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 By Neil Munro - The Daily Caller   11:35 AM 12/15/2011

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used an international conference on religious freedom Wednesday as a platform to suggest that Islamic governments which suppress Christianity are secretly afraid Islam will lose out in a public debate.

“Every one of us who is a religious person knows there are some who may not support or approve of our religion, but is our religion so weak that statements of disapproval cause us to lose our faith?” she asked the attendees, who included national representatives from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

“Especially when one person’s speech seems to challenge another person’s religion’s belief, or maybe even offends that person’s religious beliefs … we defend our beliefs best by defending free speech for everyone,” she said, while citing her own experience as a Methodist — a Christian movement made up of many Protestant denominations, and where debate is common.

Clinton’s senior aide, the Saudi-born Huma Abedin, said the speech was largely unscripted. “Mostly, it was off-the-cuff,” Abedin told The Daily Caller.

Among the attendees were representatives of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Clinton did not mention any country by name, nor did she specifically mention Islam.

But her diplomatic rebuke of Islamic governments was daring and novel, partly because it may prompt a violent response, or even a careful counterargument, from advocates of Islam in the Arab world.

However, Clinton’s speech did not address similar sensitivities in the United States, where cooperating progressives and Islamists frequently say Islam’s critics are mentally ill, and typically refuse to debate the context and meaning of their own religious texts.

In August, for example, the liberal Center for American Progress issued a report titled “Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.” The report was aimed at several critics of Islam, including Robert Spencer, a best-selling author whose repeated requests for debates have been ignored by allied progressive and Islamic advocates in the United States.

Similarly, Department of  Justice officials have described American critics of Islam as mentally unstable, a danger to national security, or similar to the Ku Klux Klan, whose history includes frequent murders of black and Republican legislators and activists.

“Materials that portray Islam as a religion of violence or with a tendency towards violence are wrong, they are offensive … will not be tolerated,” and are a threat to national security, Dwight Holten, a top DOJ official, said on Oct. 19 at a Washington, D.C. event scheduled by the department.

Muslim immigrants to the United States may turn away from integration because of “Islamophobia” or racism, Holton added. When a reporter for TheDC asked Holton to explain his charges, he pushed a door shut in the reporter’s face.

At the same event, Mohamed Magid, a Sudan-born Islamic advocate in the United States, asked for criticism of Islam to be criminalized. One member of the audience was Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, who did not rebuke or even respond to the request by Magid, who now serves as president of the largest Islamic umbrella group — the Islamic Society of North America.(RELATED: Progressives, Islamists huddle at Justice Department)

Secretary Clinton’s speech was delivered at the close of a closed-door conference intended to begin implementation of a 2011 U.N. resolution dubbed “16/18.”

That resolution was passed this year, in place of another favored by hard-line Islamic countries that would have declared criticism of Islam to be criminal defamation.

The successful resolution is titled “Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping and Stigmatization of, and Discrimination, Incitement to Violence and Violence Against, Persons Based on Religion or Belief.” It urges all governments to promote tolerance of all believers, to promote “a wider knowledge of different religions and beliefs,” to counter religious discrimination, anti-Semitism and “Islamophobia.”

The deal encourages and helps activists in many countries to establish religious freedom, said Ambassador Michael Kozak, the U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

The Department of State gathering was an off-the-record meeting of experts from roughly 30 countries. Attendees discussed legal and regulatory measures to promote religious freedom and free speech.

The three-day meeting was impacted by U.S. domestic politics. For example, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee was allowed present a claim, while a Christian group, the Traditional Values Coalition, was excluded from the event and from preparatory discussions. The coalition’s president, Andrea Lafferty, was briefly detained just prior to Clinton’s speech.

The meeting, and Clinton’s speech, Lafferty told TheDC, downplayed the large-scale persecution and killing of Christians in Islamic countries, including Sudan, Iran, Pakistan and Egypt.

When asked if religious freedom was being advanced in Muslim-majority countries by the administration’s current foreign policy — which encourages the removal or dictators but does not condemn Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood — Kozak said “time will tell.”

But the diplomatic debate that led to the 16/18 resolution is driven by Islamic advocates.

In orthodox Islam, there is little to no room for religious debate outside the boundaries of tradition. In several Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, people are executed for blasphemy, heresy and apostasy, which is the act of abandoning one’s religion.

Islamic advocates say the harsh punishments are mandated by Islamic texts and local culture, which do not fully separate mosque and government, and often view religious dissent as betrayal.

Those views are markedly different from Christian texts, which promise a loving God, mandate the separation of church and state, and expect moral freedom.

Clinton’s speech reflected those Christian themes. American believers argue — but do not demand — submission from their rivals, she said. Instead, “we trust that over time, if [our rivals] are wrong, they will come to see the errors of their ways.”

In contrast, she continued, there’s reason for concern when “people are not confident in their religious beliefs to the point where they do not fear speech that raises questions about religion.”

Her speech included both new and old themes in American religion.

She argued that “truly at the root of every major religion is a connection with the divinity, is an acceptance and a recognition that we are all walking a path together.”

That claim of religious universalism is not widely shared by Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist clerics. For example, Islamic clerics say the Bible’s Old Testament is really a Muslim text that is misunderstood by Christians and is distorted by Jews. Similarly, most Christians say the Christian God is guided by love and reason, and rewards faith from free people, while most Muslim clerics say Allah requires submission and accepts forced conversions.

But Clinton also repeated the traditional American Christian view that human rights “are rights endowed by our creator within each of us… [and] we have special obligations to protect these God-given rights.”

That’s a markedly more traditional view than that held by her boss, President Barack Obama.

In November, for example, he excluded Christianity from his Thanksgiving message, and suggested that Americans’ rights to freely speak, vote, assemble and own property depend on the approval of other Americans. “No matter how tough things are right now, we still give thanks for that most American of blessings — the chance to determine our own destiny.” (RELATED: Democrat leaders merge church and party)

Throughout her speech, Clinton returned to the argument that religion requires freedom. And she repeatedly, although diplomatically, prodded Islamic governments to tolerate other faiths. Without citing any countries, she directed her criticism at Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where laws actively penalize or bar rival religions.

“We know governments which fear religion can be quite oppressive, but we know that societies that think there is only one religion can be equally oppressive.”

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By: David A. Patten and Kathleen Walter

The political calendar probably will determine whether President Barack Obama supports attacking Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, national security expert Andrew McCarthy tells Newsmax.TV.

The president’s policies on major issues such as Obamacare, the supercommittee impasse, and Iran have become fully subjugated to his single-minded drive to win re-election, said McCarthy, the former assistant U.S. attorney in New York City who also is an author and columnist.

“It has all been scheduled in such a way that he can try to present himself to the electorate as a pragmatic centrist,” McCarthy said in the exclusive Newsmax interview. “And all of the alarms will go off after the election, when it’s too late. But I think right now it’s quite obvious — it should be obvious to everyone — that their big priority is to get re-elected. And they will do almost nothing to be diverted from that.”

With this in mind, McCarthy said Obama’s response to an Israeli attack on Iran could be muted, depending on when it occurs.

“If it does get down to late in this election season, and it’s a close election, I don’t think Obama can afford to give Israel that hard a time” if it attacked Iran, McCarthy told Newsmax. “On the other hand, I think he has tried to put distance between the United States and Israel. And if he gets a second term, I would expect that to be much more bluntly obvious than it is now.”

Obama and his predecessors in the Oval Office blundered by not calling out Iran as America’s enemy No. 1, McCarthy said.

“What I don’t understand is why we do not in a very unambiguous way to make it clear that we consider Iran to be the enemy of the United States, that we want regime change in Iran,” he said. “And that we organize every lever of American foreign policy, whether it’s diplomacy, the military — any policy whatsoever that we have that touches on Iran, the organizing principle should be that we want that regime gone, just as when Ronald Reagan was out president, the defeat of the Soviet Union was our national imperative. And it had a very good organizing effect on what our policy was downstream.”

McCarthy, who led the successful prosecution of the terrorists who carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, said the United States should focus on regime change in Iran, regardless of the Persian theocracy’s progress in building a nuclear weapon.

“We need to totally rethink this. The nukes are a big problem because of the regime that will have the nukes,” he said.

McCarthy, author of “The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America,” also warned that, if the administration waits until after the 2012 election to confront Iran, “it will probably be too late to stop a nuclear-armed Iran.”

“I imagine that they’re very close,” he said of Iran’s effort to obtain nuclear-weapon capability. “We ought to assume that they’re very close. I’d rather be pleasantly surprised, than alarmed.”

© Newsmax. All rights reserved.


November 29, 2011 3:36 PM
CBS News

ASSIUT, Egypt — Ahead of elections, Egypt's Coptic Church discreetly told followers to vote for an alliance of leftist and liberal parties sponsored by a Christian tycoon. The move by a Church normally wary of inserting itself into politics showed how deeply Egyptian Christians fear that Islamists will come to power.

The country's Christian minority turned out in droves for voting Monday and Tuesday in the first parliamentary elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February.

Many indeed said they had "voted for the eye" — a reference to the Egyptian Bloc, the coalition that the Church pointed to. Each party has a campaign symbol so that illiterate voters can identify their choices on the ballot, and the Bloc's symbol was the eye.

In pockets where their community is concentrated, the flow of Christians to the polls was strong. In the Cairo district of Shubra, men and women with cross tattoos on their wrists — a common tradition among Egyptian Christians — kept lines full through the day. White-haired elders, equipped with chairs and bottles of water for the long wait, waited with young men and women who took time off from jobs to get to the ballot box.

Almost all expressed a common motivation: Stop the Islamists.

"We are voting for liberal parties as a means of survival," said Farid George, a Christian in the southern city of Assiut. "Egypt is our country. My kids were raised here and I will die here."

The prospect of an Islamist victory in the election has Egypt's Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population of 85 million, terrified that one day strict Islamic law will be imposed. Talk of leaving Egypt has increasingly circulated among many Christians since Mubarak's fall, raising fears over the fate of a community that predates the coming of Islam to the country in the 7th century.

Islamist parties are expected to be the biggest winners in the election — likely to gain a plurality or even a majority in the new parliament. Most prominent is the Muslim Brotherhood, the best organized political force in Egypt. Christians are nervous enough about the Brotherhood, but even more daunting to them are the Salafis, ultraconservatives whose ideology is close to the puritanical doctrines of Saudi Arabia.

Assiut, a rural province with a capital of the same name 320 kilometers (200 miles) south of Cairo, has the biggest Christian population in the south. It also has a strong presence of Islamic hard-liners. In the 1990s, it was a main battleground between the government and Islamic militants trying to overthrow the state.

The Islamic Group, or Gamaa al-Islamiya, a former militant group that renounced violence and is now a political party, is believed to have been behind fliers distributed in Assiut warning that Christians were trying to block an Islamist victory and that "the enemies of Islam" must be countered at the ballot box.

"This is dangerous, very dangerous," George, a prominent businessman with several car dealerships in Assiut, said while talking about the fliers with his employees. George is himself a candidate in the vote, though not with the Egyptian Bloc. "I will not have a man in a beard tell me how dress my wife, how to raise my kids, how to run my business."

Under Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule, Christians — most of whom belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church — complained of discrimination by the Muslim majority and of a second-class status. Their general reaction only increased their ghettoization: They drew closer to the Church and relied on Mubarak to protect them. Mubarak did little to advance Christian civil rights, but his police state ensured certain lines were not crossed.

Now with Mubarak gone, the election turnout marks a shift for Christians: They increasingly feel they can't shelter isolated in a corner; they have to engage with the country and assert themselves.

"Our country has been stolen from us for 30 years, and we didn't feel like we lived in our own country," said Hani Mikhail, who runs the Citizenship League at the All Saints Church in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria. The league is a Church organization formed to spread awareness of citizenship rights.

"After the revolution this strange feeling came over us — the country started to feel like ours again and that we want to do something for Egypt."

The All Saints Church was hit by suicide bombers on New Year's, killing more than 20 people. Anti-Christian violence accelerated since Mubarak's fall, blamed by Christians on increasingly bold Islamists. Salafi preachers have spoken out against the building of churches and accused Christians of seeking to take over "Islamic" Egypt.

The Church's quiet backing of the Egyptian Bloc and other liberal factions highlights how it wanted to ensure the community's voice is heard.

The Coptic Church denies making any official endorsement. Reports of the list raised an outcry from Islamist groups who accuse the Church of meddling. Prominent Copts close to the Church leadership have defended the list in TV appearances — without confirming the Church issued it — pointing out that many parties are unknown so Christians needed guidance and that they have a right to ensure their interests.

The Bloc is made up of three liberal, secular-leaning parties, including one founded and financed by Naguib Sawiris, a Christian telecoms tycoon who is one of the country's richest men. The alliance is running a mix of Muslim and Christian candidates.

The Church leadership put the Bloc at the top of a list of candidates its advised Christians to vote for and distributed the list to the community through Youth Assemblies, according to multiple Coptic voters who received the list. The Assemblies are a church body that usually gives social guidance to youth. The list also circulated on Coptic Facebook pages.

Five days before the election, the third-highest church official in Assiut met with Youth Assembly heads and gave them the list to distribute, saying Christians must not split their vote, according to a person who attended the meeting. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Pastor Al-Qis Baki Sadaqa, head of the Anglican Church in Assiut, says he won't choose "out of religious motives" but will vote for "the person who is most qualified. That is modernity." He's voting for Muslims, though not the Muslim Brotherhood. He's not concerned about the Brotherhood, saying it's the most moderate of the Islamists. But Salafis, he says, are the more worrisome because of their "fanaticism" and "narrowmindedness."

"It's not only Christians who are in danger, but moderate Muslims," the 83-year-old pastor said.

Youssef Sedhoum, a prominent Coptic analyst, said he hopes the various liberal and secular factions in parliament will unite to balance the Islamists.

"They are in one boat, and they have to join ranks."


Michael reported from Cairo. AP correspondent Hadeel al-Shalchi in Alexandria contributed to this report.

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November 29, 2011 - 1:10pm
by Khadija Ismayilova


The recent death of writer Rafiq Tagi has sparked a fresh debate in Azerbaijan on three of the country’s most sensitive topics -- relations with Iran, the role of Islam and the government’s track record on freedom of speech.

Tagi, a 61-year-old essayist highly critical of Islam and Iran, was stabbed six times in downtown Baku on November 19 by an unknown assailant, and died four days later in a Baku hospital. In a hospital interview with RFE/RL shortly before his death, Tagi, who also worked as an emergency-room doctor, claimed that the attack was revenge by unidentified Iranian agents and Muslim fundamentalists for two of his articles.

In 2006, Tagi first fueled the anger of many Muslim believers with a strongly worded article in the Sanat (Arts) newspaper, a literary weekly. The article asserted that Islam and democracy are incompatible, and contained references perceived as critical of the Prophet Muhammad. In response, several Iranian ayatollahs issued fatwas that sentenced him to death. In 2007, Tagi and Sanat Editor-in-Chief Samir Sadagatoglu spent eight months in an Azerbaijani Ministry of National Security prison for allegedly having incited religious hatred by insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

But the fatwas and prison term did not stop his writings. In a November 10 blog piece for, Tagi tackled Iran itself, charging that “[m]odern Iran is a myth that is easy to break.” He also questioned the sanity of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

That criticism, along with the earlier fatwas, prompted many Azerbaijanis to believe that Iran is a prime suspect in the attack on Tagi. Baku’s relations with Tehran have been tense in recent months.

A statement on the website of the late Iranian Ayatollah Fazil Lankarani, who issued one of the fatwas against Tagi, and signed by his son, Ayatollah Haji Sheykh Muhammad Javad Lankarani thanks God that “a hand of revenge was found among the honorable Muslims of Azerbaijan and sent the evil individual who insulted Islamic sanctuaries and Allah’s messenger to hell.”

Representatives at the Iranian Embassy in Baku denied any connection with the attack.

One expert on Islamic theology, though, dismisses the belief that the attack is linked to Ayatollah Lankarani’s fatwa. “Tagi was here for five years after that fatwa. He was walking to work and back, using public transportation, and nobody thought of implementing the sentence while Fazil Lankarani … was alive,” said Elchin Askerov, chair of the International Eurasian Council within the Islamic Youth Conference Forum for Cooperation and Dialogue, in an interview with RFE/RL’s Azeri service. Askerov similarly dismissed the notion that an Azerbaijani believer could have carried out the stabbing. “An Azerbaijani Muslim is not [a] backward, radical. We have to wait for the result of the investigation.”

State prosecutor’s office spokesperson Eldar Sultanov told reporters that his office is aware of Ayatollah Lankarani’s statement and will respond if necessary. Other details about the government’s investigation have not been released. Muslim community leaders in Baku have not commented publicly on Tagi’s death.

By keeping silent, government officials in Azerbaijan, always cautious in their relations with Tehran, risk inviting similar criticism for inaction, some observers believe.

Government critics blame law enforcement agencies for not providing protection for Tagi similar to what was offered by the British government to the Indian-British writer Salman Rushdie, who was condemned to death in a 1989 fatwa. “The government should have protected its citizen and arrested those who were calling for Rafiq Tagi’s death in Azerbaijan, and should demand international sanctions against those who were issuing fatwas abroad,” said Arastun Orujlu, director of the East-West Research Center.

Some critics have gone further, saying that the authorities will use Tagi’s apparent assassination as an excuse to tighten restrictions on practicing Muslims. Parliament recently adopted legislation that, among other measures, restricts sales of approved religious literature to official shops and imposes long-term prison sentences on those who sell or distribute unsanctioned religious writings.

“The whole world is discussing this assassination, except the Azerbaijani government,” said Intigam Aliyev, head of the Legal Enlightenment Center, a human rights organization, in a statement published by several Azerbaijani online and print media outlets. “The government’s silence is the answer. They are as silent as they were when [slain newspaper editor] Elmar [Huseynov] was killed, journalists were kidnapped and injured under car wheels, when people’s houses were destroyed.”

Two journalist advocacy groups, the New-York-City-based Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, have urged the Azerbaijani government to bring the perpetrator(s) to justice. The Azerbaijani government maintains it’s working on precisely that. In a November 25 interview to Media Forum, Ali Hasanov, the influential head of the presidential administration’s Political-Public-Policy Department, declined to “make any assessment” about the culprit’s identity. Instead, he urged patience. “The government is trying to solve all cases,” Hasanov said. “We don’t single this one out.”

Editor's note: 
 Khadija Ismayilova is a freelance reporter in Baku and hosts a daily program on current affairs broadcast by the Azeri Service of RFE/RL.


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