Like everyone else, I suppose, I receive unwanted advertisements by e-mail; of late, with the approach of Christmas, the advertisers have wished me, ‘Happy Holidays,’ addressing me by name.
The combination of personal tone and impersonal means strikes me as sinister. It makes me feel as if I am some kind of game bird under the observation of a gamekeeper, waiting to be shot, plucked and trussed.
Even worse, of course, is the locution ‘Happy Holidays.’ The justification for the avoidance of all reference to Christmas would no doubt be that we now live in a multi-religious society and it is important to avoid giving offence to adherents of a minority religion. This is absurd, of course, as well as dishonest: I know of no Jew, Moslem, Hindu, Sikh or Confucian who would object to being wished a Merry Christmas: and if I did, I would tell him not to be so silly.
Whose intolerance, exactly, is being appeased by the wretched locution? Not that of the religious: in the town in which I live, the Moslem-owned Indian restaurants are festooned with Christmas decorations, and the staff hand round little presents to the regular customers and wish them a Merry Christmas. The notion that every person with the slightest religious faith is a fanatic waiting to explode with rage at the first indication that someone else has a different tradition or believes something different from him is absurd.
The people appeased by ‘Happy Holidays’ are not ordinary secularists, that is to say those people who do not want to live in a theocracy or see jobs allocated according to a religious test, but the new breed of militant atheist, who would probably prefer the winter holiday season (if we really must have one at all) moved to a date such as February 12, the date of Darwin’s birth. We could then all wish each other ‘Merry Evolution & a Happy New Species,’ and send out Evolution cards with maps of our own genome. This would serve simultaneously to satisfy or reconcile our need to be both rational and egotistical.
Far from being a sign of superior sensitivity, the locution ‘Happy Holidays’ is a sign of an increasing intellectual shrillness and intolerance. In genuinely cosmopolitan societies people could unselfconsciously participate in the festivals of others without having to subscribe to any of their beliefs. The militant atheists want doctrinal purity, with practice consistent with doctrine.
I am reposting this from 2008 as it is a favourite. It is an excerpt from an author whose work is not very well known these days, although JK Rowling is an admirer. Elizabeth Goudge was the daughter of a Church of England clergyman and several of her books are set in the Cathedral towns where she grew up. This one, the Dean’s Watch, is one of her last books, and according to her autobiography was one of her favourites. I believe it to be one of her best. It is set in a town in the fens, mostly based on Ely (where I took the photogrgaphs - but i summer - not at Christmas) but with elements of Lincoln and Wells as well, and tells of the development of the unlikely friendship between the formidable Adam Ayscough the Dean and Isaac Peabody the clockmaker. This is Christmas morning in the fenland city.
All over the city men and women and children poured out of the chapels and churches exclaiming at the beauty of the day. . .The stretch of the snow-covered fen almost took their breath away, it was so beautiful under the blue arc of the sky. It was like the sea when it turns to silver under the dazzle of the sun. When they turned and looked up at the Cathedral its snow-covered towers seemed to rise to an immeasurable height. Then a wonderful fragrance assailed their nostrils. In steam-filled kitchens the windows had been opened now that the day was warming up. The turkeys and baked potatoes and plum puddings were also warming up and in another forty minutes would have reached the peak of their perfection. Abruptly Christmas day swung over like a tossed coin. The silver and blue of bells and hymns and angels went down with a bang and was replaced by the red and gold of flaming plum puddings and candled trees. Everyone hurried home as quickly as they could.
Une voiture carbonisée à proximité de l'église Sainte Thérèse à Madalla, qui avait été visée par un attentat le 25 décembre 2011.Crédits photo : Sunday Aghaeze/AFP
Cette attaque d'un eglise évangélique au nord du pays porte la marque du groupe islamiste Boko Haram.
Comme l'année dernière, les fêtes de Noël auront été endeuillées par un attentat anti-chrétien au Nigeria. Des hommes armés ont attaqué dans la nuit de lundi à mardi une église dans le nord du pays, tuant six personnes, dont le prêtre. «Un groupe d'hommes armés a fait irruption dans le village à minuit et ils sont allés directement dans l'église (...) Ils ont ouvert le feu et tué le prêtre et cinq fidèles. Puis ils ont mis le feu à l'église», rapporte Usman Mansir, un habitant du village de Peri, près de Potiskum, la capitale économique de l'Etat de Yobe.
Selon lui, c'est une branche de l'Eglise évangélique d'Afrique de l'Ouest qui a été visée. Alors que la population de Yobe est majoritairement musulmane, le centre commercial de Potiskum compte une importante minorité chrétienne.
L'attentat, qui n'a pas encore été revendiqué, semble porter la marque de Boko Haram. Ce groupe islamiste affilié à al-Qaida a en effet mené récemment plusieurs attaques à Yobe, proche de la ville de Maiduguri, berceau du groupe. Leur objectif est de créer un État islamique dans le nord du Nigeria, dont les habitants se plaignent d'être délaissés par rapport au sud majoritairement chrétien, plus développé et où se trouvent les puits de pétrole.
Depuis le début de l'année, Boko Haram a commis 14 attaques contre des églises catholiques ou des rassemblements de fidèles, ainsi qu'un attentat contre un temple évangélique.
3000 morts depuis 2009
Ces attaques ont commencé en 2009. Elles ont souvent entraîné des représailles de la part des chrétiens et une dure répression par les forces de l'ordre. Une véritable guerre qui a déjà fait plus de 3000 morts au Nigeria, pays le plus peuplé d'Afrique et principal producteur de brut du continent.
Au Vatican, le pape Benoît XVI a lancé mardi plusieurs appels pour des solutions de paix en Afrique, notamment au Nigeria et au Kenya, frappés par «d'atroces» attentats islamistes visant des lieux de culte. Le pape a demandé «le retour de la concorde au Nigeria, où d'atroces attentats terroristes continuent à faucher des victimes, en particulier parmi les chrétiens, et condamné «les sanglants attentats qui ont touché la population civile et les lieux de culte» au Kenya. Il a aussi évoqué les conflits en RDCongo et au Mali.
Dexter Van Zile (Why are Christian charities bashing Israel? December 15th) admirably exposed a major problem in the Christian development agency universe; a problem that too often seems to focus on only one geographical area in the whole world.
Embrace the Middle East (an evolution of a long-standing agency with a history of excellent work on behalf of the poor of the Middle East), Christian Aid, World Vision, The Amos Trust, and many others do provide aid to the poor and they do engage in commendable development projects in the cultural and religious turmoil we call the Middle East. Sadly, however, the majority of such charities seem to have an unacceptable political bias where this one geographical area is concerned - that narrow strip of land popularly known as “Israel-Palestine” or “Palestine-Israel” depending on your worldview.
As someone who has worked in the Christian charity sector for over 25 years and with a special concern in the Middle East, I would like to offer a four point rationale for this anomaly in the mindsets of otherwise thoroughly admirable, caring organisations.
1. As Christian organisations, these NGOs are underpinned by theological principles and beliefs. Unlike in the US, where the description “evangelical” usually means “pro-Israel”, the same word in the British church mostly means the opposite. The teaching that the Christian church has replaced the biblically “chosen” people (the descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac, known in the Bible as the Children of Israel) is prevalent in most British Christian denominations, stemming from historical theological positions going back to the earliest centuries of the Christian era.
At it’s mildest, this position sees the Jewish people as no different to any other people group in the world and therefore not requiring any special theological respect as people of the “Old Testament”. At its most extreme, adherents would still refer to the Jewish people as “Christ-killers” (and, yes, those words do still appear today).
On any one point between these two doctrinal extremes, we are looking at an outlook towards Israel that is always going to be neutral to negative at best. When this, often spiritually sub-conscious worldview, meets a loud, aggressive proclamation of injustice and rights abuse allegedly perpetrated by these same Jewish people in the guise of the state of Israel, we can easily see where an anti-Israel bias begins and grows from.
Unfortunately, these mindsets are further aggravated by a centuries-old latent anti-semitism that rears its head in the Church, academia and the British establishment.
2. Today, any NGO starting to work officially in the disputed West Bank or Gaza will have a minder or guide who is well-versed in anti-israel “occupation rhetoric” and eventually a locally-engaged staff or volunteer corps who will have grown up immersed in official hate education and incitement against Israel as a state and the Jewish people as individuals.
Since Israeli citizens are not permitted to travel without special permission in the disputed territories, these are the only people an NGO can work with in that area if they want to help poor and disadvantaged Palestinian Arabs. And of course, if an NGO displayed a pro-Israel or even a neutral attitude towards Israel, their ability to operate would be curtailed pretty swiftly.
Any contact with Israeli pro-Palestinian groups will also introduce the influence of left-wing organisations who sometimes seem as much against their own state as they are for a future state of Palestine
3. As Dexter Van Zile points out, it is a good fund-raiser to support the downtrodden Palestinians suffering under nasty Israeli “occupation”; especially since most people being appealed to will never have been to the region themselves to see and hear from those living there.
Many, many Westerners - celebrities, politicians and ordinary travellers - have had negative predispositions concerning Israel and the Palestinian Arabs turned on their head when they see the realities on the ground and speak to real Israelis and Arabs. Financial appeals that are “pro-Palestinian”, flavoured with a good dose of the aforesaid occupation rhetoric against Israel, bring in a lot of dollars, pounds, and Euros (I believe at the expense of potential aid to the genuinely persecuted minorities of the West Bank and Gaza).
4. The final major point is where the spark really becomes a raging fire. That is in the relationship between Christian NGOs and Western political groups espousing boycotts, divestment, and sanctions of Israel. Their claims to be fighting for a two state solution are shallow. What they really want is the destruction of Israel and its replacement by a “one state solution”; Palestine on all Israel’s territory.
A cursory glance at, for example, the logo of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign illustrates this. Christian NGOs should not be in bed with these often vitriolic people, with whom rational debate is impossible concerning issues around Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.
Unfortunately the above rationale for the attitudes of many NGOs means that good, well-intentioned Christians, their supporters and donors, are playing right into the hands of a Palestinian leadership that cynically exploits both its own people and easily-influenced NGO leaderships, whose theological mindsets predispose them to be pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel.
Sadly, even local Christians working with outside NGOs often hold to a twisted form of Liberation Theology espoused by the traditional denominations and crystalised in the joint Palestinian churches’ 2009 Kairos document.
Even worse, while I would be the last to wish for good existing aid projects to be curtailed, vital issues of human rights abuse and religious persecution are being sacrificed at the altar of maintaining favour with Palestinian officials and being allowed the freedom to do “permitted work” in the territories. I am referring chiefly to the persecution of Christians in the PA and Hamas controlled areas.
Testimonies coming out of both the West Bank and Gaza reveal some horrendous anti-Christian incidents, from a Christian allegedly being singled out for beheading by a gang in the West Bank to accusations of forced conversions to Islam among the shrinking and fragile Christian community in Gaza.
For an NGO to adapt its modus operandi, literature and appeals to local political pressures is understandable - not necessarily morally perfect, but understandable in human terms. What has happened in the Middle East, however, is the politicisation of what many believe to be an erroneous theological position.
Exposure to PA officials and workers pushing an aggressive anti-Israel agenda stokes the embers of anti-semitism and anti-zionism that exude sub-consciously from Christian replacement theology, turning some NGO chiefs into a propaganda extension of the oppressive and Israel-hating PA leadership.
Christian NGOs should resist these pressures, remain apolitical, and resist the strong temptation to take sides in a conflict that is so confused and controversial.
Iran reported a spree of new cyberattacks on Tuesday, saying foreign enemy hackers tried in recent months to disrupt computer systems at a power plant and other industries in a strategically important southern coastal province as well as a Culture Ministry information center.
Accounts of the attacks in the official press did not specify who was responsible, when they were carried out or how they were thwarted. But they strongly suggested that the attacks had originated in the United States and Israel, which have been engaged in a shadowy struggle of computer sabotage with Iran in a broader dispute over whether Iran’s nuclear energy program is for peaceful or military use.
Iran has been on heightened alert against such sabotage since a computer worm known as Stuxnet was used to attack its uranium enrichment centrifuges more than two years ago, which American intelligence officials believe caused many of the machines to spin out of control and self-destruct, slowing the Iranian program’s progress.
Stuxnet and other forms of computer malware have also been used in attacks on Iran’s oil industry and Science Ministry under a covert United States effort, first revealed in January 2009, that was meant to subvert Iran’s nuclear program because of suspicions that the Iranians were using it to develop the ability to make atomic bombs. Iran has repeatedly denied these suspicions.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta cited those attacks in an Oct. 11 speech in which he warned of America’s vulnerability to a coordinated computer warfare attack, calling such a possibility a “cyber-Pearl Harbor.”
The Iranian Students’ News Agency said the country’s Passive Defense Organization, the military unit responsible for guarding against cyberattacks, had battled a computer virus infection of an electric utility and other unspecified manufacturing industries in southern Hormozgan Province, home to a large oil refinery and container port in the provincial capital of Bandar Abbas.
The news agency quoted Ali Akbar Akhavan, the head of the Passive Defense Organization’s provincial branch, as saying that “with timely measures and the cooperation of skilled hackers in the province, the progress of this virus was halted.” It was unclear from the account whether any Iranian targets had been damaged.
Iran’s Fars News Agency said a cyberattack had also been made against the information center of the Culture Ministry’s Headquarters for Supporting and Protecting Works of Art and Culture, and that the attack had been “repelled by the headquarters’ experts.”
The Fars account said the attack had originated in Dallas and was routed to Iran via Malaysia and Vietnam. It did not elaborate on the significance of that information but noted that a broad array of Iranian targets had recently come under cyberattacks that were “widely believed to be designed and staged by the U.S. and Israel.”
News of the latest cyberattacks came as Western economic sanctions on Iran have been tightening while diplomatic negotiations aimed at resolving the nuclear dispute have remained basically stalled since June. There are expectations that a resumption of those negotiations will be announced soon, possibly next month.
Rotten egg attack mars Indonesia Christmas celebration
BEKASI, Indonesia — More than 200 Indonesian Muslims threw rotten eggs at Christians wanting to hold a Christmas mass near land outside Jakarta where they plan to build a church, police and a witness said.
Some 100 Christian worshippers intended to hold a mass near empty land where they hope to build a church, about 30-kilometre (18 miles) east of the capital, in a project barred by district government and community members in 2009. Since then, worshippers from the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant have held Sunday services under scorching sun outside the property.
An AFP photographer witnessed furious locals -- men and women wearing Muslim headscarf, with small children in tow -- physically blocking the road and throwing rotten eggs at the gathering worshippers.
Ananta (Andri Ananta, a local police chief) said police managed to convince the Christians to drop their plan and return home.
Church leader Reverend Palti Panjaitan said the incident came after a Christmas Eve attack Monday evening when "intolerant people" threw not only rotten eggs but plastic bags filled with urine and cow dung at them. "Everything had happened while police were there. They were just watching without doing anything to stop them from harming us," he told AFP.
Gunmen attacked a church in volatile northern Nigeria during a Christmas Eve service, killing six people including the pastor, before setting the building ablaze, residents and police said Tuesday, as the pope deplored "savage acts of terrorism" against Christians in Africa's most populous nation.
The raid in Yobe state is the latest violence likely to be blamed on radical Islamist sect Boko Haram, which has repeatedly targeted churches during times of worship, including multiple attacks last year on Christmas Day, during its deadly insurgency.
In his traditional Christmas message from the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI prayed for "concord in Nigeria, where savage acts of terrorism continue to reap victims, particularly among Christians".
"A group of gunmen came into the village at midnight and went straight to the church," said Usman Mansir, a resident of Peri village near Potiskum, the economic capital of Yobe. "They opened fire on them, killing the pastor and five worshippers. They then set fire to the church," he added, specifying that a branch of the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) was targeted.
A senior police official in Yobe confirmed the details of the attack to AFP, but declined to be named, while Yobe's police chief Sanusi Rufa'i said "this is a security issue" and refused to comment further.
The head of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Yobe, Idi Garba, told AFP that many worshippers at ECWA "are still missing." "I have been informed that six bodies have been recovered," Garba said, adding that some who lived near the church "fled their homes during the attack and it is assumed that they are still hiding in the bush."
Residents reported that the gunmen also set fire to several of the homes surrounding the church.
Egyptian Forces Intercept French Made Rockets in Sinai
SNEB Matra 155 x 68 MM (Multi-Dart) rockets
The Threat Matrix blog of the Long War Journal had as report about Egypt intercepting 17 French Made rockets near El Arish in the Northern Sinai, "Egyptian forces intercept 17 rockets headed for Gaza." The SNEB 68 MM (Multi-Dart) rockets can be launched from aircraft or helicopters. Could the rockets have originated in Libya where they may have been part of the Gaddafi arsenal that been raided in the past to smuggle weapons to Hamas in Gaza? Or was it part of the Bedouin smuggled arms shipment from Iran via the Sudan? Live Leak hada report on December 12, 2012 showing an SNEB 68 MM (Multi-Dart) rocket fired by Syrian Islamist opposition forces clearly heard shouting "allahu alkbar".Perhaps the SNEB rockets fired by Free Syrian Army militias may have been liberated from Syrian Air Force caches.
The Threat Matrix blog post infers that it might have been a reflection of the Obama Administration commitment to Israel following the rocket war of Operation Pilalr of Defense in November 2012 to assist by intercepting such weapons shipments? Stay tuned to see if this part of a concerted effort by Egyptian security forces or another luck break. Here is the Long War Journal report:
On Monday, an attempt to smuggle 17 short-range rockets into Gaza was foiled by Egyptian security forces. The rockets, said to be of the French-made SNEB 68 mm caliber air-launched unguided model, were reportedly confiscated 22 kilometers (13.67 miles) south of el Arish, in the northern Sinai.
The interception occurs just a few days after the Jerusalem Post reported that "Israel and Egypt are carrying on discussions in Cairo that could lead to the further easing of restrictions on the Gaza Strip and prevent a swift rearming of Hamas."
Following the institution of a ceasefire on Nov. 21 that brought an end to Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas officials claimed that the agreement did not prevent them from continuing their smuggling efforts. "There is no way to relinquish weapons .... These weapons protected us and there is no way to stop obtaining and manufacturing them," Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk told the Associated Press.
While Hamas seeks to continue its smuggling through Egypt's Sinai, the issue has garnered greater attention from US officials. According to a readout released by the White House, during a phone conversation on Nov. 21, President Barack Obama told Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the ceasefire agreement provided the US with the opportunity "to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza."
An unnamed US official also told Haaretzin late November: "We will work with Israel and Egypt to prevent the smuggling ... We know that this is a critical issue for preserving stability here, especially given the fact that Iran will not stop trying to transfer weapons to Gaza. We all now understand that we must deal with the smuggling much more effectively than we have up till now."
In early December, a group of US senators called on Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi to increase efforts to prevent weapons smuggling by Gaza-based terror groups.
Thus far in December, no rockets or mortars fired from Gaza have landed in Israel. On Sunday, a rocket fired from Gaza toward Israel landed in the coastal enclave.