Thursday, October 12, 2006

Inter-faith tolerance in global perspective

The Organization of the Islamic Conference is a world-wide organization of Muslim states (or, in a few cases, countries with substantial Muslim populations). According to an article in the Guardian ("Muslims angry at new Danish cartoons scandal"):
The world's largest international Muslim body complained of shrinking tolerance in the west yesterday as a new row erupted over Danish cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad.
The 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference said in a statement: "Muslims have noted with concern that the values of tolerance are eroding and there is now shrinking space for others' religious, social and cultural values in the west."
There are certainly plenty of examples of intolerance, bigotry, and religious or ethnic discrimination in western societies that deserve criticism and condemnation. (Before proceeding, dear reader, please re-read the previous sentence.) But it is a bit comic to be lectured about religious intolerance by the OIC, given the much more blatant examples to be found in many of its member countries.

Denis MacEoin, a scholar of Arabic & Islamic studies, has just written a letter to the Guardian offering a few quick reality checks. (He might have added that in a number of OIC member states, converting from Islam to another religion is a criminal offense--punishable, in some cases, by the death penalty. I am not aware of any western country with such legislation. And in Saudi Arabia, of course, any form of public worship or other religious expression by non-Muslims is a criminal offense.). Perhaps the next meeting of the OIC might address a few of these matters? I reproduce this letter with Denis MacEoin's permission.
Dear Sir,

You report ('Muslims angry at new Danish cartoons scandal', 10 October. p. 21) the following statement from the Organization of the Islamic Conference: 'Muslims have noted with concern that the values of tolerance are eroding and there is now shrinking space for others' religious, social and cultural values in the west.' According to a news report I received today the following incidents have just occurred in four member states of the OIC: Muslim rioters in Nigeria have destroyed 18 Christian churches; a Muslim mob in Indonesia has burned a church to the ground; a teenage Christian in Pakistan faces life imprisonment on a false charge of defacing a Qur'an (a standard accusation); and the Saudis have just deported (after a month of beatings) four East African Christians for leading a prayer service in Jeddah. I do not mention the treatment meted out regularly to Christians elsewhere, the imprisonment and execution of members of minority faiths, the expulsion or flight of Jews from practically every Muslim country, the bulldozing of Baha'i holy places in Iran, and much else.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Denis MacEoin
Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

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