Barney Zwartz, The Age’s religion editor, writes about the persecution facing Christians worldwide:
As Christian villager Asia Bibi languished in a Pakistani jail awaiting death by hanging for drinking water from a Muslim cup, two suicide bombers killed 85 worshippers in a Peshawar church.
For Egypt’s Copts, who risk having the small cross-tattoos many wear on their wrists burnt off with acid by militant Muslims, the Arab Spring has been wintry. In August it got worse: Muslim Brotherhood supporters, blaming them for the army’s removal of president Mohamed Mursi, attacked more than 100 Christian sites – 42 churches were razed.
In Somalia, al-Shabab, which slaughtered scores of people at a Kenyan shopping mall in September, has reportedly vowed to kill every Somali Christian.
In northern Nigeria, Boko Haram has butchered thousands of Christians, as well as Muslims they consider inadequately ideological – such as those seeking an education.
Four of every five acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians, according to the Germany-based International Society for Human Rights…rights observers say these cases are all part of the biggest human rights challenge now facing the globe – religious intolerance – and also part of a largely unobserved global war on Christians.
Vatican analyst John Allen argues in his new book, The Global War on Christians, that it represents a ”massive, worldwide pattern of violence and oppression directed against a specific group of people, often explicitly understood by its perpetrators as part of a broader cultural and spiritual struggle”. If we are not honest enough to call it a war, we will not face it with the necessary urgency, he says.
Why are Christians especially at risk, and why are Western governments, media and churches so reluctant to acknowledge it, let alone act? And, as some observers suggest, is religious persecution heading back to the West?
Religion is often only one factor in this violence, part of a combustible cocktail of racial, ethnic, economic and linguistic motives, but increasingly – such as with the rising tide of puritanical Muslim Salafists – it is the main or only reason. And in the countries where the problem is most severe, persecution has accelerated and deepened in the past two years.
The international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need last week launched its 191-page report Persecuted and Forgotten, challenging the international community’s willingness to stand up for religious freedom.
The report calls the flight of Christians from the Middle East an exodus of almost biblical proportions.
”Incidents of persecution are now apparently relentless and worsening: churches being burnt, Christians under pressure to convert, mob violence against Christian homes, abduction and rape of Christian girls, anti-Christian propaganda in the media and from government, discrimination in schools and the workplace.”
Religious liberty analyst and advocate Liz Kendal talks of:
…a frightening new feature, that neighbours join or lead the brutality. ”One of the disturbing things about Syria is not just all the al-Qaeda-linked groups, but that local Muslims welcome them. They want their Christian neighbours to leave,” Kendal says.
The Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, may soon be emptied of its adherents, and of other religious minorities. In Iraq, which had 1.5 million Christians before the first Gulf War, the total is now possibly as little as a 10th of that. Most have fled, but unnumbered thousands have been killed.
Muslims also suffer greatly – in Buddhist Burma and Thailand, in Hindu India and communist China, and in Muslim countries where their particular form is a minority. Hindus are persecuted in Buddhist countries, such as Sri Lanka. Iranian authorities, brutal against Christians, are even more vicious when it comes to Baha’is. Persecution seems an equal-opportunity affair.
This article makes some excellent points, which unfortunately are diminished by a swipe at Israel and the “right wing”:
This has been encouraged by a shameful apathy or denial by First World leaders. When it comes to secular politics, the victims are too Christian to matter much to the left, who are much more comfortable bashing the doubtless legitimate but comparatively minor target of Israel. And they are too brown or too foreign to matter much to most on the right.
Why pray is Israel a “doubtless legitimate” target, when in Israel – alone of all countries in the Middle East – Christianity thrives and there is complete religious freedom. Israel is a modern egalitarian country whose laws – like Australia’s – are based on Judaeo-Christian values. Also, the statement “they are too brown or too foreign to matter much to most on the right” assumes that that anyone on the right of politics is automatically racist and xenophobic, which is certainly not based on empirical evidence.
To make a dismissive mention of one of the few countries where Christians enjoy complete religious freedom and are thriving seems unwarranted, and frankly needs to be challenged. The author points out “Iranian authorities, brutal against Christians, are even more vicious when it comes to Baha’is.” He could have added that the only place in the Middle East where the Baha’i religion is thriving, and where they have their main Temple and administrative headquarters is Haifa, in Israel.
Kendal is scathing about Western churches, saying they often deliberately avert their eyes. ”The Western church is so happy having a nice time in celebratory worship, they don’t want the burden of this knowledge (of what is happening to their brethren). Pastors feel under pressure to have their congregations leave the church feeling upbeat.”
Her pessimism runs deep. Not only is religious persecution unstoppable in Islamic and other Third World countries, but it is on the way in the West, if in a different form, she says.
…why does mainstream Western media miss the big picture? Kendal suggests it is a combination of ignorance by journalists about the historical and political context of persecution and a political correctness that will not allow them to criticise Muslims for fear of being labelled racist or Islamophobic.
”Turn on your TV and there is a young BBC reporter in Syria saying ‘these freedom fighters are fighting for democracy’. And behind him are bushy-bearded jihadists waving a black flag and shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great], fresh from cutting throats.”
In an article about religious persecution, there was no need to mention Israel at all, especially not in a negative light, when she has an exemplary record of religious freedom and is truly a Light Unto the Nations!
So here’s a snapshot of life at a Israeli universities, which are just like Australian universities, with students from all religions and races, and freedom for all. How many Jewish or Christian students would be similarly welcome at a university in Cairo or Saudi Arabia and given complete freedom of religion there?