Category Archives: Middle East

Syria: A Recent History by John McHugo

512R+XAgLZL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Reflections and Summary by Colin Chapman

 This very readable review of the last hundred years of the history of Syria has helped me to make sense of the ongoing conflict in Syria. Before summarising each chapter, it may be helpful to spell out some of the most significant themes that John McHugo draws out from this history:

  1. After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, Faisal set himself up as king in Damascus in 1918, attempting to set up an independent Arab kingdom in accordance with promises made to him by the French and the British. This was ‘probably the best chance of Greater Syria to develop their own nationhood’; but these hopes of independence and nationhood were dashed by French and British colonial ambitions.
  1. France during the Mandate period (1920 – 1946) did little to prepare the country for independence, and some of its policies (like ‘divide and rule’ and supporting minorities) sowed the seeds of later conflict. France’s colonial rule made it difficult for Syria to develop as an independent state.

‘France had a vision of a permanent French presence in Syria … “the whole of it and for ever” … The French did their utmost to make the establishment of a successful independent Syrian state as hard as possible … It is not an exaggeration to say that the actions of the great powers in the aftermath of the Great War and over the following decades deprived the people of Syria of any chance of a normal development to nationhood.’mchugo_john

  1. Britain shares some of the responsibility along with France since many of its policies in the region were motivated by rivalry with France and a determination to limit its power in the region. The boundaries of the states they created were artificial and determined more by their own interests than by geography, history or demography.
  1. During the Cold War (later 1940s – 1989) Syria was caught up in the struggle between the US and the USSR and therefore became ‘the play thing of foreign interests.’ Syria turned to the USSR for support (and especially for arms) when it was rebuffed by the West. Many US policies in the region were intended to separate Syria (and Egypt) from the USSR, to support Israel and further American hegemony.

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A Line in the Sand: A Summary by Colin Chapman

a-line-in-the-sand-9781849839037_hrThis book seeks to explain how many of the problems of the Middle East in the last century can be traced back to the colonial ambitions of Britain and France and in particular to the ‘venomous rivalry’ between them in their struggle for mastery of the region. It was this rivalry which lay behind the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Balfour Declaration, the creation by Britain of the kingdoms in Iraq and Transjordan, Britain’s support for the independence of Syria and Lebanon, and French support for the Jewish underground which was working against the British in Palestine in 1948.

What follows is a summary of the main themes of the book, combined with quotations from key passages.

The Sykes-Picot agreement (May 1916) was an attempt by Britain and France to deal with their rival ambitions in the Middle East and to define spheres of influence in the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The ‘line in the sand’, which was literally drawn on the map by Mark Sykes (for Britain) and Francois Georges-Picot (for France), ran (in Sykes’ words) ‘from the “e” in Acre to the last “k” in Kirkuk’. Lebanon, Syria and northern Iraq (including Mosul) were allocated to France, while Transjordan and southern Iraq were allocated to Britain. Because Britain and France both wanted control of Palestine, it was finally agreed that it should come under international control.

‘The compromise, which neither power liked, was that the Holy Land should have an international administration.’  (2)

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Zion’s Christian Soldiers

Limited edition, signed and at the special price of £15 in the UK including postage, and £20 worldwide. Worth it just for the sermon by John Stott. Also available in Arabic and Korean.Zions-christian-soldiers-2 976480_367113153390423_1636882878_o-710x1024-2 zcsarabiccover-728x1024

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Professor John Lennox on Daniel in Babylon

A presentation by Professor John Lennox on Daniel in Babylon delivered at Rothschild Bank in London.

John Lennox is Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University and Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College

See John Lennox’s book, Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism

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Holy War: The Christian Jihad

Following the tragedy of 9/11 and the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, multi-bestselling author and Christian journalist Anne Coulter, wrote,

“We don’t need long investigations of the forensic evidence to determine with scientific accuracy the person or persons who ordered this specific attack. We don’t need an “international coalition.” We don’t need a study on “terrorism.” … We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now.  We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.”[3]

More recently, at the July 19th, 2006, inaugural event for Christians United for Israel, in Washington DC, after recorded greetings from the then President, George W. Bush, and in the presence of four US Senators as well as the Israeli ambassador to the US, Pastor John Hagee, stated :

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Ambassadors Needed

Heartened by the recent historic meeting between Prime Minister David Cameron and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, at the United Nations, signaling a long-overdue thawing of Anglo-Iranian relations, I was delighted to attend the New Horizons interfaith conference in Tehran last week, as a member of a UK delegation.

The conference addressed issues where faith and politics intersect in the Middle East such as Israel’s war on Gaza, Islamophobia in the West as well as the rise of ISIS and those sponsoring extremism.

“There is no teleology in western society, no guiding morality, only an obsession with materialism,” argued organizer Arash Darya-Bandari. “We believe it is necessary to control the negative tendencies in culture, such as pornography, alcohol, drugs, prostitution, to strive towards a more moral and justice society.”

One of the contributors, Eric Walberg wrote, “Contrary to the shrill cries in the western media that the conference was anti-Semitic, it was unique in my experience in addressing Zionism and US imperialism forthrightly and intelligently, without a hint of racism. The issue of anti-Semitism was addressed and dismissed, as “There is no issue with Jewish people or the Jewish religion,” explained Darya-Bandari, “but rather with Zionism, that secular distortion of Judaism that itself is racist, and has been used as a pretext to dispossess and kill Palestinians.”

He went on to report, “The conference issued a resolution condemning ISIS, Zionism, US unconditional support of Israel, Islamophobia, and calling for activism locally to boycott Israeli goods and to promote understanding between the West and the Muslim world, and to fight sectarianism. “This was a great opportunity to meet anti-imperialist activists from around the world, to bring Russians, Poles, western Europeans, North Americans together with Iranians and other Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, in a forum without sectarianism, truly supporting peace and understanding,” said delegate Mateusz Piskorski, director of the European Centre of Geopolitical Analysis in Warsaw and former MP in the Polish Sejm.”

I was invited to contribute to the opening ceremony and present a biblical perspective on Jihad and in particular, a Christian refutation of the Islamic State (IS). Later in the conference I was asked to present a paper on the impact of the Israel Lobby in the UK, especially in parliament and in the media, ahead of the publication of my new book on the subject.

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

Ambassadors, of necessity serve in foreign countries, where perspectives may be different and at times even hostile to one’s own. But given the dire consequences of any breakdown in relations between countries, dialogue and diplomacy are always to be preferred over war and strife.

In the journal Diplomat, Michael Binyon asks,

“Are Christian church leaders becoming the world’s most active peacemakers? Only a week after President Peres of Israel and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the Pope’s invitation to pray together with him in Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a dramatic flight to Nigeria to pray with President Goodluck Jonathan and encourage him to make every effort to find the schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram.

The Archbishop’s impromptu trip came hard on the heels of a visit to Pakistan, where he visited a small embattled Christian community and praised their efforts to forge closer links with the wider Muslim community, despite regular attacks by militants, the threats of mob violence and the increasing use of the notorious blasphemy laws to force Christians from their land and property…

Peacemaking and reconciliation – within the Anglican Church and between the world’s main faith groups – were the declared priority for Justin Welby from the moment he became Archbishop. He is well qualified for the role. As an oil executive who visited Nigeria often before his ordination, he has seen at first-hand the conflict raging between Christians and Muslims in Central Nigeria that is now taking a deadly toll. As a former head of Coventry Cathedral’s Centre for Reconciliation, he has himself conducted delicate negotiations between militant groups in an effort to free hostages, often risking his own life.”

A walk through the deserted US embassy in Tehran last week was a poignant reminder of how a failure to pursue diplomacy has fueled not only decades of missed opportunities but also perpetuated misunderstanding and animosity between our countries.

Ironically, the leaders in Jesus day, tried to dictate whom he could and could not meet with, criticizing him for eating with “tax collectors and sinners”.  Clearly they considered his actions “conduct unbecoming” a rabbi. Thankfully for us he did not listen to them.

Critics of conferences such as New Horizons should think more carefully about how their inflammatory words will negatively impact on their own communities in Iran.

They would be better served following the examples set by our Prime Minister, the Pope and the Archbishop who, as true ambassadors, are working for peace and reconciliation.

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Gaza Benefit Concert with Garth Hewitt and Friends

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Zion’s Christian Soldiers in Arabic

zcsarabiccover zcsarabicinfo zcsarabicindex zcsarabicback-2  Zion’s Christian Soldiers is now available in Arabic and costs £8.95 plus £2.75 postage in the UK and £4.75 internationally. Order via PayPal

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The Passion of Jesus the Messiah

DX239_18A3_9Frans van der Lugt, a 75 year old Jesuit priest, was a well-known figure in the Old City of Homs, respected by many for his solidarity with residents of the rebel-held area under a government siege for nearly two years. He refused to leave insisting that Syria was his home and he wanted to be with its citizens in their time of need. “If you stay, you stay for the struggle” he told the Independent in February. Last Sunday he was abducted and then murdered in his monastery garden. Another clergyman Ziad Hilal, described Frans as “a ray of joy and hope to all those trapped in the Old City.”

If you want to know someone’s heart, observe their final journey. The scale of the devastation in Syria is apocalyptic. The UN estimates there are 9 million refugees. If you want to help, see Embrace the Middle East, Tearfund or World Vision. I was in Tehran this week to publicize a Peace Pilgrimage to Syria taking medical supplies. I hope to welcome one or more of the participants on their way home next Sunday. If you want to know someone’s heart, observe their final journey.  In the verses before us today we learn three things about Jesus’ final journey.

The Passion of Jesus the Messiah from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

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Will the Jewish Temple be Rebuilt?

“Mounting tension: Israel’s Knesset debates proposal to enforce its sovereignty at Al-Aqsa Mosque – a move seen as ‘an extreme provocation to Muslims worldwide’” was the ominous headline in the Independent newspaper, 27th February 2014.

Ben Lynfield writes, “The Arab-Israeli conflict took on an increasingly religious hue when the Jordanian parliament voted unanimously to expel Israel’s ambassador in Amman after Israeli legislators held an unprecedented debate on Tuesday evening over a proposal to enforce Israeli sovereignty at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites, currently administered by Jordan, and to allow Jewish prayer there. 500 metres by 300 metres, the Temple Mount, or Haram Al Sharif as it is called in Arabic, is probably the most disputed plot of land on earth. Hal Lindsey claims, ‘I believe the fate of the world will be determined by an ancient feud over 35 acres of land.’[1]

Many Christians share the belief that the Islamic shrines must be destroyed and that a Jewish Temple must and will be rebuilt – very soon. But this won’t be a museum replica of the one king Solomon built or be just another attraction for pilgrims to the Holy Land. No, this Temple will be built for one purpose and one purpose only – for bloody animal sacrifices, and lots of them.

What is the case for rebuilding the Jewish Temple? Does the Bible predict such an event? If so, where and how it might be built? What does the New Testament  say on the subject? What are the implications for Christians should the Jewish Temple be rebuilt?  Continue reading

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