In the 2011 edition of “Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians Oppressed for their Faith”, by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the following factors stand out: 1) 75 percent of all religious persecution in the world is against Christians, 2) half of the countries listed are Muslim-majority countries, 3) extremist Islam is a dangerous, world-wide phenomenon that is both anti-Western and anti- Christian, and 4) the small, ancient communities in the Middle East are being targeted by Muslim fanatics, particularly in Iraq.

While the extremists and their many radical supporters are busily conducting their campaigns of terror, whether in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan, Indonesia or elsewhere, the authorities appear to be unable or unwilling to stop the atrocities. The West, meanwhile (particularly the media and the politicians), seems to be sadly indifferent to what is taking place there.

It is true of course that Christians are being persecuted in some non-Muslim countries as well (notably Burma, China, India and North Korea), but the motive is often more political than religious, and usually linked to patriotism. Hence, in the case of China and North Korea, it is fear of the influence of Western liberalism, while in Burma it is the preservation of a staunch Buddhist identity, and in India (particularly in Orissa) it is maintaining a strict Hindu identity.

Only in Muslim-majority countries does the persecution of Christians appear to be directly linked to their faith. And the problem is much wider than just a minority of extremists, for all Muslims are deeply affected by the Koran, which contains numerous verses that call for violence against non-Muslims, including Christians and Jews. These verses not only legitimise the fanatics’ jihad against the infidels, but also instil in ordinary Muslims a deep hatred towards non-believers, particularly “the people of the scripture” (i.e., Christians and Jews).

In chapter 5, verses 12-16 of the Koran, for example, they are cursed and  accused of “distorting” their scriptures. In 5:51 Muslims are advised: “Do not take Jews and Christians for friends”, and in 9:29 Muslims are instructed to “fight against those who have been given the scriptures…and who follow a false religion.”

A basic component of the Koran is its anti-Christian polemic, claiming  that the Bible is wrong concerning God and Jesus. But in fact it is the Koran that distorts the Bible, which preceded it by some six centuries. While travelling around the Middle East as a merchant, Muhammad picked up his information about Christianity and Judaism, but much of it was false, due in part to the influence of heresies (such as Arianism) and the existence of apocryphal gospels. Thus the Koran presents the Trinity as a tritheism, made up of God, Jesus and Mary (5:116), while Jesus is constantly portrayed as a mere man, his divinity is fiercely attacked (4:170; 5:75; 9:31), and his crucifixion is strongly denied (4:157).

By contrast, Islam is presented as the only religion acceptable to Allah (3:85), whereas Christians, Jews and other infidels are condemned to hell (98:6). Believers in Islam are “the best community Allah raised for mankind” (3:110), and they are promised paradise, particularly if they kill unbelievers and wage war against them: “Those who fight in the way of Allah…will receive a vast reward” (4:74) and: “Martyrs for Allah live with Allah” (3:169).

All the above then creates in Muslims an attitude of superiority and contempt towards non-believers. Very few Jews now remain in Muslim-majority countries (having been either killed or forced to flee to Israel around 1948), and it now appears to be the turn of Christians to be eliminated by the fanatics. These too readily identify “Christians” with “Westerners” due to the common factor of religion. Iraq’s Christians had nothing to do with Western imperialism or the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and yet they’ve become the victims of a brutal religious cleansing that is now threatening their very existence.

But no big fuss is ever made by Western governments or secular media, whether due to indifference, political correctness or fear of Muslim reaction. Furthermore, neither have fatwas been issued nor have any Arab delegates visited Iraq in order to help stop the persecution and killing of Christians, who are the most loyal and peaceful of citizens. The Iraqi authorities are too feeble to stop the atrocities, while their national media are hardly bothered to report them. It appears that moderate Muslims are simply too frightened to stand up to the fanatics among them. Countless acts of brutality against Christians are related in the ACN report. In Pakistan and Egypt, for example, it is commonplace for Christian girls to be abducted, raped and forced to convert to Islam.

It’s not just the ACN report that causes concern about the increasing persecution of Christians. In its 2011 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommends that the State Department designate 14 nations as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs). They are: Iraq, Iran, Burma, China, Egypt (for the first time), Eritrea, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmen-
istan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. Out of the 14, 8 are Muslim-majority, and in two (Nigeria and Eritrea), Muslims who make up half of the population are controlled by extremists who collaborate with the local authorities and the police to attack Christians in their villages and burn down their churches without any provocation. Indonesia should be added to the list.

The organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has disclosed that every year 105,000 Christians of all denominations are killed simply because of their faith. This figure was revealed at a con-ference on peaceful coexistence among religions that was hosted by the Hungarian government as a highlight of its presidency of the European Union. One of the participants, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest, voiced his concern about the disappearance of the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East, resulting from persecution and emigration.

This was reiterated by the Vatican observer at the United Nations, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, who warned that anti-Christian violence worldwide is intensifying, with the Christian minorities (particularly in Muslim-majority countries) continuing to present a “soft target” for terrorists and militants. “Discrimination against Christians,” he stated, “isn’t restricted to a lack of respect for their religious faith, but it’s also leading to violence and murder, and this is now growing.”

A spokesperson for COMECE (the Brussels-based commission representing the EU Catholic bishops) has demanded concrete measures to protect Christians being persecuted. Joanna Touzel states: “What we’re calling for is a clear warning about the consequences of continued persecution,”
adding: “The West should be offering a framework for respecting fundamental rights… With revolutionary changes occurring in the Arab world, the West has a responsibility to set some ground rules.”

Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland has taken this a step further. He has singled out Pakistan as a shocking case of anti-Christian discrimination, in light of its infamous blasphemy laws that result in the killing and imprisonment of those who oppose the laws or are falsely accused of breaking them. He has urged the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to withhold aid from Islamabad unless and until it gives guarantees to stamp out persecution.While this may be a step too far, the principle of reciprocity ought to be forcefully reiterated, namely, that just as Muslim minorities in the West enjoy all basic human rights and are protected by law, so should Christian communities in Muslim-majority countries. For 13 centuries they have been treated as inferior citizens and often persecuted. Now their situation is getting much worse. It is in fact so worrying that it needs to become a major foreign policy issue for Western governments. Let’s hope and pray that some action is taken soon before it’s too late.

© JS, 2012

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