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And Then They Came for Harry Potter's Co-Star

In PJME's first bi-monthly column, organization founder Gail Rubin warns that rampant religious persecution in Muslim countries must be challenged and fought, published in the Davis Enterprise (7/11/2010).

Confront religious persecution
By Gail Rubin
July 11th, 2010

Special to The Enterprise

Harry Potter's classmate's magic failed. Nearly beaten to death in an attempted honor killing, Afshan Azad, 22, has appeared in four of the “Harry Potter” movies as Padma Patil. She lives in England. Her crime: She was dating a Hindu man, a nonbeliever.

Recently, her father and brother tried to kill her. Afshan apparently was the target of a so-called honor killing by her own family. The young woman was attacked at her home in Manchester on May 21. No fantasy or fiction, and sadly, no magical rescue. It's real.

I was recently in New York City for a family celebration and hailed a cab. Our cabbie was a friendly guy from Pakistan, and therein began a most fascinating discussion or, shall I say, lecture. I learned of his belief that Jews were really Muslims because the common patriarch Abraham was a Muslim (never mind that Abraham lived some two millennia before Islam was founded in the 7th Century C.E.)

I learned that Buddhists, Hindus and Baha'is didn't stand a chance and surely would go straight to hell. My sweet 86-year-old mother became nervous. She began to clutch my arm when the cabbie started telling us that most thieves must have their hands chopped off, female adulterers deserve to be tortured and stoned, and nonbelievers are to be subservient.

So, here I was in cosmopolitan New York City, and this guy had no qualms revealing his true self. I began to wonder how many others believe as he does. One million? 10 million? Fifty million? We all know from history that even a tiny fraction of despots and lunatics can take away all human dignity from the remaining majority.

Are these two vignettes unrelated incidents or a reflection of an ideology sweeping the globe? An ideology whose supporters respect no religious boundaries and would just as soon throw acid in the face of a young Afghani Muslim girl wanting to learn to read and write, as they would murder a Christian for going to church.

What about the forgotten victims of this hateful ideology ... those whom the Western media largely ignore? They are the Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world where Jihadists are gaining ground. One Free World International ( reports that every year some 200 million to 300 million Christians are persecuted in the world; 80 percent of them are in Muslim countries, with the rest in communist or other states (

Note that the same Muslim nations that expelled or forced some 850,000 Jews from their homes after 1948 are now driving Christians out as well. Take, for example, the Egyptian Majed El Shafie. At age 18, he converted from Islam to Christianity. Under Shari'a law, such conversions are a capital offense, enforced by the death penalty in some states. After he was imprisoned, tortured and put under house arrest in Alexandria, Egypt, he escaped and made his way to Israel, seeking asylum.

With the help of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem and the safe harbor he was given in Israel, he was ultimately repatriated to Canada in 2002.

Shafie continues to help other Christians through his One Free World organization. The Coptic Christians, who make up roughly 10 percent of the Egyptian population, are particularly vulnerable. In 2007, 27 Christian-owned houses and shops were torched in the southern village of Behma.

After last Christmas' midnight Mass, six Coptic Christians and one Muslim security guard were gunned down by Islamic extremists as the worshippers exited their church. This cruel act took place in the vicinity of Luxor, Egypt, on Jan. 6, 2010, which is the evening before Coptic Orthodox Christmas. Yet such savagery doesn't even register a 1 on the media's Richter scale.

In other countries, such as Pakistan, “hudud” laws prescribe mutilating punishments such as amputation, stoning and whipping for offenses including theft, robbery, unlawful sexual intercourse and consumption of alcohol. Just a few days ago, reported a shocking incident. Radical Islamists chopped off a Catholic professor's right hand as punishment for allegedly “preparing a question paper with objectionable remarks on Prophet Mohammed in March 2010.”

A spokesperson for the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church expressed anguish over the growing Talibanization in the south Indian city of Kerala where the barbarous act occurred. Elsewhere, an al Qaida-affiliated group in Somalia known as Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen (“Movement of Warrior Youth”) enforces cruel and inhumane punishment such as flogging, stoning to death and cutting off arms and feet. In 2008, Al-Shabaab stoned to death a 13-year-old girl in the field of a large soccer stadium on charges of adultery, when, in fact, she had been gang-raped. The group has vowed to expunge non-Muslims and Christians from Somalia.

Can one point to even one Arab or Muslim country in the Middle East where minorities thrive? Violent attacks by Jihadists are carried out against the Christian minority population in Egypt, Algeria, Iran, Yemen, Pakistan, Nigeria and Iraq. In Saudi Arabia, all Christian worship is forbidden, including within the U.S. Embassy. Christians have been imprisoned and deported for owning a Bible. Saudi Muslim citizens who convert to Christianity are subject to the death penalty.

In Jordan, Muslim woman are often murdered by their own families for intermarrying with Christians. As I write this article, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, 43, sits in an Iranian prison awaiting a death sentence by stoning, after being flogged 99 times for her 2006 conviction for adultery.

In the Gaza Strip and in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank, the situation is equally bleak. Christians in both locales have had their churches vandalized and their Bibles burned, and live under a banner of “dhimmitude,” which subjects them to intimidation, forced “protection” monetary payments and sexual harassment.

The Christian population in Bethlehem has been on a steady decline since the Palestinian Authority took control in the early to mid-1990s. There is only one place in the entire Middle East where the Christian population is increasing, not dwindling, and that is in Israel.

Let's be clear. We are talking about radical Jihadists, not individual Muslims. We are talking about the atrocities committed by those in the minority, albeit those with the desire and power to control the majority, who seek to “liberate” all Islamic land from the “crusaders.” This term includes Christians and Jews — even though Jews were among the victims of the Crusades.

They seek to liberate Lebanon from Christians, Egypt from the Copts, Iran from the Christians and Baha'is, and of course, Israel from the Jews. Even secular or moderate Muslim societies are considered to be apostates. Sufi Muslims suffer at the hands of Jihadists.

Look what happened when Hamas violently overthrew the Fatah government in the Gaza Strip, brutally murdering Palestinian Muslims — their own people, including women, children and the elderly — and tossing them from multi-story buildings. If humane treatment cannot be granted to their brethren who affiliate with rival parties, then what hope is there for the Christian “crusaders” and for the “sons of monkeys and pigs,” as Hamas is so fond of calling Jews?

We live in perilous times. It is particularly crucial that religious persecution be acknowledged and faced head on wherever it occurs. This is because such persecution runs counter to the deepest and most cherished values of personal liberty upon which America was founded. In the current world climate defined after 9/11, ignoring the persecution of Christians or any other religious group conveys to the terrorists the impression that the West, especially America, is weak, irreligious, decadent and ultimately vulnerable to similar terror.

To quote a man whose eloquence I wish I had, “There was a time when drawing moral symmetries between two sides of every conflict was a mark of original thinking. Today, with Western intellectuals overextending two-sidedness to reckless absurdities, it reflects nothing but lazy conformity.”

Who is that man? Judea Pearl, father of Daniel Pearl, the American journalist who was beheaded in Karachi in 2002, upon speaking at the release of the film “A Mighty Heart” (

Those who take pride in murder — and those who revel when kids in pizzerias and office workers in skyscrapers are blown to smithereens — cannot be compared to those trying to stop them.

As the saying goes, “First they came for the Saturday people, and then they came for the Sunday people …” I pray it is not too late to stop them.

— Gail Rubin is a founding member of the Davis Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Justice in the Middle East, This column will be published every other month.

This site provided with the assistance of the Davis Community Network.