The Roll Back Starts Now, With You
by Dexter Van Zile (June 2013)
Note: This article is offered as a bare-bones primer for activists and educators who want to organize local conferences about the status of Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. Such conferences are badly needed because of the failure of our civil society institutions to educate the American people about the great human rights tragedy of our time. They must educate themselves.
Escalating violence against Christians in Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda and more recently, Syria, underscores a troubling reality that academics, journalists and clergy in the West are just now willing to acknowledge: Religious and ethnic minorities living in Muslim-majority countries are not safe. At best, their presence is tolerated by Muslim extremists; at worst they are convenient targets of genocidal rhetoric, pogroms and ethnic cleansing.
The problem, simply put, is that Islam as a religion has broadcast a persistent message of intolerance and supremacy toward non-Muslims in the 1400 years since its founding in the 7th Century. Sometimes this supremacy is constrained by the elites (dictators) in Muslim-majority countries and there have been times when Western powers have intervened on behalf of Christian minorities – with varying effectiveness. For example, while the Greeks in the Anatolian Peninsula enjoyed some measure of protection from violence perpetrated by the Young Turks who created the modern state of Turkey, the Armenians were slaughtered en masse.
Today, we are witnessing an era where influential elites in Muslim-dominated countries in the Middle East and North Africa are encouraging hostility toward Christian (and other) minorities living in their midst. Their message, which is being met with some, but not overpowering opposition, is having a real impact on the lives of Christians and Muslims in these countries.
More than 100,000 Coptic Christians have fled Egypt since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Several hundred thousand Christians have fled Iraq since the ouster of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. A similar fate may await Christians in Syria should the Assad regime fall. And in past decades, more than 2 million Christians and animists have been killed in Sudan by an Islamist regime headquartered in Sudan. Christians have also been slaughtered by Islamists in Nigeria and Uganda.
The sad and undeniable fact is that Islamic expansionism is threatening the right of non-Muslims to self-definition by erasing their history. In his book, 1998 book Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples, V.S. Naipaul writes that Islamic expansionism requires Muslim converts to become part of Arab history, whether they like it or not. Islam, Naipaul writes, “makes imperial demands.” Elsewhere in the same text, he writes “Converted peoples have to strip themselves of their past; of converted peoples nothing is required but the purest faith (if such a thing can be arrived at), Islam, submission. It is the most uncompromising kind of imperialism.”
Clearly, there are people calling for changes in how Islam is practiced and how its sacred texts are understood and applied in the modern era. They are struggling to counter the imperialist impulse of their faith.
Sadly, they are a minority. And Muslim activists who wish to modernize their faith also fall victim to Islamist violence, which is why many reformers have fled to Europe and North America. Alarmingly enough, Europe is becoming less safe for these reformers.
Still, things are much worse for non-Muslims in the Middle East who have very few allies and protectors. Things have gotten so bad for Christians in the Muslim-dominated Middle East and North Africa (MENA), that one commentator, John Eibner, executive director of Christian Solidarity International issued a “genocide warning” stating that if war were to break out in the Middle East, it could provoke violence and ethnic cleansing on a grand scale and result in the destruction of Christianity in the Middle East. It got little attention.
Responsible policy makers should not ignore these warnings, because if things continue as they have, it is entirely reasonable to expect that huge numbers of Christians will flee the Middle East in an effort to save their lives.
Where will they live?
Silence = Death
In light of history and current events, two conclusions are inescapable: First, Muslim teachings regarding non-Muslims (and women) represent the great human rights challenge of the 21st Century. Second, Islamism represents the greatest threat to world peace and stability since the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and possibly since the end of World War II.
This is not, however, the picture offered by academics, journalists and the peace and human rights community in North America and Europe. While these communities are reluctant to address the outrages described above, they have regularly assailed Israel for alleged abuses against the Palestinian people.
Activists in these communities have supported a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, which by any honest measure sets the gold standard for human rights in the Middle East. It treats its enemies, dissidents, and minorities with greater respect and humanity than any other regime in the region, and yet it is regularly accused of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and in some instances, genocide.
In the minds of Western intellectuals, Palestinians are the victims of a unique injustice caused by Israel’s creation in 1948. The status of Palestinians as the victims of choice in the modern era was demonstrated exhibited at the UN Conference on Racism and Xenophobia held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. At this conference, so-called human rights activists from Europe, North America and the Middle East declared Israel an apartheid state and guilty of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
The irony is that the alleged victims of this genocide – Palestinians, have enjoyed substantial population growth since Israel’s creation in 1948. Moreover, Palestinian leaders have themselves supported a genocidal movement intent on destroying the Jewish state.
The absurdity of the conference’s verdict was described by Walid Phares, author of the The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East (Threshold Editions 2010). Phares describes the Durban conference as having been hijacked by sympathizers of oil-producing regimes and groups preaching jihadism and other totalitarian doctrines.” Phares continues:
The fact that there were no representatives present in Durban from Southern Sudan, Darfur, Kurds, Berbers, Copts, Assyro-Chaledeans, Mauritanian blacks, Arabs in Iran, or other persecuted groups was a troubling matter. How could a conference claiming to tackle racism and discrimination, and particularly a conference taking place on the African continent, fail to invite escaped slaves from Sudan and Mauritania? These were the actual real slaves, called Abeed (meaning blacks) by their masters in two countries, members of the Arab League and the African Union.
Aside from this horrendous sin of sidelining black slaves at a conference dedicated to antiracism, there were other noticeable absences. Discrimination against ethnic groups within the Arab and historical Muslim world wasn’t even on the agenda. Organizers detailed past historical, and of course Western, racism, but didn’t utter a single word on the present-day sufferings of hundreds of millions of disenfranchised peoples from the Atlas Mountains to the Himalayas. Sexual discrimination was addressed, but not sexual apartheid in Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
In short, the entire Durban process was nothing but a charade to shield the oppressive ideological regimes in the Arab and Muslim world, particularly the oil-producing elites, the propagators of discriminatory ideologies.
Phares concludes that the Durban conference, “consolidated the grip of authoritarians—via their radical subcontractors—on the international institutions mandated to address racism and discrimination.”
Why has this Islamist campaign been so successful?
One reason for this is Western self-hate and loathing, which is projected onto the Jewish state.
Another reason is fear of Islamist violence. If one speaks critically about Islam and its founder, Mohammed, it is entirely possible that an imam somewhere in the Middle East will call for you to be murdered.
On the other hand, people who say bad and untrue things about Israel or Jews will, at worst receive a letter from the local board of rabbis, the Anti-Defamation League in the United States or the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Under these conditions, it makes perfect sense – at least in the short-term – for activists to minimize or ignore Islamist violence and invent or exaggerate the sins of the Jewish state.
The long-term consequences of this behavior, however, are disastrous: The continued subjugation and destruction of religious and ethnic minorities under Muslim rule and continued success for Islamist imperialist seeking to oppress non-Muslims throughout the world. Until we learn to speak truthfully and openly about the problems we face, we will continue to live in fear of Islamist violence.
This is particularly evident in Europe where Jews have been murdered in France and are fleeing Sweden for fear of their lives.
Under these conditions, the fight for knowledge and the fight for freedom are the same battle. If we are to remain free and promote the cause of human rights, we must educate our minds and loosen our tongues so that we may speak the truth.
What You Can Do
The rollback must begin now. You can help by organizing a conference in your local community about the impact of Islamism on Christians and other minorities in the Middle East and North Africa. Depending on the resources you are able to muster, you can achieve a number of the following goals:
- Expose attendees to first-hand testimony about the suffering Christians and other minorities have endured while living in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
- Generate publicity about the suffering Christians and other minorities have endured in Muslim-majority countries.
- Educate attendees about the long history of Muslim persecution of non-Muslims.
- Educate attendees about the theological (and juridical) underpinnings of Muslim violence and hostility toward non-Muslims in Muslim-majority countries.
- Educate attendees about how Islamists have hijacked the United Nations and other international bodies for their own purposes.
- Portray the potential destruction of Christianity in the Middle East as the human rights tragedy it truly is.
- Put academics, journalists and activists on notice that their failure to confront the issue of Islamism violence against Christians is attracting the attention of the wider community.
- Initiate an ideological rollback against the forces of Islamist oppression that are currently on the march.
- Promote the cause of Muslim reformers and activists who are struggling to promote the cause of human rights and tolerance within their faith.
The goals described above would be achieved at a conference held at an appropriate venue in your community. The conference program would include the panels described below.
Panel One: The Lived Reality – the Middle East
This panel would give panelists from Egypt, Iraq and Syria an opportunity to describe the suffering they have endured in recent years.
Panel Two: The Lived Reality – North Africa
This panel would give panelists from North Africa opportunity to describe the suffering they have endured as a result of Islamist violence.
Panel Three: Historical, Theological and Juridical Roots of Oppression
This panel would give speakers the opportunity to describe the history, theology and law surrounding the oppression of Christians (and other minorities) in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.
Panel Four: The Response from the United Nations and other International Bodies
This panel would include one or two speakers who can speak to how the United Nations and other international bodies have been hijacked by Islamists.
Panel Five: The Response from Academia
This panel would include one or two speakers who will describe the habits of mind and patterns of speech that contribute to the failure of the academy to respond to the ideological attack on freedom perpetrated by Islamists.
Panels Six, Seven, Eight and Nine: The Failure of the Media, The failure of the Churches, The Failure of the Human Rights Community
This panel would discuss how the media, churches and the have failed to address the Islamist assault on human rights and contributed to the demonization of Israel. These three panels could be combined into one panel or included as part of a breakout session.
Panel Ten: The Christian Response and Muslim Response
This panel would include activists from organizations who work with Christians in Muslim-majority countries and activists from the community of reform-minded Muslims who are working to confront Islamism in their faith community.
Panel Eleven: The Prospects of a Genocide
This panel would be the most controversial and potentially the most important. It would provide an opportunity for scholars to talk about the potential for mass violence against Christians in the Middle East and the prospect of the destruction of Christianity in the region.
Most local organizers will lack the resources to obtain speakers for all of these panels. Obviously, organizing such a conference would require a substantial investment of time, energy and money. Travel expenses and honorariums would vary from speaker to speaker. Not every conference needs to have every one of these panels, but ultimately audiences need to hear three things:
1. Personal testimony about what it is like to live as a non-Muslim in Muslim-majority countries. Narratives such as this helped bring an end to slavery in the United States. Such narratives will help bring an end to the insult of dhimmitude in Muslim-majority countries.
2. Analysis of the Islamic sources used to justify the mistreatment of non-Muslims. Christians have engaged in a decades-long effort to understand the Christian roots of antisemitism. Muslims will have to engage in a similar effort in regards to their own faith if we are to live in peace.
3. A summary of the failure of the media and the academy to tell this story. Academics and journalists are just now starting to come to grips with the issues described above. Their failures need to be documented and exposed.
The roll back can start now, in your community.
Will you start it?
The author of this memo, Dexter Van Zile, is the Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in the Middle East (CAMERA) which has organized two conferences about the status of Christians in the Middle East. CAMERA is on Twitter @CAMERAorg. Van Zile can be followed @dextervanzile.
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