How Repeatable Are Scientific Studies?

Every now and then I come across an article that is well worth passing on.

In the field of science the rock-hard foundation on which it all stands is repeatability. If a result can’t be repeated many times over we cannot draw serious conclusions about the studies claims regarding the material world.

I have just read an excellent report on how much of what passes as published scientific results is not repeatable. The levels are disturbingly high for the fields of psychology and historical sciences, less so in the fields of physics and chemistry, the hard sciences.

Here is the link. Enjoy.

Kevin Davis

The best analysis of Syria I have ever read!

Every now and then I read an article on the Middle East that is profoundly insightful, that makes sense of the mayhem and corrects a lot of fake news coming from the western media. The article below, reproduced from this link, is one such apiece of journalism. It explains everything that has happened in Syria since the civil war began, why America failed, what has happedned to the Sunni/Shia balance, who the Alawites are and what became of the Christian community. I found it fascinating so here it is…

Introduction: The American intervention in Iraq set off a massive political restructuring of the Middle East, triggering a struggle between different religious and ethnic communities. The process has continued in Syria, where Sunni Muslims, underestimating the regional nature of the conflict, deluded themselves that they could topple Bashar al-Assad’s regime by their overwhelming demographic superiority. Among the big losers are the Christians who, unlike the Alawites or the Kurds, are not a compact minority.

Martino Diez: Speaking about crisis and renewal in Sunnism, one cannot escape the predicament of Syria. But from the start we are faced with an objection: according to many, the religious or sectarian element in the Syrian crisis is a secondary one, a by-product of government policies aimed at curbing the revolt by delegitimizing it internationally, and by dividing the opposition internally.

Joshua Landis: Well, it’s a chicken and egg problem. All sides in Syria have used religion in a very political way to gain support and to shore up their own position. But there is a religious issue, otherwise it could not have been instrumentalized. It is a circular problem and it is hard to know which begins where. Of course, it is about politics and humans using everything they have, whether ethnicity, poverty, class differences, and prejudices, in order to fight political battles. Yet, the religious question is extremely important and precisely because of this too many people tried to cover it up.

It has been a taboo in Syria for decades, ever since the modern Baathist regime took over and proclaimed that religious, tribal, regional and sub-national identities were anathema and a new Arab nation would not stand for them. Everything that smacked of these communal and tribal interests was feudalistic, retrograde, and needed to be stamped out. For instance, in the 1940s and 1950s the Alawite mountain became known as the coastal mountain and Jabal al-Drūz (“The mountain of the Druze”) was renamed as Jabal al-‘Arab (“The mountain of the Arabs”). These moves are highly instructive, since the Druze, like the Alawites, are usually accused of being majūs, “Persians, Zoroastrians.” By naming the Jabal al-Drūz as “The mountain of the Arabs,” the Druze were establishing their bona fide in a nationalistic world.

Logo of Arab Socialist Baath Party, used by its Syrian branch

MD: How would you characterize the religious policy of the Assads, both father and son, before the uprisings? The Baath started with a rather secular program, but Assad soon led a “corrective movement,” which among other things tried to come to terms with religions.

JL: The religious question has always been central in Syria, although at certain times it has been more important than at others. Let me take you back a little further than the Assads. When the French arrived in 1920, they began to take censuses and they discovered that in no town of over 2,000 people did Sunnis and Alawites live together. There was very stark demographic segregation. In 1945 there were 400 Alawites in Damascus and less in Aleppo. There really was very little knowledge of one another, and the Alawites were perceived as servants, typically the young girls being put in service into the Sunni households. The major coastal cities, which have today an Alawite majority, such as Latakia, Jableh, Tartous, Banyas, were at that time all Sunni with a small Christian minority that lived within the old walls of the city.

The parable of the Alawites rising from the bottom of the Syrian society to the top is a dramatic story, but it changed the communal nature of Syria and created great resentment amongst the Sunni Syrians writ large. The entire Ottoman world was a Sunni world and for the most part Sunni prejudice saw Shi’as as being a deviant form of Islam, one that was highly inflected by Persian anger and resentment against the Arab conquerors. The most fundamentalist Sunnis like Ibn Taymiyya saw Shi‘ism and particularly its heterodox communities, such as Alawites, Druze and Ismailis, as a conspiracy inside Islam.

MD: In his book, A History of the ’Alawis, Stefan Winter challenges this view through archive research.

JL: Winter did a good job of showing how Alawites at various times in history held important positions and presented themselves in Islamic courts: things they were not supposed to do according to the segregation. But the success of some Alawites in the Ottoman empire was the exception that proved the rule of powerlessness. Never did the Ottomans include Alawites as Muslims. Never did they fully integrate them as citizens. There was an attempt at the end of the Ottoman Empire to create an Ottoman citizenship and to redefine it away from a religious dynastic identity. In this context, Alawites and Druze were renamed the “lost communities.” It was softer than “unbelievers” or “apostates” as they used to be called, but they remained nonetheless “lost.” They continued to be accused of “religious excess,” ghuluww.

MD: And this not only from the side of Sunnis. Even Twelver Shi’ites looked at them with suspicion.

JL: In 1947, fourteen Alawites were given grants to go study in Karbala. We have the memories of some of them and they are very bitter. They were forced to ghasal al-tawba, to wash their robes, which was a purification ceremony meant to convert them. But since they saw themselves as good Muslims, they did not want to be converted and this denigrating attitude from the Twelver Shi’a ultimately meant that no one of them graduated from Karbala.

It was not until the 1970s, under Mūsā al-Sadr, that the first Twelver Shi’ite fatwa was issued stating that Alawites are Muslims. Many people still harbor doubts and suspicions about this fatwa, because at that time Assad was already powerful and Shi‘ites were coalescing together. At any rate, the broad current of Islam rejects them as Muslims. Therefore, when Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1967, he faced a dilemma. The Constitution of Syria states in article 3 that the president must be a Muslim. Are Alawites Muslim? The first instinct of Assad was to take out article 3 in conformity with secularism, but large demonstrations ensued from Aleppo right down through Damascus, rejecting this move as an attack on Syrian identity. Hafez al-Assad retreated from his position, he put article 3 back into Constitution and at the same time, he declared that Alawites are Muslim. Most Sunni clerics did not believe this, but since he was the President and had the army behind him, they bowed their heads.

As soon as the revolt broke out in 2011, most of the militias were calling these people nusayrīkuffār (‘unbelievers’), rawāfid (‘rejectionists’), al-nizām al-majūsī (‘The Zoroastrian regime’), etc. The language of the revolt was to claim that Alawites are apostates and that it was compulsory to wage jihad against them, even more violently than against outright unbelievers, because unbelievers may not know Islam, but these people do know it, they have read the Qur’an and yet… This is not new. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, an important current within the Muslim Brotherhood maintained that the Alawites were apostate and a legitimate target of jihad. This was the guiding intellectual spirit behind the Talī‘a muqātila, the wing of the Muslim Brotherhood that rose up at the end of the 1970s to challenge Assad, leading to the Hama uprising in 1982, which was followed by a very brutal repression.

MD: Was Hafez al-Assad a sectarian?

JL: Yes, Assad had a so-to-say transparently hypocritical way of ruling. On the one hand, he forbade any mention of sectarianism and rise the flag of Arab nationalism stating that divisions among Syrians were responsible for the various foreign occupations the country had undergone (Ottomans, French…). But at the same time, he clung to communalism, because Syria before the 1970s had been the banana republic of the Arab World, having undergone 15 to 20 coups, failed coups and purges. It had been a constant revolving door for government. Thus, the only way Assad could stabilize his government was to appeal to traditional loyalties: first family, secondly close associates and friends, thirdly religious communities, and lastly the single party. He put his brother Rifaat al-Assad at the head of the state security to police Damascus and guarantee that no military unit would enter the capital to overthrow him, as it had occurred so many times in the previous decades. Bashar has taken his father’s playbook and changed almost nothing.


Portrait of Hafez al-Assad on a poster

MD: What exactly was the relation of Bashar to his father? When I spent some weeks in Damascus in July 2008, I was impressed to see a mega-poster of Hafez al-Assad covering most of the façade of the Ministry of Defense. I had the impression that this was a message from the old guard to Bashar.

JL: By 2008 Bashar had really consolidated to power. In 2005 he cleared up the last adherents of his father, such as ‘Abd al-Halīm Khaddām, the vice-president. He used his father’s image because much of the older generation admired and respected the father, while they were unsure of Bashar. He was shy and had not been brought up in the military. Having been called back from his optometry studies in England after his brother’s death in 1994, Bashar was sent to Lebanon to harden up, as a sort of military training school, because if you can deal with Lebanon, you can deal with Syria too. But he always had this soft, slightly indecisive side and people were not sure whether he was really tough enough. Keeping the big picture of his father was important to show continuity.

At that time, the Middle Eastern Republics were all going through a legitimacy crisis and were trying to become monarchies, because monarchy solves the problem of regime change and normalizes it. There was nothing unusual in Bashar’s attempt: Tunisians, Algerians, Egyptians were all trying to perpetuate the power of the ruling family avoiding civil strife and ensuring stability. Other people, of course, like many militaries, had a vested interest in preserving the throne for the Assad family and milk the rest of the country. We believe that about 70 to 80% of the upper officers’ core was Alawite, not just in the military and the security. We have testimonies from people in the Foreign Office who defected during the revolts and said that the vast majority of the officers were Alawites or belonging to the other minorities and only 20% was Sunni. This was a pattern in all more sensitive ministries. In 45 years there has been tons of corruption and patronage. All institutions of the state were filled with loyalists, whether they came up through the Baath party and were loyalist through ideology or they came up through the Alawite community and other minorities or through rural Sunni communities. And it is this that made it difficult from the start to change the regime without a total collapse. It was the same as in in Iraq with Saddam Hussein. Once you take out the leadership, destroy the Baath party and re-arrange the core officers and the top military, as it happened with the American intervention in Baghdad, the whole edifice crumbles. You have to remake the state entirely, because to get rid of Assad you have to accept regime collapse. The whole state is built around the loyalty to the leader. It was the dilemma of Iraq, it is the dilemma of Libya to a degree, although in North Africa there is no religious communalism comparable to Syria, Iraq or Lebanon.

MD: The attitude of the urban Sunni population is surprising. For instance, in Aleppo they remained loyal to the regime well into 2012, more than a year after the beginning of the revolts.

JL: The Sunni elite was co-opted and this is where Bashar’s father proved to be most successful. During the Hama uprisings in 1982, much of the country was in revolt. But in Damascus al-Assad approached the head of the chamber of commerce, Badr al-Dīn al-Shallāh, a Sunni leading businessman, and warned him about the danger of the country being taken over by fundamentalists. “If you stick with me, I’ll reward you.” And the Sunni elite of Damascus did. They saw in the Alawites a Pretorian guard that would advance their best interests and they went along with him.

MD: Many ulama too were preaching quietism.

JL: The Sunni clerical elite Assad had been cultivating, which was made up of Kurds and traditional figures, upheld the notion that clerics should not mix up in politics and that fitna, civil discord, had to be avoided at all costs. This attitude conformed to traditional Sunni political thought, hammered out in the ninth and tenth century, when Muslims were facing similar problems under the decadence of the Abbasid caliphate. Figures like Muhammad Sa‘īd Ramadān al-Būtī, who were at the head of the Islamic institutions in Syria, represented this traditional attitude. But their legitimacy was gradually undermined by a whole bunch of newer figures who were accusing them of being corrupt and bought off. And that led to the assassination of al-Būtī in 2013 and several attempts to kill the Grand Mufti and other clerics.

MD: And yet also Hanbalism and Salafism were quite at home in Damascus…

JL: Indeed, the entire nineteenth-century Salafism, which was very modernist, had an important center in Damascus and David Commins has written eloquently about this. Historically, Syria has been the cradle of a cosmopolitan, Sufi-inflected Islam, with lots of tariqas (Sufi orders, Ed.) closely linked to Turkey and Northern Iraq and with a specific Syrian “flavor.” This soup of Sufism, mysticism, heterodoxy, Neo-Platonism and various strands of Gnosticism is part of Syria’s heritage and the Salafi claim that they are all foreign imports is simply wrong; Ibn Taymiyya is really only one voice on one side.

At the same time, Syria has also known a more hard-bitten textual fundamentalist form of Islam which cannot be blamed entirely on Saudi Arabia, as liberals often do, although it has been obviously influenced by Wahhabism. Take the case of Syrian textbooks. The ninth-grade textbook of Islam contained until very recently a subsection on atheists and pagans, teaching that the only way to deal with them is to convert them or to kill them. In a sense, when ISIS conquered the Yazidis in Northern Iraq, it was simply following the instructions of ninth-grade Syrian textbooks. They did not have to turn to Wahhabism to enslave and to kill, they could follow Syrian school curricula.

To give you just an example, there were about 14 Druze villages near Aleppo. When ISIS conquered them, they made videos showing the militants forcing their inhabitants to convert while blowing up their shrines. Fortunately, ISIS  was pushed out by Nusra militias, who were slightly gentler: They too insisted that the Druze declare themselves Sunnis, but they did not make them convert and Jumblatt from Lebanon could intercede. At any rate, life for these minorities was miserable under the Salafi groups. Thus, we go back to what I believe is the key thesis here: even if there were successful Alawites in the Ottoman empire, their status was never normalized, they were always seen as deviant. When politics fell apart, due to bad government, drought, economic factors, all sort of things, these theological questions all came to the surface and because there was no good answer for them, the civil war increasingly took on a communal and sectarian edge. And of course, the Sunnis bore their responsibility too, because they appealed to jihadists to try to win their war. As a result, 40,000 to 50,000 foreign fighters streamed into Syria and Iraq and the most trained among them were al-Qaeda’s men. In fact, these radical groups ran up very easily over the militias that the United States were trying to set up.

Photo of destruction in Hama following the Hama Massacre in 1982

MD: The same miscalculation on the Sunni side happened time and again, in Iraq, in Yemen and elsewhere. Now, let us assume that one day the war is eventually over. Will the Sunnis find a place in Syria (or Iraq, for that matter)? And are there attempts to positively reconceptualize the status of minorities?

JL: I’m very pessimistic. The Sunni community in both Iraq and Syria has been smashed in every conceivable way. If we look at the geography of the Sunni world stretching from Baghdad right across to Aleppo, all the Sunni cities, Ramadi, Mosul, Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa, Aleppo have been destroyed. In Iraq the US talked at first about power-sharing among the different components of the Iraqi society, but that did not come to be. What America did do is that it ignited what I’ve called a “great sorting-out,” i.e. the struggle between different religious and ethnic communities for primacy. The Kurds have now largely achieved their independence, not totally because they still rely on Baghdad for money, but they possess their own army, their own schools, they teach in their own language etc. Iraqi Sunnis had been the dominant group in the Ottoman Empire, the monarchy, the Baath and Saddam Hussein’s rule. As a result of the American intervention, they were cast down to the bottom of society and Shi‘ites caught up to the top.

MD: Was it intentional?

JL: No, I believe Americans had no clue of what they were dealing with. They thought that if you can get rid of the evil tyrant, good people will find a way to share power. I’ve spent the last years trying to make comparisons to what happened in Central Europe in the twentieth century. The Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian empires were all multi-ethnic and multi-religious. They were substituted after the First World War with a long string of new nation states, from Poland down to Palestine. I call them the class of 1920. They all failed spectacularly. In Central Europe between 1930 and 1950, 34 million people were ethnically cleansed. The collapse of multi-ethnic empires paved the way to a long and bloody process of nation building.

MD: And yet the anomaly in Syria consists in the fact that it is the minority that is trying to sort out the majority. You cannot build a nation state around a minority.

JL: This is why everybody expected the Alawites to be swept aside, since they are at most 3 million, while 70% of Syrians are Arab Sunnis. Even once Assad proved to be much stronger than everybody had anticipated, the rebels and all the opposition figures I’ve constantly debated with thought that Assad was not in the position to hold out. “If we can keep the fight going on for five or six years, we will exhaust the Alawites.” This proved to be false. Why? Because this is not a national war. It is a regional war and between Lebanon and Iraq there are more Shi‘ite Arabs than Sunni Arabs. And of course, not only did the Sunnis call on Sunni jihadists to come in. The Shi‘ites too appealed to their own jihadists for help, who are much better trained and equipped to fight. Hezbollah is the only Arab force that has driven Israel out of a territory. Iran got involved and Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni powers were not able to counter this military primacy. At that point, Russia jumped in, and America, but Iran was able to mobilize much more military power and the Russians were much more committed in Syria. Ultimately, one can say that the Assad regime has much better friends.

MD: Do you mean that if the Syrian crisis had only been a local one, the Sunnis would have been likely to win in the long run?

JL: That is not even clear. The Syrian army was powerful and it did not defect. Many individuals left, but it did not dissolve and Assad was able to rebuild it. In my opinion, Assad would still have won even in an only-Syria scenario, because, had the Gulf not sent money and had Turkey not given the rebels a sanctuary from which to wage attacks, they would have been trapped inside the country facing a sophisticated national army. But this is a counterfactual history. We don’t really know. What we know is that rebels called jihadists in and got tens of billions of dollars from the Gulf, Turkey, the US, Europe, from every corner of the world to prolong their uprising. Summer 2013 was under many respects the turning tide against Assad. He had just lost Idlib and Jisr al-Shughur and the rebels were making real advances. At that point, Russia jumped in to help its client, while America was starting to be anxious about the role of jihadi militias.

MD: What will be the fate of the refugees, especially those in Southern Anatolia?

JL: We know that 5 to 6 million people have left Syria, the vast majority of them is Sunni and most of them are unlikely to come back. Syria is in a devastated shape. The security situation is not at all regularized, people don’t know whether upon their return they are going to be jailed and tortured, their jobs are gone… Most will find a way to rebuild their lives outside. This is not new; it has happened to the members of the Muslim Brotherhood before and to waves of immigrants, liberal well-to-do-families who have been leaving Syria constantly for almost a century now. There are 11 million Syrians living in the Americas, we believe. It has been going on for a long time.

MD: But the size of the phenomenon today is different.

JL: Yes, it is much bigger. And it is going to leave a very bitter legacy. Today the Sunni community in Syria is really devastated and it is going to take long to get back on its feet.

MD: This major shift would not be totally new. Syria has oscillated many times in its history. It was originally the bulwark of the Omayyad dynasty, then turned to Shi’ism, until the Sunni revival in eleventh-twelfth century.

JL: I am thinking of this all the time. I do not know enough about Medieval Syria, but I am tempted by this comparison, because in many ways the Shi’ites in the eleventh to twelfth century were predominating, especially in Northern Syria, around Aleppo. Ultimately, however, they were defeated by the Mamluks and later the Ottomans and Syria became part of the Sunni Arab world. In the Northern Middle East there is today a Shi’ite quest not only for equality but also for supremacy, two things most Shi’ites feel they have been denied for centuries. For some, the struggle is about taking vengeance against Sunnis, for others about gaining equal rights: there is a bitter side and a softer side. Iran has been instrumentalizing this attitude tremendously. For their part, Sunnis are in a crisis because Salafis claimed the only way out was jihad, but they have lost. And yet the Sunni elites apparently continue to look for military solutions, as the statements by Muhammad Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia show. There has not been much reflection about what went wrong and this does not look promising. Similarly, in the way the Assad regime treats the Sunni rebels there is no accommodation. More precisely, there is accommodation with individuals, but not with groups, no recognition that they had some just complaints.

MD: How do you explain then the regime’s policy to bus the jihadists to the Idlib region?

JL: Idlib is just a temporary and strategic move. The regime knew that these people would not surrender unless they are left a way out (and some fought to the death anyway). They were holding the civil population as hostages and using them as shields. The issue was becoming internationally embarrassing and Assad had to let them go. But for him Idlib is only a preparation before expelling them to Turkey.

From his point of view, this would be serving Turkey right because Ankara has funded and trained these people. Yet, Turkey is a powerful country and it is not going to stand up to this plan. In the Idlib province, in Northern Aleppo and Afrin the Turks have started to set up a canton where these rebel groups can remain and refugees be sent back, under the control of Turkmen and Arab militias and while getting rid of the Kurdish problem. But it is a very delicate issue for Turkey: how can you normalize al-Qaeda and other jihadists?

MD: And for Russia too… Russia claims to be in good terms with Assad, Iran and Turkey, but Idlib can be a thorn in its side.

JL: Russia is looking for a way to accommodate the issue. It keeps on insisting on Syria’s sovereign borders, but at the same time it is bending to Turkish demands for Idlib. Many people are beginning to see that a Turkish zone stretching from Idlib to Jarablus is perhaps not the worst outcome; in terms of social justice it may even be the best we can do. In this hypothesis, this strip of border region would end up some day like Iskenderun and the Hatay province, which was taken by Turkey in 1938.

Most minorities there, the Armenians, the Alawites, left for Syria, where they incidentally helped found the Baath party (his first theoretician, Zakī al-Arsūzī, was from Iskenderun). But the Sunnis by and large remained behind, because they saw themselves as a part of a larger Sunni world. That applies to Idlib too: there were 700 Christian families in Idlib and they all fled in 24 hours. In some ways, such an outcome would not be the worst thing for Assad too, since Idlib was traditionally one of the poorest part of the country and a hotbed of Muslim Brotherhood activism. If Assad declares to have been forced by his allies to accept this solution, no-one will object and fight to take back this province, which is today 100% Sunni Arab. Of course, they will say that Turks are monsters etc., but this accommodation solves a problem.

MD: How do you see the prospects for Christians?

JL: The great sorting-out is grim for all minorities, but for Christians it has been devastating because they are not a compact minority, unlike the Alawites or the Kurds. Before the war, Christians were largely urban, scattered and relatively wealthy. They were very vulnerable and they became targets. They did not form their own militias, apart some limited exceptions; they could not defend themselves and they were forced to leave.

Aleppo is the perfect example: the city had a very sizable Christian minority, which after the First World War amounted to 20-25% of the total population. With the independence, the city began to explode as there was an influx from the surrounding villages, which were all Sunnis. This demographic development was accompanied by land reform under Nasser and the nationalization of schools under the Baath party. Very soon, the upper elite left for Lebanon and elsewhere. Today the Christian population of Aleppo fell to probably less than 3%. For Syria as a whole, Christians made up about 14-15% of the population at the end of the French Mandate. They are now about 3%. But that is not unique across the Middle East. The future looks grim.

MD: Do you believe that the fact of not resorting to militias was merely accidental for Christians, or was there something of a deliberate choice?

JL: I don’t believe that the pacifist passages in the Bible was the guiding principle behind the military weakness of Christian communities. In my estimation, it is rather a combination of factors, primarily because Christians are not compact. When they were compact, as in Mount Lebanon, they did form militias and they fought very strenuously until they were totally outnumbered. And in many ways, it was Hafez al-Assad who stepped in and saved them in 1976, while pursuing his minority politics in Lebanon.

MD: In the past some rumors circulated about Hafez al-Assad’s alleged closeness to Christianity. Is there anything real in these stories?

JL: The Assads are not religious. Bashar was not even initiated to the Alawite religion and he knows very little of it. He was brought up in Damascus, speaks with a Damascene accent and many Alawites complained that he was not really inside the community. In general, though, Christians and Alawites share a minority complex, some holidays (Easter, Christmas) and they religiously group next to each other. When the Alawites rose to power, the Christians saw them as protectors.

Assad has been very good at exploiting these elements. Think of the famous issue of Vogue in March 2011, just before the uprisings… It was about Asma al-Assad, “A Rose in the Desert,” but the central piece photo featured Bashar al-Assad in civilian dress, relaxed with his beautiful wife, in front of a Christmas tree, with the children in short pants playing with their toys underneath. This was the vision of a secular, advanced, Westernized Syria that he was selling to America. According to the context, the regime could stress its pro-secular or pro-Christian attitude. For a while, the West bought it and divinized Assad’s effort, which of course has been extremely violent.

MD: What did the US lack most?

JL: America misunderstood the region. It did not know what it was doing when it kindled the great “sorting-out” process by toppling these brutal, authoritarian states, which did not possess a high degree of legitimacy, but were trying to deal with very dysfunctional realities. Taking away the state only embitters civil wars. In Iraq, a state has been finally put back together, but it is certainly not what America envisioned, and it is very pro-Iranian. There was a terrible miscalculation; and we are now on the verge of a new miscalculation.

The notion that America can retrieve its position in the region by building up a Kurdish state in Northern Syria is a full hazard. It would cost huge sums of money, since the social basis is not existent, the cities, Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa, are in ruin and everything has to be remade from the ground up. But how can you rebuild the region by making enemies your own neighbors? Plus, Arab and Kurds in the region are bitter competitors and not natural allies and everybody will seek to use these differences to undermine the project.

It will be an almost impossible task for America. Of course, America owes a debt to the Kurds and has a long love affair with them, even since Woodrow Wilson. The US can protect them and help them get more resources, but within Syria. Assad needs the Kurds to rule Northern Syria and the Kurds need Assad. There is a deal to be made about sharing oil, water, agriculture, trade. America could do that kind of diplomacy, but the policy elite is not willing.

MD: Finally, a more personal note. Clearly, the Syrian war is not just a scholarly subject for you. Where does your interest in Syria and the Middle East originate?

JL: Well, my connection has been lifelong. I was born in New York City, but by the age of one, I moved to Saudi Arabia, where my father opened the first American bank in the Kingdom in 1958, a Citibank in Jeddah. I spent my first four years in Saudi Arabia, when it was really just a sandy place, though developing at leaps and bounds. Then I moved to Beirut until 1967, in Lebanon’s heydays. I traveled all over the region as a young child and this laid the ground for my return to Beirut after college. I took a teaching position for two years at the International College, on the same campus as the American University of Beirut.

At that time, Lebanon was going through its civil war. I started to study Arabic properly and in 1981 I got a Fulbright to go the University of Damascus, which meant I was there during the Hama uprising. I drove around the city only one week after it was destroyed. That tumultuous year was really a seminal experience to me; it was the year of the Israeli invasion of Southern Lebanon. In many ways, it was foreshadowing the 2011 events.

Later on, in 2002, I met my wife Manar, who is an Alawite, on a bus of the UN in Damascus. We got married six months after that and from that moment on, I came back to Syria every summer. So my connection to the Middle East and Syria has become more and more personal.

My first article after the uprising, in 2011, was entitled “Why the Assad regime is likely to survive to 2013.” I made an argument about the regime being much stronger and the opposition more fragmented than assumed. Thus, I began to make a lot of enemies, particularly among the Syrian opposition. They were all accusing me of holding these positions because I was married to an Alawite and they raised their criticism in very sectarian terms. Actually, there is no doubt that being Alawite or Sunni has an influence on the way you look; it is hard to escape this world of sectarianism. The Syrian battle, like the Israel-Palestinian battle, comes down to a certain degree of tribalism, but you can still strive for a certain objectivity.

My answer to this criticism is that I actually held these ideas well before I married my wife. I wrote a long dissertation about Syria’s independence and the military coups, whose major thesis was that modern Syria was actually not a nation. The Sunnis had been incapable of uniting it either on a class or a national basis and the military had been able to carry out coups because the Sunnis were fragmented and not democratic and did not follow the Constitution. This research colored my view of how the civil war would unfold. I was convinced that Syria had not dramatically changed between 1950 and 2011 and I think I was proved right.

The Sunni opposition remained extremely fragmented and became dominated by jihadists. America failed to produce an alternative government that could rule Syria. It was not the lack of money. Had the opposition been united and presented a non-fundamentalist front, the West was ready to really back it. So much for my defense of not being a sectarian; but I have been intimately involved in this region for a lifetime and it has left a deep mark on me.

The Algerian Government Fears The Growing Church of Jesus Christ

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1. History

On the Day of Pentecost Peter preached to many north African Jews, but it is not known if there were any from modern day Algeria. What we do know is that Phillip preached the gospel not far away in Carthage to the Berber Peoples, the original north Africans before the Arab conquests. In fact Simone of Cyrene, the man who carried the cross of Christ was a Berber!

In the 1st Century AD the land of Algeria was violently incorporated into the Roman Empire, but at the same time it was embracing the new faith of Christianity. Soon North Africa would become a stronghold of Christianity and the religion of protest and theological strength. St Augustine of Hippo was actually an Algerian Berber! However, between 300-600AD the church there would succumb to small mindedness, pagan infiltration and religious trivia. They concentrated on ornate buildings, were inward-looking and were poorly taught in the Scriptures.

With the coming of the Arab Empire in the 8th Century, a new and intolerant theology and culture gradually took root, one hostile to the Christian faith. Islam tolerated Christianity for several centuries until the Berbers were finally forced at the point of the sword to convert to Islam. There was no known Christianity in Algeria since 1114 AD, but the Berbers never lost their language, alphabet, identity or the memory that they were forced into Islam. Berber groups were only ever nominally Muslim. Their observances of Islamic law are generally lax.

2. Today

Things began to change in 1881 when Protestant missionaries took up the task of reaching out to the Algerian people. Church growth was slow until Bible correspondence courses were set up in the 1960’s. After independence from France (and a million deaths later) the church continued to grow but slowly. Then the civil war erupted, pitting the secular government and military against Islamists. Hundreds of thousands more died. That’s when the church began to grow rapidly.

The attempted Islamisation of the country backfired, with tens of thousands of Berbers returning to the faith of their ancient forebears. Some now estimate the number of believers among the 8 million Berbers is now over 100,000 and growing strongly at over 10% a year. There are believers in nearly every community. The majority of Algerians are Arab Muslims and the Berber believers are starting to reach out to them.

The Arab dominated government is very upset with this new and “dangerous” religious movement and is beginning to crack down on the many open churches scattering the Berber settlements in the Atlas Mountains. Persecution is growing and so is the church. Yet there is curiosity among the Arabs. Youssef Qurahmane, a leading pastor who was arrested a few years ago remembers being given 45 minutes to share the gospel with his fascinated Arab captors at a local police station.

The presidential election next year could see an Islamist government take over from the secularists. In the lead up the Secularists are flexing their Muslim credentials by picking on the Christians. 2019 could see a spiritual darkness come over the country of Algeria.

3. Evangelism Highlights

Church leaders say The Church started out very small. In the beginning we saw very little growth, but then the growth became like a rolling snowball, growing bigger and bigger. Now, there are zeros at end of the growth numbers! Because of the ban on missionaries, the church is completely indigenous and has a heart to reach out beyond its Berber strongholds. Many churches now number up to 1,000 or more, have their own buildings, and are now stockpiling Berber language Bibles for the days of persecution ahead. Christian media via SAT-7 and the internet are a huge source of teaching for new believers and seekers alike. Christian evangelists are now sharing their lives right into the living room of hundreds of thousands of secret listeners. This is the first time Muslims are hearing the Christian point of view in a mature and reasoned way.

Prayer Points

Praise God for the miracle of the new and rapidly growing church in Algeria.

Pray for believers to be strong in the face of future opposition.

Pray for continued growth, and for that growth to spread into the Arab communities.

Pray for continued dreams and visions for those seeking the truth.

Pray for church leaders to be faithful to their calling.

Pray that Berber Christians can reach fellow Berbers in neighbouring countries.

Pray for the spiritual snowball to turn into an avalanche!

Pray for Christian media and internet to reach into many, many more homes.

Pray for the Algerian Church goal of sending 1,000 missionaries by 2025.

Next week: Albania

God Bless

Kevin Davis

This Is Why Children’s Rights Matter

I just read this from the Them Before Us website. It goes to the heart of why we need a Children’s Rights Day, not just a Children’s Day tomorrow, the 20th November…

My parents married at 18 years of age because of my impending arrival. My mother and I—along with my brother, who came along 15 months later—lived with my maternal grandparents for the first few years of my life. My dad was in the US Air Force and stationed far away, so they decided that my mom staying at home with her parents was the best thing for our family. Those years were quiet and peaceful and filled with security. All that changed when we moved out after my dad’s discharge. Thereafter, the home of my early years was filled with violent verbal altercation, along with alcohol and drug abuse

My parents regularly had get-togethers at our home where their group of friends would pass joints or a bong around our living room, while my brother and I were there in the room, watching and smelling everything. To me, this was entirely normal, so much so that, one day, when I was seven, I was showing the neigbor boy the drug paraphernalia in our car, calmly defining each item and what it was used for. This conversation was cut short by my mom calling me into the house. The moment I was inside, she yanked me by the arm and hissed at me that I was NEVER to talk to anyone about such things ever again. She went on to say that, if I did, she and my dad would be taken to jail. This was the first moment I realized that what my parents were doing was illegal, and my mom was forcibly enlisting me as a partner in her lies to the world, using my fear of losing my family as a motivator. And it worked, because, as imperfect as our family was, the possibility of losing it terrified me. I had visions of being taken to foster care and never seeing my parents, brother, grandparents, or cousins again. Looking back, as an adult, I realize that my grandparents would have stepped in and taken us, but then, as a first grader, I believed that I had to lie to protect my family, to keep us together, to protect myself from being taken from the only home I believed I had.

So I became a gate keeper for my parents’ secrets. When my grandma—who took me to church, who had me at her home when my mom was at work—would come into our home, I would yell, as I ran in before her, “Gram is coming in.” I was an adult before she told me that she knew why I was doing that, so all the things she wasn’t supposed to see could be put away. And I told no one about the fights I regularly overheard—the screaming and cursing and crashing of thrown items, while I lay in my bed, crying, cowering under the covers, and praying for it to stop. One of those altercations between my parents broke my mother’s finger. My brother and I saw it the next morning, swollen and bruised. She never spoke of it. We never discussed any of those fights, just pretended they had not happened, despite her tear-stained face and my dad’s absence. She lied to my grandparents about the cause of that broken finger, as she lied about almost everything else.

But the revelation of the biggest lie came to me when I was 14 years old. While driving me home, my grandpa told me, in halting verbal bursts, that the father in my house was not really my dad. He spoke of wanting to tell me from the start, despite my mom’s objections, of the identity of a man whom I vaguely recalled as an old friend of my mom’s from high school. I remembered meeting him on occasion. I knew he had sent me birthday gifts over the years, but would never send presents to my brother. I had always felt the odd nature of that, as I knew that something was wrong about my having brown eyes when neither of the parents in my home did. Later, I would even remember asking my mom about my parentage, when I found my birth certificate and asked questions about the wedding that occurred only one month before I was born. I asked my mom then if she knew my dad was MY dad. Her horrified response actually made me feel guilty for even asking, as if I had affronted her and implied things about her virtue or honor. And now I knew that I HAD known, somehow, all along. Because the main emotion I felt in this loss of the only dad I had ever known was relief, relief because I had never loved him as I thought I should, as I knew in my heart that he did not treat me as the treasured daughter I longed to be. I had always wondered why. And now I knew.

This information was confirmed through tears by my mom that evening, as her long, convoluted story poured out. And in that moment, I felt sorry for her, really saw her as the victim of fate and circumstance, somehow. I loved her, and I wanted to believe, still, that her motives were pure. Yet, as I would learn over the coming years, even in this confession, my mom was deceiving me and everyone else around her. She chose to keep my real father’s identity secret from me, to forcibly push him from my life while she married another man and passed him off as my dad. While she did tell her husband that I was not his, she told other lies to ensnare him— that she was raped, that my dad did not want to marry her. The reality was that my dad was broken over her defection, her refusal to marry him, over the loss of his daughter. He spent years in emotional upheaval before he finally found healing in Christ. And in the next dozen years, I was left to piece together my identity, not really knowing who I was. On the surface I looked fine, excelling in high school and college. But, I felt lost, unsure, vulnerable, and insecure. I was a victim of sexual abuse during this period. And I vacillated between believing this oft-told lie of my mother’s had no impact on my daily life to making questionable choices that I now know came from a deep insecurity about who I was and whether I really mattered or had any value.

Even with my grandfather nearby throughout my childhood to love me and provide fatherly affection, I always felt a deep sense of inadequacy as a young woman. And learning the “why” did not alter that; I still felt un-moored and broken in a fundamental way. And I was angry, very angry. I was 25 and newly married before I realized the depth of my anger. It was directed at my mom, of course, but also at the father I did not have as a child. And I wrote to him, scathing letters of accusation at his seeming abandonment of me to my mother’s devices. He was married and the father of two young boys at the time. And the letters he wrote me were grace itself, explaining to me how very much he wanted me, about the poor counsel he had received—telling him that there was no point in fighting when another man was listed on my birth certificate. He knew now, of course, that he had been wrong to accede to my mom’s demands. And he described pulling one of his young sons up onto his lap as he was reading my letter, and telling him about this little girl who did not have a daddy’s lap for comfort when she was small. That was the beginning of a reconcilation with him, but it took years before I felt comfortable enough to reach out in a tangible way. I felt awkward and reserved with this man who had helped to create me, and I did not know how to remedy that.

Today, I am a mom of three teenagers; I have been married for almost 22 years, to a husband who has helped teach me that I can trust again. And I can say with absolute certainty that a vital component of my healing, of God’s restoration of my identity, has been establishing a relationship with my biological father. I have found unlimited common ground and shared traits with this man who did not raise me, and God has spoken to me so clearly that this bond matters, that He designed it for a mighty purpose. He is healing my heart on many levels through this found tie with my father. And watching my husband father our own children has been part of that healing, too. I cannot adequately describe the particular joy I feel when I witness moments of joy and fun between my husband and our only daughter. I see in them what I missed, but that hole in my heart is filling up daily now.

It is another story, though, in regard to my mom. She has recently lost her husband of 46 years. His passing brought all of her addiction issues to a head, and she almost died from a drug overdose, combined with a heart attack and stroke, in the days following his death. While she is sober now, I sometimes wonder if I will ever be able to trust her. She broke me in a fundemental way that I believe she still does not understand. And in every interaction with her, my guard is up, protecting myself from further hurt. I often tell my 13-year-old daughter how much I value our closeness, because I have never been truly close to my own mom. Though God has given me surrogates in my late grandmother and a beloved aunt, I have felt robbed of both parents through much of my life. God is healing that hurt in regard to my dad, but I do not know if I will ever feel close to my mom on this earth. She has told me many times that she thought she was doing what was best at the time, despite so many in her family imploring her to tell me the truth. I have made little headway in getting past her excuses for the lies, getting her to see that her paramount job as my mother was to put my needs ahead of her own. And now, as a mother myself, I cannot comprehend the choice she made to put herself and her desires over my right to know my own father. She lied to keep me to herself and to keep the world she had built intact. In the end, though, her lies exploded that world, and I have found my family and belonging in the man she kept from me for years.

International Children’s (Rights) Day: 20th November

Here are a few reasons why International Children’s Day should be a cry for children’s rights (statistics are American but would be in the ballpark for most western countries):

  1. 90% of homeless children are fatherless.
  2. 70-85% of prison inmates grew up without a father.
  3. Over 60% of teenagers who commit suicide have absent fathers
  4. 70% of high school drop-outs come from fatherless homes
  5. 70% of pregnant teenagers come from fatherless homes.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, here is a link to a research article on the clear economic benefit of two parent families in terms of education, economic well-being and crime, not just for the individual family concerned but for entire nations.

Lets start fighting for a child’s right to a safe and loving biological family. Fewer and fewer people are sticking up for kids. The effect on nations, either way, is pronounced.

Kevin Davis

 

The story of Abdul

When the wall of a castle was breached in Medieval times, the first soldiers through were cut down in high numbers. Great reward was promised to those who survived. Inside Islam today we are seeing many breaches of the hard and satanic theological wall that traps those held within. Here is one such story of many I am reading taken from the probe.org website:

In a South Asian country, Abdul, a teenager, was expelled from his Islamic school for asking too many questions about the Koran. Because of Islamic law, he was held as a captive by his family and condemned to death upon coming of age. Secretly freed by his mother, he fled from his home. A chance encounter with a Christian missionary as he walked a country road dramatically changed his life. The missionary showed such love and concern that Abdul had to touch him to assure himself that this was a man and not an angel. Abdul gave his life to Christ and was baptized. Abdul was one of a handful of converts from Islam witnessed by this missionary over a period of thirty years.

Banished from his home, Abdul spent several years studying and growing in his faith in another part of the country. Led by God to return to his village, Abdul took up residence in the home of a childhood friend as he was still banished by his family. After a few months of studying the Koran and the Bible, his friend was ready to be baptized. When his family learned about it, they rounded up the villagers, took Abdul to the local soccer field and proceeded to beat him. Left for dead, his friend came to his aid and Abdul survived. When Abdul baptized his friend, he prayed “Thank you, God for my friend. Yesterday, I was the only believer in this village. Today there are two. Tomorrow, there can be two hundred if it is your will.”

Within a few years, all 1,800 people in Abdul’s village became Christians including those who left him for dead. These new believers were discipled and more villages were touched. Since that time, over 500,000 Muslim background believers have joined in following Jesus Christ. This unprecedented response also resulted in the murder of Abdul’s friend by Islamic radicals. Their willingness to act, entering the breach with no regard for their own lives, was a central part of this wonderful awakening.

Introducing China’s Massive Social Control System

Ive been reading about China’s new totally integrated control system for some time now and below is the best summary I have found so far. It is very disturbing and is already being practiced by Google, Facebook and Twitter on a smaller scale.

It is reprinted from Mercatornet. Here is the link to the original article.

“Imagine East Germany on steroids and you have the People’s Republic of China today.

Instead of legions of citizen informants spying on their colleagues and family, advanced information aggregation technology does it for you, logging your every move—from the superficial to the deeply personal. The data is then plugged into a psychometric scoring system that impacts your credit, job prospects, and every other measurable aspect of your value and potential as a member of society.

China’s social credit scheme may appear bizarre and abstract to those far away, but it’s very much real. The mandatory program started in 2014 and is being implemented for millions currently. It will be fully operational by 2020 and is being run through a patchwork of municipal government authorities and private technology companies contracted to the government.

Westerners might comment “surely, it can’t happen here?”, but the truth is a lot more disquieting.

The Chinese scoring system

As recently reported, “under the social credit scheme, points are lost and gained based on readings from a sophisticated network of 200 million surveillance cameras—a figure set to triple in eighteen months.” Various factors affect the social credit scores, including what those you associate with do and say.

If your relative criticizes the government, your score goes down. If the government considers your behavior to be satisfactory, your score goes up, eventually resulting in exclusive advantages such as travel, airfare, dating site advantages, loan access, discounts on bills, improved job prospects, and priority on university applications.

You can sink fast and become a low-ranking citizen, too: “jaywalking, late payments on bills or taxes, buying too much alcohol or speaking out against the government, each cost citizens points.” Penalties are also levied for playing video games too much, posting “fake news” (Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg just applauded), overspending on unnecessary purchases and drinking too much.

Ironically, posting too much on social media can also cost you serious points.

If you fall too low in your ranking you can be barred from air and train travel, have your social media accounts shut down, have your internet specifically targeted to slow down your connection speed, have your kids excluded from applying to private and prestigious schools, and be shut out of various elite occupations such as working in major banks, government jobs, and jobs requiring government approval (which in China is a lot of jobs).

Public naming and shaming is another punishment: you’ll be on a blacklist as well, in case any employers or associates started getting too easygoing about the system. What if your job involves holding the powerful accountable? Chinese journalist Liu Hu found out the hard way after his reporting turned up government corruption (surprise, surprise).

His social rating plummeted, and he was arrested, jailed, and fined. His social media accounts were nixed, and he now can’t travel by train or plane. Employers are hesitant to go near him.

The Western third-party system

The West recently had to contend with the intersection of free speech and private corporate technology monopolies with the banning of Alex Jones from YouTube, Twitter, PayPal, and many other platforms, ostensibly for breaking the respective services’ terms of service.

Voices on the Right and non-mainstream Left have been shown the door and hounded by social media giants. Some conservatives have defended the bans under the reasoning that private companies can do what they wish (at least it is not the government). What started as a small patter of censorship with the ouster of Brendan Eich from Mozilla, for example, for donating in support of upholding traditional-marriage via Proposition 8 in California, has now become open technological monopolization of acceptable speech.

But, to be fair, the Western corporate censorship and technological control grid is still child’s play compared to that being rolled out in China.

While Edward Snowden certainly demonstrated the global extent of the US surveillance state, the American elite have not yet openly implemented anything on the level of the Chinese social scoring system. Instead, Americans are leaving the steady encroachment on rights to come from the private sphere and the deluded tech bros of Silicon Valley—for now.

Technological-extremists like Sean Parker of Facebook who brag about how they will become “immortal overlords” by way of transhumanism will serve nicely as the useful fools of the hubris and increasing control of technology over our lives.

However, in China those running the social credit system don’t need to focus on self-aggrandizement since they are encoding the system of social control with ironclad algorithms that will last far beyond human lifetimes. The Chinese system is being built on an existing history of authoritarian oppression that has already sunk deeply into acceptance in popular consciousness.

In China you have an out-of-control technocracy buoyed by billions from its unfair global trade strategy and currency manipulation implementing a system for full domestic control. The implications are staggering. Think of it as beta-testing for the world government.

When the warm and fuzzy feelings fade and the velvet glove comes off, it’s likely there’s an iron fist underneath and there’s a good chance it likes squashing anyone who steps out of line without much fanfare or media coverage at all.

China’s “Iron Fist”

Many Muslims in China are already experiencing China’s “iron fist” as unexplained disappearances increase and being a practicing Muslim becomes a life-threatening scenario treated as a dangerous mental illness by China’s government.

Recent reports state that up to one million Uyghur Muslims in internment camps are physically and psychologically tortured, forced to denounce and disobey their religion, compelled to sing Communist propaganda songs for hours per day, and rewarded or punished based on compliance.

Young Uyghur women are also being forced to marry non-Muslim Chinese men, as the state seeks inroads to usurp and control any avenues of familial, cultural, and religious power outside its current domain.

The highest level of faith in Islam is called ihsan. It entails not just “believing” in God and His sovereignty, but having absolutely no doubt whatsoever that God sees everything you do and will judge you one day. The modern technocratic control grid spearheaded by China is a complete and brazen inversion of this theological concept.

Instead of considering how God will see your actions and words, you must first consider how an all-powerful state technological control grid will see your actions and words. Even the outwardly religious citizen must first consider how their friendships, beliefs, and actions will be run through a computer system to determine their future societal salvation or damnation.

China already exerts autocratic control over who can lead different religious denominations and what ideologies are acceptable.

Christianity in China doesn’t get a free pass, either, with the government taking bold moves to establish greater control of Catholic and Protestants in the country who number around 60 million citizens. Some reports also say some Chinese churches have been getting Crosses burned and shut down. The Chinese government has also taken further steps by banning online sales of the Bible and calling for “the development of a Chinese-style Christian theology.”

Christians would do well to consider the words of 1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see through a glassdarkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” This verse, among many others, promises that God knows us fully, and we will one day understand the extent to which this is true and significant for everything we do. This Scripture orients the believer to a life that considers our deeds and words in the context of a divine knowledge of our essence and potential that surpasses our own limited, temporal understanding.

China’s social system in America

The Luciferian magnates of Silicon Valley and Beijing want to know us better than we know ourselves in every respect. They don’t want this power for our own ennoblement or guidance. They want this control in order to fully hamstring us as we run out our days trapped on their giant hamster wheel of economic and social exploitation. Amazon knows what you’ll buy before you do and starts shipping it ahead of time in some cases, known as “anticipatory shipping.”

Do they just do this as cutting-edge business practice? Perhaps, but such a technological ability of predictive psychometrics is powerful beyond belief, particularly in the hands of gargantuan centrally-planned modern states. This is not about feelings or squishy concepts of human rights: this is about who controls the future and what they will work towards in that future.

China is leading the way to an inverted future of totalitarian technocracy full of entitled atheist social engineers running technology systems with borderline supernatural powers. Instead of a moral code based on divine guidance, people will be placed in a cosmic re-education camp and base everything from their social life to their job on what surveillance Skynet wants them to.

Is it really so hard to imagine a future public face of the US spy grid that metes out social scores and compliance ratings to citizen users via a network of smart technology? A system that uses psychometrics and surveillance to analyse and “correct” consumers’ political and religious behaviors is well within the realm of possibility down the road.

These days it seems like powerful forces are trying to make the paranoia of Alex Jones look like muted understatement.

China’s system is the current apex of social engineering elites who want to play God, or the Devil, and are far from joking around about doing exactly that. Those who value freedom of conscience and faith need to realize that the Orwellian Chinese system is not cartoonish hype: it’s a real system coming soon to a country near you unless citizens become passionate advocates of the freedoms ostensibly upheld in Western political philosophy and the US Constitution.

The ink will eventually fade into nothing if it continues to become just words, whether that erasure comes from dictatorial state infringement or out of control technology monopolies. The road to Hell is paved with Google logos and the Communist Chinese flag

Paul Rowan Brian is a freelance journalist who writes on culture, religion and politics. You can find him on Twitter@paulrbrian or visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com. Republished with permission from The Public Discourse.”

Afghanistan: A nation where Christ’s Church is Growing!

I don’t often reprint an article in full that I have recently read. But I think you will enjoy this one. Half way through you will see the word IsikAbla. Isik was raised a Muslim and married a Muslim in Turkey. Both experiences were abusive. She fled this abuse and arrived in America only to start life over again. She became a Christian and started a TV-internet-social Media ministry to Muslim countries that now reaches millions. She has six million followers on Facebook. So the figures she quotes, though astounding, are accurate.

Enjoy

Kevin

“A country with 48,000 mosques and not one church building; ranked #3 (behind North Korea and Somalia) on Open Door’s World Watch List of countries where Christian persecution is most severe, is listed by Operation World as the country with the second fastest church growth in the world. That country is Afghanistan.

Not to diminish this fact, but one reason the growth rate appears high is because the evangelical population is so small to begin with. Still, this trend is confirmed by all of our ministry partners working with Afghans both inside and outside the country. There is, without a doubt, a significant, identifiable work of God, such as never before, taking place among Afghans today.

Like in the days of the Apostles where Paul, who was zealous for the Law and guilty of killing and imprisoning Christians was shown grace and had a miraculous conversion where the Lord appeared to him, the same God is at work in Afghanistan. There are mullahs who have come to Christ through supernatural means who have hundreds of followers. Some former Taliban members who have found forgiveness and new life in Christ are staring death in the face and sharing the Lord with other Taliban fighters and leaders.

One surprising statistic surfaced from IsikAbla’s TV, Internet, and social media ministry at the end of 2017. The #1 city worldwide for her Facebook engagements (reactions, comments, and shares) was Kabul, Afghanistan with 182,781. Kabul also ranked #2 in the list of top cities for Facebook followers (behind Cairo) with 315,840.

This figure is even more suggestive of the hunger for the truth among Afghans in that social media users account for only 9% of Afghanistan’s 34 million people, and that access and use of the Internet reaches only about 12% of the population. Eighty percent of users are 18-30 years old.*

Work among Afghan refugees

Our ministry partners also report a significant openness and response to the gospel among Afghan refugees in Iran and Turkey. In an article from Relief Web dated Feb. 7, 2018, it was reported that:

“Four decades of conflict in Afghanistan has led to massive displacement of Afghans across the surrounding sub-region. Iran alone has received around three million Afghan refugees. Close to one million of these have been registered by the government and are thus, afforded protection and are eligible for assistance. However up to two million remain un-documented and therefore have neither formal legal status nor access to assistance. Up to 800,000 of these undocumented refugees are considered to be extremely vulnerable.”

Typically, Iranians are highly educated; Afghans are not. Many Iranians look down on Afghans and treat them badly. But in today’s Persian-speaking church inside Iran you not only see many Afghans coming to Christ, but incredibly, serving alongside Iranians.

Iranian Christians have sought out these Afghan refugees to care for them. The reason they are coming to Christ, as one Afghan put it, is because “Iranians never cared for us, but you (Iranians) have loved us. That is what attracted us to Christ.”

About 70% of the Afghan population speak and understand Afghan Persian (Dari). Thus Iranian believers have also been instrumental in exposing Afghans to modern day, understandable translations of the Scripture that has been a great help in evangelism and discipleship.

Extraordinary results are being seen in Turkey as well, where Iranian refugees have reached out to the Afghan refugees. Some Afghan converts are now pastoring churches and leading many to Christ. One couple alone has led more than 100 people to Christ. Another influence in the move of God inside Afghanistan has been that many of these refugee converts are communicating with their relatives and friends at home. They tell them that they are following the wrong God, then lead them to Christ and disciple them from outside the country.

Major factors influencing the this move of God among Afghans

  1. Prayer

For decades there have been Christians and groups from around the world praying for Afghanistan. Finally, we are seeing the stony ground being cleared so that there is soft soil where the seeds of the Word of God are being planted in people’s hearts. Fruit is beginning to be seen.

Still, many Afghan converts are fearful and lead dangerous lives. Converts must be careful about sharing their faith to avoid persecution by the Islamists, the police, and even their own family members and neighbors. In the village areas where conversion to Christianity is more noticeable and brings shame to families, converts suffer more persecution than in Kabul or the bigger cities. Continue to pray that the breakthroughs we are seeing increase until a full harvest is reaped.

  1. The Blood of Martyrs

Prior to 9/11/2001 many Afghans–tired of war and conflict and fearful of the Taliban who came into power in 1996–fled the country. After 9/11 when the American forces came in and the Taliban were routed and defeated, many Afghans returned with hope and optimism for their country. People believed they had a chance for a new future after decades of war and fighting.

Along with those returning came expats, including a number of Christian missionaries. This started in 2002. A number of Christians came in under the umbrella of various aid and medical groups until 2007-2008 when their numbers began to dwindle. By 2014 most had stopped coming.

Many lives had been lost. A conservative estimate is that around 30-40 missionaries, as well as Afghan converts, were martyred. But an indigenous work, springing from the blood of those martyrs began, and is now spreading.

  1. Fear, War, and Insecurity

Afghanistan has been a war-torn country for decades that has reduced it to ruin and privation. It has survived under the influence and control of many outside powers, including the British, the Soviet Union, and more recently, Western powers. Though the Taliban (which at one time controlled 90% of the country) were beaten back by U.S. and coalition forces, they, along with ISIS continue to be menacing and threatening forces–killing and terrorizing (sometimes innocent children) just to incite fear, subjugation and compliance. Muslims killing other Muslims has also been a factor contributing to the crumbling respect for Islam and the growing openness to alternative beliefs, such as Christianity.

  1. Unemployment

With 40% unemployment, youth and young families see little hope for a future in Afghanistan. Many young men resort to fighting for the Taliban or ISIS just to collect a paycheck. But the depression and despair living in a poor society with little opportunity has made Afghans more open to the good news of a God who loves them, has a purpose for their lives, and can give them hope.

Pray: for this indigenous work of God taking place among the Afghan people.

Pray: Let’s rejoice in the growth of His church and pray for the new believers to be protected, to grow in maturity, and to be effective in outreach to others.

Pray: Also, join our brothers and sisters in Christ in praying for His peace for their war-torn land.

http://www.operationworld.org/country/afgh/owtext.html

When Was Genesis Written?

In the 19th Century many academics were eagerly embracing the theory of evolution and applying it to all sorts of situations; from human origins, to eugenics, to social structures, and to sadly, to legalise racism. They also applied this presupposition to Judaeo-Christian theology in order to destroy it. All Biblical narrative was suspect and subject to review from academics who had finally unlocked the key to a true understanding of how religions began. German higher critics proposed very successfully that religion evolved from simple to complex structures as society evolved.

The champion of these scholars was Julius Wellhousen. Using what he called the Documentary Hypothesis, he persuasively argued in his Prolegomena to the History of Israel that Genesis was written in the middle of the millennium just before Christ, not a full millennium before that, as stated in the Old Testament. He theorised that there were four authors who wrote the Old Testament from 850BC through to 450BC as a way of justifying social structures. Wellhousen’s theories dominated Biblical studies for a hundred years and still influence critics today.

But is this theory true in the light of discoveries made since he propagated his theories?

First of all we must be very suspicious of any theory that relies on evolutionary presuppositions for its foundation. A multitude of genetic discoveries (links here, here, here, here, here and here) in the last two decades are rapidly undermining the entire superstructure of evolutionary theory and providing startling evidence that our genome is not evolving upward at all but rather heading quite rapidly toward genetic entropy, or in layman’s terms, extinction!

But more importantly there is an abundance of evidence from within the Old Testament itself, and particularly Genesis, that the origin of these writings lies in deep history. Here are some of those evidences for an origin for Genesis somewhere in the early second Millennium BC:

Genesis describes a war in the Middle East between international foes. Many of the names mentioned in Genesis 14:1-9 appear only in the period 2,000-1,500 BC and no later. In addition, only in this era were armies able to move across this area with ease.

Some customs that appear in Genesis do continue into later periods, but their concentration in Genesis is unique. These include the custom of taking a surrogate if ones wife was barren for seven years (Genesis 16:1-4) and a betrothal gift that allows the bridegroom to marry (Genesis 34:12).

The city of Harran appears again and again, in Genesis 11:31-32, 12:4, 27:43, 28:10 and 29:4. Archaeology confirms that this city was occupied and thriving in the early second Millennium BC occupied by coalitions of Amorites.

Grazing in great distances (100km) from one’s home only occurs in Genesis, but not later in the Old Testament. For example, Joseph’s brothers graze their flocks some 100km north of Hebron, in the high country now occupied by Jerusalem. Only in this era and no later do we find confirming evidence from non-Biblical accounts of similar activity by other groups such as the Amorites in Northern Syria.

Benjamin is the only son named by his father after the family migrates south to the area of Bethlehem, just outside Jerusalem. His name is identical to an 18th Century BC tribal confederation that lived in Syria known as the Binu-Yamina, meaning south. The names for his two brothers Asher and Zebulon also only occur in this era in all extra-Biblical records.

Joseph’s brothers sell him for 20 shekels of silver. This was the price of a young male slave only in the second Millennium BC.

The closest parallel to Genesis 1-11 comes not from the 7th Century BC Babylonian Enuma Elish, but from the 18th Century BC Atrahasis Epic.

The global flood mentioned in Genesis 6-9 is confirmed by the Gilgamesh Epic on display at the British Museum and the Atrahasis Epic mentioned above. It is also confirmed by over two hundred indigenous flood legends from around the world.

Some of the names that occur in Genesis 1-11 only occur in extra-Biblical sources from the first half of the 2nd Millennium BC. These include Methuselah, Methushael, Tubal-Cain and Jabal.

As can clearly be seen, the traditional understanding of the timeframe of Genesis is on safe ground. You can read it with confidence in the events spoken of. It is important to note that none of the evidences listed above delve into the extensive scientific evidences for the accuracy of Genesis. They will be tackled in another blog.

Kevin Davis

Last Night I Received A Wonderful Phone Call

Last night I received a very unexpected phone call from my ex-brother in law of 32 years ago. So here’s the background. My first beautiful wife at the time, my 9 week old son and my other younger brother-in-law were needlessly killed in 1986 when the car I was driving was hit by a drunk driver. My mother-in-law was severely injured. I was 25 at the time.

Both adults who were killed were Christians. My wife’s family were largely non-believers in Christ and so the Christian witness in that family was snuffed out with the exception of my ex-mother in law who died in a second car accident some years later.

Now fast forward to last night and who was on the phone but the brother of my first wife whom I hadn’t spoken to for nearly three decades. He called to let me know that he had become a Christian 3 years ago, was going strong for Jesus and thought I might like to know. It was such a thrill to find this out. Then he told me the story I never knew.

He said that when he was about 14 and his sister was 18, she took him to a youth camp and he felt the power and presence of God in a tangible way which resulted in him making a decision to follow Jesus. However, two years later he was drinking heavily and the drink got the better of him for thirty years or more. By his own acknowledgement he became a functioning alcoholic.

Then some three years ago he decided to quit the drink and a few months later he realised he needed “religion” because that’s where he knew the answer was for his life. He knew God was real because of what had happened when he was 14 years old.

So he dusted off the Bible his sister had given him all those years before. Then, surprise, surprise, he found out his doctor was a Christian and after some time this chap invited him to a men’s meeting for believers. That’s when he decided to make a serious turn toward the Lord.

He has since married for the first time to a strong Christian woman. He’s been off the alcohol and is living a happy, purpose-filled life. That’s what the gospel does to people. Its the GOOD NEWS for a suffering world!

Then I was able to tell him some stories of powerful things God had done for other members of his family all those years ago and who were still not believers.

It was a great conversation where we filled in the gaps on our lives.

It was such a thrill to receive that call as I was only just thinking a few weeks ago that it was so sad that there was no Christian witness left in the family. Now I know God is back tapping on their hearts.

Kevin