We are asked every day to show solidarity with women and with racial and ethnic minorities around the world. Yet some of us too easily dismiss discrimination against and even persecution and murder of Christians as merely a “religious” problem that concerns only Christians.
But it’s bigger than that. It’s a human rights crisis that should concern us all.
Consider the case of Dr. Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag in Sudan. News reports state that when she was six years old, her Muslim father abandoned her. Raised by her Orthodox Christian mother, she went to college, graduated from medical school, and married a Christian who reportedly holds U.S. citizenship.
They had one son before Meriam’s brother lodged a complaint of adultery against her on the grounds that her marriage to a non-Muslim isn’t valid. The court later added the charge of apostasy, finding her guilty of abandoning the Muslim religion she never held. Now eight months pregnant, she is condemned to 100 lashes for adultery and then death by hanging for apostasy. Imprisoned with her 20-month-old son, whom the courts won’t return to his father, she is scheduled to be executed after she gives birth.
The particulars of Meriam’s case are unusual. But every day, Christians face persecution around the world, some in ways that seem even worse. Beheadings in front of children and on camera; rape, abduction and selling into slavery; forced marriages of preteen girls; church burnings with people inside; and torture. Such atrocities are committed repeatedly against Christians, mainly by people claiming to enforce Islamic laws. Earlier this year two young Christian men traveling in Syria from Homs to the village of Marmarita were viciously assaulted by five armed Islamist fighters. One of the two, who wore a cross around his neck, was promptly beheaded. The other was left for dead.
Human rights abuses matter, especially when they appear to be systemic. We should be clear about their target — in this case, Christians — and about their source — in this case, Islamist — interpretation and enforcement of Shariah law. Unfortunately, for too long some human rights organizations, including the U.N. Human Rights Council, didn’t give the persecution of Christians the attention it deserves. Thankfully, the trend seems to be turning as more and more cases like Meriam’s come to light.
It’s no accident that governments like those in Sudan and Saudi Arabia that have embraced draconian enforcement of Shariah law are also the most repressive across the board. They deny the human rights of not only Christians but women, Jews, and racial and ethnic minorities. They are fundamentally oppressive societies, and their particular approach to Islamic law is not some afterthought. It is the central ideological justification for most every horrible deed they do.
Think back to Meriam’s story. She was betrayed by her father and her brother. The first abandoned her as a little girl and the second brought the case against her in the courts. It was her brother who insisted on laying claim to the patriarchal religious rights of the derelict father, but he did so not in the name of male gender rights, but in the name of Shariah law. Meriam is the victim, and yet because of the perverse laws against practicing Christianity, the law is being used by her tormenters to get away with murder.
Put simply she is, as a woman, being persecuted because she’s a Christian.
All too often injustices such as these are chalked up solely to the patriarchal values of tribal societies. The suggestion is that they have nothing to do with Islam. It’s true that tribal values matter, but so, too, do ones based on a malicious interpretation of Islamic law which most Muslims do not accept.
Human rights activists make a mistake excluding discrimination against religion from their outrage over human rights abuses. Religious discrimination is a human rights problem that touches on all others. Trying to push it off to the side as if it has little or nothing to do with other injustices is not just shortsighted. It is immoral.
Originally appeared in The Washington Times.