Monday, July 10, 2006

Vatican Demands Reciprocity With Islam 

{This is guesthosting contestant #2, Mike of Lamplighter News, whose blog identifies him as a former Naval aviator now practicing law in the Phoenix area.}

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that the Vatican is abandoning its decades old policy of trying to protect Catholics living under Muslim rule by quiet diplomacy, and moving towards a policy of "reciprocity." The foundation of this emerging policy is to obtain "the same rights for Christians in Islamdom that Muslims enjoy in Christendom."

Patrick Sookhdeo of the Baranabs Fund points out that the estimated 40 million Christians living in Islamic nations are treated as second class citizens, have declining economic opportunities, face physical injury, and are discriminated against in jobs, education, and the courts. The plight of these Christians are in stark contrast to the estimated 20 million Muslims living in western nations.

The restrictions on religious freedom in the Islamic world are not only severe, but are a matter of law. The U.S. State Department reports that the UAE, one of the most liberal Arab countries, "prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing or distributing religious literature under penalty of criminal prosecution and imprisonment for engaging in behavior offensive to Islam." It is worse in Saudi Arabia, where according to the U.S. State Department:

Freedom of religion does not exist. Islam is the official religion, and all citizens must be Muslims. Religious freedom is not recognized or protected under the laws, and basic religious freedoms are denied to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam. Citizens are denied the freedom to choose or change their religion, and many noncitizens, including Muslims, practice their beliefs under severe restrictions. The Government limits the practice of all but the officially sanctioned version of Islam and prohibits the public practice of other religions.

According to the country's "Hanbali" interpretation of Shari'a, once fault is determined by a court, a Muslim male receives 100 percent of the amount of compensation determined, a male Jew or Christian receives 50 percent, and all others (including Hindus and Sikhs) receive 1/16 of the amount a male Muslim may receive.

The Vatican's frustration with the disparities in the way Christians are treated in Islamic countries and Muslims treated in western countries was forcefully shown by Monsignor Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Vatican's supreme court, statement that:

Enough now with this turning the other cheek! It's our duty to protect ourselves...The West has had relations with the Arab countries for half a century...and has not been able to get the slightest concession on human rights.

The Vatican's move to demanding reciprocity is welcome, and though it has neither the military nor economic power to effectuate change, it can use its position in the world as a bully pulpit to highlight the actions of Islamic nations. However, two points must be kept in mind. First, the Vatican's new policy will not result in immediate change, at best it will cause gradual change over decades. Second, regardless of how Christians are treated in Islamic nations, Muslims must continue to be afforded all of the freedoms enjoyed by those living in the west. Merely because the Islamic world fails to recognize basic freedoms is not a reason that the west should follow. In short, we must continue to live up to our beliefs and afford all civil liberties, including religious freedom, to all regardless of the policies of the Islamic nations.