Reality in the Middle East   Leave a comment

If you put your opinion out on social media, you’re bound to attract some people who disagree with you and this week, I’ve become velcro. Debating anyone on Twitter is … uh … challenging and I had this guy ask me to meet him in twitter DM for further discussion. My issue is that I would have to follow him to do that and his feed is full of anti-Trump, anti-American, we-don’t-care-about-the-Constitution posts and I’m not interested in supporting that with my follow.

So, for the record, this is what I sort of believe – subject to revision as new facts come in. The topic is Muslim persecution of Christians. Yeah, big topic … impossible at 140 characters.

The conversation started because I responded to a meme that said (I’m still looking for it, so this is a paraphrase) that Muslims have no right to demand entry into US when they come from countries that regularly persecute Christians under cover of law. The poster wanted to know if this was “fair”. I responded that it wasn’t fair, but that it made a point about the treatment of Christians in many Muslim countries. I specifically said “in many ME countries, the only rights Christians have is to die for their faith.”

He accused me of broadly condemning ALL Muslims. So, this is my attempt to make myself clear without the character limit.

My figures can be verified from Amnesty International, US State Department Research and Pew Research. These are not the strongest sources I am familiar with. I know Christians living in the Middle East who point to other websites, but since these are Christian in origin, this fellow would no doubt say they are biased. And, hey, if someone made it illegal for me to practice my faith, I might feel persecuted and be a bit biased against those who want me dead or silenced.

Apostasy and blasphemy may seem to many westerners like artifacts of history, but there still dozens of countries around the world where laws against apostasy and blasphemy remain on the books and often are still enforced.

You need examples of actual current persecution?

In December 2015, authorities in Sudan charged 25 men for apostasy – the act of abandoning one’s faith — including by converting to another religion. The men faced the death penalty for following a different interpretation of Islam than the one sanctioned by the government. I bring this up because Muslims even persecute other Muslims for converting to another type of Islam.

And, in Pakistan in summer 2016, police were pursuing a Christian accused of sending an allegedly blasphemous poem to a friend. Blasphemy – defined as speech or actions considered to be contemptuous of God or the divine – is a capital crime in Pakistan.

According to a 2014 Pew Research Center analysis, about a quarter of the world’s countries and territories had anti-blasphemy laws or policies, and that more than 1 in 10 nations had laws or policies penalizing apostasy. The legal punishments for such transgressions vary from fines to death.

Pew’s research was the basis of a major report on restrictions on religion around the world. The report examines both government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion, relying on 17 widely cited, publicly available sources from groups such as the U.S. State Department, the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group.

Pew found that laws restricting apostasy and blasphemy are most common in the Middle East and North Africa, where 18 of the region’s 20 countries criminalize blasphemy and 14 criminalize apostasy. While apostasy laws exist in only two other regions of the world – Asia-Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa – blasphemy laws can be found in all regions, including Europe and the Americas.

Some blasphemy laws have been on the books for decades, through dramatic political and social changes. In Pakistan, blasphemy statutes have their origins in the country’s colonial past, when British rulers first introduced penalties for insulting any religious beliefs. These laws remained in effect after Pakistan’s independence in 1947 and have since increased in severity.

Pakistan is one of 12 of the 50 countries in the Asia-Pacific region that had blasphemy laws in 2014. Blasphemy laws are enforced in several of those 12 nations. In 2014, Burma (Myanmar) convicted a New Zealander and two Burmese men of blasphemy after using an advertisement depicting Buddha with headphones to promote a bar. The men were sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Apostasy laws are less common worldwide – they are found in 25 countries, in only three regions of the world. By far the most countries with anti-apostasy measures were in the Middle East-North Africa region (14 out of 20).

Seven of the 50 countries (14%) in the Asia-Pacific region also had apostasy laws. In the Maldives, all citizens are required to be Muslim, and those who convert to another faith may lose their citizenship.

So, when I said that in “many Middle Eastern countries” Christians risk dying for their faith, I wasn’t over-stating the case. Pakistan still kills those who convert from Islam to Christianity. Afghanistan still has the death penalty on the books for this, but the US coalition has pressured the government to prevent recent executions. Brunei‘s Penal Code states that a Muslim who declares himself non-Muslim commits a crime that is punishable with death, or with up to 30 year imprisonment, depending on the type of evidence. Iran doesn’t list this in its Penal Code and historical Christian minorities are not directly persecuted, those who convert from Islam to Christianity are threatened, assaulted, detained without charges, and even executed. Jordan doesn’t kill Christians outright, but it monitors Christian evangelists and restricts the civil rights of former Muslims who have converted to Christianity. It also monitors Christian churches. Kuwait‘s constitution upholds the “absolute freedom” of belief, but Christians, particularly converts from Islam, face severe penalties in family courts and there is a law, frequently enforced, prohibiting non-Muslim evangelism among Muslims. In Oman, Christians are denied child custody rights and it is illegal to talk about your faith, but they don’t kill you. Qatar allowed private practice of non-Islamic faith, but there’s a 10-year sentence for talking about your faith if you’re not a Muslim. Saudi Arabia makes it illegal, punishable by flogging, imprisonment and the death penalty, but there haven’t been any recent reported executions, though supposedly, Christianity is growing secretly there. We have all heard what happens in Syria to Christians. That’s not the government, so much as ISIS. The Emirates make it illegal, but Christian churches are growing there publicly.

So that’s four ME countries where Christianity carries the death penalty and several more where it carries severe penalties. Let’s not deny reality. Some of these countries may not actually kill many Christians, but that’s mainly because there are so few there and they live mostly in secret. If they didn’t, the country would kill them.

For a broad view of this topic by a writer who has clearly done more research than I  have, check out this article.

That doesn’t make it right to “ban” Muslims from the US, but it should act as a caution that some Muslims are coming from countries where it is deemed all right to abuse and kill Christians and they bring that mindset with them. So, yes, more screening is needed. The Trump administration went about it ineptly, but there is ample evidence that the Obama administration was biased in the screening process for some immigrants. I know of Europeans who have never had a traffic violation who have had their citizenship application held up for five years and yet Muslim refugees, all through out the Obama administration, were fast-tracked into the country, often with rote acceptance of a UN waiver that turned out not to include what most Europeans or Americans would consider to be a very rigorous background check.

That system needs to be balanced and to the extent that it has not been, it should be restructured.

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