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U.S. Evangelical Christians' Kurdish Crusade
In the immediate aftermath of shock and awe during the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, a number of fundamentalist Christian organizations announced plans to participate in the rebuilding of Iraq. Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of Rev. Billy Graham, indicated that his organization, Samaritan's Purse, would lead the way.
Around that time, while working on a book titled Bad Faith about the financial forces behind the Religious Right, Mike Reynolds got wind of the Nashville, Tennessee-based non-profit, America 21. According to Reynolds, a long-time investigative reporter, "the group caught my eye because it was involved with holding support rallies for Judge Roy Moore, who, as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, defied a federal order to remove his 5,300-pound monument of the Ten Commandments from inside the state's judicial building." The statue was later removed from the building and Moore was removed from the bench.
Via a number of e-mail exchanges, Reynolds talked about the strong presence that Christian evangelicals have established in Northern Iraq. Reynolds's work on the secular and religious right has been featured in the Nation, Mother Jones, Playboy, Rolling Stone, The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, US News&World Report, Searchlight (UK), the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, and CBS's "60 Minutes" and "48 Hours."
BERKOWITZ: How did Christian evangelicals get so deeply involved with the Kurds?
REYNOLDS: You might say that it started after Saddam Hussein's 1988 assault on the Kurds, which culminated in the chemical weapon attack that killed thousands in the village of Halabja. Some 14,000 refugees from Kurdistan made their way to Nashville, Tennessee, now home to the largest Kurdish population in the nation. Four years later, a group of Nashville evangelical Dominionists known as Servant Group International (SGI) departed from the Belmont Church—a megachurch occupying several blocks on Music Square—making their way to the mountains of northern Iraq where they set up shop.
Why is Kurdistan important to Christian evangelicals?
For evangelicals, Northern Iraq is prime real estate in what they call the 10/40 Window, which is a geographical delineation at 10 and 40 degrees North latitude that opens across North Africa, through the Middle East, India and ends in Indonesia. The concept originated in 1991 with Argentine evangelist Luis Bush and was expanded upon by his fellow New Apostolics C. Peter Wagner and George Otis, Jr. These zealous dominionists called it the "primary spiritual battleground in the world today…the Church's final evangelistic frontier."
When the "spiritual warriors" of SGI headed out of Nashville for Kurdistan it was under this banner. With the compliance of the Barzani-led Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and a sympathetic Bush administration, these U.S. evangelicals have established a solid base of operations in the Middle East for their aggressive and potentially inflammable brand of proselytizing. With tensions ratcheting up between the Kurds and Iraqi Sunnis over who will control the oil-rich regions of Kirkuk and the Nineveh Plain, having these U.S. end-time evangelicals trying to convert Muslims in Kurdistan with the blessings of the KRG is, as a long-time Kurdistan expert told me, "like striking matches in a room full of gasoline."
What was SGI up to?
The folks from Belmont Church had a very big agenda. They brought with them Kurdish-language bibles, medical equipment, lots of money, and a long-range plan to establish their "Father's Kingdom" between the Turkish border and Iran. Since the time of its arrival in Northern Iraq, SGI has widened its presence, establishing bases in Turkey, Liberia, Indonesia, Germany, and Norway.
Can you describe how SGI operates?
What is especially distinctive about SGI—and its partners—is its development of a military model of evangelism (spiritual warfare) which includes covert action tactics or "tentmaking" and intelligence gathering or "spiritual mapping." They have an ingrained animosity to Islam, and their Dominionist "Kingdom Now" world-view, is a fusion of neo-Calvinist authoritarianism and new apostolic Pentecostalism, a cult-like millenarian sect of the Assemblies of God led by self-anointed apostles and prophets. Interestingly enough, its best known adherent is Republican vice presidential candidate Sara Palin.
The movement, marked by its obsession with demons and world conquest, grew under the guidance of C. Peter Wagner, head of an outfit called Global Harvest Ministries. In the November 2005 Global Link newsletter, Wagner wrote that "God has already raised up for us a key apostle in one of the strategic nations of the Middle East, and other apostles are already coming on board. Once we have the apostles in place, we will then bring the intercessors and the prophets into the inner circle, and we will end up with the spiritual core we need to move ahead for retaking the dominion that is rightfully ours." Despite such theocratic baggage, SGI shrewdly established themselves as valued assets to the KRG ruling families and the Bush/Cheney Iraq war effort.
In her 1989 book Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right, Sara Diamond defines the term as "a form of intense prayer—often accompanied by charismatic practices such as speaking in tongues—intended to change either a material or supernatural situation." Can you explain the role that spiritual warfare plays with SGI?
In their 2000 book Our Father's Kingdom: The Church and The Nation, Douglas Layton and George Otis, Jr. declared that "if communists and Muslims can take nations—so can our God!" And by taking nations, Layton means that "Christ's kingdom must rule over government and law, the arts and sports, education, business, economics, science and technology, the media, and the family."
Otis, one of the generals in the spiritual warfare movement, heads the Sentinel Group, formerly known as Issachar Frontier Missions Strategies. Sentinel is essentially a global evangelical intelligence agency that deploys "field cells" with laptops who gather demographics in cities and rural areas in targeted countries. The data is then forwarded to computer banks at the Sentinel Group as part of its spiritual mapping project. It is currently operational in Central America, Uganda, and the Middle East. Otis's history in the Middle East dates back more than two decades to when his father, George Otis Sr., a close friend of Ronald Reagan and former Lear Jet executive, set up the High Adventure radio ministry in Lebanon in 1980. Otis put the station in the hands of Christian Falangists during the Israeli occupation. The U.S. State Department tried to shut him down without success.
Otis then launched Middle East Television, an evangelical broadcast also in Lebanon. Otis later "gifted" MET to Pat Robertson who absorbed the station into his global Christian Broadcasting Network. At a New Orleans conference of evangelicals in 1987, one of George Jr.'s Issachar associates told Sara Diamond that their group intended to make themselves more attractive to recruiters from the CIA and the State by working as bi-vocational professional missionaries—teachers, businesspeople, consultants, engineers, diplomats and military personnel.
Douglas Layton is clearly an important figure in all this. Talk more about him.
Douglas Layton, the founding director of SGI, is a veteran evangelical missionary to the Middle East. More than seven years ago, in a publication called the Forerunner, longtime Christian Reconstructionist Andrew Sandlin wrote of Layton and SGI's evangelical push into northern Iraq: "If we are going to support missionaries, let's support missionaries who are going around the world to recapture cultures, not simply win a few souls here and there," Sandlin wrote. "For example, consider Doug Layton in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, who is re-building a Christian culture: new Christian schools, new Christian businesses, and more. He is not content to build churches; he wants an entire Christian culture."
Up until this year Layton served as the Erbil director of the Kurdistan Development Corporation, a KRG-sponsored venture launched in 2004 to promote, facilitate, and establish business and investment opportunities in the Kurdistan region in Iraq. Layton transitioned from his post at the KRG Ministry of Health where he wrote speeches for the minister and directed the USAID-backed boondoggle, Health Care Partnerships in Northern Iraq.
The last I heard, Layton was operating a private venture called The Other Iraq Tours that arranges junkets for American businesspeople and politicians into Kurdistan.
What is SGI up to now?
These days, SGI is closely involved with the Kurdistan Regional Government, the ruling coalition of Massoud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), brokering international business concessions and oil drilling contracts, funneling USAID money into their missions, setting up a chain of "classical Christian" schools, and producing slick PR videos for the Kurdistan Regional Government that were broadcast in the U.S. It appears as if the KRG has given them the run of the country, often backing their ministries and schools with grants of land, buildings, and other favors.
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
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POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
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OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.