Friday, January 22, 2010

In 2001, the monumental sixth-century Buddhas of Bamiyan were dynamited on orders from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. The United States and other Western governments issued protests. Afghanistan’s Islamist rulers shrugged them off.

This year, the tomb of the prophet Ezekiel, Al-Kifl, near Baghdad, is being desecrated. On the tomb are inscriptions in Hebrew and an ark in which a Torah was displayed centuries ago. Iraq’s Antiquities and Heritage Authority, under pressure from Islamists, is erasing the Hebrew words, removing the Hebrew ornaments and planning to build a mosque on top of the grave.

So far, we’re hearing protests from almost no one. This is not just another “Where is the outrage?” story, however. The larger and more alarming trend is that in a growing number of Muslim-majority countries, a war is being waged against non-Muslim minorities.

Where non-Muslim minorities already have been “cleansed” - as in Afghanistan and Iraq - the attacks are against their memory. Ethnic minorities also are being targeted: The genocidal conflict against the black Muslims of Darfur is only the most infamous example.

Connect these dots: In Nigeria this week, Muslim youths set fire to a church, killing more than two dozen Christian worshippers. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have been suffering increased persecution, including, this month, a drive-by shooting outside a church, in which seven people were murdered. In Pakistan, Christian churches were bombed over Christmas. In Turkey, authorities have been closing Christian churches, monasteries and schools. Recently, churches in Malaysia have been attacked, too, provoked by this grievance: Christians inside the churches were referring to God as “Allah.” How dare infidels use the same name for the Almighty as do Muslims!

Many Muslims, no doubt, disapprove of the persecution of non-Muslims, but in most Muslim-majority countries, any Muslim openly opposing the Islamists risks being branded an apostate. Under the Islamist interpretation of Shariah, Islamic law, apostates deserve death.

Not so long ago, the broader Middle East was a diverse region. Lebanon had a Christian majority for centuries, but that ended around 1990 - the result of years of civil war among the country’s religious and ethnic communities. The Christian population of Turkey has diminished substantially in recent years. Islamists have driven Christians out of Bethlehem and other parts of the West Bank. Almost all Christians have fled Gaza since Hamas’ takeover.

There were Jewish communities throughout the Middle East for millenniums. The Jews of Iran trace their history back 2,700 years, but about eight out of 10 Iranian Jews have emigrated since the 1979 Islamist Revolution; only about 40,000 remain.

The Jews of what is now Saudi Arabia were wiped out shortly after Muhammad and his followers established a new religion and began to build a new empire in the eighth century A.D. Jewish communities survived elsewhere until after World War II, when Jews were forced to abandon their homes in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and other countries. In many cases, they were driven out by Muslims furious over the establishment of the modern state of Israel. But how odd is it to protest the creation of a safe haven and homeland for Jews by making your own Jewish citizens homeless and stateless?

In 1947, Pakistan also was founded as a safe haven - for Indian Muslims. The country’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was determined that Pakistan would be tolerant of Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsees and others - as much as 20 percent of the population at independence. It hasn’t worked out that way, and as a result, non-Muslim minorities today constitute only about 3 percent of Pakistan’s population.

When the dots are connected, the picture that emerges is not pretty: an “Islamic world” in which terrorists are regarded often with lenience, sometimes with respect and occasionally with reverence, while minority groups face increasing intolerance, persecution and “cleansing,” where even their histories are erased. We in the West are too polite, too politically correct and perhaps too cowardly to say much about it.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

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