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Religious Cleansing Elsewhere in the Islamic world
The same dispiriting story is repeated all over the Muslim world. In June 2007 Christians in Gaza appealed to the international community for protection after jihadists destroyed a church and a school. In Sudan, the Khartoum regime has for years waged a bloody jihad against the Christians in the southern part of the country, killing two million Sudanese Christians and displacing five million
more. In Spring 2003 jihadists burned to death a Sudanese Christian pastor and his family while carrying out an unprovoked massacre of 59 villagers.
In Nigeria, Muslim mobs have torched churches, enforced Sharia codes on Christians, and even horse-whipped female Christian college students whom they deemed improperly dressed. Over 2,000 people were killed in 2001 in Muslim instigated riots in the city of Jos. All over Nigeria, Islamic jihadists continue to try to impose the Sharia over the whole country, despite its sizable Christian population. A report warned that in Jos, “the conflict could recur, since Muslim militants are still bent on attacking Christians.”
Even in Lebanon, traditionally the Middle East’s sole Christian land, Christians suffer persecution -- marked most notably by an ongoing series of assassinations of Christian political leaders, including the bombing in a Christian suburb of Beirut in September 2007 that killed Antoine Ghanem of the Christian Phalange party. This has led to declining numbers and declining influence – which in turn encourages yet more persecution. Communities that date back almost two thousand years to the dawn of Christianity have been steadily decreasing in numbers; now the faith is on the verge of disappearing from the area altogether.
Muslim militants in Algeria have targeted that country’s small group of Catholics for years. In 1994, they killed a priest, a nun, and four missionaries; in 1995, two nuns; in 1996, a bishop and fourteen monks. Many of those who were murdered were trying to establish friendly relations with the Muslim community. Bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran, killed in 1996, “had dedicated his life to promoting dialogue between Islam and Christianity; he was known as the ‘Bishop of the Muslims’ and had studied Islam in depth — indeed to such an extent that...the Muslims themselves would consult him on the subject.”
In early 2002 in Malawi, according to Compass Direct, two local Christians “have been stoned, threatened with machetes and warned by local Muslim leaders that they will be sent back to their original villages as corpses if they continue to hold meetings in their houses.”
According to Aid to the Church in Need, in Bangladesh “on April 28 1998, a crowd — instigated by the Islamists — ransacked and partly burnt down the Catholic girls’ college of St. Francis Xavier, the churches of Santa Croce and St. Thomas in the capital, and the Baptist church in Sadarghat. Some priests, nuns and even ordinary workers have been threatened with death.”
The occasion for this violence seems to have been a dispute over land: “The reason for the conflict was a plot of land belonging to the church which the adjacent mosque wanted for itself. Seven thousand people, incited via a loud-hailer with claims that the mosque had been invaded by Christians and Jews, broke into the St Francis Xavier College, burning books, smashing crucifixes and statues of the Virgin, breaking down doors, windows and ransacking the dormitories.”
Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi is likewise intolerant of Christians. Aid to the Church in Need reports that in Libya, “The majority of the Christian churches were closed following the revolution of 1969, despite the fact that the words of the Constitution guarantee the liberty of religion. After expelling the Italian and Maltese Catholics, Qaddafi turned the cathedral in the capital into a mosque.”
Since the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus in 1974, churches have been despoiled of icons, which have flooded the black market in Greece. The Turks have taken over many churches for secular uses, and even tried to convert
the fourth century monastery of San Makar into a hotel. Christian Cypriots are forbidden to come near the building, much less enter it.
Muslim militants seem determined to drive all Christians out of the country. In Tur-Abdin in southwest Turkey in 1960, there were 150,000 Christians; today there are just over two thousand. Terrorism is employed where subtler means of
persuasion fail: according to Aid to the Church in Need, “on December 3, 1997, a bomb exploded in the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarch, injuring a deacon and damaging the church.” The Turkish government, meanwhile, has
closed the last remaining Orthodox seminary, and with its requirement that the Patriarch of Constantinople be a Turkish citizen, seems intent upon destroying the patriarchate.
In Indonesia, the massacres of Christians by Laskar Jihad in 2002 described above were not the beginning or the end of the plight of Christians there. In Java in 1996, Muslims destroyed thirteen churches. Thirteen more churches were torched in Djakarta in 1998 by mobs shouting, “We are Muslim gentlemen and they are Christian pigs” and, paraphrasing the Qur’an, “Kill all the pagans!” One Muslim shouted at an army officer who was trying to protect some Christians to “stand aside and allow Islamic justice to take its course.”
Human rights organisations report that Indonesian jihadists, often abetted by local government officials, have forced the closing of 110 churches in Indonesia between 2004 and 2007. Because of the violence, incidents of commonplace Christian charity have been transformed into homilies on what appear to be the perdurable differences between Islam and Christianity: Aid to the Church in Need tells of “eight Sisters of the Little Child Jesus, on arriving in Cileduk, a suburb of Java, were attacked by stone-throwing Muslims; they responded by building a care centre for children, an old people’s home and a school.”
And in the most horrific instance of Muslim persecution of Christians in Indonesia, in October 2005, three Islamic jihadists beheaded three Christian girls and severely wounded a fourth as they walked to school near the city of Poso. For this ghastly triple murder, an Indonesian court sentenced the organiser of the attack to twenty years in prison; his two accomplices both got fourteen years.
Christians who have converted from Islam suffer special hatred. But those born to the faith don’t have it much easier. Saudi Arabia, the holy land of Islam, has been especially harsh on religious minorities. Even foreigners must submit to draconian Saudi religious laws:
In 1979, when the Muslims requested the intervention of a special French unit into the Kaaba, against a group of Islamic fundamentalists who were opposed to the government, the soldiers of the intervention force of the French national police (GIGN — Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale) were obliged to undergo a rapid ceremony of conversion to Islam. Even the Red Cross was obliged, during the course of the Gulf war, to drive around without the symbol of the Cross and not to display its banner.
Adds former U. S. Foreign Service Officer Tim Hunter, who served in Saudi Arabia from 1993 to 1995, “On occasion they beat, even tortured, Americans in Jeddah for as little as possessing a photograph with a Star of David in
the background or singing Christmas carols....The Mutawa [Saudi religious police] chained, beat and cast clergy into medieval-style dungeons.”
Amnesty International reports that an Indian named George Joseph, who was working in Saudi Arabia, “was reportedly arrested outside his home in May  as he returned from a Catholic service with a religious cassette tape.”
In early 2003 the Saudi government reaffirmed that there was not and would never be a church in the Kingdom. “This country was the launchpad for the prophecy and the message, and nothing can contradict this, even if we lose our necks,” said Prince Sultan, the Saudi defence minister. Responding to complaints that American military and diplomatic personnel were not allowed to practice their faith, he called them “fanatics” and declared: “There are no churches — not in the past, the present or future.... Whoever said that [churches should be established] must shut up and be ashamed.” Reports in early 2008 that Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican were in talks with Saudi officials to open a church in the Kingdom were put in perspective quickly by Anwar Ashiqi, president of the Saudi centre for Middle East strategic studies, in an interview on the Arab television network al-Arabiya. “I haven taken part in several meetings related to Islamic-Christian dialogue and there have been negotiations on this issue,” he explained. However, “it would be possible to launch official negotiations to construct a church in Saudi Arabia only after the Pope and all the Christian churches recognise the prophet Mohammed. If they don’t recognise him as a prophet, how can we have a church in the Saudi kingdom?”
The religious cleansing of Christians in the Muslim world does not surprise anyone familiar with the origins of Islam. The prophet Muhammad declared: “I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslims.” According to a modern Islamic legal manual, Christians are “forbidden to reside in the Hijaz, meaning the area and towns around Mecca, Medina, and Yamama, for more than three days.” In fact, the highways in Saudi Arabia that lead to Mecca and Medina feature, a good distance away from the holy cities, exits marked “Non-Muslims Must Exit Here.”
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