In the Arab Spring, Christians Fear Religious Freeze

Dr. Carl Moeller | Open Doors USA | Monday, March 21, 2011

In the Arab Spring, Christians Fear Religious Freeze

The dusty Tunisia town of Sidi Bouzid lies far from the country’s traditional power center. But after corrupt local authorities took the cart of humble produce vendor Mohamed Bouazizi and slapped him with an unwarranted fine, this remote community found itself the epicenter of popular revolt. Bouazizi burned himself alive in protest, setting off a revolution that not only swept into history Tunisia’s dictator of 23 years, but has spread well beyond the borders of this small North African nation.

Within weeks, Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak fled. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi struggles to retain control. Less than three months after Bouazizi’s self-immolation, the people’s movement demanding change has reached in varying degrees to almost two dozen other countries. More may follow.

Many hail this movement of popular discontent that is toppling dictators as victory for democracy. But within “Arab Spring” (the demonstrations and protests which are taking place in the Middle East and North Africa) are troubling rumbles for Christians, even those in countries yet unreached by the revolutionary wave. For Westerners, the notion of democracy is majority and minority groups working together, each having a voice at the table. But the model unfolding in these lands is far from Jeffersonian. A possible result is the law of mob rule, where Islamists are likely to control governments, exclude minority faiths even from police protection, and Christians live in constant terror from the clear message: There is no place here for Christians.

The December 2010 Pew Research Center survey of Middle Eastern Muslims’ attitudes found that 84.4 percent of people in Egypt believe that those who convert from Islam to Christianity or any other faith should be publicly executed. Among polled Egyptians who say Islam is playing a large role in politics, 95 percent believe that its large role is a good thing.

If this poll is even remotely accurate, Egypt is clearly not a society ready for democracy. As rising aggression against minority faiths in Egypt reveals, that kind of democracy will only produce more oppression, tyranny and violence against the Christian community. Extremism will increasingly dominate the dialogue.

Most of Islam believes it is a duty of good Muslims to do whatever means deemed necessary to preserve, protect and defend the honor of their religion in the hands of extremists. This is what produces incredible violence in response to acts of free expression, such as the Danish Mohammed cartoons. In many Islamic countries, such expression will get you killed.

Less than one month before the revolutionary movement reached Egypt, a suicide bomber detonated in front of the Coptic Orthodox church of Saint Mark and Pope Peter in Alexandria, killing 24 Copts and injuring 100 others. And since Mubarak’s fall, Islamists and even the Egyptian military have begun to act against Christians, which comprise 10 percent of the country’s population. On Feb. 20, Daoud Boutros, a Coptic priest from Shotb near the southern Egypt city of Assiuta, was found stabbed to death in his home. Also that day, without even a pretext of protecting Christians, Egypt’s military itself began demolishing fences protecting ancient Coptic monasteries, leaving the monks and historic structures vulnerable to further attacks.

Look past the cover of the Muslim Brotherhood to see that contents of its book include the institution of worldwide sharia law and establishment of a global Islamic caliphate that brings about the peace of Islam forever. I surely do not want to be part of that peace, because it’s a pretty scary vacuum of liberty.

Long before Bouazizi became a catalyst for uprising, Pakistan was bent on embracing radical Islam. On Jan. 4, Islamists assassinated Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab who spoke out against blasphemy laws used with rising frequency to condemn Christians, who comprise 4 percent of the population. Judges who exonerate the accused inevitably face vigilante mobs demanding their execution and that of the alleged blasphemer. Less than two months after Taseer’s death, Pakistan’s Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the first and only Christian in his country’s cabinet, was gunned down by Pakistani Taliban. Bhatti’s assassins left a note defaming him as a blasphemer of Muhammad. Compass Direct News reported that Qamar David serving a life sentence on accusations that he had texted messages blaspheming Muhammad died in prison March 15 amid suspicions he was murdered.

Even relatively stable Ethiopia is experiencing violent radical Islam that targets Christians. To date, popular political uprising has not reached this land on the Horn of Africa. But on March 2 in Ethiopia, where Muslims are one-third of the population and Christians account for nearly the rest, rampaging Islamists torched 59 churches and 28 homes in Asendabo following unsubstantiated rumors that a Christian had ripped up a Quran.

We must speak up for the defenseless Christians who will be killed should they speak out against hate and violence that pins them square in extremists’ crosshairs. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are known in their communities as believers. In some cases, they literally live across the square from radical mosques. But if perceived as agitators against the radicals, they suffer dire consequences. So they remain largely silent about the forces that want them annihilated.

The solution must be spiritually oriented: either capitulation to Islam -- we have peace if we give in -- or we find another way in the love of Christ. As Open Doors founder Brother Andrew so powerfully articulates, to Christians, Islam – I.S.L.A.M. -- must stand for “I Sincerely Love All Muslims.” Despite the hatred that Christians’ enemies show them, this love allows Christians to minister for the good of those who aim for their destruction. In Christ alone is there hope for the Middle East, North Africa and the world.

Dr. Carl Moeller is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians in restricted countries since 1955.