Changing the Australian Constitution was always meant to be difficult – here’s why


Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

Debates about constitutional change in Australia inevitably raise the poor success rate of referendums. Only eight out of 44 attempts have ever succeeded and there has not been a successful constitutional change since 1977.

So why was the referendum chosen as the means of amending our federal constitution, and was it really intended to be so hard to succeed?

In the 1890s, adopting a referendum as the means of amending the constitution was quite radical. None of the countries from which the framers of the constitution drew precedents and inspiration – the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States – used a referendum.

Why then did Australia take a different path and entrust the people with the final decision on constitutional change?




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The UK supported flexible constitutions and easy change

In the United Kingdom, the view was taken that every generation had the right to change the constitution to suit its own needs. Accordingly, it did not have a formal constitution with restrictions on how it could be amended. Instead, the UK had a range of legislation dealing with constitutional matters that could be changed by the vote of an ordinary majority in parliament.

In the 1850s, when the New South Wales Constitution was being enacted, NSW politicians wanted to:

frame a Constitution in perpetuity for the colony – not a Constitution which could be set aside, altered and shattered to pieces by every blast of popular opinion.

But the British government inserted an overriding provision in the statute that approved the NSW Constitution, which allowed the constitution to be amended by ordinary legislation passed by the NSW parliament. They sought to ensure that the people, through their parliamentary representatives, were free to change their constitution as and when it suited them.

Federal systems need rigid constitutions and more difficult change

When it came to making a constitution for an Australian federation, such flexibility was not possible.

A federal constitution confers different powers at the federal and state level. If the federal parliament had the power to change it by passing ordinary legislation, then all powers and protections of the states could be easily removed, destroying the federal system. That meant that a “rigid” or “entrenched” constitution was needed – one that could not be amended simply at the behest of one level of government.

The two obvious federal examples to draw on were Canada and the United States. The Constitution of Canada was set out in a British statute of 1867. Because it did not contain an internal mechanism to amend the constitution, only the British parliament could amend it.

The framers of the Australian Constitution did not want to go begging to Westminster whenever they wanted to amend their constitution. They wanted control over the constitution to rest in Australian hands. So they rejected the Canadian approach.

The other well-known federal example was the United States. Despite all the constitutional rhetoric of “we, the people”, the US Constitution has never been amended by a direct vote of the people. Instead, it requires a constitutional amendment to be initiated and ratified by a combination of special majorities of votes in Congress, the state legislatures or especially established conventions. The people do not get a direct say.

How the referendum was seen in the 1890s

In the 1890s, the referendum became the subject of much study and interest outside its existing use in Switzerland and in parts of the United States at state and local level.

One strong and influential supporter of the referendum in the United Kingdom was A. V. Dicey. This was surprising, as he is best known for his support of parliamentary sovereignty. But Dicey saw the referendum as both democratic and conservative. In 1890 he said:

It is democratic, for it appeals to and protects the sovereignty of the people; it is conservative, for it balances the weight of the nation’s common sense or inertia against the violence of partisanship and the fanaticism of reformers.

Dicey was opposed to Home Rule for Ireland and saw the referendum as a means of allowing the people to veto constitutional change that would otherwise be imposed on the country due to party-political considerations.

In 1894, he described the referendum as “the People’s Veto”. In words that might well resonate today, he expressed concern that

the art of Party warfare is turning into the art of bribing and confusing voters.

To him, the referendum was a means of defeating change by relying on the general reluctance of people to risk the unknown. It is as if he had foreseen the history of federal referendums in Australia.

Why Australia chose the referendum

The idea of adopting the referendum, both as a means of approving a federal constitution and later amending it, was raised by Alfred Deakin in 1890 and Charles Kingston in 1891. They approached the issue as one of democracy, rather than conservatism.

Nonetheless, the 1891 Constitutional Convention rejected the proposal for a referendum. Sir Samuel Griffith argued that constitutional change was complex and it was not practicable for voters to be familiar with every detail. He considered an elected convention of political experts was better suited to dealing with such issues.

The convention ultimately approved a model similar to that in the United States, involving passage of an amendment by an absolute majority of both houses of the federal parliament, then approval by special conventions in a majority of states.

By the time of the 1897 Constitutional Convention, however, Griffith was gone and those supporting a form of more direct democracy prevailed. The referendum was chosen, but it was still to be subject to several hurdles.

There was no intention that the constitution be easy to change. Tasmanian Premier Sir Edward Braddon observed that the feeling of the convention was:

… that it should be made as difficult as possible to amend the Constitution.

While it was not to be made “absolutely impossible”, the constitution should not be easily capable of change upon “any fluctuation of public opinion” or in response to a crisis of a temporary character.

What is needed for a referendum to pass?

So what hurdles must be overcome for the Australian Constitution to be amended?

First, the amendment must be approved by an absolute majority of each house of parliament, or it must be passed twice by an absolute majority of one house, with an interval of three months in between. This effectively gives the federal government control over what goes to a referendum, because even if the Senate alone approves a referendum, it still requires the governor-general to put it to the referendum. On the only occasion this occurred, in 1914, the governor-general acted on the advice of the government not to hold the referendum.

Secondly, once a constitutional amendment is put to a referendum, it has to be passed by a majority of all the electors who vote. Since 1977, this has included electors in the territories.

Thirdly, a referendum must also be approved by a majority of voters in a majority of the states. That means that there has to be majority “yes” vote in four of the six states.




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There are also special requirements if the constitutional change would diminish the proportionate or minimum parliamentary representation of a state or affect the borders of a state, in which case the approval of a majority of electors in the affected state is required.

The political hurdles to referendum success

These are the legal and constitutional hurdles. But as Dicey noted in the 1890s, and many others have since, there are numerous political reasons why referendums fail. These include poor proposals, fear of change, political opportunism by governments or oppositions, a low level of public understanding of constitutional matters, poor campaigning and sheer inertia or public disinterest.

Constitutional change in Australia is always an uphill battle, but that is no reason to shirk it. Instead, it should be a spur to produce better proposals for constitutional change, develop strong and clear arguments for reform, cultivate widespread public support and undertake vigorous, but honest, campaigns.The Conversation

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

India, Pakistan and the changing rules of engagement: here’s what you need to know


Stuti Bhatnagar, University of Adelaide and Priya Chacko, University of Adelaide

More than 40 Indian security staff lost their lives in a suicide attack on February 14, 2019 in the Pulwama region of Indian-administered Kashmir. The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack.

Twelve days later, India launched air strikes against JeM training camps in Balakot, Pakistan. India claimed the strikes inflicted significant damage on infrastructure and killed militant commanders, while avoiding civilians.

India said the strikes were “pre-emptive”, based on intelligence that JeM were planning more suicide attacks in Indian territory. Pakistan denied India’s claims, both about the damage done by their airstrikes and that Pakistan was planning further attacks.

But Pakistan retaliated with an airstrike on what it termed a “non-military installation” in the Indian controlled region of Kashmir. In the ensuing skirmish with the Indian Air Force, an Indian jet was downed and a pilot captured.

These events, in the disputed territory of Kashmir, have brought international attention to the prospect of a nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan. But why is the decades-long conflict heating up again, and why now?




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History of Kashmir

India and Pakistan have been involved in a territorial dispute over Kashmir for decades. The roots of the conflict lie in the partition of British India in 1947, which created the secular state of India and the Muslim state of Pakistan.

The idea behind the partition was for Muslim-majority regions to become a part of Pakistan. But Kashmir was complicated. Although a Muslim-majority state, it was ruled by a Hindu king.

He decided to accede to India in October 1947. This was unacceptable to Pakistan, which launched a war in 1948 to capture Kashmir by force.

A result of the war was a UN-mediated ceasefire line. This divided Kashmir into Indian-administered “Jammu and Kashmir” (J&K) – which constituted two-thirds of the territory – and Pakistan-administered “Azad (free) Kashmir”, which was one-third of the territory.

While the 1948 ceasefire brought an end to the fighting, Kashmir’s status remained unresolved and Pakistan continued to contest the territorial boundaries. India granted J&K constitutional autonomy, while the Pakistan-administered region was a self-governing entity.




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View from Pakistan

Kashmir is central to Pakistan’s national identity as a Muslim state, and therefore it represents unfinished business after the 1947 partition.

Pakistan launched another war against India in 1965, which caused thousands of casualties on both sides. Hostilities between the two countries ended after a diplomatic intervention by the Soviet Union and the United States and a UN-mandated ceasefire.

The 1965 war, the 1971 Indian intervention in Pakistan’s civil war, and the subsequent creation of Bangladesh led to more changes to the territorial borders in Kashmir. The ceasefire line is now designated as the Line of Control (LoC).

The Line of Control divides the Indian and Pakistani territories of Kashmir.
Wikimedia Commons

Since the 1990s, Pakistan has supported militant groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) to attack Indian security forces and civilians.

View from India

Kashmir has also been central to India’s national narrative of unity in diversity propagated by leaders of the independence movement, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. Indian leaders have often projected the accommodation of a Muslim majority state in the J&K region as proof of Indian secular democracy.

India’s official position considers the whole of undivided Kashmir as a part of India. And India has not consistently upheld J&K’s constitutionally-guaranteed autonomy. Political instability in the state has been compounded by interference from the Indian government. Indian armed forces in the area have often used force against civilians.

In the 1990s, this led to a mass uprising and insurgency among the Kashmiri population in India. Pakistan exploited this discontent, offering arms, training and funds to both Pakistan-based and local Kashmiri militants.

The insurgency in Indian Kashmir eased in 2003, with a ceasefire and the initiation of an India-Pakistan peace process that led to a relative period of calm.




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The peace process came to an end after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, carried out by the LeT. But India’s policy of strategic restraint and pressure on Pakistan by the United States to address militancy prevented a worsening of hostilities.

A new government came to power in India in 2014, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. The leadership’s approach to Pakistan and Kashmir has been significantly different from the previous administration, with more emphasis on curbing dissent in J&K and using pre-emptive strikes across the LoC against militant groups in Pakistan’s territory.

Local discontent in Indian Kashmir has also led to an increase in militancy since 2014 with more Pakistani support and a combination of rising local recruitment and an influx of foreign militants.

What does this mean?

The rules of engagement between India and Pakistan are changing. India’s “pre-emptive” air strikes in February were a significant shift away from the previous policy of strategic restraint. This is the first time since the dispute emerged that India has targeted militants inside Pakistani territory.

Pakistan chose to escalate tensions further, a move that had previously been prevented by the US. Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has reiterated his desire for dialogue with India. But ceasefire violations across the LoC and the international border have continued unabated since February 14k, with both sides reporting civilian casualties.

Diplomatic pressure from the UN and the rest of the international community has forced the Pakistani government to ban some militant groups. Yet, it continues to deny that JeM is active in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, tensions with Pakistan are playing well into Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promotion of being a “strong leader”, capable of protecting the country from its enemies. This is all part of the strategy leading up to the coming elections.




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The escalatory responses by both governments have shown the actions of the two countries are becoming more difficult to control, particularly with the United States’ lack of involvement in defusing tensions as it disengages from the region.The Conversation

Stuti Bhatnagar, Adjunct Fellow, University of Adelaide and Priya Chacko, Senior Lecturer in International Politics, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Turnbull’s ‘sex ban’ speech reveals that politics is still not an equal place for women – but it is changing


File 20180222 152369 p63k27.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Malcolm Turnbull announces changes to the Ministerial Code of Conduct in the wake of the Barnaby Joyce affair.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Carol Johnson, University of Adelaide

The appropriateness of Malcolm Turnbull’s trenchant criticisms of Barnaby Joyce’s “shocking error of judgement” and his announcement of a ban on ministers having sex with staffers has already been widely debated.

However, when he made those statements, Turnbull also raised much broader issues about the position of women in parliament that are worth discussing in more depth.

Turnbull acknowledged that there were “some very serious issues about the culture of this place, of this parliament” that involved gender.

He stated: “Many women … who work in this building understand very powerfully what I am saying”. Consequently, the old Ministerial Code of Conduct needed to be revised because it didn’t adequately reflect the values “of workplaces where women are respected”.

Turnbull went on to say:

I recognise that respect in workplaces is not entirely a gender issue, of course. But the truth is, as we know, most of the ministers, most of the bosses in this building if you like, are men and there is a gender, a real gender perspective here.

Turnbull is crafting an image of “protective masculinity”, of a fatherly protectiveness toward potentially vulnerable women, which he hopes will appeal both to social conservatives and feminists.

Leading Liberal Party social conservatives such as Scott Morrison have supported his ban. As has been pointed out, Turnbull’s position also references the challenging of conventional gender power relations in the workplace by movements such as #MeToo. (Though it should be noted that both some social conservatives and feminists may have reservations about the specific measures Turnbull advocates.)




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It was an acknowledgement of gendered power relations in parliament that more socially conservative predecessors such as John Howard or Tony Abbott would have been unlikely to make. Indeed, Turnbull’s broader statements also raise feminist issues that may cause some tensions with social conservatives in the longer term.

For example, why, as Turnbull acknowledges, are most of the ministers in parliament male?

Turnbull was pulled up when he mistakenly claimed to have the most female cabinet ministers of any Australian government so far. It was pointed out that, at best, his record equalled Kevin Rudd’s, and that number has actually dropped since the resignation of Sussan Ley.

Indeed, Rudd had a higher percentage of female cabinet members – 30% compared with Turnbull’s initial 27% that dropped to 24% after Ley’s resignation, and to 22% when Turnbull expanded his cabinet from 21 to 23. Furthermore, there is only one female minister out of the seven in the Turnbull government’s outer ministry.

Malcolm Turnbull poses with female ministers in December 2017.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Turnbull should be praised for having both a female foreign minister and defence minister, since these are senior portfolios not traditionally held by women.
Nonetheless, Peter Van Onselen has written tellingly regarding the apparent gender bias in Liberal cabinet selections, and the serious female talent that has been overlooked as a result, in both the Abbott and Turnbull cabinets.

Despite this, the situation has obviously improved markedly under Turnbull.

Julie Bishop has talked about her experience of being the only woman in Abbott’s first cabinet, and of how she’d put forward excellent ideas that were ignored, only to have a male colleague repeat the same idea and be lauded for it.

It was, she said, a form of unconscious bias that resulted in “almost a deafness”. Clearly cultural change and more respect for women in the workplace were needed there.

Furthermore, it isn’t just a case of the majority of ministers being male – so are the majority of politicians.

Women are seriously underrepresented among Liberal MPs. As of November 2017, only 22% of Liberal politicians were women (with Labor’s proportion then being 45%).

Consequently, it isn’t just the culture in ministers’ offices that needs changing. Some female Liberal politicians, such as senator Linda Reynolds, have drawn attention to the need for broader cultural change in the Liberal Party to ensure more female politicians are recruited and women’s abilities are recognised.

Some have even suggested that, given merit is clearly not being recognised in candidate pre-selection, the Liberal Party should consider introducing quotas like Labor has done.




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Parliamentary culture in general remains highly gendered, with women often bearing the brunt of sexist attitudes. The culture is also one that has often rewarded particularly macho conceptions of masculinity that can disadvantage some men as well as women.

No wonder women can become the target or collateral damage, often aided and abetted by highly gendered media coverage. The problems are not just confined to the Coalition, pervading most if not all parties, although some are doing better than others.

Indeed, while it has substantially increased its number of female politicians, Labor sometimes falls back on some of its old habits in regard to gender. These include appointing exceptionally capable female candidates to try to improve Labor’s image after male politicians have made a mess of things — a scenario that former premiers Carmen Lawrence and Joan Kirner knew well.

Think of Kristina Keneally replacing Sam Dastyari in the Senate – although at least she is guaranteed her spot, unlike Ged Kearney, who is faced with the difficult task of trying to retain Batman for Labor against the Greens following David Feeney’s departure.

However, clearly things are changing, and the gendered nature of parliamentary politics is under challenge. Turnbull’s acknowledgement of gendered power imbalances in parliament reveals that, even if he avoided discussing his own party’s contribution to them.

The ConversationAll states in Australia, other than South Australia, have now had a female premier, with some having had more than one. While Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, regularly had her gender used against her, Australians will be watching the progress of New Zealand’s third female prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, with great interest. Perhaps, one day, we will even stop discussing her baby and her shoes.

Carol Johnson, Professor of Politics, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Introverts and the Internet


The link below is to an article that looks at how the Internet is changing society through the creation of introverts.

For more visit:
http://socialtimes.com/how-social-media-is-creating-a-world-of-introverts_b130856

Church ministry in Syria treads carefully after shut down


The spiritual climate in Syria is a changing one. While Syria’s Christian minority is generally respected, conversions to Christianity from Islam are rare and sometimes met with opposition, reports MNN.

Voice of the Martyrs reports that evangelizing is legal, but visas are not granted for missionary work. And while there is freedom to worship, any activity that could threaten communal harmony is suspect, making it difficult to spread the Gospel.

Despite the challenges, Reach Global in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) began in 2008. The team working in the area is focused on holistic ministry: meeting physical and emotional needs as well as the spiritual needs of an individual.

They have been working together with churches, national partners, and collaborating with like-minded ministry organizations in order to reach the Syrians with the hope of Christ, and there has been success. A church has been planted.

This June however, the Syrian government closed the doors of that evangelical church. The group is still hoping to meet for worship and Bible study, but they are praying for wisdom and discernment on how to do that and still remain within the law.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

Church of England moves towards ordaining women


Over the weekend, the Church of England introduced draft legislation putting the country’s Anglican communion on the fast track to allowing women’s ordination, reports Catholic News Agency.

On Saturday, May 8, the Church of England’s revision committee published a 142-page review in favor of draft proposals that support women being consecrated as bishops and priests.

According to Reuters, the church’s revision committee also proposed safeguards for more traditional parishes who have expressed opposition to ordaining women, including the right to request that a male bishop perform blessings and ordinations. However, the committee proposals did not meet the requests by these parishes for new dioceses or a special class of bishops.

“After much discussion the Committee rejected proposals aimed at fundamentally changing the approach of the legislation for those unable to receive the ministry of female bishops,” wrote Church of England officials in a statement Monday.

The draft proposals will now go forward for debate at the Church’s General Synod, in July in York, Northern England. If passed, the Church of England will hold the same position on female ordination as the Anglican Communion in the United States and New Zealand.

Monday’s statement also clarified that the “earliest that the legislation could achieve final approval in Synod (when two-thirds majorities in each of the Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity will be required) is 2012, following which parliamentary approval and the Royal Assent would be needed.”

The statement added that “2014 remains the earliest realistic date when the first women might be consecrated as bishops.”

This move is likely to increase interest among traditionalist Anglicans in the Pope’s recent invitation for Church of England members to become Catholic. Last November, the Holy Father released “Anglicanorum coetibus,” a motu propio which offered Vatican guidelines for Anglican groups to enter into communion with the Catholic Church.

The Sunday Telegraph in Britain reported on May 2 that several Anglican bishops recently met with Vatican officials to discuss the process of converting to Catholicism.

Despite the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams reportedly urging them not to leave the Church of England, several bishops are looking to break from the Anglican Communion over their opposition to the introduction of women bishops and priests.

According to the British paper, Bishops John Broadhurst, Keith Newton and Andrew Burnham, from the Dioceses of Fulham, Richborough and Ebbsfleet respectively, all met with senior Vatican officials last week.

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

Algerian Muslims Block Christmas Service


Neighborhood residents protest new church building in Kabylie region.

ISTANBUL, December 31 (CDN) — Nearly 50 Muslim members of a community in northern Algeria blocked Christians from holding a Christmas service on Saturday (Dec. 26) to protest a new church building in their neighborhood.

As Algerian Christian converts gathered for their weekly meeting and Christmas celebration that morning, they were confronted by protestors barring the doors of their church building. Tafat Church is located in Tizi-Ouzou, a city 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of the Algerian capital, Algiers. Established five years ago, the church belongs to the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA). Until recently it met in a small rented building. In November it opened its doors in a new location to accommodate the growing needs of its nearly 350 congregants.

The local residents protesting were reportedly irritated at finding that a church building with many visitors from outside the area had opened near their houses, according to an El Watan report on Sunday (Dec. 27). The daily newspaper highlighted that the residents feared their youth would be lured to the church with promises of money or cell phones.

“This land is the land of Islam! Go pray somewhere else,” some of the protestors said, according to El Watan. Protestors also reportedly threatened to kill the church pastor.

The protestors stayed outside the church until Monday (Dec. 28), and that evening some of them broke into the new building and stole the church microphones and speakers, according to the pastor, Mustafa Krireche. As of yesterday (Dec. 30) the church building’s electricity was cut.

One of Algeria’s Christian leaders, Youssef Ourahmane, said he could not recall another display of such outrage from Algerians against Christians.

“It was shocking, and it was the first time to my knowledge that this happened,” said Ourahmane. “And there weren’t just a few people, but 50. That’s quite a big number … the thing that happened on Saturday was a little unusual for Algeria and for the believers as well.”

A few weeks before the Saturday incident, local residents signed a petition saying they did not want the church to operate near their homes and wanted it to be closed. Local authorities presented it to the church, but Ourahmane said the fellowship, which is legally authorized to exist under the EPA, does not plan to respond to it.

On Saturday church leaders called police, who arrived at the scene and told the Christians to go away so they could talk to the protestors, whom they did not evacuate from the premises, according to local news website Kabyles.net. The story Kabyles.net published on Sunday was entitled, “Islamic tolerance in action at Tizi-Ouzou.”

“In that area where the church is located, I’m sure the people have noticed something happening,” said Ourahmane. “Having hundreds of Christians coming to meet and different activities in the week, this is very difficult for Muslims to see happening there next door, and especially having all these Muslim converts. This is the problem.”

A local Muslim from the neighborhood explained that residents had protested construction of the church building in a residential area, according to El Watan.

“What’s happening over there is a shame and an offense to Muslims,” he told El Watan. “We found an old woman kissing a cross … they could offer money or mobile phones to students to win their sympathies and sign them up. We won’t let them exercise their faith even if they have authorization. There’s a mosque for those who want to pray to God. This is the land of Islam.” 

Behind the Scenes

Ourahmane said he believes that Islamists, and maybe even the government, were behind the protests.

“Maybe this is a new tactic they are trying to use to prevent churches from meeting,” he said. “Instead of coming by force and closing the church, the local police use the Muslim fundamentalists. That’s my analysis, anyhow.”

In February 2008 the government applied measures to better control non-Muslim groups through Ordinance 06-03. Authorities ordered the closure of 26 churches in the Kabylie region, both buildings and house churches, maintaining that they were not registered under the ordinance.

Despite efforts to comply with the ordinance, many Christian groups indicated they were blocked by lack of information, bureaucratic processes or resistance to their applications, according to this year’s International Religious Freedom Report by the U.S. Department of State. None of the churches have closed since then, but their status continues to remain questionable and only valid through registration with the EPA.

“If we have the right to exercise our faith, let them tell us so,” Pastor Krireche told El Watan. “If the authorities want to dissolve our association through legal means, let them do so.”

Recent growth of the church in Algeria is difficult for Muslims to accept, according to Ourahmane, despite public discourse among the nation’s intellectuals advocating for religious freedoms. Unofficial estimates of Christians and Jews combined range from 12,000 to 40,000, according to the state department report. Local leaders believe the number of Algerian Christians could be as many as 65,000.

Increasing numbers of people who come from Islam are like a stab for the Muslim community, said Ourahmane.

“It’s hard for them to accept that hundreds of Christians gather to worship every week,” he said. “It’s not easy. There are no words to explain it. It’s like a knife and you see someone bleeding … They see the church as a danger to Algerian culture.”

The Algerian government has the responsibility to face up to the changing face of its country and to grant Christians the freedom to meet and worship, said Ourahmane.

“The local authorities and especially the Algerian government need to be challenged in this all the time,” he said. “They have to be challenged: ‘Don’t you recognize the situation here?’ I mean we’re talking of tens of thousands of believers, not just a few.”

There are around 64 churches in the Kabylie region, where most Algerian Christians live, as well as house groups, according to Ourahmane. The Kabylie region is populated by Berbers, an indigenous people of North Africa.

“There are lots of healings and deliverance, and people are experiencing new things in their life,” Ourahmane said of the Algerian churches. “They are finding hope in Christ which they have never experienced before.”

There are half a dozen court cases against churches and Christians. None of these have been resolved, frozen in Algeria’s courts.

False Accusations

In ongoing negative media coverage of Christians, last month Algerian newspaper Echorouk published a story claiming that the former president of the EPA, who was deported in 2008, had returned to Algeria to visit churches, give advice and give them financial aid.

The report stated that the former EPA president, Hugh Johnson, was known for his evangelism and warned readers of his evangelizing “strategies.” 

Yesterday Johnson told Compass by telephone that the report was pure fabrication, and that he has not set foot in Algeria since he was deported.

Johnson’s lawyers are still trying to appeal his case in Algerian courts.

This year church groups stated that the government denied the visa applications of some religious workers, citing the government ban on proselytizing, according to the state department report.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Christians in Pakistan Fear Further Firestorms


Cooperation among police, Muslim and Christian leaders stave off religious brushfires.

LAHORE, Pakistan, September 8 (CDN) — In the wake of Islamists setting fires that killed at least seven people in Punjab Province last month, the latest of several attempts to provoke further attacks on Christians took place in a village on Friday (Sept. 4) when unidentified men tore pages of the Quran and left them at a church.

Police said they were able to cool tensions in Chak 8-11-L Mission Village, near Chichawatni, after the torn pages of the Muslim scriptures were left at the Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church and on a nearby road. Sources said they have witnessed similar attempts to ignite attacks on Christians in several areas of Punjab Province since an Islamic mob on Aug. 1 burned seven Christians alive in Gojra over a false accusation of blaspheming the Quran.

Superintendent of Police Ahmed Nawaz Cheema said the pages of the Quran were left at the dividing line between Chak 8’s Christian-inhabited Mission village and the Muslim-populated Maliks village, indicating “it was planted to create tensions between the two villages.”

Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church Pastor Salmoon Ejaz told Compass that Muslim women on their way to glean cotton early in the morning had found the torn pages of the Quran. They took the pages to local Muslim clerics, who in turn took them to the police. Pastor Ejaz said the clerics came to Christian leaders and told them they had no suspicion that Christians had torn the pages, and that both Muslims and Christians should be vigilant and try to find the culprit.

Since then, the pastor said, the situation has been tense but under control, with police fully cooperating.

“The situation is calm, and we have no fear from the local Muslims, but the real threat is from the madrassas of Chak 11-11-L, 81-9-L and Multan Road,” said the pastor of the church, which was founded in 1906. “Even in Gojra the local Muslims had not attacked, but outsiders were the assailants, and that is the reason we are still frightened.”

In Gojra, members of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a pro-Taliban, Sunni Muslim group, and its al Qaeda-linked offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, were suspected of planning the attack that killed the Christians and injured at least 19 others. Urged on by clerics from mosque loudspeakers, the rampaging Islamists set fire to 50 homes and looted more than 100 houses.

Christian advocacy group Community Development Initiative (CDI) Field Officer Napoleon Qayyum said al Qaeda remnants have lost support following a Pakistani military operation in tribal areas along the Afghanistan border, and that to regain backing they were trying to exploit anti-U.S. and anti-Christian sentiment. He said well-coordinated efforts were underway to instigate Muslims against Christians by inciting hatred against the United States and the Pakistani government, a U.S. ally in anti-terrorism efforts. In this way, he said, the al Qaeda militants justify terrorist activities against the Pakistani government.

“Terrorism is like the AIDS virus, which keeps changing its tactics,” Qayyum said.

CDI helped to encourage police to increase security in the Mission Village area, he added.

Superintendent of Police Cheema said 50 policemen had been stationed in the area to prevent potential conflicts and would remain there until rumors died down. Christian leaders outside the district had contacted area police warning that Islamists could try to spark violence.

“These Christians have a good liaison with the Christians of other districts and cities,” he said.

Muslims in Maliks were cooperating fully with police to keep conflict from erupting, he said, adding that area Muslims were concerned that Christians in the 400-home Mission Village were not sending their children to school, which is located in the Maliks village of 2,000 Muslim homes. Cheema said area Muslims had indicated that if Christians were afraid, they would be willing to go to the Christian colony and bring their children to school.

Tensions after Gojra

The rumor of desecration of the Quran that led to the attack in Gojra, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Faisalabad, on July 30 had prompted an Islamist arson assault on Korian village, seven miles from Gojra, that gutted 60 houses.

On June 30, a cleric in Kasur district’s Bahmaniwala village used a mosque loudspeaker to announce a call to attack Christians that resulted in more than 500 Muslims ransacking and looting at least 110 houses. Chief Minister of the Punjab Shahbaz Sharif has ordered the arrest of six Muslim extremists, including suspected mastermind Qari Latif.

On Aug. 1, as houses in Gojra were burned and plundered, Muslim clerics called for demonstrations to protest the arrest of Islamists suspected in the Kasur violence. Pakistan People’s Party’s Provincial Assembly Member Ahmed Riaz Tohlu and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s National Assembly Member Sheikh Wasim resolved the issue by assuring Christians that Kasur would remain secure and by promising the Islamists that the arrested Muslims would be released. The officials told the provincial deputy general inspector, however, that the names of the released Muslims “should be the first to be mentioned in the FIR [First Information Report] if any untoward incident takes place.”

Potential tensions were also warded off in Shantinagar, a village near Khanewal that suffered a massive onslaught from Islamic extremists in 1997, after another incident involving the Quran on Aug. 8. District Councilor Chaudhry Salamat Allah Rakha told Compass that when one of the village Christians went out in the fields, he saw a bearded person holding something.

“That man yelled at him, at which point the other man ran away,” Rakha said. “This man tried to catch him but failed, and then he saw that there were three Qurans wrapped in a white cloth.”

The Christian suspected the bearded man who fled intended to tear pages of the Quran in order to frame Christians for blasphemy. District Councilor Wazir Jacob arrived at the site and called police, and Sadar police station House Officer Chaudhry Zaka came soon after and seized the three Qurans.

Rakha said that police were asked to file a First Information Report on the incident, but the district police officer refused on grounds that it would create tensions in the area.

Tensions were simmering in St. Henry Colony in Lahore after an altercation over an inconveniently parked car led to a gang fight. Local Pastor Azam Anthony told Compass that on Aug. 6 a Muslim family parked a car close to the front of a house owned by Christians, and a Christian woman came out of the house and asked them to move as it hampered their ability to enter.

“At this the Muslim woman dragged her by her hair, and the Christian woman in her effort to release herself got hold of her shalwar [a garment like trousers],” Pastor Anthony said. A man with the Muslim woman grew furious and began beating the Christian woman, he said.

“The sight further incited Christian boys there who were watching this all going on,” he said. “They asked that man why did he beat a woman, and they beat the man.”

The Muslim man gathered other Muslims, along with a Muslim councilor of the area, and began fighting the Christian boys. Pastor Anthony said that before leaving, the Muslims said they would deal with the Christians after Friday prayers.

“That afternoon was quite tense, and Christians of the area had prepared themselves for another Gojra incident,” Pastor Anthony said. The timely intervention of Christian leaders and police has averted any further incidents – so far.

In the wake of the Gojra attack, Christians have deliberated whether to arm themselves so they can defend themselves against further attacks. One Christian, Naveed Masih, who fired into the air as the Islamist throng attacked, has been credited with reducing the number of casualties and damages. Dubbed Naveed the Soldier, he was the only man with a rifle when the mobs charged Gojra. Several Christian women had taken refuge in his house.

A Muslim association based in Gojra, the Muslim Mahaz Tanzeem for Peace, has since tried to blame Maish for setting off the violence and charged three priests and another Christian with providing him weapons. According to Asia News, the association has threatened another Islamist wave of violence unless the four Christians are arrested.

District Councilor Rakha said that since the attack, about 15 boys have been armed and trained to keep watch at night. Christians in other areas, such as Youhanabad and Bahar Colony in Lahore, told Compass that they would rather die defending themselves than be killed doing nothing.

Petition for Prosecution

In view of the increase in attacks against Christians in Pakistan, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has filed a petition with the United Nations through its European body, the European Center for Law and Justice.

“We have expressed in the strongest terms possible that the Pakistani government must prosecute acts of violence based upon religion,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ECLJ and the U.S.-based ACLJ. “Christians are being singled out and murdered because of their faith. Only when the Pakistani government effectively prosecutes those responsible for the acts of violence will attacks against Christians end.”

The “blasphemy laws” that encourage Muslim violence against Christians violate the principle of the universality of religious freedom to which Pakistan officially adheres, Sekulow said.

The ECLJ petition calls on Pakistan to prosecute deadly attacks on Christians, which have claimed the lives of at least 60 Christians in the past decade in at least 27 separate incidents of Muslim-on-Christian violence. The ECLJ filing states: “More than two decades of blasphemy laws have taught Pakistani Muslims that the punishment for allegedly insulting Islam is death. The Pakistani government must repeal or procedurally change blasphemy laws.”

Because Pakistan has proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in a resolution to the U.N. that it presented on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, it should abide by those terms for its own religious minorities, the ECLJ petition states.

Report from Compass Direct News

EGYPT: CONVERT ARRESTED FOR MARRYING CHRISTIAN


Couple goes into hiding as police place Islamic law over Egyptian penal code.

ISTANBUL, April 23 (Compass Direct News) – Christian convert Raheal Henen Mussa and her Coptic husband are hiding from police and her Muslim family for violating an article of Islamic law (sharia) that doesn’t exist in the Egyptian penal code.

Police arrested Mussa, 22, on April 13 for marrying Sarwat George Ryiad in a customary marriage (zawag al ‘urfi), an unregistered form of matrimony in Egypt made without witnesses. It has gained popularity among Egyptian youth but is not sanctioned by most Islamic scholars.

The two signed a marriage contract between themselves. Only Ryiad and their attorney have a copy. Police have not obtained a copy of the contract, but they used its existence as a pretext for arresting Mussa.

According to a strict interpretation of sharia, Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men, although the opposite is allowed, and Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution stipulates that sharia is the basis for legislation.

The two have not committed a crime according to Egyptian law since they didn’t seek official marriage status, but police and Mussa’s family are pursuing them because they violated Islamic law, advocacy groups say.

“They have not violated the law, but the family and the police are applying their own unwritten law,” said Helmy Guirguis, president of the U.K. Coptic Association. “Islamic law interprets that if a Muslim girl marries a non-Muslim man, even on paper, they are breaking the law of God, not the law of man.”

The two could not get married in an official ceremony since Mussa is considered a Muslim by birth, and changing one’s religious status away from Islam is impossible in Egypt. A lawsuit is pending, however, for a Muslim-born man to change his status on his identity card.

Formerly known as Samr Mohamed Hansen, Mussa converted to Christianity three years ago, before marrying Ryiad. Police arrested her as she came home from her workplace at a Cairo salon. They identified her by the Coptic cross tattoo on her right arm – a common mark among Copts.

She was transferred to a station operated by the secret police, where she stayed until Sunday (April 19), when her family took her. While in their custody, her family completely burned off her cross tattoo, according to the U.K. Coptic Association.

Mussa escaped from them on Tuesday (April 21). She and her husband fled Cairo and are in hiding. If the two are caught, advocates fear, they could be forcibly separated, arrested and beaten, with Mussa being returned to her family.

Sharia influence in Egyptian law also means that Muslims have the right (hisbah) to file a lawsuit against someone who has violated the “rights of God.” This provision, advocates fear, means Mussa and Ryiad’s unsanctioned marriage could make them targets of Muslim extremists wishing to apply the full extent of this law.

The most famous example of hisbah’s application came in 1995, when Cairo University professor Nasr Abuh Zayd was declared an “infidel” and forcibly divorced from his wife for criticizing orthodox views of the Quran.

Ryiad and Mussa were not married in a Coptic ceremony, as many churches avoid marrying registered Muslims to non-Muslims for fear of being targeted by authorities and Islamic extremists.

“Nobody [in Egypt] can declare the marriage of a Coptic man to a Muslim girl,” attorney Naguib Gabriel told Compass. “It would be very dangerous to the life of a priest.”

 

Marriage Woes

Mussa and Ryiad’s case is the latest in a spurt of recent arrests and lawsuits against those who don’t adhere to the Islamic-influenced dictum that Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men.

In October 2008, a Cairo court handed Father Metaos Wahba a five-year prison sentence for issuing a marriage certificate to a Christian man and a Muslim convert to Christianity. He stated that he did not know the woman’s papers stating her religion as “Christian” were a forgery.

Human rights groups have called on Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak to release Fr. Wahba, as Egypt is a signatory to the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which allows full religious freedom, including conversion.

Mussa’s jailing mirrored that of Christian convert Martha Samuel Makkar, 24, detained last December at a Cairo airport for attempting to flee the country with her husband. She was charged with carrying forged documents that listed her religion as Christian and incarcerated for a month.

A judge granted her bail but not before threatening to kill her for leaving Islam (see “Judge Tells of Desire to Kill Christian,” Jan. 27).

Nadia Tawfiq, the lawyer in charge of Makkar’s chase, said many arrests and trials in Egypt result from laws that assign people social status according to the religion on their identity cards.

She said the best hope for change is a May 2 court hearing of Maher El-Gohary, a Muslim-born man who is fighting to have his Christian religion recognized on his official documents. If he succeeds, he would be the first person in the country to be granted that right.

Report from Compass Direct News