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Friday, July 11, 2008

Yemen: Christian arrests may herald new era of persecution.

By Elizabeth Kendal
World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC)
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- On 18 June Yemeni news source Al Sahwa reported that Yemeni political security forces in Hodiada province had arrested a "missionary cell" of seven people and charged them with promoting Christianity and distributing the Bible. One of those arrested, Hadni Dohni, stands accused of converting to Christianity.

According to Sahwa Net, ". . . the suspects were transferred to Sana'a in order to investigate them to know who support them." (Link 1)

BosNewsLife subsequently reported on 2 July that according to International Christian Concern (http://www.persecution.org) the Yemeni Christians were still in detention and at risk of mistreatment and torture at the hands of Yemeni authorities. (Link 2)

Hodaida is Yemen's third largest city. It is the capital of Hodaida Province which is located on Yemen's western Red Sea coast and home to more than two million Yemenis. (See map at link 3)

ARRESTS MAY HERALD NEW ERA OF PERSECUTION

These arrests may well herald an era of more intense and systematic persecution. They came hot on the heels of an Islamist media campaign (foreign, terrorist, and local) that claims Islam in Yemen is under threat due to Christian missionary activities; and at a time when the hugely unpopular, corrupt, abusive, dictatorial regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh is struggling to hold the state together.

MEDIA CAMPAIGN: IN FEAR OF MISSIONARIES AND APOSTATES

On 11 October 2007, Catholic World News reported: "The Palestinian newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi is reporting 2,000 conversions from Islam to Christianity in Yemen.

"Many of the converts are reportedly living abroad in fear for their lives. Yemen adheres to Shari'a law, which forbids conversions from Islam on pain of death.

"The World Muslim League has appealed to Yemen's government to stem the tide of conversions, placing the blame on schools administered by foreigners." (Link 4)

On 13 January 2008, Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported: "On January 13, 2008, Islamist websites posted the first issue of Sada Al-Malahim [Echo of Wars], the e-journal of Al-Qaeda in Yemen. According to its editor, the journal was established in response to a call by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who urged '[those] who are engaged in Islamic media jihad to strengthen their resolve . . . in the face of the fiercest Crusader attack that the Islamic nation [has ever known]." (Link 5)

Then on 18 February 2008, the Yemen Post reported: "Yemeni Researcher Dr Abdul Qawi Al-Tab'ee warned of the growing organised Christian movement in Yemen, hinting the missionary work of foreign agencies focus on young youth to build its movement and spread Christianity in Yemen.

"This news comes in shock to a country known to be free from Christians as only very few Christian Yemenis exist in Aden, which officials say that they are not of Yemeni root.

"Meanwhile, the Islamic World League in its report warned of growing missionary work in Yemen and indicated that the missionary agencies have managed so far to turn over 120 Yemenis in Hadramout into Christianity. It also hinted these agencies are also active in Eritrean and Somali refugees' camps located in southern part of Yemen.

"The league attributed the success of Christianity campaign in Yemen to the absence of attention by Muslims . . ." (Link 6)

It is difficult to see how the above article, written by Yemen Post staff writer Hakim Almasmari, could fail to cause anxiety and outrage amongst Yemeni Muslims.

Almasmari asserts that Christians use international organisations -- especially those involved in education, health or humanitarian relief and development -- as fronts for their missionary work. He specifically mentions the Jibla Baptist hospital without condemning the 30 December 2002 terrorist attack which claimed the lives of Dr Martha Myers (57), hospital administrator William Koehn (60) and supply purchaser Kathleen Gariety (53), as well as critically wounding pharmacist Donald Caswell. He also fails to mention the great outpouring of grief in Jibla that followed the slaying of the three Christians who, having spent 62 years in Yemen between them, had brought health, hope, joy and friendship to multitudes. As distraught mourner Malka al-Hadhrami told Salah Nasrawi of the Associated Press, "All Jibla weeps for them." The terrorist, Abed Abdel Razzak Kamel (35), a member of a group called Islamic Jihad, confessed to having shot the Americans "because they were preaching Christianity in a Muslim country". (See Link 7)

Almasmari adds that while Christian missionary work is strictly forbidden "books and literature about the Christian faith have been widely noticed to be distributed in the Old City of Sana'a".

HOLDING THE STATE TOGETHER: A DEAL WITH AL-QAEDA
AND/OR A FEAR TO BE EXPLOITED FOR POLITICAL GAIN

The 1990 creation of the unified state of Yemen brought together North Yemen which was 66 percent Shi'ite and had traditionally (until a 1962 military coup) been ruled by a Shi'ite Imamate, and South Yemen which was 99 percent Sunni, Marxist and until 1990 was sponsored by the Soviet Union. The already aggrieved religiously conservative Shi'ites then became a 30 percent minority in a Sunni dominated socialist ("apostate") republic. North Yemen's President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, an Arab Socialist revolutionary and nominal Shia, was elected as the president of the unified Republic of Yemen.

It is difficult to imagine a more potentially fraught marriage. Indeed, not long after the honeymoon ended, civil war erupted.

As a secular socialist, Saleh was no admirer of religious fundamentalists -- unless of course they could be exploited and employed to his advantage.

During the 1994 civil war, Saleh, who had to fight against disaffected southerners to keep his country unified, employed tens of thousands of "Afghan" Arabs (Sunni fundamentalist Arab veterans of the 1980s Afghan jihad) in a "jihad" against the "infidel" southern separatists. The government-jihadi alliance crushed the southern separatists, and the previously more open and liberal Aden (capital of the south) was left helpless before an incoming tide of Islamisation. This of course has only caused the disaffection and grief of the more liberal and secular southerners to intensify.

The 1994 civil war marked the beginning Saleh's pragmatic alliance with Sunni fundamentalists and militants, including al-Qaeda. It is an alliance that mirrors the alliance between al-Saud and al-Wahhab: a pragmatic alliance built on quid pro quo deals. Saleh does not interfere with al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda preserves Saleh's socialist dictatorship, at least for as long as it is convenient. Al-Qaeda-perpetrated terror under this arrangement is Government-controlled but it gives Saleh grounds to cry out to the West for funding for his war against terror. However Saleh's relationship with the US in the War on Terror (even if it was/is a confidence trick) gave the Shi'ite rebels of the north grounds to accuse him of being pro-American, the ultimate sin.

When the Shi'ite rebellion erupted in 2004, President Saleh employed his Sunni fundamentalist militants and al-Qaeda puppets alongside his army in his war against the al-Houthi Shi'ite rebels.

Thus Saleh is fighting Shi'ite rebels in the north and liberal pro-democracy and separatist forces in the south, by feeding and partnering with Shi'ite-hating, democracy-hating, liberty-hating, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-infidel, anti-apostate, Wahhabi Sunni fundamentalist militants including al-Qaeda.

This has not resulted in the defeat of the al-Houthi Shi'ite rebellion (which has cost thousands of lives) or the repression of dissent in south. The result has been escalating radicalisation, terrorism, disaffection, rioting and a dangerous broadening of the sectarian conflict as the warring Islamic sects receive support from their co-religionists abroad. Yemen is now in the grip of a Sunni v Shi'ite sectarian conflict which most analysts believe is fast becoming a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In such an explosive environment it is common for Muslim leaders to try and generate popularity and Islamic solidarity by deflecting hostilities onto a common "enemy": Jews, "Zionists", "Crusaders", Christians, missionaries, apostates. The Jews come first and then the Christians -- as the Muslim war chant goes, "Baad a- Sabt biji Yom al-Ahad": "After Saturday comes Sunday", meaning after we deal with the Saturday people -- the Jews -- we'll deal with the Sunday people -- the Christians.

The Jews have already been dealt with. As reported by WEA RLC News & Analysis in January 2007: "On 10 January [2007] the 45 Jews of al Haid, Sa'ada (north Yemen) received letters from a Shi'ite rebel militia. The letters accused them of promoting vice and demanded that they leave the province. According to the Yemen Observer, the 45 Jews have been forced to flee their homes in fear of their lives." (Link 8)

As fighting flared again in April 2008, the Shi'ite rebels finished the job by destroying the homes abandoned by the al Haid Jews some 15 months earlier. They also looted the former home of Rabbi Yehia Youssuf. Israel absorbed some 50,000 Yemeni Jews who were forced to flee Yemen in the immediate aftermath of the creation of the state of Israel. Some 1,600 Jews left Yemen in the 1990s, leaving a remnant of only around 400 Jews in Yemen today. (Link 9)

Maybe "Sunday" has arrived.

Insecurity, terrorism, separatism, rioting and sectarian conflict are not President Saleh's only problems. He is an unpopular dictator who after 27 years in power still imprisons his critics and rules over a state with high levels of illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and malnutrition.

So Islamic fundamentalists will not be the only ones to benefit from a state-sponsored crackdown on Christian missionary activity and apostasy. The Islamic media, with its anti-Christian propaganda and disinformation, has no doubt made persecution of Christians a real vote-winner. Protecting Islam by arresting missionaries and apostates is one way the embattled Saleh-the-secular-socialist can bolster his Islamic credentials -- important in a Muslim state undergoing radicalisation -- and generate some popularity. Saleh releases convicted Islamic terrorists from prison for similar reasons: not only to keep al-Qaeda happy, but to bolster his anti-US credentials for political gain. While the state's prisons maintain a revolving door for Islamic terrorists, they remain full due to a continual intake of journalists, comedians, singers, dissidents, pro-democracy activists, justice advocates -- and now Christians.

If the arrests are part of a deal with Islamic fundamentalists and/or a grab for grassroots popularity and Islamic solidarity, then we have grounds to expect more arrests and an escalation in very public persecution.

. . . and when President Saleh saw how much it pleased the Muslims, he proceeded to arrest more Christians . . . (Adaptation of Acts 12:3)

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Yemeni security arrests missionary cell in Hodaida. 18/06/2008
http://www.alsahwa-yemen.net/view_nnews.asp?sub_no=401_2008_06_18_64109 

2) Yemeni Christians Remain Detained; No Americans Among Them
By BosNewsLife News Center, 2 July 2008
http://www.bosnewslife.com/middle-east/yemen/3689-yemeni-christians-remain-detained-no-american 

3) MAP. Note -- Hodaida here is spelt Hodaydah. http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/atlas_middle_east/yemen_divisions.jpg.

4) Conversions reported on the rise in Yemen. 11 Oct 2007
http://www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=54102 

5) Al-Qaeda in Yemen Launches New E-Journal -- Sada Al-Malahim
13 January 2008 MEMRI
http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/4640.htm

6) Researcher Warns Christianity Growth in Yemen
By Hakim Almasmari, 18 February 2008
http://www.yemenpost.net/17/LocalNews/1.htm

7) Yemeni Town Mourns U.S. Missionaries
By SALAH NASRAWI. The Associated Press
JIBLA, Yemen. 31 December 2008
http://www.islamreview.com/news/2002_news.htm
ALSO
Religious Liberty 2003
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal, 6 January 2003
http://www.ea.org.au/default.aspx?id=7d3f7c61-35fc-467d-8b76-933cdc38fc22 

8) Yemen: Shi'ite rebellion resurfaces -- Yemeni Jews threatened.
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal, 16 February 2007
http://www.ea.org.au/default.aspx?id=b48ed786-57b4-4512-bf12-10e86a976238 

9) Yemen -- Empty Jewish homes destroyed. 7 April 2008
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1207486208257&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull 


Elizabeth Kendal is the Principal Researcher and Writer for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC) http://www.worldevangelicals.org/. This article was initially written for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis mailing list.

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