Thursday, May 19, 2005

Do As We Say...Not As We Do!

How about a nice tall glass of "Arab Hypocrisy"?!\ForeignBureaus\archive\200505\FOR20050519a.html

Saudis Shred Bibles, Rights Campaigners Claim

By Patrick Goodenough International Editor
May 19, 2005

( - Bibles found in the possession of visitors to Saudi Arabia are routinely confiscated by customs officials, and in some cases copies allegedly have been put through a paper shredder, according to religious rights campaigners.

Reports from the Islamic world of the abuse of Bibles and other items important to Christians emerge from time to time, but generally have little impact - in contrast to the wave of Muslim anger sparked by a Newsweek report, since retracted, of Koran desecration by the U.S. military.
"The Muslims respect the Koran far more than Christians respect the Bible," says Danny Nalliah, a Sri Lankan-born evangelical pastor now based in Australia.

During the 1990s, Nalliah spent two years in Saudi Arabia, where he was deeply involved with the underground church.

"It's a very well-known fact that if you have a Bible at customs when you enter the airport, and if they find the Bible, that the Bible is taken and put in the shredder," he said in an interview this week.

"If you have more than one Bible you will be taken into custody, and if you have a quantity of Bibles you will be given 70 lashes for sure - you could even be executed."

Nalliah had not himself seen a Bible being shredded but said the practice was widely acknowledged among Christians in the kingdom.

Abuse of Christians and their symbols was not restricted to the destruction of Bibles, he added.

A friend of his, a fellow Christian in Saudi Arabia, told him of witnessing a particularly unpleasant incident involving a Catholic nun.

The man had been in the transit lounge at the airport in Jeddah - the gateway to Mecca, used by millions of Hajj pilgrims each year - when a nun arrived at the customs desk.

"Some fool [travel agent] had put her on a transit flight in Jeddah. You don't do that to a Catholic nun, because she's going to be tormented."

"They opened her bag, went through her prayer book, put the prayer book through the shredder ... took the crucifix off her neck and smashed it, tormented her for many minutes."

Eventually another Muslim official objected to their conduct, came across and "rescued" her, pointing out to the customs officials that she was not entering the country but only in transit and would be leaving on the next plane.

Briefed beforehand about the risks, Nalliah said he did not carry a Bible when he arrived in the kingdom in 1995.

Subsequently, however, he took possession of hundreds of Bibles that had been smuggled into Saudi Arabia to be used by believers there.

Nalliah said he had a close call one morning when armed members of the notorious Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice - the religious police, or muttawa - hammered at his front door at 1 a.m.

With 400 smuggled Bibles "sitting on the dining room table," he believed his life to be in serious danger. "That was a crime equal to rape, murder, armed robbery, and in Saudi Arabia you get the same punishment," he said - the death penalty.

Nalliah said he had prayed earnestly and, in what he could only describe as a miracle, the men left without entering his home.


Claims of Bible desecration in Saudi Arabia have been made by others.

"One Christian recently reported that his personal Bible was put into a shredder once he entered customs," the late Nagi Kheir, spokesman for the American Coptic Association and a veteran campaigner for religious freedom in the Middle East, wrote in an article several years ago.

"Some Christians have reported that upon entering Saudi Arabia they have had their personal Bibles taken from them and placed into a paper shredder," the U.S.-based organization International Christian Concern said in a 2001 report.

In its most recent report on religious freedom around the world, the State Department made no reference to Bible destruction, but said they were considered contraband.

"Customs officials routinely open mail and shipments to search for contraband, including ... non-Muslim materials, such as Bibles and religious videotapes," it said. "Such materials are subject to confiscation, although rules appear to be applied arbitrarily."

In a 2003 report on Saudi Arabia, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent watchdog set up under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, said: "Customs officials regularly confiscate Bibles and other religious material when Christian foreign workers arrive at the airport from their home countries initially or return from a vacation."

Inquiries about the legality of Bibles and about the shredder claims, sent to the Saudi Embassy in Washington and the Saudi Information Ministry in Riyadh, were not answered by press time.

Koran vs. Bible

After Nalliah left Saudi Arabia in 1997, he went to the U.S. and took part in the lobbying effort on Capitol Hill in support of what eventually became the International Religious Freedom Act, signed into law the following year.

He heads an evangelical ministry in Australia, where late last year he and a colleague became the first people to be found guilty under a controversial state religious hatred law, after Muslims accused them of vilifying Islam during a post-9/11 seminar for Christians.

Nalliah said this week it did not surprise him that Muslims have reacted strongly to the claims that U.S. interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay base, where terrorism suspects are held, had thrown a Koran into the toilet.

While Bible scholars say the Bible is written by men who were inspired by God, Muslims believe the Koran is "the copy of an original that is sitting in heaven, and has been sent down [by revelation to Mohammed]."

The book is seen as something sacred in itself, he explained, its words having come "directly from Allah. That's why they are so mad when they think something [unseemly] is being done to the Koran."

A Muslim will never keep a Koran at ground level, for instance.

The Pentagon says a January 2003 memo issued to U.S. personnel at Guantanamo Bay instructed them to "ensure that the Koran is not placed in offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet, or dirty/wet areas."

Even in Western societies, Nalliah noted, copies of Bibles could often be found in witness boxes of courts, ready for use when witnesses are sworn in. But the Koran will generally be kept in safe storage elsewhere, covered in cloth, to be brought in when required by a Muslim witness.

He said such reverence for the Koran stood in stark contrast to some Muslims' feelings about the Bible, however.

Nalliah said the Koran was "confusing" on this score. In places (e.g.: sura 29:46-47) it appeared to urge Muslims to respect the Bible and those who believe in it; elsewhere it exhorts them to fight those who don't accept Islam until they pay tribute and accept inferior status (sura 9:29-31).

According to author and Islam scholar Robert Spencer, "a devout Muslim might very well mistreat a Bible, because traditional Islamic theology regards it as a corrupted and unreliable version of the genuine revelations that were given to Moses, Jesus, and other Prophets."

Spencer noted that in sura 9:30 the Koran says those who believe Jesus is the Son of God are under Allah's curse.

"Throughout history, most Muslim theologians have held that the New Testament has been tampered with since it teaches that Jesus is the Son of God."

Some of the more notorious reported incidents of Muslims abusing Christian symbols implicate Palestinian radicals, including the trashing of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002; and the desecration of Maronite churches in Damour, Lebanon in 1976.

In the Damour episode, Yasser Arafat's PLO killed more than 500 of the Christian town's inhabitants before turning it into a stronghold, and used the interior of the St. Elias church for a shooting range, according to published accounts.


B2 said...\Nation\archive\200505\NAT20050519a.html

House Resolution Urges Respect for Koran; Condemns Religious Intolerance
By Susan Jones Morning Editor
May 19, 2005

( - An Islamic civil rights group is urging all "people of conscience" to support a Democrat-sponsored resolution recognizing that the Koran, like the holy book of any other religion, "should be treated with dignity and respect."

The resolution, to be introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), also "condemns bigotry and intolerance against any religious group, including our friends, neighbors and citizens of the Islamic faith."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations called the introduction of the resolution a winning move.

"This resolution expresses America's respect for the holy texts of all faiths. If passed, it will also reiterate our nation's condemnation of bigoted behavior and religious intolerance," said Corey Saylor, CAIR's government affairs director.

Congressional resolutions express the opinion of lawmakers and do not have the force of law.

CAIR this week launched an "Explore the Koran" campaign in response to the uproar generated by a May 9 Newsweek report -- now retracted -- that said U.S. military investigators had flushed a Koran down a toilet in an effort to "rattle" Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The report infuriated Muslims around the world, and it contributed to rioting in Afghanistan that killed at least 15 people.

"In today's climate of heightened religious sensitivities and cultural clashes, now is the time for people of all faiths to better acquaint themselves with Islam's sacred text," said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad in a press release announcing the Koran giveaway.

He said the campaign will allow the Koran to "speak for itself and educate those of other faith traditions about the beautiful religion of Islam."

Rep. Conyers, who appeared at Tuesday press conference when CAIR announced the Koran giveaway, applauded the effort.

"We have made the job of our enemies all too easy by sanctioning torture and by whitewashing prisoner abuse investigations," Conyers said in a press release issued by CAIR. "We also need to embrace the Muslim people and tolerance if we are truly interested in supporting democracy around the world."

Even though Newsweek has retracted its May 9 Koran-flushing article, CAIR's Saylor noted that former detainees at Guantanamo Bay and in Afghanistan "have made similar allegations in other media reports."

CAIR is urging its supporters to contact their congressional representatives: "Tell them the allegations of Koran desecration, now withdrawn by Newsweek, hurt America's image overseas. Strong support for this resolution will demonstrate America's intolerance of bigotry and disrespect toward any religious group," the press release said.

B2 said...\ForeignBureaus\archive\200505\FOR20050523b.html

Saudis Do Destroy Bibles, Think Tank Affirms
By Patrick Goodenough International Editor
May 23, 2005

( - A U.S.-based think tank critical of the Saudi government has added its voice to allegations that authorities in the kingdom routinely destroy Bibles.

"As a matter of official policy, the government either incinerates or dumps Bibles, crosses and other Christian paraphernalia," the Saudi Institute said in an article posted on its website.

"Although considered as holy in Islam and mentioned in the Koran dozens of times, the Bible is banned in Saudi Arabia, and is confiscated and destroyed by government officials," it said.

Last week a Christian pastor who worked in Saudi Arabia during the 1990s told Cybercast News Service it was widely known among underground Christians there that Bibles were confiscated -- and sometimes shredded -- by Saudi customs officials at ports of entry.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington has yet to respond to emailed queries about its policies regarding the Bibles and the shredding allegations.

Saudi Arabia was one of the first governments to protest after Newsweek reported earlier this month that U.S. troops had thrown a Koran into a toilet to fluster Muslim terror suspects being detained by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

A statement issued on May 12 said the Saudi government was "following with great concern and apprehension reports that the sanctity of the Holy Koran has been violated on several occasions at Guantanamo Bay."

Following rioting in Afghanistan and protests elsewhere in the Muslim world, Newsweek retracted the report. It said its unnamed government source was no longer certain about his original claim that he saw the Koran flushing mentioned in a military report of abuse at the base.

Home to Islam's two most revered sites, in Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia views itself as guardian of the religion. The kingdom is committed to the fundamentalist Wahhabi ideology, and non-Wahhabi Muslim traditions are frowned upon.

Human rights campaigners name Saudi Arabia as one of the world's most egregious violators of religious freedom.

In another article posted on its site -- and published as an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Friday -- Saudi Institute director Ali Al-Ahmed wrote of his fellow Saudis: "As Muslims, we have not been as generous as our Christian and Jewish counterparts in respecting others' holy books and religious symbols.

"Saudi Arabia bans the importation or the display of crosses, Stars of David or any other religious symbols not approved by the Wahhabi establishment," he continued. "TV programs that show Christian clergymen, crosses or Stars of David are censored."

Based in Washington, the Saudi Institute describes itself as an independent organization that provides information relating to "terrorism, democracy, human rights, charitable organizations, religious freedom and the House of Saud."

Wire services reported Saturday that 18 Saudi Muslim scholars have demanded that "those involved in the alleged desecration of the Koran at the U.S. detention facility of Guantanamo Bay be tried by an Islamic court."