Sunday, June 08, 2008

"Algeria Is Not Anti-Christian..."

My recent post on the fate of Christians in Algeria mentioned that in addition to Habiba Kouider - the woman on trial for having in her possession copies of the Bible, several other Christians were also facing judgment. The specific accusation in their case was that they practiced their faith in an unauthorized locale. According to Le Figaro four of the six men were convicted and received suspended prison sentences ranging from two to six months:

(...) The four men who converted to Christianity in this country of 33 million inhabitants, of whom only about 10,000 are Christians, did not practice their faith within the framework of the law.

(...) In Algeria the Christian religion, both Protestant and Catholic, is allowed, but the exercise of all religions is strictly controlled. According to a controversial law passed in February 2006, the place of worship and the worshiper must be authorized by the ministry of religious affairs. This law has led to the closing of 10 churches, but also of a few mosques.

The four convicted men admitted they had converted to Christianity, but denied they were participating in a Mass on May 9, the day they were arrested.

Two other men belonging to the same group were acquitted, after denying they had converted and declaring that they were simply participating in a luncheon. Their lawyer announced her intention to appeal the verdict in view of the different sentence passed on those who denied any conversion, compared to the others.

Note: The above isn't exactly clear. I assume the lawyer will appeal the suspended prison terms, not the acquittals, which wouldn't make any sense. She seems to be making the point that if you deny having converted you will get off easier than if you admit the truth - in other words there is little or no religious freedom in Algeria.

The verdict on Habiba Kouider has been put off, pending further investigation.

On a related topic, traditional Catholics, such as Joachim VĂ©liocas, writing at Islamisation, and David Fontey, writing at Bernard Antony's blog have expressed anger and concern over comments, published in Le Monde, by Christian Delorme (photo), a priest of the diocese of Lyons, who denies that Algeria is anti-Christian. Here are excerpts from his controversial essay:

(...) The recent trials in Tiaret against persons of Muslim origin who have embraced Evangelical Christianity have caused Algeria to be regarded by Western countries as a land where Christians are persecuted. This situation is as tragic for Algeria, whose image is sullied, as it is for the Christians in question.

It is absolutely necessary that this double process: degradation of the lives of Algerian Christians on the one hand, and deterioration of the image of Algeria on the other, be eliminated immediately. For Algeria is not an anti-Christian land. Its leaders have on many occasions in the recent past expressed their consideration for the Churches historically present in their country. (...)

Delorme then describes the deference with which he and the recently retired Archbishop of Algiers, Monsignor Henri Teissier, were treated by high officials of the Algerian State. It should be added that both Christian Delorme and Archbishop Teissier have long histories of accommodation with Algerian authorities. Both have engaged in what is called Christian-Muslim dialogue, i.e., an effort to reconcile the two religions and to accept the notion of repentance for French colonization of Algeria. Some just call it dhimmitude.

Yes, for several months there have been revolting situations such as the expulsion of a Protestant pastor who had been in the country 45 years, or the conviction to a one-year suspended sentence of a priest who had done nothing except pray with illegal immigrants from Cameroon.

But what the Algerian authorities and an important part of the population have to say must also be heeded. The fundamental unity of Algeria is, in fact, Islam. There is where the profound identity of the people resides. The existence of European Christians, even naturalized Algerians, did not threaten this unity and this identity. The same cannot be said of Algerians from Muslim families who become Christians. For then, memories return of the attack on Muslim culture and institutions by the conquering colonists. Then, memories of the attempts, in the 19th century on certain groups of the population, to push aside Islam are revived.

Being aware of the way in which the American imperial power uses Evangelical Christianity to its own advantage, many Algerians fear that there exists a strategy that aims to create a Christian minority in their country, that could, one day, become an excuse for military intervention. (...)

Note: In June 2007, Bernard Antony had posted an article enumerating the various repressive measures taken by the Algerian government against Christians. These include: a ban on organized meetings that take place outside of the officially recognized "religious structures," a ban on the use of buildings as places of worship without explicit authorization, the possibility of five years in prison and fines up to 10,000 euro for attempting to convert a Muslim to another religion. He notes that the Archbishop of Algiers, Henri Teissier, did not protest the new law:

Not only did the Catholic archbishop not express his sorrow at measures so radically opposed to human rights, but he felt he had to declare that "the repressive nature of the law does not correspond to the situation in the country that practices, in reality, a policy of freedom of expression and of assembly that is clearly superior to that of other Arab Muslim countries and that continues to be guaranteed under the new law."

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