Nothing can be sadder in this Christmas season than the news that Christianity is facing imminent extinction in the land of its birth.
And the cause is the systematic and mounting persecution of Christians by militant Muslims. In fact, persecution by the “religion of peace” is now the greatest threat to Christians across the world.
The most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam. The “lion’s share” of persecution faced by Christians is in countries where Islam is the dominant faith. “Muslim-majority” states make up 12 of the 20 countries judged to be “unfree” on the grounds of religious tolerance by Freedom House, the human rights think tank.
Quoting estimates that between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century, the Civitas report concludes “There is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands.”
The report identifies a fear among oppressive regimes that Christianity is a “Western creed” which can be used to undermine them. The report catalogs hundreds of attacks on Christians by religious fanatics over recent years, focusing on seven countries: Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Burma and China.
- Converts from Islam face being killed in Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Iran, or risk severe legal penalties in other countries across the Middle East.
- In Iraq, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq left Iraqi Christians “more vulnerable than ever”, highlighted by the 2006 beheading of a kidnapped Orthodox priest, Fr Boulos Iskander, and the kidnapping of 17 other priests and two bishops between 2006 and 2010. “In most cases, those responsible declared that they wanted all Christians to be expelled from the country,” the report says.
- In Pakistan, the murder last year of Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s Catholic minister for minorities, “vividly reflected” religious intolerance in Pakistan. Shortly after his death it emerged that Mr Bhatti had recorded a video in which he declared: “I am living for my community and for suffering people and I will die to defend their rights. I prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community rather than to compromise. I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us.”
- In India, Christians have faced years of violence from Hindu extremists. In 2010 scores of attacks on Christians and church property were carried out in Karnataka, a state in south west India.
- In Burma, while many people are aware of the oppression faced in Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi and other pro-democracy activists, little exposure has been given to targeted abuse of Christians. In some areas of Burma the government has clamped down on Christian protesters by restricting the building of new churches. Christians employed in government service who openly profess their faith “find it virtually impossible to get promotion.”
- In China, where more Christians are imprisoned than in any other country in the world, state hostility towards Christianity is particularly rife. Ma Hucheng, an advisor to the Chinese government, claimed in an article last year that the US has backed the growth of the Protestant Church in China as a vehicle for political dissidence. Writing in the China Social Sciences Press, Ma claims that “Western powers, with America at their head, deliberately export Christianity to China and carry out all kinds of illegal evangelistic activities. Their basic aim is to use Christianity to change the character of the regime…in China and overturn it.”
But the persecution and oppression of Christians in Muslim countries is often ignored by the media because of a fear that criticism will be seen as “racism”. Politicians, too, have been “blind” to the extent of violence faced by Christians in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Rupert Shortt, journalist and author of the Civitas report who’s a visiting fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, says: