Sunday, February 26, 2006

Canadian Muslim Embraces Free Speech

Like a breath of fresh air was the following letter to the editor in yesterday's National Post (

As a practising Muslim, I was saddened and angered by the cartoons that depicted the Prophet Muhammad in a negative way. My anger is directed, not at the Danish cartoonists, but instead at fellow Muslims worldwide who have darkened the image of my beloved Prophet by their atrocities.

I saw a group of Canadian Muslim leaders congratulating Canadian Muslims for their calm reaction to the cartoons. But it is quite easy to remain calm when only a few outlets with small circulations have dared to publish some of those images. This is hardly a show of tolerance and peaceful coexistence; rather it shows a nation willing to sacrifice its freedom of speech because it is terrified of a possible reaction by a small minority in its midst.

Meanwhile, Muslim student groups at Saint Mary's University in Halifax are demanding the expulsion of a professor who posted some of the cartoons on his office door, while Mohamed Elmasry, head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, is threatening to take the Western Standard to court for publishing the cartoon. So much for calm reactions, but thanks for not rioting violently, I guess.

If I were a Muslim leader, I would try to explain to my fellow Muslims that it is freedom of speech that allows us to practise our religion freely in Canada, and the price for this is to accept views critical of ours. If I were the prime minister of Canada, I would declare my unconditional support for freedom of speech, including speech that I may find offensive. And if I were the minister of immigration, I would revoke the visas of the members of that Muslim student group at Saint Mary's University who are international students who now demand expulsion of one of the school's professors. I would remind them that they are merely guests in this country. Guests do not impose their views and ways on their hosts.

But as a private citizen, all I can do is to buy a copy of Western Standard, enjoy my Danish pastry and write opinion letters to Canadian newspapers and media to let them know that Mr. Elmasry does not represent the views of all Muslims in this country.

Amir Sanizadeh, Ottawa.

If only Mr. Sanizadeh's courageous voice were not drowned out by the cacophony of "I-am-outraged-and-I-strongly-condemn" letters flooding newspapers in Canada.

I have also been very disappointed by evangelical leaders who presume to speak for the majority of Canadian Christians as they express disappointment at the republication of the Danish cartoons in the Western Standard and venture to suggest that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute (check out for an effective rebuttal of this notion). An interesting point to note: the early Christians were accused of being "haters of mankind" by Roman philosophers because of what they believed and taught. In particular, the Romans were offended by how the early Christians dishonoured their religion. Good thing our spiritual forefathers weren't as concerned about expressing their opinions, even in the face of being accused of spreading hatred, as some of today's Christian leaders seem to be.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Flemming Rose's Original Intent in Publishing the Jyllands-Posten Cartoons

One of the key principles of reading literature is the need to determine and to respect the original intent of the author. This is true of all communications media. The author's intent is the only legitimate one. Hence, it was with interest that I read the following article in today's National Post by Flemming Rose, the current cultural editor at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. He was responsible for the original publishing of the cartoons in the current Muhammed cartoons crisis. In the midst of all of the controversy about whether it was legitimate to publish these cartoons, Mr. Rose's stated intentions must be understood and respected. This is a lengthy posting, but I feel that it is important that we understand why Flemming Rose published these cartoons.

Why I published the cartoons

Flemming RoseJyllands-Posten
Thursday, February 23, 2006

COPENHAGEN - Childish. Irresponsible. Hate speech. Critics of my decision to publish 12 cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten have not minced their words. They say that freedom of expression does not mean insulting people's religious feelings. And besides, they add, the media censor themselves every day.

I agree that the freedom to publish things doesn't mean you publish everything. Jyllands-Posten would not publish pornographic images or graphic details of dead bodies. So we are not fundamentalists in our support for freedom of expression.

But the cartoon story is different.

The above-cited examples have to do with exercising restraint because of ethical standards and taste; call it editing. By contrast, I commissioned the cartoons in response to several incidents of self-censorship in Europe caused by widening fears of intimidation in dealing with issues related to Islam. And I still believe that this is a topic that Europeans must confront, challenging moderate Muslims to speak out.

In September, a Danish standup comedian said in an interview with Jyllands-Posten that he had no problem urinating on the Bible in front of a camera, but he dared not do the same thing with the Koran.

This was the culmination of a series of disturbing instances of self-censorship. Last September, a Danish children's writer had trouble finding an illustrator for a book about the life of Muhammad. Three people turned down the job for fear of consequences. European translators of a critical book about Islam also did not want their names to appear on the book cover beside the name of the author, a Somalian-born Dutch politician who has herself been forced into hiding.

Around the same time, the Tate gallery in London withdrew an installation by the avant-garde artist John Latham depicting the Koran, Bible and Talmud torn to pieces. The museum explained that it did not want to stir things up after the London bombings.

Finally, at the end of September, Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen met with a group of imams, one of whom called on the prime minister to interfere with the press in order to get more positive coverage of Islam.

So, over two weeks, we witnessed many cases of self-censorship, pitting freedom of speech against the fear of confronting issues about Islam. This was a legitimate news story to cover, and Jyllands-Posten decided to do it by adopting the well-known journalistic principle: Show it, don't tell it. I wrote to members of the association of Danish cartoonists asking them "to draw Muhammad as you see him." We certainly did not ask them to make fun of the prophet. Twelve out of 25 active members responded.

We have a tradition of satire when dealing with the royal family and other public figures, and that was reflected in the cartoons. The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals, they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers.

The cartoons do not in any way demonize Muslims. In fact, they differ from one another both in the way they depict the prophet and in whom they target. One cartoon makes fun of Jyllands-Posten, portraying its cultural editors as a bunch of reactionary provocateurs. Another suggests that the children's writer who could not find an illustrator for his book went public just to get cheap publicity. A third puts the head of the anti-immigration Danish People's Party in a lineup, as if she is a suspected criminal.

One cartoon -- depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban -- has drawn the harshest criticism. Angry voices claim the cartoon is saying that the prophet is a terrorist or that every Muslim is a terrorist. I read it differently: Some individuals have taken the religion of Islam hostage by committing terrorist acts in the name of the prophet. They are the ones who have given the religion a bad name. The cartoon also plays into the fairy tale about Aladdin and the orange that fell into his turban and made his fortune. This suggests that the bomb comes from the outside world and is not an inherent trait of the prophet.

On occasion, Jyllands-Posten has refused to print satirical cartoons of Jesus, but not because it applies a double standard. In fact, the same cartoonist who drew the image of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban drew a cartoon with Jesus on the cross having dollar notes in his eyes and another with the star of David attached to a bomb fuse. There were, however, no embassy burnings when we published those.

Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn't intend to. But what does "respect" mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy.

I acknowledge that some people have been offended by the publication of the cartoons, and Jyllands-Posten has apologized for that. But we cannot apologize for our right to publish material, even offensive material. You cannot edit a newspaper if you are paralyzed by worries about every possible insult. I am offended by things in the paper every day: transcripts of speeches by Osama bin Laden, photos from Abu Ghraib, people insisting that Israel should be erased from the face of the Earth, people saying the Holocaust never happened. But that does not mean that I would refrain from printing them as long as they fell within the limits of the law and of the newspaper's ethical code. That other editors would make different choices is the essence of pluralism.

As a former correspondent in the Soviet Union, I am sensitive about calls for censorship on the grounds of insult. This is a popular trick of totalitarian movements: Label any critique or call for debate as an insult and punish the offenders. That is what happened to human rights activists and writers such as Andrei Sakharov, Vladimir Bukovsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Natan Sharansky, Boris Pasternak. The regime accused them of anti-Soviet propaganda, just as some Muslims are labelling 12 cartoons in a Danish newspaper anti-Islamic.

The lesson from the Cold War is: If you give in to totalitarian impulses once, new demands follow. The West prevailed in the Cold War because we stood by our values and did not appease totalitarian tyrants.

Since the Sept. 30 publication of the cartoons, we have had a constructive debate in Denmark and Europe about freedom of expression, freedom of religion and respect for immigrants and people's beliefs. Never before have so many Danish Muslims participated in a public dialogue -- in town hall meetings, letters to editors, opinion columns and debates on radio and TV. We have had no anti-Muslim riots, no Muslims fleeing the country and no Muslims committing violence. The radical imams who misinformed their counterparts in the Middle East about the situation for Muslims in Denmark have been marginalized. They no longer speak for the Muslim community in Denmark because moderate Muslims have had the courage to speak out against them.

A network of moderate Muslims committed to the constitution has been established, and the anti-immigration People's Party called on its members to differentiate between radical and moderate Muslims, i.e. between Muslims propagating sharia law and Muslims accepting the rule of secular law. The Muslim face of Denmark has changed, and it is becoming clear that this is not a debate between "them" and "us," but between those committed to democracy in Denmark and those who are not.

This is the sort of debate that Jyllands-Posten had hoped to generate when it chose to test the limits of self-censorship. Did we achieve our purpose? Yes and no. Some of the spirited defenses of our freedom of expression have been inspiring. But tragic demonstrations throughout the Middle East and Asia were not what we anticipated much less desired. Moreover, the newspaper has received 104 registered threats, 10 people have been arrested, cartoonists have been forced into hiding because of threats against their lives and Jyllands-Posten's headquarters have been evacuated several times due to bomb threats. This is hardly a climate for easing self-censorship.

Still, I think the cartoons now have a place in two separate narratives, one in Europe and one in the Middle East. In the words of the Somalian-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the integration of Muslims into Europe has been sped up by 300 years due to the cartoons; perhaps we do not need to fight the battle for the Enlightenment all over again in Europe. The narrative in the Middle East is more complex, but that has very little to do with the cartoons.

Monday, February 20, 2006

What Freedom of Speech is Not

In light of the recent debate over the Danish cartoons, the Western Standard's decision to reprint them, and the response of some Muslim groups in demanding that the magazine be charged with hate crimes and applying to have its senior staff brought before the Alberta Human Rights Commission, I have been giving some thought to what freedom of speech is and what it is not. I decided to approach this apophatically. Here are a few of my thoughts.

I agree that freedom of speech is not the right to deliberately incite hatred against others but freedom of speech is not the freedom to only hear or read things that you find inoffensive or agree with. In addition, those who exercise the right to free speech properly cannot be held responsible if hateful individuals take their material and use it to spread their poison.

Additionally, freedom of speech is not the freedom to print only that which maintains the status quo of society. Free speech without the right to challenge what is sacred, to divide public opinion, to spread heresies, to enrage and to offend is impotent.

Freedom of speech does not mean that just because you can say something that you should. But it also does not mean that you should be pressured not to say something when you can.

Just a few preliminary thoughts; I welcome your comments.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Because We Keep Getting Asked About Catholics

Almost every week, I receive at least one email or telephone call asking why we mention Roman Catholics in our Persecution & Prayer Alerts and in our monthly newsletter. In many cases (but not all), the person asking is well-intentioned and polite. Many come from Roman Catholic backgrounds and now attend Protestant churches. Many express concerns that we might be straying from our founder, Richard Wurmbrand's vision for our mission. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

Since the founding of our mission in the late 1960's, the question of which denominations we support and which we do not, is one that we have been repeatedly asked. As mentioned before, these inquiries are often well-intentioned. Some are concerned when they notice that we typically do not emphasize the denominational background of those we work with. Some believe that VOMC should not provide aid or raise a voice on behalf of Christians of certain denominations, while others suspect that we discriminate against other denominations.

In 1999, The Voice of the Martyrs adopted a set of core values that both reflects many of the principles and practices that the mission had been following throughout the thirty years of our existence and, it was hoped, would provide guidance as we moved ahead into the future. It remains our constant desire to do God's work God's way and so we felt it was important for us to specify exactly what distinguishing values would guide our ministry to the Persecuted Church. The first two values that we codified are:

1. We believe and hold to an EVANGELICAL theology, based on the inspired Word of God, committed to unity in the essential beliefs of the historical Christian faith and freedom to differ in nonessentials.

2. We believe in being NON-DENOMINATIONAL in practice and scope of ministry. We will, therefore, work with and assist persecuted Christians regardless of their denominational affiliation.

From the founding of the mission in 1969, The Voice of the Martyrs has been committed to the values reflected in the statements above. As a mission, we are not financially supported or governed by any particular denomination. The same is true when it comes to whom we will work with when we minister to the Persecuted Church. As our Core Values state, "We will, therefore, work with and assist persecuted Christians regardless of their denominational affiliation."

The key word, of course, is Christians. Therefore, groups such as the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses' and other pseudo-Christian heresies are not the focus of our ministry. We are not a human rights organization that actively works on behalf of all religious groups (although we uphold the principle that religious liberty is a God-given right that must be extended to all, even - perhaps, even especially - to those whom we disagree with).

Our focus of ministry is on those who are mistreated because their persecutors consider them Christians and, therefore, they suffer imprisonment, torture, discrimination and even death. Militant Muslims, Hindus and Communists do not make the denominational distinctions that we are so prone to make. They care very little whether the church they burn down is Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran or Pentecostal. They do not ask for the believers to pull out their catechisms before they slap chains on their wrists, thereby guaranteeing that they imprison only "real" Christians. We may not agree, as evangelical Protestants, with all of the doctrinal beliefs of some of these denominations. Having said that, however, we do not believe that it is in our mandate to go beyond the boundaries of historically accepted creeds such as the Nicene Creed in defining (in the broadest sense) what Christian belief is. Were we a church or a church planting mission, this would be an entirely different matter.

We realize that the approach that we have adopted as a mission leaves us open to criticism and accusations of compromising the faith. We readily admit that it is a difficult position to maintain at times. But every day we are reminded of one unavoidable truth: the persecutors care very little for denominational distinctiveness when they go about their evil deeds. Should we, therefore, be more selective than they, in our acts of mercy and compassion?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Partnership Requests From Faraway Places

Last week I received a phone call from a pastor, asking for some information on security issues involved in ministering in a certain south Asian country. As the conversation progressed, it came out that he was planning a trip to this country on the basis of an invitation to come and speak at a crusade in the capital city; an invitation that came out of the blue from someone whom he did not know but who had sent him an email. As I understand it, the email expressed a desire on the part of this indigenous ministry to "partner" with this pastor and his small congregation.

As gently as I could, I explained to this dear man of God that such offers are commonplace and that I receive several every week from a number of countries. I clarified that such invitations always carry expectations of continued financial support afterwards and that these crusades were relatively simple to arrange and were usually attended by vast crowds of people who were enticed to attend through the offer of a meal, gifts, books or healing from ailments (or a combination of them). To hold a crusade where thousands attend in some south Asian countries is really rather easy, just so long as the invited guest pays the expenses. The primary reason for such invitations, I explained, was not to bring people to Christ but to bring the guest to the country so that a patron/client relationship could be created whereby the guest would feel compelled to support such a "successful" ministry (after all, thousands attended the meeting and look at how many people came forward for salvation!) when he or she returned home.

This wonderful man was flabbergasted but it confirmed some of his unspoken fears. He had wondered how this group had gotten his email address in the first place. It's easy, I said. They found your email on a website somewhere, probably that of your denomination. I encouraged him to graciously decline the invitation unless this group was prepared to pay for all of his expenses and those of the crusade (which they are never prepared to do!).

The relief in this man's voice was palpable as we finished our discussion. He had very nearly been the victim of a tragic practice; one that has ensnared a number of well-meaning men and women from the West. They are often wonderful ministers who labour in relative obscurity and who were flattered to have been invited to a foreign country to serve the Lord. When there, they are treated like celebrities and are so impressed by what they see, that they commit to supporting the indigenous ministry afterwards. They are often told that "no one else supports us" (which is often not true) and that God had led them to contact them specifically (which, I suppose is possible, but highly unlikely).

Related to this are the emails from those who claim to have fled from a persecuted country to some other country and are now asking us to help them to make a refugee claim to Canada. What is amazing to me is how, while they often claim to have no money for food or shelter, they seem to be able to afford to send out repeated messages to people all over the Western world from an Internet café. I have travelled enough to know that the Internet is not cheap in most developing world countries.

For the record, The Voice of the Martyrs never responds to such requests made over the Internet. We have never found even one of them to have ever been legitimate. My advice to you when you receive these kinds of emails (and you will); ignore them and don't feel guilty about it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Blessed Are the Noisy?

This week, I read of how Rwandan police are cracking down on noisy churches and confiscating instruments from eleven congregations around the country in recent days. Apparently, these actions were in line with new laws on noise pollution. Like churches in many countries, it is not uncommon for churches in Rwanda to crank up the volume during their service, thereby disturbing the neighbours. The same restrictions have also been imposed on local mosques and night clubs.

A number of years ago, I was in Nicaragua for a pastor's seminar where I was the main speaker. Following one service, a couple of pastors took me aside and wanted to share with me concerning the "persecution" they were facing in their town. It seems that those who lived near the church had complained about the volume of the music during their worship services early on Sunday mornings and in the evenings when the neighbourhood children were trying to sleep. Authorities had informed the church that they needed to turn down their volume or face fines. This, the pastors claimed, was persecution.

With tongue in cheek, I suggested to them that there was a relatively easy way to deal with this problem. Would they like to know, I asked, how to end this persecution. Yes, they said. They were anxious to find out that the solution was. "Turn down your volume!" was all I said.

In the years since, I have heard of similar cases of "persecution" throughout Latin America, South Asia, and Africa. It seems to be a rather common problem actually. To which, I really would like an answer to the questions: "Why is it that we seem to believe that it is a good witness to our neighbours to annoy them by deliberately broadcasting our services over outside loudspeakers or turning up the volumes of our internal sound systems to ear shattering decibels? Do we honestly think that they will feel compelled to rush over and hear the good news after we have woken up their babies to the sound of electric guitars, drums and keyboards?" Yes, we have a story to tell to the nations, but we don’t need to do it all at once with a cataclysmic auditory bombardment!

In some of these services that I have attended, I have actually had to leave the building for a few minutes during the singing in order to avoid getting a migraine headache and have jokingly suggested at times to certain congregations that it is a good thing that they believe in healing because they must have their hands full in healing those with hearing loss.

Jesus said that we are to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves in our dealings with a hostile world. The practice of making a joyful sonic blast is neither wise nor innocent.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Being Mocked: The Essence of Christ’s Work, Not Muhammad’s

By John Piper

Originally publishing on February 8, 2006 ( Used in accordance with copyright restrictions.

What we saw this past week in the Islamic demonstrations over the Danish cartoons of Muhammad was another vivid depiction of the difference between Muhammad and Christ, and what it means to follow each. Not all Muslims approve the violence. But a deep lesson remains: The work of Muhammad is based on being honored and the work of Christ is based on being insulted. This produces two very different reactions to mockery.

If Christ had not been insulted, there would be no salvation. This was his saving work: to be insulted and die to rescue sinners from the wrath of God. Already in the Psalms the path of mockery was promised: “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads” (Psalm 22:7). “He was despised and rejected by men . . . as one from whom men hide their faces . . . and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).

When it actually happened it was worse than expected. “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head. . . . And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they spit on him” (Matthew 27:28-30). His response to all this was patient endurance. This was the work he came to do. “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

This was not true of Muhammad. And Muslims do not believe it is true of Jesus. Most Muslims have been taught that Jesus was not crucified. One Sunni Muslim writes, “Muslims believe that Allah saved the Messiah from the ignominy of crucifixion.”1 Another adds, “We honor [Jesus] more than you [Christians] do. . . . We refuse to believe that God would permit him to suffer death on the cross.”2 An essential Muslim impulse is to avoid the “ignominy” of the cross.

That’s the most basic difference between Christ and Muhammad and between a Muslim and a follower of Christ. For Christ, enduring the mockery of the cross was the essence of his mission. And for a true follower of Christ enduring suffering patiently for the glory of Christ is the essence of obedience. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11). During his life on earth Jesus was called a bastard (John 8:41), a drunkard (Matthew 11:19), a blasphemer (Matthew 26:65), a devil (Matthew 10:25); and he promised his followers the same: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matthew 10:25).

The caricature and mockery of Christ has continued to this day. Martin Scorsese portrayed Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ as wracked with doubt and beset with sexual lust. Andres Serrano was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts to portray Jesus on a cross sunk in a bottle of urine. The Da Vinci Code portrays Jesus as a mere mortal who married and fathered children.

How should his followers respond? On the one hand, we are grieved and angered. On the other hand, we identify with Christ, and embrace his suffering, and rejoice in our afflictions, and say with the apostle Paul that vengeance belongs to the Lord, let us love our enemies and win them with the gospel. If Christ did his work by being insulted, we must do ours likewise.

When Muhammad was portrayed in twelve cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, the uproar across the Muslim world was intense and sometimes violent. Flags were burned, embassies were torched, and at least one Christian church was stoned. The cartoonists went into hiding in fear for their lives, like Salman Rushdie before them. What does this mean?

It means that a religion with no insulted Savior will not endure insults to win the scoffers. It means that this religion is destined to bear the impossible load of upholding the honor of one who did not die and rise again to make that possible. It means that Jesus Christ is still the only hope of peace with God and peace with man. And it means that his followers must be willing to “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).

1 Badru D. Kateregga and David W. Shenk, Islam and Christianity: A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue (Nairobi: Usima Press, 1980), p. 141.
2 Quoted from The Muslim World in J. Dudley Woodberry, editor, Muslims and Christians on the Emmaus Road (Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1989), p. 164.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Paul Marshall on the Jyllands-Posten Cartoons

An article by Paul Marshall, senior fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom and author of a number of books on religious liberty and Islam, was published today on the National Review Online entitled, Misrepresentations of Islam. In it he writes:

In the aftermath of Jyllands-Posten's cartoons, as the Danish government and European media face death and mayhem designed to undercut freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, we should rid ourselves of certain misconceptions. One is that Islam forbids any visual portrayal of Mohammed; another is that such depictions of Mohammed are extremely unusual.

There is a strong tradition within Islam that making portraits of Mohammed is wrong, but it is by no means universal. Some, especially Shiites, believe it is legitimate.

I would strongly recommend that you read this important article, as Marshall forcefully contends that supporting the publication of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons is vital to upholding religious freedom and freedom of expression. He concludes his article by stating, " If we yield now to pressures for censorship, Islamists and authoritarian regimes overseas will have learned that by undercutting our trade, attacking our embassies, and threatening our citizens, they can control our press, just as they do their own, and they will take those lessons to heart."

You can find the entire article at

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Democratization is No Simple Solution

In his State of the Union address, President Bush reaffirmed his commitment to continue his policy of democratization in the Middle East. "Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction," he declared. "Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer--so we will act boldly in freedom's cause."

If only the world were so simple. F. Gregory Gause III, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Vermont and Director of its Middle East Studies Program, has written two articles for Foreign Affairs in recent months debunking the assertion that promoting the democratic elections in the Islamic world will, by its very nature, diminish terrorism and enhance national security. As a follow-up to his September/October 2005 essay "Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?", Foreign Affairs has just released Gause's latest essay, "Beware of What You Wish For" as an online feature (

In his first essay, Gause predicted that the American administration's emphasis on elections as the measure of success for its democratization policy was likely to produce victories for Islamist political groups in the Middle East as they are the best organized and most popular political movements in most countries in the region. In his follow-up essay, he shows how this prediction has played out:

*Nearly two-thirds of candidates elected to the new Iraqi parliament in December 2005 won on platforms that explicitly called for a greater role for Islam in politics. Among the 215 Arab parliamentarians elected (the others being Kurds and smaller minority group representatives), 81 percent campaigned on lists that were sectarian and Islamist, while only 9 percent came from former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's explicitly secular, non-sectarian, and multiethnic Iraqi National List.

* In Egypt's parliamentary elections in November and December 2005, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats, 20 percent of the 444 elected seats despite progressively greater government interference over the three rounds of balloting. That figure understates the significance of the Brotherhood's showing. The group had fielded only about 150 candidates as part of a tacit agreement with the government that allowed Brotherhood candidates to campaign openly, and so it won almost 60 percent of the seats it contested. Liberal, leftist, and nationalist opposition parties won a paltry 11 seats, fewer than 3 percent of the total.

* And in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas--the political wing of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood--won a stunning victory against the long-dominant Fatah, the Palestinian nationalist movement founded by Yasir Arafat. Hamas carried 56 percent of the seats against Fatah's 34 percent and 7 percent for liberal, leftist, and other nationalist parties.

I would encourage you to read the entire essay, together with his first essay. Both are available on the Foreign Affairs website They are provocative reading that compel us to rethink our presuppositions, regardless of whether we agree with all of his conclusions.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Point Has Been Made: Islamic Violence as a Tool of Censorship

Apparently, when the editors of Denmark's Jyllands-Posten published the twelve cartoons of Muhammed back in September, it was done to demonstrate the point that free societies face an increasing fear of the threat of Muslim violence.

It began when an author of a book on the Muslim prophet Muhammad complained that he could find no artist willing to illustrate his book, because everyone he approached was afraid of being targeted for assassination by Muslims if the book was deemed “offensive to Islam.”

That this fear should cause authors to avoid writing and artists to avoid to illustrating on religious topics for fear of violent retaliation is tragic. Such fear is inconsistent with a free society and must be resisted with all diligence. It was with this in mind, that the Jyllands-Posten invited local artists to send in their illustrations of Muhammad. “We will not be intimidated” was the clear message that they wished to send.

Sadly, in the face of the explosive and violent response on the part of Muslims around the world, the Jyllands-Posten succumbed to the very fear that they were trying to speak against as they were eventually intimidated into apologizing for printing the cartoons.

But the point has been made. Make no mistake; these cartoons were not published to spread hatred or intolerance. They were printed to demonstrate that Muslim intolerance threatens the freedoms we value. The violent protest that we have witnessed in the past few days is clear evidence that the danger of self-censorship because of fear (which the Jyllands-Posten wanted to stand against) is entirely justified.

If self-censorship is necessary, let it be because one does not want to instigate intolerance and hatred and not because one is afraid of experiencing it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Chaos Over Cartoons

Sheikh Yussef al-Qaradawi, a leading Islamic cleric and head of the International Association of Muslim Scholars called for an "international day of anger for God and his prophet" today over the recent republication of twelve cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in the European press. Make no mistake, this man is not calling for peaceful demonstrations. The Egyptian-born cleric who has Qatari citizenship and is based in Doha, is known for his support of militant groups like Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad and resistance groups fighting in Iraq.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Ahmed Akkari, a Muslim theologian from Copenhagen warned that "a clash of civilisations" could break out in Europe as newspapers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland decided to reproduce the twelve cartoons (click to see the cartoons over which all the fuss has been about).

I don't know whether these cartoons constitute hatred, bad taste, or freedom of the press. What I am interested in is how, once again, we see scholars and practitioners of Islam acting rather contrary to their worn-out assertions that Islam is a religion of peace. Contrast the roar of protest, violence, and threats sweeping through the Islamic world with what happens when Christian are killed, abused, or have their beliefs insulted publicly. Rather than calling for an "international day of anger", we call for an "international day of prayer." Rather than warning that mosques could be bombed as a result of the insult (as warnings have been issued that churches could be bombed as a result of these cartoons), Christians are urged to pray for those who insult them and to do good to them. Rather than burning flags and effigies, we write letters, asking for respect and justice without threatening retaliation if our requests are not met. Yes, we too may boycott the products of a nation (just as Muslims are being urged to boycott Danish products), but we do not make it a matter of righteousness before God. We mourn, we pray, we ask for justice, we may even decide to immigrate if we feel that the time has come to find a place where we can practice our faith according to our own conscience. But we do not hold our society hostage with warnings of violence. We do not act like the spoiled bully in the playground of the world who throws a violent tantrum every time someone calls us a nasty name.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

"The End of the Spear" A Noble Project Bungled.

In 2005, Here TV! a gay and lesbian television network aired "Third Man Out", a detective story that, according to the publicity promos, was about "tough-guy detective Donald Strachey, a man who moves through the hard-boiled crime world with ease, taking care of himself, rooting out corruption, busting the bad guys, and, oh yes, making out with guys at the same time. Well, at least between arrests."

Well, that sounds like wonderful family viewing, doesn't it? Oh, and by the way, the actor who plays Donald Strachey is the same one who plays Nate and Steve Saint in the recently released "The End of the Spear." His name: Chad Allen, an openly gay man and an outspoken gay activist whose mission, according to his website, is to normalize homosexuality. He lists his favourite charity as The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and in 2003 started a production company, Mythgarden, that is designed to champion features that actively promote the message that “gay is good”.

I don't know about you, but I think I would find it hard, if not impossible, to suspend belief in a movie theatre and see Chad Allen as a missionary martyr for the Gospel. Hence, I will not go to view this movie when it finally opens in Canada, nor will I recommend it to others.

The filmmakers say they didn't know about Allen's lifestyle until after they offered him a contract in late 2003. My response is, "Come on, folks. Do your homework. Allen publicly acknowledged that he was gay in the October 9, 2001 issue of The Advocate."

Of course, executive producer Mart Green and Steve Saint are knee-deep in damage control. In an email to Christianity Today (, Steve tries to justify his decision to keep Allen on board, even after Allen offered to break the contract, based on a dream that he had where God apparently told him that it was His will that Allen play this role. I do not doubt Saint's sincerity. But I do question his suggestion that this is the kind of decision that God would not only sanction but might actually ordain. When things go south, it is so easy to try to find justification in subjective experiences that one hopes come from God.

And before I am accused of being a Pharisee or a closed minded bigot, allow me to state that my objection to casting Chad Allen is not that he is a homosexual but because he proclaims very publicly that what he does is not a sin, but actually a grace. He has become a public figure because of this, which the makers of this movie should have caught were they truly doing their job. It is hard to believe their pleas that they did not know.

Additionally, this movie has Allen cast in the role of a Christian martyr who gives up his life for the sake of the Gospel. Nate Saint was a man whose courage motivated countless young people to go to the mission field in the years following his martyrdom. Of course, I am not asking for perfection in actors who play Christian roles, any more than I would expect perfection from those whose lives are being portrayed by these imperfect actors. But is it unrealistic to hope that someone who would play a character who, together with his colleagues, had such a critical role in the history of world missions in the 20th century be someone who has responded to the grace of God? At the very least, shouldn’t it be someone who doesn’t blatantly flaunt and propagate his depravity?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Finally an Anti-Hatred Law That Makes Some Sense

Yesterday's narrow vote by the British House of Commons to reject the Labour government's "Racial and Religious Hatred Bill" and to adopt the House of Lord's amended version is, in my opinion, a vote in favour of freedom of speech for people of all religious belief in the United Kingdom. The originally proposed legislation was drawn far too widely and there were concerns that it could have potentially been used to outlaw all criticism of religious belief. This could have had significant dampening effect on evangelistic and apologetic ministries, as well as on groups like The Voice of the Martyrs in the UK who report on the persecution of Christians by members of other religions.

Under the passed legislation, prosecutors must prove that offending parties actually intended to incite hatred towards another's religion. The burden of proof lies with the prosecutor to prove incitement rather than with the accused to prove that he did not intend to spread hatred. This is a subtle but significant distinction in supporting the premise that someone is innocent until proven guilty.

This amended bill is a noteworthy piece of legislation that, I think, finds the right balance between absolute freedom of speech and censorship. This bill makes it possible for British Christians to discuss and critique other religions, proclaim the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ and draw attention to the persecution of Christians for religious reasons. The right to do all of these was somewhat murky under the originally proposed legislation tabled by Tony Blair's government. At the same time, it protects religious adherents from abuse by malicious individuals and groups intent on spreading hatred and intolerance.

I hope that other governments will look at this legislation and see the wisdom in it. This is an anti-hate law that finally makes sense.