Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas in Gaza: the silence of the bells

It was very sad to read, in a BBC report, that the church bells in Gaza have fallen silent under Hamas rule. The BBC correspondent, Katya Adler, reported that instead of ringing the bells, a nun was quietly playing a cassette tape (see photo): "I thought how this reflected the situation in Gaza in Christmas 2007 - that while the muezzin were on loudspeaker, the church bells here are played from a cassette tape. A nervous young nun adjusted the volume - loud enough to peel through the church but not to penetrate its walls - it might risk offending Muslim Gazans passing by."

I was reminded by this story of the text of the 7th century "Pact of Umar", in which Chrisitans, when surrendering to Islam, agreed to silence their bells: "We shall use only [wooden] clappers in our churches very softly."

The prohibition on ringing bells was one of the universal restrictions imposed by Islamic law upon 'dhimmis' - non-Muslims living under Islam after conquest. The bells of Middle Eastern Christians fell silent for more than a thousand years, until the European Powers dismantled the dhimmi system during the 19th and 20th centuries. Now the age-old discriminatory laws are being enforced again, and Hamas is proving as good as its word, for when it took power in Gaza the local Christians were told that as they were now in a full Islamic system they 'must accept Islamic law'. The silence of the bells bears witness that Hamas has told the truth about its intentions.

The silence is bad enough, but what distressed me most about Adler's report was her claim - paradoxically in the very same article - that "There is no evidence to suggest the Hamas government here officially discriminates against Christians…"

This Christmas season Gazan Christians are being resubjected to the odious, humiliating discriminations of the dhimmi system. This makes Christmas a very good time for the rest of the world to wake up and pay attention to the stark historical reality of dhimmi Christians' lives under Islamic rule, and to the intolerable reimposition of these conditions in many Muslim societies in the present day.

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