THE WEST CAN BARELY ROUSE ITSELF OVER THE WORLDWIDE TERRORIZATION OF CHRISTIANS
— Nationalist Religious Movements — Hindu,
By Robert Fulford, with permission of the author
In February, an organization calling itself the Islamic State in Egypt issued a dire warning in the form of a video. Masked soldiers appeared on the screen promising attacks on the “worshippers of the cross,” the Coptic Christians of Egypt. They described these Christians as “infidels who are empowering the West against Muslim nations.” One soldier, carrying an AK-47 assault rifle, said “God gave orders to kill every infidel.”
Media in the West have been slow to focus on terrorism targeted at Christians. It doesn’t quite fit the conventional narrative: other groups, religious or national, are more likely to be persecuted. But Open Doors USA, a long-established agency for the protection of Christians around the world, recently noted that serious incidents of persecution have been increasing at an alarming rate. David Curry, president of Open Doors, says their research reveals “the worst levels of persecution in modern times.”
In late May, for example, gunmen attacked a bus carrying Coptic Christians in central Egypt, killing at least 28 people and wounding 25 others. The Copts were attacked as they were going to pray at the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor. Gunmen in three four-wheel-drive vehicles stopped the bus on a road leading to the monastery and opened fire. And that sort of atrocity is becoming more frequent, a radical departure from the historic situation.
The West has been slow to focus on terrorism targeted at Christians. It doesn’t quite fit the conventional narrative.
In fact, Copts believe their church dates from 50 AD, when the Apostle Mark is said to have visited Egypt. They are the the largest Christian minority of any country in the Middle East. The government estimates they are six per cent of Egypt’s population; they claim to be 20 per cent — in other words, a fifth of all Egyptians. Their leader, Pope Tawadros II, based in Cairo, is 118th in succession to Mark. (The word “coptic” is based on an ancient Greek word for Egypt.)
The Copts have often complained about discrimination in government and business but for generations they have lived in relative peace with their Muslim neighbours. The bus killings and other recent attacks are apparently the result of the extremist jihadi belief that Islam is the only acceptable religion and others must be obliterated.
But that explains only part of the rise in the persecutions of Christians: Open Doors says that anti-Christian incidents are now reported from every continent and form of Christianity. David Curry says, for instance, that 23 Christians were killed in Mexico “specifically because of their faith.” Mexico may be listed as 80 per cent Catholic, but in recent years a number of priests have come under attack. In January 2016, for example, some 30 evangelical Christians in the Mexican state of Chiapas were banished by village elders who then destroyed their homes.
A report from the Center for Studies on New Religions says 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith last year, and that as many as 600 million were prevented from practicing their religion through intimidation, forced conversions, bodily harm or even death.
Robert Nicholson of the Philos Project, an advocacy group for Middle East Christians, said recently that “There are many places on Earth where being a Christian is the most dangerous thing you can be. Those who think of Christianity as a religion of the powerful need to see that in many places it’s a religion of the powerless.”
Curry said that Open Doors has seen an increase in persecution in various countries throughout Asia. For example, nationalist religious movements — Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist — have turned against Christians in India, Myanmar and Pakistan. These zealots now tend to see Christianity as a foreign belief, colonial in its history, ready to import the rules of the West.
Other countries, while offering Christians a certain degree of freedom, develop bureaucratic methods of keeping them in their place: In China, for example, church steeples are limited in height, less anyone assume that Christianity is the dominant belief of the citizens.
That particular issue may sound trivial but Curry suggested that he hopes the Open Doors report will arouse public attention to what he sees as a global epidemic: “This is one of those issues that really are about life and death. It is time we took a stand and said that we will not allow this to happen anymore.”
Farahnaz Ispahani -- the Pakistani author of "Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities" -- sees this as a long-range disaster: “I call it a ‘drip drip genocide.’ It’s a wiping out of religious communities. It doesn’t happen in one day. It doesn’t happen over a few months. Little by little by little, laws and institutions and bureaucracies and penal codes, textbooks that malign other communities, until you come to the point of having this sort of jihadi culture that is running rampant.”
Robert Fulford’s e-mail address is: http://firstname.lastname@example.org