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The Outsider

The power of intimidation as a weapon has recently been on display all over the world. Recently, the Pakistani governor who spoke out against blasphemy was assassinated in Pakistan by an Islamist whose arrival in court resembled that of a rock star. Qadri is a former member of the security services who wormed his way into Governor Salman Taseer's bodyguard. "'The governor's remarks had hurt the sentiments of Muslims and Qadri could not control his sentiments,' said one top TV anchor on a prime-time show. "

Qadri became an instant hero for the Islamists who posted thousands of messages on Facebook. "Pray for the ascension of Qadri to heaven," reads one.

Many religious leaders, even those from so-called moderate groups, were angered by Mr. Taseer's support in recent months of a 45-year-old Christian farm worker, Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court in November for blasphemy for insulting Islam.

"Everybody is in favor of Mumtaz Qadri," said Raghib Hussain Naeemi, a leading cleric in Lahore. "Everybody is thinking that Salmaan Taseer was on the wrong side. He's standing with that person who committed blasphemy."

Perhaps a better term for blasphemy in these cases, which connotes sacrilege against the Holy, is "walking while a minority." Intimidation has a political, not a sacred end. A friend remarked to me one evening that "what nobody realizes is that the Jews are just another oppressed minority in a region that oppresses minorities." Whether you're a Druze, Shi'a, Baha'i, Maronite Christian or Roman Catholic, your problem is fundamentally the same. At the least the sign says fundamentally the same thing: "not welcome here." And hence, the intimidation.

In Egypt, a country that is supposed to be an American ally, police are beginning a massive security operation to protect Copts who are about to perform the unpardonable act of celebrating the Coptic Christmas.

Egyptian authorities beefed up security Thursday as Coptic Christians warily ushered in Christmas Eve after a New Year's Day bombing in front of a church that killed nearly two dozen of their members.

The Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar and therefore will observe it Friday.

Celebrating Christmas is dangerous in some parts of the world. Just a few weeks ago, Christians in Iraq, also a U.S. ally, were subjected to large scale attacks by al-Qaeda. They attacked a cathedral, killing 52 people.

Lieutenant General Robert Cone, the U.S. deputy commanding general for operations in Iraq, said the Sunni Islamist group seemed determined to continue attacks against Christians following a siege of a Catholic cathedral two months ago.

"Al Qaeda has shifted to try and go after the Christians where they live," Cone told Reuters in an interview.

"Right now they seem to be focused on the Christians," he said, adding that there was no intelligence to suggest attacks were being planned against other minorities in the country.

And by minority is meant the wrong kind of person, even the wrong secular kind of person. Just recently, a female suicide bomber associated with the Taliban blew up a line of people waiting at a UN food distribution line in Pakistan. Forty five were killed. Being part of a secular organization is also a religious act, hence a political one. The UN has already forgotten its mistake in assuming that simply because they flew the blue, liberal flag that they were exempt from persecution.  After the attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad which decimated the UN Mission, one journalist wrote:

I had wandered past the security point without anyone attempting to search me or ask my business. The Iraqis coming in and out of the compound were good-humored. I had said to my friend that things seemed pretty relaxed. She had replied that the special representative was proud that Iraqis could approach the UN building -unlike in the Green Zone, whose barriers were a half mile from the main offices. ... I went to the canteen, where I sat from ten until two in the afternoon, talking to local NGO staff who came in to eat and use the Internet. I particularly liked a Tunisian security advisor who had served in the Balkans and was worried about terrorists targeting the UN.

The Tunisian knew what the others did not: Every minority is fair game. The drive against minorities is already distorting political life in Lebanon, where fear lies just under the surface.  Everyone is flying to their religious community for security. Those who "belong to no tribe" are SOL. Hanin Gaddar, a Shia married to a Christian, describes the marginalization of the seculars. Recently, a minister in the Lebanese government has proposed a ban on land sales between Muslims and Christians in order to prevent Christians from being pressured off their land. But Gaddar does not fit into a neat category and is therefore a person without a country. She says in an open letter to Minister Harb:

I understand the motives behind your draft law. Yes, Christians are facing a huge problem in Lebanon. Yes, Hezbollah is buying large pieces of land from Christians, and yes, many Christians are worried about their existence in Lebanon, especially after the recent church bombings in Iraq and Egypt.

Yes, Mr. Harb, I cannot blame you, but can you tell me where I am supposed to go? I am a Shia, simply, because I was born into a Shia family in the south of Lebanon. I gradually grew out of my sectarian identity, and believe me, it took me years and years to construct a different identity for myself and to believe in it. My identity has many layers, but before anything else, I am a Lebanese – a secular Lebanese – woman. ... your draft law constitutes a big problem for me, as a Shia with a Christian son who owns a property in a Christian area. ...

Mr. Harb, I am a Lebanese citizen, and I want to stay one. Tell me, where would I go?

Where should she go? To the devil, probably. Along with the Copts and Baha'is and Jews and Christians, like the millions of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia who must worship in secret, as some once did in the catacombs of Nero's Rome. That seems a harsh answer to Gaddar's rhetorical question, but it is hard to conceive of a different reply.