Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ – the prophet of peace and freedom and a liberator of human thought is truly an occasion of joy for all who value these fundamental human virtues. Greetings to our Christian brothers and sisters, peoples of divine faith everywhere, and especially to those living in Iran – or persons of true faith living in lands adversely affected by Islamic fundamentalism.
We are reminded of Christ’s message of love, compassion and freedom, which is also the message of all divine religions. These are the pillars with which we stand-up to those who pervert religions through fanaticism, terror, and extremism.
Fundamentalist Islamists represent only a dismal blip in evolutionary history of mankind. Notwithstanding the recent difficulties, Christianity has been practiced in Iran longer than Islam, even as its followers consistently lived as one of the minorities. They were a protected minority however, long after introduction of Islam in Iran. Many have been members of the older denominations belonging to minority ethnic groups (the Armenians) as well as the Assyrians who have their own distinctive culture and language. Others Christians are members of the newer, smaller churches drawn from the traditionally Christian ethnic minorities and converts from non-Christian backgrounds.
Never in modern Iranian history, however, Christians have suffered as much as they are now enduring under Iran’s theocratic regime. Government intrusion, expropriation of property, forced closure, persecution (including imprisonment, torture, and death) of Christians have all been documented. Muslims who change their religion to Christianity have for decades been subject to official pressure, which in some cases included torture and/or death. More recently, Iranian-American pastor and former Muslim Saeed Abedini, was sentenced to eight years prison.
For nearly 4 decades, the religious zealots in Iran have perverted Islam to suffocate peace, freedom, equality, and compassion for Christians, Muslims, Baha’is and other faiths. In recent years, their message of hatred, intolerance and violence has infiltrated the rest of the Middle East, engulfing the entire region.
As “Washington seeks rapprochement with Tehran over Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions,” read a New York Times article on oppression of Christians on Iran, “the United States must not let its protests over cruel treatment of Christians and other religious minorities fall by the wayside.”
The lawmakers and executives in the United States would best serve peace and human rights by heeding this message. The civilized world must collectively unite, embrace moderate regional voices, and end extremism in the Middle East (and the entire world) in order to achieve religious freedom and equality. This is the only practical way to save Christians and the entire region from oppression and the most important tool for undermining Islamic fundamentalism.
Maryam Hejazi is chair of women outreach for Organization of Iranian American Communities (www.oiac.org)