Written by Nicole Clark, King University, Religions of the World
Nicole Clark is an undergraduate student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies at King University. Her greatest hope is to glorify the Lord with her life and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Modern American Christianity
Almost 1,700 years after the Council at Nicaea affirmed one of the most fundamental doctrines of Christianity about Jesus’s deity and humanness, I sometimes wonder if the modern American Christian message looks anything like that of the early Christian church. I see a few noticeable differences today that might shock the early church leaders. The boldest of which is the step away from the most basic premise of Christianity, that there is just one God. There has also been a shift in the attitude towards wealth and the hope of what heaven will be.
- Monotheism is a little blurry.
The most fundamental belief in Christianity is the belief that there is just one God who created and continues to maintain all things. Kenneth Copeland and the Word of Life movement have blurred the lines of what monotheism means today in order to give people the power to speak change into their own lives. Men like Copeland, Benny Hinn, and Creflo Dollar point to Psalm 86:2, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you” as proof that believers are God and can act in the power of God as well. Verses such as Jer. 10:6, “there is none like You, O Lord” and 1 Sam. 2:2, “there is no one holy like the Lord, indeed, there is no one besides You” contradict the claim that man can be anything like God.
To claim oneself as Holy or having the power to speak something into existence goes against the basic premise of Christianity. Colossians 1:16 states, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” There is but one God, and the Bible affirms that He alone created everything. In Isaiah 64:8, God’s people are described as “the clay” and He as “the potter.” The created thing cannot be equal in power to the creator and to suggest otherwise changes the God of the Bible into a mere idol of man’s own desires.
- The pursuit of wealth is now a core message.
In the quest to have eternal life, a rich young man came to Jesus and asked him what he must do. In Matthew 19:16-22, Jesus told the man, “sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Jesus’s message of self-sacrifice was too much for the young man, and sadly, he walked away without the assurance of true faith. Jesus’s message of sacrifice and devotion to God has drastically changed over time.
The largest and most popular churches in the U.S. now preach that “it’s God’s will for you to live in prosperity instead of poverty” and not live in debt (Joel Osteen). God indeed desires for his people to prosper, but not in temporal and earthly ways. Jesus told his followers not to focus on earthly treasures, but instead focus on heavenly and eternal rewards (Matt. 6:19-21). Even more condemning of worldly riches, Jesus warned that a person “cannot serve God and money” (Matt 6:24). There can be only one master of the heart.
- Heaven is the new vacation hotspot.
Another aspect of Christianity that has changed is this newly revised vision of what Heaven is going to be like for individuals. The Bible says, in heaven, there will be no more sin and believers will be in the presence of God (Rev. 21:4-8). However, the modern American version of heaven has little to do with finally being free of sin and worshipping God and more to do with living in luxury. It’s not much of a surprise that America’s third-richest pastor, Benny Hinn, paints a picture of heaven as an extravagant city surrounded with jewels and gold with little mention of heaven’s true purpose. Jesus promises eternal life in heaven for believers who confess that Christ is the Son of God who was the propitiation for the sins of his people. Heaven, however, is not a shiny bejeweled vacation spot where people can indulge themselves in their greatest desires. Heaven is the dwelling place of a Holy God. Fellowship and worship of God in heaven should be the heart’s desire of every Christian.
Humankind seems destined to twist the Holy Scriptures to fit their own ideas and desires. When I look at Christianity today, I wonder how the most fundamental beliefs got manipulated and lost. If Christianity is to be based on the monotheistic principle that there truly is only one God, then there must be reverence for that and man must stop trying to make himself into his own idol. In the quest for a perfect and prosperity filled life, Jesus warns that there is room for just one master in a person’s life. We should never lose site of the call to repentance and faithful obedience to the one true God, the God of the Bible. Only then will we have a right view of wealth and ultimately, heaven.
For a more detailed review of what the modern American Christian message looks like today, I highly recommend the 2018 documentary, American Gospel: Christ Alone (a condensed version is available on YouTube).
American Gospel: Christ Alone. Directed by Brandon Kimber, Transition Studios, 2018.
Bennet, Karen. “The Shocking Net Worth of These 10 Richest Pastors Will Blow Your Mind.” Cheat Sheet. 31 Jan. 2019 https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/net-worth-richest-pastors-will-blow-your-mind.html/
“Heaven.” Find Shepard, 5 Aug. 2019, https://www.findshepherd.com/bible-verses-about-entering-the-kingdom-of-heaven.html.
Hinn, Benny. “A Most Beautiful Teaching on Heaven. You’re Going to Love it!” YouTube, uploaded by Benny Hinn Ministries, 11 May 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3nJHy7fOjw.
Hudson, Don Michael. Foundations of Christian Thought and Practice: Selected Readings and Workbook. E-book, Pulp Press, 2013.
“Promised Land.” My Olive Tree, 2020, https://www.myolivetree.com/prophetic-reasons-to-plant/,
Kenneth Copeland Ministries. 2020. https://www.kcm.org.
“Money.” The Order of Preachers, 11 Oct. 2015, https://orderofpreachersindependent.org/2015/10/11/riches-the-rev-deacon-scott-brown-opi/.
“One God.” Bible Timeline, 2020, https://bibletimeline.org.uk/additional-reading/an-age-of-pluralism.
Written by Kimberly Courtney, King University, Religions of the World Final Project
Kimberly Courtner lives in East Tennessee. She is a full time Human Resource Analyst, wife, and mother of six. She enjoys time with her family, church, traveling and learning new things.
The Adaptation of Buddhist Practices in the Western World:
Why It’s a Good Thing
My son at the Gakwonsa Temple in Cheonan, South Korea
Buddhism is one of the largest religions in the world today, and is expected to increase up until 2030. This religion originated in Tibet and is based around the teachings of Buddha. There are traditions, practices, and beliefs of this religion that are unique to this religion, but similar to the Hindu religion as well. Those that practice Buddhism – known as Buddhists – believe in reincarnation. That is, they believe that death is not the end but instead a person is reborn after they pass. Buddhists believe that finding enlightenment is how to stop the cycle of rebirth. They believe that one must achieve inner peace to find enlightenment. Enlightenment occurs when aversion and clinging are abandoned. Not a goal to be attained; it is effortlessly realized as the way things naturally are when aversion and clinging are abandoned.
For some, Buddhism is a religion. For others, it is a philosophy, while others practice Buddhism to find themselves and experience inner peace. Buddhism is a religion that is practiced worldwide. It is the study of oneself and the study is to forget oneself, and to forget oneself is to be enlightened by all things. According to World Population Review, in the United States alone, 1.2% of the population is made up of practicing Buddhists. This is a growing number to seriously consider. According to an article in The Atlantic, “Buddhism has been popular in various forms among certain celebrities and tech elites, but the religion’s primary draw for many Americans now appears to be mental health.” The article goes on to say how many Americans are adapting the practices of Buddhist meditation to heal their overall mental health and to cut costs on medication, therapies, and physician visits that are so expensive to the working person. Like the old practice of the religion, many are finding that the power of healing is instilled in the simplistic recitation and meditation of the ancient art of Buddhism.
The Byodo-In Temple in Ahuimanu, Hawaii
Common practices of the Eastern civilization can be seen as useful practices in our Western world today. Little did we know that these practices have worked for many centuries in the East among the people of the Buddhist religion. The practice of meditation or mental development is also a growing trend here in the Western world. Eastern Buddhists look within themselves to find the calming and clarity to reach their inner peace, This being a form of meditation or Samatha. The object of this practice is to let the thoughts that come to mind arise and then simply let go of them, thus clearing the path to inner peace. Another practice of meditation is Vipassana, or insight. Vipassana allows a person to see things as they really are, liberating one to the highest happiness. Maitri or Metta Meditation will activate interest in others, the cultivation of benevolence, loving kindness or goodwill to others once the mind has been freed.
The Western world is adapting these ancient practices to achieve their own health and well being. The users of this practice in the West are not using the ancient art as a religious tool or practice. The western civilization has conformed these practices to a therapeutic concept from the daily stresses of the rat race we live in. Psychological science states that mindfulness can illuminate the workings of the mind, noting that a person can actually heal themselves depending on the state of mind. The constant interactions with one’s environment depicts the level of treatment one can give themselves. This in turn correlates the amount of healing or depth of inner peace that one receives.
It is common to see Buddhist quotes and teachings in everything from calendars to movies in America today.
It is amazing that an ancient praxis can be used as a common cultural wave in society today. According to the New York Times, “ Meditation has now become a practice recommended for everyone.” The article goes on to say, “Yet Buddhism long ago generated insights that modern psychology is only now catching up to, for example, psychology has lately started to let go of its once-sharp distinction between “cognitive” and “affective” parts of the mind; it has started to see that feelings are so finely intertwined with thoughts as to be part of their very coloration.” Secular Buddhists practices are growing in America today.
In recent studies, there has been a decline in stress and the adverse effects of stress in individuals with higher amounts of stress just by using the practice of meditation. There has also been a notable decrease in anxiety in individuals through meditation who have job-related anxiety in high pressure work environments. According to Healthline.com, some forms of meditation can decrease depression and improve a person’s overall emotional health and leave them with a positive outlook. Meditation has been a key source in expanding the shrinking attention span, sharpening one’s mind and concentration, reversing patterns in the brain that lead to mind-wandering, and overall worry and stress.
Using this ancient art is beneficial not only to the emotions and psyche but the mind and body as well. Getting into the habitual practice of meditation in the pop culture western world can be an easy feat. There are many practicing meditation studios, gyms, and programs to join . Most of these cost less than the average therapy session with a psychologist or the average monthly gym fee. There are also practicing Buddhist temples in the Western world for those who want to indulge in the spiritual practice of Buddhism.
At the end of the day, Buddhism is a thriving religion that managed to make it from a simplistic beginning in a distant land that continues to grow in not only the Eastern world but also in the Western world as well. Whether the practice be spiritual or secular, the outcomes of both are intertwined and beneficial for human beings. Buddha himself said it best: “Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.” This is where the West meets the East and they become one.
Written by Mallory Davis, King University, Religions of the World
My name is Mallory Davis. I was born and raised in Monahans, Texas a small town in the Permian Basin. I graduated from Monahans High School in 2019 where I participated in Acapella Choir, Lady Lobo Juniorettes, cheerleading, track, and a four-year varsity swimmer. I was a regional swim qualifier all four years and served as team captain my junior and senior year as well as being named Outstanding Female Swimmer those two years. My hobbies include scuba-diving, boating and fishing, and rebuilding old cars with my dad. I have led praise and worship at my hometown church and been actively involved in community service. At the end of my senior year of high school, I signed on as a dual athlete at King University to swim and cheer. I am currently a sophomore at King.
Could the Split with the Catholic Church be Prevented?
Henry VIII has always been a controversial character in English history. The man was notorious for divorcing his wives or having them beheaded attempting to secure a male heir leading to the old adage, “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced beheaded survived.” Life for a wife of Henry VIII was not very easy, but what if his first wife Catherine of Aragon could have given him a surviving male heir? Would he have still split from the Catholic Church, or would he have continued to stay with his wife of 24 years? Logistically, several things suggest that the break from the Catholic Church did not have to occur. Henry held a devout devotion to the Church in his early reign and was extremely devoted to Catherine of Aragon during her early childbearing years. Worried about securing the Tudor legacy, Henry only turned to divorce as a last resort after Catherine was unable to produce a living male son.
Henry’s Religious Upbringing
Henry VII had been religious from a very young age as was expected of him because he was only second in line to the throne. It was custom for the first son to become a high-ranking church official. Henry was given the best education possible and participated in things such as sports, music, and art. He would also partake in mass five times a day unless he was hunting; then he would only take part in mass three times a day. When his brother died at age 15, the death left Henry as the sole male heir changing the course of Henry’s vigorous religious training forever. Henry had to leave behind the idea of becoming a church official, but although he would be leaving it behind, he never forgot what he was taught by the Church and many things that he did after being crowned King of England at 17 reflected his staunch religious upbringing.
Henry’s Life with his First Wife, Catherine
Catherine of Aragon, in my opinion, was Henry’s only true love. He fell in love with her when she was stuck in England when Henry VII, Henry’s father, was trying to figure out what to do with her after his brother Arthur, Catherine’s late husband passed away. Henry VII solved this problem by marrying her to his second son who would succeed him as king. He was married to Catherine for 24 years, longer than any of Henry’s other five wives. It was not until Catherine was in her 40s, and it had become apparent that she would not bare Henry a living male heir that he began to look for ways to solve his dilemma. His lust for a son who would take over for him after he died made him begin to look for other ways to get a male heir.
Henry Tries to Legitimize His “Bastard” Son
After it became apparent that Catherine would not be able to give Henry the heir he wanted, he came up with a few ideas to remedy the situation. One of these ideas was legitimizing his healthy “bastard” son with Elizabeth Blount, a maid of honor to Queen Catherine. She became one of Henry’s many mistresses, and she had borne him a healthy son, Henry FitzRoy, in 1519. Henry VIII decided that if he could not have a healthy boy with Catherine, he would make his healthy bastard son with Blount a prince by legitimizing him. Henry publicly acknowledged this son and bestowed many honors on him, including giving him the double Dukedom of Richmond and Somerset. It has been suggested that FitzRoy was bestowed with such lavish titles and positions
Defender of the Faith
Throughout these early years in Henry’s effort to begat an heir, he maintained a strong relationship with the Catholic Church. He even wrote a book called Assertio Septem Sacramentorum in which he defended the Catholic Church from religious leader Martin Luther who had written Ninety-five Theses, arguing against the perversion many felt was rampant in the Catholic Church. As a reward, Pope Leo X gave Henry the title “Defender of the Faith” in 1521. It was not until 13 years later that Henry VIII would be forced to completely break from the Catholic Church after disagreeing with the pope over several things, most importantly, the refusal to grant an annulment from Catherine, who was by that time, obviously beyond child-bearing years. The annulment would essentially declare a marriage null and void, essentially saying that the marriage had never occurred in the first place. Henry had petitioned for this annulment based on Catherine’s brief marriage to his brother and the Biblical book of Leviticus’s teaching against marrying a brother’s spouse.
The Pope’s Refusal to Annul
Pope Clement VII delayed and denied Henry’s request for annulment for many years, citing several reasons for the denial.
- The main reason was that the pope and the Catholic Church had already granted a dispensation for his marriage to Catherine, essentially saying that the Levitical passage did not apply to Henry. He could not annul a marriage that had been approved by the Church in the first place.
- Secondly, the Church feared that an annulment such as this would be viewed as a divorce which was not recognized. It was against basic beliefs. As Henry was the “Defender of the Faith” and the king, the pope especially would not allow this divorce. It was believed if the king was allowed a divorce, then common people would believe it was okay to divorce their wives as well.
- Finally, Catherine of Aragon was the Holy Roman Emperor’s niece. Charles V had conquered Rome and was holding Pope Clement VII as hostage. He refused to allow the pope to grant Henry’s request for annulment as he would not allow his own family to break from Catholic law and be disgraced by a divorce. Catherine herself was a very devout Catholic and had petitioned her uncle to fight for her cause.
Henry Divorces Catherine and the Church
For Henry, divorce from Catherine had been a last resort, but now it was the only option he had left. As the Church would not grant the annulment or a divorce, he had to take matters into his own hands. Henry’s mind was made up. He would turn his back on his own faith. Instead of prolonging the situation any longer, Henry declared himself the Head of the Church of England, breaking from the Catholic Church. He made Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury who then quickly granted Henry his desire divorce from Catherine. During these years of waiting for an answer from the pope, Henry had fallen in love with the young Anne Boleyn, one of Catherine’s ladies in waiting. In less than a year after his divorce from Catherine, Henry married an already pregnant Anne who had promised to bear him the son he so desired. In 1533, Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. Later, she gave birth to two stillborn boys, and Henry would have her beheaded on false allegations of treason to continue his quest for a son. However, by this time, the breach with the Catholic Church had become irreparable, and Protestantism was quickly spreading through England and other parts of Europe.
Henry’s obsession with having a male heir finally led to his break with the Catholic Church. He maintained a strong relationship with the Church right until the end, indicating that if Catherine had ever been able to produce a living male son, he would not have pursued the route he finally took. Henry had first tried to legitimize his bastard son Henry FitzRoy and sought annulment from his first marriage before resorting to divorce and breaking with the Church. Only after the annulment was denied by the pope did he become desperate enough to completely part ways with the Church. This parting had grave repercussions on the future of religion in England. The Catholic monasteries were dissolved, and priests were relieved from their duties. Attending mass became illegal. Citizens were forced to take an oath to Henry VIII as the Head of the Church of England, and many who refused to do so were executed. Ultimately, the most consequential effect of Catherine of Aragon’s inability to produce a living male son for Henry was the establishment of Protestantism in England under the new Church of England.
Henry VIII. (2020, January 03). Retrieved September 28, 2020, from
How Henry VIII’s Divorce Led to Reformation. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2020, from
Person. (2008, August 08). Henry VIII. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from
Written by Savannah Stringer, King University, Abingdon, VA: Final Project for Religions of the World
Hi, my name is Savannah Stringer. I live in a wonderful small town named Abingdon in VA. I am happily married to my amazing husband. We got married back in March, so we haven’t been married long, but we were together five years before we decided to make it official. I am a dog mama to two dogs. I have a girl Weimaraner named Ophelia and a boy German Shepard-Pit Bull mix named Sammy. I don’t have any kids yet but one day I will. I decided to go back to school this fall to get the degree I have always wanted, and I am glad I made this choice.
Hindu Widows and Marriage Traditions
What happens when a Hindu woman becomes a widow?
They are treated badly when their husband dies
They their heads are shaved
They are not allowed to remarry
They wear white so people know that they are a widow
Hindu women who become widows are usually the poorest of the poor and when their husband dies, they become just a financial burden to their families. They are not shunned because of religious reasons. Ironically, they are shunned because of tradition. When this happens, they must shave their head as they are no longer allowed to wear their hair long. They are no longer allowed to wear jewelry, and they typically wear white and even their shadows are considered bad luck. Once her husband dies, she is immediately thought of as an object instead of a “she”—a woman with an identity. From now on she will be referred to as a “it”.
Why does a widowed woman have to wear white?
White is considered the color of mourning and is often the color she wears to the funeral service
It is believed that a woman needs to be in a constant state of mourning once her husband dies
She is compelled to wear a white saree for the rest of her life
White means purity in the Hindu religion and shows respect
Her husband is considered the biggest jewel in her life, so she must abandon any color once he dies
White gives the widow positive energy so that she can face life’s biggest challenges
It encourages the widow to seek God
Why are widowed women not allowed to remarry?
Various social and cultural reasons impose on a remarriage
It is believed they belong to a high-caste Hindu
They are only supposed to marry one time in their lives
Why do widowed women have to get their heads shaved?
It is a sign of bereavement
It makes them unattractive to men
It marks them as a widow so other people know
Why are widowed women treated badly when their husband dies?
They are a financial burden to their family
Family says that widows bring bad luck
They must do what they can to survive
They have to beg for things like food and water
They have to beg for money so they can buy themselves the stuff they need
Tradition in Hindu Marriage
There are nine main stages in a Hindu marriage and these stages are:
- Gau Dann and Kanya Pratigrahan
- Shilarohan and Laaja Homa
- Surya Darshan and Dhruva Darshan
- Ashirvada (Blessings)
- First, the bride’s parents welcome the groom and his family at the boundary of the house where the wedding is taking place. Then they apply red kum-kum (kind of powder) on their foreheads to mark them. Both families are introduced marking the start of the relationship between them. The bride and the groom then exchange garlands (jayamaala) and say: “Let all the learned persons present here know, we are accepting each other willingly, voluntarily and pleasantly. Our hearts are concordant and united like waters.”
- The groom is brought to a decorated altar called ‘mandap’ and offered a seat and a drink which is a mixture of milk, ghee, yoghurt, honey, and sugar.
Gau Dann and Kanya Pratigranhan
- Gau’ means cow and ‘Daan’ means donation. Today, the exchange of gifts, which is usually clothes and ornaments takes place. The groom’s mother gives a necklace (mangala sootra) to the bride. Mangla sootra is the symbol of marital status for a Hindu woman. ‘Kanya’ means daughter and ‘Pratigrahan’ is an exchange with responsiveness from both sides. The bride’s father declares that their daughter has accepted her groom and requests for them to accept her.
- Then a sacred fire is lit and the Purohit (Priest) recites the sacred mantras in Sanskrit. Offerings are offered to the fire whilst saying the prayers. The words “Id na mama” meaning “it is not for me” are repeated. This teaches the virtue of selflessness required to run a family.
- Then comes the ceremony of the vows. The husband is holding his wife’s hand and he says, “I hold your hand in the spirit of Dharma, we are both husband and wife”.
Shilarohan and Laaja Homa
- Shilarohan is climbing over a stone/rock by the bride which shows her willingness and strength to overcome difficulties while pursuing her duties. Both the bride and groom gently walk around the sacred fire four times. The bride will lead three of those times and the fourth time the groom will lead. This is where he is reminded of his responsibilities. Then the couple join hands then the bride’s brothers pour some barley, which is offered to the fire, showing that they all will work together for the welfare of the society. Then the husband will mark the parting of his wife’s hair with red kumkum powder. This is called ‘sindoor’ and is a mark of a married Hindu woman.
- This is the legal part of the ceremony. The couple will walk seven steps reciting a prayer after each step. These are the seven vows which they exchange. The first is for food, the second is for strength, the third is for prosperity, the fourth is for wisdom, the fifth is for progeny, the sixth is for health and the seventh is for friendship. In some regions, instead of them walking the seven steps, the bride will touch seven stones or nuts with her right toe. Then a symbolic matrimonial knot is tied after the ceremony.
Surya Darshan and Dhruva Darshan
- The couple will then look at the Sun in order to be blessed with a creative life. Then they look in the direction of the Dhruva (Polar star) and agree to remain unshaken and steadfast just like the Polar star.
- The couple is then blessed by the elders and the priest that way they have a long and prosperous married life.
It is important to clarify the misconceptions about Hindu marriages:
- Arranged marriages and child marriages. Hindu Scriptures prohibit the use of force or coercion in marriages.
- Arranged marriages are based on an agreement from both the bride and groom and should not be confused with a forced marriage.
- In the Vedic period, all child marriages were strictly prohibited. Later, due to political and economic changes, some new social traditions were started, and they differed from the Vedic teachings.
Child marriages and the tradition of wedding gifts were some of the changes which the reformist movements in the modern times have tried to correct. Child marriages are now banned by law in India, although the reports suggest that the practice has not been stopped.
Kapoor, A. (1970, June 24). 8 Dehumanising Customs Indian Widows Have Faced Through the Years. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.vagabomb.com/8-Absurd-Customs-Indian-Widows-Have-Faced-Through-the-Years/
Madhok, D. (2014, June 25). Indian womenwill never be equal as long as these 9 laws remain on the books. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://qz.com/india/224632/indian-women-will-never-be-equal-as-long-as-these-9-laws-remain-on-the-books/
Religions – Hinduism: Weddings. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/ritesrituals/weddings.shtml
Written by Sebastian Rushworth M.D.: Health and medical information grounded in science, September 25, 2020
Dr. Rushworth’s link is here.
Considering how much misinformation is currently floating around in the area of health and medicine, I thought it might be useful to write an article about how to read and understand scientific studies, so that you can feel comfortable looking at first hand data yourselves and making your own minds up.
Anyone can carry out a study. There is no legal or formal requirement that you have a specific degree or educational background in order to perform a study. All the earliest scientists were hobbyists, who engaged in science in their spare time. Nowadays most studies are carried out by people with some formal training in scientific method. In the area of health and medicine, most studies are carried out by people who are MD’s and/or PhD’s, or people who are in the process of getting these qualifications.
If you want to perform a study on patients, you generally have to get approval from an ethical review board. Additionally, there is an ethical code of conduct that researchers are expected to stick to, known as the Helsinki declaration, which was developed in the 1970’s after it became clear that a lot of medical research that had been done up to that point was not very ethical (to put it mildly). The code isn’t legally binding, but if you don’t follow it, you will generally have trouble getting your research published in a serious medical journal.
The most important part of the Helsinki declaration is the requirement that participants be fully informed about the purpose of the study, and given an informed choice as to whether to take part or not. Additionally, participants have to be clearly informed that it is their right to drop out of a study at any point, without having to provide any reason for doing so.
The bigger and higher quality a scientific study is, the more expensive it is. This means that most big, high quality studies are carried out by pharmaceutical companies. Obviously, this is a problem, because the companies have a vested interest in making their products look good. And when companies carry out studies that don’t show their drugs in the best light, they will usually try to bury the data. When they carry out studies that show good results, however, they will try to maximize the attention paid to them.
This contributes to a problem known as publication bias. What publication bias means is that studies which show good effect are much more likely to get published than studies which show no effect. This is both because the people who did the study are more likely to push for it to be published, and because journals are more likely to accept studies that show benefit (because those studies get much more attention than studies that don’t show benefit).
So, one thing to be aware of before you start searching for scientific studies in a field is that the studies you can find on a topic often aren’t all the studies. You are most likely to find the studies that show the strongest effect. The effect of an intervention in the published literature is pretty much always bigger than the effect subsequently seen in the real world. This is one reason why I am skeptical to drugs, like statins, that show an extremely small benefit even in the studies produced by the drug companies themselves.
There have been efforts in recent years to mitigate this problem. One such effort is the site clinicaltrials.gov. Researchers are expected to post details of their planned study on clinicaltrials.gov in advance of beginning recruitment of participants. This makes it harder to bury studies that subsequently don’t show the wanted results.
Most serious journals have now committed to only publish studies that have been listed on clinicaltrials.gov prior to starting recruitment of participants, which gives the pharmaceutical companies a strong incentive to post their studies there. This is a hugely positive development, since it makes it a little bit harder for the pharmaceutical companies to hide studies that didn’t go as planned.
Once a study is finished, the researchers will usually try to get it published in a peer-reviewed journal. The first scientists, back when modern science was being invented in the 1600’s, mostly wrote books in which they described what they had done and what results they had achieved. Then, after a while, scientific societies started to pop up, and started to produce journals. Gradually science moved from books to journal articles. In the 1700’s the journals started to incorporate the concept of peer-review as a means to ensure quality.
As you can see, journals are an artifact of history. There is actually no technical reason why studies still need to be published in journals in a time when most reading is done on digital devices. It is possible that the journals will disappear with time, to be replaced by on-line science databases.
In recent years, there has been an explosion in the popularity of “pre-print servers”, where scientists can post their studies while waiting to get them in to journals. When it comes to medicine, the most popular such server is medRxiv. The main problem with journals is that they charge money for access, and I think most people will agree that scientific knowledge should not be owned by the journals, it should be the public property of humankind.
Peer-review provides a sort of stamp of approval, although it is questionable how much that stamp is worth. Basically, peer-review means that someone who is considered an expert on the subject of the article (but who wasn’t personally involved with it in any way) reads through the article and determines if it is sensible and worth publishing.
Generally the position of peer-reviewer is an unpaid position, and the person engaging in peer-review does it in his or her spare time. He or she might spend an hour or so going through the article before deciding whether it deserves to be published or not. Clearly, this is not a very high bar. Even the most respected journals have published plenty of bad studies containing manipulated and fake data because they didn’t put much effort in to making sure the data was correct. As an example, the early part of the covid pandemic saw a ton of bad studies which had to be retracted just a few weeks or months after publication because the data wasn’t properly fact checked before publication.
If the peer reviewer at one journal says no to a scientific study, the researchers will generally move on to another, less prestigious journal, and will keep going like that until they can get the study published. There are so many journals that everything gets published somewhere in the end, no matter of how poor quality.
The whole system of peer-review builds on trust. The guiding principle is the idea that bad studies will be caught out over the long term, because when other people try to replicate the results, they won’t be able to.
There are two big problems with this line of thinking. The first is that scientific studies are expensive, so they often don’t get replicated, especially if they are big studies of drugs. For the most part, no-one but the drug company itself has the cash resources to do a follow-up study to make sure that the results are reliable. And if the drug company has done one study which shows a good effect, it won’t want to risk doing a second study that might show a weaker effect.
The second problem is that follow-up studies aren’t exciting. Being first is cool, and generates lots of media attention. Being second is boring. No-one cares about the people who re-did a study and determined that the results actually held up to scrutiny.
Different types of evidence
In medical science, there are a number of “tiers” of data. The higher tier generally trumps the lower tier, because it is by its nature of higher quality. This means that one good quality randomized controlled trial trumps a hundred observational studies.
The lowest quality type of evidence is anecdote. In medicine this often takes the form of “case reports”, which detail a single interesting case, or “case series”, which detail a few interesting cases. An example could be a case report of someone who developed a rare complication, say baldness, after taking a certain drug.
Anecdotal evidence can generate hypotheses for further research, but it can never say anything about causation. If you take a drug and you lose all your hair a few days later, that could have been caused by the drug, but it could also have been caused by a number of other things. It might well just be coincidence.
After anecdote, we have observational studies. These are studies which take a population and follow it to see what happens to it over time. Usually, this type of study is referred to as a “cohort study”, and often, there will be two cohorts that differ in some significant way.
For example, an observational study might be carried out to figure out the long term effects of smoking. Ideally, you want a group that doesn’t smoke to compare with. So you find 5,000 smokers and 5,000 non-smokers. Since you want to know what the effect of smoking is specifically, you try to make sure that the two cohorts are as similar as possible in all other respects. You do this by making sure that both populations are around the same age, weigh as much, exercise as much, and have similar dietary habits. The purpose of this is to decrease confounding effects.
Confounding is when something that you’re not studying interferes with the thing that you are studying. So, for example, people who smoke might also be less likely to exercise. If you then find that smokers are more likely to develop lung cancer, is it because of the smoking or the lack of exercise? If the two groups vary in some way with regards to exercise, it’s impossible to say for certain. This is why observational studies can never answer the question of causation. They can only ever show a correlation.
This is extremely important to be aware of, because observational studies are constantly being touted in the media as showing that this causes that. For example a tabloid article might claim that a vegetarian diet causes you to live longer, based on an observational study. But observational studies can never answer questions of causation. Observational studies can and should do their best to minimize confounding effects, but they can never get rid of them completely.
The highest tier of evidence is the Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT). In a RCT, you take a group of people, and you randomly select who goes in the intervention group, and who goes in the control group.
The people in the control group should ideally get a placebo that is indistinguishable from the intervention. The reason this is important is that the placebo effect is strong. It isn’t uncommon for the placebo effect to contribute more to a drug’s perceived effect than the real effect caused by the drug. Without a control group that gets a placebo it’s impossible to know how much of the perceived benefit from a drug that actually comes from the drug itself.
In order for an RCT to get full marks for quality, it needs to be double-blind. This means that neither the participants nor the members of the research team who interact with the participants know who is in which group. This is as important as having a placebo, because if people know they are getting the real intervention, they will behave differently compared to if they know they are getting the placebo. Also, the researchers performing the study might act differently towards the intervention group and the control group in ways that influence the results, if they know who is in which group. If a study isn’t blinded, it is known as an “open label” study.
So, why does anyone bother with observational studies at all? Why not always just do RCT’s? For three reasons. Firstly, RCT’s take a lot of work to organize. Secondly, RCT’s are expensive to run. Thirdly, people aren’t willing to be randomized to a lot of interventions. For example, few people would be willing to be randomized to smoking or not smoking.
There are those who would say that there is another, higher quality form of evidence, above the randomized controlled trial, and that is the systematic review and meta-analysis. This statement is both true, and not true. The systematic review is a review of all studies that have been carried out on a topic. As the name suggests, the review is “systematic”, i.e. a clearly defined method is used to search for studies. This is important, because it allows others to replicate the search strategy, to see if the reviewers have consciously left out certain studies they didn’t like, in order to influence the results in some direction.
The meta-analysis is a systematic review that has gone a step further, and tried to combine the results of several studies in to a single “meta”-study, in order to get a higher amount of statistical power.
The reason I say it’s both true and not true that this final tier is higher quality than the RCT is that the quality of systematic reviews and meta-analyses depends entirely on the quality of the studies that are included. I would rather take one large high quality RCT than a meta-analysis done of a hundred observational studies. An adage to remember when it comes to meta-analyses is “garbage in, garbage out” – a meta-analysis is only as good as the studies it includes.
There is one thing I haven’t mentioned so far, and that is animal studies. Generally, animal studies will take the form of RCT’s. There are a few advantages to animal studies. You can do things to animals that you would never be allowed to do to humans, and an RCT with animals is much cheaper than an RCT with humans.
When it comes to drugs, there is in most countries a legal requirement that they be tested on animals before being tested on humans. The main problem with animal studies is several million years of evolution. Most animal studies are done in rats and mice, which are separated from us by over fifty million years of evolution, but even our closest relatives, chimps, are about six million years away from us evolutionarily. It is very common for studies to show one thing in animals, and something completely different when done in humans. For example, studies of fever lowering drugs done in animals find a seriously increased risk of dying of infection, but studies in humans don’t find any increased risk. Animal studies always need to be taken with a big grain of salt.
One very important concept when analyzing studies is the idea of statistical significance. In medicine, a result is considered “statistically significant” if the ”p-value” is less than 0,05 (p stands for probability).
This gets a little bit complicated, but please bear with me. To put it as simply as possible, the p-value is the probability that a certain result was seen even though the null hypothesis is true. (The null hypothesis is the alternative to the hypothesis that is being tested. In medicine the null hypothesis is usually the hypothesis that an intervention doesn’t work, for example that statins don’t decrease mortality).
So a p-value of 0,05 means that there is a 5% or lower chance that a result was seen even though the null hypothesis is true.
One thing to understand is that 5% is an entirely arbitrary cut-off. The number was chosen in the early twentieth century, and it has stuck. And it leads to a lot of crazy interpretations. If a p-value is 0,049 the researchers who have carried out a study will frequently rejoice, because the result is statistically significant. If the p-value is on the other hand 0,051, then the result will be considered a failure. Anyone can see that this is ridiculous, because there is actually only a 0,002 (0,2%) difference between the two results, and one is really no more statistically significant than the other.
Personally, I think a p-value of 0,05 is a bit too generous. I would much have preferred if the standard cut-off had been set at 0,01, and I am sceptical of results that show a p-value greater than 0,01. What gets me really excited is when I see a p-value of less than 0,001.
It is especially important to be sceptical of p-values that are higher than 0,01 considering the other things we know about medical science. Firstly, that there is a strong publication bias, which causes studies that don’t show statistical significance to “disappear” at a higher rate than studies that do show statistical significance. Secondly, that studies are often carried out by people with a vested interest in the result, who will do what they can to get the result they want. And thirdly, because the 0,05 cut-off is used inappropriately all the time, for a reason we will now discuss.
The 0,05 limit is only really supposed to apply when you’re looking at a single relationship. If you look at twenty different relationships at the same time, then just by pure chance one of those relationships will show statistical significance. Is that relationship real? Almost certainly not.
The more variables you look at, the more strictly you should set the limit for statistical significance. But very few studies in medicine do this. They happily report statistical significance with a p-value of 0,05, and act like they’ve shown some meaningful result, even when they look at a hundred different variables. That is bad science, but even big studies, published in prestigious journals, do this.
That is why researchers are supposed to decide on a “primary end-point” and ideally post that primary end-point on clinicaltrials.gov before they start their study. The primary end-point is the question that the researchers are mainly trying to answer (for example, do statins decrease overall mortality?). Then they can use the 0,05 cut-off for the primary endpoint without cheating. They will usually report any other results as if the 0,05 cut-off applies to them too, but it doesn’t.
The reason researchers are supposed to post the primary endpoint at clinicaltrials.gov before starting a trial is that they can otherwise choose the endpoint that ends up being most statistically significant just by chance, after they have all the results, and make that the primary endpoint. That is of course a form of statistical cheating. But it has happened, many times. Which is why clinicaltrials.gov is so important.
One thing to be aware of is that a large share of studies can not be successfully replicated. Some studies have found that more than 50% of research cannot be replicated. That is in spite of a cut-off which is supposed to cause this to only happen 5% of the time. How can that be?
I think the three main reasons are publication bias, vested interests that do what they can to manipulate studies, and inappropriate use of the 5% p-value cut-off. That is why we should never put too much trust in a result that has not been replicated.
Absolute risk vs relative risk
We’ve discussed statistical significance a lot now, but that isn’t really what matters to patients. What patients care about is “clinical significance”, i.e. if they take a drug, will it have a meaningful impact for them. Clinical significance is closely tied to the concepts of absolute risk and relative risk.
Let’s say we have a drug that decreases your five year risk of having a heart attack from 0,2% to 0,1% . We’ll invent a random name for the drug, say, “spatin”. Now, the absolute risk redution when you take a spatin is 0,1% over five years (0,2 – 0,1 = 0,1). Not very impressive, right? Would you think it was worth taking that drug? Probably not.
What if I told you that spatins actually decreased your risk of heart attack by 50%? Now you’d definitely want to take the drug, right?
How can a spatin only decrease risk by 0,1% and yet at the same time decrease risk by 50%? Because the risk reduction depends on if we are looking at absolute risk or relative risk. Although spatins only cause a 0,1% reduction in absolute risk, they cause a 50% reduction in relative risk (0,1 / 0,2 = 50%).
So, you get the absolute risk reduction by taking the risk without the drug and subtracting the risk with the drug. You get the relative risk reduction by dividing the risk with the drug from the risk without the drug. Drug companies will generally focus on relative risk, because it sound much more impressive. But the clinical significance of a drug that decreases risk from 0,2% to 0,1% is, I would argue, so small that it’s not worth taking the drug, especially if the drug has side effects which might be more common than the probability of seeing a benefit.
When you look at an advertisement for a drug, always look at the fine print. Are they talking about absolute risk or relative risk?
How a journal article is organized
In the last few decades, a standardized format has developed for how scientific articles are supposed to be written. Articles are generally divided in to four sections.
The first section is the “Introduction”. In this section, the researchers are supposed to discuss the wider literature around the topic of their study, and how their study fits in with that wider literature. This section is mostly fluff, and you can usually skip through it.
The second section is the “Method”. This is an important section and you should always read it carefully. It describes what the researchers did and how they did it. Pay careful attention to what the study groups were, what the intervention was, what the control was. Was the study blinded or not? And if it was, how did they ensure that the blinding was maintained? Generally, the higher quality a scientific study, the more specific the researchers will be about exactly what they’ve done and how. If they’re not being specific, what are they trying to hide? Try to see if they’ve done anything that doesn’t make sense, and ask yourself why. If any manipulation is happening to make you think you’re seeing one thing when you’re actually seeing something else, it usually happens in the method section.
There are a few methodological tricks that are very common in scientific studies. One is choosing surrogate end points and another is choosing combined end points. I will use statins to exemplify each, since there has been so much methodological trickery in the statin research.
Surrogate end points are alternate endpoints that “stand in” for the thing that actually matters to patients. An example of a surrogate end point is looking at whether a drug lowers LDL cholesterol instead of looking at the thing that actually matters, overall mortality. The use of the surrogate end point in this case is motivated by the cholesterol hypothesis, i.e. the idea that cholesterol lowering drugs lower LDL, which results in a decrease in cardiovascular disease, which results in increased longevity.
By using a surrogate end point, researchers can claim that the drug is successful when they have in fact showed no such thing. As we’ve discussed previously, the cholesterol hypothesis is nonsense, so showing that a drug lowers LDL cholesterol does not say anything about whether it does anything clinically useful.
Another example of a surrogate endpoint is looking at cardiovascular mortality instead of overall mortality. People don’t usually care about which cause of death is listed on their death certificate. What they care about is whether they are alive or dead. It is perfectly possible for a drug to decrease cardiovascular mortality while at the same time increasing overall mortality, so overall mortality is the only thing that matters (at least if the purpose of a drug is to make you live longer).
An example of a combined end point is looking at the combination of overall mortality and frequency of cardiac stenting. Basically, when you have a combined end point, you add two or more end points together to get a bigger total amount of events.
Now, cardiac stenting is a decision made by a doctor. It is not a hard patient oriented outcome. A study might show that there is a statistically significant decrease in the combined end point of overall mortality and cardiac stenting, which most people will interpret as a decrease in mortality, without ever looking more closely to see if the decrease was actually in mortality, or stenting, or a combination of both. In fact, it’s perfectly possible for overall mortality to increase and still have a combined endpoint that shows a decrease.
Another trick is choosing which specific adverse events to follow, or not following any adverse events at all. Adverse events is just another word for side effects. Obviously, if you don’t look for side effects, you won’t find them.
Yet another trick is doing a “per-protocol analysis”. When you do a per-protocol analysis, you only include the results from the people who followed the study through to the end. This means that anyone who dropped out of the study because the treatment wasn’t having any effect or because they had side effects, doesn’t get included in the results. Obviously, this will make a treatment look better and safer than it really is.
The alternative to a per-protocol analysis is an “intention to treat” analysis. In this analysis, everyone who started the study is included in the final results, regardless of whether they dropped out or not. This gives a much more accurate understanding of what results can be expected when a patient starts a treatment, and should be standard for all scientific studies in health and medicine. Unfortunately per-protocol analyses are still common, so always be vigilant as to whether the results are being presented in a per-protocol or intention to treat manner.
The third section of a scientific article is the results section, and this is the section that everyone cares most about. This is just a pure tabulation of what results were achieved, and as such it is the least open to manipulation, assuming the researchers haven’t faked the numbers. Faking results has happened, and it’s something to be aware of and watch out for. But in general we have to assume that researchers are being honest. Otherwise the whole basis for evidence based medicine cracks and we might as well give up and go home.
To be fair, I think most researchers are honest. And I think even pharmaceutical companies will in general represent the results honestly (because it would be too destructive for their reputations if they were caught outright inventing data). Pharmaceutical companies engage in lots of trickery when it comes to the method and in the interpretation of the results, but I think it’s uncommon for them to engage in outright lying when it comes to the hard data presented in the results tables.
There is however one blatant manipulation of the results that happens frequently. I am talking about cherry picking of the time point at which a scientific study is ended. This can happen when researchers are allowed to check the results of their study while it is still ongoing. If the results are promising, they will often choose to stop the study at that point, and claim that the results were “so good that it would have been unethical to go on”. The problem is that the results become garbage from a statistical standpoint. Why?
Because of a statistical phenomenon known as “regression to the mean”. Basically, the longer a scientific study goes on for and the more data points that end up being gathered, the closer the result of the study is to the real result. Early on in a study, the results will often swing wildly just due to statistical chance. So studies will tend to show bigger effects early on, and smaller effects towards the end.
This problem is compounded by the fact that if a study at an early point shows a negative result, or a neutral result, or even a result that is positive but not “positive enough”, the researchers will usually continue the study in hopes of getting a better result. But the moment the result goes above a certain point, they stop the study and claim excellent benefit from their treatment.
That is how the time point at which a study is stopped ends up being cherry picked. Which is why the planned length of a study should always be posted in advance on clinicaltrials.gov, and why researchers should always stick to the planned length, and never look at the results until the study has gone on for the planned length. If a study is stopped early at a time point of the researchers’ choosing, the results are not statistically sound no matter what the p-values may show. Never trust the results of a study that stopped early.
The fourth section of a scientific article is the discussion section, and like the introduction section it can mostly be skipped through. Considering how competitive the scientific research field is, and how much money is often at stake, researchers will use the discussion section to try to sell the importance of their research, and if they are selling a drug, to make the drug sound as good as possible.
At the bottom of an article, there will generally be a small section (in smaller print than the rest of the study) that details who funded the study, and what conflicts of interest there are. In my opinion, this information should be provided in large, bright orange text at the top of the article, because the rest of the article should always be read in light of who did the study and what motives they had for doing it.
In conclusion, focus on the method section and the results section. The introduction section and the discussion section can for the most part be ignored.
My main take-home is that you should always be skeptical. Never trust a result just because it comes from a scientific study. Most scientific studies are low quality and contribute nothing to the advancement of human knowledge. Always look at the method used. Always look at who funded the study and what conflicts of interest there were.
I hope this article is useful to you. Please let me know if there are more things in terms of scientific methodology that you have been wondering about. I will try to make this article a living document that grows over time.
Meet Our Graduates: Jarred McKinney
“I’m far from exaggerating when I say that going to King was one of the better decisions of my life thus far. While there, I met my two best friends who flew all the way to Bethlehem, Palestine to be in my wedding. I fell in love with the Appalachian Mountains and developed a deep love for God’s creation. Perhaps most importantly, however, an insatiable curiosity was stirred up in me. I have no doubt that this was the result of professors who deeply love their craft, transferring, in some mysterious way, their passion for learning to us. At King, I learned that faith is something that ought to open me up to the world around me, not close me off from it. To this, King did not fill my head with a bunch of knowledge, hand me a piece of paper, and send me on my way. Rather, I was taught how to learn, how to think for myself. Yet, my education at King formed me for a world beyond that of Appalachia, both spiritually and intellectually. After a year traveling the world, the curiosity that King awakened in me then led me to complete a master’s in World Religions from Emory University. So, too, did this love of learning take me to Palestine to teach at the university level for a year. At the moment, I find myself pursuing an MDiv at Duke Divinity School. Yet for all these incredible experiences, King served as the catalyst.”
We were honored to have Jarred as one of our students at King. He’s already traveled the world now and has spent a good bit of time in Bethlehem. He married his wife Tala there and now attends Duke Divinity working on his MDiv. We look forward to seeing his life and work unfold with grace and style. Jarred is the middle one between two other fine King graduates.
Reported by Johanna Ross, September 25, 2020
When I reported on the leak of Integrity Initiative documents back in 2018/19 which exposed the extent of the UK’s propaganda war against Russia, I didn’t think it could get much more organised and coordinated than it was. Involving hundreds of journalists and academics across the globe to spin disinformation about Russia and paint the country in as negative a light as possible in the mainstream media, the UK government-funded campaign was as sophisticated as the information war gets. But here we are in 2020, still uncovering the true scope of western government influence on the narrative plugged by the mainstream media. And it doesn’t speak well for our ‘democracy’.
On 8th September the hacker group Anonymous published shocking revelations of how a concerted and organised campaign has been waged to support the anti-government rebels in Syria. One set of documents relates to the NGO ARK, which although brands itself as a humanitarian organisation, effectively functions as a vehicle for western-led regime change. In one of the papers it states:
‘ARK’s focus since 2012 has been delivering highly effective, politically- and conflict-sensitive Syria programming for the governments of the United Kingdom, United States, Denmark, Canada, Japan and the European Union.’
This is a somewhat different picture from the mission statement on their website:
‘ARK was created in order to assist the most vulnerable, particularly refugees, the displaced and those impacted by conflict and instability.’
Sounds lovely doesn’t it? But this organisation is far from charitable. In the last few years it has received $66 million from western governments to drive regime change in Syria. It boasts of relationships with Syrian opposition members that have been built up ‘over the years’, and we know that they date as far back as 2011, if not before, as its documents read ‘ARK staff are in regular contact with activists and civil society actors whom they initially met during the outbreak of protests in spring 2011’.
ARK also had a targeted propaganda campaign package for Syrian media. In the documents it is discussed how best to reach Syrian audiences to promote the regime change narrative, with success being achieved it is said, on digital media such as Facebook, but also through broadcast media. If there was ever any evidence that the mainstream media was bought, this is it:
‘To achieve a strong digital presence, ARK/Accadian will draw on its existing relationships with media organisations… Using its existing networks and connections, ARK/Accadian would target key Syrian satellite TV networks (Orient TV, Souria al-Shaab, Souria al-Ghad, Barada) and regional Arabic networks and primary international channels.’
What is extraordinary is the repeated use of the word ‘independent’ to describe the media outlets being promoted by ARK. The authors are clearly blissfully unaware that by interfering in the media of this sovereign state to promote the overthrow of the government, the media can hardly be termed ‘independent’ but instead an arm of the British state and its own particular political aims and objectives. The document reads:
‘Since ARK first began training citizen journalists in 2012, as part of HMG’s efforts to develop professional, 2 independent and self-sufficient local Syrian media organisations, it has trained more than 200 journalists and has been a key implementer of a multi-donor effort to develop media platforms inside Syria, maintaining close links with these organisations’.
It boasts having produced over 2000 news reports for various mainstream Arabic channels, including Orient, Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera and Sky Arabic which it says are ‘broadcast almost every day’. Some of the statements are pure, straightforward admissions of propaganda:
‘ARK has also facilitated contact between the Syrian opposition and international media, seeking to address the perception of an uncoordinated opposition by fostering the image of a united front.’
It is extraordinary the sheer brassneck with which this author writes about manipulating the Syrian public through propaganda. It has the stated goal of creating the impression of a united Syrian opposition, which of course there never was.
These documents contrast with the UK government’s website on ‘what it is doing in Syria’. There we are told that British involvement is limited to humanitarian aid as it ‘suspended all services of the British Embassy in Damascus and withdrew all diplomatic personnel from Syria in 2012’. The Anonymous hack shows that this is far from the truth. There has clearly been considerable British involvement in fostering regime change in Syria. If it weren’t for these leaked documents, the UK taxpayer would remain completely ignorant as to what foreign meddling is being carried out in his or her name.
For more detailed analysis and context of the hacked documents, please see Ben Norton’s report on The GrayZone.
Johanna Ross is a journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Detail: Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano Italian) is the cathedral church of Milan, Lombardy, Italy. Dedicated to the Nativity of St Mary (Santa Maria Nascente), it is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan.
From Tese Maggard Stephens: “My Jewish friends and colleagues reminded me of the significance of her death at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah AND at the time of Shabbat.”
זֵכֶר צַדִּיק לִבְרָכָה
The Sabra & Shatila Massacre
On September 16, 1982, Christian Lebanese militiamen allied to Israel entered the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila and the adjacent neighborhood of Sabra in Beirut under the watch of the Israeli army and began a slaughter that caused outrage around the world. Over the next day and a half, up to 3500 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, mostly women, children, and the elderly, were murdered in one of the worst atrocities in modern Middle Eastern history. The New York Times recently published an op-ed containing new details of discussions held between Israeli and American officials before and during the massacre. They reveal how Israeli officials, led by then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, misled and bullied American diplomats, rebuffing their concerns about the safety of the inhabitants of Sabra and Shatila.
- On June 6, 1982, Israel launched a massive invasion of Lebanon. It had been long planned by Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who wanted to destroy or severely diminish the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was based in Lebanon at the time. Sharon also planned to install a puppet government headed by Israel’s right-wing Lebanese Christian Maronite allies, the Phalangist Party.
- Israeli forces advanced all the way to the capital of Beirut, besieging and bombarding the western part of city, where the PLO was headquartered and the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila and the adjacent neighborhood of Sabra are located.
- Israel’s bloody weeklong assault on West Beirut in August prompted harsh international criticism, including from the administration of US President Ronald Reagan, who many accused of giving a “green light” to Israel to launch the invasion. Under a US-brokered ceasefire agreement, PLO leaders and more than 14,000 fighters were to be evacuated from the country, with the US providing written assurances for the safety of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians left behind. US Marines were deployed as part of a multinational force to oversee and provide security for the evacuation.
- On August 30, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat left Beirut along with the remainder of the Palestinian fighters based in the city.
- On September 10, the Marines left Beirut. Four days later, on September 14, the leader of Israel’s Phalangist allies, Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated. Gemayel had just been elected president of Lebanon by the Lebanese parliament, under the supervision of the occupying Israeli army. His death was a severe blow to Israel’s designs for the country. The following day, Israeli forces violated the ceasefire agreement, moving into and occupying West Beirut.
- On Wednesday, September 15, the Israeli army surrounded the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila and the adjacent neighborhood of Sabra in West Beirut. The next day, September 16, Israeli soldiers allowed about 150 Phalangist militiamen into Sabra and Shatila.
- The Phalange, known for their brutality and a history of atrocities against Palestinian civilians, were bitter enemies of the PLO and its leftist and Muslim Lebanese allies during the preceding years of Lebanon’s civil war. The enraged Phalangist militiamen believed, erroneously, that Phalange leader Gemayel had been assassinated by Palestinians. He was actually killed by a Syrian agent.
- Over the next day and a half, the Phalangists committed unspeakable atrocities, raping, mutilating, and murdering as many as 3500 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, most of them women, children, and the elderly. Sharon would later claim that he could have had no way of knowing that the Phalange would harm civilians, however when US diplomats demanded to know why Israel had broken the ceasefire and entered West Beirut, Israeli army Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan justified the move saying it was “to prevent a Phalangist frenzy of revenge.” On September 15, the day before the massacre began, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin told US envoy Morris Draper that the Israelis had to occupy West Beirut, “Otherwise, there could be pogroms.”
- Almost immediately after the killing started, Israeli soldiers surrounding Sabra and Shatila became aware that civilians were being murdered, but did nothing to stop it. Instead, Israeli forces fired flares into the night sky to illuminate the darkness for the Phalangists, allowed reinforcements to enter the area on the second day of the massacre, and provided bulldozers that were used to dispose of the bodies of many of the victims.
- On the second day, Friday, September 17, an Israeli journalist in Lebanon called Defense Minister Sharon to inform him of reports that a massacre was taking place in Sabra and Shatila. The journalist, Ron Ben-Yishai, later recalled:
‘I found [Sharon] at home sleeping. He woke up and I told him “Listen, there are stories about killings and massacres in the camps. A lot of our officers know about it and tell me about it, and if they know it, the whole world will know about it. You can still stop it.” I didn’t know that the massacre actually started 24 hours earlier. I thought it started only then and I said to him “Look, we still have time to stop it. Do something about it.” He didn’t react.”‘
- On Friday afternoon, almost 24 hours after the killing began, Eitan met with Phalangist representatives. According to notes taken by an Israeli intelligence officer present: “[Eitan] expressed his positive impression received from the statement by the Phalangist forces and their behavior in the field,” telling them to continue “mopping up the empty camps south of Fakahani until tomorrow at 5:00 a.m., at which time they must stop their action due to American pressure.”
- On Saturday, American Envoy Morris Draper, sent a furious message to Sharon stating:
‘You must stop the massacres. They are obscene. I have an officer in the camp counting the bodies. You ought to be ashamed. The situation is rotten and terrible. They are killing children. You are in absolute control of the area, and therefore responsible for the area.’
- The Phalangists finally left the area at around 8 o’clock Saturday morning, taking many of the surviving men with them for interrogation at a soccer stadium. The interrogations were carried out with Israeli intelligence agents, who handed many of the captives back to the Phalange. Some of the men returned to the Phalange were later found executed.
- About an hour after the Phalangists departed Sabra and Shatila, the first journalists arrived on the scene and the first reports of what transpired began to reach the outside world.
- Thirty years later, there is still no accurate total for the number of people killed in the massacre. Many of the victims were buried in mass graves by the Phalange and there has been no political will on the part of Lebanese authorities to investigate.
- An official Israeli investigation, the Kahan Commission, concluded that between 700 and 800 people were killed, based on the assessment of Israeli military intelligence.
- An investigation by Beirut-based British journalist Robert Fisk, who was one of the first people on the scene after the massacre ended, concluded that The Palestinian Red Crescent put the number of dead at more than 2000.
- In his book, Sabra & Shatila: Inquiry into a Massacre, Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk reached a maximum figure of 3000 to 3500.
- Following international outrage, the Israeli government established a committee of inquiry, the Kahan Commission. Its investigation found that Defense Minister Sharon bore “personal responsibility” for the massacre, and recommended that he be removed from office. Although Prime Minister Begin removed him from his post as defense minister, Sharon remained in cabinet as a minister without portfolio. He would go on to hold numerous other cabinet positions in subsequent Israeli governments, including foreign minister during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term in office. Nearly 20 years later, in March 2001, Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel.
- In June 2001, lawyers for 23 survivors of the massacre initiated legal proceedings against Sharon in a Belgian court, under a law allowing people to be prosecuted for war crimes committed anywhere in the world.
- In January 2002, Phalangist leader and chief liaison to Israel during the 1982 invasion, Elie Hobeika, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut. Hobeika led the Phalangist militiamen responsible for the massacre, and had announced that he was prepared to testify against Sharon, who was then prime minister of Israel, at a possible war crimes trial in Belgium. Hobeika’s killers were never found.
- In June 2002, a panel of Belgian judges dismissed war crimes charges against Sharon because he wasn’t present in the country to stand trial.
- In January 2006, Sharon suffered a massive stroke. He remains in a coma on life support.
The United States
- For the United States, which had guaranteed the safety of civilians left behind after the PLO departed, the massacre was a deep embarrassment, causing immense damage to its reputation in the region. The fact that US Secretary of State Alexander Haig was believed by many to have given Israel a “green light” to invade Lebanon compounded the damage.
- In the wake of the massacre, President Reagan sent the Marines back to Lebanon. Just over a year later, 241 American servicemen would be killed when two massive truck bombs destroyed their barracks in Beirut, leading Reagan to withdraw US forces for good.
- For Palestinians, the Sabra and Shatila massacre was and remains a traumatic event, commemorated annually. Many survivors continue to live in Sabra and Shatila, struggling to eke out a living and haunted by their memories of the slaughter. To this day, no one has faced justice for the crimes that took place.
- For Palestinians, the Sabra and Shatila massacre serves as a powerful and tragic reminder of the vulnerable situation of millions of stateless Palestinians, and the dangers that they continue to face across the region, and around the world.
At Least 37 Million People Displaced by US War on Terror, Study Finds
A new report by the Costs of War Project has found that at least 37 million people have been displaced by the US War on Terror; however, the group warns that the estimate is conservative and the real total could be far higher.
According to a report published on Tuesday by the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, at least 37 million people have been displaced, either internally or been forced to become refugees, in eight different countries as a result of the US War on Terror, begun in 2001.
For comparison, the population of the US state of California is 39.5 million, and the population of Canada is 37.59 million. However, the researchers warn that is a “very conservative” estimate, as the true number could be closer to between 48 and 59 million people.
The report focused on eight conflicts, including declared and undeclared war zones, where the US has carried out military operations under the guise of destroying international terrorism: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines.
The group’s data was compiled from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In Afghanistan, some 5.3 million people have been displaced in total since 2001, although this number is in considerable dispute, as the researchers concluded that 2.1 million Afghans had fled the country since 2001, but they also found evidence that as many as 2.4 million had fled just between 2012 and 2019. Another 3.2 million have been displaced internally. The researchers noted, however, that war and civil turmoil in the Central Asian country has continued almost nonstop since the late 1970s.
In neighboring Pakistan, the US war near the Afghan border has displaced some 3.7 million people, including 360,000 refugees abroad and 1.56 million from the border area.
Meanwhile in Libya, where the US supported the 2011 overthrow of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, at least 1.2 million people have been displaced in what the IDMC called a “state collapse trigger[ed] mass displacement.” At the start of 2020, the report notes, 451,000 remained internally displaced, and the civil war continues to rage.
Iraq has the largest total number, with 9.2 million people displaced by several wars. In March 2003, the US launched a massive invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and the brutal counterinsurgency war that erupted afterward had displaced some 4.7 million people by 2007. While the US war in Iraq officially ended in 2011, war erupted again just three years later in 2014, when Daesh roared into existence, and the US once again became involved in major combat operations in Mesopotamia. By 2020, 650,000 Iraqis remained refugees abroad, and 1.4 million had been internally displaced.
In neighboring Syria, where Daesh first established its would-be caliphate amid a civil war raging since 2011, the US became involved at several distinct levels over the years. The report was very truncated in its analysis, looking just at the five provinces where US forces fought on the ground – Aleppo, al-Hasakah, al-Raqqa, somDeir ez-Zor and Homs – and only since 2017.
By those criteria, 7.1 million had been displaced, including 470,000 internally. However, 220,000 of those have been just since October 2019, when the Turkish invasion of eastern Syria pushed 220,000 Kurds from their homes, including 17,900 who crossed the border into Iraq for safety.
However, the report notes that if a different metric were used – one including all of Syria beginning in 2013, when the US started arming Syrian rebel militias – the number of displaced persons increases massively to between 44 and 51 million people.
In Somalia, where the US has waged or supported wars for decades, “virtually all Somalis have been displaced by violence at least once in their life,” the Norwegian Refugee Council is quoted as saying in the report. From a population of 15 million, some 4.2 million have been displaced by US operations, including 80,000 refugees and 3.4 million internally displaced persons.
Like Somalia, Yemen has seen war rage for decades. The US began airstrikes in Yemen in 2002, pursuing al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but conditions deteriorated catastrophically in 2015, when Saudi Arabia and several of its allies, including the US, launched a war against the Yemeni Houthi movement.
The ongoing war, in which Saudi, Emirati and Moroccan aircraft have bombarded the country and supported militias on the ground as well as forces loyal to ousted Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, has displaced 4.4 million people. In 2019 alone, 400,000 more people were displaced. According to the OCHA, 100,000 Yemenis have been killed by combat operations since 2015, and another 130,000 have died from hunger and disease.
The Philippines is the only country on the list not located in southwestern Asia or northern or eastern Africa. However, the US-supported military operations in Mindanao against groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Abu Sayyaf and the Maute Group have displaced some 1.7 million Filipinos, nearly all of them internally.
“In documenting displacement caused by the US post-9/11 wars, we are not suggesting the US government or the United States as a country is solely responsible for the displacement. Causation is never so simple,” the authors note in the report. “Causation always involves a multiplicity of combatants and other powerful actors, centuries of history, and large-scale political, economic, and social forces. Even in the simplest of cases, conditions of pre-existing poverty, environmental change, prior wars, and other forms of violence shape who is displaced and who is not.”
Senior Lebanese political analyst Nasser Qandil explores what has changed between Hezbollah and Israel over the last 14 years since the ‘July War’ or ‘The Second Lebanon War’ in 2006.
After tracing the major changes and transformations in the military balance of power between the two sides over the last 14 years, Qandil then explores the current challenges facing Hezbollah inside Lebanon, particularly regarding the deepening economic and political crises in the country.
Note: we have added our own sub-headings in the below transcript to make for easier reading
Source: Al Mayadeen News
Date: July 12, 2020
Hezbollah 14 years on from the July War
Actually, regarding (Hezbollah’s) achievement of liberation (in the year 2000) free from any conditions or negotiations, any analyst can figure out that after the year 2000, the region was involved in a race between the Resistance and (Israeli) Army of occupation in which both (sides) tried to reinforce the reality that they wanted to reflect on May 24, 2000 (i.e. just before the liberation).
Israel wanted to say that it has positioned itself on the borders with the purpose of protecting the interior (of Israel); that the era of (the war of) attrition has ended; and that it is moving into a stage where it is able to direct (its) deterrent capacity at will. In contrast, the Resistance wanted to say that Israel has humiliatingly and forcefully withdrawn (from Lebanon); and that this withdrawal is not only the beginning of a countdown of the (Israeli) entity’s capacity to hold onto (occupied) land, but also (its capacity) to go to any (new) war again as well.
Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the Al Aqsa Uprising (“Al Aqsa Intifada”) certified what the Resistance was saying. (Israel’s) 2006 war on Lebanon was the contest that had to settle the previous contests and the (side) who wins this round, cements what it has said. Israel has worked on a plan, theory, mechanisms and appraisals, that is, it didn’t go haphazardly to war (in 2006). In short, Israel counted on “air warfare” theory and put it into practice in the (2006) war. However, the Resistance was aware of that, so it opted to strengthen its power on land, in order to cancel out the theory of air warfare, and to bring the enemy to the land to fight, engage in (battles) of attrition, and (ultimately) defeat it.
The Resistance was the victor. This was the outcome (of the war), because when we talk about ‘victory’ we are not referring to the historic and final defeat. Rather, we are just discussing this war (in 2006) in which the Resistance achieved victory and Israel was defeated again. As in the Lebanon war of the year 2000, or (more accurately) as reflected by the liberation in the (year) 2000, Israel lost its first pillar, that is, its ability to occupy (Lebanon) and remain in it. It also lost its second pillar in the 2006 war, which is its ability to wage war and achieve the goals (that it sets) as it wills.
After the 2006 war, the issue (between both sides) persisted. They entered a totally new and different race. The entity of the (Israeli) occupation is fighting to restore its honor and rehabilitate its image, whereas the Resistance is fighting the battle of becoming a regional power able to make the deterrence weapon (itself as) the policymaker. Since the year 2006, America put its weight behind (Israel’s goals) since Israel is not able to survive any longer without American protection and support. America went to Iraq after realizing that Israel superiority is (gradually) being eroded, and that it is important to rehabilitate its power and control through the American military presence to compensate for the deficiency in Israel’s ability that came about after Lebanon’s liberation in the year 2000 and the Al Aqsa intifada.
We all remember Condoleezza Rice and the ‘New Middle East Project’.
Exactly, and this was at the heart of the 2006 war. However, before this (war), America went to Iraq in order to redress the imbalance occurred after Lebanon’s liberation in 2000 and the Al Aqsa intifada, but they failed. The “July War” (2006) came as a second rehabilitation supported by American pressure, calculations and backing. It was a new failure that was added to the accumulated record of failures.
The only available alternative (choice) then was going to a great war, i.e. to topple Syria. This was like Armageddon. Nevertheless, other different battles, the Yemen war and the battle over the future of Iraq, occurred alongside the war (in Syria). They were no less important than the (war in Syria). Today, 14 years after the July War (in 2006), we can talk about facts and not about general trends only. The resistance (movements) transformed from being a resistance force into an Axis of Resistance. This becomes a fact; it is not just words. Today, when his eminence Sayyed (Hassan Nasrallah) speaks and says “I will kill you” – we’ll discuss this later – this (statement) reflects the (powerful reality) of the Axis of Resistance, from Beirut, to Palestine, to Iraq, to Yemen, to Iran and to Syria. This is the first major transformation that occurred between the years 2006 to 2020 during the heat of the several wars that raged over the map of the region.
The second (major transformation during these years): the ‘missile belt’ is now able to strike – from any point (within the Axis of Resistance) – any target in occupied Palestine (i.e. Israel). This means that as the resistance in Palestine is able to target all (areas of Israel) north of Gaza, the resistance in south Lebanon can target the entire (area of Israel) south (of Lebanon); the resistance from Iraq is even able to reach the (Mediterranean) sea; the resistance in Yemen can cover the whole territory of Palestine; and that’s besides (the missiles capabilities of) Syria and Iran.
The entire Israeli intelligence efforts have lately been centered on the missile capabilities of the resistance.
This ‘(missile) belt’ has been completed; it is not a subject of discussion anymore.
The third (major) development is the entrance of the drones (UAVs). The use of this weapon is not restricted to the Lebanese front line. Israel has evidence that confirms that. How many times were drones sent by the resistance from Lebanon? How many times were the Israelis lost because they failed to track the drones sent from Gaza? (Further evidence lies in) the drones in Yemen, and the achievement of the Aramco attack (in Saudi Arabia) that the godfather of the Dimona (Israeli nuclear program) and Thomas Friedman wrote about it an important article in the New York Times. The article states that what happened in Aramco (can be) repeated on all American military bases in the Middle East, and can be repeated (in a strike) on Dimona. Moreover, one of the Israeli generals quoted by Thomas Friedman during a telephone conversation says that it seems that we must now relinquish the status of being the number one technicians in the Middle East, (and cede that status) to Hezbollah and its allies, and (we ought to) call upon our people to carry hand rifles in any coming wars in which drones are used. Henceforth, the third factor is the drones.
The fourth (major) new factor is the precision-guided missiles which formed the center of the struggle during the last two or three years of the Syrian war. The Israeli (air) raids which initially aimed at stopping the supply of weapons to the resistance (from Syria to Lebanon) turned into a specific goal (during these years) which became ‘preventing the resistance from the possibility of transforming their missiles into precision-guided ones’. Today, the Israelis speak about precision-guided missile factories and this signifies that they have surrendered to this fact.
The last issue we are ignorant of was revealed by the video published (recently) by (Hezbollah’s) military media which says “Mission accomplished”. Certainly, it is not referring to the precision-guided missiles because his eminence Sayyed (Hassan Nasrallah) has already announced clearly and publicly that ‘yes, we have enough precision-guided missiles to hit any vital Israeli military installation in occupied Palestine’. But we still don’t know what is meant by “Mission accomplished”. This will stay one of the resistance’s surprises in the coming wars.
Israel 14 years on from the July War
What have Israel and America achieved in return? Their situation now is similar to that in the July War (2006); they go to war today on one foot only. It was the air force in (the) July (War) that they relied upon, and it is the financial sanctions (that they rely upon) today. Did the Resistance succeed in breaking this foot? I say “Yes, and we will expand on this discussion later.
We will continue discussing why the resistance succeeded…
In the first section we talked about the progress achieved by the resistance (Hezbollah) from 2006 to 2020. Israel also worked (on building its power) during these 14 years. Let us see what it did.
Host: … and of course (Israel) was given a green light by the US.
First of all, Israel focused on the home front. Its main aim was not to draw up a plan to seize the initiative, but to face the fallout of the July War. The resistance (Hezbollah) has risen higher and higher in its level of readiness, its networking capabilities (i.e. greater integration of the Resistance Axis across the region), and its ability to wage war. Meanwhile, what did the (Israeli) entity do?
(First), the Iron Dome that (Israel) was preparing (in order to intercept) Katyusha missiles is now threatened by precision-guided missiles and drones. (The Israelis) went back to saying that they will shoot down missiles with hunting rifles!
(Second), the (Israeli) home front has further collapsed, and now in the time of Corona, it is even worse.
Third, political fragmentation, which is one of the repercussions of the July War. Since the July War, the (Israeli) entity has been mired in its inability to reestablish a historical (political) bloc capable of leading the entity politically. This fragmentation reached its peak with three (consecutive) repeats of the election.
The last point that (Israel) has discovered (over the last 14 years) is that there is no solution to is broken spirit, because we are not only talking about equipment, armies, weapons and logistical plans, we are talking about human beings, about their mental condition. The resistance (Hezbollah) is now becoming more and more confident that it can bring down the (Israeli) entity. When his eminence Sayyed (Nasrallah) comes out and says in one of his recent appearances that there is a real possibility that the (Israeli) entity will collapse without war, and that this generation is going to witness the liberation of Jerusalem… On the other hand, we find the (Israeli) entity in a state of frustration. No matter how many (Israeli) generals say “We will win. Victory is ours in the coming war. We are waiting for the right opportunity to wage war”… what are you (Israelis) waiting for? You and the Americans said: “Time is not in our favor. Yesterday’s war is better than a war today, and a war today is better than a war tomorrow.”
Who is going to achieve Israel’s goals today? Who is the principal agent? The US? Because, as you said in one of your articles, Sayyed Nasrallah’s recent speech on 7/7/2020, presents the most vivid example of the (resistance’s) ability to defeat the Israeli occupation and American hegemony. But how is he (Nasrallah) able today to combine this (military) resistance with economic resistance?
What I want to get to is that in one of his appearances, his eminence Sayyed Nasrallah cut to the chase and said: “The resistance (Hezbollah) has already overtaken Israel. Israel is still standing thanks to US protection.” In 1996, the Resistance discovered – and this was the secret behind the liberation in the year 2000 – that the Israelis remained (in Lebanon) because they were under the illusion that the border buffer zone (that Israel established within Lebanese territory) protects the (Israeli) entity from the missiles of the resistance. So if (Israel) realizes that the border (buffer zone) is pointless and that the entity will be targeted no matter what, it will withdraw. And this is what happened (in the year 2000).
Today, his eminence Sayyed (Nasrallah) tells us that the resistance is certain that the (Israeli) entity continues to survive only because of the American presence (in the region), and that the decisive battle with the entity is a battle to expel the Americans from the region.
Whoever analyses the (American) sanctions and the logic behind them will discover that they are not aimed at escalating the situation such that it provokes a full-scale confrontation. This is nothing but propaganda. In fact, these sanctions have direct political goals. I mean, (Lebanese) parties affiliated to the US (in Lebanon) are proposing (very high demands such as) the disarmament (of Hezbollah) and the implementation of Resolution 1559 because this is the American approach. Just as they (Americans) did in 1983 with (Lebanese) President Amine Gemayel when they told him that they were (about to attack) Syria at the same time in which they were engaged in negotiations with (Syria). Two months later, McFarlane) the special US envoy to the Middle East) was asked: “why did you back out (of the attack)? You would have put (Gemayel) in big trouble.” McFarlane answered: “if we told (Gemayel) that we were (negotiating) with Damascus, he would have beat us to it. We trick our allies to make them think that we are escalating for the sake of imposing stronger terms in the negotiations.”
What do Americans want from the Caesar Act? Why are the Americans putting pressure on Lebanon, blocking access to US dollars in the (Lebanese) market, preventing the transfer of dollars to the country, and closing lines of credit – via the Central Bank of Lebanon’s accounts -for the purchase of fuel? What do they want? The Americans are not hiding (their intentions). They told us what they want. James Jeffrey (US Special Representative for Syria Engagement) told us. Why the Caesar Act? He said in the live appearance he made in which he spoke about the Act. He said ‘we wish to go back to (the balance of power) that existed before 2011. What does he mean by “before 2011”? He means the time when “we (Americans) will acknowledge the victory of President Assad. We were not present (in Syria before 2011), but Hezbollah and Iran were not there either. We leave (Syria), but (Hezbollah and Iran must) leave too.”
So he (Jeffrey) wants to ensure the security of the (Israeli) occupying entity in southern Syria by hinting at sanctions against Russia as the main target of the Caesar Act. Syria will be hit by sanctions anyway and Iran is drowning in a sea of sanctions. Therefore, these sanctions are actually against Russia. The Caesar Act was introduced originally at the beginning of 2016 in order to reach a compromise with Russia in relation to the battle in Aleppo. However, (the Caesar Act) now aims at reaching an agreement with Russia over the terms of the withdrawal of US forces from Syria and is not aimed at (prolonging) their stay.
Second, regarding Lebanon, David Schenker (US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs) publicly appeared on TV and said that Hezbollah is involved in ‘corruption, smuggling, money laundering, causing devastation, and that it is the cause of the crisis (in Lebanon)’ etc. Give it to me directly (Schenker), what do you want? He (Schenker) told us directly that “you are suffering greatly (due to the economic crisis). You have promising gas reserves in the (Mediterranean) sea, but they are in a region that is the subject of a dispute with Israel. We (the US) presented you with a plan, so accept it! So the US wants an exit strategy that provides the (Israeli) occupying entity with a security belt on the Syrian and the Lebanese fronts, and (the US seeks to achieve this) by exerting “maximum pressure on the resistance”.
This is the third pillar of the power of the Resistance. The first pillar is military capability. The second pillar is the political front, meaning the Axis of Resistance. The third pillar is economic reconstruction. Without a resistance economy, the resistance cannot speak of an ability to maintain a level of cohesion within its support base and environment. What I want to say here is that the measures and steps taken by the resistance are not new. It is not true that the resistance, being under pressure at the moment, is now discovering or searching (for solutions). This was in fact its original program. Its original program was and is ‘Openness to the East’, that (Lebanon) have multiple sources (for economic, financial, and political relations). Its original program is aimed at breaking the borders (created by) Sykes-Picot between the countries of the region to form a single (economic) market. Its original program is aimed at relying on industry, agriculture and the national currency for exchange with neighboring countries and where possible. This is the original plan of the resistance. But this plan is now being put into action. It is not a negotiating weapon to lure Americans into easing conditions. If the Americans want to cooperate they are welcome, but if they don’t we will proceed (with this plan). Either way, this plan is not subject to review. Industry and agriculture are objective needs (of Lebanon).
In terms of industry and agriculture, Lebanon … Lebanon, by the way – in the year 1960, the Iraqi market was running 60% of the Port of Beirut and 30% of Lebanese industrial production. Today, Lebanon, which used to export milk, cheese, juice, clothing and shoes to the Gulf, imports 200 million dollars worth of milk and cheese only! Thus, the revival of the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, which were destroyed by the rentier economy, was and is the original plan. We are not talking about a knee-jerk reaction.
Has the goal (behind the sanctions) become counter-productive? Because the Lebanese internal consensus over the economic resistance that Sayyed Nasrallah called for was remarkable. I want you to comment briefly because we exceeded the time allocated for this file. The Patriarch (Bechara Boutros) al-Rahi said today: “The Lebanese people today do not want any majority (group in Lebanon) to tamper with the constitution and to keep them away from (Lebanon’s) brothers and friends.” This is noteworthy as well Mr. Nasser, is it not?
The truth is, the speech of his Beatitude (al- Rahi), at certain points, was vague and unclear. It seemed like he was targeting the resistance by talking about neutrality and keeping Lebanon out of conflicts. However, today there may be another direction. I think the Lebanese people know that when we talk about buying oil products in Lebanese pounds… if you don’t want to buy them from Iran, then buy them from Saudi Arabia. Aren’t you friends with Saudi Arabia and the UAE? Let these countries sell us oil products in Lebanese pounds. Half of the demand for dollars in the Lebanese market is because of oil imports. We are depleting the reserves of the Central Bank of Lebanon. They will last us for five years instead of ten if we keep using them for oil imports.
His eminence Sayyed Nasrallah announced that Iran is ready to help, and since oil imports are consuming half of the budget, the resistance is proposing to remove half of the pressure on the US dollar, meaning (that the exchange rate) would return to 3000 or 4000 (Lebanese pounds per dollar) if we buy these oil products in Lebanese pounds. We are not bound to (importing) from Iran exclusively. Bring any offer from any other country.
True… for the Americans, the (economic) war was aimed at Hezbollah. However, the entirety of Lebanon is suffering the consequences of this war.
Here, I want to say something so we can put things in the right perspective. When the uprising began in October (2019), Pompeo and his team went beyond warnings. (Jeffery) Feltman (Former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs) said before the American Congress: “Do not overestimate the influence of this uprising. Let’s not allow Lebanon to become prey for China and Russia.” He said frankly that China wants Lebanon to be a base for its 5G (technology) in the Middle East.
The Americans are backtracking from this (maximum economic pressure) approach not only because of economic (considerations). Do not be mistaken. This is because a highly powerful security message was delivered to the Americans about what the resistance might do if the situation (in Lebanon) deteriorated further.
When someone with the great prominence, status, and figure of Sayyed Nasrallah comes out and says: “I will kill you, I will kill you, I will kill you” … These words were written down (on paper). He did not say them out of anger during his speech. He was establishing a (new) equation. He said: “You are making me choose between hunger or death. My answer is: I will kill you, I will kill you, I will kill you.” Mediators received questions asking them “what is going on? (what does Nasrallah mean here by ‘I will kill you’)” Then they got the answer. The answer might be – I do not know the answer, only the resistance knows it – but it might be in the form of strong military strike that the US and Israel would never expect. Is it the announcement of the zero hour for the expulsion of US forces from Iraq and Syria? Maybe. Is it a precision guided missile attack on the Dimona (nuclear reactor in Israel), for example? Maybe. Is it a (codeword) for opening up the (military) front in the south of Lebanon, and the Golan Heights front (from Syria) under the title of liberating the Shebaa Farms and the Golan Heights in one go? Maybe. This is the level and size (of the warning that Nasrallah directed).
The resistance will not stand idly by while its people suffer (from the deteriorating economic crisis). It will fight hunger by establishing the foundations of economic reconstruction because this is its project. This (economic reconstruction) has nothing to do with merely fighting (US) sanctions. (The resistance) found an opportunity to launch this project. Other (Lebanese parties) did not accept these proposals (before). Now it is the chance (to put them forward).
Do we want to change Lebanon’s identity by (economically) cooperating with China and giving rise eastern totalitarianism and who knows what, as some (in Lebanon) claimed? No. But does it make sense that the NATO (member) Turkey dares to go to Russia and buy S400 (missile systems), while we (Lebanese) don’t dare to buy Kalashnikov bullets that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri pledged to buy but did not dare to allocate funds for? We have 10 billion dollars’ worth of offers from China to build power plants, factories and tunnels under BOT (Build–operate–transfer) contracts, but we don’t have the courage to accept these offers because we are afraid that the US might be upset with us!
Saudi Arabia itself is now negotiating with China over avenues of cooperation…
Everyone is turning to China. (Check) the Boston Harbor now, all the equipment for loading, operating, and unloading are Chinese!
This all goes back to the American-Israeli concerns, Mr. Nasser.
This is the economic vision of the resistance. The (military) dimension (of this whole picture) is something else. The (military) dimension is the following: when they raise the bar of the financial threat, we raise the bar of the military-security threat.
Analysis of the 30 September 2013 BBC Panorama documentary Saving Syria’s Children and related BBC News reports.
Footage from the BBC Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children (SSC) was first shown on the BBC News at Ten on Thursday the 29th August 2013 as parliament was voting on whether to join a US-led military strike on Syria.
The report by Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway showed adolescent victims of an alleged incendiary attack writhing and groaning in apparent agony. The scenes were harrowing, but oddly unreal. The most frequent comparisons people make upon seeing the sequences are to The Walking Dead or Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.
SSC was broadcast a month later on 30 September 2013. Former local newspaper reporter Robert Stuart began corresponding with the BBC using its complaints procedure. As Stuart’s research continued a wealth of troubling information was brought to light:
- Accounts of when the alleged attack took place vary by up to six hours.
- Local witness statements – including from a Free Syrian Army commander – deny the attack took place.
- One of the alleged victims filmed by the BBC being stretchered out of the back of an ambulance screaming in agony can be seen in YouTube footage a short time earlier walking calmly and unaided into the same vehicle.
- Medical opinion is highly sceptical of the veracity of the alleged injuries presented in SSC. A GMC registered doctor concluded “the scene of the school children coming in with the burns was an act.”
- A former BBC employee, who has worked in Syria and knows Ian Pannell, has stated: “It was obvious to me that the casualties had been dressed up using CASSIM [Casualty Simulation].”
- One of the “stars” of SSC, Dr Saleyha Ahsan, fronted a BBC Newsnight report about highly sophisticated British military casualty simulation exercises – is there a connection with the alleged injuries seen in SSC?
- One of the alleged victims appears to have been identified as a resident of The Netherlands. Subsequent social media images suggest she was not scarred by an incendiary substance.
During production of SSC Ian Pannell and Darren Conway were embedded with Ahrar al-Sham, a then ISIS partner group co-founded by “one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted couriers“, Mohamed Bahaiah. Spanish authorities believe Bahaiah delivered surveillance tapes of the World Trade Centre to al Qaeda leaders in 1998. The BBC itself describes Ahrar al-Sham as “hard-line Islamist”.
Less than three weeks before filming on SSC began, Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS and other groups jointly killed over 190 civilians, including women, children and elderly men, and kidnapped over 200 mostly women and children.
After passing through an ISIS checkpoint unmolested – a remarkable occurrence in retrospect – the BBC Panorama crew is then able to film, at close quarters, an ambulance bearing the ISIS emblem as it unloads victims of the alleged incendiary attack. This was flagged with then Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry but she did not respond.
Numerous other issues include:
- The BBC failed to inform viewers that the other medic featured in SSC, Dr Rola Hallam, is the daughter of a prominent Syrian opposition advocate, who has publicly called for the west to arm the Free Syrian Army.
- An employee of the UK charity of which Dr Hallam is an executive has been photographed posing with an arsenal of weaponry, including assault rifles, an anti-aircraft gun and a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile. The Charity Commission found that this did “not raise sufficient regulatory concern”.
- The BBC blocks all footage from SSC on YouTube while ignoring countless other editions of Panorama on the platform – why?
- Why is London’s Frontline Club withholding video of an event at which Stuart confronted SSC cameraman Darren Conway over the alleged attack?
In May 2019 talkRADIO host Matthew Wright interviewed Robert Stuart and Keith Allen. Wright said on Twitter: “This is going to be fascinating – do look again at the footage in question by following the link (it follows straight after Keith Allen’s intro).”
The view that SSC contains fabricated scenes has been endorsed by:
Former UK ambassador Craig Murray
“This video of Robert Stuart is a must see. Let me pin my colours to the mast and say that I am absolutely convinced that the BBC did deliberately and knowingly fake evidence of chemical attacks.” https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2016/03/moderate-rebels-use-yellow-phosphorus-kurds-aleppo/
“Finally, it is worth noting that this Gdansk experience was one of a number which led me immediately to understand that the famous BBC report on “Saving Syria’s Children” was faked. The alleged footage of burns victims in hospital following a napalm attack bears no resemblance whatsoever to how victims, doctors and relatives actually behave in these circumstances.” https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/12/gdansk/
Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook
“But Stuart’s sustained research and questioning of the BBC, and the state broadcaster’s increasing evasions, have given rise to ever greater concerns about the footage. It looks suspiciously like one scene in particular, of people with horrific burns, was staged.” https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2017-03-08/is-the-bbc-still-lying-over-syria-footage/
US online magazine Paste
“Speaking of atrocity propaganda—very chic these days—the eminent BBC joined the club in 2013, throwing journalistic integrity to the wind with its broadcast of Saving Syria’s Children, a documentary that ostensibly showed the aftermath of an incendiary bomb raid. According to the report, the Syrian government used either napalm or thermite to attack schoolchildren in a remote district of Aleppo. The resulting footage, filmed in a nearby hospital, is bizarre in the extreme, with the alleged burn victims clearly taking stage directions from people off-camera. The story was dissected and ultimately exposed as a sham by journalist Robert Stuart, at which point the BBC began removing all traces of the film from YouTube, citing copyright issues. No formal retraction was ever made, to the BBC’s everlasting shame.” https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/04/lets-call-western-media-coverage-of-syria-for-what.html
Crowdfunding campaign video featuring Keith Allen
Presentation by Robert Stuart, Media on Trial, London, October 2017 (age restricted). Bitchute copy here.
Other presentations and interviews on Saving Syria’s Children
- Discussion with Mike Robinson and Patrick Henningsen of UK Column, February 2017
- Media on Trial, Leeds, May 2018 (update of London talk above).
- Interview with Robert Stuart, March 2019
- Interview with Robert Stuart, Matthew Wright Show, talkRADIO, May 2019
- Interview with Robert Stuart, April 2020
Copy of Saving Syria’s Children (most contentious section from 30:38)
Robert Stuart’s blog
BBC Panorama team embedded with ISIS partners Ahrar al-Sham
BBC Panorama team films ISIS vehicle at close quarters
Medical opinion on alleged injuries in Saving Syria’s Children
Responses to BBC Panorama’s footage on Twitter
Via: Stuart Littlewood / American Herald Tribune / August 27, 2020
“Semites are a language group not a religious group. They spoke (and still do) Semitic languages, especially the Canaanite and later Aramaic dialects of Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.
The Western world today is seething with accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’, a threatening term with nasty connotations. Before 1879 nobody had heard of ‘anti-Semitism’ although hard feelings towards Jews as a religious group had existed for many centuries. One thinks immediately of the atrocities of the first Crusades (1096), the massacre at York in 1190, and the expulsion of Jews from England by Edward I in 1290 (only to be allowed back in 1657 by Oliver Cromwell). But discrimination against Jews existed long before, in various countries and for various reasons.
Then along came a German agitator and journalist, Wilhelm Marr, who coined the expression ‘anti-Semitism’ knowing full well that it embraced all Semitic peoples including Hebrews, Arabs and Christians of the Holy Land. It wasn’t long before it was twisted to become a metaphor for hostility only toward Jews based on a belief that they sought national and even world power. More recently Holocaust denial and criticism of the state of Israel’s vile behaviour have been considered anti-Semitic. Anti-Zionism too is claimed to be anti-Semitic because it singles out Jewish national aspirations as illegitimate and a racist endeavour. Which of course they are, as Israel’s recently enacted nation state laws prove.
Indeed, some hardcore Israel flag wavers regard any pro-Palestinian, pro-Syrian or pro-Lebanese sentiments to be anti-Semitic even though those peoples are constantly victims of Israeli military aggression.
A catch-all smear weapon
The hijacking of the term anti-Semitism and its fraudulent conversion into a propaganda tool for defending the Zionist Project has enabled brazen attacks on our rights to free speech and attempts to shut down peaceful debate on Israel’s crimes. The word anti-Semitism, as now used, is a distortion of language and a deliberate misnomer larded with fear and trembling for those touched by it. This prompted Miko Peled, the Israeli general’s son, to warn a Labour Party conference that “they are going to pull all the stops, they are going to smear, they are going to try anything they can to stop Corbyn… the reason anti-Semitism is used is because they [the Israelis] have no argument…”
And so they did. Jeremy Corbyn, a genuine anti-racist, critic of Israel and champion of Palestinian rights, was soon gone. He was the only British leader who might have reduced Israel’s sinister influence on UK policy. But his Labour Party, like the cowards they are, surrendered to Israel lobby pressure and helped bring him down. Israel’s pimps at Westminster and in local parties across the country were able to chalk up a famous victory.
They even managed to force the Party to adopt the discredited International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism and incorporate it into the Party’s code of conduct. The new leader is their obedient stooge. He has publicly bent the knee, tugged the forelock.
Who has the claim?
However, it has been shown that most Jews today are not descended from the ancient Israelites at all. For example, research by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, published by the Oxford University Press in 2012 on behalf of the Society of Molecular Biology and Evolution, found the Khazarian Hypothesis to be scientifically correct, meaning that most Jews are Khazars and confirming what some scholars had been saying. The Khazarians converted to Talmudic Judaism in the 8th Century and were never in ancient Israel.
No doubt these finding will be challenged by Zionist adherents till the end of time. But DNA research suggests that no more than 2 per cent of Jews in present-day Israel are actually Israelites. So, even if you believe the myth that God gave the land to the Israelites, He certainly didn’t give it to Netanyahu, Lieberman and the other East European thugs who infiltrated the Holy Land and now run the apartheid regime. It seems the Palestinians (Muslim and Christian) have more Israelite blood. They are the true Semites.
As for Zionists’ preposterous claim to exclusive sovereignty over Jerusalem, the city was at least 2000 years old and an established fortification when King David captured it. Jerusalem dates back some 5000 years and the name is likely derived from Uru-Shalem, meaning “founded by Shalem”, the Canaanite God of Dusk.
In its ‘City of David’ form Jerusalem lasted less than 80 years. In 928BC the Kingdom divided into Israel and Judah with Jerusalem the capital of Judah, and in 597BC the Babylonians conquered it. Ten years later in a second siege the city was largely destroyed including Solomon’s temple. The Jews recaptured it in 164BC but finally lost it to the Roman Empire in 63BC. A Christian (Crusader) kingdom of Jerusalem existed from 1099 to 1291 but held the city for only 101 of those years. Before the present-day shambles, cooked up by Balfour and stoked by the US, the Jews had controlled Jerusalem for around 500 years, say historians – small beer compared to the 1,277 years it was subsequently ruled by Muslims and the 2000 years, or thereabouts, it originally belonged to the Canaanites.
Since the three main Semitic faiths – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – all have historical claims to Jerusalem and a presence there, and masses of non-Semitic believers around the world also wish to visit the holy places, the best solution seems to be the one recommended by United Nations General Assembly resolutions 181 and 194: that Jerusalem is made a corpus separatum, an open city administered by an international regime or the UN itself. Why this hasn’t been implemented isn’t clear. We’ve seen the abominable discrimination inflicted on Palestinian Muslims and Christians by Israel since seizing control of Jerusalem.
The other side could play word games too – and with more honesty. Anti-Semitism has been fashioned by the Zionists into a catch-all smear weapon. What if pro-Palestinian groups and the BDS movement declared themselves (in correct parlance) to be ‘pro-Semitic’, i.e. supportive of all those with genuine ancestral links to the ancient Holy Land and entitled to live there in freedom?
They could coin a new expression just like Marr and establish it through usage.”
Two weeks ago, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, the largest evangelical college in America, posted an Instagram photo of himself on a yacht with his arm around a young woman whose midriff was bare and whose pants were unzipped. This would have been remarkable by itself, but it was all the more so because Falwell’s midriff was also bare and his pants also unzipped. In his hand, Falwell held a plastic cup of what he described winkingly in his caption as “black water.”
The aesthetics of the photo would be familiar to anyone who’s ever been to a frat party, but they were jarringly out of place for the son of Moral Majority cofounder Jerry Falwell Sr. and a professional evangelical Christian whose public rhetoric is built on a scaffolding of sexual conservatism and an antagonism to physical pleasure more generally.
The backdrop of a yacht represents an entirely different hypocrisy, arguably a more egregious one: the embrace of materialism and the open accumulation of enormous wealth. Falwell, who has a net worth estimated to be more than $100 million, is not formally a “prosperity gospel” adherent, but he has nonetheless jettisoned those inconvenient parts of Christian theology that preach the virtues of living modestly and using wealth to help the less fortunate.
But for his public, the problem with the photo was the optics of carnal sin—the attractive young woman who was not his wife, the recreational drinking, the unzipped pants—none of which would be acceptable at Liberty University, where coed dancing is penalized with a demerit. In the moral hierarchy of white evangelical Christianity, carnal sin is the worst, and this thinking drives the social conservatism that allows evangelicals to justify persecuting LGBTQ people, opposing sexual education in schools, distorting the very real problem of sex trafficking to punish sex workers, restricting access to abortion, eliminating contraception from employer-provided healthcare, and prosecuting culture wars against everything from medical marijuana to pop music. Evangelicalism’s official morality treats all pleasure as inherently suspect, the more so when those pleasures might belong to women or people of color.
Fortunately for Falwell, evangelicalism has built-in insurance for reputational damage, should a wealthy white man make the mistake of public licentiousness widely shared on the Web: the worst sins make for the best redemption stories. Even better, a fall from grace followed by a period of regret and repentance can be turned into a highly remunerative rehabilitation. That, in fact, has been many a traveling preacher’s grift from time immemorial.
I grew up hearing such “testimonies,” personal stories that articulate a life in sin and a coming to Jesus, firsthand. I was raised in the 1980s and 1990s in a family of Southern Baptists who viewed Episcopalians as raging liberals and Catholics, of which we knew precisely two, as an alien species. These were perfectly ordinary sentiments in the rural Alabama town we lived in. My dad was a local lineman for Alabama Power, and my mom worked at my school, first as a janitor and, later, as a lunch lady. Nobody in my family had gone to college.
Besides school and Little League, church was the primary basis of our social existence. As a child and into my early teens, my own religiosity was maybe a tick above average for our community. I went on mission trips to parts of the US that were more economically distressed than my hometown, handed out Chick tracts (named for the publisher and cartoonist Jack Chick) with as much zeal and sincerity as a twelve-year-old could muster, and on one occasion destroyed cassette tapes of my favorite bands (Nirvana, the Dead Kennedys, the Beastie Boys) in a fit of self-righteousness, only to re-buy them weeks later because, well, my faith had its limits.
All the while, I was—to use a word evangelicals like to misapply to any sort of secular education—“indoctrinated” by teachers, family, church staff, ministry organizations, and other members of the community to view everything I encountered in the world through an evangelical lens. If I went to the mall and lost my friends for a few minutes, I briefly suspected everyone had been raptured away except me, a particular brand of eschatological fantasy that we were taught was perpetually in danger of happening. Even my scandalous moments, which, do-goody overachiever that I was, were few and far between, were colored by the church. My first real kiss, at fourteen, was an epic make-out session on a sidewalk during a mission trip to a suburb of Orlando, with an eighteen-year-old assistant youth pastor named Matt.
I was ten or eleven when I was baptized—or in Southern Baptist parlance, “born again”—and part of this process involved constructing my own redemption narrative: I lived in sin and would be saved by Christ. I recently rediscovered my own handwritten testimony on a visit to my mom’s house. In a child’s rounded, looping handwriting, I had confessed that I used to “cheat at games,” something I don’t remember doing at all. The likely explanation for this is that because sin is such an important prerequisite for redemption, my ten-year-old self had to fabricate one to conform to the required convention (never mind that such a falsification would be sinful itself).
And so I “gave my life to Christ” one Sunday during a regular church service—though it was also common for people to do so during revivals, where itinerant preachers and musicians would visit and deliver proselytizing sermons. These evangelical ministers were indeed charismatic, polished from years of practice. They came bearing branded merchandise and a well-honed redemption story that almost invariably included a brush with carnal sin. The standard plot involved a nihilistic pursuit of pleasure—generally, some combination of money, sex, and drugs—as a reaction to spiritual bankruptcy that only ended…when I hit rock bottom. But Jesus was there to pick me up, repair me with His love, and invest me with self-worth.
At the end of the sermon, congregants would be asked if they, too, would like to experience this kind of redemption. And many people did, tearfully but gratefully supplying their own testimonies of sin, emptiness, and regret. It’s an effective story because who doesn’t want to be rescued from their failures? Who doesn’t want an opportunity to be forgiven and start over?
One of the more memorable itinerant evangelicals I heard was Rick Stanley, whose mother had married Elvis Presley’s father, Vernon. In his telling, Stanley’s experiences with carnal sin and untoward materialism were largely a function of being Elvis’s stepbrother, and as the “sin” part of the narrative went, it was certainly more salacious than cheating at games. I even bought a copy of Stanley’s self-published memoir, The Touch of Two Kings. As adjacent-to-celebrity testimonies go, it was only outstripped in my memory by the visiting youth pastor who claimed to have almost converted Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor at a backstage party (which even then I assumed was news to Reznor).
I would expect, then, that Falwell’s fall is unlikely to be permanent. Indeed, Falwell has been forgiven by evangelicals before. He’s bragged about his penis size, and “nailing” his wife. There was the thing with the pool boy. According to former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, there are lots more racy personal photos—in clubs, at parties, on yachts. Until the world was forced to gaze at Falwell’s navel on Instagram, the reaction from the evangelical community was largely a shrug because men are allowed, even expected, to behave this way from time to time.
But judging from the demographic composition of the evangelical redemption circuit, this sort of reputational refashioning is uniquely accessible to white men. Unsurprisingly, there is no big traveling evangelical circuit for reformed female libertines. Men are readily forgiven, in particular, for sins of the flesh, whereas women are uniquely punished for them.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the abortion debate, which is not really about abortion at all. If you take the right’s claim about valuing life—a concern that seems rarely to extend to, say, the death penalty, or people’s access to affordable health care—the contradictions becomes clear. An antichoice movement that really valued life, on its own terms of reducing resort to abortion, ought to support two of the things most likely to prevent abortions: sex education and freely available contraception.
They don’t, because the point is not to prevent abortion but to police sex. The religious right is invested in sexually controlling women, and one way to do that is to make the consequences for sex outside of marriage for women who do not want children, or who are not ready to have them, so dire and onerous that no one has sex outside of marriage. The message I got in abstinence programs as a teenager was that if I didn’t want to run the risk of needing an abortion, I should “keep my legs shut” until marriage. Teenage boys are generally told to keep their pants on, in these programs, but are not shamed when, inevitably, they don’t.
Purity culture thus dictates that sexuality belongs to men, that they are its custodians. Teenage girls do not own their sexuality; their fathers do. (I’m grateful that my dad considers my sex life none of his business and always has, so I was never the recipient of a father-daughter “purity ring,” which, even at the height of my religiosity, I would have found creepy and inappropriate.) Even adult women do not own their sexuality; their husbands do. A Bible verse roughly translated as “wives, submit to your husbands” is routinely wielded to justify authoritarian marriages where the needs of women are never considered to be on a par with the needs of men.
This willingness to forgive powerful white men and allow them a standard that doesn’t apply to others also benefits Donald Trump, who has shamelessly pandered to white evangelicals while garbling their theology and citing “Two Corinthians” rather than Second Corinthians. Trump supporters—and I count some among my relatives—have used redemption theology to argue that Trump, despite what they generously refer to as his “flaws,” is a vessel for God’s work, simply because he endorses their biases and is willing to pantomime outrage over sins, carnal and otherwise, even as he personally continues to sin with impunity.
Trump also speaks to evangelicals’ resentments, the sense that they are a persecuted minority. In a pivotal early campaign speech at an evangelical church, a particular line stuck with the audience. “I will tell you,” he said. “Christianity is under tremendous siege, whether we want to talk about it or we don’t want to talk about it.”
Christianity is, of course, under no such thing. At least, not in America, where it is the majority religion and is so freely practiced that it permeates even parts of the US—government offices, public schools, courtrooms—where it ought to be barred by the Constitution. What white evangelicals perceive as under attack is a faux Christianity of manners, very often at odds with a Christianity that espouses justice. The redemption stories peddled by the evangelical right are never about a sinner who repents after a lifetime of exploiting renters as a landlord, after being horribly racist to black people or abusive toward women. The Christianity evangelicals care about disdains vulgarity more than it disdains injustice.
For now, Jerry Falwell Jr. is laying low. To execute the formula correctly, you need a period of contemplation and regret. And after that brief intermission, you can start selling tickets for the redemption tour.
Reported by Jonathan Cook
“When the Palestinian actor Mohammed Bakri made a documentary about Jenin in 2002 – filming immediately after the Israeli army had completed rampaging through the West Bank city, leaving death and destruction in its wake – he chose an unusual narrator for the opening scene: a mute Palestinian youth.
Jenin had been sealed off from the world for nearly three weeks as the Israeli army razed the neighbouring refugee camp and terrorised its population.
Bakri’s film Jenin, Jenin shows the young man hurrying silently between wrecked buildings, using his nervous body to illustrate where Israeli soldiers shot Palestinians and where bulldozers collapsed homes, sometimes on their inhabitants.
It was not hard to infer Bakri’s larger meaning: when it comes to their own story, Palestinians are denied a voice. They are silent witnesses to their own and their people’s suffering and abuse.
The irony is that Bakri has faced just such a fate himself since Jenin, Jenin was released 18 years ago. Today, little is remembered of his film, or the shocking crimes it recorded, except for the endless legal battles to keep it off screens.
Bakri has been tied up in Israel’s courts ever since, accused of defaming the soldiers who carried out the attack. He has paid a high personal price. Death threats, loss of work and endless legal bills that have near-bankrupted him. A verdict in the latest suit against him – this time backed by the Israeli attorney general – is expected in the next few weeks.
Bakri is a particularly prominent victim of Israel’s long-running war on Palestinian history. But there are innumerable other examples.
For decades many hundreds of Palestinian residents in the southern West Bank have been fighting their expulsion as Israeli officials characterise them as “squatters”. According to Israel, the Palestinians are nomads who recklessly built homes on land they seized inside an army firing zone.
The villagers’ counter-claims were ignored until the truth was unearthed recently in Israel’s archives.
These Palestinian communities are, in fact, marked on maps predating Israel. Official Israeli documents presented in court last month show that Ariel Sharon, a general-turned-politician, devised a policy of establishing firing zones in the occupied territories to justify mass evictions of Palestinians like these communities in the Hebron Hills.
The residents are fortunate that their claims have been officially verified, even if they still depend on uncertain justice from an Israeli occupiers’ court.
Israel’s archives are being hurriedly sealed up precisely to prevent any danger that records might confirm long-sidelined and discounted Palestinian history.
Last month Israel’s state comptroller, a watchdog body, revealed that more than one million archived documents were still inaccessible, even though they had passed their declassification date. Nonetheless, some have slipped through the net.
The archives have, for example, confirmed some of the large-scale massacres of Palestinian civilians carried out in 1948 – the year Israel was established by dispossessing Palestinians of their homeland.
In one such massacre at Dawaymeh, near where Palestinians are today fighting against their expulsion from the firing zone, hundreds were executed, even as they offered no resistance, to encourage the wider population to flee.
Other files have corroborated Palestinian claims that Israel destroyed more than 500 Palestinian villages during a wave of mass expulsions that same year to dissuade the refugees from trying to return.
Official documents have disproved, too, Israel’s claim that it pleaded with the 750,000 Palestinian refugees to return home. In fact, as the archives reveal, Israel obscured its role in the ethnic cleansing of 1948 by inventing a cover story that it was Arab leaders who commanded Palestinians to leave.
The battle to eradicate Palestinian history does not just take place in the courts and archives. It begins in Israeli schools.
A new study by Avner Ben-Amos, a history professor at Tel Aviv University, shows that Israeli pupils learn almost nothing truthful about the occupation, even though many will soon enforce it as soldiers in a supposedly “moral” army that rules over Palestinians.
Maps in geography textbooks strip out the so-called “Green Line” – the borders demarcating the occupied territories – to present a Greater Israel long desired by the settlers. History and civics classes evade all discussion of the occupation, human rights violations, the role of international law, or apartheid-like local laws that treat Palestinians differently from Jewish settlers living illegally next door.
Instead, the West Bank is known by the Biblical names of “Judea and Samaria”, and its occupation in 1967 is referred to as a “liberation”.
Sadly, Israel’s erasure of Palestinians and their history is echoed outside by digital behemoths such as Google and Apple.
Palestinian solidarity activists have spent years battling to get both platforms to include hundreds of Palestinian communities in the West Bank missed off their maps, under the hashtag #HeresMyVillage. Illegal Jewish settlements, meanwhile, are prioritised on these digital maps.
Another campaign, #ShowTheWall, has lobbied the tech giants to mark on their maps the path of Israel’s 700-kilometre-long steel and concrete barrier, effectively used by Israel to annex occupied Palestinian territory in violation of international law.
And last month Palestinian groups launched yet another campaign, #GoogleMapsPalestine, demanding that the occupied territories be labelled “Palestine”, not just the West Bank and Gaza. The UN recognised the state of Palestine back in 2012, but Google and Apple refused to follow suit.
Palestinians rightly argue that these firms are replicating the kind of disappearance of Palestinians familiar from Israeli textbooks, and that they uphold “mapping segregation” that mirrors Israel’s apartheid laws in the occupied territories.
Today’s crimes of occupation – house demolitions, arrests of activists and children, violence from soldiers, and settlement expansion – are being documented by Israel, just as its earlier crimes were.
Future historians may one day unearth those papers from the Israeli archives and learn the truth. That Israeli policies were not driven, as Israel claims now, by security concerns, but by a colonial desire to destroy Palestinian society and pressure Palestinians to leave their homeland, to be replaced by Jews.
The lessons for future researchers will be no different from the lessons learnt by their predecessors, who discovered the 1948 documents.
But in truth, we do not need to wait all those years hence. We can understand what is happening to Palestinians right now – simply by refusing to conspire in their silencing. It is time to listen.”
“The intriguing twists and turns following the catastrophic explosion at Beirut’s Sea Port have thus far had international repercussions, beginning with the visit of French President Marcon to Beirut just three days after the disaster; a visit that could hardly be classified as a visit of a foreign head of state to another country.
Marcon did not go to Lebanon just to meet with Lebanese President Aoun, even though the two did meet.
Macron met with the political leaders of Lebanon; aka the traditional power brokers, including the heads of militia who have steered Lebanon into the 1975-1989 civil war, destroyed the state that was once called the Switzerland of the East, and continued to rule Lebanon thereafter, leading to its almost total demise.
Macron’s visit left behind major pointers:
- With the arrogance of a returning colonial head, he literally told the Mafia leaders that he does not trust them. He announced that foreign aid will not be handed to Lebanese authorities and that they all benefited from the collapse of the Central Bank and that they know that he knows that.
- He shunned the Lebanese President Aoun at his news conference that followed his meeting with him and had him literally pushed away. This humiliation is forever etched on film.
- He promised to return to Lebanon on the 1st of September, the centennial anniversary of Lebanon in its current political and geographical form. He gave the leaders until that date to resolve the endemic problem of corruption otherwise he would bring in a new pact.
- What was least reported about his visit was his insistence that Hezbollah was represented in his meeting with Lebanon’s political leaders.
According to international law, French President Macron has no business interfering with Lebanese politics. Reality stipulates otherwise. What Marcon said to Lebanese leaders on the August 7 visit is tantamount to saying that France created Lebanon a hundred years ago, then left it later in Lebanese hands, but the Lebanese failed, and that the leaders have until the 1st of September 2020 (the centenary of the State) to fix it. Either way, Marcon will be back on the 1st of September to recreate Lebanon with or without them.
A few days after his departure, Western frigates steamed into Beirut’s devastated Sea Port and without any coordination with what is left of the Lebanese authorities.
With the military vessels came aid, medical aid in the form of field hospitals, medicines, as well as food and fuel aid, all of which are most welcome and needed by Lebanon. Of note was the ‘miraculous’ international attention and focus on a country and people who have been robbed by their own leaders and punished by the West for having Hezbollah involved in the political process of administering the country.
It would be foolhardy to assume that the Beirut Sea Port disaster and the decision for the UAE and Israel to formally establish a diplomatic relationship a few days later were events that were connected and deliberately planned and timed. Such initiatives take much time to develop. That said, the Beirut disaster might have lubricated some rusty deadlocks and facilitated some movements, decisions, and possibly generated some unforeseeable domino effects.
Whichever way seen, the situation in Lebanon reached a breaking point, perhaps only salvageable by way of radical measures including steps to save its people from certain famine.
As a secular Syrian/Lebanese Levantine who is patriotic and endeavours to see the Levant united, strong and in a position of self-determination, I cannot see a more important political objective to pursue other than achieving the ability of self-determination. After all, this is what all self-respecting people demand and expect.
In the following few paragraphs, I am stating historical facts that do not necessarily reflect my point of view.
Egypt took upon itself the slogan of ‘total liberation of Palestine’ during the era of Egyptian President Nasser from 1952 to 1970. But his successor, Sadat, was the first to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1978. Nearly a decade earlier however, Jordan expelled the PLO from its territory, inadvertently sending its fighters to Lebanon. In 1969, and after a number of clashes between the Lebanese Army and the PLO, a deal was brokered by Egyptian President Nasser between the Lebanese Government and the PLO and which allowed the PLO to use Lebanese soil to launch attacks on Israel. That was known as the Cairo Accord.
For better or for worse, the Cairo Accord marked the end of Lebanon as a neutral state and put it in the forefront of confrontation with Israel.
If we apply the above to the politics and political positions within Lebanon, please allow me to put on the hat of the devil’s advocate and speak on behalf of the anti-Axis of Resistance sector.
As other Arab states have walked away from their roles in being defendants of the Palestinian cause and sold out to the Western Road Map one way or another, many Lebanese who have lived and were brought up with the concept that Lebanon was/is the Switzerland of East, neither accept nor understand why it suddenly became the spearhead of resistance against the Israeli/American/NATO-based influence of hegemony.
If we add to this predicament the modus operandi of Israel and its Western backers, where adversaries and potential ones are given ultimatums to comply to their agendas or face decimation, then Lebanon has been placed in a very dangerous position, and in reality, it was.
Prior to this, after two decades of Arab-Israeli wars, Lebanon remained neutral. Even during the 1967 so-called Six-Days-War, Lebanon maintained its neutral stance and did not partake. With Egypt signing a peace treaty with Israel, and Jordan following, the Axis-of-Resistance was transformed and reduced to the North-East borders of Israel; ie the Syrian/Lebanese-Israeli borders.
Many Syria haters condemn Syria for not opening its borders for direct confrontation with Israel since 1967. What those critics fail to understand is that Syria was not equipped sufficiently to fight a conventional war with Israel; especially after the dismantling of the USSR. Syria however did everything within her power to provide the Axis-of-Resistance forces in Lebanon with all support possible to engage in asymmetric wars with Israel, and the investment paid dividends; the most impressive of which was the liberation of South Lebanon from Israeli forces in May 2000.
Many Lebanese will disagree with the above and proclaim that Lebanon was left alone. In more ways than one, they are right given that, notwithstanding Syria’s support, all of the military confrontations actually took place on Lebanese soil. This ultimately meant that the entire onus of the Arab cause of confrontation with Israel has been thrown on the shoulders of the little state of Lebanon.
Many Lebanese are supportive of this view, including pro Axis-Of-Resistance Lebanese who feel that they have been sold out by Arab complacency and treachery.
In reality, Arabs have to make up their minds and do this collectively. They must either decide to resist the American/Israeli Road Map or agree to endorse it. Neither stand is being taken where instead they stand on a half-way mark; a mark that does not hurt them, but is devastating Lebanon.
Recently, the Arabian Gulf states publicly made direct and indirect indications of desiring peace with Israel. However, they lacked the fortitude to sign peace agreements despite often working together covertly and at times overtly. In the last few days, the United Arab Emirates decided to break the mould and establish reciprocal diplomatic relationships with Israel. This came as no surprise.
Of interest is that Lebanese President Aoun appears to be capitalizing on this event in order to extract himself out of the corner he painted himself in.
Beaten, abandoned and shunned, in a recent address, Aoun hinted to the possibility of negotiating peace with Israel.
Aoun has a long history of a revolving door when it comes to changing allies and enemies. As Army Chief in the early 1980’s, he was an ally of the Christian Militia (Lebanese Forces) and jointly fought the Syrian Army presence in Lebanon. Later that decade, he turned against the ‘Lebanese Forces’ and, in the midst of a sectarian civil war, engaged himself in a bitter Lebanese Christian Maronite versus Christian Maronite battle, causing much devastation to an already shattered Beirut and neighbouring areas. This was just before he was forced into exile in France by the Syrian Army, only to return to Lebanon fifteen years later as an ally of Syria and Hezbollah in 2005.
In his ascendance to the Presidency in 2016, an achievement finally reached at the age of 80, unlike others who virtually inherited the position from their elders, Aoun displayed, at least publicly, a spark which many interpreted as coming from the fact that he, independently, built his own political career.
Senile as he may appear, and under the influence of his highly corrupt son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, he is possibly still capable of finding alternative ways to survive, at least for the continuation of his legacy that could see his son-in-law at the presidential helm.
According to a private political source from a friend who is well connected, away from the public eye, some negotiations are underway between France and Hezbollah. The insistence of France to have Hezbollah represented in the wider meeting of Lebanese leaders with Marcon was only meant to be an introduction for further talks, and specifically to more bilateral talks that involve France and Hezbollah. According to the friend, Macron is trying to push for a French initiative that breaks the deadlock between Hezbollah and the West. The details of such talks are not clear yet, but all parties to be involved will be asked to accept certain concessions.
As a matter of fact, it has been reported recently that Macron has told Trump that the American sanctions on Lebanon are counterproductive. This makes one wonder if this is an attempt on the part of Macron to bolster his initiative with credibility and support from Hezbollah. With this said, Macron will have to take a very long shot to be trusted by Hezbollah, if this is achievable at all.
In the meantime, President Aoun is quite aware of this and is feeling excluded and abandoned, even by Lebanon’s traditional ‘mother’; ie France. He is in desperate need to resurrect his position.
In touting peace talks with Israel, Aoun seems to be making three pertinent statements. He is signaling to Hezbollah that he is prepared to sever his political alliance with them, but more importantly, he is signaling to the whole West, primarily to the USA, that he is a viable negotiation partner, desirous to sign a peace treaty with Israel. He knows how such words resonate to American foreign policy architects. Most importantly perhaps, Aoun is signaling to Macron that it is pay-back time. He is showing Marcon the finger and reciprocating his ‘undiplomatic’ demeanour, presenting to him that he is prepared to marginalize Marcon and France as a whole by directly talking to America, leaving France out of a new historic Middle East peace deal.
Such a desperate attempt may lure America to sit at the negotiating table with Aoun, but it will not resolve the anger and agitation against the leadership regarding the numerous domestic problems leading up to the Sea Port disaster and what followed.
Will the USA swallow Aoun’s bait and go out of its way to save his hide? No one knows. What seems inevitable is that, with or without any warming up of relations between France and Hezbollah, Hezbollah is undertaking much restructuring and reinvention. Hezbollah leadership is quite aware that the time of its political alliance with Aoun is over one way or another, and is currently considering the implementation of many changes, albeit their details remain unclear.
The events of the next few weeks, especially following the upcoming second visit of Macron on the 1st of September, will be pivotal in deciding the fate and roles of all stakeholders and entities that have held the fate of Lebanon in their hands.”
“A UN-backed tribunal says it has not been able to establish any link between a 2005 blast in Beirut that killed Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafiq Hariri and the Hezbollah resistance movement or the Syrian government.
The so-called Special Tribunal for Lebanon (SDL) read out a summary of the 2,600-page verdict at The Hague on Tuesday after trying for 15 years and spending some $1 billion to prove allegations of association between the explosion and the Lebanese resistance movement or Damascus.
“There is no evidence that the Hezbollah leadership had any involvement in Mr. Hariri’s murder and there is no direct evidence of Syrian involvement,” said Judge David Re.
Lebanon’s an-Nahar daily ran the headline, “International Justice Defeats Intimidation” even before the decision was announced, referring to extensive attempts by certain parties within and outside the country to implicate the resistance group in the crime.
Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah had also said on Friday that he was not concerned about the proceedings, and that if any members of the resistance movement were claimed to be guilty, Hezbollah would stand by their innocence.
The tribunal, however, did not stop short of echoing those who have been trying to make the unfounded allegations against the resistance group and Damascus.
“The trial chamber is of the view that Syria and Hezbollah may have had motives to eliminate Mr. Hariri and his political allies,” the judge said.
Observers said the latter part of the verdict showed that the countries that forced the United Nations Security Council into forming the tribunal in the first place — based on unproven hypotheses, without any legal basis, and in violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty — were still influencing the verdicts that it issues.
Hezbollah — which has rejected the jurisdiction and independence of the court — has denied any link to or interest in the atrocity.
The group has invariably proven itself as a unifying factor in the country, including by forcing Israel into retreat in the occupying regime’s 2000 and 2006 wars on the country.
Israel’s Channel 1 once alleged an association between four people with alleged links to Hezbollah and the 2005 explosion.
The tribunal considered the allegations worthy of its consideration and convicted one of the four, whom it identified as “the main defendant.”
Even with regard to the four, lawyers appointed by the tribunal itself said there was no physical evidence linking them to the crime and that they had to be acquitted.
Hezbollah has condemned the tribunal for serving as an opportunity for Tel Aviv to achieve its “unachieved” goals in Lebanon.”
“The US exited the Iran nuclear deal and therefore has no right to demand a ‘snapback’ of UN sanctions on Tehran, the foreign ministers of three European powers involved in the JCPOA said in response to Washington’s latest push.
“France, Germany and the United Kingdom, the so-called E3, note that the United States has not been a member of the JCPOA since their withdrawal from the agreement on May 8, 2018,” their respective foreign ministers Jean-Yves Le Drian, Heiko Maas and Dominic Raab said in a statement on Thursday.
Therefore, the E3 “cannot support” the US demand for UN sanctions against Iran to be reimposed, as it is “inconsistent” with their current efforts to implement the deal, the trio added.
JCPOA stands for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the name given to the 2015 nuclear agreement negotiated by the Obama administration, endorsed by all five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.
Citing UNSC Resolution 2231, which codified the deal, US envoy to the UN Kelly Craft officially requested the “snapback” of sanctions on Thursday, accusing Iran of “significant non-compliance” with the deal. However, China has previously pointed out that the US is not eligible to make that request, having exited the treaty unilaterally. The E3 statement indicates the Europeans share Beijing’s stance on the issue.
The E3 statement came during the press conference US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was giving at the UN, declaring confidently that the rules of the Security Council are “straightforward” and will lead to the sanctions being restored.