This WEA RLC annual Religious Liberty Trends posting will focus on two global
1) apostasy, apostaphobia, and postmodernism;
2) the New Cold War.
Most localised trends, tensions, repressions and "hot" conflicts are actually
expressions or symptoms of these two global trends.
Apostaphobia may be defined as a consuming, well-founded fear of loss of
adherents, which manifests primarily as zealous, uncompromising repression and
denial of fundamental liberties -- in particular the right to convert -- by
violent and subversive means.
While the section on apostasy, apostaphobia, and postmodernism focuses
entirely on the phenomenon of Muslim apostates and the apostaphobia of the
dictators of Islam, the issue of apostaphobia also applies to India's
dictators of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) who are behind the unprecedented,
severe and escalating persecution of Christians in India. For while
apostaphobic dictators claim that their apostaphobia is driven by a noble
concern for national security and religious purity, tradition and (ironically)
"liberty", apostaphobia is actually driven by political ambition and the lure
of empowerment through religion. That is why apostaphobia manifests almost
exclusively amongst leaders and beneficiaries of sects or organisations that
do not separate religion and politics: Islam, Hindutva and various other
The main focus of this posting, however, is the New Cold War that coming upon
us and is set to have a profound and negative impact on global religious
liberty. The trend is going to be for persecution and repression to get a
whole lot worse. An 800-word summary entitled "Not by might, nor by power" has
been written for the March-May edition of the Australian Evangelical Alliance
quarterly magazine, Working Together, which will be available on-line at
< http://www.ea.org.au > from mid-March.
APOSTASY, APOSTAPHOBIA, & POSTMODERNISM
In 1989 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) crushed pro-democracy protests in
Tiananmen Square. The brutality of this repression shook multitudes of Chinese
from their apathy and drove them -- particularly students, intellectuals and
professionals -- to reassess atheistic Communism and the CCP's dictatorship.
Widespread disillusionment led to widespread rejection of CCP repression and a
significant turning to Christ amongst the Chinese elite.
Similarly, globalisation and the revolution in information and communication
technologies have exposed Muslims to the reality of Islamic terrorism (such as
9/11), repression (particularly of women), barbarism (such as in public
executions), backwardness (widespread poverty and illiteracy, destruction of
schools), propaganda and lies (as weapons of war) and irrational hysteria
(such as was displayed in the Cartoon Intifada of February 2006). This has
shaken many Muslims from their apathy and driven them -- particularly
students, intellectuals and professionals -- to examine their religion and
reassess their faith. Just as in China, widespread disillusionment is leading
to apostasy and a not-insignificant turning to Christ amongst the Muslim elite.
Presently the exodus from Islam is little more than a trickle, but that is
because the dam that holds back the masses is built primarily of fear. One of
the most phenomenal trends of 2007 was the eruption into the open and onto the
world stage, not of the issue of apostasy (for religious liberty advocates
have been raising the issue for years) but of apostates themselves.
The apostates who are courageously stepping out of shadows and into the open
to pursue their right to religious liberty with security are fighting their
own fear in the hope that if their fear can be conquered it will be one less
brick in the dam wall.
APOSTATES STAND UP
Increasingly, refugees and immigrants from the Muslim world are apostasising
in the West. Furthermore, though apostasy may be costly, some European
ex-Muslims are summoning the courage to stand up and speak up for their rights.
The German Council of Ex-Muslims was founded in March 2007, the Council of
Ex-Muslims of Britain was founded in June 2007, and similar organisations also
exist in Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
In the Netherlands, the Central Committee for Ex-Muslims was launched on 11
September 2007. The group's founder, Ehsan Jami (22) explained to the media:
"Sharia schools say that they will kill the ones who leave Islam. In the West
people get threatened, thrown out of their family, beaten up. In Islam you are
born Muslim. You do not even choose to be Muslim. We want that to change, so
that people are free to choose who they want to be and what they want to
believe in." (Link 1)
Concerning the 9/11 launch date, Mr Jami said, "We chose the date because we
want to make a clear statement that we no longer tolerate the intolerance of
Violence and death threats have forced Mr Jami into hiding. Between May 2007,
when he announced his plans for the Committee, and August 2007, Mr Jami was
violently attacked by Muslim fundamentalists on three separate occasions.
While declaring oneself an "ex-Muslim" in the free West may be dangerous and
costly, making that declaration in the Arab Muslim heartland has historically
been suicidal. Despite this, on 2 August 2007 Mohammad Hegazi became the first
Egyptian born-Muslim to sue Egypt's Interior Ministry for his fundamental
human right to leave Islam and follow the religion of his choice
(Christianity). That the 'Great Apostasy Debate' should erupt into the open in
the Arab world, in the Islamic heartland, is simply phenomenal. (Link 2)
In his pre-Islamic days (pre AD 622) Muhammad was a sincere and passionate
religious reformer motivated by a deep respect for the local Jews and
Christians. In vain he called the polytheistic Arabs to turn from their
idolatry and sought recognition as a prophet from the Jews and Christians. The
Arabs rejected and persecuted him, and the Jews and Christians rejected and
refused to recognise him. But unlike the prophets in whose footsteps he
claimed to be following, Muhammad refused to suffer rejection. His response
was to compromise his message by absorbing and Islamising pre-Islamic Arabian
religion (which made it easier for the Arabs to submit to him) whilst
mandating death for polytheism (a threat that made it even easier still!).
Then, to ensure that rejection would no longer be an option, he mandated death
for blasphemy and apostasy. Islam and the dictators of Islam have been
protected by these means for 1400 years.
Lying at the very heart of the efforts of the Organisation of Islamic
Conference (OIC) to "combat defamation of religion" (specifically Islam) is
not a commitment to truth, tolerance or peace, but the fact that the dictators
of Islam are now as ever consumed with and driven by "apostaphobia". (Link 3)
A spiritual battle for the Muslim world has commenced in earnest. As apostasy
advances, the apostaphobic dictators of Islam will intensify persecution with
the aim of consolidating fear to stem the flow. The battle will be costly and
bloody, especially in the Middle East where US influence is waning and Iran is
fast becoming the new hegemon.
The Church must give its full and active support to these courageous apostates
regardless of the cost. The Western world has for far too long been turning
its back on Islam's victims -- apostates, women, persecuted minorities
(especially dhimmis: Jews and Christians under Islamic subjugation) --
choosing instead, short-term political and economic geo-strategic gains to the
detriment of justice and long-term security.
Even in the Church, Islam's victims, in particular persecuted and subjugated
Christians, are frequently rejected, betrayed and abandoned by Christians
pursuing comfortable stress-free, feel-good religion; as well as by those
pursuing appeasement or rapprochement with Islam at any cost.
Surely the greatest threat to the nations and churches and individuals who
abandon the Lord's children, comes not just from the hostile forces they
empower, but from the Father of the suffering Church, the Almighty Lord God
himself. For in all their affliction, he too is afflicted (Isaiah 63:9;
Matthew 25:45). We cannot reject, betray and abandon the suffering Church and
expect God to sympathise with our duplicity.
"Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise? He who
planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see? He
who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke?" (Psalm 94:8-10 ESV)
Due to globalisation and the revolution in communication and information
technologies, it is now easier to spread news, information and the gospel
around the world than ever before. One would think it is just a matter of time
before light conquers darkness and truth is victorious!
However, as noted earlier, this is a spiritual battle, and so we should not be
surprised to find that a spiritual counter-offensive has been launched. Just
as an era of irreversible, irresistible openness has come upon the world, the
West, including much of the Church, is submitting to the spirit of the age:
postmodernism, which specifically targets truth. As the world opens up to
truth, the post-modern church abandons it, or at least abandons its claim to
it. Not only does postmodernism cripple evangelism, but because post-modern
Christians believe truth is relative, they have a really hard time supporting
or even caring about Christians who are prepared to suffer and die for it. The
devil is such a cunning adversary.
THE NEW COLD WAR: IMPLICATIONS FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
After World War Two, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO,
< http://www.nato.int/ >) was created to protect Western Europe from Communist
imperialism. The socialist states responded by creating their own military
treaty: the Warsaw Pact. A Cold War raged between the two nuclear-armed blocs
for nearly half-a-century.
When Communism fell and the Cold War ended (1989-1991) there was great
optimism that swords could now be beat into ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4b) -- that
an age of global peace, harmony and friendship had dawned. Alas, it was not to
be, for sin and human weakness still reigned and the Soviet Union's transition
was totally bungled by both Russia and America.
The break up of the Soviet Union (1991) and the devastating collapse of the
Russian economy left America as the world's only superpower. The Warsaw Pact
dissolved, but NATO remained and pursued eastward expansion. And while America
ruled the world (so to speak), Russia transitioned from superpower to
gangster-capitalist oligarchy to rising siloviki state.
(The siloviki are mostly former-KGB and military officers who, as the state
and socialist system were collapsing, quietly enriched themselves whilst
infiltrating every aspect of society, including the democracy and reform
movements, with the aim of eventually restoring themselves to power.)
Upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia's borders were rolled back
almost overnight to roughly where they were in 1613. Islam quickly exploited
this unprecedented opportunity and inserted itself into the newly open,
chaotic, impoverished spaces. Islamic missionaries bearing oil money from the
Gulf were welcomed, as were trained, battle-hardy mujahideen from Afghanistan
who adopted the various nationalist struggles (before converting them into
Islamic jihads!). Before long, southern Russia, western China and Central Asia
were being seriously threatened by imperialistic Islamic revolutionary and
In response, China, Russia and Central Asia established the Shanghai
Cooperation Organisation (SCO < http://www.sectsco.org/ >), ostensibly for
friendship, trade, solidarity and co-operation in security issues, but also
and increasingly as a buffer against Western pressure and sanctions.
It is very difficult, especially when you have limited facilities and
institutions and all you know is heavy-handedness, to counter Islamic
revolutionary and terrorist forces without upsetting Western sensibilities.
The task is made all the more difficult because Islamic revolutionary and
terrorist forces, being militarily weak, routinely use human shields along
with lies and propaganda to manipulate the Western media in order to extract
concessions and even co-opt assistance from the West.
(Vietnam's Communists perfected this form of psychological warfare in the
early 1970s and shared it with the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation).
It has since been used to great effect by Islamic groups from Netzarim, Jenin
and Beirut in the Middle East; to Gorazde, Srebrenica and Racak in the
Balkans, and in May 2005 to Andijan in the Central Asian state of Uzbekistan
(re Andijan, see link 4).)
In summary: no sooner had the Cold War ended, than the nations of the world
were shuffling into new blocs. We are now headed for a New Cold War, this time
with a triangular formation of three blocs: NATO (or US+EU+allies), the SCO
and the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference,
< http://www.oic-oci.org/oicnew/ >. This bloc also includes those sub-Saharan
African states that, while not OIC members, have sold their independence to
Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi).
Despite the competition inside each bloc -- America vs Europe (NATO), Russia
vs China (SCO), Sunni vs Shi'ite (OIC) -- each bloc is committed to
consolidating its power and expanding its sphere of influence.
IMPLICATIONS FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
The OIC and SCO blocs represent not only the world's most repressive regimes
but the world's most energy-rich states. As these blocs consolidate, the
influence of the US -- which leads the world's bloc of liberal democracies --
declines. Bolstered by their alliances and their power (wielded increasingly
through control of oil and gas), repressive regimes now have little motivation
to yield to US pressure to improve religious liberty or increase openness.
Furthermore, as NATO continues its eastward expansion, all the while
criticising and shaming the SCO states for their short-comings with regard to
democracy and human rights, the SCO states are increasingly viewing America
and NATO (which is normally viewed as a vehicle to advance American hegemony)
as competitive and hostile. This fuels a vicious cycle of tension and
suspicion, which is resulting in an escalation in persecution of Protestants
(and Catholics) in SCO states -- states which only a decade ago were pursuing
reform and seeking American rapprochement.
Meanwhile, Islam is not only consolidating, but lining up behind its new
hegemon: Iran. As US influence wanes in the Middle East, the Balkans and in
Asia, Muslim leadership will no longer have the motivation to pursue
moderation or reform, or to restrain hostile Islamic forces. The degree to
which evangelicals in the Middle East and the Balkans have been tolerated and
protected for purposes of public relations and propaganda may soon become evident.
One of the greatest tragedies of our times is that after the fall of
Communism, the Russian parliament was still dominated by Communist die-hards
who were able to pull strings and spoil reforms; while US policy remained
influenced by anti-Russian sentiment and "Russia experts" for whom Communism
and Russia were forever synonymous. This ensured that post-Communist Russia
continued to be treated as a threat. The opportunity for the rapprochement
that could have neutralised Islam was lost.
America vs Russia tensions are particularly problematic in those regions where
the interests of the OIC, the SCO and NATO (or US+EU) compete: in particular
the "non-aligned" religious fault-line regions of the Balkans and the South
Caucuses. NATO got its foothold in the Balkans at the expense of the Serbian
Orthodox southern Slavs (natural allies of Russia's Orthodox Slavs) by
empowering Iran, Saudi and al-Qaeda backed Islamic terrorist and separatist
forces -- the mutual enemy of the NATO and SCO states. US competitive zeal for
markets and hegemony can sometimes be so intense that it overrides all
considerations regarding long-term global security. Likewise, Russia got a
foothold in West-leaning Georgia by supporting Muslim ethnic separatism in the
autonomous (self-declared independent) province of Abkhazia.
But empowering Islamic and separatist forces in those religious fault-line
regions benefits only Islam. It certainly does not bring any benefit to the
"pawns" in this New Great Game. Abkhazia, Georgia and Kosovo, Serbia are both
occupied (Abkhazia by Russia; Kosovo by NATO/EU), havens for organised crime,
threatened by Islamic fundamentalism (Chechen and KLA respectively), and as a
consequence are economic no-go zones, dependent on foreign aid and
"peacekeeping" forces. Because of this, the largest European IDP (Internally
Displaced People) populations are Serbian and Georgian. (Along with some
508,000 refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, Serbia also has some
246,000 IDPs from Kosovo; while Georgia has some 243,200 IDPs from Abkhazia).
(UNHCR and ECRE)
Eventually the citizens of these "liberated" yet unviable micro-states
(Abkhazia and Kosovo -- for starters) will end up with less rights and
prospects than they ever had as Muslim ethnic minorities in secular states.
This idiocy is all driven by New Cold War politics, and Islam and ethnic
separatism are the only real winners. (Rather than waging jihads, today's
militarily weak Islam is spreading and consolidating by means of predatory
migrations followed by Muslim ethnic separatism and irredentism. They win over
the West with propaganda and talk of rights, liberty and democracy. They are
having great success.)
Meanwhile, the OIC bloc has managed to get its resolution "Combating
Defamation of Religions" passed in the UN General Assembly by a recorded vote
of 108 in favour to 51 against, with 25 abstentions. This was of course thanks
to the support of the anti-American SCO bloc which is made up of states that,
considering the Islamic terror that snaps at their heels, should know better.
As the three blocs consolidate, the only way to tackle the threat of Islamic
imperialism will be for the NATO and SCO blocs to stop competing and start
co-operating: militarily, politically and economically, for the sake of our
mutual interest -- long-term global security.
A WORD ON THE MIDDLE EAST
On 29 January 2008, Stratfor Intelligence (Geopolitical Diary) stated: "Al
Qaeda, the reason for being involved in the region [the Middle East] in the
first place, is essentially dead. The various Sunni Arab powers that made al
Qaeda possible have lined up behind Washington. Iran and the United States may
still wish to quibble over details, but the strategic picture is clearing: a
US-led coalition is going to shape the Middle East, and it is up to Iran
whether it wants to play the role of that coalition's spear or its target."
This is one occasion where I find myself in strong disagreement with Stratfor.
First, I do not believe that al Qaeda is "dead". Secondly, I do not accept
that the Sunni Arab powers are "lined up behind Washington". Just because Arab
sheiks and princes shake hands with President Bush and buy American weapons
doesn't necessarily mean they are "lined up behind Washington". For while
Washington has been courting the Sunni Arabs, the Sunni Arabs have been
On 3-4 December 2007, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the
first foreign leader to attend the summit of the Gulf Co-operation Council
(GCC) in Doha, Qatar (a US ally). Arab journalist Omran Salman comments on the
significance of this event by noting that the GCC (which comprises Bahrain,
Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) was "founded
in 1981 with the fundamental goal of standing up to the danger presented by
Iran to the states of the region . . ." (MEMRI: Link 6)
Salman also notes that in December 2007, "Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd
Al-'Aziz . . . hastened to send an official invitation to Ahmadinejad to
perform the hajj and thus become the first Iranian president to perform the
hajj while still in office . . . It doesn't take much to see," says Salman,
"that all this is a result of the uneasiness felt by the Gulf regimes friendly
to the US at Iran's increasing power and the US's retreating power." (Further
reporting, see link 7)
Salman also comments on US powerlessness vis-a-vis Syrian belligerence in
Lebanon, and on the restoration of relations between Egypt (another US ally)
and Iran, a relationship that was severed in 1979 on account of Egypt's
commitment to peace with Israel, Egypt's apprehension over Iran's Shi'ite
Islamic Revolution, and Egypt's distrust of Iran's regional intentions. Today
however, the first high level talks in 30 years are under way and the full
restoration of diplomatic ties may be imminent. (Further reporting see link 8)
Most significantly, Salman reports that while Ali Larijani, the representative
of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, was in Egypt in December he met with
various Arab leaders including Arab League Secretary-General 'Amr Moussa, who
"urged the Arabs to begin consulting and co-operating with Iran, emphasising
that expanding the relations between the two sides is something that is
'necessary and efficacious'. Likewise, Moussa spoke strongly about the
importance of Arab-Iranian co-operation in order to deal with the sensitive
situation in the region . . ." (MEMRI: Link 6)
I personally agree with Omar Salman's assessment that an era of Iranian
hegemony in the Middle East is upon us. As was explained and forecast in the
WEA RLC Trends 2006-2007 posting entitled "Shi'ite Ascendancy" (link 9), the
Shi'ites are seducing the Sunnis and uniting the sects through violence
against Israel. They started this process in 2006, using Hezballah (Shi'ite
proxy of Iran) in Lebanon and Hamas (Sunni, but sponsored by Iran) in Gaza.
While this is obviously bad news for Israel, it is also bad news for the
Christians of the Middle East, because eventually this violence will target
them as well, especially as US influence wanes -- or departs. For as the old
Muslim war-cry goes: "Baad a- Sabt biji Yom al-Ahad" ("After Saturday comes
Sunday", meaning, after we deal with the Jews we'll deal with the Christians).
While Sunnis and Shi'ites are traditionally enemies, we must never
underestimate the ability of Sunni and Shi'ite fundamentalists to unite for
the purpose of advancing Islam; they have done so in Chechnya against the
Russians and in Bosnia and Kosovo against the Serbs; they are doing so in the
Middle East against Israel and will do so against Middle Eastern Christians
when "Sunday" comes.
Yes, the Sunni Arab states are lining up, but it is behind apocalyptic Iran.
According to terrorism analyst Yossef Bodansky (Defense & Foreign Affairs
Strategic Policy 1, 2008), the US President has lined up behind Iran too, in
order to cut a deal whereby the US will not challenge Iranian hegemony in Iraq
and the wider region, in exchange for Iran's guarantee that the US can have an
honourable exit from Iraq (one resembling "achievement").
Since the reported November 2007 deal, the violence in Iraq has diminished,
Iran's nuclear program has been deemed non-threatening, the Sunni Arabs have
lined up behind Iran, and Ahmadinejad has purged his cabinet. (Further
reporting, see link 10)
With the Muslim bloc consolidating behind Iran it is difficult to see how
Mohammed Hegazi (an Egyptian apostate) can secure religious liberty for Egypt.
His courageous stand will, however, raise awareness of freedom and justice
issues, further expose Islamic repression and violence, and doubtless will be
used by God to generate many more apostates who will be in great need of
prayer and refuge.
A CLOSING WORD
As noted earlier, when the Cold War (1989-1991) ended there was great optimism
that swords could now be beat into ploughshares (Isaiah 2:4b) and that an age
of global peace, harmony and friendship may have dawned.
It is interesting to note, however, that in the Isaiah passage (Isaiah 2:1-5)
the changed social order is not the means to a changed spiritual order; rather
the changed social order is the result of a changed spiritual order.
We are entering dark days where war and persecution of the Church are set to
escalate markedly. But regardless of what is happening in this world, God is
still sovereign, his promises still stand, the Church is still his instrument
and prayer and mission-preaching-witness are still his appointed means.
'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts'
(Zechariah 4:6 ESV).
1) A New Brand of Nonbelievers
In a Divided Europe, Ex-Muslims Want to Be Heard. 17 Sept 2007http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=3607887&page=1
picture: Chairman of the Dutch Ex-Muslim committee Ehsan Jami (22) holds up a
red t-shirt that reads "I am an ex-Muslim too".
For full text see print version: http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=3607887
Young Muslims begin dangerous fight for the right to abandon faith
11 Sept 2007http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article2426314.ece
2) Compass Direct http://www.compassdirect.org/content/index.php?id=25
Egypt : Muslim Sues for Right to Convert to Christianity 7 Aug 2007
Egypt : Convert in Hiding after Lawyer Backs Out 8 Aug 2007
Egypt : Islamists Join Case against Convert to Christianity 10 Oct 2007
Egypt : In Hiding, Convert Continues Fight for Rights 15 Nov 2007
Egypt : Tempers Flare into Melee at Convert’s Hearing 25 Jan 2008
Egypt : Court Rules Against Convert 31 Jan 2008
Hegazi case: Islam's obsession with conversions
by Samir Khalil Samir sj, 29 Aug 2007http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=10161
3) UN Human Rights Council: Watershed days.
- UNHRC to choose between defending human rights and Islamising human rights.
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal. 17 Sep 2007http://www.worldevangelicals.org/commissions/rlc/reports/articles.htm?id=1411
4) Uzbekistan: A new wave of serious persecution may be just beginning.
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal. 23 March 2007http://www.ea.org.au/default.aspx?id=17ce4361-b6bc-43b2-b19c-50adbc92ab36
5) UN General Assembly adopts resolution against defamation of religions
20 December 2007http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2007/12/un-general-assembly-adopts-resolution.php
6) Editor of Liberal Arab Website Aafaq: The Era of Iranian Hegemony in the
Middle East Is Upon Us. 21 January 2008. Special Dispatch Series - No. 1817http://www.memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP181708
7) Ahmadinejad invited to be pilgrim. 13 Dec 2007http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7141994.stm
Abdullah, Ahmadinejad Hold Wide-Ranging Talks. 21 Dec 2007http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1§ion=0&article=104858&d=21&m=12&y=2007
8) Iran and Egypt 'to restore ties'. BBC, 28 Jan 2008http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7213093.stm
Al-Ahram, 31 January - 6 February 2008, Issue No. 882http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2008/882/eg4.htm
9) RL Trend: Shiite Ascendancy.
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal. 5 Feb 2007http://www.worldevangelicals.org/news/view.htm?id=892
10) Bush embarks on Saudi-brokered deal with Tehran.
28 Jan 2008. http://www.debka.com/article.php?aid=1321
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