Source:  AAC International Update

The following first appeared in the January 8, 2013 edition of the AACs weekly International Update email. Sign up for this free email here.

By the Rt. Rev. Bill Atwood, Bishop of The International Diocese, ACNA

The airport in Asmara, Eritrea is over 7,600 feet (2,300 meters) above sea level. It’s not the highest in the world, but its elevation is high enough that you feel it in your lungs if you do any exertion. The city is the capital of Eritrea now, but the first time I went there it was still part of Ethiopia. I had parked my big U.S. Air Force transport plane in front of operations and gone in to check weather and file a flight plan back to Europe. We were there on what was called an “Embassy Run” taking mail, diplomatic pouches, and cargo to the American embassies in a number of countries.

As most of the crew and I were going in to the ops center, I told the new young co-pilot that he had to stay at the plane. He whined a lot because he wanted to go in and get Ethiopian coffee, which is as thick as motor oil and stronger than most laboratory acids. I told him that he had to stay at the plane monitoring the global HF station (short wave radio frequency) in the UK so we could stay in touch with the Airlift Command Post back in the States. As we left the plane, I could sense glaring young eyes drilling holes in the back of my head as I walked in to file and get the syrupy coffee. He was not mollified by my offer to bring coffee out to him.

As we were filing the flight plan I saw the young lieutenant running full speed towards us. I was irritated that he had not followed my instructions, but I could see that he was yelling and motioning us to come out. As he approached, he breathlessly yelled, “Emergency! Emergency! They called on HF! They actually called! They said to take off immediately! No passengers are coming, no cargo, no delay!”

We ran to the plane and quickly ran the checklist, gang starting the four engines and closing the huge back doors while we taxied to the runway. I made a sharp right turn onto runway 25 and added power to take off. As we were rolling, rebel forces streamed into the airfield. We could see vehicles with 50 caliber machine guns mounted on them barreling for the operations center just where we had been parked.

On the climb out, the co-pilot sheepishly said, “I never thought that monitoring the command post frequency made any sense. I thought you were just making fun of me to have me stay at the plane. If we hadn’t gotten the emergency message to take off immediately, who knows what shape we would have been in with the rebels taking the airport. . .er. . .Sorry, boss.”

Before my Army general grandfather was Patton’s Chief-of-Staff in World War II, he had been his Chief of Intelligence. From the earliest times I can remember, he would talk about “Command and Control,” and the necessity of keeping in communication with “HQ.”

In the case of my flight, some non-uniformed intelligence “asset” in Asmara had put out a flash report that had been relayed to us just in time.

Today, Eritrea is established as an independent nation occupying a tremendously significant strategic place. What is fascinating is that Eritrea has both an Iranian and Israeli presence in the country now. The Iranians are principally involved economically. Recently, the Bank of Iran transferred more than $30 millionto Eritrea. The Israelis have a military installation on the coast on one of the islands in the Dahlak Archipelago. They also have big electronic ears in a place called Emba Soira. From Emba Soira’s 9,500 foot elevation, the terrain drops off quickly toward the Gulf of Aden giving a clear shot to listen in on radio transmissions in southwestern Saudi Arabia and the Al Hudaydah area of the volatile nation of Yemen.

Most of the US military presence is in Djibouti, but the naval and air presence can easily spread across the Gulf of Aden and the Western Indian Ocean. (Next time you get to Djibouti, be sure to try the “all you can eat sushi bar” or the specialty roast camel at the Melting Pot Restaurant at the Kempinski Hotel. It is out on the peninsula near the pier where the US Navy ships dock. The hotel is typical German precision. The restaurant is uniquely Horn of Africa.)

The point is that nations of all perspectives have realized that the potential for “problematic activity” in the region is so high that they cannot afford to be without intelligence about what is going on and in particular, to know when action is about to take place-especially if it could be violent. Good reliable information is indispensable.

In Northern Nigeria, in recent months, radical Muslims have destroyed more than 100 Christian churches. Death threats and death sentence have been announced against many Christians, and many Christians have been killed. The slanted press continues to portray this as “sectarian violence,” though the killed are pretty much all Christians and the ones doing the killing claim the Qur’an as their mandate. Almost all of the violence is being perpetrated by a group called BokoHaram. “Boko Haram” started in 2002 in the Borno State of Nigeria. The official name means something like “The ones who promote the teachings of the Prophet through Jihad,” but it is better known by the Hausa language phrase Boko Haram meaning something like “Sinful Western Education Ways” in the Hausa language. I’ll write more about Boko Haram later.

Understanding how violence can rise from Islam requires a paradigm shift for industrialized Westerners. Understanding Islam at all requires appreciating its framing as a complete way of life. There is no possibility of “separation of church and state” with Islam. In the Islamic worldview, everything must come under the framework demanded by the Qur’an. Economics, politics, criminal law and education are all part of the understanding. There is even a movement for the “Curriculum Theory of the Prophet,” which frames the way that education and even science must be approached. Other perspectives that differ from that framework are viewed as departures ranging from wrong to being outright apostasy. Virtually every arena of human endeavor has similar perspectives from the Qur’an.

Anglican Christians in Northern Nigeria report that they say goodbye to their friends and relatives before leaving for church because they do not know if they will see them again. New security measures are being implemented, but more will be needed. In addition, there is another asset that needs to be developed. That is the need for good, accurate, and timely intelligence. I would not suggest that churches or individuals can marshal the kinds of resources that governments can apply to finding out what is going on, but with the state of communications these days, we can be a lot more attentive to looking for and sharing intel. With the ubiquity of mobile phones, sharing things that “don’t look right” can be done in a way that was impossible in previous decades.

Where it is possible, humanitarian cooperation between Christians and Muslims can humanize the environment. Sadly, with the most extreme people, such collaboration is seen as unfaithfulness, but we should try where we can. Ultimately, however, our commitment to live out the values of the Kingdom of God will bear fruit and will soften the hearts that can be softened.

The point is that we need to be “wise as serpents” in assessing the intelligence that comes to us. Sometimes that will come from inner promptings of the Spirit which should not be ignored.

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