A new report has exposed the West’s blindness to the persecution of Christians around the world; it highlights how the “lion’s share” of this is done by Muslims, whom the media do not want to criticize over misplaced fears of “racism”.
Christianophobia, which was published last month, written by journalist Rupert Shortt for Civitas, argues that “Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers.” He quotes research by the Pew Forum and the World Evangelical Alliance, which estimates that 200 million Christians (ten per cent of the global total) are socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their faith.
Focusing on the plight of Christians in seven countries (Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Burma and China), Shortt catalogues some of the most egregious attacks on Christians in recent years.
He asserts, “In the large area between Morocco and Pakistan … there is scarcely a country in which church life operates without restrictions.”
Syria, he writes, had been “one of the exceptions until now”, but the country is currently wracked by civil war, and thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes.
Quoting the estimates of scholars that between half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left or been killed over the last century, Shortt states, “There is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its Biblical heartlands.”
“Lion’s share” by Muslims
The report argues that the “lion’s share” of anti-Christian persecution happens in Muslim-majority societies, where religious freedom is generally very restricted. But it also rightly stresses that much “Christianophobia” has nothing to do with militant Islam. It is rife under the Communist regimes of China and North Korea and also in mainly Buddhist societies such as Sri Lanka and Burma.
Shortt quotes a revealing study, Religious Freedom in the World,by the think-tank Freedom House, which examined the records of many countries. Of the 20 surveyed that were deemed “unfree”, Muslim-majority societies comprised 12, while of the 41 judged “free”, 35 were traditionally Christian. Buddhist countries with Communist governments (China, Tibet, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam) also scored poorly.
Blindness to persecution
Christianophobia raises the issue of why the persecution of Christians is so little known to Western audiences and says that governments and other influential players have a “blind spot” that causes them “to squander a broader opportunity”, adding, “Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human rights generally.”
Shortt suggests that the subject does not receive much attention for two reasons: first, because “persecuted Christians tend not to respond with terrorist violence”, and second, because “parts of the media have been influenced by the logical error that equates criticism of Muslims with racism, and therefore as wrong by definition”.
“A problem with Islam?”
The cause of Christianophobia is also examined. Shortt questions whether there is “a problem with Islam as such”, or if the trouble is more a matter of contingencies.
He states that part of the answer is theological, “There is a theory that the idea of jihad is more deeply embedded in Islam than related notions in the other world religions – and therefore that Islam is more susceptible to violent extremism – because of the martial context in which Islam took root.”
He refers also to the Islamic teaching on the unequal status of Muslims and non-Muslims. In many Islamic societies, Christians and Jews are given subordinate dhimmi status, which requires them to pay the humiliating jizya tax and restricts their rights. People who follow polytheistic religions, and atheists, have an even lower standing.
Shortt does not ignore the violence committed by Christians in the past and not-so-distant past, and goes on to argue that, as Christianity has become more flexible, there are reasonable grounds for thinking that Islam will “evolve” also.
But is it purely a case of Islam needing to mature?
Christianophobia touches on the effect that Western foreign policy has had on the persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries, but there is much more that could be said regarding this contributory factor.
Shortt refers to former US President George W. Bush’s use of the term “crusade” after the 9/11 attacks, which (some have pointed out) conveyed the sense of “a Christian assault on the Muslim world”, and which thus implicated, in Muslim minds, all Christians as enemies. He adds, “Others maintain that Bush’s ill-chosen words and mistaken policies have provided a convenient excuse for aggression against minority groups which patently have no connection with Western governments.”
In reference to Iraq, Shortt outlines the effect of the first Gulf War in 1990-1 and then the US-led invasion in 2003; anti-Christian violence intensified, resulting in a dramatic decline in the Christian population.
The violence against Christians in Muslim-majority contexts cannot therefore be blamed solely on Islam itself. Western governments, especially the US and British, need to be held to account for the way that their foreign policies, particularly in the Middle East, have increased the danger for Christian minorities.
They do not appear to be learning from history either, as they are now backing the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Assad had afforded the Christian community in Syria a considerable degree of protection and freedom; this has now been shattered by war and seems unlikely to be restored by any new regime, as Islamists have gained influence in the effort to oust the president.
Western support for the Arab Spring, which has promoted the rise of political Islam, has ignored the implications for Christians in the Middle East and North Africa. In Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood is in control, violence against Christians has increased markedly since the revolution.
There are concerns about what is going to happen to the sizeable Christian minorities in Syria and Egypt and whether they will be able to remain in these lands, which have had a significant Christian presence since the dawn of the faith and long before Islam existed.
Will Western governments open their eyes to this crisis, which is partly of their own making, before it is too late?