Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Their Blood Still Cries Out

All too often, westerners – even devout western Christians – remain oblivious to the tragedies that embrace their sisters and brothers half-a-world away. (Paul Marshall, Their Blood Cries Out, 1997, p. 39)

Paul Marshall’s book is a reminder of the suffering millions of Christians continue to endure in countries ruled by Sharia law. His description of the gruesome ways in which, women and young girls especially, are mutilated and killed are painful to read.

Apart from a few laudable exceptions, the persecuted are often forgotten. In many cases, people deny any connection between the religion of Islam and the killings that are clearly done in the name of that religion. In a number of Islamic countries, there has been an upsurge in the persecution of Christians.

Pakistan –a Campaign of Slaughter

Pakistan is ruled by Sharia law, which includes the so-called anti-blasphemy laws that make it a capital offence to insult Islam and for a Muslim to convert to another religion. In June 2009, Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was accused of insulting Islam in an argument with other farm workers. She was jailed for more than a year, and in November 2010 she was condemned to death by hanging.

This case caused in international outcry. Pope Benedict called for her release and said: “I feel close to Asia Bibi and her family.” Her husband and children were forced to go in hiding after receiving death threats. A radical cleric promised 500,000 Pakistani rupees ($5,800) for anyone willing to “finish her’ if she is pardoned.

The Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer spoke up in Bibi’s defence and called for an end to the blasphemy laws. On January 4, 2011 he was assassinated by a member of his own security team, Malik Muntaz. This murderer has been publicly hailed as a hero.

The lone Christian in the Pakistani cabinet, Minority Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, was also an outspoken opponent of the blasphemy laws, for which he has received several death threats. On March 2, 2011, he was shot dead by several gunmen on his way to work in the capital Islamabad.

An offshoot of the Taliban claimed responsibility for this murder. The group’s deputy spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan told the BBC: This man was a known blasphemer of the Prophet [Muhammad]. We will continue to target all those who speak against the law which punishes those who insult the prophet. Their fate will be the same.”

The killing of non-Muslims and those not considered radical enough in the eyes of fanatical Muslims continues and has become more frequent in many Islamic countries. Nonetheless, many progressive” intellectuals are in denial about murder in the name of Islam. In a recent discussion on the Canadian CBC’s Power and politics program, Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies cited the murder of Punjab Governor Taseer as an instance of Islamic-inspired hatred. Professor Janice Stein of the University of Toronto disagreed, insisting that that this murder had nothing to do with the religion of Islam but with the “terrible distribution of wealth.”

There have been numerous other cases of murder for apostasy in Pakistan. Farahnaz Ispahani and aide to President Asif Ali Zardari, said of the recent bloodshed: “This is a concerted campaign to slaughter every liberal, progressive and humanist voice in Pakistan. The time has come for the federal government and provincial governments to speak out and to take a strong stand against these murderers to save the very essence of Pakistan.”

Egypt - a Bitter Irony

Egypt has the largest number of Christians in the Middle East - eight to ten million - in a total population of 80 million. Because of the popular uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s regime, Egypt now has an opportunity to become a genuinely free society. But it might also turn in the opposite direction. Until now the Coptic Church has been severely, often violently, persecuted. What will the future bring for these hard-pressed fellow Christians?

An important clue to the answer of this question lies in the current transitional government’s treatment of the Christian minority. A second, equally telling indication is whether the radical Muslim Brotherhood will manage to obtain a position of supremacy. On both counts the signs are not encouraging.

The history of Egyptian (Coptic) Christianity, though it predates Islam, has been one of hardship and discrimination. That eased up some during the 19th till the mid-20th century when Egypt underwent a process of secularization. During the presidency of Anwar Sadat, beginning in 1970 and ending with his assassination in 1981, the government began a more intensive application of Islamic law.

In 1980 the government declared Egypt to be an Islamic state and Sharia as the principal source of legislation. Subsequently, Christians were subjected to humiliating and often brutal treatment. Wikipedia reports that from 1992 to 1998 Islamist extremists in Egypt are estimated to have killed 127 Copts. Coptic Solidarity has reported that during Mubarak’s reign more than 1500 assaults on Copts occurred.

On September 15, 2010, the Al-Jazeera TV program “Without Limits” hosted Islamist Selim el-Awah who accused the Coptic church of having its own militia and weaponry in preparation for war against the Egyptian state. The following month demonstrations occurred throughout Egypt where the crowds chanted this warning to the 86-year old Pope: Shenauda, just wait, we will dig your grave with our own hands,” while burning him in effigy. (Paul Marshall, NRO, November 1, 2010)

On New Year’s Day, 2011, Islamists bombed a Coptic church in Alexandria that left 23 Christians dead and dozens wounded. The Palestinian Islamic Army said that it was responsible for this attack on the Coptic believers. Shortly thereafter, an Islamist killed a Christian and wounded five others on a train.

Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, reported on March 15, 2011 that ”in recent weeks Copts have experienced severe human rights setbacks, including progroms, military assaults against their monasteries, and a judicial acquittal in the case of a 2010 massacre inside one of their churches. In light of Monday’s attack, some Copts now express fear that the military has been infiltrated by radical Islamists.”

All the reports coming out of Egypt confirm what Raymond Ibrahim calls the tenuous plight of the Christian churches in Egypt, which dates back to the notorious Pact of Omar in the seventh century. One of its conditions states: ”We shall not build, in our cities or in their neighborhood, new monasteries, Churches , convents, or monks’ cells , nor shall we repair, by day or by night, such of them as fall in ruins or are situated in the quarters of the Muslims.” Ibrahim points to the bitter irony of this situation:

While mosques, some of which breed radicalization and serve as terrorist bases, start dotting America’s landscape , churches are on their way to becoming extinct in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity. More pointedly, as America allows Muslims to build a mega-mosque near ground zero – which was annihilated by Islamists partially radicalized in mosques -- America’s “moderate friends” in the Muslim world blatantly persecute Christians and their churches.(Pajamas Media, March 3, 2011)

President Obama’s Deaf Ear

On June 4, 2009, President Obama addressed the Muslim world at the University of Cairo, co-ponsored by the Al-Azhar University, the oldest and preeminent centre of Islamic learning. Eighteen members of the U.S. Congress pleaded with him to take a stand for minority rights in the Arab world. They told the president: “We urge you to ask [your audience] to help Egypt fight the scourge of terrorism and stand by its Coptic minority, often targeted by extremists’ violence.”

Dr. Monir Dawoud, chairman of the American Coptic Association, pointed out that President Obama’s emphasis on Egypt as a Muslim nation “will give the Muslim Brotherhood and other fanatical and radical Muslim groups the licence to force the application of Shari’a (Islamic) laws upon them.”

Two years ago, Obama turned a deaf ear to the cries of the persecuted Christians and told his Muslim audience exactly what they wanted to hear. That included the lies that “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance” and that Islam has “carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.”

In doing so, Obama betrayed the persecuted Christians in Egypt. He brought dishonour to the highest office the American people can entrust to a person. Can we expect him to act any differently during Egypt’s current transition?

David Warren, the intrepid journalist at the Ottawa Citizen, said it best when he pointed out that Obama did not merely miss an opportunity to speak the truth. Worse, his speech “sabotaged every effort to speak the truth plainly, to the darkest tyrannical forces in the Islamic world. It sold out America, it sold out the West, and it sold out the Muslims, too.”