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Religious Persecution Update: Hamas Edition

Commentators may disagree over whether religious liberty is under siege in America today (we recommend Peter Berger on this subject), but we can all agree—from Via Meadia to The New Republicthat religious intolerance and persecution are rife in the Middle East. The outlook is bleak whether you are a Jew in Yemen, a Christian in Iraq, a Shi’ite in Pakistan or a Bahai in Iran.

The Associated Press reports on the latest brutal assault on religious freedom, this one from Gaza:

Dozens of Gaza Christians staged a rare public protest Monday, claiming two congregants were forcibly converted to Islam and were being held against their will. . . .

Since the Islamic militant Hamas seized power five years ago, Christians have felt increasingly embattled, but have mostly kept silent.

There are growing fears among Gaza Christians that their rapidly shrinking community could disappear through emigration and conversions.

Their numbers appear to have shrunk from some 3,500 to about 1,500 in recent years, according to community estimates. They are a tiny minority among 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza, most conservative Muslims.

The inevitable outcome of such repression is spelled out by one of Gaza’s remaining Christians:

“If things remain like this, there’ll be no Christians left in Gaza,” said Huda Al-Amash, mother of one of the converts, Ramez, 25. She sat sobbing in a church hallway alongside her daughters, Ranin and Rinad, and a dozen other women. “Today it’s Ramez. Then who, and who will be next?”

Via Meadia, as ever, hopes for the day when people around the world are free to openly practice their beliefs (or live without belief if that is what they choose) without facing persecution and pressure from either secular or religious bigots.

In the meantime, we are waiting for the BDS movement to urge international divestment from Gaza until the Hamas government stops turning non-Muslims into second class citizens. We suspect that we will have a long time to wait; there are a lot of people in this world who only get upset at injustices committed by Christians and Jews.

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  • Lexington Green

    Religious freedom as understood in the West (only we had the Treaty of Westphalia and cuius regio, eius religio) is nonexistent most places and particularly so in the Muslim world. The USA has shown a willingness to say nothing about massacres of Christians by Muslims, other than platitudes. We hear about R2P, a terrible idea by the way, but the grenades being thrown into Churches during Mass somehow do not implicate that doctrine. There are plenty of Christian refugees in the USA, from Iraq for example, who have true horror stories. Any Muslim who does not support these vicious and murderous attacks, and I have to hope it is most of them, is getting zero support and zero encouragement from the rest of the world. Capitulating to this brutality is encouraging it, and we are getting more and more of it. This has to stop.

  • Luke Lea

    ‘Via Meadia, as ever, hopes for the day when people around the world are free to openly practice their beliefs. . .”

    Unfortunately that may be precisely what is happening in Gaza. For this to work you would have to ban — or else segregate — intolerant beliefs.

  • john haskell

    On the contrary, “cuius regio, eius religio” very well describes the Gaza Strip at the moment

  • Lexington Green

    Respectfully, no. Cuius regio was a truce in the bloody religious wars preceding 1648 and led to a generalized idea of religious freedom in Europe and its colonies. A true excellent book on this topic is John Neville Figgis, Political Thought from Gerson to Grotius, 1414-1625 (1907). The development of freedom of conscience and freedom of religion as generally recognized rights is amongst the historical arcana and virtually unknown nowadays. However this history is valuable now because we need to repeat globally what Europe achieved in early modern times, and end up in interminable efforts to exterminate religious minorities, particularly in the Muslim world. It appears that this is a key task assigned to us by “History.” We should investigate how it was done once.

  • Walter Sobchak

    “Any Muslim who does not support these vicious and murderous attacks, and I have to hope it is most of them,”

    Abandon Hope, all you who enter. My guess is that Islam is [not the religion the poster would choose]

  • Kris

    “In the meantime, we are waiting for the BDS movement to urge international divestment from Gaza until the Hamas government stops turning non-Muslims into second class citizens.”

    Considering that the prime goal of the BDS movement (if we are to take them at their word) is to make certain areas Judenrein, you should settle in [sorry] for a long wait.

  • LarryReiser

    In order to combat an extremist ideology you must engage in a moral and reasoned offensive or most assuredly you will be forced to engage on a battlefield.

  • Luke Lea

    Hadn’t heard the term R2P before but looked it up. According to Wikipedia:

    “The responsibility to protect (R2P or RtoP) is a United Nations initiative established in 2005. It consists of an emerging norm, or set of principles, based on the idea that sovereignty is not a right, but a responsibility.[1] R2P focuses on preventing and halting four crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, which it places under the generic umbrella term of, Mass Atrocity Crimes.[2] The Responsibility to Protect has three “pillars”.

    1. A state has a responsibility to protect its population from mass atrocities;

    2. The international community has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfill its primary responsibility;

    3. If the state fails to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions.”

    My reaction is why wait for the UN? The West could do this on its own. And why not extend it to include protection of civil liberties, the rule of law, constitutional democracy, and other norms of a modern civilized society?

  • Kris

    Devil’s advocate: The US violates the norms of a modern civilized society by applying a death penalty. And let’s not even mention the extra-judicial killings it engages in throughout the world.

    Moving on, I note that it’s almost a month since I last posted this Ayn Rand quote:

    Dictatorship nations are outlaws. Any free nation had the right to invade Nazi Germany and, today, has the right to invade Soviet Russia, Cuba or any other slave pen. Whether a free nation chooses to do so or not is a matter of its own self-interest, not of respect for the non-existent “rights” of gang rulers. It is not a free nation’s duty to liberate other nations at the price of self-sacrifice, but a free nation has the right to do it, when and if it so chooses.

  • Rafael

    The post’s author is overreading on the story. The AFP author who wrote the piece said herself that the forced conversion claims were unlikely and that, most probably, the converts left their families to seek shelter with Hamas due to fears of retribution.

    See her tweets below.

    The Palestinian Center of Human Rights, an independent group, confirmed that it held meetings with the two converts and their families, and denies that they were kidnapped or forced to leave Christianity.

    Please, post a retraction or at least an update on the story. The biased way this was presented will only do damage to the Palestinian people — and worse yet, over a falsehood. But considering the author’s comments on BDS, it seems this is precisely what he wants.

  • Kris

    Rafael@10: Many people have voluntarily converted to Islam. However, I find it difficult to believe that in Gaza, ruled with an iron fist by the Islamists of Hamas, converts to Islam are in such danger from the <1% Christian community that they must go into hiding.

  • Rafael

    (This is the same message as the post above, but with some ortographic corrections. Please, remove version above.)


    Why not? Muslim young women have been victims of honor crimes in Western countries where the Muslim community is a small minority of the population. Why then can’t you believe Christians could react wrongly to something like this as well? Are they just above it all?

    Notice that the two converts described on the article — a young man still living with his parents and a woman with a Christian husband — would be vulnerable to community hostility, specially on the part of their own families.

    The fact that Hamas governs Gaza, you say would prevent the families from punishing the converts. Can you explain to me how’d that be? Does Hamas put officials in every street and house of the Gaza Strip so as to prevent this sort of violence?

    In any case, the small numbers of the Christian community, or the fact that the Strip is governed by Hamas, mean nothing by themselves — they don’t prove that Christians can’t voluntarily convert to Islam and elicit a bad reaction from their families. So please, stop speculating or inventing excuses to sustain a version of the story that is false.

    The AP article that WMR quotes emphasized that Christians are emigrating mainly because of Gaza’s poor economy — most likely a result of the blockade — yet we don’t see this on the blog post. We have instead a sardonic comment on BDS. The article is also not conclusive about whether the conversion story holds water, and it says that people in the region tend to overreact to conversions, as religion is tied to tribal loyalty and identity — yet we don’t see this on the blog post either. WMR presented the story in a tendencious way. As I said, even the AP writer of the article quoted by WMR believes the conversion story is untrue.

    Both Hamas and the independent PCHR have said they had talks with the two converts, including in the presence of their families, and that the forced conversion and kidnapping claims are false. This is all we have on the matter. Everything else is willful distortion.

  • Kris

    “Why then can’t you believe Christians could react wrongly to something like this as well? Are they just above it all? … So please, stop speculating or inventing excuses”

    One might wonder if it is not you who are open to charges of speculating and inventing excuses. But I am open to persuasion. Provide us with previous examples of Christians committing such violence in Gaza in the years since the Hamas takeover.

    Alternatively, I suppose we would take the word of Hamas for it, as you do.

  • Rafael


    “One might wonder if it is not you who are open to charges of speculating and inventing excuses.”

    Explain that to me. Because the AP article that WMR quoted isn’t conclusive about whether the conversions were forced or not. And as I said before, its author herself doesn’t believe so, as you can see in her tweets on the story. Do you know more about this matter than she does? Do you think she’s just speculating when she says that most likely the converts sought shelter with Hamas? Have you conducted your own investigation on the matter?

    Again, all the evidence regarding the conversions — not only a statement by Hamas, but also, as I said before, one by the Palestinian Center of Human Rights, which were probably the mediators AP mentions — is that the both of them left their homes and converted voluntarily. If you disagree, can you prove to me that Hamas has a policy of ignoring kidnappings and forced conversions of Christians? Can you show me that the Palestinian Center of Human Rights is collaborating with the unnamed Islamists who are allegedly disappearing with the Christians? If you don’t, then you’re just speculating. Your only “argument” for the veracity of the forceful conversion claims — that the Christian community in Gaza is too small to dare ostracize converts — really proves nothing, and is itself a baseless assumption.

    This is the first case of conversion in Palestine that I read about. As such, I can’t produce evidence of Palestinian Christian hostility to converts to Islam (just as you can’t of forced conversions either, which, as the article notes, were unheard of in Gaza). But that article admits conversions aren’t easily digested in the region. So it isn’t far-fetched to believe the converts would fear either ostracization or hostility on the part of their communities.

    In any case, the Jerusalem Post has an article on Palestinian Christians which gives one example of hostility to those of their community who mix too much with Muslims:

    “Mixed Muslim-Christian marriages are still rare among Palestinians, if less so than a generation ago. On this issue, it is the Christian side that tends to be more hard-line. When a Muslim man takes a Christian woman for his wife – it’s hardly ever a Christian man and a Muslim woman – it’s not uncommon for the woman’s family to disown her and even publish a mourning notice under her name in Palestinian newspapers (…).”

    If even mixed-marriages evoke this reaction, it’s plausible that conversions would be even less accepted, specially, as I said before, in the case of the converts described in the story, one of whom was a woman who apparently sought to annul her marriage with her Christian husband by converting to Islam. Do you think it is far-fetched to believe she would suffer retaliation from her husband and extended family? I think it’s very plausible.

  • Kris

    “When a Muslim man takes a Christian woman for his wife – it’s hardly ever a Christian man and a Muslim woman – ”

    Gee, why do you think that is, Rafael? If a Christian woman marries an Arab man, generally converting to Islam (and most certainly raising their children as Muslim), then yes, her family might disown her. If a Muslim woman were suicidal enough to try marrying a Christian man… well, the Christian man himself would probably avoid even attempting that, in order to spare his community from Muslim pogromists.

    Your logic seems to be: “Arab Christians don’t approve of apostasy. When Arab Muslims are faced with apostasy they react with murder and rioting. Therefore Arab
    Christians might well act the same way (never mind the fact that I cannot come up with a single incident to back this up).”

  • Rafael


    You’ve ignored all of my arguments in the previous post, instead fixating on some distorted narrative about a subject — mixed-marriages — that is of marginal importance and that I only used to illustrate that Christians are just as anxious, if not more, of religious mixing as Muslims are.

    The Jerusalem Post story doesn’t mention conversions to Islam of Christian women interested in marrying Muslim men — stop imposing your little biased narrative and just read the article. In fact, this is not even necessary. The Qur’an allows Muslim men to marry Christian and Jewish women without need of conversion on anyone’s part. The article’s writer interviewed one such Muslim-Christian couple and doesn’t at any point speak of conversions; in fact, it mentions that the children of the couple, though raised as Muslim, have plenty of contact with the Christian side of their family and with broader Palestinian Christian community.

    As I said before, this is the first story on Palestinian conversion that I’m aware of, so I don’t know how either Muslims or Christians react to the event — your little “pogromist” insult is baseless anti-Muslim baiting. There are huge differences among Muslim attitudes towards conversions from Islam. Pew Research has found, for example, that whilst Pakistanis and Egyptians are not accepting of conversions, the overwhelming majority of Turkish and Lebanese Muslims (to whom Palestinians are culturally related) are. There’s no need to assume Palestinian Muslims would react with bloody violence to conversions, and no need to assume that the Christians would be more accepting of it than they are. Let’s try to base our opinions on evidence, not on stereotyping and insults, shall we. You’ve made a number of assumptins on Palestinians and Muslims here, and all are empty. You can’t defend them — you have been ignoring all of my arguments regarding this matter — so instead you engage in name-calling and religious baiting.

    In any case, here are more links of interest.

    The Palestinian Center of Human Rights, whom you insist on ignoring, has a statement about the “forced conversion” of the Gazan Christians mentioned in the story, with whom it has held meetings:

    And here are televized statements by the two converts themselves (in Arabic):

  • Kris

    Cutting past all the obfuscation, here’s the deal: Gaza is ruled with an iron fist by the Islamists of Hamas, and its Christian community now numbers <1%. I can believe that either (i) there was some foul play involved in the "conversion" of these two to Islam, or (ii) that these two, under Hamas protection, are in mortal fear of the mighty Gaza Christians. You've made clear who you choose to believe from the start.

    By the way, Rafael, when I followed those YouTube links of yours, there were quite a few comments by one RafaelFernandeSantos whose arguments and style are exceedingly similar to yours. I thus find myself wondering whether you're the fine fellow who believes things like “Israel is a country of psychopaths”, and whether this plays a role in your response to stories like these.

  • Rafael


    I have my biases, and I’m not ashamed of’em. Don’t you have your own? Clearly you do — you’ve already called Palestinian Muslims pogromists, though I doubt you’ve ever met one or know a thing about them, their culture, and their relations with outsiders. (Clearly WMR is doing a great job at inciting his readership against people whom they know nothing about over their religion.) Your own anti-Palestinian biases have also modeled the way you’ve chosen to interpret the story above, in spite of all the evidence – statements by human rights groups, videos of the converts, statements by the author of the story quoted by WMR – otherwise.

    “there was some foul play involved in the “conversion” of these two to Islam”

    Everything is possible, isn’t it? But verisimilitude isn’t the same as truth. (If you’ve read the Phaedrus, you know that only the fool is deceived by the sophist to mistake the two.) The truth is that there was no forceful conversion, as per the evidence we have.

    ” that these two, under Hamas protection, are in mortal fear of the mighty Gaza Christians.”

    It’s not that even with Hamas, they feel threatened. It’s that they sought Hamas precisely to avoid community violence.

  • Kris

    “Your own anti-Palestinian biases”

    Live and learn. Until now, I thought that the Palestinians had to be protected from the evil Jewish fake-Palestinians. Now I learn that they have to be protected from the evil Christian fake-Palestinians. Soon enough they’ll have to be protected from the evil Shia fake-Palestinians. Thank you for standing up for the poor misunderstood True Authentic Palestinians!

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