Former Dutch MP warns of hatred for Christians

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A genocide against Christians is going on in the Muslim world. That's according to the Somali-born former Dutch MP and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali in Newsweek.

According to Ms Hirsi Ali, since the Arab spring, Western governments and media have too often portrayed Muslims as heroes or victims, and they forget that thousands of Christians in Muslim countries are oppressed or murdered because of their faith.

According to the former politician, who now lives in the United States, so-called Islamophobia isn't the same thing as what she calls 'Christophobia': the oppression of Christian minorities in the Islamic world. The fate of Christians and other religious minorities in the Islamic world is at stake, she says.

"The conspiracy of silence about the violent expression of religious intolerance must stop."

Nigeria to Pakistan
The intolerance takes different forms in different places, says Ms Hirsi Ali.

"In some countries it is the government itself, in others rebel groups and militias have displaced Christians from areas where their roots have lain for centuries."

Christians are living in fear in Nigeria, where the Islamist Boko Haram sect killed 54 people in January 2012. In Egypt, at least 30 people died in demonstrations in Cairo in October 2011, when Coptic Christians gathered to protest the burning of a Christian centre that was due to be converted into a church.

In Pakistan, a Christian woman was sentenced to death and a deadly attack took place on a group of Christian social workers. In Sudan, 'Christophobia' has claimed victims for years. Ayaan Hirsi Ali cites these, as well as more examples, to show that Christians are increasingly at risk in the Islamic world.

Not alone
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not the first to warn of the increasing persecution of Christians. Last year, conservative politician Frits Bolkestein and political scientist Hala Naoum Nehme made the same point in Dutch media. On a list of countries where Christians are persecuted, half of them have a Muslim majority.

These examples need to be put into their proper context, however. "Many examples are from countries where social and political problems affect the entire population," said Taoufik Benyahia of the Amsterdam youth organization Argan. "When there are difficulties, there are always vulnerable minorities."

According to former diplomat and Arabist Petra Stienen, it's "demonstrably untrue" that there's too little attention to the position of Christians. "In the Lower House [of the Dutch parliament] there are actually many more questions about Christian minorities than about other oppressed groups in the Islamic world."

Human Rights Ambassador
The Dutch Foreign Ministry's human rights policy already devotes special attention to religious minorities. A policy paper from 2011 states:

"It is primarily the freedom of religion and belief: the Netherlands continues to actively fight for the protection of religious minorities, including in response to the disturbing increase in violence against Christians in several countries."

After the reports of violence in Nigeria in January, Minister Uri Rosenthal said immediately that Nigeria would be the next destination for the Dutch special ambassador for human rights.

Ms Hirsi Ali would like to see Western countries focus on the rights of religious minorities as a condition for aid and trade agreements. But Mr Benyahia calls this "an error signal".

"It's just as much nonsense as imagining that a Muslim leader would seek relations only with countries that respect the rights of Muslims. It should involve respect for the rights of all inhabitants of a country, not of one specific group."

Petra Stienen adds: "We must avoid looking explicitly at a single group. The big question for Arab countries like Egypt is: how do they deal with pluralism. A civil state should have room for ethnic, religious and other differences."

Ms Hirsi Ali says in Newsweek: "Let's get our priorities right." She doesn't deny that Muslim minorities in Western countries must be protected, while noting that "cartoons, movies and articles are something other than knives, guns and grenades."

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