Berlin — A group of European Catholic Bishops breathed fresh air into countering the Saudi Grand Mufti’s call to “destroy all the churches” in the Gulf region. Last week, German and Austrian Roman Catholic bishops blasted Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Shaikh for his Islamic religious order – fatwa — as an expression of grave-human rights violations for Christian foreign workers in the region and for the sake of freedom of religion.
According to the Reuters report penned by Tom Heneghan, the wire service’s religion editor , Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, chairman of the German Bishops Conference, said the mufti “shows no respect for the religious freedom and free co-existence of religions”, especially all the foreign laborers who made its economy work. Archbishop Zollitsch continued “It would be a slap in the face to these people if the few churches available to them were to be taken away.”
Giulio Meotti, an Italian journalist with Il Foglio and expert on Christians in the Middle East, told me that the fatwa will have consequences for Christians in the region, and the West should respond with a counter “anti-genocide campaign” based on the U.N.’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, ratified on January 12, 1951.
Sadly, there is no shortage of persecution of Christians in majority-Muslim countries. Iran’s refusal to release the brave Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who faces the death penalty for his embrace of Christianity, is a telling example of the horrific anti-Christian environment in the Islamic Republic.
#more#The persecution of Christians, as the European Bishops noted, is a violation of human rights. A search on the websites of Human Rights Watch in New York on Wednesday showed no condemnations of the grand mufti’s statements. When I reached a spokeswoman in the New York press office, she confirmed that HRW did not issue criticism of the reactionary mufti.
There is, however, a March 28 press release calling on the Saudi regime to “end the arbitrary detention and travel bans inflicted on those who peacefully exercise their freedom of speech or assembly.” Traditionally, it should be noted, HRW has dealt with the Saudis in rather gingerly and non-assertive ways. Sarah Leah Whitson, the controversial anti-Israel head of the Middle East section at Human Rights Watch, played a role in securing Saudi funds to bash Israel — the only country in the region that has experienced a population increase of Middle Eastern Christians.
According to a 2009 Wall Street Journal article, “The delegation arrived to raise money from wealthy Saudis by highlighting HRW’s demonization of Israel. An HRW spokesperson, Sarah Leah Whitson, highlighted HRW’s battles with ‘pro-Israel pressure groups in the US, the European Union and the United Nations.’”
The Journal asked, “Was Ms. Whitson required to wear a burkha, or are exceptions made for visiting anti-Israel ‘human rights’ activists’? Driving a car, no doubt, was out of the question.”
When I called Amnesty International in London on Wednesday, the press office confirmed that AI had not criticized the anti-Christian statements of the grand Saudi mufti. Writing on The Atlantic’s website, Elliott Abrams tackles the right question : “Why don’t more Americans talk about religious abuses in the ultra-conservative kingdom?” The litmus test for a modern and mature understanding of human rights violations will have to address the ongoing destruction of Middle East Christianity.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.