The murder of Saudi dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, is a wretched crime. The public condemnation by the United States government and the demand for a full account of the savage act is very appropriate.
Former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker rightfully pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed that the atrocity is an “affront to American Values” and that, “Opposition to the killing of dissidents and support for a free and robust press are fundamental American principles.”
As the eyes of our national leaders and the media are focused on the Saudi tyrants, I recommend they expand their investigation into the violations of another fundamental American principle, freedom of religious expression.
Since the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, the public practice of non-Muslim religions has been strictly forbidden, as is the wearing of religious symbols.
In the early years of the regime there were very few Christians residing in Saudi Arabia. However, that changed when the oil industry began to expand at a rapid pace. Needing labor, the House of Saud encouraged foreigners in search of employment to emigrate to the Arabian Peninsula.
By the end of the twentieth century there were six million foreigners working in Saudi Arabia, approximately one third of the total population. It was estimated that 600,000 of them were Christian, with Filipinos accounting for two-thirds of this total.
This growing Christian population is forbidden to celebrate Christmas but is expected to observe Ramadan, an annual month of fasting. And it has been reported that hundreds have been arrested by the religious police for holding or taking part in prayer meetings in private homes.
In this century the Christian population, which has grown to about 900,000, has continued to be harassed and persecuted despite claims that the anti-Christian laws are less severe for foreign workers.
In 2001, for instance, the Saudi government launched a series of attacks on Christians, particularly in the City of Jeddah. In a 2001 article by Steven Snyder entitled “Saudi Arabia Continues Sweep of Christians” he wrote that “during the past three weeks, six Christians in Saudi Arabia have been visited by the Ministry of the Interior. The names of these Christians were obtained by torturing other Christians.” The common belief among watchdog organizations was that the police would pressure their Christian captives to name any Saudis that have shown an interest in the Christian faith.
In May 2004, Reuters detailed a shooting rampage in Khobar. Before murdering innocent passers-by, the Islamic militants asked potential victims, “Are you Muslim or Christian? We don’t want to kill Muslims.” The al Qaeda operatives went on to kill 22 people, wound 25, and to hold 240 as hostages for 25 hours. What turned this tragedy into the theatre of the absurd was the reaction of Muslim survivors. One told Reuters: “The four gunmen had been polite and calm. They gave me a lecture on Islam and said they were defending their country and ridding it of infidels. The gunmen were so polite. I cannot comprehend this politeness they showed me because I am a Muslim.” Sadly, Reuters headlined its story: “Cool gunmen hunted down Christians.”
A textbook for children issued in 2004 denigrated Christians and Jews, stating: “All religions other than Islam, are false.” The publisher, a Sheikh, is a proponent of slavery and argues that “elections are un-Islamic.”
The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa in March 2012 that answered a question “concerning the construction of Christian churches in Kuwait.” The fatwa quoted the prophet Muhammed in proclaiming that Islam is the only religion that can exist in the Arabia peninsula. Calling for an end to all construction, he went on to say that permission for the building of Christian churches in the region would effectively acknowledge that Christian beliefs are true.
In July, 2017, Open Doors reported that converts to Christianity “risk fierce persecution from family and government — and they have to live out their new faith in deepest secrecy.” An example is the case of a young mother who told Open Doors that if her conversion was revealed “her husband could divorce her, her children could be taken and her life would be at risk.”
Saudi Arabia continues to have one of the worst records concerning religious freedom. Despite claims of relaxing laws and regulations prohibiting non-Muslim forms of worship, the religious police have continued to raid homes where Christians gather and severe penalties have been imposed on those who have been found guilty of proselytism.
The U.S. Constitution and the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirm every person’s freedom of thought, religion, conscience, and peaceful association.
If the U.S. government cracks down on the Saudis for the murder of Khashoggi, included in the list of conditions that must be met before sanctions are lifted should be permitting religious minorities to freely and openly practice their faith.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." He is chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. Mr. Marlin also writes for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. To read more George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.
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