatives and building an orphanage in the city of Rasht. Initially placed under house arrest, he was transferred to Iran’s notorious Evin Prison and later to Rajai Shahr Prison.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Foreign Relations, Globalization, Iran, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Ministry of the Ordained, Missions, Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture

(LA Times) The talking ”” and arguing ”” points of the Iran nuclear deal

Criticism: Thousands of Iranian centrifuges will keep spinning.

The deal doesn’t dismantle or close Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow. It does require Iran to reduce its centrifuge inventory by two-thirds and eliminate 98% of its stockpile of enriched uranium. Iran will be allowed to keep about 6,100 centrifuges for the next 10 years and continue some enrichment work.

White House response: Iran’s inventory of centrifuges will be cut drastically from nearly 20,000, which is enough to create fuel for as many as 10 bombs. It will be left with only its oldest and least efficient models. No enrichment will be allowed at Fordow, and other activities will be restricted to producing uranium enriched to a level of 3.67%, far below the nearly 90% usually required to make a bomb.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, History, House of Representatives, Iran, Middle East, Office of the President, Politics in General, Science & Technology, Senate, Theology

(Bloomberg) Iran, World Powers Have Reached Nuclear Agreement

Iran and six world powers sealed a historic accord to curb the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in return for ending sanctions, capping two years of tough diplomacy with the biggest breakthrough in relations in decades.

Diplomats reached the agreement in Vienna in their 18th day of talks, officials involved in the negotiations said. A final meeting was scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. local time.

The deal, if approved by the U.S. Congress, promises to end a 12-year standoff that has crippled Iran’s economy and drawn threats of military action from the U.S. and Israel. Full implementation would take months and be contingent on the pace at which Iran meets its obligations. It would enable the oil-rich nation to ramp up energy exports, access international funding and open its doors to global investors.

“This is probably going to go down in history as one of the biggest diplomatic successes of the century,” Ellie Geranmayeh, a policy fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations, said by phone from London.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, Foreign Relations, History, House of Representatives, Iran, Middle East, Office of the President, Politics in General, Science & Technology, Senate

(Bloomberg) ISIS' 'toxic recipe' gives strength year after caliphate

When Islamic State seized Iraq’s largest northern city of Mosul almost a year ago, tribal leader Hekmat Suleiman was sure the extremist militants wouldn’t expand further into his hometown.

“We bet Islamic State won’t have what it takes to last,” Suleiman said in October during a visit to the Iraqi Kurdish city of Erbil, smoke rising from his shisha water pipe. “We’ve reached the beginning of the end of extremism.”

He was wrong. His hometown of Ramadi fell last month, three days before Islamic State captured Palmyra, a 2,000-year-old UNESCO world heritage city on the Syrian side of its territory.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Egypt, Ethics / Moral Theology, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Jordan, Lebanon, Middle East, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Syria, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

(WSJ) Nicholas Hahn–Politicking From the Pulpit on the Iran Deal

Some religious leaders have been quick to bless the “framework agreement” with Iran that emerged from deliberations earlier this month in Switzerland over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. That was a mistake.

Christian pastors and lobbyists representing various factions of Mennonites, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists and other denominations took out a full-page ad in Roll Call this week to “welcome and support” a deal they say “offers the best path to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.” The letter cited Matthew 5:9””“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God”””as one Biblical motive for endorsing the framework. It also ticked off reasons why it was “better than alternatives” like “yet another U.S. war with a Muslim country.”

Pope Francis lent his imprimatur to the framework during his Easter blessing, and in an April 13 letter to Congress the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops went so far as to oppose congressional review. The bishops wrote: “Our Committee continues to oppose Congressional efforts that seek to undermine the negotiation process or make a responsible multiparty agreement more difficult to achieve and implement.” Bishops also reminded Congress not to “take any actions, such as passing legislation to impose new or conditional sanctions on Iran.”

The mullahs don’t seem moved by the display of Christian charity.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Middle East, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Preaching / Homiletics, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Economist) 1/4 Century after the end of the cold war, the world faces a growing nuclear threat

Some countries want nuclear weapons to prop up a tottering state. Pakistan insists its weapons are safe, but the outside world cannot shake the fear that they may fall into the hands of Islamist terrorists, or even religious zealots within its own armed forces. When history catches up with North Korea’s Kim dynasty, as sooner or later it must, nobody knows what will happen to its nukes””whether they might be inherited, sold, eliminated or, in a last futile gesture, detonated.

Others want nuclear weapons not to freeze the status quo, but to change it. Russia has started to wield nuclear threats as an offensive weapon in its strategy of intimidation. Its military exercises routinely stage dummy nuclear attacks on such capitals as Warsaw and Stockholm. Mr Putin’s speeches contain veiled nuclear threats. Dmitry Kiselev, one of the Kremlin’s mouthpieces, has declared with relish that Russian nuclear forces could turn America into “radioactive ash”.

Just rhetoric, you may say. But the murder of Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader, on the Kremlin’s doorstep on February 27th was only the latest sign that Mr Putin’s Russia is heading into the geopolitical badlands…. Resentful, nationalistic and violent, it wants to rewrite the Western norms that underpin the status quo. First in Georgia and now in Ukraine, Russia has shown it will escalate to extremes to assert its hold over its neighbours and convince the West that intervention is pointless. Even if Mr Putin is bluffing about nuclear weapons (and there is no reason to think he is), any nationalist leader who comes after him could be even more dangerous.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Foreign Relations, History, Iran, Middle East, Politics in General, Russia, Science & Technology, Theology

(FP) Shiite militias with US blood on their hands are leading the charge to drive ISIS out of Tikrit

“We’re moving on Salahaddin,” said Badr Organization spokesman and military commander Karim al-Nouri. “And there are three names that strike fear in the heart of daesh: Hajj Qassem Suleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and Hadi al-Amiri.”

These three figures might not be household names in Indiana, but in Iraq they are the biggest stars within the constellation of Shiite militias that are now trying to drive the Islamic State out of Tikrit, the capital of Salahaddin province. Suleimani, who is the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, regularly travels around the Middle East to lend support to Tehran’s allies; Muhandis, who is the leader of the Kataib Hezbollah militia, was convicted for the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait; and Amiri is the commander of the Badr Organization, one of Iraq’s largest and most prominent Shiite militias. Together, they form the backbone of Iranian influence in Iraq, which is at its highest point in almost four centuries.

Iraq’s Shiite militias have seen their influence skyrocket since last summer, as they have played a central role in beating back the Islamic State’s advance in Baghdad and the surrounding area. Tikrit, however, presents them with new challenges: It is the largest predominantly Sunni city that they have sought to reclaim, and U.S. officials have warned of a sectarian bloodbath if the militias launch an offensive there.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Middle East, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Theology, Violence

(Ed West) For modern-day Assyrians their present is under attack from Isis, as is their past

The historian Tom Holland tweeted…[yesterday] morning: ”˜What ”ª#ISIS are doing to the people & culture of ”ª#Assyria is worthy of the Nazis. None of us can say we didn’t know….’

There are a few thousand Assyrians in Britain, many of whom were given right of entry because their grandfathers fought alongside the British in two world wars. They are immensely proud of their heritage, and fond of the British Museum where so much of it remains safe; can one imagine how they feel watching footage of these savages destroying what their ancestors built and which they hoped to pass on to their descendants?

There are currently Assyrian troops fighting alongside the Kurds on the front line with Isis, but they are short of weapons. They say they have got little military support from the West, just as they have received little political support in the past; before the latest crisis broke out Assyrians in Iraq campaigned for a safe haven in the Nineveh Plains where they and other minorities, namely the Yazidi, could protect themselves inside the country. Without support from the Americans, the Baghdad government would not agree, and in light of recent events it seems like a reasonable request now.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Foreign Relations, Iran, Islam, Middle East, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Theology, Turkey, Violence

(W Post) Danielle Pletka–The dangerous allure of partnering with Iran

On its face, taking the Iranian side in a sectarian war in which the Islamic State stands on the other side may make sense in an enemy-of-my-enemy way. What could be wrong with using Iran to kill the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, even if the price is keeping a few bad guys in power in Damascus or Sanaa? Unfortunately, lots.

There is no reason to believe that a Shiite version of the one-stop dictator shop that characterized U.S. diplomacy for much of the 20th century will work any better than the earlier Sunni compact that denied tens of millions their democratic aspirations and paved the way to today’s turmoil.

What eludes the Obama administration, as it did George W. Bush, is that the battle for the future of the Middle East is a war of ideas. Taking sides in the Sunni-Shiite sectarian war will not restore the illusory stability of old. Rather, the path to long-term stability means working with groups that eschew violence, respecting religious preferences without sacrificing minorities, pressing toward market economies that empower individuals and building toward a region that rests on the consent of the governed. There is no secret path to peace, not through Tehran, not through Riyadh, not at all.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Globalization, History, Iran, Middle East, Politics in General, Science & Technology, Theology

The Price of Oil Being used As A Weapon by the Saudis in the Sunni/Shia battle

By October, it was becoming clear to us and others that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Emirate allies could not afford to continue petro-pricing business as usual with sectarian wars exploding out of control, threatening the entire region.

In particular, they were infuriated that the Shia regime in Syria was being propped up by Iran and Russia. Moreover, Iran seemed to be getting closer to becoming a nuclear power with each month. Amid the chaos, the Islamic State terrorists had suddenly become a formidable challenge to the entire region, and they were getting increasing revenues from oil properties they had seized.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Iran, Islam, Middle East, Other Faiths, Politics in General, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Terrorism, Theology

(BBC) Fight against ISIS 'could take years' says John Kerry

Air strikes carried out by the US-led coalition on Islamic State (IS) have inflicted “significant” damage on the group’s capabilities, US Secretary of State John Kerry says.

Mr Kerry said the campaign against the militant group could take years, but that the coalition would remain engaged “as long as it takes”.

The US said earlier that Iran, not a coalition member, had carried out air strikes against IS in Iraq.

However, Iran has denied this.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, History, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Politics in General, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

(Human Rights Watch) In Iran a 30 year old man faces a Death Sentence for Facebook Posts

Iran’s judiciary should vacate the death sentence of a 30-year-old man who faces imminent execution for Facebook posts linked to his account. On November 24, 2014, Iran’s Supreme Court upheld a criminal court ruling sentencing Soheil Arabi to hang. The court transferred his file to the judiciary’s implementation unit, opening the way for his execution.

A Tehran criminal court had convicted him in August of sabb al-nabbi, or “insulting the prophet,” referring to the Prophet Muhammad, which carries the death penalty. Arabi’s legal team has asked the judiciary to suspend the death sentence and review the case.

“It is simply shocking that anyone should face the gallows simply because of Internet postings that are deemed to be crude, offensive, or insulting,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Iran should urgently revise its penal code to eliminate provisions that criminalize peaceful free expression, especially when they punish its exercise with death.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Iran, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Theology

Yves Smith–Saudis Deploy the Oil Price Weapon Against Syria, Iran, Russia, and the US

…this is a classic case of predatory pricing: set your price low enough long enough to do real damage to competitors, and reduce their market share, not just immediately, but in the middle to long term.

Now admittedly some pet targets may not be hurt as badly as hoped. Russia will suffer more of an opportunity loss than an actual cost from the price reduction, since the ruble has fallen significantly against the dollar. The Saudis may hope to partially displace Russia as a supplier of oil to Europe (now roughly 1/3 of the total) but refineries would need to be retooled to refine the Saudi’s light crude, so it isn’t clear whether even what amounts to bargain prices will offset this cost (and readers point out that Russian crude may also produced a better mix of distillates for European use, since they are much heavier users of diesel fuel than the US).

But aside from the not-inconsiderable economic impact, the surprise Saudi step looks to be an even bigger geopolitical winner. The US and Riyadh have been at odds for over a year; the Saudis were particularly unhappy over the US failure to try to topple Assad last summer (you may recall the intensity of the Administration warmongering versus the dubious US interest; even Congress showed an unexpected amount of backbone and made its lack of support for Syrian adventurism clear). The Saudis have also long been less than happy with the US refusal to attack Iran (which is a rare case of the US acting as a responsible hegemon and curbing a putative ally with a bad case of blood lust). That unhappiness has ben compounded by the US now effectively helping the Assad regime and working in as distanced a manner as possible with Iran in targeting ISIS.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Globalization, Iran, Middle East, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Theology

(F Things) Betsy Childs–The Church of England and Moral Hazard

I doubt anyone in the Church of England who knows Rev. Stephen Sizer was surprised that he would attend a conference critical of Israel. Sizer, the Vicar of Christ Church in Virginia Water, Surrey, is an outspoken critic of what he calls Christian Zionism, that is, Christian support for the nation-state of Israel on theological grounds.

What is surprising is that a vicar of the Church of England would attend a conference in Iran to speak to a group of anti-Semites on the subject of the Zionist lobby in England. Other attendees of the New Horizon conference in Tehran include a long list of Holocaust deniers and 9/11 truthers. The conference included a panel discussion called “Mossad’s Role in the 9/11 Coup d’Etat” with the subheading “9/11 and the Holocaust as pro-Zionist ”˜Public Myths.’”

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Inter-Faith Relations, Iran, Middle East, Ministry of the Ordained, Other Faiths, Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Theology