Tuesday, December 1, 2020

RLPB 578. Indonesia and Egypt: Tensions Rise Ahead of Christmas

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 578 | Wed 02 Dec 2020
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- in two countries with a history of Christmas terror.
Also updates on Papua and Uganda
By Elizabeth Kendal

BACKGROUND: Recent events in France, where President Emmanuel Macron dared to defend free speech, reason and dialogue after a teacher was beheaded in the street by a militant Islamist supposedly for 'blasphemy', has sent Islamic indignation and anti-blasphemy sentiment soaring throughout much of the Muslim world.

Indonesia and Egypt are two Muslim majority states with significant Christian minorities (comprising at least ten percent) who are in the main ethnically distinct from the Javanese and Arab majority. Both states struggle to contain sizeable Islamist movements, accelerating grassroots Islamisation, violent Islamic insurgencies and simmering sectarian tensions. Terrorists in both states routinely target churches, especially during Easter, Advent and Christmas (25 December for Catholics and Protestants and 7 January for the Orthodox). Due to recent events and elevated risk, this RLPB will focus on Indonesia and Egypt. However, Christians throughout the Muslim world - and indeed anywhere there are significant Muslim minorities (in particular Western Europe) - may well face increased risk throughout this Christmas season.



Salvation Army commander for Palu, Erik A. Kape consoles widows of the MIT attack during a funeral ceremony in Sigi, Central Sulawesi, Saturday 28 Nov.
(source: Jakarta Globe

On Friday 27 November at least ten Islamic militants armed with firearms and machetes attacked a Salvation Army mission outpost in the jungle-clad village of Lemban Tongoa, 90km south-east of the provincial capital, Palu, in Central Sulawesi's Sigi Regency. Four men from one family - Yasa, Pinu, Naka, and Pedi, all Salvation Army church workers - were killed in what can only be described as a savage Islamic terrorist attack. One victim was decapitated, another almost decapitated, while two had their throats slit before being burned to death. Six homes - including those of the victims - and the Salvation Army church were torched. Yasa's son, Ulin, escaped and reported the attack to the authorities. Some 150 families (around 750 men, women and children) have since fled the area.

Map of Indonesia
showing Sigi Regency, Central Sulawesi.

Preliminary investigations, including interviews with eyewitnesses, led police to conclude that the Islamic State affiliated, Sulawesi-based terror outfit East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) was responsible. Despite this and the fact that the victims were all servants of Jesus Christ, Indonesian military, police and government officials insist that 'the event had nothing to do with SARA [suku, agama, ras, antargolongan; or ethnicity, religion, race, intergroup relations]'. This narrative is being perpetuated through numerous Muslim media outlets. Terrified of provoking Jakarta's re-energised Islamists [see RLPB 577, 'Blasphemy and Threats' (25 Nov)], Indonesian President Joko Widodo retreated into paralytic silence. It took until Monday 30 November for Widodo to finally respond to social outrage and condemn - without making any reference to religion - the 'terrorism' perpetrated against 'four brothers'. 

Indonesian officials may or may not be correct in their assessment that MIT's motive was primarily that of sending a message to the police: 'We're still here!' Regardless, they obviously chose their victims carefully. MIT chose to target a Church mission outpost. MIT chose to ritually slaughter servants of Jesus Christ. While it is not known whether MIT was inspired to act on the basis of Rizieq Shihab's incendiary words of 15 November in which the controversial firebrand preacher warned the Indonesian government to act against 'blasphemers', or else 'don't blame the Muslims when a head is found on the streets' [see RLPB 577 (25 Nov)]; in reality, that is irrelevant. For MIT didn't need Shihab's incitement when it chose to 'cast terror into the hearts of disbelievers' and 'strike their necks' as commanded in the Quran, Sura 8:12 (https://quran.com/8/12 ). Remember, Islam deems as blasphemy absolutely anything that indicates irreverence towards the Quran or Muhammad.

While MIT comprises only around a dozen core members, it is known to have attracted many thousands of sympathisers, locally and in high places [see RLPB 550, Terror Threat Rising (20 May)]. This is doubtless why Operation Tinombala - a joint military-police operation established in January 2016 to capture and/or eliminate members of MIT - has been so spectacularly ineffective. Choosing his words carefully, Central Sulawesi Christian leader, Rinaldy Damanik responded to the Lemban Tongoa slayings by urging security forces to root out the remnants of MIT: 'We believe that there are still many military and police members who are sincere, professional, and capable of cracking down on the group, but perhaps the policies of their superiors are problematic.'


Muslim rioters attacks Copts 
in al-Barsha, 25 Nov.
YouTube footage

Riots erupted in Upper (southern) Egypt's Minya Governorate on 25 November, after rumors spread that Girgis Sameeh (22), a poor and uneducated, barely literate Coptic youth, had posted a message to his Facebook account that Muslims deemed insulting to Islam (i.e. blasphemous). In the man's hometown of al-Barsha, hundreds of Muslims attacked the homes of Copts with stones and Molotov cocktails. Coptic businesses were looted, ransacked and torched; Mrs Estolia Faragallah (80) was hospitalised for facial burns suffered when a fireball struck her home. Rioting Muslims also beleaguered the church of Abou Sefin, where the congregation was celebrating the beginning of the Coptic fast which runs through Advent from 25 November to 6 January. A minibus belonging to the church was torched in what must have been a truly terrifying ordeal.

Girgis Sameeh's brother told Watani he could not believe Girgis would insult Islam's Prophet or do anything to hurt Muslim feelings: 'We have always lived peacefully by their side, and we work with and for them. How can my brother ever do such a stupid thing? That's not how he was taught to behave.' Indeed, when the mob attempted to ransack the family's home, their Muslim neighbours came to their defence and shielded them. Police eventually intervened to restore order, arresting both Muslims (Arabs) and Copts (the indigenous people of Egypt, most of whom are Coptic Orthodox Christian).

On the evening of 29 November, a-Barsha's angry Muslims had grown tired of being restrained by the presence of security forces in the village, so they took to the surrounding countryside to burn sheds and huts holding cattle feed on the Copts' agricultural lands. Muslims are also boycotting Christian businesses. General Osama Al Qadi, Governor of the Minya Province, has called for tolerance while making clear that measures will be taken against 'anyone who offends others'. It is a measure that does nothing to help Christians, who follow a suffering Saviour and are taught to turn the other cheek and love their enemies, yet hands a weapon to Muslims who take offence so very easily and are taught the very opposite. On 28 November the Vice Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Tony Perkins, tweeted: 'The Egyptian government must stop the horrific mob violence against Copts in al-Barsha, Minya, and bring the actual perpetrators to justice, instead of blaming victims & allowing mob rule to supplant rule of law.'


* be a shield and fortress for his besieged and threatened people; we pray especially for the Church in Indonesia and Egypt where Islamic zeal and indignation are currently soaring, but also for Christians throughout the Muslim world; may Advent and Christmas pass without incident so that joy might prevail and the message of peace be heard.

* grace the families of the Salvation Army workers slain in Central Sulawesi with an abundance of supernatural comfort and peace; may the Lord provide all their needs, and supply the region with new Gospel workers; may evil have no victory there.

'Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain' (from 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 ESV).

* raise up leaders and advocates in Indonesia and Egypt - in government, in security and especially at the local level - who will have the courage and conviction to uphold religious liberty, defend Christian security, and demand justice when Christians are persecuted. 'Ask, and it will be given to you ...' (promise, from Matthew 7:7-8).


Anti-blasphemy sentiment is currently soaring throughout much of the Muslim world and tensions in Indonesia and Egypt are running particularly high. In Indonesia, only weeks after a famous firebrand anti-blasphemy campaigning cleric returned from Saudi Arabia to lead a 'moral (anti-blasphemy) revolution', four Salvation Army servants of Christ were ritually slaughtered - their throats slit, one completely beheaded - in Central Sulawesi. In Minya, Upper Egypt, Muslims rioted - stoning, looting and burning Christian homes, businesses and farms - after rumours spread that a Coptic youth had posted a message to his Facebook account deemed insulting to Islam. Churches in Indonesia and Egypt are routinely targeted in terror attacks, especially over Easter and Christmas (25 December in the Catholic and Protestant West/Indonesia and 7 January in the Orthodox East/Egypt). Tensions are escalating. Please pray.



On Friday 20 November five Papuans were shot by unidentified assailants in two separate incidents in Puncak Regency. About 11 am, high school students Manus and Atanius, both aged 17, were shot while walking home for the holidays. Atanius died at the scene while Manus managed to make it home despite having been shot three times. According to Manus, the two boys came across a large group of men, all dressed in black Indonesian paramilitary uniforms, who asked them to pose for photographs. The boys were given weapons, photographed, and then shot at. About an hour later three other Papuan civilians - three males aged 34, 19 and 13 walking together - were shot dead in the surrounding area. They had decided to take a shortcut across the mountain, only to be shot dead on Mount Limbaga. The perpetrators have not been identified.

Benny Wenda and the
Papuan Morning Star flag.

On 1 December every year, Papuans risk military violence and imprisonment when they unfurl Papua's Morning Star flag to commemorate the anniversary of Papua's declaration of independence from Dutch colonial rule. It was short-lived independence, followed as it was by Indonesian military invasion, occupation and annexation. This year, Papuan leaders boldly declared a provisional 'government-in-waiting', laid out a new provisional constitution, and nominated exiled leader Benny Wenda as their interim president. They are demanding a referendum on secession from Indonesia.

Many Papuans sincerely believe that the UN and Western powers will come to their aid and support their right to self-determination. They seem unaware of the way the UN and Western powers rejected the right of Armenians to self-determination in Artsakh, a region they have inhabited for millennia. The Papuans seem unaware of how the UN and Western powers closed their eyes, blocked their ears, and shut their mouths through October and November as Armenians (Orthodox Christians) were yet again slaughtered and driven from their ancestral lands by 'Turks' and their Syrian Arab proxies. The situation in Indonesia's Papuan Provinces is coming to a head; tensions are soaring; a clash is looming; a Christian crisis may be imminent. Please pray.



In last week's RLPB 577 (25 Nov), prayer was requested for the family of Pastor David Omara (64) who was murdered in Aduku, Northern Uganda, on 31 October because of his Christian witness. It may well have been an anti-blasphemy attack for just before he was killed, Pastor Omara had been comparing Christianity and Islam. Since then, Morning Star News has reported more slayings.

On Saturday 21 November Pastor Wilson Niwamanya was travelling home from the Congolese border, where he had been witnessing, to his home in Kabale in Uganda's deep south-west. As part of his Gospel ministry Pastor Niwamanya routinely talked with Muslims about the problems inherent in Islam. He was travelling with his son Simon Peter (12) and a church worker when they were ambushed by four Islamic militants. The church worker (who escaped) heard the militants say, 'This man must die for disrespecting our religion.' Simon Peter was killed with a sword through his stomach while his father succumbed to his injuries three days later. Pastor Niwamanya had been receiving threats for some time; he had been warned that if he continued to discredit Islam he would pay for it with his life.

On Monday 23 November the relatives of Emmanuel Hamuzah (38; a former Islamic skeikh/teacher, who converted to Christianity two years ago) descended on his home demanding he renounce Christ and return to Islam. When he refused they beat him and murdered his son, Ibrahim Mohammad (6). Please Pray.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com