- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 17, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As the West continues to reach out to the Muslim world with a message of tolerance, some Muslim communities are growing increasingly intolerant toward people of other faiths. A case in point is Iraq, where Christians are being chased out of their homeland.

New research reported by Associated Press indicates that the number of Christians in Iraq has fallen to between half and one-third of the estimated population of 1.4 million before the first Gulf War. Christians have been fleeing the country after being targeted in sectarian attacks, and most find the general climate increasingly less accommodating. After a series of particularly violent anti-Christian attacks in Mosul last October, leaders of the Catholic Chaldean church and other Christian denominations wrote a protest letter stating that “it seems that Iraq is one step closer to becoming an Islamic state intolerant to non-Muslims.”

The Taliban last week threatened Pope Benedict XVI, whom they call “the most important personality in the Christian world,” with violence over “stupid and irresponsible acts of proselytism” they contend are being conducted in Afghanistan by “crusader” missionaries. This followed edited footage aired on al-Jazeera that appeared to show the military’s top chaplain in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Gary Hensley, encouraging troops to “hunt people for Jesus.” Unedited footage released later showed the chaplain discussing in detail what constituted impermissible proselytizing and cautioning the troops not to cross the line.

For the Taliban, the mere presence of Christians in their country - not to mention Jews, Hindus and others - is anathema. Under current Afghan law - which is under the regime the United States and other Western countries are expending blood and treasure to defend - converting to another religion from Islam is a capital offense. Afghan aid worker Abdul Rahman, who converted to Catholicism, was allowed to flee to Italy after his arrest in 2006 created an international outcry.

During his recent tour of the Middle East, the pope denounced the “ideological manipulation of religion” and called for reconciliation between the various faiths. However, as the West promises, promotes and pleads for diversity, as national leaders travel to the Middle East to offer apologies and seek conciliation and fair play, the region answers them with faith-based apartheid. This is an issue President Obama cannot afford to ignore in his June 4 address to the Muslim world.



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