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Op-Ed: Minority persecution in Muslim world increases amid the pandemic

Op-Ed: Minority persecution in Muslim world increases amid the pandemic

As the world is pre-occupied with the deadly explosion in Beirut, domestic unrest and the coronavirus pandemic, the persecution of minorities in the Muslim world increases as we speak, from Turkey and Syria to Bangladesh and Pakistan.   This harsh reality was best illustrated when Sultan Erdogan decided to transform the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.  That move was condemned widely by the international community.  

“It would be an historic mistake at this difficult global moment to take actions which divide religious and cultural groups in Turkey and beyond, rather than uniting them,” Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur for cultural rights, and Ahmed ShaheedSpecial Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief told UN News. “The dome of the Hagia Sophia should be big enough to include everyone.”  The experts expressed concern that the Turkish government’s decision on 10 July to change the status of the building, and the “hasty implementation of this decision,” may violate Turkey’s obligations under rules derived from the 1972 UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

However, the transformation of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque was only the latest action that Erdogan’s government took against minorities.   During the pandemic, Turkey submerged the ancient settlement of Hasankeyf in order to transform the area into a dam, destroying numerous Kurdish and Armenian cultural heritage sites.  Although the preparations for the massive destruction occurred before the pandemic, the ancient site did not become fully submerged until the coronavirus pandemic erupted.  

Around the same period, Turkey continues to persecute Christians, Kurds and Yezidis in Northern Syria and to bomb the Kurdish area of Iraq.  As Sherkoh Abbas, who heads the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, reported, “Turkey forced the Kurds to pay taxes in order to stay in their homes.  In Northern Syria, they went from having a 99 percent to a 30 percent Kurdish population.  They are replacing them with jihadists with the blessing of the Russians, Iranians and even the Syrian government.  This is what they agreed while the US fell asleep.  It is bad for the humanity.”

However, Turkey is not the only Muslim country to take advantage of the pandemic to harm minorities.  During the coronavirus pandemic, Bangladeshi Information Minister Hassan Mahmoud together with his brother tried to seize the Gayanasarana Buddhist Monastery at Falaharia.  Honorable Ven. Saranangkar Thera Shankaranondo, the Founder of Gayanasarana Buddhist Monastery protested against this and held a press conference raising awareness about the issue.  When the media learned about what was going to happen to the Buddhist monastery, the Information Minister became furious and threatened the monk that his life would be in danger if he did not flee the country.  Soon afterwards, the monk faced charges for harming Muslim religious sentiments and speaking against the Prophet Muhammed. 

Yet sadly, no mainstream media outlet in Bangladesh came to the aid of Monk Ven Saranangkar TheraShankaranondo, so Bangladeshi blogger Asad Noor decided to raise awareness about his plight instead.  However, this soon led to the initiation of a campaign to hang both Asad Noor and the Buddhist monk in Islamist circles.  Soon afterwards, police came to Noor’s home and tried to locate him.  When they could not find him, they decided to torture and threaten his family instead.  Today, Asad Noor is a fugitive on the run, for the crime of defending a Buddhist monk in social media and speaking up for the LGBT community in Bangladesh.

Similarly, during the pandemic in Pakistan, a Christian man was forcefully converted to Islam and an Ahmadi Muslim was accused of blasphemy, before getting arrested.  When the Ahmedi man was brought into court, he was shot by an armed assailant and was killed on site. Shipan Kumer Basu, who heads the World Hindu Struggle Committee, claimed: “Now, all Pakistanis are praising him and calling him a hero for killing the accused man.  They appreciate the killer on social media and everywhere.   A lot of Muslims in Pakistan on social media say that they want to kill non-Muslim blasphemers. The world must understand that it is the law of the jungle in Pakistan.   All they want to do is to kill non-Muslims.   Pakistanis are always crying for the rights of the Kashmiris and Palestinians, but in their own country, they treat religious minorities like that.   Today, the Pakistani government supports Erdogan’s insane decision to transform the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.”

Although many nations around the world have many other issues to address, it is of critical importance that the international community also pay attention to the plight of minorities in the Muslim world and to not neglect them amid the coronavirus pandemic.  After all, while radical Islamist governments today might be busy oppressing the minorities that live within their borders, these countries in the future once the pandemic is over can also start to threaten the West as well.  For what starts with Christians, Kurds, Yezidis, Ahmedi Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other oppressed groups never ends with them.   Therefore, the West should help non-Muslim minorities face their oppressors today, so that we in the West won’t have to face these Islamist governments tomorrow.         






Rachel Avraham

Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and the editor of the Economic Peace Center, which was established by Ayoob Kara, who served as Israel's Communication, Cyber and Satellite Minister. For close to a decade, she has been an Israel-based journalist, specializing in radical Islam, abuses of human rights and minority rights, counter-terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Azerbaijan, Syria, Iran, and other issues of importance. Avraham is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media," a ground-breaking book endorsed by Former Israel Consul General Yitzchak Ben Gad and Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara that discusses how the media exploits the life stories of Palestinian female terrorists in order to justify wanton acts of violence. Avraham has an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben-Gurion University. She received her BA in Government and Politics with minors in Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park.