Christians On Trial: France’s Ambiguous Defense of Habiba Kouider

Here is an interesting follow-up to my recent article on Christians in Algeria, and the specific case of Habiba Kouider, prosecuted for carrying Bibles in her handbag. The news of her trial has received world-wide attention, since the US State Department has mentioned it in its on-line report on Algeria. Not surprisingly the French authorities are also well aware of the event. Secretary of State for Human Rights, Rama Yade, has made some comments on the case as reported by the Catholic newspaper La Croix:

"It's sad, it's shocking, first because it contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," that proclaims, in Article 18, freedom of thought, of conscience and of religion, declared Madame Yade.

"In accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in accordance with Algeria's tradition of hospitality, I believe that an act of clemency would be appropriate," she added.

The prosecutor of Tiaret, in western Algeria, asked for a sentence of three years without parole for Habiba Kouider, 37, a convert to Christianity on trial for illegally practicing a non-Muslim faith, by virtue of a law passed in 2006. The verdict is expected on Tuesday, according to the Protestant Church of Algeria.

This would seem to indicate that she converted to Protestantism – probably of the Evangelical sort. The actual denomination has not been mentioned.

"Christianity does not threaten Islam in Algeria," Madame Yade feels. "The Christians in Algeria are 1% of the population, that is, about 11,500 persons. There are 32 churches compared with 32,000 mosques, so I don't think there is a religious threat."

The secretary of State for Human Rights revealed that it was "not the first case of this type," pointing to that of the French Catholic priest, Pierre Wallez, who was given a two-month suspended sentence in April for proselytizing by the appeals court of Tlemcen in western Algeria.

"I have confidence in the tolerance of the Algerian people," Madame Yade repeated.

Her remarks aroused anger at the Salon Beige blog and raised some questions. If you look carefully at what she said, it is a bit ambiguous. Christianity as a threat to Islam is not the issue, the issue is that Christianity itself is threatened. She says: "Christianity does not threaten Islam in Algeria," implying that if it did, then she would condemn the Christians. But there is no way that could happen in the current situation with the current religious demographics. Le Salon Beige notes:

Why add this additional point? In what way could Christianity be a threat? In the name of what "laïcité" is a minister authorized to judge whether or not one religion is a threat to another? And finally, can we know at what percentage point a religion becomes a threat?

I'm not sure his remarks are much help because they indicate that a minister would not have the right to judge Islam as a threat. But as far as percentage points are concerned, he is right to accuse her lack of preciseness. She says that 1% is not enough to constitute a threat but does not say what does constitute a threat. As one Salon Beige reader points out:

Following her reasoning can we conclude that Islam is a threat to France?

Another reader takes her side on the assumption that when she says "threat" she is referring, not to Catholics, but to the Evangelical movement that is regarded by the Algerian authorities as an American plot to destroy Algerian identity. Which brings us right back to the issue of identity: if Algeria can act to protect its own identity from a few Evangelical Protestants, why can France not protect herself from the millions of Muslims, and their mosques?

@PvdH: happy to be schizo..


"..On one hand they are very upset (and rightfully so) about what happens to Christians and Jews in these countries, but on the other hand that is exactly what they wish to do with Muslims over here.."


No inconsistency here Pete, just a difference in knowledgeability about the basic tenets of the Islamic doctrine. Those tenets are fundamentally opposed to universal human rights. Of course you might argue that these rights aren't universal and but a "Western" invention in the first place, but then you would de facto turn basic rights into privileges for people who just happen to live in the West. Are you sure that's not the position you'll end up defending, maybe even to your own surprise?
You seem to condemn the violation of human rights far away, but then you somehow turn apologetic when Islam brings those violations right next to your backyard, backing them up with threats of violence. Doesn't that seem just slightly inconsequential to you, not even a little bit? Are you sure it's not just that you're afraid and impressed by the apparent ease with which some Muslims in our cities resort to violence to protect their belief system from insult, as they perceive it?

Back to the alleged schizophrenia. I don't see it. Wouldn't you agree that Islamization is a global phenomenon and that opposing the totalitarian doctrine of sharia-supremacists doesn't stop at national borders? For any civilized human being anywhere on this globe, doesn't it testify to a sound opposition to tyranny (instead of schizophrenia) when one is appalled both by the merciless persecution of Christian schoolgirls in Indonesia as well as the brutal assassination of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam?


Kind regs from Amsterdam,


discrimination ?

I am not asking for 'discrimination', but for "reciprocity", quite something else I think.

you can't deal with the most perfidious regimes & (religious/political) leaders on earth by giving them gifts: they should feel our fist, they should know we don't take their shit, it's the only language they understand.

schizophrenic # 2

@ pvdh

1) It is heartening to see that 'ethical Pete' is still following the Brussels Journal.  TBJ provides only a small counterweight to the naive-leftism of the mass media and the stifling orthodoxy surrounding you. 

2) On principle, I agree with you that "one has to be consequent" (probably better to say "consistent" in English in this way of phrasing). It would not be wise in principle to copy official discrimination of muslim societies in our own societies.  Both for reasons of morality (a point that Armor and Kappert cannot grasp) and for reasons of preserving liberty for our own posterity (i.e. denying government the power to selectively trample on individual rights and to violate the constitutional commandment of equality FOR CITIZENS before the law ).

3) A couple of points of disagreement:

-- The schizophrenia that you mentioned, while 'real', is not really "funny".  On the contrary, it is tragic, and it originates in the very real mistreatment of nonmuslims in most muslim and muslim-dominated societies.  You are wrong to think that most westerners would "wish to" meet out such treatment to muslims in the West.   And most of those who do are motivated out of a sense of fairness (i.e. in order to achieve better treatment of nonmuslims in muslim countries).  In short, it is a 'reaction', not a 'default' position

-- You seem to reason from a very individualistic standpunt, which goes counter to your general positive disposition for societal welfare.  While the human dignity of the individual citizen should always be the focus of our political philosophy, the existence of cultural group differences and group conflicts is a reality in the world.  If you live in a world in which different groups have very different agendas from your own, you cannot afford the luxury of ignoring these other agendas.  Your own society's present (and certainly, future) 'welfare' depends on it.  For example, if a large percentage of muslims in the West do not show any clear concern for the treatment meeted out to nonmuslims in their countries-of-origin, then their presence cannot possibly be 'good' for your society's welfare in the future.  In order for your society to survive as a 'free' one, it is imperative that the bulk of your population remain imbued with a deep sense of fairness (of equality in law for all everywhere).

-- Freedom of religion can mean different things. It should mean that people can believe whatever they want to believe.  In a civilised democracy it cannot possibly mean that people should be allowed to DO whatever they want.  There should be freedom of religion within a constitutional legal framework for all citizens.  If your 'religion' tells you that you have a right to physically 'control' your wife, then your religion is incompatible with a democratic free society where all citizens are supposed to be equal before the law.   It is like with the freedom-of-speech debate.  One must distinguish between speech (ideas, 'religion', etc..) and deeds/actions.  There cannot be unfettered freedom of actions.

-- You mentioned "...freedom of faith (and in a broader perspective culture)".   There is no sensible reason why Europeans would want freedom of "culture" in Europe.  If it took several centuries for much of Europe to achieve a broadly democratic culture, at enormous cost - and let's not forget, history teaches that on several occasions it required American intervention to preserve this - then it would be foolish to tolerate cultural behavior patterns that are inimical to the maintenance of a democratic culture in the future.  Instead of 'freedom of culture' Europe should insist in preserving its own broadly democratic culture, and defend vigorously democratic individual rights for all its citizens. 

3) To sum up, I agree with you that Europe should defend equality of all citizens before the law.  At the same time, I belief it imperative that Europe be very careful about who specifically it gives citizenship to.  It should integrate and assimilate immigrants as individuals; it should not open up its own 'culture' to a free-for-all competition between competing and conflicting group values.  And yes, Europe should insist on 'reciprocity' in international relations.  You do not gain genuine 'respect' from other 'cultures'  by acting as a free doormat to them.        


this is islam/sharia

This is sharia-law, a rule that is maybe 1300 years old: non-muslims can't talk in public about their inferior faith, its a part of their oppression and humiliation as a punishment for their refusal of islam. All contemporary islamic countries keep this principle and this specific rule alive, there is no exception. In Marocco this rule is even offical: No. 220 of the penal code. In Turkey this is not official but the (local) authorities keep it very much alive, many cases like this are to be found in Turkey.

Time to give muslims an equal treatment: restrict the spread of religious literature & the building of mosques & religious visas for imams who come from countries that don't allow reciprocal visits by non-Muslim clergy.


It is always funny to recognize the schizophrenic situation commentators of the Brussels Journal get in, when commenting on the outrageous discriminating treatments non-Muslim get in Muslim countries. On one hand they are very upset (and rightfully so) about what happens to Christians and Jews in these countries, but on the other hand that is exactly what they wish to do with Muslims over here. Yet one must be consequent. Or one advocates a restriction on Muslims (their faith, their scriptures and their mere presence) in Europe, and then one fully agrees with what is happening in Algeria; Or one advocates the freedom of faith (and in a brother perspective culture) in Algeria, but evidently also in Europe. For me it’s the last one. But what will it be for you?