Dogma Alert

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Religious aid groups try to convert victims

This is another disturbing story from the UK's Guardian newspaper that highlights the typical hypocrisy of Christian dogoodniks, whose poisoned "charity" comes with a most malevolent pricetag.

Jason Burke
Sunday January 16, 2005

Dozens of religious groups have moved in to Aceh, looking to help tsunami victims - and convert them and others, creating tensions in the disaster area.

What grand psychological schism must exist in the minds of those manipulative proselytizers who feel the need to take a massive human tragedy and use it to further their own goals.

It's almost as if they believe that by converting those Godless brown-skinned heathens in third world countries will win them brownie points in heaven.

Unfortunately, the sad reality for those people now struggling with the enormity of this disaster, is trying to contend with a gaggle of raging zealots who insist that any help offered in their time of tragedy also be coupled with Biblical sermons and other forms of fundamentalist dogma.

The arrival of Western Christian groups with records of aggressive preaching risks confrontation with local Muslim leaders which could jeopardise the provision of aid to the 600,000 local people made homeless by the disaster. The death toll in Aceh stands at around 110,000 and is expected to rise.

Reacting to the attempts of one American group to fly hundreds of local children to a Christian orphanage, Din Syamsuddin, head of the Indonesian Council of Clerics, said any attempt to spread religion under the cover of aid was wrong.

'The Muslim community will not remain quiet. This a clear statement, and it is serious,' he said.

Many survivors of the disaster are deeply traumatised by their experience and thus, experts say, vulnerable to religious groups. The disaster has led to a huge increase in religious sentiment. Many Acehnese speak of the wave as a punishment from God for immorality and lax Islamic practice, pointing out that in many villages only the mosque was left standing.

'I had faith but never did what I should have done,' said Shinta Ekhsani, a 29 year-old English teacher. 'I did not pray five times a day. I did not teach my children about Islam. I was too materialistic. Now I have changed.'

Most Indonesians follow a moderate strand of Islam, very different from more hardline varieties increasingly prevalent in the Middle East. Local Muslim groups were among the first to bring help to victims. Aceh is Indonesia's most religiously conservative province.

However, more radical Muslim groups started arriving in the province within days. These include the Islamic Defenders' Front, which has attacked bars and shops selling alcohol in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, and Lashkar Mujahideen, which endorses a militant ideology and has alleged links to the killing of Christians.

Last week, speaking outside a tent at Banda Aceh's busy military airport under a banner reading 'Islamic Law Enforcement', Salman al-Farizi said his group were in Aceh to give medical and food assistance, remove corpses, evacuate refugees and to preach. 'The survivors will be helped to spread the true word of Allah,' al-Farizi said.

Lest anyone think that my distaste for relgious "pushers" taking advantage of people in times of crisis is limited to those of the Christian variety, they would be incorrect. As the above example shows, fundamentalism from any belief system, be it Christian, Muslim or Jewish, that is forced upon others is equally abhorrent.

Elsewhere, groups are handing out Korans and even veils alongside aid. Volunteers from the al-Azhar Foundation in Jakarta said they had distributed 1,993 Korans to refugees from Lokh Nga, one of the worst-hit villages. 'Many want to read the Koran to help them with their trauma,' said Anwar Sani, director of the foundation.

Some Christian groups, however, are instructing workers not to display church names or wear crosses.

'We prefer to address the physical needs first,' said William Suhanda, an Indonesian whose Christian group, 'Light of Love for Aceh', is helping distribute food in Banda Aceh and hopes to bring 50 children to a Christian orphanage in Jakarta. 'We also want to expose them to Christian values... so they can see the other side, that we're about the love of Christ,' he said.

It is irrelevant whether or not church names or crosses are openly displayed, as with any "hidden agenda", it is the people in desperate need of aid who will become the new victims of this latest wave of religiosity.

Mark Kosinski, an American evangelist who arrived in Aceh from Malaysia last week, said: 'These people need food but they also need Jesus. God is trying to awaken people and help them realise salvation is in Christ.'

One US Christian group was revealed last week to have tried to airlift 300 'tsunami orphans' to a Christian children's home. WorldHelp started raising funds for the operation until it learned that the Indonesian government had banned non-Muslims from adopting Acehnese orphans.

'What we were attempting to do in finding a home for these orphans is no different from what Mother Teresa did in placing Hindu orphans in a Christian children's home,' said Vernon Brewer, president of WorldHelp.

The Church of Scientology has also established a presence in Banda Aceh, setting up a base opposite the governor's mansion. 'We are not here to proselytise. That would be distasteful,' said Greg Churilov. 'We hope we are just seen as another relief group.'

However, there are also opportunities for co-operation. The US navy's high-profile effort to assist Indonesia deliver aid has helped counter anger over the Iraq war. The Islamic Defenders' Front spent much of this week removing corpses from collapsed homes alongside an Indonesian Christian group. Mormons have teamed up with Islamic relief operations to send aid to the region.

Last week, the UN even asked Lashkar Mujahideen to unload a plane of relief supplies because it was short of personnel.

Okay, so now even the Church of Scientology is getting involved, praise Hubbard. Perhaps they are on the lookout for the next would be Indonesian Tom Cruise?

One of the downsides of living in a free-will universe is that people, no matter how deluded their belief system may be, are still free to try and pressure others to conform to that very same belief system, whether they like it or not.

Too bad for those kids in Indonesia who are unaware of the Devil's bargain that such relief aid will bring.

Who will save them from this new tsunami of religious dogma?

Hopefully, not Jesus.



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