Muslim persecution of Christians is a growing problem in the Middle East:
"When the major media reported a few months ago that Iranian Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was set to be executed for leaving Islam, many Western people were shocked, finding it hard to believe that in the 21st century people are still being persecuted -- by their governments no less -- simply for being Christian.
The fact is, Muslim persecution of Christians in the modern era has been consistently growing worse. Yet, because only one out of every few hundred or so cases ever receives major attention, few in the West have any idea that it exists."
The problem is so disconcerting that Christian Solidarity International has started a petition drive hoping to force President Obama to raise the issue at the global level:
"We urge you, Mr. President, to present during the forthcoming State of the Union Address your administration's policy to prevent the eradication of the endangered Christian communities and other religious minorities of the Islamic Middle East."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has voiced his concern already:
"We cannot accept and thereby facilitate what looks more and more like a particularly perverse program of religious cleansing in the Middle East."
To date, President Obama has not seen fit to inject himself and his office into the debate. His reluctance to speak publically about Muslim persecution of any sort is probably motivated by his desire to create an America that is tolerant of Islam. In the process, he has thrown Christians under the bus:
"Christians in the Middle East and other parts of the world encounter an Obama administration that seems utterly indifferent to their fate. One of the most important but mostly neglected stories in recent years is the severe persecution of Christians in the Middle East and other parts of the world. Words such as 'religious cleansing,' 'mass murder' and 'authentic martyrdom' have been used by those who know the situation best to describe this persecution."
As appalling as Muslim persecution of Christians is, Muslims of different persuasions hate each other even more than they hate Christians. From Thailand to Pakistan to Egypt, sectarian violence is erupting into conflicts that border on civil war. This problem is especially prevalent today in Iraq, and with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, it is a growing concern. On Friday, thousands of Iraqi Sunni Muslims took to the streets to protest against Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki:
"Friday's protests took place a day after at least 69 people were killed in a wave of bombings across Baghdad. The demonstrations have also come on the heels of a growing political crisis involving Mr. Maliki and Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi."
The situation in Iraq is rapidly spinning out of control with Maliki and al-Hashemi accusing each other of stirring up sectarian trouble for political purposes:
"The Sunni vice president wanted for allegedly running a hit squad in Iraq on Friday accused Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of waging a campaign against Sunnis and pushing the country toward sectarian war."
Peter Wehner writing for Commentary calls what's happening in Iraq a "March Backwards Into the Sun":
"Yesterday, a barrage of at least 15 bombs were set off in Baghdad, which according to press reports rocked almost every major neighborhood in the Iraqi capital. Dozens of people were killed. We're seeing a dramatic resurgence of sectarian and ethnic divisions."
Concerning Iraq, The Economist went so far as say,
"[T]he American neo-con dream of a post-Saddam Iraq spreading democracy throughout the Middle East was always a delusional fantasy. The risk, now that there is no American presence to hold the ring, is that Iraq will fall into sectarian chaos (just as neighbouring Syria may). That in turn will strengthen the argument that in the absence of a Saddam-like strongman Iraq, with its Sunni and Shia Arabs and Sunni Kurds, can never be a coherent state and must, at best, become a loose federation."
Although the Arab Spring began as a movement for liberalism and human rights, it has morphed into sectarian strife throughout the Middle East and North Africa:
"Many pundits and government officials have praised the 'Arab Spring' as a prelude to the rise of a new and more democratic Middle East. But it is difficult to reconcile this notion with the images of growing intersectarian violence within the region, such as the recent anti-Shiite attacks perpetrated in the course of the celebration of the Shiite Ashura festival on December 5 and 6. The event, a traditional catalyst for intersectarian violence, served as a powerful reminder that identity politics continue to play a major role in the region.
Indeed, these Arab uprisings, while fueled by widespread desires for more freedom at the grassroots level, demonstrate that preexisting religious identities were never abandoned in favor of new national ones and that Middle Eastern politics are still very much based on group affiliation and identity politics."
As 2011 draws to a close, 2012 promises to be the year of sectarian strife in the Middle East, and no one knows for sure what it portends. This much is certain, though: when Arab Muslim political leaders are confronted with internal difficulties, they unite by blaming the Jews. Israel is a bastion of freedom and democracy in the Middle East, and she is a ready target for Muslims of every persuasion because they hate Israel more than they hate each other. Therefore, 2012 promises to be an especially difficult year for Israel.
Neil Snyder is a chaired professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily. His latest book is titled If You Voted for Obama in 2008 to Prove You're Not a Racist, You Need to Vote for Someone Else in 2012 to Prove You're Not an Idiot.