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Friday, March 25, 2011

Muslim violence a fact, not prejudice

This opinion piece appeared in The Age newspaper of March 25, 2011

THOSE who denounce critics of Islam should allow that, like all global faiths, Islam has its detractors and a religion will be judged on what its followers say and do.

There is a debate going on about Islam. The question being asked is: Does Islam itself - not just poverty or social exclusion - provide ideological fuel for extremism and violence?

It is all too tempting to promote one-dimensional explanations of religious violence. Monash University doctoral candidate Rachel Woodlock said on this page on Wednesday that social exclusion was the root of Islamic radicalism.

On one hand, there are those who, like Woodlock, demand that critics of Islam be stigmatised as ignorant, right-wing racists. On the other hand, Islam's problems cannot be simplistically reduced to social or economic factors.

Violence in the name of Islam is well-attested in nations in which Muslims are dominant, and it is non-Muslim minorities that suffer the exclusion. It does not do to argue that religion has no relevance to such events.

In Muslim-majority Pakistan on December 3, Pakistani imam Maulana Yousuf Qureshi, in his Friday sermon, offered a $6000 bounty to anyone who would murder Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who has also been accused of "blaspheming Allah". Pakistani minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab governor Salman Taseer were subsequently assassinated because of their opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

These laws are supported by Pakistan's Islamic elites. The killer of Salman Taseer, Mumtaz Qadri, was praised by religious leaders from mainstream schools of Pakistani Islam, and when he was being led to court on January 6, 400 Muslim lawyers showered him with rose petals, offering him their legal services free of charge.

There has also been a rush of recent assaults on Copts and their places of worship in Egypt, sparked by a wild tirade by a leading Egyptian cleric.

Closer to Australia, there have been well-publicised attacks on Ahmadiyah Muslims in Indonesia, including brutal murders. These were undoubtedly influenced by a theological belief that Ahmadiyah adherents are apostates from true Islam. Although prominent Indonesian leaders were quick to express abhorrence for the attacks, many Indonesian Muslims have called for Ahmadiyahs to be outlawed.

These events demonstrate the ugly effects of stigmatising minorities, and it would be deplorable to simple-mindedly extrapolate the religious views of Pakistani, Egyptian or Indonesian Muslims and apply them to Australia.

However, it is irrational to insist that any and everyone who seeks to expose the religious roots of such hatred must themselves be decried as haters.

All over the world, every religious belief is disliked by someone or other. Christianity has its prominent detractors, too, from Bertrand Russell to Richard Dawkins. A Google search for "Evils of Christianity" yields tens of thousands of hits.

Australians can be thankful for a culture of tolerance, which has been carefully nurtured over decades. Tolerance is strengthened when people are able to debate ideological issues freely - especially those which impact profoundly on human rights - without being shouted down.

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Nettle, in his findings on the case of the Islamic Council of Victoria v Catch the Fire, pointed out that criticism - or even hatred - of a religion should not be conflated with the hatred of people who hold those beliefs. It is one thing to promote tolerance, quite another to mandate it.

Perhaps the most powerful evidence against Woodlock's thesis - that it is exclusion, and not religion, that drives some Muslims to terrorism - is the fact that across the globe the most diverse religious minorities do not resort to violence, even when persecuted.

There are no Falun Gong terrorists in China, despite all the bitter persecution. The same can be said for persecuted Christians in many nations.

Even in Australia, many ethnic and religious groups have been subjected to disadvantage and exclusion, but none have produced the level of terrorist convictions of our own home-grown Islamic radicals.

It is a bitter pill for the vast majority of Australian Muslims to swallow that their faith has been linked, globally and locally, to religious violence.

Unfortunately, this link cannot be dismissed as the product of media prejudice or "Islamophobic" propaganda. It is in part an issue of some Muslims behaving very badly, and their often strident claim is that they do this in the name of religion.

Taking such claims seriously and debating them publicly must not be equated with stigmatising law-abiding and peaceable Australian Muslims.

Mark Durie is a Melbourne Anglican vicar, human rights activist, and author of The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom.

The Mufti of Egypt Stands up for Christians - Or Does He?

In the context of the recent outpouring of hatred and violence against the Copts, and specifically the destruction of the ancient church in Soul, the Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa (or Jum'a) has issued a fatwa condemning violence against Christians and their places of worship.   A report on this fatwa was published by, a popular Egyptian news site, on March 12, 2011. 

Fatwas are opinions issued by someone with a recognized authority in Islam. They are not binding, but may be used to guide Muslims.  The Mufti of Egypt heads the Dar al-Ifta or 'Fatwa Institute' in Egypt, which regularly issues thousands of rulings on a myriad of topics.  This particular fatwa was issued by this same office (see here).

In the context of discussing his fatwas on the status of Christians, it is important to note that Ali Gomaa is regarded as a moderate cleric.  He was appointed by Hosni Mubarak and is reportedly strongly opposed by some radical Muslims.  An example of one of Gomaa's moderate positions is his opposition to female circumcision (see here).   (Gomaa's contribution to the female circumcision debate is analysed on pp. 75-76 of The Third Choice).  Gomaa was a signatory to the Common Word letter from Muslim scholars to the Christians of the world.

Typical of Gomaa's approach to modern conditions is that he affirms the validity of traditional jurisprudence on the one hand, while allowing that changed conditions permit a different interpretation of Islamic law, subject to the application of reason.  He believes that female circumcision was valid in the past, given the knowledge Muslims had then, but is invalid today, because of changed understandings.  He places great importance on the contributions of reason and context to interpreting Islam.

Concerning wife-beating, Gomaa has argued that for a Muslim to beat his wife in Canada could be against Islam, because it is reasonable to take into account the culture of the surrounding society, whilst it would at the same time be a legitimate practice in a Muslim state, because of different understandings about domestic violence in the two contexts.  Gomaa claims, for example, that in Muslim Arab societies women welcome and even desire beatings by their husbands, so the practice is not inconsistent with Islam (see here) but serves to safeguard the family.

My assessment of Gomaa is that he is an intellectual who straddles the traditional world of Islamic jurisprudence and the modern world of technological advance and changing social conditions.

In the rapidly changing political context in Egypt, a more radical Islamic government in Egypt would almost certainly appoint a more conservative Mufti than Ali Gomaa, with potentially significant consequences for the daily lives of Egyptian citizens.

Fatwas are typically issued as an answer in response to a specific question or set of questions.  In this case the questions were: what is the legitimate Islamic ruling concerning attacks on churches and Christian places or worship, attacking them by arson or bombs; what is the legal ruling if there are people praying inside the church at the time; and is the claim valid which denies that a dhimmah (pact of surrender or protection) exists between Copts and Muslims at the present time?

Why would Muslims be asking about the dhimmah pact in the very period when Copts are being persecuted and killed, and their places of worship burnt and bombed?  For understanding this, it is important to grasp the function of the dhimma pact.  (The detailed functioning of the dhimma is described in detail in my book  The Third Choice.)

Non-Muslims living under Islamic law are traditionally considered as dhimmis, or people of the dhimma pact of surrender.  Islamic laws understands dhimmis, who include Christians, to be people who have surrendered to the forces of Islam under certain specific conditions.

These conditions include payment of the annual jizya heand tax, and acceptance of being made 'small' as Sura 9:29 of the Qur'an puts it. See for example, the explanation by Ibn Kathir of what being made 'small' means, which is laid out in a section of his commentary entitled Paying Jizyah is a sign of Kufr (infidelity) and Disgrace.  Ibn Kathir states that non-Muslims living under Islamic rule are to be 'subdued', 'miserable', 'humiliated', 'disgraced', and 'belittled'.

Classical Islamic law included many debilitating restrictions on Christians living in an Islamic state, including, for example, prohibitions on building new churches or repairing old ones, restrictions on bearing arms, limitations on the height of houses, and legal disabilities in sharia courts.

Islamic jurists considered that dhimmis who paid the annual jizya tax were purchasing their life back for the year ahead.  In effect, the non-Muslim who agreed to submit to these principles of Islamic law was allowed to live by virtue of paying his head tax.  If the non-Muslim failed to observe the conditions of the dhimma, his head was forfeit, and his possessions (including wife, children, house and place of worship) could lawfully be confiscated by Muslims.

The eminent nineteenth Algerian Qur'anic commentator Muhammad ibn Yusuf at-Fayyish (d. 1914) explained the meaning of the jizya tax in his commentary of Sura 9:29.
It was said: it [jizya] is a satisfaction for their blood.  It is said 'X' has sufficed … to compensate for their not being slain. Its purpose is to substitute for the duties (wajib) of killing and of slavery … It is for the benefit of Muslims.
Or as William Eton wrote in his compendious Survey of the Turkish Empire  in 1799:  'the sum of money received [from non-Muslims] is taken as compensation for being permitted to wear their heads that year.'

The system of jizya payments was mainly dismantled in the 19th and 20th centuries across the Islamic world, under pressure from European powers. 

Now here comes the point about the Mufti's fatwa.

Since it is the dhimma pact and observance of its conditions which is supposed, according to Islamic law, to guarantee the safety of non-Muslims living in the Islamic state, the contention is being mooted among radically minded Muslims, influenced by the worldwide sharia revival, that today's Christians, living in Muslim lands, are not protected by a dhimma pact, because they do not pay the jizya, and are not submissive to classical sharia conditions for dhimmis.

The inescapable logic of this line of argument is that Christians living in Egypt – and elsewhere in the Middle East – have no right to life: the men can lawfully be killed by Muslims, and their possessions, including women and children – can be confiscated.  That is, as long as they are not under a full dhimma pact.

This perspective, which will seem outlandish and utterly pernicious to non-Muslims' minds, is precisely the issue which Egypt's Mufti is intending to address with his fatwa.  In the context of attacks on Christian churches and homes, and repeated killings of Copts, the Mufti is rejecting the reasoning which says that the dhimma no longer applies to protect the Christians of Egypt.

The very existence of this fatwa is an important admission of the existence of the way of thinking, because the Mufti is trying to root it out.  All the recent attacks on Copts – a list of which is given in my previous blog post, might be claimed to be justified by radically minded Muslims, on the basis of the contention that Christians without a pact are fair game.

So, for example, we could assume that the off-duty policeman who shot and killed a 71 year old Christian man on a train in January believed he had a right to kill Christians because the  jizya as 'satisfaction for their blood', as At-Fayyish described it, is not being paid by them.  Also the Coptic demonstrators who have been attacked and killed have presumably been considered to be acting arrogantly, and not 'submissively' as the dhimma demands of non-Muslims, for one of the conditions of the dhimma is that non-Muslims must not criticize Islam or Muslims.  Likewise monks who have been attacked for building security fences were regarded as pact breakers because they were making modifications to a place of worship, which is forbidden by dhimma laws.

There are many references being made to jizya payments and the dhimma among radical Muslims in the Middle East today.  The argument being put is that Christians will not be safe until they pay the jizya and submit to dhimma conditions, because then and only then will a religious obligation exist for Muslims to respect the right to life of Christians.  Gradually, year by year, calls to bring back the jizya are emerging from the shadows into the light of day.

In the worldview of dhimmitude, non-Muslims have no inherent right to life.  Muslims do have this right under sharia law, as it is a capital offence to kill a Muslim.  However non-Muslims only have a conceded right to life, if they agree to redeem their life each year with jizya payments, and submit to the rules of the dhimma. (And even then, killing a dhimmi is not  the capital offense that killing a Muslim is.)  This is the worldview to which radicals like the Islamic Brotherhood wish Egypt to return.

Back to the Mufti of Egypt 

How then can the Mufti address this pressing challenge, that some Muslims in Egypt think it acceptable to bomb and burn churches and Christian homes, and to kill Christians, because they no longer have a dhimma to protect them?

It seems to me that he could oppose this on two grounds.  He could argue the universal brotherhood of all people,  that all people have a right to life and liberty granted by their creator.  He does not do this, perhaps because it is so far from mainsteam Islamic attitudes to non-Muslims.  Normative Islam is based on lack of reciprocity and lack of equality between Muslims and non-Muslims.

What Sheikh Gomaa does instead is argue that being a citizen of a modern state gives an equivalent level of protection to the dhimma pact. The fatwa states:
... assaults on Christians living in Egypt are a breach to the citizenship contract, for [Christians] are citizens who have the rights to citizenship. They made a contract with Muslims, and have subjected themselves to a covenant to live together [with Muslims] in the land in peace and security. Assaulting them, or causing them harm, or terrorising them – in addition to killing them and destroying their churches – is a breach of this contract, and of the covenant that we [Muslims] have the duty to fulfil.
What Ali Gomaa is saying, quite explicitly, is that being an Egyptian citizen gives Christians the same protection which the dhimma gave.  The fatwa states:
The state Mufi pointed out that the saying of some people that
“the covenant between us and them is the dhimmah pact, which lapsed in this [modern] era, therefore we are not bound (to them) by a covenant"
is a false saying, and lacks much understanding. Citizenship, in its agreed understanding,  has been established within the Islamic world’s constitutions and laws, including the Egyptian constitution, which ... in its second article on the authority of the Islamic sharia ... acknowledges [the rights for] citizenship – as Muhammad did in the Medina Constitution.  This has provided for the coexistence and cooperation between the children of the one homeland [i.e. Muslims and Christians] even if they differ in religion, and if there is no dhimma contract or jizya. Therefore, the [citizenship] contract is one of the legal contracts must must be fulfilled, exactly like the dhimma contract.  
[The Mufti] has made it clear that claiming the dhimma era has lapsed, and denying them [Christians] a covenant with Muslims is false talk.
The Mufti also cites some hadiths (traditions) which point to the special status of the Copts in Islam's destiny, and emphasizes that those who do violence against  Copts only empower the enemies of Islam:
 ... acts of destruction distort the image of Islam in the West and the East, and they support the false image that Islam is bloodthirsty.  This gives license to lurking enemies to interfere in our internal affairs...
Ali Goma also cites various Islamic canonical sources which address the issue of mistreating dhimmis, and argues that attacking them or their buildings is a terrible offense against Allah's laws, which will lead to a very bad outcome on judgement day.  He considers attacks on churches accompanied by killing to be 'worse than murder, theft or adultery', which are already very serious crimes in Islam.

In comparison to the religious leaders who are baying for Christian blood in Egypt today, Ali Gomaa is acting like a decent man.  He is trying to do what he can to avert a catastrophe.  Nevertheless, his whole worldview presupposes the need for a 'covenant' to apply between Muslims and Christians if Christian blood is to be protected.  He does not stand up for an inalienable right to life for all, irrespective of creed.

Gomaa is seeking, within the limited parameters of Islamic understandings of the rights of non-Muslims to propose a compelling argument to pious Muslims that they should not attack and kill Christians.  Yet in order to do this he gives away the fundamental human rights of non-Muslims.

There is another problem with Gomaa's fatwa.  In the dhimma pact system, there are multiple possibilities of pact violations.   If a dhimmi steps out of line, their protection lapses.  Gomaa appears to avoid this issue altogether.  This is problematic, because some of those who have attacked Christians verbally have used arguments to show that Copts' actions have abrogated the protection which would have applied under dhimmi conditions.  By this way of thinking, there could be no protection, even if the dhimma did apply.  People whose thinking goes in this direction will not be convinced by Ali Gomaa's arguments, because he ommitted to address the issue of pact violations in his citizen pact model.

Hopefully I will be able, in another post, to explain how verbal attacks on Copts have invoked the concept of the dhimma pact.  They have done this by making allegations which are obviously intended to be regarded as violations of dhimma conditions.  Radical Muslims in Egypt have been accusing Christians of being pact breakers, and by this means putting pressure upon them to accept again the age-old form of servitude known as the dhimma.  Up until now the Copts have been resisting this pressure, and continue to protest.

What the outside world needs to do is grasp these dynamics, so that it can make an fair and accurate assessment of what is going on in Egypt.  It is necessary to grasp why the concept of the dhimma is  central to understanding what is happening with the Copts of Egypt at this time.  They are between a rock (violence) and a hard place (the return of the dhimma and fearful subservience to Islam).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Tsunami of Persecution Against the Copts of Egypt

Back on October 17, 2010, I commenced a blog post on Egypt.  I had meant to title it Storm Clouds Gather over the Christians of Egypt.  My first sentence was "We seem to be on the verge of witnessing a tragic, and even catastrophic assault by radical Muslims on the Christians of Egypt."

The reason for starting that post was a shocking interview on Al Jazeera of Egyptian Cleric Muhammad Salim Al-Awwa by host Ahmed Mansour, on the program 'Without Borders'.
This was broadcast on September 15, 2010.

At the time I was simply too distressed to continue with the post, and it was never finished. I regret this lack of courage, and the purpose of this post is to note the events which have happened since them.

After Al-Awwa's broadcast repeated mass demonstrations of Egyptian Muslims were staged. These threatened reprisals against the Copts and Pope Shenouda.  There was also a string of articles in newspapers inciting hatred against Christians.

I kept track of incidents which were reported from Al-Awwa's broadcast to March 2011:
  1. On 24 November 2010 around 5,000 soldiers attacked St. Mary and St. Michaels in Talbiya, Giza over an alleged building code violation.  They used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.  Three Copts were killed, and a young child died from tear gas thrown into a chapel. Hundreds were injured, and more than 150 Copts were arrested.
  2. A devastating New Year's Eve suicide bomb attack on the Saints Church in Alexandria killed 23 worshippers and injured 70, the worst mass attack on Copts for a decade.
  3. On January 11, an off-duty policeman used his service revolver to shoot Copts on a train.  A 71 year-old man was killed, and five others were injured.
  4. On February 19, 2011, the home of the Christian building contractor who was building the controversal St Mary and St Michael church in Talbiya was broken into, and his 18-year old daughter was abducted.  The abductors wrote on the wall the Muslim Brotherhood slogan 'Islam is the solution' and "The Church has to be demolished'.  
  5.  On 21 February 2011 the body of Rev Dawood Boutros was found, murdered two days earlier in Shotb, just outside Assiut City, southern Egypt. Journalist Ahmed Zaki Osman reported for Al-Masry al-Youm: 'According to the slain priest's neighbours, four people killed the Coptic cleric in his home while "chanting Islamic slogans". (Report by Elizabeth Kendal).
  6. In multiple incidents from February 20-26, 2011 (see here, here, and here) Egyptian armed forces demolished fences which  monks had erect to protect the monastery during a chaotic period when hundreds of criminals had escaped from prisons in Egypt.  In one incident, when the monks tried to address the soldiers, they opened fire with live amunition, wounding six Copts.  The soldiers were crying "Allahu Akhbar" as they demolished the fence, and prevented the monastery's car from taking the wounded to hospital.  The Monastery of St Makarios of Alexandria was also attacked, where one monk was shot, and ten were wounded through being beaten by batons.
  7. On February 28, 2011, the Governor of Minya ordered the demolition of ten homes belonging to  Coptic families in the village of Saeed Abdelmassih, 30 km from Minya.  The families had refused to pay a bribe to prevent the demolision, and to donate land for a mosque in the village, where no Muslims lived.
  8. On March 5, 2011 a mob of over 4,000 Muslims attacked Coptic homes and burnt down an ancient Coptic church in Soul, near Cairo. The attackers played 'soccer' with the relics of the saints and martyrs taken from inside the church, and converted the site into a mosque, naming it the "Mercy Mosque".  Later reports stated that the church is being rebuilt by the army.
  9. On March 8, 2011, a mob of some 15,000 armed Muslims attacked a vastly outnumbered crowd of Christians on the outskirts of Cairo.  The Egyptian army, which was called to restore order, shoot live fire, and Copts were wounded and killed with live ammunition. Witnesses report they saw the army killing Christians. Thirteen people were killed, and over 140 suffered injuries.
  10. On March 14, 2011, Copts were shot at and beaten with electric batons by Egyptian soldiers, some of whom were crying Allahu Akbar during the attack.  Fifteen Copts suffered injuries, including head wounds, broken limbs and burns.  The Copts were part of a protest against the Soul attack of March 5 (see above).
  11. A group of Muslims, including a policeman, said they were executing  Islamic law when they amputated the ear of a Coptic man, Ayman Anwar Mitri, for leasing an apartment to two single women. The perpetrators also burned down his apartment and his car.  After they finished they called the police and said "we have executed the law of Allah, come and apply your law".  Mirti lodged a complaint with the police, but 'agreed' to withdrew his complaint and to 'reconcile' with his attackers after they threatened to kidnap his female relatives.  (In Egypt, kidnapping of a Christian woman means her rape, forced conversion and marriage to a Muslim.  The woman then becomes irretrievable.  Under sharia law her new husband has the right speak on her behalf in any legal proceedings.  Kidnapping of non-Muslim women is widely reported by dhimmi communities living under Islamic conditions.)
  12.  Some nine thousand Coptic villagers have been living in terror since the end of January in the Upper Egyptian villages of Badraman and Nazlet Badraman in Deir Mawas, Minya.  A Muslim police informer and his gang of armed supporters have been terrorizing Christians in the area with rapes, kidnappings and extortion.  Christians are beginning to move out of the area, having been made destitute by the regime of terror.  Attempts to submit formal complaints to the police have not succeeded because of intimidation and threats, and the government has made no effective response to the crisis: instead they have been 'turning a blind eye' to these events since January.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No 'Revolution' for Egypt's Christians by Raymond Ibrahim

This is an important report on what is happening in Egypt by Raymond Ibrahim.

No 'Revolution' for Egypt's Christians

by Raymond Ibrahim
March 22, 2011
(visit the above link for the full article, including all the links)

On March 5, Muslims attacked, plundered, and set ablaze an ancient Coptic church in Sool, a village near Cairo, Egypt. Afterwards, throngs of Muslims gathered around the scorched building and pounded its walls down with sledge hammers—to cries of "Allahu Akbar!" Adding insult to injury, the attackers played "soccer" with the relic-remains of the church's saints and martyrs and transformed the desecrated church into a mosque (a live example of history, which witnessed countless churches seized and transformed into mosques). As a result of Christian girls being abducted and raped and overall terrorization of the Coptic community, thousands fled the village. (See this letter to Egypt's military leadership signed by twenty congressmen discussing this and similar anecdotes.)

This latest church rampage was initiated by Muslims killing each other over an affair between a Christian man and a Muslim woman—and then transferring their violence onto the Copts of the region and their church.

Muhammad Hassan
Radical sheikh Muhammad Hassan, who was commissioned to investigate the incident, recently shared his "findings" on Egyptian TV. After insisting to Coptic viewers that "Islam is a religion of peace, mercy, and justice," he said that the "Muslim youth" who attacked the church never intended to do so; rather, they went there searching for a Coptic man. After invading the church, they discovered ancient liturgical books in the Coptic script, and papers with the names of Muslims. These were interpreted as "sorcery"—hence, they destroyed the church. (The fact is, some Muslims venerate St. Mary and often submit their names at churches for intercession.)

Not once did Hassan condemn the Muslim perpetrators. He even referred to the Copts as "dhimmis" and "pact-holders," prompting outrage among Egypt's indigenous Christian population, or as one Copt put it: "Hassan wants to make Dhimmis out of us… I thought we were living in [a] country with a constitution and a police force and not in Mecca or Medina, 14 centuries ago. Or maybe this is a first step to later subject Christians to Jizya for protection."

As medieval as this entire anecdote is—and as anachronistic as Hassan's rationale of "sorcery" is—none of this is surprising. What is disappointing, however, is that the Egyptian army—recently touted as the noble "savior" of the Egyptian people—and the Arabic media—which provided 24-hour coverage of the Tahrir Square protests—have both blatantly demonstrated their bias against Egypt's Christians.

Portrayed in the Western media as magnanimous for restraining itself against Egypt's civilians during the recent uprisings, not only did the Egyptian army allow the wanton destruction of the church to go unfettered, but it also opened fire on Christians protesting the burning of the church, killing nine and seriously wounding at least a hundred, some beaten with electric batons. Coptic activist lawyer Sherif Ramzy, who was among those assaulted, said that the soldiers also cried "Allahu Akbar" before attacking the Copts, adding, "This only shows that the army is infiltrated by Islamists."

Nor was this the first time since Mubarak was ousted that the military attacked Copts: in late February, armed forces, including tanks, opened fire on a 5th century monastery (as churches are accused of "sorcery," monasteries are accused of stockpiling weapons). Likewise, as Muslims spent some twenty hours pulverizing the church at Sool with sledge hammers, neither the military, nor state security ever appeared—and this near Cairo, Egypt's capital, not some inaccessible village.

Coptic protesters at Maspiro
Where has the Egyptian and Arab media been in all this? Not only have they tried to bypass all of these unpleasantries with scant or euphemistic mention ("sectarian strife"); but they also failed to cover the massive protests in front of Egypt's State TV building in Maspiro, where Copts rallied in an effort to get the world's attention, demanding the return of the church (which is now called "Mercy Mosque") and the return of the Copts back to their village. By some accounts, there were nearly two million protestors—including many Egyptian Muslims who rose up in support of their Christian countrymen. One would have thought all this newsworthy. As Wahid of the Arabic show Al Dalil put it:

Al Jazeera focused on every detail of Tahrir Square for twenty days. Where is Al Jazeera when Christians are attacked in Egypt, protesting and sleeping in the streets for ten days—or are they infidels, no good, or irrelevant dhimmis? You claim that you represent an objective and fair media in the Middle East—but where were you regarding what happened in Maspiro in Egypt? This confirms to us that you are one of the most terrible medias—a discriminating organization that treats events based on whether they deal with Muslims or not. But if it's about Christians, then we [i.e., Al Jazeera] don't deal with it. This is a media crisis of huge proportions. Till this day we do not have any media in the Middle East that is objective and that portrays the news as it truly is. (My translation.)

Aside from what all this bodes for the Copts, Western observers should also be concerned. For starters, that the Western media closely followed Al Jazeera's lead during the Tahrir Square protests, while being virtually clueless of these massive Christian uprisings, suggests that, when it comes to information on the Middle East, the Western mainstream media is heavily dependent on the Arab media, especially Al Jazeera. This is not to say that the West agrees with the point of view put forth by Al Jazeera. But it is to say that whether an issue even makes it to the Western media—makes it to the West's knowledge—is very much dependent on whether Islamist-leaning Al Jazeera wants to publicize it or not.

Mass protests in front of State TV lasted ten days
More troubling, these events unequivocally betray the Egyptian military's Islamist inclinations. This should not be surprising: as a grassroots movement, the Muslim Brotherhood has long been infiltrating Egypt's culture so that some of the youth—who make up the bulk of the army—have naturally been indoctrinated in an Islamist worldview. Indeed, the military, which keeps imprisoned some of the secular youth who initiated the original revolution, has just released a number of jihadists, including al-Zomar, who reasserted in his first interview the need for Egypt's Christians to pay the jizya tax, thereby confirming their inferior status under Muslim rule. Al-Zomar, of course, was not imprisoned because of his anti-Christian views, but because he was closely involved in the assassination of former President Sadat for making peace with Israel.

Thus the Egyptian military's Islamist leanings suggest that changes for the worse are coming—not just for the Copts, but internationally as well. Because the Islamist worldview is interrelated, Egypt's leadership may well prove to be as anti-American and anti-Israel for the very same reason it is anti-Christian—all are infidels, all are the enemy. The only difference is that the Copts are weak, whereas America and Israel are currently not—thus unabashed animosity for the former, latent hostility for the latter.

This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Muslims in the West: Loyal to Whom?

A briefing by Mark Durie
January 20, 2011

Listen to the Audio Recording

Mark Durie is a theologian, human rights activist, and pastor of an Anglican church in Australia. He has held visiting appointments at the University of Leiden, MIT, UCLA, and Stanford. During his years in Indonesia, he observed a society in which a Muslim majority tried to enforce Islamic law on its sizable Christian minority, leading to his acclaimed 2010 book, The Third Choice, which examines the status of non-Muslims under Islamic rule. On January 20 he spoke to the Middle East Forum in New York on the topic of loyalty.

By understanding how Muslim scholars address the question of loyalty, Westerners may better understand why their nations often have problems assimilating their Muslim populations, asserts Mr. Durie.

The question of loyalty has had tragic implications: Mr. Durie cited the case of Major Nidal Hasan as an expression of isolation and tension commonly experienced between Muslim minorities residing in Western communities. He states that whereas Western Judeo-Christian ethics separated religion and state centuries ago, Islam intertwines religion and state into an inseparable whole. In fact, scholars of Islamic jurisprudence have never concretely settled the lawfulness of a Muslim living in the West, or Dar al-Harb—the "House of War."

Mr. Durie next tackled several proposed solutions to this problem. Traditional Islamic jurisprudence justifies living in Dar al-Harb (permissible only for a few days) if fleeing from religious persecution. A contemporary solution, then, leans on the Muslim principle that "necessity abrogates the obligatory." Mr. Durie states that if, for example, a Muslim does not have access to halal food, he can eat non-halal food out of necessity. In the same fashion, a Muslim fleeing persecution may settle in the West out of necessity to practice Islam freely (hence the many Islamists who settle in the West to escape persecution from their autocratic opponents). In fact, Mr. Durie cited some Islamic scholars who consider the United States more "Islamic" than majority-Muslim nations, because the U.S. allows for complete religious freedom. He points out, however, that many Islamic scholars agree that a Muslim must think of himself as a Muslim first and a citizen of his country second.

Mr. Durie proposes that Islam adopt a theology of the brotherhood of humanity, wherein all can benefit through mutual assistance—rather than Muslims solely benefiting through ideological domination. He concluded by stating that, if we do not wish to surrender Muslim Americans to foreign law on our own soil, concessions to Islamic law must not be made. During question-and-answer, Mr. Durie implored the West to have the "guts" to understand Islam as a religious-political system—and to take the steps necessary to change our own understandings, not just those of Muslims living in the West.

Summary by MEF intern William Aquilino
This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Murder of Shahbaz Bhatti — "Now who will fight for our rights?"

I was deeply saddened to read of the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan Minister for Minorities.  A courageous Christian leader and advocate for justice, he had been outspoken against Pakistan's blasphemy law.  The report below comes from Assist News Service


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Pakistan Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti shot dead
Bhatti predicted his death and defended his faith in a video four months ago

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti has been shot dead by gunmen who ambushed his car in broad daylight in the capital Islamabad.

Police said he was traveling to work through a residential district when his vehicle was sprayed with bullets, the BBC reported on its website.

Mr Bhatti, the cabinet's only Christian minister, had received death threats for urging reform to blasphemy laws.

In January, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who had also opposed the law, was shot dead by one of his bodyguards.

The BBC said the blasphemy law carries a death sentence for anyone who insults Islam. Critics say it has been used to persecute minority faiths.

The Vatican condemned the murder of the Catholic politician as an "unspeakable" act of violence, the BBC report stated.

Mr Bhatti, 42, a leader of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), had just left home in a suburb of the capital when three to four gunmen surrounded his vehicle and sprayed it with bullets, according to the BBC report.

One witness, Gulam Rahim, told AP news agency that two of the attackers had opened the door and tried to pull Mr Bhatti out, while another man fired a Kalashnikov into the car.

Bhatti was taken to the nearby Shifa hospital, but was dead on arrival, the BBC said.

The gunmen, who were wearing shawls, escaped in a white Suzuki car, according to witnesses.

Police chief Wajid Durrani told reporters that the minister was not accompanied by his guards when the attack happened, although he said Mr Bhatti had been provided with a security detail, the BBC report said.

The BBC went on to report that pamphlets by al-Qaeda and Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab, a branch of the Taliban in Pakistan's most populous province, were found at the ambush site.

Tehrik-i-Taliban told BBC Urdu they carried out the attack.

"This man was a known blasphemer of the Prophet [Muhammad]," said the group's deputy spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan.

"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 BBC said security has been stepped up on all main roads in Islamabad.

In January, Mr Bhatti told the BBC he would defy death threats he had received from Islamist militants for his efforts to reform the blasphemy law.

A government spokesman condemned the assassination.

"This is a concerted campaign to slaughter every liberal, progressive and humanist voice in Pakistan," Farahnaz Ispahani, an aide to President Asif Ali Zardari, told AP news agency.

"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."

In January, Governor Taseer was shot dead, also in Islamabad, by one of his own police bodyguards. The killer has been hailed by many in the country as a hero.

The governor had backed a private member's bill in parliament by Sherry Rehman, a female MP, to amend the blasphemy law in an attempt to make miscarriages of justice less likely and remove its death penalty. But in the face of strident popular opposition, the federal government said it would not support the proposed reforms.

Ms Rehman said last month she was receiving death threats every half hour by e-mail and telephone.

The BBC stated that Christians, who make up an estimated 1.5 percent of Pakistan's 185 million population, were left reeling by Mr Bhatti's death.

"We have been orphaned today!" Rehman Masih, a Christian resident of Islamabad, told AP news agency. "Now who will fight for our rights?"

Pakistan's blasphemy law has been in the spotlight since a Christian, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to hang in Punjab last November, the BBC explained.

Bibi denies claims she insulted the Prophet Muhammad during a row with Muslim women villagers about sharing water.

Thr BBC also said that although no-one convicted under the law has been executed, more than 30 accused have been killed by lynch mobs.

Critics say that convictions under the law hinge on witness testimony, which is often linked to grudges.

** Michael Ireland is Chief Correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can donate online to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Chief Reporter   
** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

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