Michael Hewat: Christians need support of moderates in Muslim states

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Last month in Egypt, 58 churches were looted and/or burned, and two branches of the Bible Society were razed. Photo / Getty Images
Last month in Egypt, 58 churches were looted and/or burned, and two branches of the Bible Society were razed. Photo / Getty Images

In 2010 a horribly misguided United States Christian pastor announced his plans to publicly burn a pile of 200 copies of the Koran to mark the ninth anniversary of September 11, linking his plan to proposals for an Islamic centre and mosque to be built near ground zero.

In the end he backed down in response to near universal condemnation.

Those who opposed him ranged from fellow pastors, who decried his actions as un-Christian, to President Obama and General David Petraeus, who warned that such a stunt would endanger US lives.

In spite of his backdown, it did. At least 20 people were killed in protests across Asia and in the Middle East. Subsequent Koran burnings, in Pastor Terry Jones' church in 2011 and at a US military base in Afghanistan last year, resulted in further bloodshed, including that of United Nations aid workers bringing relief to suffering Muslims.

As a Christian, I can well understand why Muslims find the burning of their holy book so offensive. I join the Christian chorus which condemns such an act as utterly contrary to the Christian Gospel.

However, two things trouble me greatly about the Muslim response to Koran burnings. The first is that not even the most holy book is more sacred in God's eyes than an innocent human life.

As offensive as the burning of a Koran is, and as righteous as any indignation it provokes may be, it becomes unrighteous when translated into violence. Muslims should be more offended by the death of an innocent Christian than by the destruction of their holy book.

Don't tell me I don't understand the reverence Muslims have for the Koran. I do. I simply do not agree with any religious tenet that places higher value on the written record of God's revelation than on people created in his image.

The second thing that troubles me is that last month in Egypt, 58 churches were looted and/or burned, and two branches of the Bible Society were razed. I wonder how many Bibles that included?

The international response? Little more than a fatalistic murmur.

In one sense the lack of media and political attention is understandable. After all, Christianity faces restrictions and hostilities in 111 countries around the world, and persecution in at least 65, so a few church burnings in Egypt is nothing out of the ordinary.

Christians suffer daily at the hands of Islamic governments in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt, and hostile Muslim citizens in dozens of other countries, including democratic Nigeria and Indonesia. Except in Nigeria, in none of these places do they receive the protection or recourse to justice granted to Muslims.

Try building a new church in any Muslim-majority country and those who opposed a mosque near Ground Zero look positively tolerant. In countries such as Saudi Arabia churches are banned. In Egypt, special governmental permission is required and invariably denied.

So who should be speaking up for the persecuted? The obvious answer is post-Christian democracies in the West. However, while their voice is important, this is unlikely to make any impression on offending Muslims.

If moderate Muslims want the West to start differentiating between them and their extremist brethren, then it's time they speak out against those who persecute others and rein them in.

So-called moderate Islamic governments, such as that in Malaysia, need to start treating Christians as full, not second-class citizens, and championing their basis human rights elsewhere.

It's unlikely that any of this will happen. But there is one group which could be a lot more vocal: Muslims who live in democratic western nations founded on Christian ideals.

In the main, they have widespread freedom to build mosques and schools, to evangelise, and to assume positions of responsibility in society. When these freedoms are violated, they have the right to cry foul and recourse to justice.

Moreover, they can be confident a majority of their fellow citizens will support their rights against any prejudiced minority.

Christians in Muslim nations deserve no less.

Michael Hewat is vicar of the West Hamilton Anglican Parish.

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- NZ Herald

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