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Faith is all too often perceived as a personal matter of the individual and his or her relationship with God. But increasingly, faith has become a battleground. Beyond the routine competition between Christian and Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist, Taoist and Communist, there are many locations where two powers—religious and secular—come into direct conflict, and vast gulfs open up.
World Policy Journal has set out to chronicle such fault lines of faith, examine their origins and the forces that continue to drive wedges between communities. We've settled on three locations—Venezuela, where Jews and the state are increasingly in conflict; China, where the state is nervously clamping down on underground churches; and Turkey, where the ancient Byzantine empire of Orthodox Christians confronts daily challenges from the Islamic nation that surrounds them. We've asked writers in each of these nations to define the fault lines and help us understand the dynamics at work. [End Page 21]
Caracas—Monday morning starts like any other. Traffic is still light through Avenida Principal de Los Chorros, the main avenue in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in east Caracas. At 6:30 a.m., security guards at Centro Social, Cultural y Deportivo Hebraica—a Venezuelan Jewish school and community center—are preparing to receive 1,500 students and their parents.
Suddenly, a dozen investigative police vehicles surround the building. Some 25 armed officers storm the community center, searching for guns and explosives. It's still early, so there are no children in the school—just a few adults, mostly workers and people exercising. Classes and regular activities are immediately suspended, and cars that try to enter now are being stopped, causing a traffic jam along Avenida Principal and alarming parents, students, and neighbors.
"At 7:20 a.m. officers check the elevator shafts and go up to the roof. At 7:45 a.m. they look inside the electricity room, and the swimming pool pump station. At 8:15 they check the main warehouse," writes Anabella Jarolasky, executive director of the center, in a detailed record. Around 9 a.m., police officers leave without finding any weapons. Government officials say the raid was ordered in relation to the assassination of state attorney Danilo Anderson, killed in a car explosion. According to a lawyer of the Hebraica, a proceeding against the school was opened and never closed. This was seven years ago, and it marked the turning point for the Venezuelan Jewish community.
Seven Years Go By
Today, sitting beside the club's Olympicsize swimming pool, Salomon Cohen, president of Confederación de Asociaciones Israelitas de Venezuela (CAIV), the Jewish community's central organization, remembers the raid on November 29, 2004, as "a direct attack on Venezuela's Jewish community. They wanted to let us know who is in charge," Cohen says.
Since then, the community has received several more threats. On a Saturday evening in December 2007, there was a second raid at Hebraica. After Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip in January 2009, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez expelled the Israeli Ambassador as an expression of what government officials termed "solidarity with the heroic people of Palestine." Later that month, on Shabbat, about 15 unidentified men attacked the Sephardic Tiferet Israel Synagogue, in northeast Caracas. They scrawled anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli messages on the walls, ransacked offices, and desecrated Torahs. Eleven of the attackers were later arrested, and eight were found to be police officers. A month later, a group of unidentified people threw a homemade explosive into a Jewish community center in a nearby middle-class neighborhood.
These attacks and Chávez's anti-Israeli rhetoric, along with rising crime and a lack of opportunities for young people, have spurred a mass exodus. There are no official statistics, but in the past 12 years, more than half the city's Jews have fled, according to estimates by Jewish community leaders. Today...