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Missionary Impossible

By       Message Rakesh Krishnan Simha     Permalink
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To the casual observer, it's business as usual in Afghanistan. On August 6, in remote Nuristan province, 260km north of Kabul, Taliban terrorists gunned down 10 foreigners, all non-combatants, adding to the steadily climbing body count in the West's War on Terror.

Only this time, the victims weren't as innocent as the media headlines screamed. The dead included six Americans, a German and a Briton, and were members of the International Assistance Mission (IAM), which is registered as a non-profit Christian organization.

The intentions of the 10 workers are clouded in the fog of war but their ostensible mission was charity. That, however, is challenged by the Afghans. A Taliban spokesman said they killed the foreigners because they were "preaching Christianity". The Taliban also said the team was carrying Dari language Bibles and "spying gadgets".

While the Taliban are no angels, Christian missionaries clearly don't belong in a war zone, especially in a country that has such a deep rooted aversion to Western mores. But that doesn't faze IAM because according to them, they are simply going by the book - in this case the Bible.

IAM videos, now available on YouTube, contradict the group's claim that they do not proselytize. One video shows a room full of scruffy, unwashed Muslim kids being taught Christian verses by a hysterical-sounding woman in the background. It would seem to the viewer these "aid workers" are more interested in the children's souls than their hygiene. Cleanliness doesn't rank next to godliness any more. How times have changed.

While the Afghans are not being converted at gunpoint, it can be safely assumed that without the cover provided by Western armies, there wouldn't be any Christian missionaries in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Indeed, missionary activity in the Middle East seeks to transform the West's War on Terror into a war for souls.

In 2003, John Brady of the International Mission Board, the missionary arm of the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in America, appealed in his church bulletin Urgent News: "Southern Baptists have prayed for years that Iraq would somehow be opened to the gospel. (We) must understand that there is a war for souls under way in Iraq."

Christian groups are treating the window of occupation as a god sent opportunity for them to ship in as many copies of the Bible as they can. Urgent News proudly reports aid workers handing out copies of the New Testament and praying with Muslim recipients.

Missionary activity is also rampant in the American armed forces. The United States Military Ministry has chapters at every major military installation in the country. According to the Ministry, attempts to inculcate into the ranks of the "saved" start as early as ROTC training.

Says Aseem Shukla, co-founder and board member of Hindu American Foundation: "As a project of the supremely well-funded and powerful Campus Crusade for Christ International, the Military Ministry and similar organizations have created a network of access to fresh recruits and military officers that threatens the very fabric of the institution."

Shukla, who is also associate professor in urologic surgery at the University of Minnesota medical school, adds: "When ministering turns to proselytizing and privileging one faith over another, and when the tens of thousands of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists proudly serving their country are rendered the "other,' highly imperative troop cohesion and morale is compromised."

Indeed, many American soldiers have stepped off the plane in Iraq and Afghanistan armed with bagfuls of Bibles provided by their churches back home. Is it any surprise then that some Western soldiers have come to see their mission in Iraq and Afghanistan as yet another Crusade?

There seems to be plenty of backing for a crusade from the very top. According to a report in GQ magazine in May 2009, Donald Rumsfeld, the former US defence secretary, provided US President George W. Bush with top secret intelligence briefings on the Iraq war that featured cover pages adorned with Biblical quotes.

On April 1, 2003, as US troops were heading for Iraq, Rumsfeld's "World Intelligence Update" featured a line from Proverbs 16:3: "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed".

Two days before Saddam Hussein was toppled on April 9, 2003, the cover sheet showed a picture of the Iraqi leader and a quotation from Peter 2:15: "It is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men."

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Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a New Zealand-based writer.

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