Trying to make sense of it

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Analyzing the rights that Islam really does tolerate

Amid the news of Osama Bin Laden’s killing, and the extreme public reaction in Pakistan, it is worth asking, “Do all Muslims support jihad killing of innocents?” and “What human rights do Muslim majority nations allow?”
We regularly read about the denial of voting rights, civil rights, public education or free speech for women and minorities in Muslim nations, such as Iran’s killing of members of B’nai Brith, an offshoot sect of Islam that many Muslims consider a heresy.
But how much of this repression of basic human rights is due to the “culture” of national governments and how much is due to the religion of Islam?
One way to evaluate this question is to ask how well do Muslim majority nations comply with the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1947?
The declaration set forth principles of human rights similar to our Bill of Rights.
A Wikipedia article on Muslim majority nations identifies 47 as having a Muslim citizenship ranging from 50 percent (Burkina Faso) to 100 percent (Saudi Arabia).
One would think that the Muslim majority nations which are members of the UN would endorse the declaration’s human rights principles and enshrine them in national civil law. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
That Wikipedia article lists 24 nations as either an Islamic state where Sharia religious law is the civil law of the land (like Iran, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia), or where Islam is the State religion, which means Sharia courts may be used, like Tunisia, Egypt or Jordan.
This means religion — Islam — is the dominant ruler of civil society.
According to HumanRightsFirst.org, at least 12 Muslim majority nations have national blasphemy laws that provide for the punishment of persons who defame the Koran, the Prophet Muhammad or Muslim religious leaders.
In Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, the maximum penalty for insulting Islam is death. Other Muslim nations allow prison to torture to beatings to public lashings.
Those other nations with national blasphemy laws include Algeria, Jordan, Indonesia, Palestine, Iran, Malaysia, Jordan, Egypt and Sudan.    
Blasphemy laws are important because criticizing the lack of education, jobs, marriage equality, free speech, free press, free association and right to believe as you choose is frequently labeled as “blasphemy” to either the Koran or the words of the Prophet Muhammad.
Relevant to this puzzle is a 2005 article by Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld in FrontPageMag.com that states “all five schools of Islamic law agree that the penalty for conversion - apostasy - is death.” Dr. Ehrenfeld also claims it is official policy in most Muslim majority nations for churches, temples and synagogues to either be prohibited from being built, or they may be destroyed.
Recent news reports of attacks on a Coptic Christian church in Egypt and a Christian church in Iraq are the 21st century continuation of what is alleged to be an ancient Islamic practice.
The worst offender of religious freedom is Saudi Arabia, where no Christian churches or prayer practice are allowed anywhere within the kingdom.
Dr. Ehrenfeld reports that even Christian religious services in the American Embassy in Riyadh were ended at the request of the Saudi government.
During the 1991 Gulf War, when more than 400,000 American and international troops arrived in the kingdom to defend it from Saddam Hussein, news media reported that all non-Muslim religious services were being held off-shore on naval ships.
Aside from prohibiting anyone to practice any religion other than Islam, the Saudi government prohibits women from voting, from driving cars, from moving about in public without the escort of a male family member, from wearing any clothing that fails to fully cover a woman from toe to head, and from initiating divorce by her own choice.
There is no freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia, no freedom of the press, no freedom to drink alcohol and no freedom to criticize the kingdom’s rulers.
Religious extremism and denial of basic human rights is not unique to Islam. According to HumanRightsFirst.org, India has a blasphemy law and, at times, has been run by a Hindu fundamentalist party.
The nation of Sri Lanka, where Buddhism is the state religion, has blasphemy laws. And even Switzerland denied the vote to women until recently. Human rights denial is a world problem.
Still, it can be argued that Islam “as practiced” in most Muslim nations teaches intolerance of other believers, or “infidels,” and denies the basic human rights of women as defined in the UN’s Declaration.
Turkey is the one Muslim majority nation where civil law is explicitly made superior to religious Sharia law.
The United States is a multicultural, multireligious, highly tolerant nation that sets civil law and courts above any religious law or court.
Muslims in America must accept the Bill of Rights and the subjugation of religious law to civil law, rather than expect to practice Islam as they do in Saudi Arabia and in Pakistan.

Tom King
Los Alamos columnist