Steven Anderson: Serial abuser of free speech

Pastor Steven Anderson. (Facebook photo)
Updated 09 July 2019
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Steven Anderson: Serial abuser of free speech

  • The American pastor embodies a trend of preachers hiding behind religion to spew messages of bigotry
  • Anderson has lauded the 2016 Orlando massacre, publicly prayed for Obama's death and denied the Holocaust

DUBAI: Pastor Steven Anderson uses his pulpit as his hate platform and justifies his extremist views in the name of religion.

Banned from half a dozen countries across the globe, the US-born hate preacher has lauded the 2016 Orlando massacre, publicly prayed for the death of former US President Barack Obama and denied the Holocaust.

Anderson says he hates anyone who believes in the “sin” of any other religion than his own fundamentalist Christian beliefs.

According to experts, he is part of a growing trend of hate preachers hiding behind religion, using their places of worship as a sanctuary to spread their discriminatory and bigoted messages to the world, all under the smokescreen of “religious freedom.”

Such preachers of hate justify their actions by saying they are fighting the enemies of God, said Josh Lipowsky, a research analyst at the Counter Extremism Project.

“Calling Anderson a hate preacher is an appropriate term as he promotes an extreme version of religion,” Lipowsky told Arab News.

BIO

  • Nationality: American
  • Place of residence: Tempe, Arizona
  • Occupation: Pastor and founder of the Faithful Word Baptist Church, a fundamentalist Baptist church
  • Legal status Banned from Ireland, the Netherlands, Jamaica, South Africa, Botswana and the UK
  • Medium YouTube sermons, personal vlogs “sanderson1611” and “Faithful Word Baptist Church,” Facebook

“While he doesn’t specifically encourage violence, he praises it and justifies his ideology by using his religious beliefs to disprove others.”

Anderson promotes an image that “he’s on the side of God, therefore anyone who disagrees with him is an enemy of God,” Lipowsky said.

A father of 10, Anderson heads the infamous Faithful Word Baptist Church, a fundamentalist Independent Baptist church in Tempe, Arizona.

The church — which he describes as an “old-fashioned, independent, fundamental, King James Bible only, soul-winning Baptist church” — is currently listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) because of Anderson’s radical stands.

Lipowsky said “dangerous is an appropriate term to describe the messages” that Anderson spreads, pointing to his comments in the aftermath of the massacre inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Anderson claimed in one of his uploaded YouTube sermons that “these people all should’ve been killed anyway” given that “the Bible says that homosexuals should be put to death.”

He claimed at the time that a “righteous government” should have tried the victims in court and had them executed according to “God’s perfect law.”

Lipowsky said: “You could have people listening to that and take that responsibility because this is the will of God — ‘if the government won’t take that action then I have to do it.’ That’s the danger of the consequences of these types of work.”

It is also an example of why it is often so difficult to directly penalize hate speech, said Lipowsky.

“Under US laws, you have to be very clear in showing that the speech specifically led to the act of violence,” he added.

“By saying he doesn’t condone the violence in Orlando per se, Anderson is covered, although we can see he’s preaching that hatred and someone who listened to that might feel this makes sense and we need to take this from words into action.”

“In Anderson’s YouTube videos, you can see a physical pulpit, but social media also allows him a digital pulpit that allows him to reach much further.”

Josh Lipowsky, research analyst at the Counter Extremism Project

Katharine Gelber, professor of politics and public policy at the University of Queensland, said Anderson hides behind religion to spread his messages of hate.  

“In some countries, those engaged in hate speech are trying to cite religious freedom as their defense,” she told Arab News.

“This is a clever tactic because they’re using the language of human rights to engage in an anti-human rights agenda. However, it shouldn’t be supported,” she said.

“The term ‘hate’ relates to hate speech, and should be used to identify people engaged in speech that’s discriminatory and harmful. Anderson certainly appears to fit this pattern,” Gelber added.

“Like any human right, free speech carries with it commensurate responsibilities. The right to free speech, and the right to religious freedom, aren’t absolute.”

Like many other hate preachers, Anderson goes online to spread religious discrimination and hatred.

He has a huge YouTube following, both on his personal vlog “sanderson1611,” which has more than 120,000 subscribers, and through his church’s dedicated vlog “Faithful Word Baptist Church,” which has more than 5,000 subscribers.

In one sermon, Anderson said “Hinduism is Satanic,” and those who follow the Roman Catholic faith are “confessing their sins to the priest who calls himself father and dresses like his mother in a dress.”

He has also said “I’m gonna pray that he (Obama) dies and goes to hell,” according to the SPLC.

Following the 2015 terror attack at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, where 90 people were killed, Anderson said the victims deserved to die: “You went to a death metal concert. You bought the ticket.”

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He has also openly criticized Pope Francis for his more tolerant views, describing him as “the greatest false prophet on the earth at this time.”

Gelber said Anderson is a key example of extremists’ use of social media and the problems that arise with it.

“Social media provides a reach and volume that wouldn’t be possible without it. Narrowing hate speech regulations is entirely appropriate, and should be applied online just as they are offline,” she said.

“Beyond that, we need leadership that clarifies that rights come with commensurate responsibilities, and that one person’s exercise of their human rights stops at the point at which their exercise of their rights impedes another’s exercise of their own.

 

ALSO READ: All About Steven Anderson

 

“Democratic states have drawn a line in the sand that says discrimination isn’t acceptable. We need to hold that line.”

Anderson has made international headlines by getting banned from several countries — including Ireland, the Netherlands, Jamaica, South Africa, Botswana and the UK — because of his comments and beliefs.

While his physical presence in these countries may have been curtailed by the bans, his digital presence continues uncensored.

Until stricter online rules are introduced, Lipowsky said,  listening to — and being influenced by — the messages of hate spread by preachers such as Anderson will continue to expand.

 


A farewell to arms in the Philippines' Mindanao

Duterte salutes and greets former members of the MILF at their passing out ceremony. Malacañang photo
Updated 18 September 2019

A farewell to arms in the Philippines' Mindanao

  • Disbanding of MILF commenced with decommissioning of 1,060 fighters on Sept 7
  • Retiring combatants say they look forward to peace and normal life with family

MINDANAO: “Our time on the battlefield is over.” With these words, Al-Haj Ibrahim Murad, interim chief minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), launched the decommissioning of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters and weaponry. 

The ceremony, held earlier this month, was witnessed by the President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte. During the event, 1,060 MILF combatants, wearing blue shirts with the word “decommissioned” printed on the back, were presented to Murad — the chief executive of the Bangsamoro regional government — along with 960 surrendered firearms and heavy weapons.

It was the first step toward retiring members of the MILF’s 40,000-strong Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), who can now return to civilian life. 

Murad is also chair of the MILF, which used to be the largest Muslim rebel group in the country.

Each decommissioned combatant will receive from the government a socioeconomic assistance package worth an estimated 1 million pesos ($19,230). 

This includes 100,000 pesos in cash, health benefits, scholarships for their children, housing and livelihood projects.

For almost half a century, the MILF had waged a war against the government with the goal of winning independence for the country’s Muslim minority.

After years of negotiations, the MILF signed a comprehensive peace agreement with the government in 2014 to end the protracted war on the island of Mindanao that has claimed about 120,000 lives.

In 2018, Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), creating the BARMM. And in January this year, people in the predominantly Muslim area of the southern Philippines returned an overwhelming “yes” in a referendum seeking to ratify the law, which will give them self-rule.

Following the creation of the new Bangsamoro regional government, Duterte approved in March an executive order that would pave the way to decommissioning MILF fighters as part of the normalization track of the 2014 peace deal.

After months of preparations, MILF combatants began handing over their weapons last week to independent foreign monitors, in a process overseen by the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB).

This year, at least 30 percent of MILF fighters (12,000) will be demobilized and their weapons put beyond use. Another 35 percent will go through the same process next year, and the remainder by 2022.

Last month, more than 200 BIAF members completed a month-long military training program, a requirement for them to become part of the composite Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPST), which will secure MILF communities and camps as their comrades begin to demobilize. The JPST also includes military and police contingents.

Having finished their training, the former combatants are now also part of the army with the rank of reservist, and will help in the fight against terrorism and illegal drugs in the region.

MILF leaders and the military say not many years ago, it was unimaginable that BIAF members would be in an army camp to undertake military training with soldiers.

Abdulrasid Batunan, the most senior among the first batch of BIAF members to train with the army, said he looks forward to a lasting peace in their homeland.

An MILF fighter from an early age, Batunan said he now wants to forget the bitter memories of the battles he went through, and hopes for peace and development to replace conflict in the Bangsamoro region. He said he is happy that he can now lead a normal life and spend time with his family.

“I became a combatant in 1980. I’ve taken part in major battles against government troops. I did it because we were fighting for our rights as Muslims, for our independence, but the time has come to stop the war,” he told Arab News.

“The gun has been my instrument for most of my life, which I spent fighting in the jungles together with my comrades. It was hard. There are many things that I don’t even want to think about now.”

Another BIAF member, who declined to be identified, said they were happy to finish their training. 

“It’s not the ultimate end. We have to do good in our task, not only in securing Bangsamoro but for the benefit of the communities here in Mindanao,” he said.

Mujahid Abdullah, 36, who also trained with the army to become a part of the JPST, said the experience was “something he never imagined would happen, being a combatant who fought tooth and nail against government forces.”

The former rebel said he “was amazed by the turn of events,” adding that they will now be working alongside the same government forces that were his fierce adversaries. “I hope this peace will continue and there will no longer be war,” he said.

Baila Musa and Manjorsa Gilman, both married to combatants, said the demobilization has come as a big relief, lifting their hopes for lasting peace in their land. 

The women said they were happy their families would be complete, with their husbands will no longer fighting in the jungles.

Saida Limgas, 66, a decommissioned combatant, said she started fighting at the age of 16 “for the cause of Allah.” She expressed hope that the government will make good on its promise of benefits.

In his message marking the decommissioning process, Murad said: “The combatants who are to be decommissioned today … aren’t ordinary individuals. They’re … individuals whose lives were drastically affected.”

He added: “These are 1,060 stories of love, faith and sacrifice for the sake of Allah, and for the sake of the aspirations of every Bangsamoro.”

Murad conceded, during the Sept. 7 ceremony, that the demobilization process will be a challenge for the combatants as they make the transition to civilian life.

“For many years, our training has been grounded on the armed struggle. But now our brave combatants will face a significantly different form of struggle to transform to civilian lives and embrace a new mindset,” he said.

“Instead of going to the field for conflict, we’ll now go to the field to harvest our crops. Instead of carrying firearms, we’ll now carry tools for work and education. Instead of thinking about a possible encounter the next day, we’ll think of opportunities that await us, our children and those who’ll follow.”

Murad said the decommissioning of MILF combatants does not mean they have given up on what they had been fighting for.

“Let me reiterate that we’re not surrendering,” he said, adding that the decommissioning process simply demonstrates “our sincere and full commitment to fulfilling part of the peace agreement.”