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Muslim Intolerance No Match for American Freedom By: Mark Milke
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, May 16, 2003

Since 9/11, Americans have been lectured relentlessly by Islamic associations if even a whiff of possible discrimination pops up against Muslims in the United States. Groups such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) swiftly denounce any sign of what they claim is intolerance, including what others might argue are legitimate security measures -- say, having airport security chat longer with young men from the Middle East as opposed to Mexican grandmothers.

Contrast such protestations however with another reminder of how little some Islamic-dominated states care for the most basic human rights. On Wednesday, the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom released its annual report and to no one’s surprise, “religious tolerance” is not a phrase linked with Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Iran, among others.

In the Sudan, the Commission, set up by the U.S. government in 1998 to report on international violations of freedom of religion, notes that in government-controlled areas, religious groups must register with the government and state approval is necessary to build places of worship. Mosques are regularly granted such permission; Roman Catholics have not been allowed to construct a church for the last thirty years.

The Islamic government in Khartoum forcibly attempts to convert non-Muslims to Islam and imposes Sharia (Islamic law) on Muslims and non-Muslims alike. And if you thought slavery was a western practice finally obliterated by colonial empires like the British in the early 1800s and then later that century by Abraham Lincoln, think again; the new report notes that it is very much alive in Sudan, where “some children from non-Muslim families captured and sold into slavery by pro-government militias reportedly have been forced to convert to Islam.”

Thus, besides slavery, the concept of apostasy is also very much alive. While Islamists are free to sway and convert Christians and followers of traditional African religions, Christians shouldn’t attempt the reverse; proselytizing of Muslims is forbidden. Any Muslim who somehow does convert from Islam to another faith is considered apostate, “a crime punishable by death,” notes the Commission. 

Over in Iran, that country’s constitution formally recognizes Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians as protected religious minorities, but discrimination against non-Muslims is widespread in education, government and the army. At least eight evangelical Christians have been killed by government authorities and as many as 23 are reported missing. Awful as it is for the Christian community, 10,000 Bahai’s have been dismissed from academic and government jobs while 200 Baha’i leaders have been killed by Iran’s government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The 350,000 Iranian Bahai’s may not set up houses of worship or schools, their marriages are not recognized and they cannot attend university. The report’s authors write that: “The government of Iran engages in or tolerates systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the victim.”
Speaking of egregious violations of religious freedom, and speaking of Saudi Arabia, the 10-member commission reaffirms the State Department view that in the land that produced fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 suicide bombers, freedom of religion “does not exist.” Thus, if one is a foreign diplomat, religious services in a diplomatic compound might be possible but that’s about it; non-diplomat foreigners can forget about such private worship altogether.

As an example, and in cruel but fitting irony (for the Saudi government that is), consider that the commission’s report came out one day after the Al Jadawel compound in Riyadh was attacked by terrorists; Al Jadawel is precisely the kind of compound set up for foreigners so they can live as they would in the West, but, tellingly, minus any religious practice. The report notes that Saudi religious police, the mutawaa, have busily busted up worship services in the homes of foreigners in Saudi Arabia, raids followed up by harassment, arrests, imprisonment, torture and deportation. (This would be the same mutawaa who last year refused to let schoolgirls flee a burning building because they had discarded their veils in their attempt to escape; eleven girls died as a result.) 

All of this is bad enough, and for any reader of past reports from the Commission or from other watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch or Freedom House, adds to an already depressing record of repression in such countries. But the report is useful not only for its exposure of religious persecution in Islamic countries (and  to its credit, in others such as Vietnam and China), but because it takes direct aim at organs of government at home that wink at such intolerance or abet it.
The commission notes that State Department reports do not discuss Saudi intolerance embedded in the educational system against minority religions, or the role the Saudi government plays in training religious militants in its own country or in the rest of the world; one assumes this will change given the recent Riyadh attack. The report is also critical of the U.S. Postal Service ban on mailing materials “contrary to the lslamic faith” to American troops in the region. Three cheers for the commission’s frankness.

It shouldn’t be necessary to point this out, but egregious violations of religious and other freedoms in Islamic-dominated states does not make intolerance any less odious or more excusable in other countries, including the U.S. But the difference in where the discrimination originates from is revealing; while unfortunate but isolated acts of xenophobia can occur in the United States et al, it is not state policy, unlike the previously mentioned countries. One wishes CAIR and others would spend more of their money and time attempting to cultivate some basic rights in Riyadh. 
Mark Milke is a Canadian author; his latest book is Tax Me - I’m Canadian. The Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom can be found at

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