Terrorism is only one of the weapons.
By Clifford D. May
January 21, 2010 12:00 AM
In 2001, the monumental 6th-century buddhas of Bamiyan were dynamited on orders from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. The United States and other Western governments issued protests. Afghanistan’s Islamist rulers shrugged them off.
In 2010, Al-Kifl, the tomb of the Prophet Ezekiel, near Baghdad, is being desecrated. On the tomb are inscriptions in Hebrew and an ark in which a Torah was displayed centuries ago. Iraq’s Antiquities and Heritage Authority, under pressure from Islamists, is erasing the Hebrew words, removing the Hebrew ornaments, and planning to build a mosque on top of the grave.
The tomb of the prophet Ezekiel
So far, we’re hearing protests from almost no one. But this is not just another “Where is the outrage?” story. The larger and more alarming trend is that, in a growing number of Muslim-majority countries, a war is being waged against non-Muslim minorities.
Where non-Muslim minorities already have been “cleansed” — as in Afghanistan and Iraq — the attacks are against their memory. Ethnic minorities also are being targeted: The genocidal conflict against the black Muslims of Darfur is only the most infamous example.
Connect these dots: In Nigeria this week, Muslim youths set fire to a church, killing more than two dozen Christian worshippers. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have been suffering increased persecution including, this month, a drive-by shooting outside a church in which seven people were murdered. In Pakistan, Christian churches were bombed over Christmas. In Turkey, authorities have been closing Christian churches, monasteries, and schools, and seizing Christian properties. Recently, churches in Malaysia have been attacked, too, provoked by this grievance: Christians inside the churches were referring to God as “Allah.” How dare infidels use the same name for the Almighty as do Muslims!
In response to all this, Western journalists, academics, diplomats, and politicians mainly avert their eyes and hold their tongues. They pretend there are no stories to be written, no social pathologies to be documented, no actions to be taken. They focus instead on Switzerland’s vote against minarets and anything Israel might be doing to prevent terrorists from claiming additional victims.
Many Muslims, no doubt, disapprove of the persecution of non-Muslims. But in most Muslim-majority countries, any Muslim openly opposing the Islamists and their projects risks being branded an apostate. And under the Islamist interpretation of Sharia, Islamic law, apostates deserve death.
Not so long ago, the Broader Middle East was a diverse region. Lebanon had a Christian majority for centuries but that ended around 1990 — the result of years of civil war among the country’s religious and ethnic communities. The Christian population of Turkey has diminished substantially in recent years. Islamists have driven Christians out of Bethlehem and other parts of the West Bank; almost all Christians have fled Gaza since Hamas’s takeover.
There were Jewish communities throughout the Middle East for millennia. The Jews of Iran trace their history back more than 2,700 years, but about eight out of ten Iranian Jews have emigrated since the 1979 Islamist Revolution; only about 40,000 remain.
The Jews of what is now Saudi Arabia were wiped out as Muhammad and his followers established a new religion and began to build a new empire in the 7th century A.D. But Jewish communities survived elsewhere until after World War II, when Jews were forced to abandon their homes in Iraq (more than a fourth of Baghdad’s population was Jewish), Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, and other countries.
In many cases, they were driven out by Muslims furious over the establishment of the modern state of Israel. But how odd is it to protest the creation of a safe haven and homeland for Jews by making your own Jewish citizens homeless and stateless?
In 1947, Pakistan also was founded as a safe haven — for Indian Muslims who did not want to be ruled by Hindus once the British left the subcontinent. The country’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was determined that while Pakistan would have an Islamic identity, it would be tolerant of Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsees, and others — as much as 20 percent of the population at independence. It hasn’t worked out that way and, as a result, non-Muslim minorities today constitute only about 3 percent of Pakistan’s population. By contrast, non-Hindus constitute almost 20 percent of India’s population, with Muslims the largest minority at 13 percent.
When the dots are connected, the picture that emerges is not pretty: An “Islamic world” in which terrorists are regarded often with lenience, sometimes with respect, and occasionally with reverence, while minority groups face increasing intolerance, persecution, and “cleansing,” and where even their histories are erased. And we in the West are too polite, too “politically correct,” and perhaps too cowardly to say much about it.
— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.
© Scripps Howard News Service