Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Aid workers at risk

July 1, 2014

Aid workers in conflict zones are at risk of kidnap, of being killed. Now they face a further risk, prosecution for aiding terrorists.

And it is not only aid workers. We have seen journalists targeted in Egypt for talking to the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is contrary to International Law to deny medical treatment to an enemy combatant. Aid organisations face prosecution if they do.

Hamas is deemed a terrorist organisation because Israel deem them to be. This has forced most aid agencies to pull out of Gaza.

A school in Gaza, is providing music, is teaching no-violent resistance. Lack of funding means they will be probably be forced to close.

ISIS now controls vast swathes of Iraq and Syria. Canon Andrew White runs St George’s Church in Baghdad. They run a clinic, provide food, education. They do not discriminate. Canon Andrew White is a peace negotiator. Does this mean he cannot talk to ISIS or the Sunnis linked to ISIS?

Banks act as a conduit for money for aid organisations. Fearing prosecution for money laundering, they are now refusing to transfer money.

Canon Andrew White at Alton Maltings

June 20, 2014
Andrew White Alton book signing

Andrew White Alton book signing

I never knew Alton had a Maltings. Signposting needed from the town centre.

An excellent job done on the interior of the building. Strangely, you enter at rafter level. A large meeting hall (ideal for concerts) and a cafe. I did not explore the lower levels, but was told contained meeting rooms.

Tea was served in paper cups. Not good for the environment. The coffee I was told was single sourced.

Following a blessing in Aramaic, Canon Andrew White started by giving the background of how he came to be in Iraq.

At age ten, he was asked by his teacher, what would he like to be.

An anaesthetist and a priest.

You cannot be both, and you are a Pentecostalist, and they do not have priests.

Andrew was an anaesthetist at St Thomas in London, where he headed the cardiac arrest unit, then gave it up to be a priest.

Christian theology he did not find very interesting,and changed to oriental studies, part of which included studying in Israel at an Ultra-Orthodox University.

He became a curate, then a priest, and was then sent to Coventry, to be part of the peace and reconciliation unit. It had until then focussed on Europe. With his background in the Middle East, it changed focus to Middle East.

He was sent to Iraq, to St George’s Church, an Anglican Church that was derelict.

At first he was not wanted, you are bombing us. No, it is not I who is bombing you.

He had a minder. One day, the minder told him he was invited to dinner. He was to be guest of the two sons of Saddam Hussein. He at first decided to decline the invitation, but his minder pleaded with him to say yes, else he and his family would be executed.

Originally, St George served the diplomats, the military, but when it proved too dangerous, the Iraqis.

First week one hundred, second week two hundred, third week, three hundred, fourth week four hundred. Not bad growth rate, one hundred a week. Eventually six and a half thousand.

More than just a church. A food distribution centre, a school, a clinic.

Several types of service: wacky for the children, Anglican for the Embassy, very formal Catholic for the Iraqis.

The service at St George’s is in Aramaic

Iraq had a very good education system, Iraqis were well educated. It has now collapsed, those with education and the means, have fled the country, leaving behind the poor and uneducated.

More than looking after the church, also involved in peace and reconciliation.

Prior to 2003, there was not a problem of sectarian violence. One was an Iraqi. Now one is a Sunni or a Shia. Under Saddam Hussein, Sunni minority ran the country, now it is a Shia majority.

ISIS aka ISIL is an insurgency and a terrorist organisation. It is well funded, paymasters are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.

The country has de-facto broken into three.

In the last year, over 1200 of the congregation of St George has been killed. In the last two weeks, 1000 have been killed.

People fled Baghdad as deemed not safe, back to their homeland, back to Mosul. Minerva is a Christian area. It is this area that has been overrun by ISIS.

Churches need to take much more account of what is happening in the Middle East.

Next week, Andrew returns to Iraq, to begin reconciliation talks with Sunni leaders.

Running the church, its various programmes, reconciliation, all costs money. It is only made possible by the generosity of people in the UK. If every church, held but one collection for the work that is being done, it would make a huge difference.

Sales of books went very well.

The meeting had been publicised in other churches. Farnham Parish Church had a poster in the porch. More though needs to be done communicating with the wider community. The press invited.

The dire situation in Iraq will only improve if the government changes, and is inclusive of all Iraqis, including the Christians, who are the minority of the minority.

The talk was filmed, and it is hoped once edited, to have uploaded to the net possibly as early as Sunday. It will be added here once available.

Andrew White is author of several books, including Vicar of Baghdad and Faith under Fire.

Andrew White is recipient of the Wilberforce Award.

Taksim Square one year on

May 31, 2014
Taksim Square one year on

Taksim Square one year on

One year on, and the same police brutality as was used to clear peaceful protesters from Taksim Square a year ago.

Ten days ago, we had a mining disaster, an advisor to the Prime Minister viciously kicked one of the protesters. The Prime Minister too lashed out at protesters. The mining disaster was dismissed as no great matter.

A brutal dictator who the people must depose.

The press must make sure Chilcot reports the whole truth

May 31, 2014
Prime minister Tony Blair meets with American president George W Bush on 7 July 2005

Prime minister Tony Blair meets with American president George W Bush on 7 July 2005

• Promises of “gists” and partial quotes simply won’t cut it. The detail will be where the devil resides. That’s why I have kept up the pressure in parliament via debates and parliamentary questions, and demanded nothing less than complete transparency when it comes to what Blair knew. But there is a way forward. Ed Miliband has often said that under his leadership Labour is determined to learn the lessons of the past and to make a clear break from the New Labour years. What better test of that commitment than for him to make clear his desire to overrule the Cabinet Office on this matter in the public interest and to demand – at the very least – the full disclosure of Tony Blair’s part in the communications.
Caroline Lucas MP
Green Party, Brighton

• Has it occurred to top mandarin Jeremy Heywood (Iraq war whitewash claim, 30 May) that the discipline of transparency, which Bush and Blair felt able to ignore in their private collusion over the Iraq war, is a fundamental tenet of democratic government, which, had it been operating correctly at the time, would probably have saved us from engaging in a gruelling war on a false pretext. Far from protecting the spurious right of prime ministers to deal with presidents in secret, our civil servants – supposedly the sober guardians of democratic virtue – should be using this sorry episode as a pertinent and powerful example of why they should not.
Giles O’Bryen
London

• The decision to withhold information about correspondence and notes of meetings between the British and US governments beggars belief. Has our government learned nothing from the agonies endured by the families of the Hillsborough victims? It’s time that the government realised that it does not rule us, it is there to serve us. We must have full disclosure now.
Joanne Nicholson
Weston super Mare, Somerset

• The press argues strenuously against political interference. The protracted scandal of the Chilcot inquiry demands you now deliver on your fine words. We need your implacable determination to hold the executive to democratic account. You have a duty to the electorate and a moral responsibility to the grieving relatives of fallen soldiers to demand that they hear the truth – the whole truth; not the sanitised, redacted, white-washing truth. President Bush and Mr Blair took us into an illegal war in Iraq. Mr Blair claims what Mr Bush no longer bothers to, that they were drawn reluctantly into a disastrous conflict because of an imminent threat based upon false intelligence that they accepted in good faith. Few voters and no journalists believe this fatuous claim to be true. Even the evidence already published argues forcefully against it. Publication of the conversations between Blair and Bush will almost certainly prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt: which of course explains the endless delays and refusal of transparency. I understand the argument that disclosure will prevent such private’ conversations in the future – good.

If you and your press colleagues do not force the truth out of the unelected Cabinet Office on our behalf you might as well accept any kind of interference politicians choose to impose upon you – for you will have already lost the war. This is an issue worth the odd editor going to jail for.
Keith Farman
St Albans, Hertfordshire

• Dear Messrs Snowden and Assange, using your skill and experience, please could you help us out by publishing the full content of the letters between Blair and Bush leading up to the Iraq invasion?
Joe Collier
Richmond, Surrey

letters to The Guardian on Chilcot Iraq Inquiry whitewash

In a democratic society, it is not for unelected officials, in this case the Cabinet Office, to decide what can and cannot be published. They are the servants of the people, as are Bush and Blair.

An inquiry costing several millions of pounds, a delay of years, and all we are to be offered is a cover up, a whitewash?

A country was taken to war, a country was torn apart by war. At the very least, we deserve to know the truth.

Publish and be damned.

In this internet age, do they really think this report will not get published in full on the net?

Expansion of Israeli Embassy in South Kensington

January 3, 2014

Local shopkeepers are told they are to be demolished to make way for expansion of Israeli Embassy.

Planning permission?

No, this land is ours, we were given it by God.

A letter?

We generally send the bulldozers in first, be we do try to give at least a couple of hours notice, if you are lucky.

Before it was your land it was our land, so we’re really going to take what’s rightfully ours…

We’ve got a very very old planning book, it’s about 2000 years old…

This is our land as given to us by the almighty…

Without putting too fine a point on it, mate, they’re going to bulldoze your land.…

Can I have a letter?

We generally go with bulldozers first, and letters later…

And you see all those olives you’ve got in the deli display there, they’re ours too…

I’m finding that smile a bit anti-Semitic, mate, so you should really wise up with your face….

You’re being a bit anti-Semitic. It’s only a conservatory.

Christmas at Bethlehem

December 24, 2013
Bethlehem Christmas

Bethlehem Christmas

Christmas as experienced in Bethlehem.

No Woman, No Drive

October 26, 2013

Full support to brave women in Saudi Arabia who today decided to take on the repressive, corrupt regime of the House of Saud.

And what did the brave women do? They drove their cars in a public display of defiance.

Muslim fundamentalists have attacked the women saying, the Koran forbids woman to drive a car.

Yeah right, and The Prophet drove around in a Mercedes.

Muslim fundamentalists call it a conspiracy by women.

It is not only the bastardisation of women in Saudi Arabia. The corrupt House of Saud are propping up the repressive regime in Bahrain, are responsible for much of the bloodshed in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Masmou3: Noise as dissent

August 23, 2013

As Egypt descends into bloody chaos, where the only space to flourish will be for Islamic terrorists, the streets are no longer safe for protests.

A new form of protest has been developed, masmou3, its symbol a pan.

At 9pm, people open their windows and bang their pots.

It even has a song.

The bloodiest period in modern Egypt

August 19, 2013

Brutal military junta describe the massacre of innocent peaceful protesters as an act of self-restraint.

The media in Egypt, are whipping up hysteria against what they call Muslim terrorist.

The same media is whipping up hysteria against foreign journalists, many of whom themselves have been attacked. Several have been detained and disappeared, including two Canadian journalists and an Al Jazeera journalist. A TV camera man working for Sky News was killed.

The slaughter of innocent protesters will have only one consequence, it will open the void for Islamic terrorists to step into.

We must hope, that the crimes against humanity being committed by the military junta, are documented and they are brought to justice, in the meantime, all Egyptians must unite to overthrow the junta, otherwise Egypt will descend into bloody civil war.

People had great hopes when they occupied Tahrir Square. Now they are betrayed. The light of freedom is being extinguished by a brutal fascism.

Canon Andrew White at St Saviour’s

August 19, 2013
book signing

book signing

It is strange, I had been thinking of meeting with Canon Andrew White, and early hours Sunday morning, I found I had a message that he was at St Saviour’s Church in Guildford.

I had not planned on being in Guildford, but a change of plans, afternoon in Guildford, lunch in Guildford, maybe a walk along the River Wey, then wander along to St Saviour’s for the evening service.

Not quite according to plan. I did not get the roast pork I was looking forward to for lunch, nor did I get my walk along the river, but I did experience a black church called The Upper Room meeting in St Nicolas, and had afternoon tea at Glutton & Glee.

I arrived at St Saviour’s more than half an hour early and was told I was first one.

I was not sure I had the correct evening, as no mention on their website, but on arrival I saw a space had been reserved for Andrew White and there was a notice on the church door.

The service started with music. During rehearsal, they were awful, but during the service far better.

We were then told of the situation in Egypt, or rather were were told half truths.

It is good that a church is recognising the plight of Christians in Egypt and the Middle East as too often they feel ignored and the churches in the West do not give a damn, but what we should also recognise is that the Christians in Egypt especially their leadership, are not a reliable witness to events on the ground and will give a partisan view.

We should not forget, that when people occupied Tahrir Square and refused to leave until Mubarak was overthrown, those who supported Mubarak to the bitter end and condemned the brave people in Tahrir Square, were the leaders of the Christian Church in Egypt. Neither should we forget that Muslims and Christian stood shoulder to shoulder in Tahrir Square.

Morsi betrayed the revolution. He tried to Islamise what is a secular country, betrayal of rights for women, installation of cronies to positions of power. In other words, no different to every corrupt government in the Middle East.

20 million Egyptians took to the streets to overthrow Morsi. A lot of rubbish in the West about the democratic overthrow of Morsi. The will of the people was executed. That is democracy. Democracy is not rule by unaccountable elites, the people reduced to election fodder and having no further say.

But, the overthrow of Morsi, has been hijacked by a military junta.

Attention was drawn to a letter from Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis. This proved to be little more than a propaganda sheet for the brutal military junta, demonisation of the Muslim Brotherhood.

St Saviour’s need to be very careful that they are not being used as unwitting tools of the military junta.

Morsi supporters, and it is not only the Muslim Brotherhood, have every right to peaceful protest. The response of the junta, to massacre in cold blood several hundred peaceful protesters.

Yes, there has been attacks on Christians, on churches, but these attacks, pre-date the overthrow of Morsi, they are nothing new.

The slaughter of innocent protesters will have only one consequence, it will open the void for Islamic terrorists to step into.

We must hope, that the crimes against humanity being committed by the military junta, are documented and they are brought to justice, in the meantime, all Egyptians must unite to overthrow the junta, otherwise Egypt will descend into bloody civil war.

Coverage of Tahrir Square by mainstream media was poor. Post-overthrow of Morsi much better.

For good coverage turn to Democracy Now, Russia Today and Al Jazeera. On twitter follow Sharif Kouddous.

The pastor leading the service, invited Andrew White to join him, and they discussed what had led Andrew White to where he is today, leading a church in Iraq.

Andrew explained his interest in the Middle East had started when he studied at an ultra-Orthodox university in Israel.

Andrew White started from when he was a curate, then a vicar, and how he had then been asked to head the peace and reconciliation unit at Coventry Cathedral.

Formed out of the ashes of the bombed Coventry Cathedral, the focus had been Europe. Andrew refocused on the Middle East. He had acted as envoy for the then Archbishop of Canterbury, engaging in dialogue with Israelis and Palestinians and encouraging them to talk to each other.

Diagnosed with MS, he was asked to step down from what he was doing. His response was to take over the running of St George’s in Baghdad. His assistant was Justin Welby, now Archbishop of Canterbury.

The church costs over $175,000 a month to run. They have no money, no reserves. They rely entirely on donations, on people inviting Andrew to talk at their church, on buying his books.

The money given on Sunday, and during the week, will all go to FRRME (of which Andrew White is the Founding President).

The church has a school, a medical clinic, feeding programmes, all paid for through donations. All the programmes the church runs are free to all.

Beside the work at the church, Andrew acts as Embassy Chaplain, works on peace and reconciliation between the various factions, advises on security.

FRRME was formed to support the work in Iraq and the Middle East.

Following the reading of the lesson, Andrew White was asked to give the sermon.

Andrew started by blessing the congregation in Ameraic, the language used by Jesus, and the language still used in the Iraqi Church.

His theme was Matthew 24:6-8

You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

For people of Guildford, words in the Bible, for people of Iraq, daily occurrence.

There are rumours of war, there is war, there is bombing, there is killing.

Of the church over 1,250 have been killed.

When people have lost everything they have everything.

The church in Iraq is filled with joy.

To love your friends is easy. We have to learn to love those who are our enemies.

Andrew was once kidnapped. When he looked around, he saw severed fingers and toes.

He has to deal with his friends, who bomb and kill.

When dealing with one of he founders of Hamas, he invited him to dinner. He convinced him to work with a rabbi. When accused of being a Zionist, the founder of Hamas said no, he was walking the path of peace and reconciliation, a very difficult path to walk.

Often asked: How do you deal with Muslims? Easy we love them, we welcome them. The church is over 6,000 people, of which over 600 are Muslim.

When you love can also be very painful, when you see the people you love killed.

Andrew has three adopted Iraqi children. One, Lina, now also his personal assistant, has recently become engaged.

The service lasted almost two hours, but it seemed much shorter. I have known half hour service seem longer.

Too many people spend their lives griping about their lives and never getting off their backsides. Andrew is the exact opposite, faces danger every day, sees more tragedy in a day than most people would see in their lifetime, and yet, he is full of hope, full of joy, and always willing to take risks.

He said when people shake hands and say take care, no, they should shakes hands and and say take risks.

It is unfortunate the service was not filmed. As much my fault as I did not think to ask. It has at least been recorded, or at least the sermon recorded, and possibly the exchange at the beginning. This will be available on the church website.

Andrew then signed books:

I gave Andrew a copy of Manuscript Found in Accra. He said he enjoyed Aleph. He asked me did Paulo Coelho know the new Pope? I said I did not think so, but at a press conference in Athens, Paulo Coelho had been asked two questions, his thoughts on the Catholic Church and of the new Pope. He said there was much wrong with the Catholic Church and that he had high hopes of the new Pope implementing much needed reform.

I also gave Andrew a letter I have had in possession for many months, which a lady had entrusted me to give to him.

A chat with Andrew.

I came away with several signed copies of his latest book, Father, Forgive, one for me, the others I will have pleasure in giving away.

Next year, Andrew is to be awarded the William Wilberforce Prize.


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