Arab Christians face mounting challenges in the West despite Easter holiday

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Updated 18 April 2022

Arab Christians face mounting challenges in the West despite Easter holiday

Arab Christians face mounting challenges in the West despite Easter holiday
  • ‘We don’t want to be lumped into this White Community which is slowly disappearing in the US.’
  • Experts call for inclusion in US Census 2030 and college applications as Arabs, urge engagement on belief, politics with Muslims and Jews

CHICAGO: Arab Christians in the West continue to face mounting challenges of discrimination, marginalization, and even misunderstanding by other Christians, of their religious identities, experts speaking about Easter celebrations acknowledged during an interview on The Ray Hanania Radio show Wednesday.

Katherine Kelaidis, a resident scholar at the National Hellenic Museum Chicago and an expert on Orthodox Christian identity, said that much of the confusion arises from the complex diversity among Christians from the Mediterranean and Middle East.

Rev. Khader El-Yateem, director of the Evangelical Mission and of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America based in Florida, said many more challenges result from a lack of understanding and recognition of Arab Christians by other mainstream Christians, and by being excluded from mainstream American fundamentals like the US Census.

 

“This country still does not recognize our presence. Does not recognize who we are. That is a movement we need to continue,” El-Yateem said, noting his daughter was forced to identify as being “White” rather than as “Arab” when she applied and was accepted at college this past year.

“When the Census 2030 comes out, we need to be on that census form. We need to change that college application that says no Arab or Middle Eastern. We don’t want to be lumped into this White Community which is slowly disappearing in the United States.”

El-Yateem told Arab News during the radio interview the goal must be to make “the Arab community as one” bringing together Christians and Muslims, and also being smart about engaging in American political dialogue and debate.

“I love the Jewish community. I hate the policies of the Israeli government. We have to be careful to make that distinction between the Jewish community and the Israeli government and its occupational policies which take away from the freedoms of the Palestinian people,” El-Yateem said.

He said that efforts are being made to strengthen the bond with Muslims, noting that last March the ELCA issued a declaration apologizing to the Muslim community for persecution by “the Christian Church.”

He said Arab Christians need to do a better job of educating Americans about who they are, adding that many mainstream Christians believe that Arab Christians converted to Christianity from Islam, and assume all Arabs are Muslim.

“People in America need to understand that not all Arabs are Muslim and not all Muslims are Arab,” said El-Yateem who agreed he identifies as a Christian by religion and a Muslim by culture.

One contributing factor to the misunderstandings many Western Christians have of Arab and Mediterranean Christians comes from the divisions that separate Christian religious sects, especially between the Christian West and the Orthodox Christian East.

 

“There is a general lack of understanding in America. American Christianity is an ethnic form of Christianity. They just don’t call it that. If you go to some mega church, you are practicing some form of Christianity,” Kelaidis said

“I think there is in America a lack of understanding about the complexities beyond Protestant and Catholic. I even hear people say are you Catholic or are you Christian? Catholics are Christians. I think there is a real ignorance about Eastern (Orthodox) Christianity.”

Kelaidis said that ironically, the Ukraine conflict is forcing Americans to look more closely at eastern orthodox Christians and to try to understand how the Ukraine Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church differ.

For example, while most Western Christians celebrate Easter on Sunday April 17, many Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter a week later on April 24.

Kelaidis said the challenges are “complicated” by extreme diversity among Arab and Mediterranean Christians. Those differences are driven by diverging views over the old Julian calendar that traces back to the Roman Empire, and the new Gregorian calendar which was changed in the 19th century, she explained.

“One of the things that is happening in the orthodox world is that the calendar has become a point of contention,” Kelaidis said.

“So, you have groups that break away over the calendar. There are groups called Old ‘Calendarist’ Groups. Their initial point of contention is they changed the calendar.”

El-Yateem said Arab Christians need to work harder to cover the challenges and must become more active in Western societies like America.

 

“The Arab Christian community in the United States struggled. Many of them came from backgrounds that they thought they would come to America and be embraced and they are faced with the harsh reality (that) because you come from this background (of being Arab) and you will not be embraced,” El-Yateem said.

“You … are labeled. So, we try to work very hard with our community on education in empowerment more importantly to get engaged. To be part of your child’s school. To be part of your local democratic process. Be involved in your community. That is how we can have (a) voice, how we can have power, how we can have representation.”

But both agree that Easter is a time when Arab and Mediterranean Christians will reinforce their faith, come together in their belief if not in their calendars, and face the challenges in Western society together.

One way was explained by Palestinian American Chef Tariq Nasir, whose father was Palestinian from near to Jerusalem and mother is American from Michigan. He said Middle Eastern food is a foundation of the Arab community and for Christians a celebration of Easter.

The most popular food item at Easter, Nasir said, is the making of Maamoul, an Arabian dessert sweet filled with sugared walnuts or dates. Arab Christian children would call them “slammer cookies” because their mothers would press the mixture in a wood-carved molder and then bang it on the table to get it out for cooking.

Food is central to the Arab cultural identity, he said, explaining: “I think it is because it brings everyone together. When I was a kid, the whole family would go over to my grandmother’s house and everybody would be there. All her kids and then all her kids’ kids, and we would all sit around the table. And everybody passing food back and forth. And it is just a time when everybody can get together. And Arabs, as you know, are very social and love other people.”

El-Yateem, Kelaidis and Nasir were guests on The Ray Hanania Radio Show which is broadcast on four American radio stations in Detroit, Washington D.C., Ontario and Chicago. It is hosted by the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News.

Listen to the Ray Hanania podcast here. 


WHO: Nearly 200 cases of monkeypox reported in more than 20 countries

 An employee of the vaccine company Bavarian Nordic shows a picture of a vaccine virus in Martinsried near Munich. (REUTERS)
An employee of the vaccine company Bavarian Nordic shows a picture of a vaccine virus in Martinsried near Munich. (REUTERS)
Updated 28 May 2022

WHO: Nearly 200 cases of monkeypox reported in more than 20 countries

 An employee of the vaccine company Bavarian Nordic shows a picture of a vaccine virus in Martinsried near Munich. (REUTERS)
  • Dr. Rosamund Lewis, head of WHO’s smallpox department, said that “there is no need for mass vaccination,” explaining that monkeypox does not spread easily and typically requires skin-to-skin contact for transmission

LONDON: The World Health Organization says nearly 200 cases of monkeypox have been reported in more than 20 countries not usually known to have outbreaks of the unusual disease, but described the epidemic as “containable” and proposed creating a stockpile to equitably share the limited vaccines and drugs available worldwide.
During a public briefing on Friday, the UN. health agency said there are still many unanswered questions about what triggered the unprecedented outbreak of monkeypox outside of Africa, but there is no evidence that any genetic changes in the virus are responsible.
“The first sequencing of the virus shows that the strain is not different from the strains we can find in endemic countries and (this outbreak) is probably due more to a change in human behavior,” said Dr. Sylvie Briand, WHO’s director of pandemic and epidemic diseases.
Earlier this week, a top adviser to WHO said the outbreak in Europe, US, Israel, Australia and beyond was likely linked to sex at two recent raves in Spain and Belgium. That marks a significant departure from the disease’s typical pattern of spread in central and western Africa, where people are mainly infected by animals like wild rodents and primates, and outbreaks haven’t spilled across borders.
Although WHO said nearly 200 monkeypox cases have been reported, that seemed a likely undercount.

FASTFACT

No vaccines have been specifically developed against monkeypox, but WHO estimates that smallpox vaccines are about 85 percent effective.

On Friday, Spanish authorities said the number of cases there had risen to 98, including one woman, whose infection is “directly related” to a chain of transmission that had been previously limited to men, according to officials in the region of Madrid.
UK officials added 16 more cases to their monkeypox tally, making Britain’s total 106. And Portugal said its caseload jumped to 74 cases on Friday.
WHO’s Briand said that based on how past outbreaks of the disease in Africa have evolved, the current situation appeared “containable.”
Still, she said WHO expected to see more cases reported in the future, noting “we don’t know if we are just seeing the peak of the iceberg (or) if there are many more cases that are undetected in communities,” she said.
As countries including Britain, Germany, Canada and the US begin evaluating how smallpox vaccines might be used to curb the outbreak, WHO said its expert group was assessing the evidence and would provide guidance soon.
Dr. Rosamund Lewis, head of WHO’s smallpox department, said that “there is no need for mass vaccination,” explaining that monkeypox does not spread easily and typically requires skin-to-skin contact for transmission.
No vaccines have been specifically developed against monkeypox, but WHO estimates that smallpox vaccines are about 85 percent effective.
She said countries with vaccine supplies could consider them for those at high risk of the disease, like close contacts of patients or health workers, but that monkeypox could mostly be controlled by isolating contacts and continued epidemiological investigations.
Given the limited global supply of smallpox vaccines, WHO’s emergencies chief Dr. Mike Ryan said the agency would be working with its member countries to potentially develop a centrally controlled stockpile, similar to the ones it has helped manage to distribute during outbreaks of yellow fever, meningitis, and cholera in countries that can’t afford them.
“We’re talking about providing vaccines for a targeted vaccination campaign, for targeted therapeutics,” Ryan said.
“So the volumes don’t necessarily need to be big, but every country may need access to a small amount of vaccine.”
Most monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, chills and fatigue.
People with more serious illness may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.


UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’

UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’
Updated 27 May 2022

UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’

UK PM Johnson faces new call to resign over ‘partygate’
  • Johnson said after the report was issued that he took responsibility for the events but refused to quit
  • Other Conservative lawmakers this week have said they had submitted letters calling for a confidence vote in Johnson

LONDON: A Conservative lawmaker submitted a letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson on Friday and another quit a role as an assistant to Britain’s interior minister, putting new pressure on the prime minister over illegal parties at his Downing Street residence during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Bob Neill, the chair of parliament’s justice committee, said an official report on the parties issued on Wednesday showed a pattern of “unacceptable behavior” over months during Britain’s coronavirus crisis, and said he did not find Johnson’s explanations to be credible.
“Trust is the most important commodity in politics, but these events have undermined trust in not just the office of the prime minister, but in the political process itself,” Neill said in a statement. “To rebuild that trust and move on, a change in leadership is required.”
Johnson said after the report was issued that he took responsibility for the events but refused to quit.
Another Conservative lawmaker, Paul Holmes, said earlier on Friday he was resigning from his government role as parliamentary private secretary at the Home Office to focus on representing his constituents.
“It is clear to me that a deep mistrust in both the government and the Conservative Party has been created by these events ... It is distressing to me that this work on your behalf has been tarnished by the toxic culture that seemed to have permeated Number 10,” Holmes said in a statement.
Other Conservative lawmakers this week have said they had submitted letters calling for a confidence vote in Johnson to the chairman of the party’s 1922 Committee — which would be triggered if 54 such letters are written.
The letters are confidential, so only the chairman of the 1922 Committee knows how many have actually been submitted.
However, Holmes confirmed to Reuters he had not written a letter to call for Johnson to resign.


As springs dry up, Nepalese farmers tap into harvesting raindrops

Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
Updated 27 May 2022

As springs dry up, Nepalese farmers tap into harvesting raindrops

Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
  • Prolonged dry periods have been more frequent in recent years due to climate change
  • Farmers build soil-cement ponds to store rain and runoff water

KATHMANDU: Water scarcity in Kuinkel Thumka, a mountainous village in eastern Nepal, has for years made life difficult for residents — until a few months ago, when they started to capture excess rainfall during the monsoon season.

Located in the Middle Hills, between the Himalayas and Tarai, the village of 850 people lies in Kavrepalanchok district of Bagmati province, where the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), has introduced soil-cement ponds to store rain and runoff water.

“We built a soil-cement tank in our village eight months ago and started to collect rain,” Gita Kuinkel, a 53-year-old farmer, told Arab News.

“Before this tank, we didn’t have enough water and our lives were hard. It was not enough for our cattle, household chores and irrigation. Now, the water is enough,” she said.

“We don’t have to buy vegetables, we grow and eat vegetables from our own home gardens.”

Cheap soil-cement conservation ponds are constructed in the region with the help of ICIMOD, an intergovernmental research center serving countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, and the Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED), a leading Nepali developmental NGO.

The ponds capture excess rainfall during the monsoon, making water available during prolonged dry periods, which in recent years have been more frequent, even in the Himalayas, as South Asia is experiencing unprecedented heatwaves due to climate change.

Sanjeev Bhuchar, a water management expert at ICIMOD, told Arab News that more than 80 percent of Nepal’s 13 million population was dependent on mountain springs as the primary source of water. But the springs are drying up.

“In Nepal and other Himalaya-Hindu Kush countries, depletion of springs is one of the major emerging water crises,” he said.

“There is increasing evidence that spring discharge is decreasing, or in some cases, ceasing altogether.”

Within the past three years, more than 400 ponds have been built across the country, according to Kiran Bhusal, project coordinator at CEAPRED.

“Farmers can easily build such tanks because the procedure is very easy. It is built with mixtures of soil, sand and cement,” he said. “It is helping the people so much.”

Kamala Adhikary, another resident of Kuinkel Thumka, said that it cost the village about $160 to build a water conservation pond, and the standard of living has changed ever since.

“We didn’t have enough water for drinking, we had to buy water from other areas,” she said.

“Now we can wash our clothes, use it for our cattle and even we do farming, and earn money because of it. It improved our economic condition. A lot of problems have been solved.”

 


Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK
Updated 27 May 2022

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK
  • Number being granted refuge hits 30-year high
  • Most enter via small boats or other irregular routes now exposed to risk of prosecution

LONDON: Charities have raised concerns over the potential for asylum seekers to be criminalized or transferred to Rwanda as the number being granted refuge in the UK hits a 30-year high.
The Guardian reported on Friday that Home Office data for the 12 months to March shows 75 percent of asylum claims were granted, with Syrians, Eritreans and Sudanese forming the majority of people making their way from countries with typically high approval rates.
However, most of them entered the UK by small boats or other irregular routes now exposed to risks of prosecution under the Nationality and Borders Act passed last month.
The same dataset also showed an increase in the number of Afghans making their way to the UK via the dangerous English Channel crossing, indicating that the resettlement schemes launched after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban last year are not working.
“The government has said it is giving Afghans a ‘warm welcome,’ but these figures reveal that many have felt they have been left with no option but to take this dangerous route to make it to the UK,” said Marley Morris, associate director for migration at the Institute for Public Policy Research.
“The government’s new plans in response to the Channel crossings could mean that Afghan asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda.
“Contrary to the government’s claims, there are few safe routes for people forced into small boats to make it to the UK.”


Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says
Updated 27 May 2022

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says
  • "We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily," said Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness
  • So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries

GENEVA: Countries should take quick steps to contain the spread of monkeypox and share data about their vaccine stockpiles, a senior World Health Organization official said on Friday.
“We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily,” Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, told the UN agency’s annual assembly.
Monkeypox is a usually mild viral infection that is endemic in parts of west and central Africa.
It spreads chiefly through close contact and until the recent outbreak, was rarely seen in other parts of the world, which is why the recent emergence of cases in Europe, the United States and other areas has raised alarms.
So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries where the virus was not previously circulating.
“For us, we think that the key priority currently is trying to contain this transmission in non-endemic countries,” Briand told a technical briefing for member states.
Needed measures included the early detection and isolation of cases and contact tracing, she added.
Member states should also share information about first generation stockpiles of smallpox vaccines which can also be effective against monkeypox, Briand said.
“We don’t know exactly the number of doses available in the world and so that’s why we encourage countries to come to WHO and tell us what are their stockpiles,” she said. A slide of her presentation described global supplies as “very constrained.”
Currently, WHO officials are advising against mass vaccination, instead suggesting targeted vaccination where available for close contacts of people infected.
“Case investigation, contact tracing, isolation at home will be your best bets,” said Rosamund Lewis, WHO head of the smallpox secretariat which is part of the WHO Emergencies Programme.