Christian bellwether

3 years after its revolution, Iran continues to issue death sentences against peaceful pastors such as Nadarkhani for blasphemy.

July 8, 2012 21:56
3 minute read.
Christan Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.

Christan Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani 390. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Sunday was the 1,000th day since Iranian security forces incarcerated Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani for practicing Christianity. He was subsequently sentenced to death.

The American Center for Law & Justice, Nadarkhani’s primary advocate, noted that the pastor is slated to appear in an Iranian court on September 8.

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 precarious.

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.

In Egypt, 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.

In Iraq, Christians rose to the highest levels of society under Saddam Hussein’s regime. Today, the country’s Christians are victims of sectarian violence.

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 majority.

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 persecuted.

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 weakest members.

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?

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