Commentary Magazine


Topic: religious persecution

Iran’s Abuse of Minorities About to Get Much Worse

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic Revolution ushered in what Khomeini and his supporters promised would be an Islamic democracy, but what in reality would quickly reveal itself to be a repressive dictatorship. The outline for Khomeini’s philosophy of government was no secret. In 1970, he published a book, Hokumat-i Eslami (“Islamic Government) which fleshed out the parameters and workings of a government based on the idea of guardianship of the jurist. He infused his reading of Islamic history and philosophy with religious hatred. Hence, he declares in just the second paragraph of the book, “From the very beginning, the historic movement of Islam has had to contend with the Jews, for it was they who first established anti-Islamic propaganda and engaged in various stratagems, and as you can see, this activity continues down to the present.” Later in the text, he declared, “If the rulers of the Muslim countries truly represented the believers and enacted God’s ordinances… then a handful of wretched Jews (the agents of America, Britain, and other foreign powers) would never have been able to accomplish what they have.”

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Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic Revolution ushered in what Khomeini and his supporters promised would be an Islamic democracy, but what in reality would quickly reveal itself to be a repressive dictatorship. The outline for Khomeini’s philosophy of government was no secret. In 1970, he published a book, Hokumat-i Eslami (“Islamic Government) which fleshed out the parameters and workings of a government based on the idea of guardianship of the jurist. He infused his reading of Islamic history and philosophy with religious hatred. Hence, he declares in just the second paragraph of the book, “From the very beginning, the historic movement of Islam has had to contend with the Jews, for it was they who first established anti-Islamic propaganda and engaged in various stratagems, and as you can see, this activity continues down to the present.” Later in the text, he declared, “If the rulers of the Muslim countries truly represented the believers and enacted God’s ordinances… then a handful of wretched Jews (the agents of America, Britain, and other foreign powers) would never have been able to accomplish what they have.”

His castigation of Jews was little compared to his hatred of Baha’is. “In our own city of Tehran now there are centers of evil propaganda run by the churches, the Zionists, and the Baha’is in order to lead our people astray and make them abandon the ordinances and teachings of Islam. Do we not have a duty to destroy these centers that are damaging to Islam?” American pastor Saeed Abedini continues to be held hostage in Iran; he was imprisoned because of his unapologetic embrace of Christianity.

While apologists for Iran like to praise the Islamic Republic’s protection of minorities—here’s The New York Times’ Thomas Erdbrink and here’s Roger Cohen, also in The New York Times. To cite 20,000 Jews living in Iran is one thing; to fail to acknowledge that population has declined more than 80 percent since the revolution suggests quite another. Many Jews fled to Israel or the United States, but the Baha’is had nowhere to go. Upon seizing the reins of power, he and the revolutionary clerics following him were merciless to the Baha’is. Many were imprisoned, and some were executed. All were fired from government jobs, and their private employers were pressured to fire them. Baha’i students were forced from universities. Today, Baha’is are subject to arbitrary arrest, and even Baha’i children find themselves imprisoned.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry justify their outreach to the Islamic Republic in the belief that they can moderate the Islamic Republic and nudge it into the community of nations. But will the vision of the regime leadership really change? If the latest from Saham News, the newspaper of the reformist National Trust Party (led by former presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi) is any indication, then the answer is no. This article entitled “A Secret Order from the Supreme
Council of Cultural Revolution: Progress and Advancement of the Baha’is Must Be Blocked” details the priority the regime continues to place on suppressing if not murdering Baha’is to the current day. Thirty-six years of the Islamic Republic has not moderated the revolutionary fervor of those who craft the regime’s policies. Religious persecution in Iran is on the rise.

As the United States abandons moral clarity and its traditional support for the Iranian people in favor of an unpopular regime that represses them, then the White House must recognize that it will be standing witness to the suppression of human rights and religious freedom in Iran to a degree not seen since the chaotic months following Khomeini’s 1979 return.

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Fear of a Backlash Doesn’t Make Islam the Victim of Charlie Hebdo Attack

The blood of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo terror attack in Paris yesterday hadn’t yet been washed away from the floor of the newsroom before a persistent meme started working its way into the coverage of this atrocity. Even as people around the world reacted with shock and horror to the murder of 10 journalists and two police officers by Islamist terrorists, some in the media began speaking of a possible backlash against Muslims as the most important consequence of the crime. While such fears are not entirely unreasonable, it is important to understand that much of the discussion about a backlash has less to do with the actual plight of Muslims in the West as it does with an effort to reshape the narrative of this event to one in which political Islam is taken off the hook for what it has wrought. As much as we ought to condemn any actions that seek to target innocent Muslims, the impulse to treat Islamist beliefs as the victim rather than part of the problem is a terrible mistake.

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The blood of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo terror attack in Paris yesterday hadn’t yet been washed away from the floor of the newsroom before a persistent meme started working its way into the coverage of this atrocity. Even as people around the world reacted with shock and horror to the murder of 10 journalists and two police officers by Islamist terrorists, some in the media began speaking of a possible backlash against Muslims as the most important consequence of the crime. While such fears are not entirely unreasonable, it is important to understand that much of the discussion about a backlash has less to do with the actual plight of Muslims in the West as it does with an effort to reshape the narrative of this event to one in which political Islam is taken off the hook for what it has wrought. As much as we ought to condemn any actions that seek to target innocent Muslims, the impulse to treat Islamist beliefs as the victim rather than part of the problem is a terrible mistake.

Talk about a backlash should have a ring of inauthenticity to Americans. Many here rightly understand that the notion of a post-9/11 backlash is largely a myth that has been promoted by those who wish to change the subject from that of the very real threat from Islamism to a non-existent threat to U.S. Muslims from their fellow citizens. There is no statistical proof of a surge in attacks on Muslims after 9/11. If anything, both the country’s political leadership and those who guide popular culture have gone overboard in their attempts to disassociate Islam from those who kill in its name.

But Europe is very different from the United States. That is not just because the continent has always been fertile ground for hatred of minorities in a way that is not true of America. The huge influx of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa has roiled societies that did not have good records in dealing with minorities (such as Jews) in the past. French society has been especially disturbed by the creation of large no-go zones for non-Muslims and immigrants who have created what may well be called “Islamist mini-states” in Parisian suburbs where neither police nor other Frenchmen dare trespass. In response, the rise of anti-immigrant parties such as the Front National led by Marine Le Pen (who succeeded her even more extreme father) have created a hostile atmosphere in which it is hard for Muslims from North Africa to assimilate into French society even if they wish to do so.

Thus, to dismiss fears of a backlash or at least a spike in anti-Muslim incidents in France or elsewhere in Europe would be foolish. But the immediate pivot from outrage about the Charlie Hebdo attack to even more vociferous denunciations of any effort to pin the blame for this crime on Islamist beliefs is about something other than concern for innocent Muslims. When writers like the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof write a piece comparing the connection between Islam and the terror attack to one between Christianity and atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia they are doing more than making a specious analogy. The purpose is to obscure the clear connection between a branch of Islam that has the support of tens of millions of people around the world. Contrary to Yale’s Jason Stanley, the Islam mocked by Charlie Hebdo is not, as he also wrote in the Times, that of an “oppressed minority” but of an aggressive worldwide faith that actively oppresses non-Muslims and seeks to eradicate the only non-Muslim majority state in the region.

While the vast majority of Muslims in the West may abhor terrorism, many living in the no-go zones or attending mosques with radical imams are not so fastidious. Even worse, large percentages of the population of Muslim and Arab countries, and the governments of more than a couple, actively subscribe to Islamism. The problem is that Islamist movements are clear threats to the security of many Muslim countries such as Egypt and in control in other places like Iran. To pretend that Islamist terrorists have beliefs that are not shared to a considerable degree by huge percentages of the populations of such countries is to engage in a deception whose goal is to distract us from a horrible truth and not to defend it.

Western governments and media figures that refuse to identify the Charlie Hebdo terrorists or al-Qaeda or ISIS killers as Islamist in nature are also making it harder for us to deal with a genuine threat. Their motive may be to rightly avoid casting the conflict as one between the West and all Muslims. But to ignore the fact that Islam motivates terrorists is to unilaterally disarm the West against a lethal foe.

We should by all means discourage any acts of violence or expressions of prejudice against individual Muslims. But at the same time we must not engage in a pretense that these crimes were not manufactured by a particularly noxious brand of Islam. Rather than cloaking themselves in the guise of victims, Muslims must finally embrace an opportunity to join the fight against Islamist killers that kill more of their co-religionists than Westerners. If instead they join efforts to preemptively recast the narrative of Charlie Hebdo to one about an anti-Muslim backlash, they will be giving the terrorists valuable assistance and discarding a chance to help isolate the killers and their supporters.

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A Christian Defense Of Israel

I want to build on the thoughtful and timely post by Jonathan Tobin, in which he called attention to the catastrophe that is happening to Christians in the Middle East; why the outcome of the struggle over the region cannot be ignored; and why, in his words, “Christians should never think they could better the lives of their co-religionists by aiding efforts to destroy the other religious minority in the region: the Jews.” Jonathan made a compelling case speaking as a person of the Jewish faith; I’d like to speak as a person of the Christian faith.

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I want to build on the thoughtful and timely post by Jonathan Tobin, in which he called attention to the catastrophe that is happening to Christians in the Middle East; why the outcome of the struggle over the region cannot be ignored; and why, in his words, “Christians should never think they could better the lives of their co-religionists by aiding efforts to destroy the other religious minority in the region: the Jews.” Jonathan made a compelling case speaking as a person of the Jewish faith; I’d like to speak as a person of the Christian faith.

For Christians to become identified with the struggle against Zionism – and I’ve encountered individuals who have, to that point that it was the key factor in leaving a church I and my family were members of — is a profound moral error.

Set aside the fact that despite some obvious theological differences, Christians and Jews share a common history and affinity, from the Hebrew Bible to heroes of the faith like Abraham, Joseph, Joshua and Moses. And many Christians believe, for theological reasons (God’s covenantal relationship with Israel), that they cannot be indifferent to the fate of Israel. But as I mentioned, bracket all that. In judging Israel and its enemies, let’s use the standard of justice, which is the one liberal Christians who are highly critical of the Jewish state often invoke.

For one thing, even a cursory understanding of the history of the past 65-plus years makes it clear that the impediments to peace lie not with Israel but with its adversaries. And when it comes to the prolonged conflict with the Palestinians, it is they, not the Israelis, who are responsible for it.

(For those who blame the so-called “Israeli occupation” for Palestinian hostilities, I will point out, as I have before, that the PLO, which was committed to the destruction of Israel, was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. In addition, the 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel happened before the “occupied territories” and settlements ever became an issue. And in Gaza in 2005, Israel did what no other nation, including no Arab nation, has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks and eventually drawn into a war with Hamas.)

The Palestinian people are suffering – but the reasons they suffer are fundamentally a creation not of Israel but of failed Palestinian leadership, which from beginning to end has been characterized by staggering corruption, brutality, oppression and anti-Semitism. Since the creation of Israel in the first half of the last century, not a single Palestinian leader has been willing or able to alter a culture that stokes hatred of Jews and advocates the eradication of Israel. Until that changes, there is no possibility for peace or justice. Palestinians must do what they have, until now, refused to do: make their own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. That they have not done so, despite the terrible human costs to them, tells you quite a lot.

Beyond that, it is a delusion for Christians to believe that life in the Middle East would be better if the enemies of Israel were to prevail. The movement that is targeting Christians for death isn’t Zionism; it’s Islamism. The historian Philip Jenkins wrote in Christianity Today last month “For Christians in the Middle East, 2014 has been a catastrophe.” That catastrophe hasn’t been caused by Israel, where Israel’s Christian citizens enjoy the full blessings of freedom and democracy.

Ask yourself a simple question: If you were a Christian, would you rather live in Jerusalem – or Tehran, Mosul, Damascus, or Riyadh? Would you rather live under the government of Benjamin Netanyahu or the rule of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Would you rather be photographed with a typical Jewish storeowner in Israel – or with a typical British national who has joined ISIS? The idea that Christians would prosper in the Middle East if Israel was weak and the mortal threats to Israel were strong is quite absurd.

But beyond even that, Israel is worthy of the support, admiration and even the affection of Christians because of the type of nation Israel is: democratic, pluralistic, self-critical, respectful of human rights, minority rights and other faiths, a bulwark against militant Islam, bone weary of war and willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for peace, unmatched by any other nation on earth. Blessed are the peacemakers, said a famous Jew many years ago, for they shall be called the children of God.

Israel is imperfect, like all nations in this fallen world; but it ranks among the most impressive and venerable nations that this fallen world has ever produced. Christians who care about their co-religionists in the Middle East, who care about justice and who hate injustice, must keep faith with the Jewish state. To break with it would be to break with their history and some of the key moral commitments of Christianity. And that is very much worth recalling as Christians the world over have, during the last several days, once again focused their attention on the Holy Land.

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The Truth About Israel and Christians

After several days of furious commentary, Senator Ted Cruz’s decision to walk out of a conference on the plight of Middle East Christians continues to sizzle. As I first wrote last Thursday, friends of Israel praised him for telling those in attendance booing him off the stage that if they wouldn’t stand with Israel, he wouldn’t stand with them. But the chorus of criticism of Cruz has been getting louder with some conservatives weighing to express their outrage at what they consider a cynical gesture that prioritized the senator’s ties with the pro-Israel community over the plight of Christians.

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After several days of furious commentary, Senator Ted Cruz’s decision to walk out of a conference on the plight of Middle East Christians continues to sizzle. As I first wrote last Thursday, friends of Israel praised him for telling those in attendance booing him off the stage that if they wouldn’t stand with Israel, he wouldn’t stand with them. But the chorus of criticism of Cruz has been getting louder with some conservatives weighing to express their outrage at what they consider a cynical gesture that prioritized the senator’s ties with the pro-Israel community over the plight of Christians.

In a follow-up post published here, our Seth Mandel did a great job assessing some of the day after commentary and in particular the hypocrisy of some anti-Israel pundits who have suddenly discovered that, at least on this issue, they no longer think it is wrong for people to making decisions about politicians on the basis of their stands on the Middle East. Yet I think there is still something more to be said about the way some people who ought to know better are rationalizing the indefensible behavior of the In Defense of Christians (IDC) group and criticizing Cruz for his principled stand.

One of these that deserves some scrutiny is the New York Times’s Ross Douthat who joins in the pile-on against Cruz in his most recent column but attempts to do so without echoing the invective or the clear anti-Israel bias of those who write for, say, the American Conservative. Douthat acknowledges that the unsavory ties of some of its supporters are a problem for IDC. But he was critical of Cruz’s insistence on lecturing the group that instead of attacking Israel, they should recognize that the Jewish state is the best, and perhaps the only, friend they have in the Middle East.

For Douthat, this obvious statement of truth—in a region where Christians are universally treated as Dhimmi by Muslim regimes, Israel remains the only place where freedom of religion is guaranteed for adherents of all faiths—was a bridge too far for Cruz. More to the point, he thinks supporters of Israel are showing bad manners if not flawed strategy, by insisting that the cause of religious tolerance in the Middle East must include the Jews and their embattled state rather than merely treating the plight of Christians in isolation from the broader conflicts of the region.

Douthat writes in criticism of Cruz and his supporters:

Israel is a rich, well-defended, nuclear-armed nation-state; its supporters, and especially its American Christian supporters, can afford to allow a population that’s none of the above to organize to save itself from outright extinction without also demanding applause for Israeli policy as the price of sympathy and support.

There are two flawed assumptions to be unpacked in this sentence.

The first is that Israel is so strong and its position so unassailable that its friends can afford to be complacent about the mainstreaming of allies of terrorist groups—which is exactly what it seems that Cruz’s critics are asking.

The second is that the Islamist campaign to extinguish Christians and all other minority faiths in the Middle East can be resisted without the effort to do the same to Israel also being defeated.

It is, to put it mildly, a bit rich for a writer for the New York Times, which has through both slanted news coverage and biased editorial and op-ed pages, done its best to undermine Israel’s position, to demand that friends of the Jewish state stand down in its defense. That Douthat, who is otherwise the most thoughtful columnist in the paper, has rarely, if ever, voiced any dissent from the paper’s prevailing orthodoxy on Israel may be a function of his interests and that of the other putative conservative in the employ of the Times opinion section, neither of whom are, as a rule, all that interested in foreign policy (a stark contrast to the not so distant past when non-liberal writers at the Times such as William Safire and A.M. Rosenthal mounted repeated and spirited defenses of Israel to balance the attacks against it from fellow columnists, editorial writers, and reporters at the Grey Lady). But it is disappointing nonetheless.

But leaving aside Douthat’s chutzpah, that he should be treating Israel’s position as unassailable at this time shows that his knowledge of the Middle East really falls fall short of his normal sure footing on domestic and social issues. While I’m sure Christians in Iraq and Syria would gladly trade places with them, Israelis spent 50 days this summer dashing in and out of bomb shelters as Hamas terrorists launched rockets aimed to kill and maim civilians. Their army had to invade Gaza in order to demolish a vast network of cross-border tunnels aimed at facilitating acts of mass terror. They watched in horror as the streets of Europe were flooded with demonstrators denouncing Israelis for defending themselves against Islamist butchers in terms that recalled the worst excesses of the Nazi propaganda machine. And they also witnessed an American administration—ostensibly Israel’s sole superpower ally—doing its best to undermine Israel’s position, cutting off arms resupply and leaving the strategic alliance at its lowest point in more than 20 years.

Is this really a moment for Israel’s American supporters to put aside their scruples about making common cause with a group that is compromised by allies of those seeking to destroy Israel and to murder its population?

Just as important, the notion that the fight to save Christians can be separated from that of Israel is a pernicious myth that should be debunked. Douthat believes exposing the existence of Jew haters in the ranks of those purporting to represent Middle East Christians is a mistake because it shows no appreciation for the plight of Christians who face genocide. But by allying themselves with those who wish to perpetrate genocide on the other significant religious minority in the region, as some have repeatedly done in the last century of conflict, they have flung away their best hope for a strategic partner who could help them resist the Islamist tide. Religious persecution cannot be stopped against one minority while hatred against another is legitimized. As Seth wrote, Israel is already doing more to assist Christians than Douthat or the anti-Zionists at the American Conservative who claim to be their friends.

Today Christians are being slaughtered or forced to flee from Iraq and Syria to the point where soon once great communities may be extinguished. But while we rightly protest against this and lament such destruction, it is apt to also recall that a generation ago, some Christians and their foreign friends either assisted or stood by mutely while the same thing was happening to the once great Jewish communities in the Arab and Muslim world. American Christians of every denomination, including evangelicals and Catholics, are among the most faithful friends of Israel today. But the refusal of Middle East Christians to befriend the Zionist movement, even as it offered them the only possible counterforce in the region to a hostile Muslim majority, was a historic error. That this error is being repeated today is a tragedy for both sides.

Let me repeat, as I wrote on Thursday and many times before that, that Americans have a duty to rise up and demand that Western governments pay attention to the plight of Middle East Christians and to, if necessary, intervene on their behalf. But the notion that this struggle can be conducted in isolation from the defense of Israel against the same forces seeking to wipe out Christians is madness. That those who claim to care about these Christians believe that politicians like Ted Cruz should check their support for Israel at the door when discussing the Middle East is an indication of just how little some of them understand the region as well as their cluelessness about the rising tide of anti-Semitism sweeping the globe.

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Can We Talk About Muslim Intolerance?

In today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof attempts to broach an important international issue: Muslim religious intolerance across the globe. But though he steps into this controversy, even Kristof may be too afraid of specious charges of “Islamophobia” to draw the proper conclusions from this discussion.

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In today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof attempts to broach an important international issue: Muslim religious intolerance across the globe. But though he steps into this controversy, even Kristof may be too afraid of specious charges of “Islamophobia” to draw the proper conclusions from this discussion.

Despite its shortcomings, Kristof deserves some credit for raising an issue that has heretofore been treated as a taboo in the pages of the liberal flagship of the mainstream print media establishment. The Times has been one of the loudest voices touting the myth of a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims. It has campaigned against efforts to monitor homegrown Islamists and treated any concern about extremist Muslims as an expression of bigotry. It has also soft-pedaled Islamist extremism around the globe and rarely sought to explain the deep religious roots of this violent movement.

But confronted with the widespread evidence of religious persecution of non-Muslims throughout the Arab and Islamic world, Kristof does not avert his gaze. The opening of his column speaks for itself:

A Sudanese court in May sentences a Christian woman married to an American to be hanged, after first being lashed 100 times, after she refuses to renounce her Christian faith.

Muslim extremists in Iraq demand that Christians pay a tax or face crucifixion, according to the Iraqi government.

In Malaysia, courts ban some non-Muslims from using the word “Allah.”

In country after country, Islamic fundamentalists are measuring their own religious devotion by the degree to which they suppress or assault those they see as heretics, creating a human-rights catastrophe as people are punished or murdered for their religious beliefs.

These examples are, as Kristof makes clear, not isolated examples or the product of outlier forces. The trend he writes about is mainstream opinion in much of the Muslim world, even in countries that are often somewhat misleadingly labeled as “moderate” because they are supporting terrorist attacks on the West. As he rightly notes, Saudi Arabia is just as repressive toward minority faiths as Iran or Sudan. Though there are places, such as in China, where Muslim minorities are themselves the victims of religious persecution, the pattern of Islamic intolerance is almost uniform across the globe where they are in power.

But the consequences of this trend are not limited to the unfortunate fate of Christians who are being driven out of their homes in places where they have lived for millennia. Muslim aggression against non-believers is integral to the conflict with Islamist forces waging terrorist wars throughout the Middle East as well as parts of Africa.

American leaders have been at pains to try and differentiate our war against terror from a war against Islam and Muslims. They are right to do so because the West has no interest in a general war against any religion or its adherents. But you can’t understand what is driving the efforts of al-Qaeda and its many affiliates and allies, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS in Iraq, without examining the way these groups exploit religious fervor and intolerance for non-Muslims. Islamist terror in the West cannot be separated from the intolerance against non-Muslims that Kristof laments. It is a sickness within Muslim culture and must be confronted (hopefully by Muslims) and openly discussed if it is ever to be contained.

But even as he finds his voice to speak out for the victims of this trend, Kristof pulls his punches, lest he be labeled as an Islamophobe, as so many others who have raised the alarm about this problem have been:

This is a sensitive area I’m wading into here, I realize. Islam-haters in America and the West seize upon incidents like these to denounce Islam as a malignant religion of violence, while politically correct liberals are reluctant to say anything for fear of feeding bigotry. Yet there is a real issue here of religious tolerance, affecting millions of people, and we should be able to discuss it. …

I hesitated to write this column because religious repression is an awkward topic when it thrives in Muslim countries. Muslims from Gaza to Syria, Western Sahara to Myanmar, are already enduring plenty without also being scolded for intolerance. It’s also true that we in the West live in glass houses, and I don’t want to empower our own chauvinists or fuel Islamophobia.

Muslims do have a lot on their plate these days. But as much as Kristof deserves applauses for having broken ranks with his Times brethren, he fails to connect the dots between the troubles Muslims are enduring in Gaza, Syria, and other hot spots and the virus in their political and religious culture that promotes not only religious intolerance but jihad against the West and Muslims who hesitate to join the dark forces spreading conflict.

More importantly, it’s really not possible to sound the alarm about widespread global Muslim religious persecution while at the same time still trying to stay within the boundaries of liberal political correct dogma about Islamophobia. While anti-Muslim bigots do exist and must be denounced, the use of the term Islamophobia is a buzzword for attempts to silence those seeking to highlight the very trend that Kristof seeks to bring to the attention of the readers of the Times.

Thinking seriously about Muslim intolerance and violence isn’t a function of chauvinism or hate. It’s simply a matter of acknowledging a fact about the world that can’t be ignored. A tentative step, such as the one Kristof took today, is better than none at all. But even this groundbreaking column illustrates the difficulty liberals have in talking about this subject.

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Not All Dissidents Are Heroes

Given the proclivity of dictators to label all of their domestic critics, no matter how non-violent, as “terrorists” it is understandable that there is not more outrage in the West over an attack by Uighur separatists in southern China who stabbed to death at least 29 people in a railroad station and wounded perhaps 100 more. That’s understandable, but wrong.

Let us grant that China’s policies in Xinjiang, the western province where the Uighurs live, are oppressive, even more so than in the case of the rest of the country. The Han Chinese who dominate the Chinese government have long discriminated against ethnic minorities such as the Uighurs and Tibetans. As the Washington Post notes:

Just as Chinese leaders try to control other religions, including Catholicism and evangelical Christianity, they have issued strict policies for Muslim Uighurs. They must use a state-approved Koran. The government manages mosques. And Uighur men who want government jobs have been forced to shave their beards; women are forbidden to wear headscarves.

When Uighurs try to protest such restrictions, or even agitate for independence for a new state of East Turkestan, the Chinese authorities react with the savagery typical of a police state, locking up dissidents. Little wonder, then, that some Uighurs are resorting to terrorism to fight back. But however understandable the reaction of the extremists, it is also unforgivable. The poor commuters slain in a railway station in Kunming are not responsible for their government’s polices; they are just innocent victims.

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Given the proclivity of dictators to label all of their domestic critics, no matter how non-violent, as “terrorists” it is understandable that there is not more outrage in the West over an attack by Uighur separatists in southern China who stabbed to death at least 29 people in a railroad station and wounded perhaps 100 more. That’s understandable, but wrong.

Let us grant that China’s policies in Xinjiang, the western province where the Uighurs live, are oppressive, even more so than in the case of the rest of the country. The Han Chinese who dominate the Chinese government have long discriminated against ethnic minorities such as the Uighurs and Tibetans. As the Washington Post notes:

Just as Chinese leaders try to control other religions, including Catholicism and evangelical Christianity, they have issued strict policies for Muslim Uighurs. They must use a state-approved Koran. The government manages mosques. And Uighur men who want government jobs have been forced to shave their beards; women are forbidden to wear headscarves.

When Uighurs try to protest such restrictions, or even agitate for independence for a new state of East Turkestan, the Chinese authorities react with the savagery typical of a police state, locking up dissidents. Little wonder, then, that some Uighurs are resorting to terrorism to fight back. But however understandable the reaction of the extremists, it is also unforgivable. The poor commuters slain in a railway station in Kunming are not responsible for their government’s polices; they are just innocent victims.

There is no cause to kill civilians to make the Uighurs’ case. They would be better off using non-violent protests even if such protests are likely to prove ineffectual against a one-party state. At least such protests will not result in violent retaliation against innocent Uighurs. This is one area where the U.S. can actually sympathize with China and foster better cooperation on what used to be known as the war on terror, while of course being aware of, and resistant to, Beijing’s desire to brand all dissidents with the “terrorist” label.

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Why Won’t Western Churches Condemn Muslim Oppression of Christians?

The news of how Christian communities in Syria are being forced to purchase their lives by signing treaties of submission to jihadi overlords is just one of the more recent reminders of the worsening plight of Christians in the Middle East. This is a subject that struggles to receive much comment from Western leaders, or apparently provoke much serious outrage in the general public. Naturally, Christian groups and media outlets do periodically go through the motions attempting to draw some attention to this matter. Yet among some of the liberal churches, the alleged oppression of Palestinian Muslims by the Jewish state seems to keep them far too busy to devote much time to campaign about the genuine oppression of Christians by Muslims.

In some sense, the precarious predicament of Christian communities in the Middle East is somewhat more complicated than it may appear. In both Iraq and Syria, the Baathist regimes co-opted the Christian community into supporting what were already minority-run states. In Syria in particular, it made sense for the Assads’ Alawite minority to enlist the help of Christian communities in maintaining power over the Sunni majority. The disintegration of these regimes has naturally left Christians exposed to the resentments of the wider populace. Nevertheless, the most extreme and sustained violence against the region’s Christian minorities is primarily coming from radicalized and emboldened Islamist terror groups. From the Copts in Egypt, to the Christians under Hamas in Gaza, to the state-sanctioned oppression in Iran, to the sporadic attacks on Christians in Pakistan, the same extremist Islamic forces are at work.

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The news of how Christian communities in Syria are being forced to purchase their lives by signing treaties of submission to jihadi overlords is just one of the more recent reminders of the worsening plight of Christians in the Middle East. This is a subject that struggles to receive much comment from Western leaders, or apparently provoke much serious outrage in the general public. Naturally, Christian groups and media outlets do periodically go through the motions attempting to draw some attention to this matter. Yet among some of the liberal churches, the alleged oppression of Palestinian Muslims by the Jewish state seems to keep them far too busy to devote much time to campaign about the genuine oppression of Christians by Muslims.

In some sense, the precarious predicament of Christian communities in the Middle East is somewhat more complicated than it may appear. In both Iraq and Syria, the Baathist regimes co-opted the Christian community into supporting what were already minority-run states. In Syria in particular, it made sense for the Assads’ Alawite minority to enlist the help of Christian communities in maintaining power over the Sunni majority. The disintegration of these regimes has naturally left Christians exposed to the resentments of the wider populace. Nevertheless, the most extreme and sustained violence against the region’s Christian minorities is primarily coming from radicalized and emboldened Islamist terror groups. From the Copts in Egypt, to the Christians under Hamas in Gaza, to the state-sanctioned oppression in Iran, to the sporadic attacks on Christians in Pakistan, the same extremist Islamic forces are at work.

The latest events in Syria specifically concern the Christian communities in the province of Raqqa, which is currently under the control of the militia forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Islamist group which claims association with al-Qaeda. There the leaders of the community faced either forced conversion to Islam or death if they did not agree to sign a treaty of submission, which forbids them from practicing their faith openly. By imposing this treaty ISIS is following orthodox Sharia practices, which compel Christians in Islamic society to live in a subservient state of dhimmitude. Nor was the convert-or-die threat an empty one. In the past year alone, 1,213 Christians were murdered in Syria in what were recorded as killings motivated by the victims’ religion.

All of which, one might have thought, would be of great concern to churches in the West. Clearly many of these congregations have a strong sense of social conscience and are no strangers to activism and campaigning. Yet, in the case of several of the liberal churches, the campaign of choice is not one to support their beleaguered and persecuted coreligionists in the Islamic world; instead they have set upon the campaign to demonize the Jewish state, incidentally the only place in the entire Middle East where the number of Christians is actually growing.

As Jonathan Tobin has written about here, the Presbyterian Church USA has not only seen attempts to pass boycott motions within the church, but most recently the Presbyterians’ Israel Palestinian Mission Network has released a study guide that is fiercely anti-Zionist. Similarly, the Methodist Church in Britain has witnessed an ongoing controversy over its moves to issue a boycott of Israel. And of particular prominence this year was the move by St James’s Church in London to mark the Christmas festivities by erecting a graffiti-covered 26-foot-high replica of Israel’s security barrier. Reportedly this stunt cost the congregation over $50,000. Presumably no more worthy or needy cause could be thought of at the time.

While both Malcolm Hoenlein, the long-serving head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks have both publicly expressed outrage at the persecution of the Middle East’s Christians and called for action to prevent its continuation, it seems that the same passions have not been stirred among certain liberal Christian congregations in the West. Apparently they reserve their sense of righteous indignation primarily for expressing opposition to the Jewish state’s efforts to defend its civilians from Islamic terrorism.  

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Rand Paul and the War on Christians

Senator Rand Paul may be the leading advocate of a new isolationism in American foreign policy but he sounded an appropriate note of alarm over the weekend when he decried a worldwide war on Christianity at the Values Voter Summit. Noting the vast upsurge in attacks on Christians throughout the Muslim world, Paul rightly blamed “a fanatical element of Islam,” rather than all adherents of the faith. But he also made it clear that this upsurge in violence is not the product of a tiny outlier minority but of an international movement of Islamists who number in the tens of millions.

Paul said the primary responsibility to deal with this problem rests with moderate, peaceful Muslims and he’s right about that. However, it is impossible to separate this religious conflict from the broader terrorist aims of Islamists rendering his call to action on this issue at odds with his other foreign policy stands in which he favors what would in effect be an American withdrawal from a forward policy against these forces. But I’ll leave my fervent disagreements with his worldview that constitutes a genuine threat to a viable U.S. foreign and defense policy aside for the moment. Let’s give him credit for speaking up on an issue of grave concern that most politicians ignore and which most of the foreign policy establishment has been actively seeking to bury. Even more important, let’s address some of the criticism he has been receiving over this speech from some liberals as well as those who claim to speak for American Muslims. Whatever the political motivations for Paul’s speech (one suspects he is trying to woo Evangelicals who dislike his cool attitude toward Israel), those who deny this problem or, even worse, try to depict anyone who calls attention to Muslim intolerance as a bigot, are doing neither Islam nor Muslims any good.

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Senator Rand Paul may be the leading advocate of a new isolationism in American foreign policy but he sounded an appropriate note of alarm over the weekend when he decried a worldwide war on Christianity at the Values Voter Summit. Noting the vast upsurge in attacks on Christians throughout the Muslim world, Paul rightly blamed “a fanatical element of Islam,” rather than all adherents of the faith. But he also made it clear that this upsurge in violence is not the product of a tiny outlier minority but of an international movement of Islamists who number in the tens of millions.

Paul said the primary responsibility to deal with this problem rests with moderate, peaceful Muslims and he’s right about that. However, it is impossible to separate this religious conflict from the broader terrorist aims of Islamists rendering his call to action on this issue at odds with his other foreign policy stands in which he favors what would in effect be an American withdrawal from a forward policy against these forces. But I’ll leave my fervent disagreements with his worldview that constitutes a genuine threat to a viable U.S. foreign and defense policy aside for the moment. Let’s give him credit for speaking up on an issue of grave concern that most politicians ignore and which most of the foreign policy establishment has been actively seeking to bury. Even more important, let’s address some of the criticism he has been receiving over this speech from some liberals as well as those who claim to speak for American Muslims. Whatever the political motivations for Paul’s speech (one suspects he is trying to woo Evangelicals who dislike his cool attitude toward Israel), those who deny this problem or, even worse, try to depict anyone who calls attention to Muslim intolerance as a bigot, are doing neither Islam nor Muslims any good.

One such example comes in today’s Daily Beast from Dean Obeidallah who writes that Paul’s attempt to draw attention to the problem is nothing less than an act of hate speech and even likened it to utterances of Al Qaeda leaders seeking to inflame Muslims against Westerners. He writes:

Paul’s speech is likely a mirror image of one that would be given by an al Qaeda recruiter.  The difference being that an al Qaeda leader would cite isolated bad actions committed by the West and claim these incidents were proof that the West was waging an all out war on Islam.

Let’s be brutally honest: If Rand Paul had given a 19 minute speech listing every bad act committed by Jews anywhere in the world under the guise of “warning” people about Jews, he would rightfully be dubbed an Anti-Semite.  Or if Paul had given a similar speech setting forth a litany of crimes committed by African-Americans in the US as defining that race, he would be deemed a racist.

The problem with this formulation is not just that, for all of his faults, there isn’t the slightest comparison between Paul and a terrorist movement. It’s that treating a worldwide upsurge in anti-Christian violence as merely the acts of a few random malefactors is an act of brazen denial that is divorced by the reality of the Muslim world.

Let me brutally honest in reply to Obeidallah. If Jews were committing violence against Christians or Muslims around the world on the scale that Muslims are doing against non-Muslims, and if a branch of Judaism that could call on the support of a substantial plurality if not the majority of most Jews in many countries were using faith to justify terrorism or to wage war against all non-Jews, such a statement would be justified.

But, of course, we know just the opposite is true. The Muslim world is the driving force behind the international upsurge of anti-Semitism in which hatred for the state of Israel is used as a thinly veiled cover for traditional Jew hatred. The one Jewish state on the planet may have its faults but its Muslims citizens are equal before the law, something that cannot be said of those nations with a Muslim majority. And please don’t waste our time citing puppets like the intimidated remnant of Iranian Jewry as an example of Islamist tolerance or democratic Israel’s attempts to defend itself against a war fought by those who seek to destroy it as an analogy to al-Qaeda.

Radical Islam is a threat not just because of its vicious nature but because it can draw on the support of a large body of Muslim opinion and a long tradition of jihadist warfare against non-believers. The reason why there are virtually no Jews left in Muslim countries and an embattled, discriminated against remnant of Christians there is not due to the actions of outliers who can be easily disowned but a culture and a political system that regards such people as Dhimmi who can be abused with impunity.

What is really troubling about the debate about Paul’s speech is the way that purveyors of the myth of the post-9/11 backlash against Muslims will use it to justify their attempt to impose a new political correctness on discussions of Islamism. To listen to groups like CAIR, a group that masquerades as a defender of civil rights but which was founded as a political front for Hamas fundraisers, to even speak of terrorism or of Islamist violence against non-believers offends the sensibilities of Muslims. In so doing, they seek to effectively silence critiques of American Islamists and to stifle investigations of homegrown terrorism. To this end, they’ve largely succeeded in convincing most of the media that Islamists are more sinned against than they are culpable. Every time an act of Islam-inspired terror occurs, the reflex action of both the government and the media is to deny that religion plays any role in the crime even when we know that it has done so.

Discrimination or prejudice against Muslims is as hateful as that aimed against Jews or Christians. But what those who would damn Paul as a bigot for his speech are doing is, despite their disclaimers, to deny the reality of Islamist hate and to silence those who wish to bring attention to crimes that should outrage all Americans. American Christians should heed Paul’s speech (at least on this topic) and treat religious persecution of non-Muslims as an important issue. And they should ignore those who seek to distract us from the reality of mainstream Muslim intolerance.

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Outrage Lacking on Religious Persecution

The news today from Egypt ought to send a shiver down the spines of all Americans. The protests of millions of Egyptians against the Brotherhood and their leader Mohamed Morsi backed up by the military may have derailed the attempt to transform Egypt into an Islamist state. But the Brotherhood is, as should have been expected, far from finished. The prospect of a counter-revolt or even a long-term Islamist insurgency should not be discounted. But whether or not the Brotherhood can find a way to counter the efforts of the military as well as secular and liberal Egyptians to keep them out of power, the Islamist group is lashing out at a familiar scapegoat: the country’s Christian minority.

As the New York Times reports this afternoon, the Coptic community is bearing the brunt of the Brotherhood’s resentment about the reversal of fortune in Cairo:

Since Mr. Morsi’s ouster on July 3, the activists say, a priest has been shot dead in the street, Islamists have painted black X’s on Christian shops to mark them for arson and angry mobs have attacked churches and besieged Christians in their homes. Four Christians were reported slaughtered with knives and machetes in one village last week.

The attacks have hit across the country, in the northern Sinai Peninsula, in a resort town on the Mediterranean coast, in Port Said along the Suez Canal and in isolated villages in upper Egypt.

Given the way Christians were increasingly targeted for violence—including an attack on their main cathedral—while Morsi was in power, it is hardly surprising that a movement that is determined to squelch all opposition to the creation of a purely theocratic state would focus their attention on the Copts. But while we would hope that the military—which has often been slow to protect Christians—will crack down hard on these outbreaks, these incidents should also prompt not only a strong response from President Obama but also outrage from Americans. Unfortunately, as weak as the administration’s response to events in Egypt has been, there’s also no sign that this apathy toward the fate of religious minorities in the Middle East is something that most Americans care about.

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The news today from Egypt ought to send a shiver down the spines of all Americans. The protests of millions of Egyptians against the Brotherhood and their leader Mohamed Morsi backed up by the military may have derailed the attempt to transform Egypt into an Islamist state. But the Brotherhood is, as should have been expected, far from finished. The prospect of a counter-revolt or even a long-term Islamist insurgency should not be discounted. But whether or not the Brotherhood can find a way to counter the efforts of the military as well as secular and liberal Egyptians to keep them out of power, the Islamist group is lashing out at a familiar scapegoat: the country’s Christian minority.

As the New York Times reports this afternoon, the Coptic community is bearing the brunt of the Brotherhood’s resentment about the reversal of fortune in Cairo:

Since Mr. Morsi’s ouster on July 3, the activists say, a priest has been shot dead in the street, Islamists have painted black X’s on Christian shops to mark them for arson and angry mobs have attacked churches and besieged Christians in their homes. Four Christians were reported slaughtered with knives and machetes in one village last week.

The attacks have hit across the country, in the northern Sinai Peninsula, in a resort town on the Mediterranean coast, in Port Said along the Suez Canal and in isolated villages in upper Egypt.

Given the way Christians were increasingly targeted for violence—including an attack on their main cathedral—while Morsi was in power, it is hardly surprising that a movement that is determined to squelch all opposition to the creation of a purely theocratic state would focus their attention on the Copts. But while we would hope that the military—which has often been slow to protect Christians—will crack down hard on these outbreaks, these incidents should also prompt not only a strong response from President Obama but also outrage from Americans. Unfortunately, as weak as the administration’s response to events in Egypt has been, there’s also no sign that this apathy toward the fate of religious minorities in the Middle East is something that most Americans care about.

It’s a shocking yet all-but-inarguable truth that the rest of the world has been largely content to stand by indifferently as Muslim extremists have targeted religious minorities throughout the Middle East. All too many Western Christians seem to consider their co-religionists to be strictly on their own when it comes to dealing with Islamists.

As New York’s Catholic leader, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, wrote last month in the New York Daily News:

Religious persecution isn’t just something from the history books. The early 21st century will go down as an age of martyrs, and the situation is only getting worse. It’s hard to believe, but today, more than a billion people live under governments that suppress religious liberty.

In many nations, the lack of religious freedom is a matter of life and death. Believers and non-believers alike suffer as a result of intolerance.

The news is grim. Two Orthodox archbishops on a mission of mercy are kidnapped in Syria. The ancient Christian community of Iraq is alarmingly reduced in the wake of the war. Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are used to intimidate Christians and other religious minorities with the death penalty. And churches are bombed in Nigeria on Christmas and Easter. Shockingly, some 150,000 Christians are killed for their faith each year.

The United States has paid lip service to this issue with a Commission on International Religious Persecution that issues reports, but the gap between rhetoric and policy has often been lacking. The problem isn’t that we don’t know what’s going on so much as the general lack of interest in prioritizing this issue.

That must change.

What is needed is not so much a new set of policy pronouncements but a genuine sense of anger on the part of Americans about the possibility that ten percent of Egypt’s population will be subjected to pogroms. Rather than the chattering classes worrying about the deposition of Morsi being a blow to the cause of Egyptian democracy—a ridiculous charge since there was nothing democratic about the way the Brotherhood went about consolidating power since Morsi’s election—the question of the safety of religious minorities ought to be our top concern. If that fails to materialize, the Islamists will have been sent a message to the effect that the West doesn’t care about religious persecution. No one should pretend that such silence wouldn’t constitute complicity in what will follow.

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Nadarkhani Released, but Iranian Christians Still Persecuted

After nearly three years of incarceration in an Iranian jail, where he awaited a death sentence for the charge of apostasy, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was finally released earlier today. The American Center for Law and Justice, an advocacy group that has done extraordinary work in raising Nadarkhani’s profile in the U.S. and internationally, published a photograph of the pastor emerging from the gates of the notorious Lakan prison in the north of Iran. As Nadarkhani’s children greeted him with flowers, he wore the bewildered smile of someone who can’t quite believe that his luck has suddenly changed.

The Iranian regime’s apologists in the United States, among them Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, and Hillary Mann Leverett, a former Clinton administration advisor, will certainly trumpet Nadarkhani’s release as proof that Tehran is amenable to outside overtures. That is why we should remember, before we get too carried away with the image of a kinder, softer Iran, that Nadarkhani is not the only Christian who has been imprisoned for his beliefs.

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After nearly three years of incarceration in an Iranian jail, where he awaited a death sentence for the charge of apostasy, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was finally released earlier today. The American Center for Law and Justice, an advocacy group that has done extraordinary work in raising Nadarkhani’s profile in the U.S. and internationally, published a photograph of the pastor emerging from the gates of the notorious Lakan prison in the north of Iran. As Nadarkhani’s children greeted him with flowers, he wore the bewildered smile of someone who can’t quite believe that his luck has suddenly changed.

The Iranian regime’s apologists in the United States, among them Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, and Hillary Mann Leverett, a former Clinton administration advisor, will certainly trumpet Nadarkhani’s release as proof that Tehran is amenable to outside overtures. That is why we should remember, before we get too carried away with the image of a kinder, softer Iran, that Nadarkhani is not the only Christian who has been imprisoned for his beliefs.

Moreover, Nadarkhani was not exonerated. One of the Christian activists who has been monitoring his plight explained to me that while the apostasy charge was dismissed, the lesser charge of engaging in evangelical activities was upheld. As a consequence, the court sentenced Nadarkhani to three years in prison. Since he had already served two years and eleven months, the judge agreed to his release, on the condition that he paid a fine in lieu of the outstanding month.

Nadarkhani complied, and is now tasting an approximation of freedom–as long as he remains in Iran, the authorities will be observing his every step. Meanwhile, other Iranian Christian leaders still languish in jail.

Among their number is Pastor Behnam Irani, like Nadarkhani a former Muslim who embraced Christianity. Irani is serving a five-year sentence for allegedly undertaking missionary work, a charge that carries with it the possibility of a death sentence for apostasy–exactly the fate that Nadarkhani was facing until a few hours ago. Throughout his time in jail, reports have regularly surfaced of the torture and beatings meted out to Irani. As the Christian Post reported at the end of August:

The pastor had been found several times unconscious in his prison cell when visited, raising fears for his well-being. A hospital examination had discovered that he was suffering from a bleeding ulcer, and officials had claimed that he would be provided with more care–but so far, that hasn’t happened.

“Pastor Behnam Irani has a blood infection and he might be sent to a hospital for surgery…[They] may remove part of his intestines, which are [the] source of infection,” Firouz Khandjani (a member of the Church of Iran,) had said at the time.

“However despite earlier promises nothing has been done,” he said most recently.

There is also the case of Pastor Farshid Fathi, another convert from Islam to Christianity, who is serving a six year sentence in Evin prison, Tehran’s version of the Lubyanka. Iranian dissidents say that Fathi is currently being held in Ward 350 of the prison, where many inmates previously subjected to torture are relocated in relatively more benign conditions. (For a detailed description of how Evin is organized, read the account of the Iranian journalist, Saeed Pourheydar, here.)

As I wrote in July, these and similar cases are part of a long-established pattern of persecution that dates back at least to 1990, when Pastor Hussein Soodman was executed for refusing to recant his Christian faith. Nadarkhani’s welcome release should therefore be understood as the exception, not the rule. Moreover, timing is everything; when Canada cut relations with Iran yesterday, Foreign Minister John Baird called out the regime as being “one of the world’s worst violators of human rights.” In releasing Nadarkhani one day later, the mullahs are trying to prove Baird wrong, a sly trick that only the gullible will fall for.

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