Imagine if Muslims in Europe were being arrested for nothing more than peacefully practicing their religion. Imagine if Muslims in South America were being sentenced to death for "insulting" Jesus. Imagine if mosques were being bombed and burned by terrorists in a growing list of Christian-majority countries.
Now here's what you don't need to imagine because it is all too real: In recent days, Christian churches have been bombed in Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, and the Philippines. In Indonesia a mob of 1,000 Muslims burned down two Christian churches because, according to one commentator, local Islamic authorities determined there were "too many faithful and too many prayers." In Iran, scores of Christians have been arrested. In Pakistan, a Christian woman received the death penalty for the "crime" of insulting Islam; the governor of Punjab promised to pardon her — and was then assassinated for the "crime" of blasphemy.
I could provide dozens more examples of the persecution and, in many cases, "cleansing" of Christians in what we have come to call the Muslim world. If the situation were reversed, if such a war were being waged against Muslims, it would be the top story in every newspaper, the most urgent item at the U.N., the highest priority of all the big-league human-rights groups.
What we have instead is denial. I cited some of the above examples on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Power and Politics program last week. In response, Prof. Janice Stein of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto insisted that these dots do not connect. The assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, she said, should be viewed as the consequence of Pakistan's "terrible distribution of wealth." Class conflict, not religious extremism, she added, is the correct explanation for the tragedy.
I noted that 500 Pakistani religious scholars not only justified the killing of Taseer; they praised his killer's "courage" and religious zeal, and said he had made Muslims proud around the world. They warned that anyone attending Taseer's funeral, praying for him, or expressing grief over his death would deserve the same fate he suffered.
The assailant who gunned down Taseer — Mumtaz Qadri, one of his own bodyguards — exulted afterward: "I have killed a blasphemer!" He did not say: "I have killed a member of the bourgeoisie!"
Professor Stein spoke, too, of the "conflict" between Muslims and Christians in Egypt as though both were equally to blame when, in fact, it is clearly Egypt's ancient but diminishing Coptic community that is under siege with little means to defend itself, much less to wage a campaign of reciprocal oppression.
I offered a similar analysis on Sean Hannity's program on Fox last week, prompting Media Matters and several other left-wing blogs to accuse me of attempting to start a religious war. These bloggers failed to mention that those attacking Christians call themselves "jihadis" — meaning warriors who fight for Islam. The crowds that gathered in front of the destroyed Egyptian church shouted "Allahu Akbar!" — "Allah is greatest!" Is this message really so hard to interpret?
Apparently so. Investor's Business Daily recently quoted James Zogby, head of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee: "The guy who gets up on the plane and says 'Allah!' or whatever and then blows the plane up is not making a statement about his faith," Zogby told congressional staffers. He added that it's like a Christian hitting his thumb with a hammer and exclaiming "Jesus Christ." Commented IBD: "The comparison is absurd. Muslims say 'Allah is greatest' to exalt their God. When Christians mutter 'Jesus Christ,' they in contrast are taking their Lord's name in vain. There's no corresponding 'Jesus Christ is greatest!'"
Zogby is an intelligent man. He must be aware that hateful, oppressive, and terrorist religious ideologies have sprouted like weeds in the broader Middle East and that their seeds have now spread from Europe to Africa to the Americas. I suspect he fears that acknowledging that fact will lead to prejudice against all Muslims and Arabs.
He's wrong: It is not lost on me and others that Salman Taseer was himself a Muslim and that other Pakistani Muslims defied the extremists by attending the governor's funeral — though few of Pakistan's political leaders were bold enough to take that risk.
There is abundant evidence to suggest that most Muslims do not want to live under al-Qaeda, Taliban, Hezbollah, or Hamas rulers. They do not want to live under a mullahocracy. I remain convinced that most Muslims do not want to be at war with the West — with Christians, Jews, Hindus, and others.
Which leads to this question: How do moderate and tolerant Muslims fight the tyrants within their community? How do they avoid being killed if they dare speak up in defense of their own freedom and rights — much less in defense of religious minorities, ethnic minorities, and women?
We cannot possibly come up with an adequate answer so long as we refuse to look reality in the eye. And the reality is this: Within the Muslim world today are regimes, movements, and individuals convinced that their religion justifies — and benefits from — the most heinous atrocities. They are determined, ruthless, and lethal — as Christians and other minorities across a broad swath of the world have been finding out.
If we in the West fail even to speak up for them, can we really expect moderate Muslims to do more?