Thursday, September 20, 2007

How are you going to stand with those who need you?

It's been for me a week with a nasty cold. I find the physical misery conducive to doing a lot of thinking, but not writing. A little suffering is humbling and opens one's mind, but for a moment it also holds one back from the strength and determination to do much with the renewed respect for the greater world of which one is but a humble servant. Still, I plan to try and make it down to the library tonight (the atrium of the central Vancouver branch, in front of Blenz coffee), as every Thursday, 7-9pm, to meet with my Covenant Zone friends.

I know we are going to be discussing what it means to covenant with others in the cause of freedom and Western values. On my mind right now is the fate of a young man in Egypt who wants his conversion to Christianity recognized by the state, for various legal reasons. The overwhelming opinion, even among the educated in Egypt, seems to be that this young man deserves death for causing a public scandal by attempting to have his identity papers changed to recognize his new faith.
3 famous imam have pronounced themselves against [Mohammed] Hegazi. The first is Imam Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a big expert in his field, who cites dozens of references from the first centuries and concludes that Hegazi has to be killed because the group is in danger and the group takes priority over the individual. The idea is: if this person begins to speak and says that he is happy to be Christian, and smilingly appears in photos with a Gospel in his hands, this is intolerable and is non-Muslim propaganda, which is officially allowed neither in Egypt, nor in other Islamic countries. And since Hegazi is spreading Christian propaganda, he must be killed.

Suad Saleh, Muslim judge and dean of the Faculty of Islamic Science at Al-Azhar University, has stated: yes, in matters of faith there is no compulsion, but Hegazi is spreading propaganda and thus the law must be applied. The judge advises that the apostate be given 3 days to repent and reconvert to Islam (istitâbah), then "apply the law" (i.e. execution).

The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Dr Ali Gomaa, Egypt's highest religious authority, stated to the Washington Post last June that apostasy "should not" be punished by death, eliciting numerous reactions from Al-Azhar. After many people expressed their approval for a death sentence, he retracted in a confused matter and his stance is still today unclear. On the surface, he wanted to reassure the West by using ambiguous wording, like the one that goes: "Apostasy is to be punished when it represents fitna or when it threatens the foundations of society."

Instead, as we have said, there is no punishment in this world for the apostate according to the Koran. But the imams rely on one of the Prophet's hadith of Islam handed down by Ibn 'Abbas: "Kill the one who changes religion." And they rely on the fact that Mohammad applied this punishment to Abdallah Ibn al-Azhal who, to avoid being killed, had sought protection in the Kaaba shrine, but Mohammad ordered his companions to kill him.

To all this must be added the reaction of Hegazi's and his wife’s parents. Questioned by Islamic judges, his father denied that his son converted to Christianity. His mother began screaming hysterically: "My son is dead, there will be no relation between us until the judgement day!" Ali Kamel Suleiman, the father of Zeinab, Hegazi’s wife, was more explicit. He declared to the independent daily al-Dustûr: "Bring me my daughter in whatever way possible, even dead." In our Egyptian mentality, this means: kill her, or bring her to me alive and I will kill her.
One element of what it means to covenant in the cause of freedom is to make promises to hold faith with those who want to be free while living under the most oppressive of social systems that now threaten all of us in this global village. The dissidents of the Muslim world need a support network in the West and this is something I want to get my colleagues talking about. How do we get people in Vancouver to pay attention to cases like this and to make a stand for freedom? How do we encourage a whole new era of public commitments and thus protect against dhimmitude? Don't hear much about the Mohammad Hegazis from Western "human rights" organizations and the liberal media? Maybe it's time for someone to start a new kind of human rights organization. Why not contact us to talk about it?

I would also like to point your attention to a story detailing how Catholic students are being forced to wear the Islamic veil in Indonesia. Once Sharia law is imposed in a predominantly Muslim area, everyone is pressured to comply.

But there are countless stories we could link of people suffering under the totalitarian Islam of today. Will the West try to hide from the third-world victims of Islam in an attempt to assuage its own "white" guilt, or to isolate and protect itself from the Jihad and Sharia? Or will we find the nerve and resolve to continue to engage Islam and demand it change? Why do we even believe that change in the Islamic world is possible? That, of course, is the question at the centre of endless debate in the blogs, including this one. For those who want to know why I think we have no choice in this nuclear-tipped global village but to confront the Islamic world - starting by making promises to stand with the lonely dissidents, the Christian converts, and other lovers of freedom - and in their name, boycott, isolate, and otherwise pressure a totalitarian world to change, you can find me in the Covenant Zone where all genuine commitments to real thinking and exchange are welcome.


Anonymous said...

Mexicans flooding into Canada and swamping social services:

Anonymous said...

There are some decent sites out there covering religious freedom issues. ChristianityToday Magazine normally has a pretty good roundup, and updates every now and then. The Centre for Religious Freedom has opinion and analysis []. Religious freedom is one of the issues that can normally get strong bipartisan support in Washington. I think embassies are actually required to do annual country reports on religious freedom problems.

Anyway, religious freedom is frequently a subject of concern for American diplomats and Christian-oriented rights groups (which are primarily Western based). I’m guessing the indifference you refer to is more directed at secular-oriented groups. The reality of the situation is that groups tend to have their thing that they focus on and then remain indifferent to other related forms of abuse. Amnesty, for example, tends to focus on political prisoners and war crimes and, while they will say things about religion every now and then, I don’t think they have a special section on religious freedom. Is this hypocrisy or a sign of weakness? To some extent. We should realize that these groups are supported by informal coalitions with their own agendas and that they need to stick to these agendas to maintain support. To take an extreme example, I wouldn’t expect a Christian religious freedom group to vigorously support an international crusade for homosexual rights. They might support the freedom of conscience and choice, but extending same-sex rights just isn’t on the top of their agenda. That’s just the way the informal division of labour goes. As long as there are no major oversights we should be fine with this pursuit of specific agendas.

As for the media, I appreciate when religious freedom news is able to creep into the front pages though I recognize that, more often than not, religious oppression does not bleed and thus will not lead. Unfortunately it often takes martyrs to highlight a problem and energize public opinion. Hopefully pre-emptive Western attention will save Hegazi from the martyr’s fate in this case.
Recover health quickly.

dag said...

The compartmentalization of victims is an unhappy point, but one we have to live with. Who cares about those not our own? The worst is that we find often most people say 'who cares about our own or our friends or anyone other than the people who hates us, particularly if they kill us'.

Religious people are no better at anything good than anyone else, only more despicable because of their pretensions. 'Who suffers? Oh, not one of "my" victims. Not a Palestinian, and therefore not worth me parading about on his behalf so I can get my filthy name in the paper and squeeze money out of the congregants'. Normal, ordinary, disgusting, and unchanged from the first day. So we puke, carry on, and try to do what we can in spite of Christians and their poses.

Focus? Yes, we can't save everyone. Such is life, like it or not. But I could sure use a break from the histrionics of the Left Christians. Anyone who has some simple common concern for people regardless of their status on the victim totem pole is welcome to sit with me and stand up for all those who get wrecked for conscience's sake. See you this evening.

truepeers said...

I appreciate what you say, na, but of course the distinction between religious and political freedom is one that makes sense in the Western context but not in most of the world where the separation of church and state is much more tenuous. Wouldn't it be welcome to have a human rights organization that talked up points like that?

The problem with a lot of Christian organizations is 1) when they defend Christians, a lot of people just think it's a case of kind protecting kind, and maybe the other group has a reasonable point of view too and so they turn off their attention. 2) a lot of Christian activists are anti-Western leftists 3) the Christians are not yet doing nearly a good enough job of protecting their brethren in Muslim countries, not of course that it is their fault; i just mean there is much more that could be done to pressure our governments to pressure other governments. So the defense of Western values, via human rights organizations, is a field in which there are many growth opportunities, it seems to me. It's something for us to think about, if we want to make a serious commitment to doing more than reporting. There are now all kinds of human rights issues regarding the increasingly oppressive situation in Europe and even in North America that also need to be brought to light. And in Western terms, these are both political and religious in nature. Basic freedom of speech and assembly issues, for example. Getting involved in these is a way of asking people here at home to take stands that will also help renew our political culture.

I'm feeling a little better now, thanks.