Bahai News - ISLAM'S CRUEL CRUSADERS

ISLAM'S CRUEL CRUSADERS

By JONATHAN FOREMAN


October 31, 2001

LAST weekend's appalling massacre of Christians in Pakistan - and the fact that it is part of a pattern of oppression there and in other Muslim countries that predates our campaign in Afghanistan - should clarify the media's rather muddy picture of today's Islamic world.

It's all very well to assure others and ourselves that we are not engaged in a war against Islam, and that support for al Qaeda is hardly universal among the world's diverse Muslim populations - but it's also worth remembering that our treasured notions of religious equality and freedom of belief don't command the same respect once you go far enough east or south of Istanbul.

And while there is intolerance in every society (including ours), religious intolerance has support or at least the acquiesence of the state in many Muslim societies. Indeed, it is all too common for Christians (and Jews and other religious minorities, such as the Bahai in Iran) to face intolerance amounting to persecution.

In Pakistan, this has included assaults, rapes and the murder of Christians awaiting trial for "blasphemy" (a crime for which the punishment is death). The generally impoverished Christians' situation is particularly bad because most are converts from Hinduism or the children of such converts, some of whom made the switch during or after the bloody sectarian horrors of India's partition. Many came from low-caste Hindu families, which increases the contempt in which they are held.

Nor is Pakistan alone in Asia in terms of anti-Christian intolerance: Indonesia has seen worse anti-Christian violence.

Indonesia's Molucca islands have actually been the scene of forced conversions and large-scale murder of Christians by Islamic fundamentalists of the Laskar Jihad movement over the past three years. Some 5,000 have died and 500,000 more been displaced, with the armed forces turning a blind eye or even taking part in the atrocities.

In the Middle East, there's the official intolerance of Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf States like Qatar and United Arab Emirates. Egypt features fundamentalist pogroms against Coptic Christians; Algeria, the anti-Christian violence of the Islamic Salvation Front.

Saudi Arabia may be the worst offender when it comes to official intolerance: It bans non-Muslims from two whole cities, Mecca and Medina. Hundreds of Christians have been arrested for acts of private worship and at least 13 - including an Indian, a Filipino and an Eritrean - are presently imprisoned without charge for religious offenses. This U.S. "ally" actually banned Christmas carols from Armed Forces Radio during the Gulf War.

And as fundamentalist Islam grows in Egypt, Coptic Christians who have lived there since the first century (and who make up at least 10 percent of the population) are undergoing increasingly vicious persecution. A particularly nasty pogrom in the town of el- Kusheh in January 2000 saw the massacre of 20 Copts. The law actually forbids the building, repair or repainting of Churches without permission of the government.

Then there's the persecution of Christians in Muslim regions of Northern Africa. The adoption of sharia (Muslim law) in much of the north of Nigeria has been accompanied by vicious anti-Christian rioting. In Sudan, the northern Muslims (mostly Arabs) wage war on Christian Africans of the south, often enslaving captured Christian women and children.

Centuries ago, Islam was far more tolerant of other faiths than Christianity (though never to the level of legal equality). No longer.

Our leaders have gone out of their way to show respect to the Muslim faith in all its variants, and to reassure our Muslim citizens that they are as accepted and treasured as any other Americans. It would be nice to have some of this respect reciprocated, even among our allies.


©Copyright 2001, NEW YORK POST

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