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Proposed ‘international Islamic power bloc’ can’t afford dissent
ICC Note:
“Christians in Iran and Azerbaijan are coming under increased pressure from their governments,” World Net Daily reports.
By Michael Carl
12/10/2011 Iran (World Net Daily) – Islamic factions jockeying for position from out of the ashes of the Arab Spring are posing an increased threat to Middle East Christians, an international human rights group contends.
The British group Barnabas Aid says that Christians in Iran and Azerbaijan are coming under increased pressure from their governments.
Barnabas Aid wrote in its December prayer alert that there is cause for concern for Iran’s persecuted believers, because Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei recently urged more than 2.5 million Muslims on a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia to form “an international Islamic power bloc.”
The Ayatollah Khamenei told the listeners the Arab Spring was guided by Islam and said Muslims worldwide should rally to the Islamic cause.
The prayer alert also said the Iranian leader called on Muslims “to make the most of the opportunity” created by the Arab Spring, as well as the anti-capitalist “Occupy” movement across the world.
International Christian Concern Middle East specialist Aidan Clay said the ayatollah’s call for a power bloc may be an attempt to distract attention from Iran’s domestic problems.
“In the 1979 revolution, many Iranians had thought Islam was the answer,” Clay explained. “However, 32 years later, Iranians have grown disillusioned, as their government has plunged them into economic stagnation and has isolated them from the international community.
“This has led many Iranian youth to seek answers outside of Islam,” he continued. “Thousands are now finding the hope and joy they had been longing for in the Christian faith.”
Clay added, however, that the climbing number of Christians in Iran is problematic for Iran’s leadership.
“The increasing growth of Christianity in Iran is viewed as a threat to the Iranian regime, which uses Islam to control its people,” he said. “In order to maintain control, the regime continues to try to weed Christianity out of the country.”
Clay said this is the likely explanation for the continued persecution of prominent Iranian Christians such as Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.
“In the past year, more than 130 Iranian Christians have been arrested and interrogated. A few of them remain in prison, including Behnam Irani, Mehdi Foroutan, Farshid Fathi, Noorollah Qabitizade and Youcef Nadarkhani,” Clay said.
Nadarkhani is the pastor who has been detained in jail for his reported conversion to Christianity. Human-rights groups say that his case is awaiting a final verdict.
Jockeying for power
Center for Security Policy senior fellow Clare Lopez said the Ayatollah Khamenei’s call for an Islamic power bloc fits together with the objectives of other Islamic groups and countries.
“Iran’s jihadist objectives are exactly the same as al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey. Indeed, the Iranian leadership was among the first, most consistent and most vocal of supporters of the ‘Islamic Awakening,'” Lopez said.
“Notice that the Iranians don’t call it the ‘Arab Spring,’ because the Iranians want to be the ones seen as the leaders of the jihadi movement,” Lopez said.

Those pesky Christians
Along with the political issues, ICC’s Clay said the Islamic regime in Tehran has to contend with another internal issue – a growing house-church movement.
Clay said the Iranian leadership is dedicating resources to go after the often underground Christians.
“Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi says the house-church movement in Iran is a threat to the country’s youth. If Iran’s regime loses the control of its youth, which is already happening, than it also loses control of Iran’s future,” Clay said.
“The regime has attempted to use propaganda to discredit the powerful house-church movement in Iran and to persuade youth to avoid it. However, the opposite effect is happening. Rather than fighting persecution, Iranian church leaders have accepted it and are using it to their advantage,” he said.
Clay added that in Iran, as in other countries, persecution isn’t harming the house churches.
“In fact, an Iranian pastor recently told me that the church is thriving under persecution,” he said. “And it is the youth who are among those the God is using to spread this incredible movement that is leading thousands of people to Christ in Iran.”
Rubin said Iran’s pragmatism had led it to deal with Sunni Muslim countries, including Sunni Azerbaijan, which recently instituted restrictions on religious liberty.
Clay said the restrictions increase prison terms.
“The government of Azerbaijan is adopting laws that will authorize five-year prison sentences or fines as high as nearly nine years’ official minimum wage on groups who produce or distribute religious literature without authorization,” he said.
“The amendments, which were proposed in late October, have already been approved by two parliamentary committees and may be adopted by the end of the year,” Clay said.
He also said, however, that Azerbaijan taking aim at religious minorities is nothing new.
“The amendments are merely adding to or increasing the punishments in laws that already exist which require those who sell or distribute religious literature to have a state license,” Clay said.
“ICC has received several reports that very few applications for licenses are approved, and booksellers are too afraid to complain, fearful of government reprisals. The system has also prevented thousands of Bibles and other Christian literature from entering the country. One Baptist pastor in Baku said that he must ask permission before he can receive even one book through the post,” Clay said.

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