Egyptian relatives of some of the Copts who were killed during clashes with the Egyptian army late Sunday, react after seeing their bodies, outside the morgue of the Copts hospital in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Oct. 10, 2011. Egypt's Coptic church blasted authorities Monday for allowing repeated attacks on Christians with impunity as the death toll from a night of rioting rose to more than two dozen, most of them Christians who were trying to stage a peaceful protest in Cairo over an attack on a church. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Updated: September 11, 2012 6:14AM
As the horrific attack on the Sikh temple in Wisconsin showed, no society is secure from the occasional outrage by a violent bigot. As a new report from the State Department demonstrates, too many governments around the world practice, countenance or acquiesce to repugnant and even deadly religious repression, and many of these are Islamic nations where Christians and Jews are frequently targeted.
Communist nations also top the list of religious persecution in the International Religious Freedom Report for 2011. China (cited for deteriorating protection of religious freedom) and North Korea (“Religious freedom does not exist”) were named as chronic violators of religious freedom, as were Iran, one of the world’s biggest troublemakers, and Saudi Arabia, ostensibly a U.S. ally but also a proponent of the puritanical and anti-Western Wahhabi brand of Islam.
Egypt offered a window into the Arab world’s treatment of religious minorities. The “Arab spring” upheaval unleashed passions once contained by the authoritarian rule of dictator Hosni Mubarak and opened the way for the rise of Islamist politics. While the country’s new rulers issued anti-discrimination edicts, their practice was often something quite different, the State report found. The Cairo government not only failed to curb violence against Coptic Christians, it perpetrated it. For example, 25 people were killed and 330 injured, mostly Copts, by Egyptian security forces last fall.
Coptic Christians were arrested for “insulting Islam,” Muslim mobs burned churches, and at times local officials blocked or delayed repair or construction permits for Christians. In a classic example of bureaucratic understatement, State cited “indications in early 2012 of mounting Coptic emigration.” News reports have told of tens of thousands of Christians fleeing Egypt.
While the report found no violent attacks on Jews in Egypt, it said, “Anti-Semitism is common in the state-owned and private media. It sometimes included anti-Semitic rhetoric and Holocaust denial or glorification. Editorial cartoons and articles depicting demonic images of Jews and Israeli leaders . . . were published throughout the year.”
Saudi Arabia forbids the public practice of any religion than Islam. Jordanian security personnel monitor church services. In Pakistan, police harass, arrest and abuse Christians, prosecute blasphemy cases against them and other minority religious followers, and have even raped and killed them.
In Iran, religious freedom “deteriorated further from an already egregious situation,” State said. A Christian pastor was held facing a death sentence, at least 300 Christians were arrested during the year, and “Christian Bibles are frequently confiscated.” Holocaust denial of state policy, and everyone is familiar with Iranian calls for wiping Israel off the map. Iran also is notable for persecuting Baha’i faithful, often on trumped-up charges of “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic Republic.”
As the report noted, religious repression in Islamic countries often includes persecution of the minority Muslim sects in those countries — further damning evidence of how intolerance too often characterizes Islamic societies.