Jews Write The Best Christmas Songs


Why Were So Many Beloved Christmas Songs Written By Jewish Musicians?

IRVING BERLIN
(RNS) Christians don’t seem to mind that so many beloved Christmas songs were written by Jews, and Jews tend to reel off the list with pride.

White Christmas. Let It Snow. Santa Baby. I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. Silver Bells. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Those not mentioned here could fill an album.

But why didn’t the Jews write any similarly iconic songs for their holiday that falls around Christmastime: Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights?

“I Have a Little Dreidl”? Great song … if you’re 4.

There are reasons that Jews are good at Christmas songs and why so many of these songs became so popular. And there are reasons why Jews didn’t write similarly catchy tunes for Hanukkah — or any other Jewish holiday.

But first, a little music history.

In the first half of the 20th century, Jews flocked to the music industry. It was one business where they didn’t face overwhelming anti-Semitism, said Michael Feinstein, the Emmy Award-winning interpreter of American musical standards.

“White Christmas,” written by Jewish lyricist Irving Berlin, topped the charts in 1942 and launched popular Christmas music, encouraging many others — Jews and non-Jews — to write more odes to the holiday.

And although celebrating the birth of Christ was not something these Jewish songwriters would want to do, they could feel comfortable composing more secular Christmas singles.

“The Christmas songs that are popular are not about Jesus, but they’re about sleigh bells and Santa and the trappings of Christmas,” Feinstein said. “They’re not religious songs.”

In their music and lyrics, Jews captured Christmas not only as a wonderful, wintry time for family gatherings, but also as an American holiday. What they drew on, said Rabbi Kenneth Kanter, an expert on Jews and popular culture at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, was their background as the children of European-born Jews, or as immigrants themselves, in the case of Russian-born Berlin and others.

Jewish songwriters’ own successful assimilation and gratitude to America pervades their midcentury Christmas and other songs, and appealed to a country that wanted to feel brave and united as it fought World War II.

“These songs made Christmas a kind of national celebration, almost a patriotic celebration,” Kanter said.

The irreligious nature of these Christmas songs may not sit well with pious Christians, said Feinstein, who is Jewish and who cut “A Michael Feinstein Christmas,” among many other albums. But they are now part of the fabric of our larger culture, he said, and “any singer who is a singer of the American songbook will sing Christmas songs,” said Feinstein. “We all sing them.”

Feinstein is in good Jewish company. Barbra Streisand made “A Christmas Album.” Neil Diamond cut not only “A Christmas Album,” but also “A Christmas Album, Volume II,” and then a “Cherry, Cherry Christmas.” This year, Idina Menzel, who started out singing at bar mitzvahs and is best-known as the strong, melodic voice in the hit movie “Frozen,” just came out with the very Christmas-y “Holiday Wishes.” This list is far from exhaustive.

And how about Hanukkah songs?

First, singers want an audience, and with Jews making up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, and Christians nearly 80 percent, the natural market for Hanukkah tunes is relatively tiny. Though the story of Hanukkah is about religious freedom, a theme Americans can relate to, few know the tale of the ancient Maccabees — how they threw off their Hellenistic oppressors, and the drop of oil which miraculously lit their lamp for eight days.

Feinstein, who was raised in a Conservative synagogue in Columbus, Ohio, said many people have tried to get him to lend his voice to a Hanukkah song, but he’s just not that interested.

“They usually are in a minor key,” he said. “And there isn’t as much imagery that one can put into a Hanukkah song compared to Christmas.”

There are still plenty of tuneful and moving Hanukkah songs, some of them in major keys — the rousing “Al Hanisim,” for example. But many are written in languages other than English — Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino — and aren’t going to get much airplay in the U.S.

But a growing body of Hanukkah music aims to break through the subdued and somber stereotype.

In 1982, for example, the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary first performed “Light One Candle,” a social action song that invokes the Maccabees’ struggle.

The Jewish reggae star Matisyahu came out with “Miracle” in 2011. And the Maccabeats, an a capella group based at Yeshiva University, remade the pop song “Dynamite” into a 2010 Hanukkah hit called “Candlelight.”

And then there’s Kenny Ellis, the cantor at Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita, Calif., who is on a mission to convince Jews and non-Jews alike that Hanukkah songs can be a zippy part of the national songbook. Each Hanukkah, Ellis sings from his 2005 album, “Hanukkah Swings,” a big-band take on some of the most well-known Hanukkah songs, starting with “Swingin’ Dreidel.”

To Ellis’ delight, Feinstein once sang “Swingin’ Dreidel” in his New York nightclub. It wouldn’t hurt if more Jewish singers tried a Hanukkah song or two, Ellis said. Maybe a whole album.

“I love all the Jewish performers that do Christmas albums,” Ellis said. “But what’s the big deal about doing a Hanukkah album? Does anyone think that if Barbra Streisand did a Hanukkah album, that her career would be finished?”

Moses vs Santa Claus (for those who are yet to see it) and other hilarities


Moses vs Santa Claus (for those who are yet to see it) and other hilarities

No intro needed. Just pretty funny!

 

And while you’re here, this is sheer genius:

 

And more genius (Jesus as a racist):

 

And Charlie Brooker on the Pope resigning:

 

And finally, this is sheer brilliance (if you are easily offended by swearing, stay clear):

 

 

– See more at: http://skepticink.com/tippling/2013/02/28/moses-vs-santa-claus-for-those-who-are-yet-to-see-it/#sthash.vAV5m0vB.dpuf

Catholic Fascist Bill O’Reilly Hates Christians Who Aren’t Freaking Out Over FAKE WAR ON XMAS!


Bill O’Reilly Attacks Christians Who Aren’t Freaking Out About Non-Existent War on Christmas

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly turns his crusade against his own people.

Police officers in Greece defend a christmas tree. Fox News’ War on Christmas has gone international.

An unlikely enemy in the War on Christmas emerged last night when four-star general Bill O’Reilly expanded the battleground into new territory: the churches of the “wimpy” pastors who haven’t stepped up to defend the holy holiday.

That’s right–O’Reilly has turned his attention away from the immoral (a.k.a. atheist) liberal media and is now attacking members of his own camp for not taking the war seriously enough.

On his Fox News show last night, O’Reilly spoke with pastor Robert Jeffress, one of the few Christmas-warmongering pastors in what they say is a sea of reformist religious leaders.

When O’Reilly asked Jeffress why so few pastors have voiced the appropriate outrage at this war on the holiday, Jeffress replied: “Wimpy pastors produce wimpy Christians, and that is why we are losing this culture war and I believe it’s time for pastors to say, you know, ‘I don’t care about controversy, I don’t care whether I’m going to lose church members, I don’t care about building a big church, I’m going to stand for truth regardless of what happens.’”

What is that truth, you might ask? According to Jeffress, it is debunking the myth that Jesus was a non-confrontational man. Instead, Christians and their religious leaders need to stop being “wimpy” and take up the fight against the ACLU to protect their right to flood the radio stations with bell-clanging Christmas music, to demand that everyone wish them a “Merry Christmas” (for what is more wimpy than a mere “Happy Holidays”?), to worship Jesus and one-day-only 50-percent-off sales on every street corner across America. To, in short, celebrate Christmas!

O’Reilly’s bold new strategy to persecute those on the Christian home front who are insufficiently outraged about the war is almost certain to backfire. Apathy in the ranks is–as history instructs us–often a result of war fatigue or low morale, and attacking these dissidents rarely strengthens the overall resolve. Then again, since this war is entirely fictional, the repercussions are, well, also non-existent.

According to conservative radio host Don Imus, “There’s no War on Christmas, I mean it’s absurd.”

The liberal media, unsurprisingly, agrees with Imus’s opinion.

As The Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins writes, “No holiday is as well accommodated in America as Christmas. It is perhaps one of the best celebrated religious holidays in the history of mankind. You have to go back to antiquity to find more lavish celebrations — like, say, the inaugural games of the Roman Colosseum, which lasted 100 days because the Romans wanted to pull out all the stops to appease the gods they literally believed wanted to kill them all with plagues and volcanoes.”

Then again, that’s just those warmongering liberals using their latest military strategy: the silent game.

The twist, of course, is that the War on Christmas is becoming fairly profitable–although by no means as profitable as Christmas is. Yet, these profit margins are a major motivation for the warmongers to continue battling. As Herb Silverman of the (suspiciously anti-Christmas group) Secular Coalition for America writes, “The much-ballyhooed “War on Christmas” has become a predictable holiday tradition, with Fox News as both director and producer of this manufactured war, presumably for better ratings. Comedians also love the war material they have to play with, so both Fox and comedians have become war profiteers.”

I guess, then, that the war is sort of like Santa: Omnipresent and increasingly jolly, whether we believe in it or not.

Watch O’Reilly and pastor Jeffress’ new attack on their own ranks:

Pope Ratzinger a Nazi Pedophile? Stop The Catholic Church From Raping Our Children


Pope Ratzinger a Nazi Pedophile? Stop The Catholic Church From Raping Our Children

Via truelogic

The exhibit below depicts the Pope as a Nazi pedophile, and some folk ain’t happy with it.

The sculpture is a three-and-a-half metre tall stylised image of the Ratzinger in a state of sexual arousal with his hand firmly on the shoulder of two little boys. It has also been embellished with a Swastika-style crucifix.

The Catholic Church has a history of molesting children and supporting the Nazi’s.  The Pope thinks he and his church is untouchable while they hide their immoral acts from the world.  Time for them to be held accountable.

Below, A Christmas Gift for your favorite Christian:

‘Happy Atheist’ Ricky Gervais Rewrites Pat Robertson


‘Happy atheist’ Ricky Gervais rewrites Pat Robertson
By Nick Ramsey
Video here:-

On the latest edition of MSNBC’s The Last Word, host Lawrence O’Donnell relied on some wise words from comedian Ricky Gervais to rewrite some less-than-wise words from religious television host Pat Robertson.

In a recent edition of his show, The 700 Club, Robertson accused atheists of trying to ruin the Christmas holiday:

“Well, it’s Christmas all over again. Uh, the Grinch is trying to steal our holiday… Atheists don’t like our happiness. They don’t want you to be happy, they want you to be miserable. They’re miserable so they want you to be miserable. So they want to steal your holiday away from you.”

That flies in the face of something comedian Ricky Gervais, a vocal atheist, wrote about Christmas two years back. Just before Christmas in 2010, Gervais wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal explaining his atheism.

Gervais also wrote a follow-up three days later taking questions from Wall Street Journal readers. It is from that second post that O’Donnell found the right words to rewrite Pat Robertson’s claims on atheists who “want to steal” Christmas from Christians. Gervais wrote that he celebrates Christmas in the following way:

Celebrating life and remembering those that did, but can no longer… They are not looking down on me but they live in my mind and heart more than they ever did probably. Some, I was lucky enough to bump into on this planet of six billion people. Others shared much of my genetic material. One selflessly did her best for me all my life. That’s what mums do though. They do it for no other reason than love.

Gervais ended his piece by wishing “Peace to all mankind. Christian, Jew, Muslim and Atheist.” That led to O’Donnell’s conclusion, “the happy atheist Ricky Gervais is actually more Christ-like than the Reverend Pat Robertson.”

Dire Warning! | Frothing Religious Lunatic Pat Robertson Accuses Atheists!


Dire Warning! | Frothing Religious Lunatic Pat Robertson Accuses Atheists!
Robertson: ‘Miserable’ Atheists Trying to ‘Steal’ Christmas
SUBMITTED BY Brian Tashman

The “War on Christmas” has arrived and the 700 Club is doing all it can to stoke fears that Christmas may cease to exist. Host Pat Robertson warned that “the Grinch is trying to steal our holiday” as “miserable” atheists “want to steal your holiday away from you” simply because they can’t stand the joy of Christmas. “Atheists don’t like our happiness, they don’t want you to be happy, they want you to be miserable,” he said. “They’re miserable so they want you to be miserable.”

Watch:

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Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks (Review)


Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks (Review)
Posted by Darren

“This is Christmas!” the Doctor declares, addressing the Parliament of the Daleks early in the episode. Really, Christmas was merely the last time we saw him, but it’s been so long since the last new episode of Doctor Who that it does almost feel like Christmas. This year, showrunner Steven Moffat has promised big budget spectacle. There will be no two-parters and, instead, each instalment will feel like a forty-five-minute summer film. Asylum of the Daleks feels like a fairly efficient prototype for that storytelling model, while still perhaps hinting at the things to come as the Doctor enters his fiftieth year on British television.

Moffat’s crack at writing a Dalek episode…

This is really Moffat’s first attempt to write a “Dalek” episode. Sure, he’s written stories including the monsters before, like The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang, but this is the first to focus solely on the genocidal maniacs and (arguably more importantly) the first with a title to include “… of the Daleks.” I think that’s fascinating, if only because – as a writer, Moffat has gravitated rather consciously towards what might be dubbed “his own thing.”

While Russell T. Davies would end his seasons by bringing back fan favourites like the Daleks or the Cybermen or the Master, Moffat has generally used the season finalé to round-out the year’s story-telling, to offer something a bit bold and perhaps a bit less obviously crowd-pleasing. So it’s interesting to see Moffat open a season with the most crowd-pleasing of Doctor Who monsters. It’s always fun to see a writer working outside their comfort zone, and it is very weird to see Moffat doing an entire episode based around a very classic concept, rather than something more distinctly his own.

Plunging into a new season with Matt Smith…

It’s very clear what Moffat wants to do here. As he outline in interviews before the series started, he wants to make the Daleks scary again:

Kids are supposedly frightened of Daleks but they take them to bed. Is there a way we can make them scarier, get them back to being more monstery? I hope they will leave them outside their bedroom doors, was my response to that. There is a tremendous temptation to go kitch and sweet with the Daleks. You shouldn’t. They are insane tanks.

Of course, there’s only so much a writer can do. The Daleks are, for better or worse, almost as deeply engrained in our popular consciousness as the good Doctor himself. You can use the word “Dalek”and everybody knows what you’re talking about. They aren’t treated as objects of fear in the collective mind, but objects of ridicule. The very word conjures up a (literal) tinpot dictator screaming nonsense in a shrill voice, often while spinning around uncontrollably.

Graveyard of the Daleks?

That’s not to suggest that it’s impossible to make the Dalek’s scare again. I think that, for all its faults, Dalek did a good job of that years ago. The problem is that you can’t keep them scary. They’ll always vary from episode-to-episode. After all, Russell T. Davies gave us the all-conquering Daleks of The Parting of the Ways and the campy sass-talkin’ Daleks of Doomsday. It really depends on the episode in question to sell the Daleks as a credible and convincing threat. I think it’s impossible to “rehabilitate” the collective cultural opinion of the monsters, if only because the BBC itself is the one pumping out plush Dalek teddy bears. Squeeze them and they say “Exterminate!”

In Hollywood, they say that you are only as good as your last movie. In television, the Daleks are only as good as their last episode. While it has – following this logic – been quite a while since they’ve been really good at all, Asylum of the Daleks does a pretty good job establishing the pepperpot maniacs as credible monsters in their own right, to the point that it feels much more like a Dalek mission statement than Victory of the Daleks, the first Dalek episode of the Moffat era. There, the episode seemed to exist merely to finally reverse Russell T. Davies’ repeated genocide of the creatures. Here, Moffat seems to work to make them actively scary.

Shining some light on the matter…

Asylum of the Daleks does open with the monsters at their lowest ebb. In a way, it follows the reverse arc of most Dalek episodes. In the past, Dalek episodes have introduced the creatures as serious threats, only for the Doctor to undermine them towards the end. Here, Moffat opens with the creatures looking almost pathetically weak. “Save us!” the Daleks chant as the teaser fades. “Save us! Save us! Saaaaaave us!” Our plucky heroine has been introduced seeming to keep an entire planet of Daleks at bay for over a year using nothing more than a few boards of wood, while being so blaisé about the monsters on her doorstep that she bakes soufflé.

However, over the course of Asylum of the Daleks, Moffat continually builds up the monsters as a threat in their own right. Both of those opening images are brutally subverted. Our survivor is not who she appears to be, and the Daleks actually plan to save a bit of bother by blowing up the Doctor with their asylum – killing two birds with one gigantic explosion. In a way, Moffat seems to set out the same thing that show set out to accomplish with Victory of the Dalekstwo years ago.

One flew over the Daleks’ nest…

That episode also began with the Daleks at their weakest possible point (“WOULD! YOU! CARE! FOR! SOME! TEA?!”) and then sought to reveal them as a grand galactic threat in their own right. The notions seemed to be that you might elevate their stock by allowing the monsters to “win one” for a change. However, the episode was somewhat undermined by the fact that it interpretted “win one” as “produce a bunch of toyetic new models and run off like cowards into outer space.” It was more Stalemate of the Daleks than Victory of the Daleks.

The ending of Asylum of the Daleks feels a more successful one for the monsters. They don’t get to kill the Doctor, but they do succeed in getting him to do their dirt work. They accomplish their goals, but miss out on the perk of killing him. The Doctor doesn’t “win”by any stretch. He loses a new friend in a rather brutal manner. He just about manages to avoid losing at least one of his companions.

Primed and ready for action…

Indeed, the closest thing to a victory he earns in confronting his foes is the fact that they don’t remember who he is. (Incidentally, preventing them from planting another of their brutal traps – next time presumably intending to kill him.) While it isn’t a clear victory for either side, the Daleks emerge as a much more credible threat going forward.

There are, of course, other very “Moffat” ideas that exist to enhance the scare factor of these most iconic of monsters. The notion of Daleks that have literally hallowed out human beings so that they could live inside is a terrifying one. It’s a creepy image, especially as the eye-stalk does emerge through a clean portal, but instead breaks the skin, evoking Ridley Scott’s Alien for a family friendly audience. Indeed, the line that they come “still only at night” feels like a shout-out to Newt in Aliens.

They’ve really cornered the market…

While those creepy human-Daleks are introduced early on, it’s the notion of the “nano-cloud” that makes the monsters so unsettling in a way that they haven’t been in a while – the fact that they can animate any matter – “living or dead” – in their own image is much creepier than people on Dalek ships in weird fetish gear. The thought that they can “subtract love and add hate” without you really realising it is unsettling, as is the notion that you might be a Dalek without even realising it.

In fact, the early part of the episode does a wonderful job of exploring the relationship between the Doctor and the Daleks. It’s fascinating how clearly they seem to understand each other, while completely failing to grasp the most essential facets. The Doctor understands the Daleks are bred to hate, and knows the plan that they have concocted to simultaneously wipe out him and the rogue elements. However, he’s aghast at they “divine hatred” that they see as “beautiful.”

Tough crowd…

At the same time, they seem to understand him quite well. Perhaps, in some ways, even better than he does himself. They bring Rory and Amy along, if only because, as they state, “the Doctor requires companions.” It’s a truth that the character himself seems to be denying at the moment – and experience has taught us that he lacks the self-awareness to see that this is a very bad thing. And still, despite their understanding of him, they fail to grasp that he will inevitably escape because… well, that’s what he does.

It’s interesting that Moffat actually takes the time to reverse the direction that Russell T. Davies took the Daleks. I like the revelation that he is “the Predator of the Daleks”, and I love the fact that the interplay between the Doctor and the Daleks in this reluctant team-up reveals so much of each. (“This conversation is irrelevant!” serving as perhaps the most obvious expression of the philosophical conflict between the two.) So it’s interesting that Moffat takes the time to effectively re-write that dynamic, erasing the Doctor from the Daleks’ memory banks.

(Eye) stalking their prey…

To be fair, maybe he has a point. Maybe that dynamic ha splayed a part in humbling the creatures – making them too casual and too familiar to the Doctor. After all, it’s hard to construct a credible threat when they shake in their little space boots at the very mention of his name. So now they meet as equals. It’s quite similar to how Moffat used the “tear” to quietly tidy up his predecessor’s continuity. I also love how the Doctor seems almost insulted as he asks, “You made them forget me?!”

That seems like it might be a nod to the series’ fiftieth anniversary, coming up. The episode leans pretty heavily on the notion of legacy and memory. There’s the discussion between Rory and Amy about kids, which is quite a potent piece of drama for a family show, but also the fact that the Daleks forget the Doctor and the final plea, “Remember me! Remember me!” (Speaking of which, how weird was it to hear Nicholas Briggs speaking in his Dalek voice in an almost conversational manner? The man’s vocal performances continue to impress.)

Alone with every genocidal pepperpot…

Of course, Moffat’s re-writing of Dalek history does raise a few questions, retroactively. After all, the opening sequence has the Daleks efficiently corralling the Doctor in a fiendish plan. It’s a fantastic reversal of their needless complex schemes that often end up backfiring, portraying the monsters as strong and ruthless. However, it begs the question of why – if the Doctor is such a pain – they never did this to simply exterminate him in the first place? The nano-cloud is a brilliant idea, but it makes it seem a bit strange it never came up before. Still, that’s something for others to figure out. It works well here, and it makes them a pretty convincing threat. And that is undoubtedly the most important thing.

It also feels a bit strange to meet “the Parliament of the Daleks” with the “Prime Minister” at its head. What do they do, sit around and talk exterminating policy? Do they hold constituency elections? Is there a Dalek election by-law? I really liked the “Holy Dalek Emperor” from The Parting of the Ways, but I always saw the Daleks as a distinctly fascist species.  (In fact, Moffat’s reference to “divine hatred”seems to reference that most daring and most wonderful of Davies’ take on the monsters.)

If David Tennant were around, I would make a “Beam me up, Scotty” reference here…

Even using terms associated with democracy feels kinda strange in relation to the creatures. Did they vote on the plan to coopt the Doctor? Still, it’s not a problem, just a small element that feels a little out of place. I can’t help but wonder if Moffat was trying a bit of blunt social satire, like he did in The Beast Below.

The episode’s twist also feels just a little bit familiar. After all, Moffat did the “person-isn’t-really-a-person” twist not too long ago, in Silence in the Library, another story of a girl interacting with the Doctor’s adventures from a secure location who turns out to be part of some ghastly mechanised operation, with an element of tragedy concerning the state of her humanity in this altered and distorted form.

Come to a dead stop…

I will confess to being a bit disappointed (as I was in Closing Time) with the revelation that Amy became a model. It’s a shame that character has been defined by jobs that involve her looking appealing to men. Not to suggest, of course, that there is anything wrong with Amy enjoying a career as a model, it just seems that her skillset has not really evolved. She’s still defined by her job as “really, really good looking”, albeit just in a less sleazy context.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to seem puritanical or anything. However, it seems strange that the recurring theme of the new series has been that the Doctor has allowed his companions to grow as individuals through their interactions. Rose became a super extra-dimensional secret agent. Martha became a kick-ass medical professional and alien invasion specialist. The great tragedy of Donna was that she was eventually denied the growth that stemmed from her time with Doctor. So it feels strange that Amy’s character development is measured in becoming a “pretty face”on a billboard.

Carry on regardless…

That said, it’s interesting that Moffat chose to have Amy and Rory break up. Of course, it’s inevitable the pair will get back together, but I like the idea that largely adult concerns – well, almost – could come between the two. The notion of a couple being unable to conceive feels quite an adult development. Of course, Amy’s decision to kick Rory out instead of actually talking about or dealing with it is undoubtedly childish. That said, it feels like a place to begin a second character arc for the pair. Amy has still not quite “grown up” enough to deal with these adult problems in a mature manner, so it feels appropriate that her “raggedy Doctor” has returned to help her through it.

Still, it’s great to have the team back. And it’s certainly a blockbuster start to the year. The sequence with the Dalek missiles destroying the asylum did look a bit gnaff in an eighties sort of way, but the rest of the production was pretty stylish. I especially like how Moffat effectively structured the episode like a James Bond or Mission: Impossible type plot, with the teasure spent putting the gang together, only for the group to be tasked with a nigh-impossible task. It does go a long way towards adding a cinematic feeling to proceedings, which seems to be what Moffat is trying to do. It’s really quite effective tea-time telly.

Graveyard of the Daleks?

While I certainly hope that we might get something a bit quieter at some point this year (or next), it certain accomplishes what it set out to do. If they can do twelve more of these, I’ll be very impressed. It’s a great way to ring in a fiftieth anniversary.

Islamic Terror In Nigeria


Nigeria’s descent into holy war

A wave of terrorist violence across Nigeria has raised fears of an alliance   between the Islamist Boko Haram movement and al-Qaeda‘s franchise in the   Sahara. Colin Freeman reports from the Boko Haram stronghold of   Maiduguri.

Cars allegedly destroyed in army reprisals against residents of Maiduguri for failing to alert them to Boko Haram attacks

Cars allegedly destroyed in army reprisals against residents of Maiduguri for failing to alert them to Boko Haram attacks Photo: TOM SAATER/DEMOTIX
Colin Freeman

By , Maiduguri

7:30AM GMT 08 Jan 2012

Like many other Christian outposts in the spiritual homeland of Nigeria‘s   “Taliban”, the Victory Baptist Church in the northern desert city   of Maiduguri no longer just relies on God for protection.

A modest whitewashed spire in a skyline dominated by mosques, for the last   month it has had a military guard to defend it from Boko Haram, the militant   local Islamist sect blamed for a string of terror attacks nationwide in   recent weeks.

The soldiers in the sandbagged machinegun nest outside the church, though,   were unable save three members of the flock last week.

On Wednesday evening, three days after Boko Haram ordered all Christians to   leave Muslim-dominated northern Nigeria for good, Ousman Adurkwa, a   65-year-old local trader, answered the door of his home near the church to   what he thought was an after-hours customer. Instead it was two masked   gunmen.

“They shot my father dead, and then came for the rest of the family,”   Mr Adurkwa’s other son Hyeladi, 25, told The Sunday Telegraph the   following day. “One chased my brother Moussa and killed him, and the   other shot at me, but my mother took the bullet in the stomach instead.”

Hyeladi spoke as weeping parishioners gathered for an impromptu memorial   service in the Adurkwa family compound, where the parlour carpet was still   stained with blood from the gunshot wound suffered by Mrs Aduwurka, 50, who   now lies in hospital.

But while the sermon from the local pastor, Brother Balani, urged “prayers   for those who God has taken away, and comfort for those who remain”, it   diplomatically avoided the more earthly question of who actually did it.

For one thing, no-one can be sure the killing was not simply the result of a   private feud. And for another, Boko Haram, whose name means “Western   education is sinful”, and which wants hardline Sharia law across the   whole of Nigeria, has a track record of killing anyone who points the finger   at them publicly.

Yet some of the Adurkwa family’s neighbouring Christian households have   already made up their mind, fleeing the district for fear they might be next.

“We are going through a very difficult time because of Boko Haram,”   said Joseph Adams, 30, who lives nextdoor to the Aduwurkas. “Two weeks   ago a nearby church was also burned down, and nine other Christians have   been killed. Now all the houses around me are emptying.”

Whether such killings really do herald the start of a pogrom of Christians   remains in dispute. The Nigerian government, which is facing criticism for   failing to curb Boko Haram’s reign of terror, insists last week’s threats   were simply bluster, despite the deaths of some 23 Christians in two further   attacks elsewhere in northern Nigeria on Thursday and Friday.

What is less in doubt is the alarming evolution of the sect, which has   progressed from using machetes and poisoned arrows in its infancy to   sophisticated carbombs and Mumbai-style mass gun attacks today.

Started as a religious study group in Maiduguri more than 15 years ago, it   first took up arms under the leadership of a firebrand former civil servant,   Mohammed Yusuf, and focused its wrath mainly against the Nigerian   government, which it accused of neglecting the dirt-poor Muslim north.

Today, however, it is believed to be morphing into a new pan-African jihadist   franchise, forging links with both al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, which   operates in the vast Sahara region north of Nigeria, and al-Shebab in   Somalia.

Last August, in what diplomats fear may signal a campaign against Western   interests in oil-rich Nigeria, it killed 24 people with a car bombing of the   United Nations building in the capital, Abuja.

But what is causing even more worry is its parallel lurch into more sectarian   violence, aggravating historic tensions between the Christian south and the   Muslim north, and potentially destabilising West Africa’s biggest and most   powerful nation.

That new agenda was spelt out with a brutal sense of occasion on Christmas   Day, when a car bomb killed 42 worshippers at morning mass at St Theresa’s   Catholic Church in Madalla, just outside Abuja.

Among the bereaved was Steady Esiri, who rushed to the scene to find a charred   corpse wearing the distinctive Sunday best dress of his pregnant wife Uche,   26. Her eight-month old foetus had been torn from her womb.

“We were supposed to attend Mass together, but I was busy and planned to   go the evening service instead,” he said. “Then I heard a huge   explosion, and when I rushed here I recognised her dress. She was a   wonderful woman, a perfect housewife, now I will have to start my life   again. What kind of people do this for political ends?”

For the Reverend Isaac Achi, who feared his 3,500 strong congregation might   carry out reprisals against local Muslims, it was cause for a heartfelt   sermon the following day reminding them of the Christian virtue of   forgiveness.

“I told them revenge would just increase the number of souls dying on   both sides,” he said last week, looking out over church’s wrecked   facade, where Christmas decorations still hung lopsidedly. “But if the   government cannot stop this kind of thing, I will be worried about the   future of Nigeria.”

For some Christian leaders, however, the time for meekness is over. In   comments that angered Muslim leaders, the president of the Christian   Association of Nigeria, the Reverend Ayo Oritsejafor, branded the attacks a “declaration   of war” against Christians, and warned that they would “have no   choice but to respond appropriately ” if the authorities failed to stop   them.

Responding to the crisis last weekend, Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan,   declared a state of emergency throughout selected northern areas, including   Maiduguri, a dusty frontier town near the border with Chad.

Troops, tanks and pick-up trucks of menacing-looking plain clothes police have   flooded the city’s sandy, unpaved boulevards, where motorbikes – long the   favourite method for Boko Haram’s hit and run attacks – have long been   banned. Nevertheless, an air of menace remains, with the 6pm curfew enforced   not just by the soldiers, as by the knowledge that the sect generally mounts   attacks from late afternoon onwards. When The Sunday Telegraph   visited last week, explosions and gunfire were heard during the hours of   darkness.

Pacifying the city has been made harder by the local hostility to the security   forces, whose heavy-handed approach has won few hearts and minds over the   years.

In 2009, more than 700 people were killed when troops fought a five day battle   against Boko Haram followers which culminated in the capture of their   leader, Mr Yusuf. But the government’s victory was marred by reports that he   was summarily executed in police custody, a move that galvanised Yusuf   supporters to regroup, and put some locals off cooperating with the   authorities.

Last week, The Sunday Telegraph saw one street littered with burned out   cars – allegedly set fire to by soldiers after locals failed to warn them of   a bomb attack.

“They were angry because we did not give them any information,” said   one man, afraid to give his name. “But if we do, the sect will come   after us. We’re stuck in the middle.”

Maiduguri, however, is not the only flashpoint city in the region, and nor do   Muslim extremists have a monopoly on aggression. In the religiously mixed   city of Jos, north of Abuja, Christians are held equally to blame for   clashes that have claimed several thousand lives in the last decade alone.

The city, said to be an acronym for “Jesus Our Saviour”, sits atop a   balmy plateau that provides prime farming land and was once a favoured   retreat for British colonials escaping the humid malarial climes of coastal   Lagos. But it is jealously regarded as a historic fiefdom by the Christian   Berom tribe, who still view the Muslim Hausas who came here a century ago as   interlopers, despite having sold them much of their land.

On a walk through Jos’s Bukuru district, scene of Muslim-Christian clashes   which claimed 150 lives two years ago, the conflicting visions become clear.   While the two groups still live side by side in dense shanty towns, patches   of no-go-areas abound for each, and no two accounts of how 2010’s bloodshed   arose are alike.

“It is the Berom who cause the problems, trying to get their land back,”   said Mohamed Yakuba, 32, gesturing to a row of burned-out houses where his   father and eight other relatives died during the clashes.

True, he is still on good terms with his Berom neighbour John Jang, who also   lost his home. But when asked for his version of events, Mr Jang insists: “The   Birom were simply retaliating for attacks that the Hausa started.”

Yet while most Berom and Hausa still muddle along together in every day life –   urged on by street posters saying “Stop this wickedness” – some of   the Jos’s politicians have a less compromising view. None more so than Toma   Davou, 73, the Scripture-quoting leader of the Berom parliamentary forum,   who greets foreign visitors to Jos by saying “Welcome to Beromland”.

“The Hausas want to push us out, and although it is about land   occupation, they say it is religious so that they can get the sympathy of   Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda,” said Mr Davou. “Christians should arm   to the teeth to meet this threat from them and Boko Haram.”

Mr Davou is now campaigning for Nigeria to divide into separate Muslim and   Christian states, a move that for many would evoke memories of the Biafran   civil war of the 1960s.

The Nigerian government dismisses such talk, pointing out that the vast   majority of its 150 million citizens get on with one another peaceably, but   there is less clarity on the remedy for Boko Haram and al Qaeda, its new   ally.

Some Nigerian officials even question whether the sect really exists, saying   much of the havoc in Maiduguri is the work of criminal gangs who use its   name to frighten people.

But others are convinced that Boko Haram’s relationship is indeed having a   fledgling relationship with al-Qaeda – not least Robert Fowler, a Canadian   diplomat kidnapped by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb while serving with the   UN in Niger in 2008.

The gang who held him in the Sahara for 130 days repeatedly told him of their   aim to destroy governments across central Africa as a precursor to   establishing a pan-African caliphate. And among their number, they also   included a Nigerian.

“It would be an obvious partnership to form, even if there isn’t any hard   evidence yet,” Mr Fowler said. “The world should be worried,   because Nigeria is a huge country, and if it implodes it will take the rest   of West Africa with it.”

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Priestly Broom Brawl Forces Palestinian Police Intervention


Now what would fictional baby Jesus think?!

Palestinian Police Break Up Fight Between Priests At Church of the Nativity

CNN reports that yesterday Palestinian police in the West Bank city of Bethlehem were sent into the Church of the Nativity to break up a fight that broke out between Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests. The Church is under a complicated joint administration of Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian religious authorities.
The Church is traditionally cleaned by priests between December 25 and the Orthodox celebration of Christmas that comes in the first week of January. During that clean-up, a fight broke out between two priests who were sweeping the Church. The fight quickly escalated until 50 to 60 priests were striking each other with broomsticks. A similar incident occurred in 2007.