The March of Tyranny in the Middle East

The invasion of Iraq was cheered by right-wing Christians as a way to bring democracy to a people oppressed by tyranny. And, on paper at least, it achieved that goal. But in reality, Iraq as a nation hardly exists anymore. The anarchy of the invasion unleashed a wave of sectarian bloodshed, and the fragile stability which the country now possesses survives mainly because the ethnic cleansing is essentially complete – because all the mixed Sunni/Shia neighborhoods have been destroyed, their people fled or murdered, and those who remain live in isolated enclaves kept separate by blast walls and armed militias.

The religious right, of course, neither knows nor cares about any of this, about the suffering and disaster they’ve visited on the people they supposedly wanted to help. But maybe this gloomy story will drive it home for some of them: the invasion now seems almost certain to result in the extermination of the Iraqi Christian community, one of the oldest in the world.

Statistics vary wildly, but according to the US State Department, there are between 550,000 and 800,000 Christians left in Iraq, compared with 1.4 million in 1987 when a census was taken. Those numbers may be an over-estimation, but it is generally agreed that the number has halved since Saddam’s fall as members of the faith flee the pogroms. Iraqi Christians say they are in graver danger now than at any time in their history.

…”To the Christian, we would like to inform you of the decision of the legal court of the Secret Islamic Army to notify you that this is your last and final threat,” the letter read. “If you do not leave your home, your blood will be spilled. You and your family will be killed.” With its chilling echoes of similar missives delivered to Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide, it is little wonder that Iraqi Christians fear extermination.

Although Saddam Hussein was a ruthless and bloodthirsty dictator, his government actually afforded Christians more protection than they now possess. Last month’s horrific attack on Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation Church was a tragic illustration of that, and campaigns of terrorism and intimidation by Islamists are ongoing.

In another illustration that democracy alone doesn’t always improve human rights, there’s also this from the allegedly democratic Palestinian Authority:

Residents of Qalqiliya say they had no idea that Walid Husayin — the 26-year-old son of a Muslim scholar — was leading a double life.

Known as a quiet man who prayed with his family each Friday and spent his evenings working in his father’s barbershop, Husayin was secretly posting anti-religion rants on the Internet during his free time…. He now faces a potential life prison sentence on heresy charges for “insulting the divine essence.”

Many in this conservative Muslim town say that isn’t enough, and suggested he should be killed for renouncing Islam. Even family members say he should remain behind bars for life.

“He should be burned to death,” said Abdul-Latif Dahoud, a 35-year-old Qalqiliya resident. The execution should take place in public “to be an example to others,” he added.

It’s still possible that Western governments will put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to spare this young man, who stands accused of nothing besides voicing his opinions – an intolerable crime in the world of Islamist thought control, where dogma receives higher protection than human lives. If you live in a Western country, please contact your representatives and ask them to take action!

And finally, just to show that the Middle East isn’t entirely benighted by fundamentalism, I present this lone, pitiful spark of meager progress:

When Saudi King Abdullah appeared in a newspaper photo with 40 veiled women in April, he broke a taboo by mixing with the opposite sex in public.

Since then, the 86-year-old monarch has crimped the power of conservative Muslim clerics more than any of his five predecessors since the foundation of the kingdom in 1932. He prohibited unauthorized religious edicts, or fatwas, and shut some of the websites where they’re issued. In the past month, he backed supermarkets employing females for the first time.

Granted, women working in supermarkets – or being allowed to mingle with men in public, in full shroud and veil, for one day per year – is hardly an advance worth celebration. But it’s noteworthy that even this tiny step toward female equality is being ferociously opposed by the mad, wretched Wahhabist clerics of that country. It says something unfortunate that this improvement, pitiful as it was, had to come from the monarchical tyranny that is Saudi Arabia rather than one of the nominal democracies that exist throughout the Middle East. As long as these countries are populated by those whose minds are poisoned by religion, it’s unlikely that significant moral progress will ever occur there.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.