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>Israel Faxx
>PD Nov. 29, 1994, V2, #213

Pro/Anti-Arafat Palestinians Stand-off in Lebanon

By Laurie Kassman (Cairo)

In Lebanon, another clash between rival forces in a Palestinian refugee camp appears to have been averted. Palestinian dissidents let a deadline pass Monday without enforcing their threat to oust forces loyal to PLO leader Yasir Arafat from Ein el-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. Shops and schools in the camp remain closed.

The deadline passed without any action. The dissident leader, Colonel Munir Makdah, told reporters there he still wants Arafat loyalists to surrender the five positions they are guarding in the camp. But it no longer appears he will try to evict them by force.

Makdah broke ranks with Arafat last year over the PLO peace deal with Israel, which he opposes. Last Friday, guerrillas loyal to Arafat tried to grab control of Ein el Hilweh and push out the dissidents. The day-long fighting left at least eight dead. The camp is home to more than 60,000 Palestinian refugees. On Saturday, Lebanon's president warned the rival factions he would send in the army if clashes erupted again.

Palestinians in the camp told reporters that Makdah met with resistance within his own forces about the ultimatum, which would spark a new round of violence.

The Mormons: A Global Tribe

By Greg Flakus (Salt Lake City, Utah)

In many parts of the world, young people from the United States can be seen almost everyday seeking converts for The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. They are known as Mormons and their's is a religion born amid strife in the United States over a century ago. Today, nearly half of the church's followers are outside the US because of missionary efforts and the number of converts worldwide is growing.

As part of the exercise of their faith, young Mormons volunteer to serve 18 months to two years as missionaries in various parts of the world. They prepare themselves through intensive language training, if necessary, and take pains to avoid conduct that might be considered offensive in the nations they visit. Still, Mormon missionaries have been denied entry into many Middle Eastern nations and they have been viewed with suspicion in some parts of Asia.

The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, as it is formally called, has had great success in Latin America, where there are now more than 2-million Mormons, but it has also been the target of violence and intimidation there. In Bolivia, two Mormons were killed in 1989 and, in Chile, there have been more than 300 fires and explosions at Mormon centers of worship in recent years.

Still, Mormon leaders see these problems as of minor consequence when compared to the numbers of converts the church is attracting. Church Elder Dallin Oaks says that violent opposition to Mormon missionary work is often simply the result of misunderstanding.

The most difficult problem for international Mormon missionary efforts has been the denial of access in nations where there is a state religion, such as is the case in many Muslim countries, and in the few remaining hardline communist nations where no religious proselytizing is allowed. Even in countries where there is freedom of religion, people associated with the prevailing religion often resent what they see as intrusion by an outside religion.

If Mormons tend to take their occasional setbacks in stride, it is probably because their church was born amid controversy and violent opposition. The church's origins go back to 1820 and a 14-year-old boy named Joseph Smith, who claimed that God had called on him to restore the Christian faith that had strayed from its origins. The young Smith said he translated some inscribed plates provided to him by angels. This became known as the Book of Mormon, which is an essential part of the religion to this day and the origin of the informal name applied to followers of the faith.

Smith and his fellow Mormons attempted to establish communities based on this new faith but they were persecuted almost everywhere they went. An Illinois mob killed Joseph Smith in 1844. His successor, Brigham Young, then led the Mormons across the still unsettled, open prairie to what is now the state of Utah. Through hard work and determination, the Mormons settled the area and made it prosper. Still, their clashes with non-Mormons were not over. In those early days, Brigham Young and other Mormon priesthood men practiced polygamy, citing biblical precedents of patriarchs taking more than one wife. This held up efforts to have Utah admitted to the United States and polygamy was officially discontinued by the church in 1890.

As an example of the harmonious relations, the Mormon church has developed with other churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints recently provided a large donation to the effort to renovate the Catholic cathedral in Salt Lake City. While Mormons are still in the overwhelming majority in Utah, nearly half of the people living in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area now are non-Mormons.

Mormons are viewed with admiration even by many people who are not Mormons because of their emphasis on clean, healthy living and family values and because of their industriousness. In Utah, you often hear mention of the "Mormon work ethic." This, combined with the sharing and support offered within the Mormon community, has helped many church members prosper in business, both in Utah and around the world.

In his book "Tribes," author Joel Kotkin compares the Mormons to the British of the old empire, the Jews, the Chinese and other groups that have extended their influence around the world by building on a strong system of mutual support.

As a Jew, Kotkin says he sees many familiar features in Mormon community life that have also helped Jews succeed as a people spread across the world. The big difference, he notes, is that Mormons are constantly expanding their 'tribe' through missionary work. "The Mormons are very interesting because their theology basically makes one a member of the tribe by becoming a Mormon. What they do is combine the idea of being in a tribe or in a group with a system which allows people from quite diverse backgrounds to have entry into that group."

Non-Mormons have sometimes criticized what they regard as Mormon domination of society in Utah. As has been the case with Jews, Mormons have also been criticized for being too clannish and too protective of their own people's interests. But Kotkin says that there is a benefit to overall society when such groups help their own.

"If the United Jewish Appeal takes care of the interests of poor Jews and I do not have to go, as a Jew, and ask the overall community for help, I think that is a positive. If the Catholic church provides a service, maybe even a better service, than the public schools in education that is something that makes it easier for the public education system to better use resources not on that child but on another child. So, I think the stronger these ethnic institutions are, I think that will help the overall society. Particularly at a time when many of our public institutions are crumbling from within, we may become more dependent on these, if you will, 'tribal institutions.'

Kotkin notes that the Mormon church is much more universal today as the result of a change in church doctrine 15 years ago that opened the way for blacks to become full-fledged members. Mormon missionaries are now active in African nations, where they now have close to 80,000 converts.

But even as the church continues to send more than 40,000 missionaries a year out into the world, welcoming people from every racial and ethnic group into the fold, internal conflict is stirring back home in Salt Lake City. Feminists, gays and intellectuals have been especially critical of some aspects of Mormonism and, in response, several dissenters have been disciplined by the church, either with reprimands or out-and-out expulsion.

The church has an exclusively male hierarchical structure that some members see as too rigid and authoritarian. The church is headed by 86-year-old President Howard Hunter, who is viewed as one in a line of prophets extending back to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Although the president can proclaim new doctrines based on revelations, major decisions are generally made by the Council of 12 Apostles, the members of which are also known as elders. Elder Dallin Oaks notes that, out of 9-million Mormons worldwide, only a handful of people have been disciplined for their dissent.

Many Mormons view the current divisions within the church from a philosophical point of view, noting that their's is a relatively young religion and that these problems may be part of its growing pains. They also note that even much older religions, such as the Roman Catholic church, have similar internal debates. As Mormonism spreads further across the world, it is likely to face new challenges and, perhaps, undergo more changes.

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