Thursday, July 10, 2014

When Religion Is Used For Evil

Meriam Yahya Ibrahim,
A Sudanese woman 

sentenced to death for 
converting to Christianity.
She was later released but
then re-arrested.

I was planning to move on to another topic today—possibly the accession of Elizabeth I and her religious policies as she reestablishes non-papal Anglicanism in England or perhaps the problem of the Tridentine Mass as a hangout for those who reject the Second Vatican Council.  But there were two riveting editorials in the New York Times this morning that I think, each in a very different way, carry on with the problem of the negative influence of religion in certain circumstances.  Now for the person who trips across this blog entry, I am not anti-religion: not by any means.  I am a practicing Roman Catholic.  But I do see how religion—including Catholicism—is often corrupted by some of its most devoted followers and becomes very easily a tool for immeasurable evil. 
I will give you the links to the articles in the Times but I am also going to reprint the articles for you to encourage you to read them for yourselves. 

The First Article is by Nicholas Kristoff and deals with the problem of the apostasy laws and people wishing to give up Islam for another faith. 

Religious Freedom in Peril
Nicholas Kristoff
A Sudanese court in May sentences a Christian woman married to an American to be hanged, after first being lashed 100 times, after she refuses to renounce her Christian faith.
Muslim extremists in Iraq demand that Christians pay a tax or face crucifixion, according to the Iraqi government.
In Malaysia, courts ban some non-Muslims from using the word “Allah.”
In country after country, Islamic fundamentalists are measuring their own religious devotion by the degree to which they suppress or assault those they see as heretics, creating a human rights catastrophe as people are punished or murdered for their religious beliefs.
This is a sensitive area I’m wading into here, I realize. Islam-haters in America and the West seize upon incidents like these to denounce Islam as a malignant religion of violence, while politically correct liberals are reluctant to say anything for fear of feeding bigotry. Yet there is a real issue here of religious tolerance, affecting millions of people, and we should be able to discuss it.
 I’ve been thinking about this partly because of the recent murder of a friend, Rashid Rehman, a courageous human rights lawyer in Multan, Pakistan. Rashid, a Muslim, had agreed to defend a university lecturer who faced the death penalty after being falsely accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. This apparently made Rashid a target as well, for two men walked into his office and shot him dead.
No doubt the killers thought themselves pious Muslims. Yet such extremists do far more damage to the global reputation of Islam than all the world’s Islamophobes put together.
The paradox is that Islam historically was relatively tolerant. In 628, Muhammad issued a document of protection to the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery.
“No compulsion is to be on them,” he wrote. “If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.”
Anti-Semitism runs deep in some Muslim countries today, but, for most of history, Muslims were more tolerant of Jews than Christians were. As recently as the Dreyfus Affair in France more than a century ago, Muslims defended a Jew from the anti-Semitism of Christians.
Likewise, the most extreme modern case of religious persecution involved Europeans trying to exterminate Jews in the Holocaust. Since then, one of the worst religious massacres was the killing of Muslims by Christians at Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It’s also true that some of the bravest champions of religious freedom today are Muslim. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, an Iranian lawyer, represented a Christian pastor pro bono, successfully defending him from charges of apostasy. But Dadkhah was then arrested himself and is now serving a nine-year prison sentence.
 Saudi Arabia may feud with Iran about almost everything else, but they are twins in religious repression. Saudis ban churches; it insults Islam to suggest it is so frail it cannot withstand an occasional church.
Particularly insidious in conservative Muslim countries is the idea that anyone born Muslim cannot become a Christian. That’s what happened in the case I mentioned in Sudan: The court considered the woman, Meriam Ibrahim, a Muslim even though she had been raised a Christian by her mother. The court sentenced her to die for apostasy; that was overturned, and she is now sheltering with her family in the United States Embassy in Sudan, trying to get permission to leave the country.
A Pew Research Center study found Muslims victims of religious repression in about as many countries as Christians. But some of the worst abuse actually takes place in Muslim-dominated countries. In Pakistan, for example, a brutal campaign has been underway against the Shiite minority. Likewise, Iran represses the peaceful Bahai, and similarly Pakistan and other countries brutally mistreat the Ahmadis, who see themselves as Muslims but are regarded as apostates. Pakistani Ahmadis can be arrested simply for saying, “peace be upon you.”
COAll this is a sad index of rising intolerance, for Pakistan’s first foreign minister was an Ahmadi; now that would be impossible.
I hesitated to write this column because religious repression is an awkward topic when it thrives in Muslim countries. Muslims from Gaza to Syria, Western Sahara to Myanmar, are already enduring plenty without also being scolded for intolerance. It’s also true that we in the West live in glass houses, and I don’t want to empower our own chauvinists or fuel Islamophobia.
Yet religious freedom is one of the most basic of human rights, and one in peril in much of the world. Some heroic Muslims, like my friend Rashid in Pakistan, have sacrificed their lives to protect religious freedom. Let’s follow their lead and speak up as well, for silence would be a perversion of politeness.

The second is the story of a Palestinian mother’s anxiety for the safety of her children in East Jerusalem and the discrimination against her and her family because of their Palestinian nationality.  While this may appear to be a political issue rather than a religious one, in fact it is not only the historic antagonism between Judaism and Islam that is causing the current outbreak of violence in Palestine/Israel but the conviction by Jewish extremists that the land of “Eretz Israel” belongs exclusively to the Jewish people by God’s gift and that they have a right to drive all others from the land.  In fact the Palestinian people were settled in the land at the time that Joshua led the ancient Israelites into the land approximately twelve centuries before “the Common Era,” and the struggles for possession of land were as much an issue in the times of the Judges and Kings as they are today. 

A Palestinian Mother’s Fear in East Jerusalem
JERUSALEM — THERE was a huge crash, and I felt the ground shake under my family’s home. We heard the first explosion just as we had finished our iftar meal ending the daily Ramadan fast and settled down in front of the television. Out the window, I could see people running in the streets of Beit Hanina, my Palestinian neighborhood. Then came a second crash, and a third.
We heard that bomb shelters had been opened in West Jerusalem, so we assumed these were rockets from Gaza.
But the only bomb shelters near us are in Jewish settlements like Pisgat Ze’ev and Hagiva Hatzarfatit in occupied East Jerusalem, and we were not going to go there, especially after the events of the past weeks. Just days ago, in apparent retribution for the killing of three Israeli youths, Jewish extremists kidnapped, tortured and murdered Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian boy one year younger than my own son, and Israeli authorities have arrested and beaten hundreds of Palestinians throughout East Jerusalem.
So we sat in our living room listening to the explosions — the sound of rockets being intercepted in the air — painfully aware that Gaza civilians would pay a heavy price for their leaders’ attempt to hit the Israeli seat of government.
I was born and raised in Beit Hanina, and I attended Bir Zeit University near Ramallah. When the first intifada started in 1987 and the Israeli military closed my university, I began working as a journalist, covering not only the stone-throwing demonstrations but also the lesser-known civil-resistance campaign to end the Israeli military occupation.
In 1989, I flew to a conference in London about education in the Palestinian territories; there I met the man who would become my husband. He was a Palestinian, too, and his family came from Nablus. But he was born and raised in Doha, Qatar, so he had never been allowed to visit the West Bank, like millions of other Palestinian refugees.
In 1994, both of our families traveled to Jordan and we celebrated our marriage in a country that was home to none of us. I moved to live with my husband in the Persian Gulf, and I became pregnant in 1996. After consulting with lawyers, I realized that I would need to go home to Jerusalem to deliver my son so that he would be issued a Jerusalem residency number, and not risk being banned from visiting the Palestinian territories, like his father.
I returned to Jerusalem alone. In a cruel twist of fate and policy, the Israeli authorities informed me that my son would not be given a Jerusalem ID as long as I remained married to his father. Because one of his parents was a Palestinian without a Jerusalem ID, my son was not entitled to inherit my residency status. After years of financially and emotionally draining legal struggle, my husband and I divorced — the strain ended not just our marriage but our relationship — and my son, Marwan, was given his identity card.
Today Marwan — whom we call Memo — is 17 years old. One week ago, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, who was 16 and who lived two minutes down the road, left his house to go to the mosque in the early morning after eating breakfast with his mother before starting the fast for Ramadan. As he was standing outside, he was grabbed by a group of Israelis in a white car, tortured and burned alive and then left in a nearby forest.
I have not been able to sleep since I heard this news. I constantly think of Memo, who often goes out with his friends to watch a football game or to pick up groceries, and I think of Muhammad’s mother, Suha, whose son went out one morning and never returned, and I think of the mothers whose sons have been arrested, beaten and humiliated by the Israeli police in the days since. Every mother I have spoken to in East Jerusalem is thinking of the same things. We are all terrified for our children’s safety.
My neighborhood of Beit Hanina borders the Israeli settlements Pisgat Ze’ev and Neve Yaakov. How can we continue to live like this? In September, when our children return to school, how will we let our sons and daughters walk by themselves in the mornings and evenings? How can a mother let her children out of the house, knowing now that in addition to the harassment and threats they have always faced from the Israeli police and authorities, they may be grabbed off the street and murdered?
No parent — Israeli or Palestinian, Jewish or Muslim — should have to live with such fear. Violence and repression will not make anyone’s children safer.
The situation didn’t begin with the kidnappings, and we have to pay attention to that fact. The world must hold the Israeli government accountable for its actions. For its military campaigns that have taken the lives of too many sons and mothers in Gaza over the past few days and in the West Bank over the past few weeks. For its blatant disregard for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem — the lack of bomb shelters is just one of many basic services that the Israeli authorities fail to provide to Palestinians living under their rule. And for the entire occupation, whose violence and cruelty is the dark context for so much of what has happened over the past few weeks.
Seventeen years ago I returned to Jerusalem so that my son would not be denied the right to live in the city of his ancestors. I never thought I would be so frightened for him to do so.
Rula Salameh is a journalist and outreach manager at Just Vision, an organization that documents the stories of Palestinians and Israelis who use nonviolence to end the occupation and conflict.

I found the following comment after Ms. Salamenh’s article particularly troubling.  It is from one Michael Danzinger. 
It's hard to know where to start correcting all the selected truths in this op-ed.”  “Correcting all the selected truths…”—really, Mr. Danzinger.  Can’t you listen to a person’s story without feeling the need to “correct it.”
Rather than listen to Ms. Salamenh’s story and the anguish behind it, Mr. Danzinger and others who share his views are only anxious to discredit her anxiety for her family’s safety.  Historians will assure Mr. Danzinger that in the telling of any story by anyone on any side of any issue, that the truths are “selected.”  Even when the goal of the historian is to be as objective as possible and include as much data as is available to him or her, there will be facts yet unknown to the historian and the manner in which he arranges the facts and tells the story—the choice of words, the syntax, the language itself—will reflect his conscious or unconscious prejudices.
When religion increases human communication, when it opens us up in compassion to the one who is different from ourselves, when it makes us think and reflect critically and examine—and reexamine—our prejudices, it is a good thing but when it is used to uncritically support those in power over and against those who are not in power, when it is used to support unjust social, political, or economic structures, when it is used to divide people into factions rather than unite them in mutual respect, then it becomes evil.  The religious situation in Israel/Palestine is about as evil as it can get.   

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