Wednesday, August 13, 2014

ISIS Taking Over Iraq

Islamic terrorists in Iraq are beheading children and burying people alive, and it won't stop there. They have a message for America: "We're coming for you."

Over the past week, the army of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), also known as IS (Islamic State), swallowed up swaths of Iraq like a pervading darkness. 

In just one day, tens of thousands of Christians fled from towns like Qaraqosh and Bartilla, about 25 miles away. Most came to the town of Erbil with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

"They take everything from the house, from the store, everything," one refugee told CBN News. "They hate Christian especially. We don't know why."
The choice was leave or die.

"They say if anyone don't [sic] become like Muslim, we['re] going to kill them, each one, from baby to women to old man," he said. "We don't have anything here," one woman told CBN News.

"They bombed the churches and already took our houses," she continued. "We have nothing here. No money. No ID. No travel documents."

Dr. Sarah Ahmed, with the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, called the attacks "a genocide."

"What's happening now to the Christians, to the Yazidis, to the minorities is -- in the last couple of days mostly to the Christians -- is a genocide," she told CBN News. "What's happening is what happened 200 years ago to the Jews [sic]."
The Yazidis follow an ancient religion with ties to Zoroastrianism.

Dr. Ahmed relayed stories she'd heard of the barbarism of ISIS. 

"That ISIS was shooting the kids and people, and they were laying them on the ground and they bring tractors that they walk [drive] over them in front of their families," she said. "They take women out of their houses so if a family had three daughters, they would take one."

In the wake of the ISIS advance, thousands of ethnic Yazidis escaped to a mountain outside the town of Sinjar. Some Christians found shelter at a Catholic compound in Erbil. These families fled a few weeks ago when ISIS ethnically cleansed the city of Mosul. The Islamists gave an ultimatum to the Christians there. 

"They gave us four choices," one refugee told CBN News. "Either convert to Islam or paying tax [jizya, the Islamic tax on non-Muslims] or leaving the city or the sword." 

"They are using the sword to cut off hand[s] and also beheading other[s] so I don't think this is the behavior of human beings, but wild animals do that," he concluded.

ISIS looted their properties and left them destitute. One woman told CBN News they took her dentures, wedding ring, and documents.

"They took everything," she said. "We asked them please give us something to show that we owned our car, our home. They said, 'Here, you have nothing.'"
In searching the home of one Christian in Mosul, ISIS found two New Testaments, one with a camouflaged cover and the other with a picture of an American flag inside. The terrorists accused him of being a missionary and a spy.

ISIS put his name on a list. When he told CBN News his story, he asked us to hide his identity.

"They say, 'Hey, hey, stop. You are a Christian," he recalled. "You are a Christian, get back!' The terrorists told me, 'We could kill you.'"

Sometimes the pressure is overwhelming. 

"Jesus save me," he said, weeping. "Forgive them. Forgive them because they didn't know what they want, what they ask."

Even though these Christians are the indigenous people of the region, many simply want to leave. They're pleading for the United States, United Nations and Pope Francis to come to their aid.

"We are asking the responsible states of the international community to come and look and see how all the people are living here," one woman said. 

From CBN

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Saudi Christian Arrested for Blogging

On July 23, Saudi police re-arrested Hamoud Bin Saleh (28) and blocked access to his online blog, according to reports from The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. Saleh had used his blog to express his opinion on religious issues and discuss his conversion from Islam to Christianity. 

Saleh was previously arrested for his faith in 2004 and imprisoned for nine months. He was also arrested and briefly detained in November 2008 and was released shortly before the Saudi-sponsored interfaith dialogue conference held November 12-13 at the UN Headquarters in New York. Sources believe officials released him to avoid tarnishing Saudi Arabia's image of religious tolerance, as at the conference King Abdullah spoke out against mankind's "preoccupation with differences between the followers of religions."

 At last report, Saleh was detained in the Eleisha political prison in Riyadh, the nation's capital.

Pray for the release of Saleh. Pray for strength and protection for him in prison. Ask God to enable him to grow in Christlikeness through the opposition he faces for his faith (James 1:2-4).

Saleh had been areested before in 2009 and 2011 for blogging about Christian issues and each time received flogging.  This time it seems Saleh could be tried for a capital offense as prosecutors are pushing for a charge of "activities against the Prophet and by an infidel". The penalty for such crimes are death.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Saudi Blogger Sentenced To 10 Years and 1,000 Lashes

The sentencing of a prominent Saudi blogger to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Islam shows the Kingdom is run by radical Islamists who leave no room for dissent, his wife told
Raif Badawi, co-founder of the “Saudi Arabian Liberals” website and a well-known thinker and blogger, has been accused of writing anti-Islamic discourse online. His wife, who fled the nation two years ago and now lives near Montreal, said Badawi is “paying the price” for believing in freedom of expression.
“I am very shocked by the news, but the Saudi government is radical Muslim,” Ensaf Haidar told of her husband. “He is the leader of the Saudi liberal movement, and the government wants to make a symbol out of him.” 
Haidar said it has been two years since she last saw Badawi, who first came on the Saudi government’s radar in 2012, when he was imprisoned and subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for violating the country’s cybercrime laws.
In December, his sentence was overturned after appeal, but his case was sent to the Jeddah Criminal Court for review. A retrial was ordered. Badawi had originally been charged with “apostasy,” according to his wife, which is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. 
The Saudi Court also fined him the equivalent of $266,000, in a verdict Amnesty International called “outrageous.”
Amnesty International is publicly calling for the verdict to be overturned.
"He is a prisoner of conscience who is guilty of nothing more than daring to create a public forum for discussion and peacefully exercising the right to freedom of expression," said Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Amnesty International.
This year, Saudi King Abdullah issued a piece of legislation that would clamp down on dissent in any form.
While the law is meant to curb regional terrorism from bleeding into Saudi Arabia, critics say it is an overreaching measure that allows officials to prosecute any form of peaceful dissent.
Lisa Daftari 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Bloggers Make A Difference

I have been thinking about what blogs do, economics blogs in particular. Here are some preliminary thoughts - please add to the list if you have more ideas:
1. Blogs are often criticized for simply echoing information. But in doing so, they provide information to readers. Blogs act as filters on information. When you come to trust a blog, or know it well enough to judge its content, the fact that an article is posted there tells you that the person running the blog thought it was important enough to bring to your attention. Blogs can also help by pointing out information that is misleading, wrong, etc.
2. Even if you don't fully trust any one information source, there is value in repetition. As blogs echo information, it gives a sense of its importance and credibility. If a report is only discussed in one place it might be notable, but in general if an issue is being discussed most places you happen to visit, that indicates the information has some significance. So, beyond the filtering role that blogs play as they echo information from other sources, they also give it weight, e.g. if all blogs are worried about how to interpret labor force participation statistics, that is notable. And on those occasions when blogs on both sides of the political fence (or whatever fence divides the issue) are discussing an issue and coming up with similar answers, that is informative, as are the cases when heated debate erupts among reputable blogs on opposite sides on an issue.
3. Blogs add new information. On occasion, bloggers are inclined to seek out new information, for example to present economic information graphically, in tables, descriptively, and so on that helps to place economic statistics in perspective or to point in new directions. Thus, novel information provided on blogs can buttress or rebut the topic of the day, or it can point in new directions altogether. And the information does not have to be novel to enlighten and inform a discussion. There is also a role for pointing to, say, existing academic research on topics being discussed in the news and elsewhere.
4. This is something that I think is new, or at least a speeded up version of what we had in the past. In a sense, a traditional column in the newspaper is a blog as are editorials. A columnist posts articles say twice a week, then comments come back in the form of letters to the editor. There are also discussion at work, and so on. The modern blog speeds this process up considerably and allows broader participation in the dissemination of information and in feedback. When there is an important question, say a proposal for an energy tax as we saw recently, instead of the discussion being dominated by a few columnists, editorials, letters to the editor, discussion on talk shows, etc., we have almost instantaneous discussion of these topics on blogs, some from people with expert credentials, along with feedback in comments, email, etc., and many rounds of discussion happen quickly as ideas richochet back and forth.
I think this will become important when we have a crisis of some sort, say a currency crisis, and there are important policy questions that require immediate reaction. We saw something like this after Hurricane Katrina with questions about whether the Fed should lower rates, pause, or continue increasing them in light of all the uncertainty and destruction that existed. Blogs began debating this topic almost immediately and added important elements to the discussion.
When a crisis hits, we have a collective capability to respond that did not exist in the past and it will be interesting to see how well it works when it is needed.
5. In addition to their filtering role, blogs also motivate the media to take care in how they write about economics and other topics. Though anyone writing publicly develops a thicker skin, it can't be fun to be skewered for something you have written, and tools like Google and The WayBack Machine hold people accountable for things they have written in the past in ways they never were before. It's no longer possible to present misleading points of view without being immediately and thoroughly rebutted in public and if the issue is important enough, on fairly prominent platforms.
So, what have I missed or gotten wrong? I suppose there's a whole post to be written about the downside of blogs, e.g. bad information can get echoed and magnified as well as good, so on balance are blogs a positive or negative influence, questions like that. But that will have to wait for another day, or perhaps others can fill in the missing pieces.