Avoiding Responsibility For Religious Freedom

At the urging of the king of Saudi Arabia, Moslem religious leaders and scholars met recently with their Christian counterparts to discuss how to ease religious violence between Moslems and Christians. This Vatican conference ended with Moslems trying to dodge the religious freedom issue by saying that it’s a matter of state policy. This may backfire on Moslem authorities, as it makes clear to those in the West, who think Moslems are “just like us,” that there’s a real problem with religious freedom under Islam.

The problem is that the fundamental beliefs of Islam stress intolerance towards other religions. It’s a basic tenet of Islamic beliefs, and Moslem religious teachers often preach support for violence against unbelievers who will not convert. In many Islamic countries, it’s illegal for a Moslem to convert to another religion.

The West, and non-Moslems in general, aren’t the only ones suffering from the effects of Islamic extremism. It isn’t just the violence of terrorists, it’s the threats and harassment. Moslems suffer from this the most, and that has led to a strange revival of Christianity in Moslem nations. In Algeria, for example, the local Christian community has grown from a few hundred, to over 30,000, in the last 25 years. Moslems are looking for a change, and those that cannot get out, try and find solutions closer to home. This in spite of the fact that Islamic extremists are particularly hostile to Moslems who convert to any other religion.

During the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, Christians and Moslems fought bitterly over political, cultural and, ultimately, religious differences. The capital, Beirut, was divided into Christian and Moslem sections by the Green Line. The name came from the fact that in this ruble filled no man’s land, only grass and weeds survived. There have been a lot more Green Lines since then. Few realized it at the time, but this war was but the first of many between Christians and Moslems in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Many of the earliest Moslem converts were Christians. And many of the peoples Moslem armies unsuccessfully sought to conquer were Christian. But Islam as a political force was in decline for several centuries until the 1970s. Then things changed, and continue to change. Islam was again on the march, and few have noticed how many places it was turning into religious war with Christians and other non-Moslems.

In Asia we have a green line between India and Pakistan. Inside India, many Moslem communities remain, and feelings aren’t always neighborly. Indonesia and the Philippines suffer growing strife between Moslems and non-Moslems. Malaysia has more fanatical Moslems persecuting more laid back ones, as well as some large non-Moslem minorities. China has a large Moslem community that generates an increasing amount of violence. Russia and America have formed a curious partnership to deal with Islamic based terrorism coming out of Afghanistan. And in Chechnya, Russia faces Islamic inspired violence all alone.

Africa has a rather dusty green line south of the semi-arid Sahel region. Many African nations are split by increasingly sensitive religious differences. The Moslems are in the north, Christians and animists in the south. Nigeria, Chad and Sudan are among the more violent hot spots at the moment. Although when the Moslem Somalis stop fighting each other they will return to raiding their Christian and animist neighbors to the south and west.

The Middle East still contains many of non-Moslems. None have their own country, except for Israel. But Egypt contains five million Copts, native Christians never converted to Islam. Similar small Christian communities exist throughout the Middle East, and growing hostility from Moslem neighbors causes many to migrate, or get killed. Moslems have also turned their righteous wrath on dissident Moslem sects. The Druze and Alawites are considered by many Moslems as pagans pretending to be Moslems. Similarly, the Shias of Iran and neighboring areas are considered less orthodox not just for their admitted differences, but because many adherents openly practice customs of the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian religion. These differences are less frequently overlooked today. To survive, the many Druze have allied themselves with Israel, and most of the current Syrian leadership are Alawites who ally themselves with Shia Iran, the better to keep their majority Sunni population under control.

Even Europe as a Green Line. The Moslems in the Balkans (Albanians and Bosnians) have been a constant source of strife for the last decade. Moslem migrants in Europe face even more persecution because of all those Green Lines, and this makes it easier for radical groups to recruit and carry out their crusade against Christians.

But the Green Lines are about more than religion. A lot of it is politics. One of the reasons Islam ran out of steam centuries ago was that the Moslem areas never embraced democracy, or many kinds of political and technological change. Until the 20th century, most Moslems were ruled by colonial overlords or dictatorial tyrants. The colonies are gone, but democracy has had a hard time taking hold. The dictatorships are still there. And the people are restless. Radical Islam arose as an alternative to all the other forms of government that never seemed to work. In theory, establishing “Islamic Republics” would solve all problems. People could vote, but only Moslems in good standing could be candidates for office. A committee of Moslem holy men would have veto power over political decisions. Islamic law would be used. It was simple, and it makes sense to a lot of Moslems in nations ruled by thugs and thieves.

Islamic Republics don’t seem to work. The only one that has been established (not counting others that say they are but aren’t) is in Iran. The major problems were two fold. First, the radicals had too much power. Radical religious types are no fun, and you can’t argue with them because they are on a mission from God. Most people tire of this in short order. To speed this disillusionment, many of the once poor and now powerful religious leaders became corrupt. This eventually sends your popularity ratings straight to hell.

It will take a generation or so for everyone in the Moslem world to figure out where all this is going. This is already happening in Iran, where moderates are getting stronger every day and everyone is trying to avoid a civil war. While the radicals are a minority, they are a determined bunch. 

Radicals throughout the Moslem world continue to take advantage of dissatisfaction among the people and recruit terrorists and supporters. To help this process along they invoke the ancient grudges popular among many Moslems. Most of these legends involve Christians beating on Moslems. To most radicals it makes sense to get people agitated at far away foreigners rather than some strongman nearby.

Most radicals lack the skills, money or ability to carry their struggle to far off places. So most of the agitation takes place among Moslem populations. Any violent attitudes generated are easily directed at available non-Moslems. Thus we have all those Green Lines. But the more violence you have along those Green Lines, the more really fanatical fighters are developed. These are the people who are willing to travel to foreign lands and deal with non-believers, and kill them for the cause. We call it terrorism, the fanatics call it doing God’s work. All because of religious wars in far off places.

In Europe, many Christians see Moslem migrants as poor, ignorant refugees in need of help. Many of those migrants see Christians as eventual converts to Islam. Many Moslem clerics openly preach of this. And some of these sermons remind the faithful that violence can be used to make the infidels see the errors of their Christian ways.

So it’s ironic that so many Moslems back in the old country seek refuge in Christianity, often at great risk to themselves and their families.