The failed Arab Spring

It was in January 2011 that the “Arab Spring” began with the ousting of the President of Tunisia. The overthrow of repressive regimes throughout the Middle East was inspiring. But now, five years later, Islamic State is creating mayhem. There are civil wars in Syria and Yemen. The Sunni-Shia conflict has increased in Iraq which has been destabilised further by the civil war in Syria. There are authoritarian governments in Egypt and Bahrain and the Tunisian government is becoming more dictatorial. The Libyan central government has collapsed. Turkey is attacking the Kurds across its border in Iraq and Syria. Then there is the huge number of migrants fleeing the conflicts.

One of the causes of the failure of the Arab Spring has been the fact that the removal of dictators has not been followed up by the establishment of democracy and a trustworthy state. The Islamic movement was seen as the means for opposition. Initially, the west failed to see that the opposition in Syria and Iraq was becoming dominated by extreme Islamists.

So the Middle East has become more unstable than for at any time in the last century.

The colonial background

One of the factors which has caused tension in the Middle East and which drives the extreme Islamists is what the colonial powers did back in 1916. Britain and France secretly agreed to divide up the old Ottoman Empire between them. They created modern Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine without regard to the people groups and religious affiliations. This did not go down well with the Arabs and led to distrust of the West.

More recently the Western powers have not supported various Middle Eastern countries as well as they should. During the Cold War the US and the Soviet Union supported weak regimes because their collapse could have given an opportunity to one side or the other. That need is no longer relevant. So there are numerous conflicts in the region.

Christianity disappearing

A report has been published by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), entitled “Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2013-15.” In it John Pontifex, ACN Head of Press and Information, said: “A cultural genocide of Christians is erasing the presence of faithful from large swathes of the Middle East, the very heartland of the Church. Far from laying the entire blame for persecution against Christians at the door of extremist Islam [the report] demonstrates that many of the problems stem from non-Muslim extremist – nationalist – faith groups and historically communist totalitarian regimes.” The Middle Eastern countries where Christians are most at risk include Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria.

Saudi Arabia

I have written elsewhere about the secret agreement between the UK and Saudi Arabia to ensure that both countries are on the UN Human Rights Council. Yet Saudi Arabia has a bad human rights record and executes one person every two days, normally by beheading. When Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary, was asked if the UK should be urging the Saudis to reform their policies he responded: “That is not the way the world works. You can’t just trade with the countries you approve of, otherwise you would be ruling out trade with China, Russia, and probably three-quarters of the world.” However, that should not involve the UK doing such things as helping Saudi Arabia to be on the Human Rights Council. Little wonder that The Independent carried an editorial in January 2016 which stated: “Britain’s policy towards Saudi Arabia is a disgrace.”

Syria

Saleh Muslim, a Syrian Kurdish leader, warned that if Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, is defeated by the rebels it would be a world calamity because they are dominated by Isis and al-Qaeda terrorists. Yacoub el-Hillo, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Syria, warned that because of the conflict in Syria “Europe will be faced with a refugee situation similar to the one that led to the creation of [the UN Refugee Agency] UNHCR in 1950”.

Egypt

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of Egypt, is becoming increasingly dictatorial. There are 40,000 political prisoners in Egypt, half of them supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and many of them sentenced to death. This has encouraged extremists like Isis. Sinai is now as much under Isis control as Egyptian control.

Iran

Despite the agreement that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons (for 10-15 years), it is still a threat. Many countries don’t trust the Iranian regime. Iran backs Assad’s government in Syria, as well as Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both of which do not accept the legitimacy of Israel. It also backs the Shia Muslim rebels in Yemen. The new freedom which Iran now enjoys could provoke a major Sunni versus Shia conflict throughout the Middle East. This could lead Saudi Arabia and Egypt into a nuclear arms race. Iran’s antagonism to Israel continues with Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan calling Israel “the world’s centre of evil, espionage and warmongering.”

Conclusion

The Arab Spring has turned into the Arab Winter. There is great instability and ominous rivalry. Amongst the many innocent people who are suffering from the situation in the Middle East are millions of Christians. We need to pray for them and for the Middle East generally.

The “Arab Spring”

The so-called Arab Spring was a remarkable series of events including the following:

December 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire because the authorities had confiscated his produce. This was the culmination of many years of such maltreatment and it sparked protests in Tunisia and elsewhere, including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Oman, Syria and Yemen.

January 2011 The Tunisian President fled to Saudi Arabia. A few days later protests in Egypt forced the Egyptian President to resign.

March 2011 Protests against President Assad began in Syria leading to a prolonged war with many atrocities.

October 2011 Lybian President Gaddafi was killed after a 9-month conflict.

February 2012 The President of Yemen resigned after protests.

June 2012 Mohammed Morsi of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood was elected President of Egypt.

July 2013 Millions of Egyptians demonstrated against Morsi forcing his resignation.

May 2014 Former army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi was elected President of Egypt

Many people saw all this as a positive revolution which would establish democracy in the Middle East. But it was not to be. Instead, there were many sinister developments. One early example happened in August 2013 when Muslims set fire to over 70 Christian churches in Egypt. Since then extreme Islamists have come to the fore, especially in Iraq, Syria and Lybia. The most prominent is, of course, the so-called Islamic State (Isis). The removal of dictators has opened the way to far more extreme leadership taking over. This had happened much earlier when the Shah of Persia (Iran) was overthrown in 1979 and replaced by hard-line Islamists. On June 29th 2014 Isis announced that it had re-established the Islamic Caliphate (global Islamic state) led by the Caliph Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. One Iraqi politician said that the Arab Spring had become an Islamic Spring.

International chaos in the Middle East

Isis seems to be aiming at weakening Arab states and their armies so that it will be able to gain more influence and make it easier to ‘liberate’ the Palestinians from Israeli control. Turkey, Iran and Israel are the only strong states in the Middle East.

Syria and Iraq

Syria and Iraq are, of course, deeply divided and largely ungovernable. They are well on the way to becoming failed states. Isis (which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is now in control of more than half of Syria and controls all the border crossings between Syria and Iraq. Their intermediate aim is a Middle East Islamic state which includes the territories of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Israel. Syria is crucially important for Isis because they see it as the heart of the Islamic State on the border of Palestine. They see it as the road to Jerusalem. Isis is known to have some chemical weapons but there is fear that they will gain more from Syrian sources. Israel is afraid that Hezbollah, the Islamist group based in Lebanon, also could get hold of Syrian chemical weapons and smuggle them into Lebanon. Some experts are afraid that people could be exposed to biological weapons such as anthrax, plague, and cholera which could cause pandemics that are very difficult to control.

Iraq is divided between a Shia Muslim majority and a more traditional Sunni minority. But Isis (which is Sunni extremist) also holds large areas of the country and at times the Iraqi army has shown it is not up to withstanding it.

Egypt

Egypt initially accepted 300,000 Syrian refugees but since Morsi was deposed has turned against them. President Sisi is authoritarian and there have been unfair trials and an increasing number of executions. Morsi has been sentenced to death and the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed.

Militant Islamists have mounted attacks particularly in North Sinai. Hundreds of police and soldiers have been killed. One terrorist group called Sinai Province has links with Isis.

Egypt receives financial support from the Saudis and the Emirates. It is regarded as supporting Israel against Hamas in Gaza which is seen as a terrorist group.

Iran

Iran is an oppressive regime which restricts human rights. It is strongly opposed by the Saudis and the Gulf States. It co-operates with Hezbollah in Lebanon to support President Assad of Syria. The US is, of course, seeking to ensure that Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons. President Obama stated in April 2015 that Iran will accept “the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear programme in history. If Iran cheats, the world will know it. This deal is not based on trust. It’s based on unprecedented verification.” However Israel is very suspicious of the agreement and believes Iran will not keep to it. Clearly the Saudis share this suspicion.

Jordan

Jordan has received 600,000 Syrian refugees. This, together with the surrounding chaos in Iraq and Syria is creating a serious crisis in Jordan and fears that the conflict could spill over into its territory.

Kuwait

Kuwait is an oppressive regime which curtails freedom of speech. David Cohen, Deputy Director of the CIA, once described Kuwait as the “epicentre of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria” However Kuwait is regarded as an important ally by the West.

Lebanon

Lebanon has suffered by being caught up in battles between countries such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia and it fears that the Syrian conflict could spill over into its territory. Fears are also raised by the strong connections between Iran and Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon and is regarded by many as a terrorist group.

It is a country where citizenship is only available to members of one of 18 approved religious groups. Power is shared out between these groups and, especially in the context of a weak state, this leads to an acceptance of compromise.

Lebanon has one million Syrian refugees, the equivalent of one fifth of the Lebanese population. The presence of the pro-Assad Shia group Hezbollah in the country has caused violent reactions from the Sunni community

Libya

Since 2014 there has been civil war in Libya. Central government has collapsed and the numerous militias are out of control. The country is moving towards being a failed state. Libya is very dangerous and journalists tend not to go there. Isis has moved into territory which is not controlled by the state and set up training centres for extremists. It was from there that the recent massacre in Tunisia was mounted.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is dominated by Wahhabism, a very strict version of Sunni Islam. It is repressive and carries out severe punishments, including many beheadings. No political parties are allowed. The Saudis, assisted by Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates have funded Sunni rebels in Syria and Iraq. However Saudi Arabia has 25% of the world’s oil supplies so western governments want to maintain good relationships with the country despite its bad human rights record. Hence Saudi Arabia has recently hosted a conference on Human Rights run by the UN Human Rights Council. The country is also the British arms industry’s largest customer.

Although the Saudis have funded Islamic fundamentalists around the region, it has now rebounded on them as extremist groups are threatening the Saudi leadership. They are also very threatened by the extensive influence of Iran in the Middle East, especially in Iraq. They have made it clear that if the US is not successful in preventing Iran developing nuclear weapons they will acquire them too. It is thought that the Saudis funded 60% of the development of the Pakistan nuclear weapons on the basis that they would be allowed to obtain some of those weapons if necessary. Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal has said: “Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too.”

Tunisia

Many Tunisians have joined Isis to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey

Anxieties in Turkey about growing Islamisation and the authoritarianism of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister led to riots and in 2015 Erdogan did not do too well in the election.

Turkey is very concerned to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state by both Syrian and Turkish Kurds. They are sending troops to fight against the Syrian Kurds. The Turkish Kurds live in SE Turkey.

Turkey has accepted 1.8 million Syrian refugees.

Yemen

There has been an undeclared civil war in Yemen for some time. Iranian-backed rebels gained control of government institutions. The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait is close, not least because about half the Saudi army is of Kuwaiti origin. The Saudis are afraid of the Iranian influence in Yemen and they are also afraid that Kuwait will become a failed state controlled by terrorists. So in 2015 a Sunni Muslim coalition of nine Arab countries plus Pakistan invaded Kuwait.

Summary

Much of the conflict in the Middle East is between the more traditional Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. They are at war with each other in Iraq, Syria and Kuwait. Isis is an extreme form of Sunni Islam.

Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are torn by war. They are becoming failed states. Egypt is facing serious division. Saudi Arabia is an oppressive, anti-Christian regime. Jordan and Lebanon feel threatened and Turkey intends to prevent the Kurds establishing a state by violence if necessary.

In March 2015 a joint Arab military force was set up to face the unstable situation in the Middle East. The 22 states involved in the Arab League are to combine forces.

Many refugees have fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Other refugees are crossing the Mediterranean to find safety in Europe – causing problems within the EU.

The effects on Christians

One thing that complicates the position of Christians in Muslim countries is military action by western nations which are seen as Christian nations. Consequently, Muslim countries persecute Christians. The Arab Spring and the growth of Isis has led to much greater oppression of Christians in the Middle East.

In Egypt, where there is a long-established Christian community, the removal of President Morsi in 2013 led to the worst persecution of Christians in 1400 years. It was against Coptic Christians and 65 churches, Christian bookshops, schools and convents were burned down, looted or destroyed. There has been some similar persecution since then.

In recent years in Syria over 450,000 Christians have fled and hundreds of thousands are in hiding. Christians and Christian leaders have been abducted, ransomed or executed.

Since the 2003 Gulf War over a million Christians have fled from Iraq. In 2014 when Isis captured Mosul and much of the traditional Christian area around Nineveh 200,000 Christians fled to Kurdistan.

The chaos in Libya has meant that persecution has increased, with Christians being afraid to meet together. The only religious gatherings allowed are Islamic. Isis has executed Christians.

Saudi Arabia officially bans churches and Christian meetings, even amongst ex-pats. Sometimes the authorities take oppressive action to enforce this ban against Christians meeting in homes. Bibles are prohibited. Converts from Islam to Christianity face the death penalty. Nevertheless for economic and political reasons the Saudis are treated as respected allies by western countries.

The Israeli perspective

I write as a friend of Israel but I am a genuine friend who, unlike some Zionist Christians, faces up to her failings as well as defending her when appropriate. She is not treating the Palestinians justly and currently she is becoming increasingly isolated in the world through the unwise leadership of her present government.

However, some of the criticism of Israel is unjust and there is some which is based on thinly veiled anti-Semitism. In fact, some Christians have decided that Israel is in the wrong and don’t wished to be confused by the facts. There is a growing movement to boycott Israeli goods but, as Israel points out, there is no such boycott of other countries deemed to be guilty of injustice – Saudi Arabia, for example. It is essential that we seek to look at the world through Israeli eyes, as well as through Palestinian eyes.

Israel is still affected by centuries of persecution and the trauma of the Holocaust. She also knows that a large number of people dispute her legitimacy and would like to see her destroyed. Against that background she looks at the chaos in the Middle East around her – the extreme Islamism, the wars, the advance of Isis (which is now speaking of taking over from Hamas and ‘liberating’ Palestine), the threat of Iran, which wants Israel destroyed, gaining nuclear weapons after all (which is perceived as possible by the Israelis and others) and the danger the Saudis would follow suit. Yes, Israel should provide justice for the Palestinians but she also needs to protect herself. After all, Isis is getting too close for comfort.

It is all very well for the Christian armchair critics in the West to be calling for justice for the Palestinians. But they must also take the fears of the Israelis seriously. Yes, of course, sometimes politicians over-emphasise threats for political reasons but the fact is that Israel is seriously threatened – and things will get worse.

We need to pray for the countries of the Middle East, for Israel and for Christians in that region facing grave difficulties, persecution and violent death. We should also recognise that the growing persecution of Christians and the increasing threats to Israel are in harmony with the New Testament’s teaching on the End Times.

 

I don’t believe Christians are called to be unduly negative, or to be paranoid or to jump to critical conclusions about society whilst longing for the ‘good old days’ which actually weren’t quite so good.  But nor do I believe we are called to be naive and undiscerning.

There is much that is good in the world: creation itself, human love in all its manifestations, much of human culture and human research. Science, medicine and technology often makes our lives better than the ‘good old days.’  Good government, national and international, as well as NGOs and charities make the world a better place. The church is growing in many non-western nations and there are bright spots even in the west. There is some good Christian leadership and a lot of courageous, even sacrificial, Christian discipleship.

However, there are also some very serious trends and developments which Christians, who are amongst other things called to be prophetic, cannot ignore. [I recommend that this article be read with my article “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” which is at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf].

Post-Christian Britain

 

Britain is an increasingly post-Christian country. We are seeing massive decline in Christian belief. We need to remember that turning away from the faith is a sign of the End Times. That doesn’t mean that the End is about to happen because other things have to take place too. But we need to keep watching for the signs and reminders Jesus taught about.

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times in March 2013 found that:

·         Only 30% believe in God (although 21% who don’t believe in God believe in a higher power) [The 2012 ComRes/Theos Cathedral Study figures were 36% and 14% respectively]

·         66% of Britons think religion is not important

·         Only 29% think the UK is a religious country

·         Only 7% only say they attend a place of worship weekly [The 2008 ComRes/Theos Darwin study said 10%]

·         Only 30% believe Jesus was the Son of God

·         Only 31% believe in the resurrection of Jesus (cp some 50% in the 1990s and 2000s)

·         69% think the Church of England is out of touch (including 53% of Christians).

Other research revealed that 5.3 million fewer British-born people called themselves Christians – a decline of 15% in a decade.  The 2011 National Census 2011 found that between 2001 and 2011 the number of people calling themselves Christians fell by 4.1 million. Peter Brierley’s research has the number of people calling themselves Christians reducing by 6% i.e. a third of a million per year.

Gay marriage

 

Little wonder, then, that we have crossed a Rubicon by approving gay marriage. (Some people think the decision could still be torpedoed, but this seems unlikely). I am not getting involved in the debate over homosexual sexual behaviour (having campaigned about it for some 15 years in the 1980s and 90s). My views are recorded in http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/biblehomosexualpractice.pdf and http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/homosexualityandthechurch.pdf. But this decision is a very serious error as I have pointed out in http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=237.

It is contrary to the fundamental meaning of marriage because it is obvious that marriage is related to procreation. Children need a father and a mother. Even though there are many single parent families where the parent does an excellent job that is not the ideal situation. Children need the input of both loving male and female role models. Research shows that children benefit most from being in a family led by biological parents of both sexes who are in a loving relationship. Approval of ‘gay marriage’ will undermine the institution of marriage. It re-defines marriage as basically about emotional fulfilment of adults rather than about procreation and the care and nurture of children. And such an emotional definition of marriage will lead to even more marital breakdown – when the positive feelings decline.

These considerations are bad enough but the worst thing is the breathtaking and ill-thought-out arrogance of our politicians in rejecting the “givenness” of marriage which has been recognised by society and by all religions through the millennia. Marriage is ordained by God and David Cameron and the majority of MPs and Lords have taken it out of God’s hands and radically changed it. I wonder what they will say, especially Cameron, when they meet God, as they will one day have to answer to him for their behaviour (as we all will).

It is clear from recent history that such legislation tends to lead to new evils. Divorce law was changed because women were so oppressed but the long term effect is divorce on demand and massive breakdown of marriage. Abortion law was amended to prevent women having to go to dangerous back street abortionists. But the long term effect is abortion on demand with hundreds of thousands of unborn humans being killed. Homosexuality was merely legalised in 1967 but it has led on to the serious situation in which we are now.

Now marriage has been radically changed despite it being wrong, and unnecessary (as even some of the gay lobby have said) and it will lead not only to the damage outlined above but to calls for legitimization of multi-partner sexual relationships or “small group marriages.” There are people practising and advocating “polyamory [several/many loves], polygamy, polyandry, ….  multipartner relationships, sharing their mates with others, open marriage, and/or group marriage.” Judith Stacey, Professor of Sociology and Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies at the University of Southern California advocates polyamory and group marriages (of any number or gender). If gay marriage is approved on the basis of removing discrimination, why should these other practices not be approved, to remove discrimination from those who want them?

UPDATE

I have already said the same-sex marriage decision will have very serious consequences including being a major cause of oppression – even eventually persecution – of Christians who oppose it (a good eschatological theme). Today I read the Independent newspaper which is very supportive of same-sex marriage. They cover a new Centre for Social Justice report:

“Some of the poorest parts of the country are becoming ‘men deserts’, the report found, because there are so few visible male role models for children …. One of the problems is the dearth of male teachers in primary schools …. For children growing up in some of the poorest parts of the country, men are rarely encountered in the home or in the classroom … This is an ignored form of deprivation that can have profoundly damaging consequences on social and mental development …. There are ‘men deserts’ in many parts of our towns and cities and we urgently need to wake up to what is going wrong.”

Yet the need of both a male and a female role model being important for children is one of the main reasons for rejecting same-sex marriage. What planet are people like the editor of the Independent living on?

Serious oppression of Christians

As if all that was not enough, there are other very serious results which will flow from this decision. It has long been clear to me that approval of gay sexual relationships will become a social ‘password’ without which individuals will be rejected, excluded and oppressed. 

It may be that certain safeguards will be put in place, just as the Church of England has been legally exempted from taking same-sex weddings. But these will not last. We shall see legal action being taken against churches, clergy facing demands to celebrate same-sex weddings and restrictions on church activities. We shall see Christian teachers facing a crisis of conscience over endorsing gay marriage in the classroom (Labour is proposing an amendment calling for teachers to teach about gay marriage and same-sex relationships). Christians who cannot say they favour homosexual relationships will also be unable to foster children. Christians will be excluded from becoming registrars, etc.

I do not believe we should use the word ‘persecution’ of the current oppression of Christians in British society but this decision (and others) will ultimately lead us to where the word ‘ persecution’ will be appropriate. And persecution is a sign of the End Times. It is, of course, already happening in numerous countries.

The failure of the church

 

I hold the Church of England to be significantly to blame for this crisis. To quote Paul “if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”  And there has not been a clear call by the Church of England trumpet. Church leaders seek to have their cake and eat it. They say they disapprove of gay sex but always some say they approve. They use unclear language which confuses the uninitiated, i.e. the vast majority of the population. Take the events surrounding the decision in the House of Lords over same-sex marriage.

 

26 bishops sit in the House of Lords but only 14 turned up to vote on the issue and five of them abstained.  The Bishop of Salisbury broke ranks with the House of Bishops and spoke strongly in favour of gay marriage. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has spoken against it, said in his Lords speech: “The House of Bishops of the Church of England has also expressed a very clear majority view –  although not unanimous, as has been seen by the strong and welcome contribution by the Bishop of Salisbury.”

He added: “And I have to say that personally I regret the necessity of having to deal with the possibility of a division at this stage, on a bill passed by a free vote in the other place [the Commons]…. It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage.” He then made criticism of the bill before saying the church was “extremely hesitant about the Bill.” He ended by saying he couldn’t support it.

Hang on a minute: the House of Bishops is against same-sex marriage but are only “extremely hesitant” about it. They’re against same-sex marriage but only half of them turn up to vote, and five of them abstain. They’re against same sex marriage but one bishop who breaks ranks gives a “strong and welcome” contribution. Same sex marriage is wrong but “stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage.” Boy – am I confused and I was on General Synod for 15 years. Actually, I’m not confused. I’m used to this poor leadership. The bishops have failed the church and the church has failed the nation.

Little wonder the church is declining. We seem to be living in cloud cuckoo land with declining congregations, priests having to look after, say, ten parishes and 40% of the stipendiary clergy retiring in the next few years. Try as I have, I can’t find any plan as to how the Bishops are going to deal with this challenge. The C of E will see massive decline and retreat into increasing irrelevance, the way things are going. All of this relates to the Jesus’ words about the End Times “Many will turn away from the faith” and the church is contributing to this.

Then there are the bigger issues:

The Middle East situation

 

The Arab Spring has turned to winter. The Syrian civil war continues. Iraq is very corrupt and everywhere there are violent Islamists. The strife between Sunni and Shia takes many lives. Now Turkey seems to be facing a dangerous situation as is Egypt. In the midst of it all is Israel, the sixth most powerful military state in the world, and a nuclear power. Israel feels threatened at the best of times but now almost all around her it seems that Islamists are coming to power or regimes are unstable. Syria seems dangerously close to drawing Israel into conflict. Hezbollah, regarded by many as a terrorist group in Lebanon, is involved in the Syrian conflict and could obtain weapons which could seriously threaten Israel. Already Israel has attacked arms convoys in Syria to prevent the arms reaching Hezbollah and has threatened to attack future Russian attempts to provide weapons. An international attack on Israel is part of the End Times scenario and it is not difficult to imagine it, given the present and developing situation.

The rise of Islam

 

I am not anti-Muslim and I believe it is wrong to be so.  Islamophobia is to be deplored and racism is contemptible. It is true that there are Islamist extremists but most Muslims are peaceful people. I have had a lot to do with them, and reached out to them in reconciliation in Jerusalem. I have been involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue. I also encourage prayer for justice for the Palestinians (most of whom are Muslims) alongside prayer for Israel.

 

However, we must be discerning and honest. Muslims respect Jesus as a great prophet. But the Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) is a false view. For example, the Islamic Jesus is not divine and did not die on the cross. This is a false christ. They expect this false christ to return and to further the cause of Islam around the world.

Islam is already a powerful and growing force in the world.  It is also growing rapidly in the UK. In the same period that people calling themselves Christians declined by 15% the number of Muslims in England and Wales increased by 75% (including almost 600,000 Muslims moving here from overseas). Between 2001 and 2011 the Muslim population grew by 1.2 million.

 

Almost half of British Muslims are under the age of 25, whereas a quarter of Christians are over 65. The average age of a British Muslim is just 25, not far off half that of a British Christian. The implications of this for the future are clear.

I am well aware that right wing and right of centre sources warn of this from political, Islamophobic and sometimes racist motives.  I do not approve of that and would feel profoundly unhappy about being associated with it. But we do have to be realistic and to face up to the fact that the religious future of Britain will be increasingly Islamic.

Prof David Coleman, Professor of demography at Oxford University, said of these statistics: “This is a very substantial change – it is difficult to see whether any other change in the census could have been remotely as big.” He added: “The ethnic transformation implicit in current trends would be a major, unlooked for, and irreversible change in British society, unprecedented for at least a millennium.”

Coleman also said that Christianity was declining with each generation: “Each large age group, as time progresses, receives less inculcation into Christianity than its predecessor ten years earlier.” But he added: “We have a Muslim faith where most studies suggest adherence to Islam is not only transmitted through the generations but appears to get stronger. Indeed, there seems to be some evidence that the second generation Muslims in Britain are more Muslim than their parents.”

From the point of view of the Christian gospel that is a serious problem because Islam promotes a false christ and a false gospel and expects this false christ to return. This has to be significant in terms of the End Times.

Hints of ‘Big Brother’

 

I am well aware of the paranoia which is associated with the idea of World Government and the Antichrist, etc. Recent American statistics show that:

·         13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ!

·         4% of US voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power!

·         15% of voters say the US government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals!

·         5% believe the vapour trail seen in the sky behind planes is actually chemicals sprayed by the US government for sinister reasons!

 

This all brings talking about the dangers of world government into disrepute. Also international co-operation obviously benefits the world in many ways.

 

However, I repeat what I said above about decisions and legislation, which may be perceived as made for  good reasons, and which may lead to good results, but which also tend to lead to new evils. We cannot turn the clock back and escape from the global village. It would be a profound mistake to opt out of the United Nations and many other forms of international co-operation as we face enormous problems: world poverty, global warming, terrorism, economic recession, etc. But we would be very foolish not to be aware of the dangers inherent in such co-operation.

Another statistic is that 28% of US voters believe a “secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order.” These statistics were published at a time when the Bilderbergers were meeting in England, and they are the focus of conspiracy theories.  We may react cynically to all this but I would ask two questions:

·         Do we really think that there are no private power groups seeking to influence world affairs?

·         What do we make of the New Testament predictions of “man of lawlessnesswhowill oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped” only to be destroyed by the returning Christ?

 

I think it would be very naïve (and cynical) not to believe there are private power groups seeking to influence world affairs. I also believe that, whilst avoiding paranoia and simplistic conclusions, we should take note of moves towards world government, discerning the sinister from the beneficial.

 

I am writing this a day or two after the publication in the Guardian newspaper of a top secret document about the US National Security Agency’s Prism programme which allegedly has allowed officials to monitor the internet via Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Skype, Yahoo, Facebook etc since 1995. This includesemail content, search history, chat (video, voice), videos, photos, stored data, internet phone calls, file transfers, video conferencing, social networking, etc.   The Guardian also alleged that GCHQ (the UK security agency in Cheltenham) has used the Prism programme to spy on thousands of Britons.

 

Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, wrote to the Home Secretary (who is currently seeking to introduce her own “snooper’s charter”) “I am astonished by these revelations which could involve the data of thousands of Britons. The most chilling aspect is that ordinary American citizens and potentially British citizens too were apparently unaware that their phone and online interactions could be watched. This seems to be the snooper’s charter by the back door.” I note in passing that there is a huge amount of surveillance – CCTV and the like – in Britain anyway.

Even if the organisations claim they have not done what is alleged many will be unconvinced because they are organisations which act in secrecy. In any case, it is clear that they have the ability to do what is alleged and this has disturbing prospects for the future.

Again, we have another example of the principle of decisions and legislation, which may be perceived as for good reasons, and which may lead to good results, also tending to lead to new evils. The first motive for surveillance is to combat crime and terrorism, but it can turn into an unwelcome and dangerous invasion of the privacy of innocent individuals.

UPDATE

As good citizens Christians should be concerned about government surveillance because of the danger of it leading ultimately, in the long run, to a world dominated by “Big Brother” which relates to some of the predictions in the New Testament. Obviously, some surveillance is important to combat the threat of terrorism and other crime. Putting it rather negatively, such surveillance is the lesser of two evils and we have to accept that. However, surveillance must be controlled and must not cross the line into becoming Big Brother. That is not an easy line to draw. A former chief of GCHQ (the UK government surveillance centre) has written in the Guardian today giving six ethical principles on which surveillance should take place. He says it must be for the right motive, with sufficient cause, proportionate and with reasonable prospect of success. It must be a last resort and be governed by lawful authority. This is good.

However he writes that surveillance “involves computers searching through a mass of material, of course, and that might include your and my emails and data on our web traffic, but it is only the legally requested material that ever gets seen by a human being. These computers are not conscious beings: they will only select that which they are lawfully programmed to select. To describe this process as monitoring all our communications or ‘the surveillance state’ or a ‘snooper’s charter’ is wholly misleading and a perverse reading of the situation.” He concludes: “Let us respect the work of our intelligence agencies in keeping us safe, and be glad that in our democratic societies they are subject to the rule of law.”

The problem is that we live in a world of sinful human beings where “money, sex and power” have great influence. We live in a world of dishonest politicians, dishonest business leaders, dishonest bankers, dishonest media moguls, etc. So the reassurances of surveillance chiefs and their politician colleagues leave serious questions.

 

[For my detailed article on trends towards world government see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf pages 23-32]

Conclusion

 

The rapid decline of Christianity in Britain (and in Europe), the increasing number of laws which are inconsistent with traditional Christian morality, the increasing discrimination against Christians, the failure of the church to speak with a clear voice, the rise of Islamism in the Middle East and the increasing spread of Islam, including in Britain, and the trends towards intruding on the freedom of individuals all pose serious threats to society and also reflect biblical warnings of End Time trends.

 

Tony Higton