A recent referendum banning the construction of new minarets in Switzerland triggered outrage in the Muslim world. Government leaders from countries such as Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan strongly condemned the move, arguing that the measure was discriminatory in nature and violated the right of Muslims to freely exercise their religion. Turkish President Abdullah Gul called the ban "shameful" and his State Minister for EU Affairs, Egemen Bagis, urged wealthy Muslims around the world to pull their financial assets out of Switzerland and transfer them to Turkey instead. "Switzerland should not be an open-air museum for intolerance in the middle of Europe," Bagis added.
The controversial Swiss referendum should prompt a closer look at the situation of Christians living in the Muslim world. The record there is truly shocking. According to One Free World International (OFWI), a Toronto-based human rights organization headed by Egyptian Christian convert Rev. Majed El Shafie, in 2009 more than 165,000 Christians will have been killed because of their faith, most of them in Muslim countries. Speaking during a high-level OFWI study tour of Israel last week, Majed El Shafie declared that an estimated 200-300 million Christians are being persecuted in the world today, 80 percent of whom lived in Muslim countries and the rest in Communist and other countries. Even in Turkey, the supposed poster child for a secular, democratic, and pro-Western Muslim country that is trying to enter the EU, non-Muslims living in the 99-percent Muslim majority country face major obstacles in the exercise of their religious freedom. As the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report 2009 observed about Turkey a few weeks ago:
"Religious minorities said they were effectively blocked from careers in state institutions because of their faith. Minority religious groups also faced difficulties in worshipping, registering with the Government, and training their followers. Although religious speech and persuasion is legal, some Muslims, Christians, and Baha'is faced some restrictions and occasional harassment for alleged proselytizing. There were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice. Threats against non-Muslims created an atmosphere of pressure and diminished freedom for some non-Muslim communities. Many Christians, Baha'is, and heterodox Muslims faced societal suspicion and mistrust, and some elements of society continued to express anti-Semitic sentiments. Additionally, persons wishing to convert from Islam sometimes experienced social harassment and violence from relatives and neighbors."
Rather than hypocritically lashing out at Switzerland over the minaret ban, governments in Muslim countries around the world should tackle the real problem and defend the basic human rights and religious liberties of their non-Muslim minorities.