As the world recoils in horror at the massacres of children by Chechen jihadists in Beslan, Russia, security agencies are examining the possibility that such an attack could happen in an American school. And why couldn’t it? After all, at a conference held last weekend, security was tight because of death threats from people holding the same ideology as that of the Beslan barbarians: radical Islam. The conference was held in Falls Church, Va.

That’s right: Falls Church, Va. Right here in America, converts from Islam to Christianity spoke publicly only under assumed names, for fear of becoming the newest victims of the global jihad. The conference was called the Muslim Background Believers Convention, an evangelical Christian gathering sponsored by groups including the Baptist General Association of Virginia. The converts from Islam, according to a Washington Times report, spoke “only under fictitious names assumed for the occasion.”

The Times noted that “the convention kept the registration and entrance process under tight security to protect the participants, many of whom say they face death threats or ostracism from their families for leaving the Islamic faith.”

Why did they have to take this extraordinary precaution in the land of the free? Because in traditional Islamic law, for a Muslim to convert to another faith brings a death sentence. This is not, mind you, “extremist” Islam. It is the Islamic mainstream, based on a statement of Muhammad: “Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.” It’s also based on a statement of the Quran: “But whoever of you recants and dies an unbeliever, his works shall come to nothing in this world and the next, and they are the companions of the fire forever” (Sura 2:217). This has been widely interpreted by traditional Muslim commentators as giving sanction to the death penalty for apostates – which they derive from the verse’s assertion that the apostate’s work will “come to nothing in this world” as well as the next.

When converts are not killed, they are otherwise pressured. The organizer of the conference has felt the force of this firsthand: “I was called by my embassy and told I’d better repent or I could not go back home with my family.” Another convert reported that she had not yet told her family that she had become a Christian. “I know they’re going to disown me,” she said, “if they don’t kill me.” In America.

These people have to live in fear because of the long-entrenched and continuing unwillingness on the part of American authorities to face up to the realities of Islam. Law-enforcement officials either haven’t known or haven’t cared that Islam mandates the death penalty for those who leave the religion. They assumed, if they knew that this provision existed at all, that Muslims who settled in the United States would discard it and accept the parameters and principles of American secularism.

And many have. But many haven’t, and it is time that fact be acknowledged. This is especially tough for Westerners, however, since the concept of apostasy is so foreign to today’s secular society. As the great ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq noted in a statement read for him last year before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (he could not appear in person because of threats on his life arising from the same Islamic principles):

“The very notion of apostasy has vanished from the West. … There are certainly no penal sanctions for converting from Christianity to any other religion.” However, one who leaves Islam, he explains, “can be seen as someone unnatural, subverting the natural course of things whose apostasy is a wilful and obstinate act of treason against God and the one and only true creed, and a betrayal and desertion of the community.” Thus his death is to be actively sought, so as to erase the stain on the community.

All this clearly violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief. …”

Although the Falls Church converts are Christians, this is not solely a Christian issue. Freedom of conscience should be a concern of everyone who professes concern for human rights. The human-rights organizations should be the first to defend these people. American government and law-enforcement officials should rush to their aid in the name of freedom. But neither the rights groups nor the government have yet noticed that the converts even exist.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and the author of “Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West” (Regnery Publishing), and “Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter Books).

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