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?