Posted by: newperspectives85 | January 16, 2012

Intro to Policy Analysis — H.R. 440 bill thesis

“The H.R. 440 Bill to Provide for a Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom for Religious Minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia”

 On July 29, 2011, the H.R. 440 bill passed the House of Representatives to provide for a special envoy to promote the religious freedoms of religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia.  The bill mentions several incidens that have happened in the last several years regarding religious freedom violations.  To pracice religious freedom in the Middle East, for many, means a hard life.  Several countries are under totalitarian regimes with constitutions, laws, or beliefs that hinder freedom for religious minorities.  The history of intolerance in the Middle East and South Central Asia can date as far back as the 1970s in some countries.  Countries mentioned under this bill as those guilty of violating religious freedoms include Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan, and Iran, and each have been recommended to be listed as countries of particular concern by the United States Commission of International Religious Freedom.  The House of Representatives have been introduced to this bill, and is currently in he Senate.  The bill has been supported by both the Republican and Democratic parties, but a few have opposed it.  To understand the problem of religious intolerance in the Middle East, one must look at how each country became so intolerant of religious minorities.

Afghanistan’s Constitution was signed into law in 2004.  When the government wrote the Constitution, it did not allow for Afghans to practice the religion of their choice as mentioned in Article three of the Constitution.  The Afghan Constitution (2004) states that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam” (Chapter 1, Article 3).  To convert from Islam to any other religion is seen as apostasy and people are persecuted.  One person persecuted in Afghanistan was Said Musa when he and 26 other Christians were arrested in May 2010.  They all found out the hard way how intolerant Muslims were.  All of them participated in a baptism and Muslims were outraged after finding out.  According to Patrick Goodennough (2011), “Musa and the 26 Christians were arrested in May 2010, after an Afghan television station screened footage of Christian converts being baptized, sparking a public furor and calls in parliament for the ‘apostates’ to be executed” (para 5).  All who participated in the baptism were accused of departing Islam, and the Muslims demanded they be put to death.  Said Musa was made an example of when he was placed in a terrible prison with real criminals.

Musa’s life was very difficult after his choice of practicing religious freedom due to poor treatment and the court system.  Most of the prisoners were guilty of real crimes, but Musa was in there for nothing but making a choice.  He suffered at the hands of the prisoners.  In Said Musa’s handwritten letter (2011), he states:

“The criminals did sexual things with me, beat me by wood, by hands, by legs, put some things on my head, mocked me saying ‘He’s Jesus Christ,’ spat on me, and nobody let me sleep night or day” (para 2)

The Muslim government purposely put Musa in terrible living conditions because he practiced the religion of his choice.  When Musa appeared in court, conditions did not fare any better.  He was denied access to a lawyer and a fair trial.  According to Paul Marshall (2010), “Musa was forced to appear before a judge without any legal counsel and without knowledge of the charges against him” (para 3).  Even a lawyer in the courtroom treated him poorly when he found out he was a Christian.  In Marshall’s article (2011), Musa states:

“When I said ‘I was a Christian man, a potential lawyer immediately spat on me, abused me, and mocked me” (para 3)

Despite the persecution, Musa did not demand to be released, but to be transferred somewhere else where he would be looked after.  In Marshall’s article (2011), Musa pleads:

“Please, please, you should transfer me from this jail to a jail that supervises the believers” (para 6)

Word of Musa’s troubles did reach people and his release was imminent.

Toward’s Musa’s death sentence in February 2011, people spoke out.  Examples included Rick Warren and Godfrey Yagarajah.  According to Victoria Priest (2011), “Rick Warren and other Christian leaders spoke out and launched Twitter campaigns, seeing that the United States media is not covering this story” (para 1).  Priest (2011) also states that “the American Family Association, began a related action campaign asking people to contract Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and House Speaker John Boehner” (para 1).  The increased activity before Musa’s death sentence was in response to the trial being illegal as pointed out by Godfrey Yogarajah.  In Ethan Cole’s article (2011) “Global Evangelical Body:  Execution Trial of Afghan Convert Illegal,” Yogarajah points out that “according to Article 130 of the country’s Constitution, courts can rely on Sharia law only within the limits of the Constitution and only if the ‘pending’ case does not relate to any provisions in the Constitution or any other law” (para 3).  In the end, Musa was released thanks to the campaigns of Barnabas Aid, an organization geared to act on others’ behalf in times of need.  While Said Musa had a happy ending, other countries were not so lucky.  Iraq, for example, is losing its population to an increasingly Islamic majority.

Since 2003, the Christian population in Iraq has dwindled.  According to Kristen Chick (2010), “estimates of the Christian population at the time of the U.S. led invasion in 2003 ranged from 800,000 to 1.4 million, or roughly five percent of the population” (para 2).  That leaves the remaining 95 percent of the population, which is Muslim and extremist desiring to eliminate Christianity from the region.  The majority of Christians have lived in Baghdad, which has been the hardest hit area.  Muslim extremists have intimidated Christians giving them several options, and regardless, Christians would suffer.  According to the Pew Research Center (2008), “the State Department reported in 2007 that Muslim extremists ‘warned Christians living in Baghdad’s Dora district to ‘convert, leave, or be killed’ and have driven many Christians out of the area” (para 4).  The Muslim extremists desire an Islamic country and to eliminate western influences, hence why they demand people to convert to Islam.  People are also given a choice to leave, in which most choose this.  Others, however, are killed.  An example can be seen in 2007 as church leaders were either kidnapped or killed in Baghdad.  According to Kathleen Ridolfo (2007), “over the past year, six Chaldean priests were kidnapped in Baghdad, and two elderly Chaldean nuns in Kirkuk were killed by insurgents as they slept in March 2007” (para 8).  In some cases, Christians suffered by having to pay taxes to maintain their faith.  Refusal to do so would have consequences for not only themselves but loved ones.  An example could be seen in the neighborhood of Al Durab in May 2007.  Ridolfo (2007) states that “in a May 22 Al-Saban editorial, the gunmen demanded that each Christian pay 50,000 dinars or $40 to the mujahedin as the price for maintaining their religion” (para 6).  Ridolfo (2007) also states that “if residents refused to pay the tribute, they had to convert to Islam, and marry their daughters to the mujahedin, and their belongings and properties would be confiscated if they chose to leave” (para 6).  To leave would contribute to the disappearance of Iraq’s identity, as the birthplace of Christianity.  Baghdad continued to suffer after 2007.

Baghdad would suffer from a decrease in the Christian population as well as increased violence between 2009 and 2010.  According to the Assyrian International News Agency (2010), “figures for November 2009 showed that of the several thousand Christian families originally from Baghdad, only 60 remained after the rest left due to attacks and intimidation” (para 4).  In addition, churches have been attacked.  One church massacred in 2010 was due to a desire for an Islamic society including prisoners and recent Muslim converts from Egypt.  The November 1, 2010 incident at the Our Lady of Salvation Church would be Baghdad’s most significant masscre.  According to Heba Helmy and Louise Sarant (2010), “the attack and subsequent rescue attempt, left nearly 60 civilians and police officers dead, and 67 people wounded” (para 4).  This incident was caused by Al Qaeda which was looking to increase in size.  The 2010 bombing in Baghdad left reactions which can sum up where Iraq is going.  Iraq’s identity is disappearing to an ever increasing Islamic society.  The country will become soulless as in there will be no uniqueness, as everyone will have the same beliefs and nobody will be able to have different views, or be able to express themselves.  After the Baghdad bombing, Al Qaeda set its site on the Coptic Christian community in Egypt to terrorize.  The religious extremists started with threats to the Coptic Church and culminated to a bombing on New Year’s Day 2011.

The Coptic Christians were threatened by Al Qaeda after the Baghdad massacre in November 2010.  The threats began after finding out two women converted to Islam and were detained in monasteries.  According to Helmy and Sarant (2010), “Camilia Shehata and Wafa Constantine, two Egyptian women cited by the Islamic State of Iraq were priests’ wives who allegedly converted to Islam to flee their marriages, but the Coptic Church does not allow for divorces” (para 7).  Al Qaeda desired unity and an Islamic socieyt and made demands for the Copts to release the two women along with other Muslim prisoners.  Helmy and Sarant (2010) stated that “the militants provided the Egyptian Coptic Church 48 hours to release female Muslim converts detained in monasteries” (para 5).  It would not be long before Al Qaeda attacked the Coptic Church.

On New Year’s Day 2011, Al Qaeda attacked the al-Qidiseen church in Alexandria.  According to Paul Marshall (2011), “21 Copts were killed and almost a hundred were injured, as were some Muslims in the area” (para 2).  This was not the first time the copts have been attacked.  The Copts have been an indigenous religious minority for a long time, even before the majority of Egypt prescribed to the religion of Islam.  Since the arrival of Islam and Sharia law in the 1970s, religious intolerance has been in the area.  According to Cam McGrath (2011), “changes began in the 1970s after President Anwar Sadat amended Egypt’s secular Constitution to make Sharia or Islamic law the principal source of legislation” (para 15).  Since then the Egyptian government has not paid attention to their needs, which is a part of why the Copts have experienced discrimination.  The Egyptian government has also ignored calls from outside influences to help the religious minorities.  An example of an outside leaders the government ignored was Pope Benedict when he responded to the New Year’s Day bombing.  According to James Hesier (2011), “Pope Benedict said the Alexandria bombing and attacks on Christiasn in Iraq were ‘yet another sign of the urgent need for the governments to adopt, despite difficulties and dangers, effective measures for the protection of religious minorities” (para 9).  The Pope’s words fell on deaf ears.  Regarding conflicts between the Copts and Muslims, the Egyptian government denies any terrorist or sectarian elements involved and makes the Copts and Muslims go to “reconciliation” sessions.  According to Nina Shea (2011), “trial judges preside over ‘reconciliation’ sessions with the victimized Copt being forced to shake hands with his Muslim aggressor” (para 5).  The issue goes under the rug and everyone has to act as though everything is fine (pretend).  The problem with this is with issues being dismissed like this, eventually things will find a way to explode in rage.  The behaviors of Egypt’s government and people have caused the Copts to live in fear daily.

Copts find it difficult to venture outside in the intolerant Islamic country of Egypt.  An example of why can be seen in an incident a few days after the bombing.  An off-duty policeman hunted down Christians and shot them.  According to James Heiser (2011), “seeing a group of girls and women who were not wearing the Islamic veil, he took them for Christians and fired, shouting Allabu Akbar or Allah is great” (para 16).  Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has not helped despite his speeches about Egypt being in danger because of the lack of security aruond the church before teh bomb went off.  Heiser (2011) states that “though President Mubarak claimed that ‘all Egypt is the target’ of jihadist terrorism, the claim ringed hollow with the persecuted Coptic Church, especially when there were claims that Egyptian security forces withdrew from protecting the church shortly before the bomb was detonated” (para 1).  With the security forces leaving, the conflicts between Copts and Muslims, and the ignoring of Pope Benedict’s remarks, Egypt is showing its character.  There are other ways that the Copts are being discriminated against.

In dfferent areas of Egyptian life, Copts are discriminated against.  Examples include restrictions in church construction and politics.  Christians have to go through a difficult bureaucratic process to maintain churches unlike Muslims.  Muslims only need to do one thing, which shows that Egypt favors Muslims over Christians, and that Christians are second class citizens.  According to Shea (2011), “Copts are officially discriminated against by an Ottoman-era law that restricts their ability to build or even repair ancient or crumbling churches and monasteries” (para 5).  The bureaucratic process that Christians must endure will make it so that churches are not maintained or new ones built.  To undergo the process, one may not see the workd done because it takes so long.  A Muslim, however, can easily build many churches with their requirements.  Cam McGrath (2011) states that “while Muslims need only a municipal permit to build a mosque, Christians require security clearance and presidential approval to construct or renovate churches, a bureaucratic process that can take up to 30 years” (para 16).  In politics, Copts are unable to hold offices due to a recently added amendment from the Muslim Brotherhood.  Shea (2011) states that “Copts have been excluded from government appointments and the Muslim Brotherhood backed a constitutional amendment making Copts and women ineligible for the presidency” (para 5).  Islam has not only made its presence known in Egypt, but Pakistan as well. (edit)

(Discuss Salafism/rage of Copts)

In Pakistan, intolerance has taken the form of blasphemy laws.  In the 1980s, Mohammad Zia Ul Haq brought the blasphemy laws to Pakistan.  In 1991, Sharia law was made law of the land.  According to Naeem Shakir (2001), “according to this act, the education system, the judicial system, the economic system, and the media shall be Islamised” (para 18).  This makes life difficult as a non-Muslim as religious intolerance has been encouraged.  One of the sections of the blasphemy laws, 295C is punishable by death, and one woman would be found guilty of this:  Asia Bibi.  According to Shakir (2001), “Section 295C states:

“Whoever by word, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation directly or indirectly, defiles the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life, and shall be liable for fine” (para 29).

Asia Bibi was charged with blaspheming the Prophet  Muhammad after an incident in the summer of 2009.  Her fellow workers pressured her t oconvert to Islam, but remained with her faith as a Catholic Christian, and asked her workers a question about Muhammad.  According to Asra Nomani (2010), “Asia responded that Jesus had died on the cross for the sins of humanity and she asked them what Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, had done for them” (par 2).  To say this was to blaspheme Muhammad.  Muslims are not going to think hard about what Muhammad done for them due to their strong belief in Islam.  Bibi’s life was at stake.  In Pakistan, Muslims wanted Bibi to die.  According to Julie McCarthy (2010), “a small crowd of bearded men at a protest after prayers in Rawalpindi chanted:  ‘Asia, the blasphemer.  Hang her, hang her.” (para 5).  The Muslims used the law to persecute people and demand they be put to death by it.  However, one man would make an attempt at putting an end to the blasphemy laws:  Shahbaz Bhatti.

Shahbaz Bhatti has worked for several years to get the blasphemy laws repealed.  During his time in office, Bhatti kept track of what was being done and did what he could for religious minorities.  According to Fasir Ahmed (2011):

“Bhatti used his office to obtain government assistance for victims of the worst instances of religiously motivated mob violence, to advocate publicly for reform or repeal of the blasphemy laws, gain increased attention to the concerns of the religious minorities, secure increased employment opportunities in public service for members of religious minority communities, and to promote religious tolerance” (para 7)

 He acted as a lone voice at times to have the laws repealed.  He also helped Asia Bibi while working with Salman Taseer to gain a pardon for her.  In the Bibi case, Bhatti would write why the blasphemy law was in use.  Wagar Gillani, Salman Masood, and Steven Lee Myers (2011) state that “Bhatti wrote a report for President Zardari outlining the facts of the Bibi case, emphasizing that the blasphemy law was a tool to persecute minorities” (para 27).  Unfortunately, all of his work came to a half on March 3, 2011 when he was assassinated.  Although news of his broadcast was shown, they did not devote much time because the media was Islamised.  According to Ahmed (2011), “two hours after his death was confirmed, it was back to business for the country’s boisterous TV channels, which focused instead on the cricket World Cup, political intrigue in the Punjab, and the fate of incarcerated CIA contractor Raymond Davis” (para 4).  The media did not devote much time due to it being Islamised.  Since Bhatti worked to get the blasphemy laws repealed, the media did not devote much time, as Bhatti was not seen as a hero or worthy of much time devoted to him.  Despite the punishment of death for blaspheming Muhammad, nobody has ever been executed.  Asia Bibi was not executed.  Unfortunately, Christians are often at odds with these laws due to persecution.  According to McCarthy (2010), “Christians are easy to implicate because if they talk about religion, they are accused of blasphemy or if they touch the Holy Quran, they are accused of a crime” (para 17).  Not only are Christians suffering persecution from Pakistan’s regime, but the Ahmadis are as well.

In addition to the blasphemy laws, Zia ul Haq brought legislation targeting the Ahmadis group, another religious minority.  In 1974, legislation was passed declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslim.  This would be Article 260 of the 1973 Constitution.  According to Dr. Syed Rashid Ali (2001), “with the Second Amendment of 1974, Clause 3 was added to Article 260 to declare those persons as non-Muslims who do not believe in the ‘absolute and unqualified finality of Prophethood of Muhammad,’ and this definition covered Qadianis or Ahmadis declaring them non-Muslims” (para 1).  The Ahmadis are not most Muslims in the Middle East, and therefore have been discriminated against, making life difficult for them.  Unlike Muslims desiring a fundamentalist country and persecuting religious minorities, the Ahmadis are a more tolerant people.  According to Ahmaddiya Muslim Jamaat International (2010), “all Ahmadis, who are based in 195 countries, are peace loving and tolerant people” (para 3).  In addition to the Second Amendment in 1974, more legislation was passed to ban the Ahmadi faith ten years later.  This legislation was known as Ordinance XX along with a new section 295-B in the Pakistan Penal Code.  According to Ali (2001), “Ordinance XX prohibited the Qadianis, Lahoris, and Ahmadis from indulging in anti-Islamic activities, and 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code provides a punishment of three years imprisonment and a fine who refers to his faith as Islam” (para 35).  The laws of 1974 and 1984 have been due to intolerance, and the Ahmadis are innocent of inflicting any violence.  Attacks on the group have culminated into an attack on two mosques in May 2010.  May 28 saw several places of worship attacked.  According to Salman Aslam, Arshad Dogar, and Sajid Bashir (2010), “eighty people were killed and over 120 others injured when armed men launched simultaneous attacks on worship places of Ahmedis in Garhi Shahu and Model Town” (para 1).  Not only in Pakistan suffering from intolerance, but Iran has made seven Baha’i leaders suffer as well.

Seven Baha’i leaders from Iran have been imprisoned since 2008.  According to Baha’i World News Service (2011), “the seven Baha’i leaders were accused of espionage and the establishment of an illegal administration among other allegations, but all the charges were denied” (para 11).  Along with other Middle Eastern countries, Iran is ruled by Islam.  The 2011 Annual International Religious Freedom report (2011) states that, “the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran proclaims Islam, specifically the doctrines of the Twelver Jaafari School, to be the official religion of the country” (p.75).  The Baha’i community has been persecuted by the government for decades, as the Baha’i is seen as a threat to Islamic Iran.  The 2011 Annual International Religious Report (2011) states that “Baha’is are viewed as ‘heretics’ by Iranian authorities, face repression on the grounds of apostasy, its leaders killed, and more than 10,000 dismissed from government or university jobs” (p.75).  In the 2008 incident, the seven leaders were charged with espionage, which is often charged the Baha’i community.  For their crimes, they were placed at Gohardasht in 2010, an infamous prison known for its harsh conditions.  An example of diffiuclty faced by some of the leaders included crowded conditions.  According to Baha’i World News Service (2011), “five men were transferred to a wing set aside for political prisoners, known as Section 4, which is more crowded and reportedly under close surveillance, and have suffered physical deprivations” (para 14).  The Iranian government made sure to amke the Baha’is lives miserable by putting them in a terrible prison.  In addition to the physical deprivations, some people are packed into one cell, making it difficult for them to sleep.  According to the Baha’i World News Service (2011), “three of the leaders are together in one cell, with two others sharing another cell, and there are two beds in each cell, so one of them has to sleep on the floor” (para 15).  Not only are cell arrangements problematic, but the freedom to be outside is more restricted than when leaders were at Evin prison.  According to the Baha’i World News Service (2011), “the inmates in Section 200 are able to go outside for fresh air at designated times, whereas previously they could do so whenever they wished” (para 16).  The men seemed to have it more difficult than the female leaders did.

The female leaders did have a good experience in the beginning of their imprisonment, but were also moved to the Gohardasht prison.  An example of life in different prisons can be seen as the women were in Evin prison before being transferred to Gohardasht.  Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahyash Sabet met each other at Evin, and made themselves available to others.  According to Baha’i World News Service (2011), “throughout their entire imprisonment, Kamalabadi and Sabet conducted themselves in a spirit of service towards others.  For example, they helping Iranian-Japanese-American journalist Roxana Saberi, who later wrote that they had helped her through her ordeal” (para 7).  Due to their conduct, however, authorities made an announcement out of fear.  However, they were moved to Gohardasht where it was not as easy.  According to the Baha’i World News Service (2011), “Kamalabadi has already been physically threatened by inmates since being sent to the notorious Section 200 of Gohardasht Prison” (para 3).  The inmates at Gohardasht are more intimidating than at Evin prison, but the female leaders continued their conduct as done at Evin.  The behavior of Kamalabadi and Sabet put authorities on edge due to fear, and eventually acted against them through accusations.

**To be continued….

**Several parts will come–the listing of countries as well as the status of the bill as of December 2011.



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