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True Freedom Includes Religion

Margaret Killeen discusses the problem of religious intolerance in the Islamic world, highlighting recent violence against Christians in Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan and other countries (Enterprise Commentary, February 25, 2011).

True freedom also includes religion

Thank you for your editorial on Sunday, Feb. 13, “Freedom Grabs Hold in Africa,” about the new, yet-to-be-named country in South Sudan. The mostly black southern Sudanese Christians and others have suffered tremendously during their long civil war, which resulted in the deaths of more than 2 million people and enslavement of thousands of others, as both your editorial and a recent Wall Street Journal article (“Will Freedom Come for Sudan’s Slaves,” Jan. 14) highlighted.

The editorial mentioned that one major difference between the north and south in Sudan was the northern government’s imposition of Islamic Sharia law on everyone, not just Muslims. Indeed, as radical Islamists seek to impose Sharia in more countries, non-Muslims are increasingly being persecuted or forced to flee countries where their families have lived for generations.

Recent attacks on Christians include the 58 Syrian Orthodox Christians who were killed at their church in Baghdad last Oct. 31, the 80 or more Christians who were killed in different locations in Nigeria on Christmas Eve, and the massacre of Coptic Christians in Alexandria, Egypt, on New Year’s Eve.

Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani farmworker, has been condemned to death for violating Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws. Her cause has been championed by Pope Benedict XVI and the nation of Italy (“Italy: A Nation United Behind Asia Bibi,” Feb. 3, 2011, It also was taken up by the late governor of Punjab (Pakistan), Salmaan Taseer, until he was assassinated by his bodyguard on Jan. 4 for speaking publicly in favor of Bibi.

What was Bibi’s crime? After she gave water to some Muslim neighbors at their request, Bibi’s neighbors refused to accept it from her “unclean” Christian hands. A verbal altercation ensued in which Bibi reportedly said something against the Prophet Mohammed, and the local anti-blasphemy official was called. Bibi and her family were beaten and fined, she spent a year in jail and she is now awaiting death by hanging because of her words.

In the meantime, Taseer’s assassin was celebrated as a hero by tens of thousands of cheering Islamists in the streets of Karachi (“Islamists Rally for Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 10).

Bibi is not alone in experiencing persecution as a Christian under Islamic rule. Even as U.S. soldiers are risking their lives to bring stability and freedom to Afghanistan, the Afghan government is refusing to release two Afghan men, converts to Christianity, who are in jail for apostasy and handing out a New Testament (proselytizing). In the post-Taliban government, these are still crimes punishable by death.

Jamal Khan, chief of staff at the Ministry of Justice, stated, “The sentence for a convert is death and there is no exception. They must be sentenced to death to serve as a lesson for others.” (“U. S. Lobbies Afghanistan to Release Christian Converts,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 27.)

In many Muslim countries, Christians have been living peaceably for centuries, though classified as dhimmis (second-class citizens under Islamic governments). But now radical Islamists seem bent on “cleansing” their lands of Christians, just as they cleansed their Arab lands of more than 850,000 Jews in the 1940s and 1950s. They do so through fear, intimidation, harsh punishments, land grabs and death.

Even in the Holy Land, Christians have been fleeing their historic hometowns in recent years. For example, in 1995, Christians formed 80 percent of Bethlehem’s population; now they have been reduced to 20 percent or less. These points have been chronicled by writers such as Bat Ye’or, Brigitte Gabriel, Nonie Darwish, Robert Spencer, Aaron Klein, Paul Marshall and many others.

Numerous examples of persecution also can be cited from recent events in Indonesia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Iran and so on. So the questions must be asked: Can a Christian, who believes that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to bring salvation to all who believe in him — a different idea than is taught in the Koran — voice his or her view without fear of death in Sharia-compliant countries? Can a person share the gospel or give a Bible to another without fear of punishment, including death? Can a person change his or her religion from Islam to any other religion without fear of punishment or death? As far as I know, the answer is no to all these questions.

We are very hopeful that the south Sudanese people can leave their nightmare behind and create a new country with the full religious and individual freedoms that they were so tragically denied for so long. As citizens of a nation that enjoys perhaps the greatest freedom of speech and religion in the world, we sincerely hope that the changes occurring in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen and, hopefully, Iran, also will allow for true freedom in those countries.

— Margaret Killeen is a longtime Davis resident.

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