Sunday was the 1,000th day since Iranian security forces incarcerated Pastor
Youcef Nadarkhani for practicing Christianity. He was subsequently sentenced to
The American Center for Law & Justice, Nadarkhani’s primary
advocate, noted that the pastor is slated to appear in an Iranian court on
The purpose of the hearing is unclear. Optimists have
expressed the hope that Nadarkhani will be resentenced with a punishment less
severe than death.
But realists have pointed out that until Iran’s
mullahs act, any rumors to the contrary, the death sentence remains in place. At
most, the Islamic Republic will repackage the charges so they do not smack of
religious persecution. Iranian judges might decide to find the pastor guilty of
espionage or some other trumped-up offense to make the death sentence more
palatable locally and in international forums.
Nadarkhani is hardly an
isolated case of Muslim persecution of Christians in the Middle East. As Egypt,
Syria, Tunisia and other countries in the region are in the throes of what might
turn out to be Iran-like Islamist revolutions – albeit of the Sunni variety – the
situation of Christians in these countries is increasingly
For decades, Christians, and many other minorities in the
region, have lent their support to secular-leaning dictatorships that are more
likely to guarantee their security and religious freedom.
Coptic Christians were generally protected from the Muslim Brotherhood and
Salafi movements that called, for example, to ban Christians from public office.
But with the ouster of Hosni Mubarak there has been a sharp rise in violence
against the Coptic community. Tens of thousands of Copts, who make up about 10
percent of the population of 90 million, have chosen to leave Egypt.
Iraq, Christians rose to the highest levels of society under Saddam Hussein’s
regime. Today, the country’s Christians are victims of sectarian
In Syria, the prospects for the Christians look no better. As
secular leaders from the secretive Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’a Islam, the
Assad dynasty had a vested interest in forming a coalition with Christians and
other Syrian minorities, such as the Druse.
The Assads hoped that in this
way they could protect their regime from the threat posed by the country’s Sunni
As dictators are toppled one after the other, and replaced by
extremist Islamist regimes that lack appreciation for basic Western values such
as tolerance and religious freedom, Christians have increasingly been
Even Tunisia, which supposedly has the best chance of making
the transition from dictatorship to a semi-democratic regime, has been the scene
of religious-motivated violence against Christians. In June, a video showing
masked Tunisian Islamists beheading a man who purportedly converted to
Christianity went viral.
Much of the discourse in Egypt and elsewhere in
the Arab world that was aroused by the gory video focused on whether the man who
was beheaded was truly a Christian, as though the execution were somehow
acceptable if he were.
Almost as atrocious is the inexplicable silence of
the West toward the plight of Christians living under Muslim rule. Is this
silence in the face of persecution the result of morally bankrupt notions of
political correctness? When a majority of Muslim fundamentalists – many of them
illiterate – votes into power an Islamist regime that proceeds to attack
Christians and other religious minorities, can this truly be called democratic?
Christians have become a living bellwether of the post-Arab Spring moral climate
in the Middle East. Much can be learned about a society from how it treats its
Thirty-three years after its Islamic Revolution, Iran
continues to issue death sentences against peaceful pastors such as Nadarkhani
for the dubious offense of blasphemy. This is testimony to Iran’s warped
morality and intolerance toward those who think and believe differently from the
mullahs. Does a similar fate await Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia and Syria?