Tuesday, February 15, 2005

UK: Religious tolerance laws will stir strife.

Date: Tuesday 15 February 2005
Subj: UK: Religious tolerance laws will stir strife.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


The British government is presently seeking to extend the existing offence of "incitement to racial hatred" to cover also "religious hatred". Having passed through the House of Commons the proposed religious hate law now proceeds to the House of Lords. A Barnabas Fund press release of 8 February calls on "the House of Lords to be firm in the face of government pressure and reject laws banning incitement to religious hatred which pose a serious danger to free speech." (Link 1)

If the House of Lords passes this religious hate law, then Britain can expect to experience the same troubles, tensions and divisions – not just between faiths but within them – that are now being experienced in Victoria, Australia, since the introduction of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. (Link 2)

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The proposed British legislation, which forms Schedule 10 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, was passed by the House of Commons on Monday 7 February by 291 votes to 191.

The government rejected calls to amend the proposed law by tightening up definitions. The only concession from the government was to change the proposed offence of causing "racial or religious hatred" to "hatred against persons on racial or religious grounds". Home Office Minister Hazel Blears said the change would help clarify the situation. She assured MPs, "This is about protecting people, not about the ability to criticise, ridicule, lampoon and have fundamental disagreements about beliefs." (Link 3)

Like the proposed British law, Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (R&RT Act) also aims to protect persons (not ideologies) and safeguard free speech. However, as the case of the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) vs Daniel Scot and Catch the Fire Ministries (CTF) proved, an attack upon the the integrity and teachings of the Qur'an, or upon Islam (as a faith or as a social-political-legal system), may be deemed to be an attack upon all Muslims. And this, despite persistent calls to love Muslims, and the acknowledgment that most Muslims don't even know (let alone follow) many of the teachings of the Qur'an. What's more, defamation is not the issue here, so truth is not a defence. The only issue is whether the judge believes anyone could be incited to hate members of any racial or religious group on the basis of what you said! This is why on 17 December 2004, after two years of court procedures in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, pastors Scot and Nalliah (CTF) were convicted of religious vilification. The penalty hearing will be held on 2 May 2005. There will probably be an appeal.

The judge's decision in the Victorian case demonstrates that a judge may fail to differentiate between words, texts or behaviours that are anti-Islam or anti-Qur'an (against an ideology/religion) and those that are anti-Muslim (against the person). Or the judge may simply regard vilification of Islam AS vilification of Muslims, having no understanding of the uniquely Christian world view that demands that even if the ideology is 'hated', the adherent is to be loved .

Under the proposed British law, a person "who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, abusing or insulting..." whether they intend to stir up religious hatred or simply permit the "words, behaviour or material to be heard or seen by any person in whom they are likely to stir up racial or religious hatred", can be found guilty of the offence of inciting religious hatred.

Like the Victorian state government, the British government insists that free speech will be protected. However, protection cannot be guaranteed. In Victoria, the exemption that was supposed to protect the two Christian pastors – the exemption for debate held reasonably and in good faith for genuine religious purposes or in the public interest – did not protect them. The judge simply determined that the pastors had not acted reasonably or in good faith for a legitimate religious purpose or in the public interest, and were therefore not protected by Act.

The British comedian Rowan Atkinson is a vocal opponent of the proposed religious hate law. In explaining why he supported the Liberal Democrats and Labour dissidents in their objection to the law (a link to the objection can be found at Link 2), he acknowledged, "I understand what the intentions of the government are here. I know that they do not intend to militate against people like me or [author] Salman Rushdie or playwrights.

"But the only safety valve that they have put in the legislation is the fact that the attorney general will have the final say. A safety valve operated by a politician subject to the political agendas of the day is not to me a good enough safety valve," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Monday [7 Feb].

Mr Atkinson told the BBC that the legislation is problematic because it is "all-encompassing". "The incitement of religious hatred doesn't even have to be intended, it is just if it offends any person. It couldn't be more broad." (Link 3)

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COMMENT BY REV. DR MARK DURIE (Australia)

The Reverend Dr Mark Durie provides an analysis of the assumptions behind such vilification and religious hate laws. While this is written specifically with regard to the Victorian R&RT Act, what he says can equally be applied to the British situation.

Dr Durie writes: "The Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act reflects a world view according to which religion is an expression of cultural diversity: it is seen as an attribute of personal identity, like culture, language or social customs.

"This is an inadequate assumption for regulating religion. Different religions will and do seek radically different values, and can produce quite different kinds of societies. Such differences extend to different understandings of slavery, caste, marriage (e.g. monogamy, divorce, polygamy), the death penalty, euthanasia, the distribution of wealth, sexual politics, abortion, attitudes to truth, the nature of political representation, the whole legal system, and warfare. Treating religious beliefs as merely a matter of identity is a recipe for confusion.

"The case demonstrates that apologetic religious activity which challenges a religious belief system could be found illegal to the extent that it is judged to marginalize and diminish the dignity of those who hold such beliefs. This could be done, for example, by saying that a particular belief system is flawed and inferior to other belief systems. By means of this law, the state could end up protecting — and thus promoting — particular religious beliefs. Similar protection does not exist for most other kinds of beliefs. For example if you state that the virgin birth is ridiculous, you could be breaking the law, but if you said that the flat earth theory is laughable, you would be safe as long as no Australian religious group holds this view.

"It is a fact that the Qur'an and Hadiths contain numerous examples of shocking material, including incitements to hatred and killing. Few would dispute that this material, taken in isolation, has the potential to offend. There is no doubt that this material, because of its place within the canon of Islam, and its embedding within the exegetical and legal traditions of the shari'a, forms part of the 'attributes' of Muslim beliefs – whether or not individual Muslims are familiar with it – and thus it gains a measure of protection under the Act.

"For this reason the Act's presupposition (paragraph 4(1)a) that ignorance is the cause of religious tensions is naive. It is the knowledge, not ignorance of some religious teachings, that is more likely to create religious tension.

"The problem of an offensive canon is not unique to Islam, but it is particularly acute for Muslims: there is nothing so offensive in the life of Jesus or Buddha: a frank critique of the life of Muhammad risks illegality to a degree that a critique of the life of Jesus does not. The very nature of such material makes robust religious debate difficult in a way the Act does not anticipate. Because religions differ in the degree to which their canon contains such material, the Act causes a kind of religious discrimination."

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BRITISH MUSLIMS DIVIDED

Most Muslims support the proposed religious hate law and have lobbied aggressively for it (see Barnabas Fund 8 Feb press release at Link 1). They see it primarily as a tool they can use to silence public criticism of their religion, and thus protect Islam, leaving Muslims free to propagate a more peaceful apologetic in line with their own beliefs or interests. This however, is not acceptable. Muslims must confront the problems in their Qur'an, sharia law and history.

There are other Muslims however, who are not so sure the religious hate law is a good thing. An article on the fundamentalist Khilafah.com expresses the concern, "The adoption of an 'incitement to religious hatred' law will be an attempt to muzzle Muslims from quoting the Quran, and the other sacred texts of Islam. There is no shortage of verses in the Qur'an to excite the interest of the British judiciary. The dozens of verses exhorting Jihad for starters, or perhaps the verses warning of the plans of the Jews or Christians, or which castigate the unjust!" (Link 4)

These laws do not inhibit confrontation between people. They create that! But they do inhibit confrontation with troublesome and offensive ideologies, texts and histories. The more offensive the material, the more probable it is that its exposure will be deemed vilification or incitement to hatred.

These laws open a religious and legal Pandora's Box. Is this really what the British want?

- Elizabeth Kendal
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

Links

1) BARNABAS FUND
Religious Hate Law: A threat to free speech?
http://www.barnabasfund.org/news/itrhc/about_itrhc.htm
This site contains everything you would ever need for studying or monitoring the UK's proposed religious hate law. The site contains Barnabas Fund press releases on the progress of the law, the text of the proposed religious hate law, and numerous media articles and political statements.

2) RELIGION LAW
http://www.religionlaw.co.uk
This site contains a link to the text of the UK's proposed incitement to religious hatred law, and gives some history behind the present law proposal.
This site also contains links for everything to do with the Victorian situation (click on "Australia")including links to the transcript of Daniel Scot's Seminar on the Qur'an (run by Catch the Fire Ministries in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 2002); as well as the Islamic Council of Victoria's initial complaint, Catch the Fire Ministries' formal defense, the judge's decision, and various other submissions and documents.

3) Religious hatred law gets backing. BBC 7 Feb 2005
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4242397.stm
ALSO http://www.christiantoday.com/news/soc/186.htm

4)The Qur'an to be banned in UK?
http://www.khilafah.com/home/category.php?DocumentID=10645&TagID=1

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Iraq: Seeking freedom and security.

Date: Tuesday 1 February 2005
Subj: Iraq: Seeking freedom and security.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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IRAQ: SEEKING FREEDOM AND SECURITY
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Roula Khalaf, writing for the Financial Times, correctly points out now that Iraq's "first pluralist elections in 50 years" are over, "the more decisive battle for the future of Iraq is just beginning."

"The primary responsibility of the 275-member national assembly chosen yesterday (30 Jan) - apart from picking the next government - is to draft Iraq's permanent constitution.

"The exercise will have to balance delicately the competing aspirations of Iraq's main ethnic and religious communities and find a compromise between secular and religious forces.

"If successfully achieved it could set Iraq on a more stable course. If badly handled, it could plunge the country into sectarian warfare.

"Among the most contentious issues in the constitutional debate will be the role of Islam in the state and in legislation, and the nature and practice of federalism." (Link 1 – excellent article)

The most immediate serious issue is however, the lack of security faced by religious minorities.

In a 27 December 2004 letter entitled, "To the Muslims in Iraq in Particular and The [Islamic] Nation in General", Osama bin Laden defined the present conflict as "a fateful war between unbelief and Islam, between the army of Muhammad, the army of belief, and the people of the cross..." (MEMRI 30 Dec 2004).

Iraq's "people of the cross" (and this is a religious identity, not an ethnic one), along with other "unbelievers" – Mandaeans, Iraq's remaining Jews, and other religious minorities – need both constitutional and legal guarantees of equality and protection, and the enforcement of those rights on the ground. Failing this, they may need a protected safe-haven.

MANDAEAN LEADERS ASSASSINATED

The Sabian Mandaean Association of Australia (SMAA) reports that attacks against the Mandaean community have intensified since Christmas. (Mandaeans follow the teachings of John the Baptist concerning righteousness and repentance, but reject Jesus as Messiah.) The SMAA notes also that Mandaean leaders are being targeted for assassination. Several Mandaean deacons, significant senior religious leaders, and members of priestly families have been assassinated during early January with the express purpose of shattering the Mandaean community and driving them out of Iraq.

One such assassination reported to the SMAA was that of Mr Riadh Radhi Habib, President of the Mandaean Supreme Spiritual Council, Basra Branch, who was murdered on Sunday evening 16 January 2005.

According the the report received by the SMAA, "Mr Riadh Radhi Habib was walking to his car with his children when he was approached by three Muslims armed with machine guns. The Muslims demanded that Riadh Radhi Habib convert to Islam. Riadh Radhi Habib refused to convert to Islam. The Muslims then fired one shot into Riadh Radhi Habib in front of his children. Riadh Radhi Habib fell to the ground. His children threw themselves on to Riadh Radhi Habib. The Muslims then dragged the children off Riadh Radhi Habib. The Muslims then fired more than ninety (90) shots into Riadh Radhi Habib's body, shooting his body to pieces in front of his children."

The SMAA has provided a long and detailed list of attacks that have been reported them between Christmas and mid-January. These attacks are always accompanied by commands to convert to Islam. Several victims have survived gunshot wounds to the chest. Several others were kidnapped or managed to escape attempted kidnappings only to be forced into hiding. In each of the kidnap cases reported to SMAA, ransom money was not accepted, and in some cases not even requested – the kidnappers demanded conversion to Islam.

The SMAA reports: "On 3 January 2005 Muslims in Baghdad kidnapped the Mandaean ishkander (deacon) Hadi Salem Al-Zohairy. Hadi Salem Al-Zohairy came from a devout Mandaean family; his father also was an ishkander. Initially the Muslims demanded a ransom of US $5,000. However, as the family brought the ransom the family was followed by the police. The motive of the police in following the family is obscure as the family had not contacted the police about the kidnapping. The Muslims then refused to accept any ransom for him but demanded that he and his family convert to Islam. The family [refusing to convert] offered any amount of money for the release of Hadi Salem Al-Zohairy. The Muslims said that they would kill Hadi Salem Al-Zohairy and 's*&# on your money.' The Muslims said that the family would find Hadi Salem Al-Zohairy's dead body thrown in a nearby school. The family went to the school and found Hadi Salem Al-Zohairy still bleeding from five (5) bullet wounds to his head and dying."

Worryingly, the Iraqi police are not always to be relied upon to ensure justice or security for religious minorities. SMAA reports: "On or about 10 January 2005 Muslims approached the Mandaean couple Mr Qusay Nazar Saleh Thamer and his wife Rana in Koorna in Basra and demanded that the Mandaean couple convert to Islam. When the Mandaean couple refused to convert to Islam the Muslims attempted to kill Mr Qusay Nazar Saleh Thamer and his wife Rana. Mr Qusay Nazar Saleh Thamer and his wife Rana then reported the incident to the police. The Muslims then approached the couple again and said that as Mr Qusay Nazar Saleh Thamer and his wife Rana had complained to the police Mr Qusay Nazar Saleh Thamer and his wife Rana must pay money to the Muslims. The police then arrested Mr Qusay Nazar Saleh Thamer for having made a complaint against Muslims."

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CAMPAIGN: "SAVE THE ASSYRIANS IN IRAQ"
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On 24 January, Lord Carey (the former Archbishop of Canterbury), joined Baroness Cox, former Labour leader Michael Foot and other dignatories, along with members of the Assyrian community in London, to launch the "Save the Assyrians in Iraq" campaign at the House of Lords. (Link 2)

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the plight of Iraq's indigenous Assyrian minority, advocate for the rights of Assyrians to be enshrined in the new Iraqi Constitution, and seek guarantees that Assyrians will have security in their historic homeland, the Nineveh Plains around Mosul in Northern Iraq.

This is a wonderful and profoundly worthwhile cause that we must pray will, through the mercy and blessing of God, yield results. The Assyrians have survived centuries of violence in their homeland at the hands of invading, militant and intolerant Muslims. They have also suffered the shameful betrayals of their Allies who broke faith and left them to be massacred. It is about time Christians in the West stood and raised their voices in solidarity with their Assyrian Christian brothers and sisters.

ETHNIC OR RELIGIOUS CLEANSING?

Lord Carey says that Assyrians are victims of a campaign of ethnic cleansing. However, it is clear from the persecution directed against the Mandaeans that the motive for much of the violent persecution is religious, not ethnic. According to the SMAA, "Muslims are targeting Mandaeans both in the cities and in the villages. In Zubair ten (10) Mandaean families have been forcibly converted to Islam."

On 10 January Arabic CNN reported that relatives found the bodies of Assyrian couple, Joseph Tomeh and his wife, dead in their Baghdad house. They had both been beheaded. An article on the Assyrian International News Agency website quotes Dominican Father Mikhael Najib as telling Vatican Radio from Iraq (18 January), "'...there is a true campaign under way against Christians.' He said religious, priests and lay Christians in Mosul have faced numerous threats that have escalated in number and intensity as the Jan. 30 date for scheduled elections in Iraq neared."

It needs to be acknowledged that a religious cleansing is taking place, because a purely ethnic solution, while it would assist the Assyrian community, would still leave Christian (apostate) Kurds and Arabs, and other religious minorities, without freedom and without protection.

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CAMPAIGN: FULL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FOR ALL INDIVIDUALS
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Iraq's newly elected 275-member Transitional National Assembly has law-making powers and will be responsible for drawing up a draft constitution by 15 August.

The most important Iraq campaign for 2005 should be to advocate for the Iraq Constitution to guarantee full religious freedom for all Iraqi citizens, for religious freedom to be protected by law (no unofficial sanctioning of death for apostates), and for all Iraqis to have equality before the law – no discrimination, no dhimmis, no second class citizens whose lives are worth less, and no "kafir" (unclean). And the basic inalienable human rights of individuals (such as right to life, right to freedom of religion) are not to be granted as condescending favours, but as the legitimate rights of all Iraqi citizens.

Also religious freedom must be defined as: "Everyone [as individuals] has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." (article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

In other words, the provision that no legislation can be enacted if it is contrary to the "universally agreed upon tenets of Islam," must be removed from the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL, interim constitution). This phrase abrogates all that is progressive in the TAL. It certainly abrogates the TAL's offer of religious freedom.

If the "tenets of Islam" are given ultimate authority then more than 22 million Muslims will have absolutely no religious freedom (sharia is the antitheses of religious liberty, mandating death for apostates – those who renounce Islam), society will be plagued with inequality, and women and non-Muslims will face discrimination and persecution. Any commitment to enacting equality (which is contrary to Qur'anic Islam) would however, need to be matched by a commitment to guarantee security. Because, as the history of the 20th Century demonstrates, intolerant and militant Muslims who simply cannot cope with the undoing of the Islamic order, may prefer to slaughter non-Muslim citizens than live with them as equals.

Religious freedom and security for religious minorities (includes converts) must become realities before anyone boasts "freedom". To boast "freedom" is ridiculous when the expression of religious freedom would prove fatal.

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When non-Muslim nations endorse sharia in Muslim nations, they are not acting with tolerance – they are legitimising, and being complicit with, intolerance. Sharia's threat of death to apostates is Islam's bodyguard, its "Berlin Wall" – designed not to keep people out, but to keep them in. One must question why Islam should require such oppressive protective measures.


Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) The real battle for Iraq comes next: drafting a permanent constitution
By Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, 31 January 2005
http://news.ft.com/cms/s/6b3d3a48-732c-11d9-86a0-00000e2511c8.html

2) Carey: Save Iraq Assyrians from Ethnic Cleansing
By John-Paul Ford Rojas, PA 24 Jan 2004
http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=4040524