Monday, October 13, 2008

Their god is a frightened god

In London, The Telegraph tells the story of an Iranian family suffering for its Christian faith because the god of Islam -- as understood by that country's civil and religious leaders -- is a frightened god to whom free will is a mortal threat.

Or should I say an immortal threat?

A month ago, the Iranian parliament voted in favour of a draft bill, entitled "Islamic Penal Code", which would codify the death penalty for any male Iranian who leaves his Islamic faith. Women would get life imprisonment. The majority in favour of the new law was overwhelming: 196 votes for, with just seven against.

Imposing the death penalty for changing religion blatantly violates one of the most fundamental of all human rights. The right to freedom of religion is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in the European Convention of Human Rights. It is even enshrined as Article 23 of Iran's own constitution, which states that no one may be molested simply for his beliefs.

And yet few politicians or clerics in Iran see any contradiction between a law mandating the death penalty for changing religion and Iran's constitution. There has been no public protest in Iran against it.

David Miliband, Britain's Foreign Secretary, stands out as one of the few politicians from any Western country who has put on record his opposition to making apostasy a crime punishable by death. The protest from the EU has been distinctly muted; meanwhile, Germany, Iran's largest foreign trading partner, has just increased its business deals with Iran by more than half. Characteristically, the United Nations has said nothing.

It is a sign of how little interest there is in Iran's intention to launch a campaign of religious persecution that its parliamentary vote has still not been reported in the mainstream media.

For one woman living in London, however, the Iranian parliamentary vote cannot be brushed aside. Rashin Soodmand is a 29-year-old Iranian Christian. Her father, Hossein Soodmand, was the last man to be executed in Iran for apostasy, the "crime" of abandoning one's religion. He had converted from Islam to Christianity in 1960, when he was 13 years old. Thirty years later, he was hanged by the Iranian authorities for that decision.

Today, Rashin's brother, Ramtin, is also held in a prison cell in Mashad, Iran's holiest city. He was arrested on August 21. He has not been charged but he is a Christian. And Rashin fears that, just as her father was the last man to be executed for apostasy in Iran, her brother may become one of the first to be killed under Iran's new law.

Not surprisingly, Rashin is desperately worried. "I am terribly anxious about him," she explains. "Even though my brother is not an apostate, because he has never been a Muslim – my father raised us all as Christians – I don't think he is safe. They assume that if you are Iranian, you must be Muslim."

OBVIOUSLY, Iranian Muslims and their leaders have their deity all figured out. And we know what Flannery O'Connor said about such -- "remember that these things are mysteries and that if they were such that we could understand them, they wouldn’t be worth understanding. A God you understood would be less than yourself."

And this is apparently what's understood about Allah in Iran -- that the Muslim deity is a puppetmaster and mankind is a puppet. That Allah fears that man would not, could not love him freely, so man must be forced to do so. That Islam is not so much about knowing, loving and serving Allah as it is being a "soldier" in a Mafia of a billion-plus souls.

Once in, there's only one way to get out -- be rubbed out.

IF JESUS is the good shepherd, the ayatollahs' Allah must be Michael Corleone. And Muhammad is what? Al Neri?

That makes Ramtin Soodmand the Iranian version of Fredo, I'm afraid.

Nice conception of deity you have there, guys.

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