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The Land of the Free

Muslims are not under attack in America.

12:00 AM, Oct 1, 2010 • By GARY BAUER
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•             Last Spring, the Moroccan government abruptly deported more than 100 American and other foreign expat Christians, accusing them of proselytizing, a crime in Muslim Morocco.

•             In July, Iranian government agents arrested 15 Christian converts, holding them for a week. 

•             Also in July, a crackdown on Protestants in Uzbekistan led to the arrest of two Christians who were sentenced to 10 days in prison for religious activities. Police also confiscated Christian books, DVDs and computers.

•             In northern Afghanistan in August, ten members of a Christian aid team were murdered after spending three weeks providing medical care to villagers. The group’s members were falsely accused of carrying Bibles.

The essential problem is that many countries with Muslim majorities do not recognize freedom of conscience, either in principle or in practice. Other problems include state-sponsored extremist ideology and education, and corrupt law enforcement that allows crimes against religious minorities to go unpunished.

In April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report on religious freedom. Established by Congress in 1998, the USCIRF is responsible for monitoring and reporting to the president about religious freedom worldwide.

This year the USCIRF designated 13 countries as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs), meaning that these are countries “with systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.” Eight of the CPCs have Islamic governments or Muslim majority populations.

In Egypt, the report noted “a significant upsurge in violence targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians,” who comprise 10 to 15 percent of the population.

In Iran, where the penal code prescribes the death penalty for conversions from Islam, “the government…continues to engage in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.”

In Saudi Arabia “state coercion of religious conformity” translates into outright bans on all religious practice except that of the government, Wahhabi Islam. Saudi Arabia was also highlighted for its state-sponsored extremist ideology and education, including its textbooks, which are replete with intolerant references that disparage minority religions. 

The USCIRF report contains 400 pages of similar examples. Not all instances of religious persecution set Muslim governments against Christians, of course. The report details the assault on religious belief by atheistic governments like China, Cuba and North Korea. And there are plenty of examples of Muslim minority sects being denied religious liberty in Muslim countries.

But the report substantiates what many Middle East Christians have been lamenting for years: that an increasingly hostile environment is leading to a mass Christian exodus from the Middle East.

Given the treatment of Middle East Christians, it is not surprising that the Reverend Jean Benjamin Sleiman, Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad, told the New York Times in 2009, “I fear the extinction of Christianity in Iraq and the Middle East.”

Half of Iraq’s 1.4 million Christians have fled in the last decade. In Jordan, Christians have dropped from approximately 30 percent of the population in the 1950s to less than two percent today. Christians’ share of Lebanon’s population has dropped from 60 percent to 25 percent over a generation. And there were millions of Christians in Turkey a century ago; today there are roughly 150,000.

There are, to be sure, many reasons Christians are leaving the region, including a lack of economic opportunity. But the most important factor is the ascendance of political Islam. According to a recent Vatican document, relations between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East are often difficult “principally because Muslims make no distinction between religion and politics, thereby relegating Christians to the precarious position of being considered noncitizens, despite the fact that they were citizens of their countries long before the rise of Islam.”

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