By LAWRENCE HAAS, March 23, 2012, Real Clear Politics
Did you read about Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, and his call this month to “destroy all the churches of the region?”
You might think that’s big news – big enough to garner some attention from America’s leading media – especially because the Grand Mufti is among the Muslim world’s leading authorities. He is President of the Supreme Council of Ulema [Islamic scholars] and Chairman of the Standing Committee for Scientific Research and Issuing of Fatwas, according to the Middle East Forum’s Raymond Ibrahim.
A Kuwaiti delegation had asked the Grand Mufti about a Kuwaiti parliament member’s call for the “removal” of churches in his country, later clarified to a ban on new ones. In response, the Grand Mufti called it “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.” He reportedly relied on the famous tradition, or “hadith,” that the Prophet Mohammed ruled on his deathbed, “There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula.”
But, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today apparently didn’t find it newsworthy. It was relegated to conservative media (e.g., Washington Times, FOX online), Muslim-focused websites, and lots of blogs.
However appalling, mainstream media reticence to cover that news is understandable in one sense. Its coverage would force public discussion of dicey issues that challenge the political correctness that all-too-often pervades our thinking about relations between the West and the Muslim world.
We’d have to ask the inconvenient question of whether the Grand Mufti’s call is but one element of a “war on Christians” across the Muslim world.
And if we did that, we’d have to ask whether such intolerance, and the violence against Christians that has swept Muslim-dominated nations in recent months, reflects a fringe element or more mainstream attitudes.
Consider the events of recent weeks (as drawn from the monthly compilation that Ibrahim categorizes under “Muslim Persecution of Christians”):
“Half of Iraq’s indigenous Christians are gone due to the unleashed forces of jihad,” he wrote. Many fled to Syria where, alas, “Christians are experiencing a level of persecution unprecedented in the nation’s modern history.”
Meanwhile, 100,000 Christian Copts have fled Egypt since Hosni Mubarak’s downfall unleashed Islamic forces, while 95 percent of Christians have left northern Nigeria where the Islamist group Boko Haram has been slaughtering them. The group announced recently that it’s planning a “war on Christians” in the coming weeks to, a spokesman said, “end the Christian presence in our push to have a proper Islamic state.”
Elsewhere of late, a dozen armed Muslim men stormed a church in Pakistan, seriously wounding several Christians; armed men ransacked a church in Algeria after threatening and attacking the pastor and his wife repeatedly since 2007; and 50 Palestinian Muslims stoned Christian tourists on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
Muslims attacked one pastor with acid and shot another in Uganda; Al-Shababb Muslims beheaded a Muslim convert to Christianity in Somalia (marking the third such beheading there in recent months); and Iran sentenced a Christian convert to two years in prison, arrested as many as 10 others while they met to worship at a home, and is preparing to execute a pastor for refusing to renounce Christianity.
One person who is not afraid to term the violence a “war on Christians” is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Somali Muslim who fled to the West, served in the Dutch Parliament, wrote the controversial film “Submission,” and lives in hiding in the United States due to her views about Islam.
“We hear so often about Muslims as victims of abuse in the West and combatants in the Arab Springs’s fight against tyranny,” she wrote in a February 6 piece for The Daily Beast. “But, in fact, a wholly different kind of war is underway – an unrecognized battle costing thousands of lives. Christians are being killed in the Islamic world because of their religion. It is a rising genocide that ought to provoke a global alarm.”
Hirsi Ali is a polarizing figure, so we shouldn’t be surprised that her piece drew fire from such individuals as Joyce Dubensky, CEO of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, and John Esposito, Founding Director of Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
Yes, they agreed, anti-Christian violence in Muslim lands is real. But, they said, Christians are not the only minorities who face attack, nor is Islam the only religion with fundamentalists who espouse violence. Phrases like “war on Christians,” they said, are inflammatory and overblown.
With violence against Christians mounting across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia – with thousands dead and millions fearing they may be next – this seems like an issue that deserves some attention.
Unfortunately, America’s top newspapers find it too hot to handle.
Lawrence J. Haas was Communications Director and Press Secretary for Vice President Al Gore. He writes widely about foreign and domestic affairs.