by Richard Fernandez, Pajamasmedia, August 28, 2010
Readers may recall Maher El-Gohary, the subject of a post about a month ago. He was an Egyptian Muslim who decided to convert to Christianity, which resulted in a spate of death threats against him. Gohary attempted to escape the fate of an apostate by trying to emigrate to Australia, an application which was promptly denied. Although Western intellectuals believe Christianity is in decline, it is by some accounts the fastest growing religion in the world. China may soon be have the world’s biggest population of Christians. Inevitably, some of those who decide to become Christians are now Muslims. Apparently El-Gohary’s problem is quite widespread. Apostasy is becoming a global problem and a number of protests have been scheduled in cities throughout the world to support the right of Muslims to change their religion. I attended the first of these at Martin Place in Sydney and was surprised to hear Barack Obama’s name mentioned in connection with the El-Gohary case. More on this later, but in the meantime, I listened to Mark Durie’s explanation on the subject.
Durie’s remarks can be heard in their entirety here and here. They are only about 12 minutes long but had to be split into two videos to get under the ten minute YouTube limit. Basically Durie argued that Sharia law was set up like the Hotel California. You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave. You could become a Muslim, but it was nearly impossible to stop being one. That fact was becoming increasingly recognized, said Durie, as more people in the West looked into it and it was beginning to cause the severe PR problems for the Islamic world.
His remarks were delivered to a crowd consisting mostly of Australians of Arab descent, some of whom I knew to be former Muslims. The protesters tried to frame the problem of apostates within the framework of Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that people have a right to choose their religion.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
The goals of the protesters are pretty basic. They want Western public opinion to accept that it is legitimate to challenge Islamic precepts and are using the UN’s principles to do it. President Obama’s now famous remarks about the right to build a mosque at Ground Zero were essentially a restatement of the principles of Article 18. The president told a group gathered for a Ramadan feast that “our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.”
But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.
So it was with some interest that I heard a human rights activist say that Maher El-Gohary’s daughter sought President Obama’s help to get the her conversion recognized before she became an adult in order to avoid liability for a more severe punishment for apostasy if she officially changed religion later. After all, if President Obama is so hot on the right to build a mosque near Ground Zero he might be expected to sympathize with a 16-year-old who just wanted to become a Christian because his “commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.” Of course her request was ignored. The reality is that presidents are too busy to help obscure Egyptian families, although they are not too busy to attend Ramadan dinners to endorse $100 million mosques. Justice under politics is like that. The day El-Gohary can host a glittering dinner for the president, then he too can expect a more sympathetic hearing.
Right now the short term goal of the apostates is to force Western liberals to live up to their own book of rules by showing up at their self-righteous festivals with a copy of Article 18 of the cherished “United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” The simple act of coming out of the shadows and into the public light creates a huge dilemma for the liberal narrative. Once they recognize that apostates exist and have legitimate rights, it becomes very difficult to avoid further and more embarrassing questions.