Social Action

Human rights, community development and the like

Religious Persecution Wolf in Anti-Defamation Sheep's Clothing


Innocent victims of blasphemy laws on way to jail in Pakistan. Courtesy thepersecution.org.

Capitalizing on the Muhammad cartoon riots and Western anxieties over the persecution of Muslims, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution urging member states to prosecute for “religious defamation.” Problem is, those likely to suffer most are religious minorities.

The Inquisition is back, and this time it has set up shop at the United Nations. Consider the resolution “Combating the Defamation of Religions” passed by a comfortable margin last week at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (and passed by the General Assembly every year since 2005).

{amazon id='1591026040'} {josquote}every religion begins with a prophet or teacher who speaks the truth as his or her conscience dictates it, no matter who may disagree. The advance of religious truth hangs, in the end, on the right to doubt, to dissent, to discover.{/josquote}

The resolution decries a “campaign of defamation of religions,” intensifying since 2001, in which “the media” and “extremist organizations” are “perpetuating stereotypes about certain religions” (read: Islam) and “sacred persons” (read: Muhammad). It urges UN member states to provide redress “within their respective legal and constitutional systems.” Capitalizing on cartoon riots and Western anxieties over the excesses of the war on terror, the language conflates peaceful criticism of Islam with anti-Muslim bigotry and seeks to stifle speech in the name of “respect for religions and beliefs.”

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A question of belief

Regardless of the theological arguments, the reality for converts from Islam in many countries is one of extreme hardship

Debates about apostasy, or conversion from Islam, have bubbled away for some time. Occasionally an example of the treatment of converts hits the headlines. Yet, each time much of the debate has centred on whether the Islamic position clashes with contemporary ideals of human rights.

In fact, the Qur'an does not prescribe an earthly punishment for apostasy. Examples of the imprisonment, punishment and threat of death against apostates are therefore sometimes dismissed as the activities of extremists and for most people this is where the conversation ends. Yet the bulk of the problem remains untouched.

{josquote}These converts may still be physically alive, but the penalties can render them legally 'dead'.{/josquote}

Apostasy is not merely a theoretical debate; it is a growing and often overlooked human rights concern. As a Turkish convert from Islam to Christianity, I am no stranger to the subject and over the last year, commissioned by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, I have researched the daily pressures faced by apostates in Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait and the UK. Our findings are published today.

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Standing with the Desolate

The anguish of working for those who suffer for their faith.

{josquote}As I set out to raise their cases, I also spoke for Baha'is in Iran, who have suffered much more than Christians have since the 1979 revolution.{/josquote}

On nights like this one, when I find myself enveloped in alien darkness in an alien hotel room in a faraway land, I hear crying that the silence carries. The faces of all the people I know who are suffering in this country float before me in the stuffy air. As I try to make sense of the day, I flip through graphic pictures of kidnapped and tortured monks from a desert monastery I visited this morning.

As a human-rights advocate and researcher, I travel to people who are persecuted for their religion or ethnicity. I love traveling to distant lands, but I also dread the visits—there is a significant difference between going as a tourist and going as a researcher. I feel drained, as I do every time I come here.

A Muslim-background Christian, I have often found myself believing we are each alone. That's why I knock on all the doors of politicians, diplomats, and international bodies when I find out others are in danger because of their beliefs.

I still vividly remember the look on a church leader's face in Tehran as he told me, "I know that I am completely alone. Anyone can attack or arrest me. Anything can happen, and nobody will run to help me."

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Postcards for Iran


Not one day goes by when we do not have you in our hearts and prayers. May your sacrifices soon be redeemed through witnessing the power and impact of your steadfastness and courage.

If you could send a message to the 7 Baha’i leaders, imprisoned in atrocious circumstances in the notorious Evin prison, what would it be? Would you commend them for their bravery and steadfastness? Would you inform them that they remain in your prayers, and that you hope that they’re soon released?

Well, you no longer have to wonder! Mideast Youth, the network that has founded the Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights, has launched “Postcards for Iran“, a campaign that aims to draw awareness to the current deteriorating situation in Iran. Simply put, the campaign invites participants to send postcards to the Iranian government, expressing concern over its human rights violations, or postcards of support to Iranian prisoners of conscience.

Can it help?

In short, yes! In 1995, Dhabihu’llah Mahrami, a Baha’i from Yazd, was called before the Revolutionary Court and eventually convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death. Due to an international outcry and extensive media attention, his death sentence was commuted.

How does it work?

Sending a postcard is simple, and only requires you to fill out a form in 3 easy steps:

  • Select a recipient
  • Write a short message
  • Upload a graphic of your choice for the postcard

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Social media for social change

I'm a digital native whose work grew out of my own experience of the power of the internet to bring diverse people together. I saw a void and an urgent need for greater dialogue and tolerance as the key to peaceful coexistence.

In this regard, there is no doubt that the internet is one of the most liberating forces in the Middle East. The amount of power and visibility it continues to give to millions of regional activists, social entrepreneurs and free speech advocates is unmatchable. Despite social, political and physical barriers, the internet is bringing people together in every arena.

{josquote}Today, thousands of Muslims and Baha'is across the region are working hand in hand, using sites like Facebook and Ning to inspire and facilitate communication.{/josquote}

Realizing the potential of this medium, I created MideastYouth.com, where we are using the demonstrative power of the internet to empower people and cause them to act in unity for peace and tolerance, instead of out of hatred. We know that this is only possible through effective communication and grassroots diplomacy.

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Reprinted at The Daily Star, Lebanon.