I met her in a small church in Turkmenistan. She was frightened and thought she was being followed. I met another in the slums of Cairo who was engaged in phenomenal work to educate poor children.
I wanted to visit others in Iraq but the U.S. military couldn’t guarantee my safety. It was just too risky. These people had one thing in common: They were all non-Muslims living in Muslim lands who were afraid for their personal safety. They are Coptic Christians, Chaldean Christians, Jews, and other minority religions living in fear because violent Islamic fundamentalists have declared war on them throughout the Middle East.
This focused effort by radical Islamists against religious minorities, specifically Christians, is real. The evidence is overwhelming. International Christian Concern, a human rights organization, recently released its “Hall of Shame” on global persecution of religious minorities and identified Islamic fundamentalists as the No. 1 persecutor of Christians, besting other notorious oppressors such as China, North Korea, and Cuba.
Egypt and Iraq were recently added to the list of countries with the highest levels of persecution joining countries like Iran, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Islamic majority countries are not only quickly moving up the list, they have begun to dominate it.
In late October, violent Islamic extremists brutally murdered more than 50 people inside a cathedral in Baghdad.
The following day, al-Qaida declared Christians throughout the Middle East to be legitimate targets of the Mujahedeen. On New Year’s Day in Alexandria, Egypt, 23 people were killed outside a Coptic church.
Shortly thereafter, the Shumukh-al-Islam al-Qaida website published pictures, names, and addresses of Coptic churches around the world.
On Christmas Eve, dozens were killed and more than 100 injured in an attack on Christians in Nigeria. On Jan. 4, 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, was brutally murdered by a bodyguard. His offense? He dared to speak out against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws that are being used to persecute minority religions in Pakistan.
The trend is clear and frightening.
Where is the international outrage? The Western news media could not contain itself over supposed bias against U.S. Muslims last fall due to popular opposition to the building of the ground zero mosque in Manhattan.
Muslim states are pressing the United Nations to ban the defaming of religions; that is, to help criminalize criticism of Islam. Meanwhile, what has the U.N. done about the violence against minority Christians in Muslim lands? Has there been a call by The New York Times to put diplomatic pressure against countries where this is going on? The answer to the questions is of course, nothing and no.
It is an inconvenient truth for the Western media that this religious war is not being conducted by American fundamentalist Christians or Sarah Palin.
Violent Islamic extremists created this religious war. Just because it is inconvenient, does that mean that it should be ignored?
The roar of silence on this issue is deafening. If it is not addressed, it will be a cancer that will undermine all efforts to successfully deal with the threat from terrorism we have faced since 2001.
We ignore the persecution and murder of minority groups at our own peril. Martin Niemöller, a German Protestant pastor and Nazi concentration camp survivor, expressed this in a famous poem:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
Two leadership groups must address this problem.
First, the Obama administration must begin to speak forcefully on the need for governments to address this issue.
While the Bush and Obama administrations have spoken eloquently about building Iraq and Afghanistan into countries that would embrace and instill American and democratic values, they have sat on the sidelines as religious persecution has grown dramatically in both countries.
In Iraq there has been a dramatic deterioration of religious tolerance from that practiced during the regime of Saddam Hussein. America and the governments of our allies, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia must lead a global effort that embraces religious freedom.
The second group that must speak out forcefully is a broad coalition of religious leaders including Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders.
The soft persecution as evidenced by the boycott against Christian businesses in the West Bank leading to the subtle but real exodus of Christians from the Holy Land.
Religious leaders need to speak with the moral clarity that all kinds of religious persecution are unacceptable, especially that carried out in the name of God.
When I met poor oppressed Christians and Jews during congressional trips to the Middle East, one thought always went through my mind: We are next.
The West must face up to the fact that radical Islamists will focus on other targets once they have killed and driven out religious minorities in Muslim states.
Violent Islamic extremists are using religion as a strategy in their war against the world. Governments, governmental leaders, and religious leaders must unite in condemning this strategy.
If they remain silent, it will only grow in scope and impact. It must be confronted if it is to be defeated.
Pete Hoekstra is a former Michigan congressman who served as chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He is president of Hoekstra Global Strategies.
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