Thursday, October 30, 2003

I’d like to think that with Ramadan rolling around again, President Bush at least considered calling off his annual White House dinner with assorted Muslim luminaries to break their holiday fast. No other religious group — not Jews, Catholics, Protestants or even Druids — rates an official celebration like the Iftaar supper, a White House “tradition” since 2001. That was the year the United States first decided that “reaching out” to Muslims following Muslim terrorist attacks on the United States was a good idea. Three Ramadans later, a sense of dining entitlement has no doubt kicked in that’s harder to buck than not.

So,thepresident hosted his Ramadan dinner. Believing (and having written) that this man is all that separates us from the abyss, I’m pulling for Mr. Bush to succeed. At the same time, I’m also hoping he choked a little on his official remarks, at least on the part where he called on people of all faiths to reflect on “the values we hold common — love of family, gratitude to God, and” — insert Heimlich Maneuver here — “a commitment to religious freedom.”

Islam may have a lot of things — love of family and gratitude to God, as the president said, along with jihad (holy war), dhimmitude (inferior status of non-Muslims) and a corner on the suicide bombing market — but it does not have “a commitment to religious freedom.” And, that goes even after excluding al Qaeda, the Taliban and the entire royal family of Saudi Arabia. Take Egypt. According to a report I first saw posted at, a new Web site devoted to both jihad and dhimmitude, a slew of Christian converts from Islam have been arrested since Oct. 21 in Egypt — our modern (moderate?) friend and recipient of billions in U.S. aid — in a crackdown on “apostates.”

As reported by the Barnabas Fund, a British watchdog group, as many as 22 Christian converts “have been taken from Alexandria to police stations in Cairo and are being beaten, interrogated and tortured.” The charge? Falsifying identity papers. While it’s not technically against the law in Egypt for Muslims to convert to Christianity — as it is under the sharia law of, say, Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia — it is illegal for any Egyptian to drop his Muslim name for a Christian name. “Thus,” as the Barnabas Fund explains, Christian converts in Egypt are always “regarded as Muslims in the eyes of the law.”

The repercussions never end. Muslim women who convert to Christianity are prohibited from marrying Christian men, while children of converts are regarded as Muslims and educated as Muslims. Even in death, converts must be buried as Muslims. As a result, the Barnabas Fund explains, some Christian converts apply for official papers under assumed names the Egyptian state considers illegal. If their unofficially adopted Christian names are detected, converts are open to charges of falsifying official documents — “which can be used as a way of punishing them for their apostasy.”

What was that the president was saying about Judaism, Christianity and Islam being equally committed to freedom of religion? It sounds like the voice of diplomatic politesse — as it does every time Mr. Bush insists the Muslim terrorists waging jihad on Western civilization “are evil people who have hijacked a great religion.” It may seem nice and neighborly, but such a formulation categorically denies the fact that there is something inherent to that “great religion” — jihad and dhimmitude, for starters — that inspires the supposed “hijacking,” shaping a theology that has always been part terrorist manifesto. This same soft-soap routine also obscures the desperate need for Islamic reformation, an accommodation with modernity that would allow other religions to coexist with Islam without fear.

The impulse to hide the truth about Islam — about its connection to terrorism and its disconnection from Western civilization — is a shocking fact of the “war on terrorism.” Addressing reporters on the day of his Ramadan dinner, Mr. Bush said Muslim leaders have asked him: “Why do Americans think Muslims are terrorists?” Instead of answering, “Because an unending pattern of catastrophic terrorism against the United States has been perpetrated by Muslims, that’s why,” Mr. Bush replied: “That’s not what Americans think. Americans think terrorists are evil people who have hijacked a great religion.”

Preaching on Saudi state television from the holy mosque in Medina, Shaykh Salah Bin-Muhammad al-Budayr recently hailed Ramadan, concluding his sermon (according to a translation at “O God, support Islam and Muslims and destroy the enemies of Islam, including Jews, Christians and atheists… . O God, deal with the Jews for they are within your power… O God, shake the land under their feet, instill fear in their hearts and make them a booty for Muslims and a lesson to others.”

Such sermonizing — quite common in the Muslim world — may show a commitment to something, but religious freedom isn’t it.

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