“Christian persecution ‘at near genocide levels,’” the title of a May 3 BBC report, cites a lengthy interim study ordered by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and led by Rev. Philip Mounstephen, the Bishop of Truro.
According to the BBC report, one in three people around the world suffer from religious persecution, with Christians being “the most persecuted religious group”; “religion ‘is at risk of disappearing’ in some parts of the world”; and “In some regions, the level and nature of persecution is arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide, according to that adopted by the UN.”
British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is also quoted on why Western governments have been “asleep”—his word—concerning this growing epidemic: “I think there is a misplaced worry that it is somehow colonialist to talk about a religion [Christianity] that was associated with colonial powers rather than the countries that we marched into as colonisers. That has perhaps created an awkwardness in talking about this issue—the role of missionaries was always a controversial one and that has, I think, also led some people to shy away from this topic.”
Whatever the merits of such thinking, the fact is, many of the world’s most persecuted Christians have nothing whatsoever to do with colonialism or missionaries. For example, those most faced with the threat of genocide—including Syria’s and Iraq’s Assyrians and Egypt’s Copts—were Christian several centuries before the ancestors of Europe’s colonizers became Christian, let alone went missionizing.
The BBC report highlights “political correctness” as being especially responsible for the West’s indifference, and quotes Hunt again in this regard: “What we have forgotten in that atmosphere of political correctness is actually the Christians that are being persecuted are some of the poorest people on the planet.”
Although the BBC report has an entire heading titled and devoted to the impact of “political correctness,” ironically, it too succumbs to this contemporary Western malady. For while it did a fair job in highlighting the problem, it said nothing about its causes—not one word about who is persecuting Christians, or why.
For instance, it is well established that the overwhelming majority of Christian persecution occurs in Muslim majority nations. According to Open Doors’ World Watch List 2019, which surveys the 50 nations where Christians are most persecuted, “Islamic oppression continues to impact millions of Christians.” In seven of the absolute worst ten nations, “Islamic oppression” is the cause of persecution. “This means, for millions of Christians—particularly those who grew up Muslim or were born into Muslim families—openly following Jesus can have painful consequences,” including death.
Among the worst persecutors are those that rule according to Islamic law, or Sharia (which academics such as Georgetown University’s John Esposito insist is equitable and just). In Afghanistan (ranked #2), “Christianity is not permitted to exist,” says the WWL 2019, because it “is an Islamic state by constitution, which means government officials, ethnic group leaders, religious officials and citizens are hostile toward” Christians. Similarly, in Somalia, (#3), “The Christian community is small and under constant threat of attack. Sharia law and Islam are enshrined in the country’s constitution, and the persecution of Christians almost always involves violence.” In Iran (#9), “society is governed by Islamic law, which means the rights and professional possibilities for Christians are heavily restricted.”
Equally telling is that 38 of the 50 nations making the WWL 2019 are Muslim majority.
Perhaps the BBC succumbed to silence concerning the sources of Christian persecution—that is, succumbed to “the atmosphere of political correctness” which it ironically highlighted—because it did not rely on the WWL in its own report. The problem with this interpretation is that the study the BBC did rely on, the Bishop of Truro’s, is saturated with talk concerning the sources of Christian persecution. In this regard, the words “Islam” and “Islamist” appear 61 times; “Muslim” appears 56 times in this comprehensive review on persecuted Christians.
Here are a few of the more significant quotes from the Bishop of Truro’s report:
- “The persecution of Christians is perhaps at its most virulent in the region of the birthplace of Christianity—the Middle East & North Africa.”
- “In countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia the situation of Christians and other minorities has reached an alarming stage.”
- “The eradication of Christians and other minorities on pain of ‘the sword’ or other violent means was revealed to be the specific and stated objective of [Islamic] extremist groups in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, north-east Nigeria and the Philippines.”
- “[T]here is mass violence which regularly expresses itself through the bombing of churches, as has been the case in countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia.”
- “The single-greatest threat to Christians [in Nigeria] … came from Islamist militant group Boko Haram, with US intelligence reports in 2015 suggesting that 200,000 Christians were at risk of being killed… Those worst affected included Christian women and girls ‘abducted, and forced to convert, enter forced marriages, sexual abuse and torture.’”
- “An intent to erase all evidence of the Christian presence [in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, north-east Nigeria and the Philippines] was made plain by the removal of crosses, the destruction of Church buildings and other Church symbols. The killing and abduction of clergy represented a direct attack on the Church’s structure and leadership.”
- “Christianity now faces the possibility of being wiped-out in parts of the Middle East where its roots go back furthest. In Palestine, Christian numbers are below 1.5 percent; in Syria the Christian population has declined from 1.7 million in 2011 to below 450,000 and in Iraq, Christian numbers have slumped from 1.5 million before 2003 to below 120,000 today. Christianity is at risk of disappearing, representing a massive setback for plurality in the region.”
The BBC should be commended for (finally) reporting on this urgent issue—even if it is three years behind the times. As the Truro report correctly observes, “In 2016 various political bodies including the UK parliament, the European Parliament and the US House of Representatives, declared that ISIS atrocities against Christians and other religious minority groups such as Yazidis and Shi’a Muslims met the tests of genocide.”
Karamles, North Iraq (AINA) — There is no peace for Christians in northern Iraq. If, on the one hand, the memory of the violence perpetrated by Islamic State jihadists (SI, ex Isis) is still alive, in recent weeks another threat is shadowing the future of the community: the Shiite militias linked to the Shabak, who are in fact hindering Christians return to the Nineveh plain.
The epicenter of this new chapter of anti-Christian persecution is Bartella, increasingly drapped with banners depicting the militia battles against Isis as well as saints and sacred figures of the Shiite tradition.
“Bartella is a problem, a special case”, says Paolo Thabit Mekko, head of the Christian community in Karamles, speaking to AsiaNews. “In recent years – he continues – the presence of Shabak has increased dramatically and Christians are afraid to return. At least 600 families who have fled in the IS era are still in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, and have no prospect of return at the moment. There is a real demographic upheaval in the city, which began in 2003 after the US invasion and which has accelerated in the last period “.
The presence of local Shiite militias, adds Don Paolo, “creates unease and the prospects for the future arouse anger and concern”. The priest sees a behind-the-scenes attempt to “change the demographics of the area”, according to some a “design” orchestrated by the Shiite leadership and maneuvered from the outside, with the complicity of a part “of the Shabak politicians and exponents in Baghdad who support them “.
Until 30 years ago, the population of Bartella was entirely Christian. The demographic changes of the last decades have turned the composition upside down, ending up dividing it in half between Christians and Shabak, a largely Shiite Muslim ethnic group. When the Islamic State (SI, former Isis) conquered much of northern Iraq, including the Nineveh Plain, the entire population of Bartella left the area due to persecution by Sunni radicals.
Today, two years after the ousting of the “Caliphate” jihadists, less than a third of the original 3800 families that populated the town have returned. Most of them are still in exile and there is fear of returning due to persecution, threats and intimidation perpetrated by some members of the Shabak community, which presides over the Shiite militias that control the area.
Following the expulsion of Isis, confessional divisions, militias and armed groups are emerging with increasing strength, trying to get hold of growing sections of territory in northern Iraq, above all in the plain of Nineveh, which was once almost entirely Christian. Qusay Abbas, a member of the Shabaks in Parliament, said the attacks were the work of a small, unrepresentative minority.
But the stories (and complaints) from Bartella and other towns in the area tell another truth: That the Shiite militias are trying – most of the time by force – to eliminate the Christian component. In fact the cases of sexual attacks, thefts, threats and violence against private individuals is becoming more and more frequent. Recently, an ethnic Shabak man fired bullets in the air for over an hour in front of a church in the town.
“What is happening to Bartella – underlines Don Paolo – is repeated, albeit to a lesser extent, in other areas of the plain such as Karamles and Qaraqosh. We are facing a movement that seeks to expand “.
“A council of the sages of the Nineveh plain – he continues – which includes Christians, Arabs, shabaks has initiated dialogue and is trying to resolve the situation. Unfortunately there are no official agreements and there is no way to apply the rare agreements between the parties “.
In this context the Iraqi Church remains firm on the refusal to create a Christian armed militia and strengthens the initiatives of meeting and confrontation. “The situation remains delicate – concludes the priest – and Christians are afraid. One of the solutions that can be followed, and which we hope, is the establishment of an official, institutional police force, within which Christians can also contribute to enlisting the protection of law and order”.
Cairo, Egypt—A policeman, who was an explosives expert, was killed while attempting to defuse a bomb near a Coptic church in Cairo on Saturday. State television reported that two other policemen and a bystander were also injured in the blast. Only two days before Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7th, the device was one of two found hidden in a bag on a rooftop near the church.
Security was tighten with armed policemen guarding churches, guards checking the identities of visitors and metal detectors set up outside churches.
Coptic Christians are the largest religious minority in Egypt who equal approximately 10 million in the nation. There has been increased levels of recent violence and attacks against them. Many Christians say they are discriminated against and the state doesn’t offer them enough protection.
Egypt’s president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi claims he’s a defender of Christians and religious freedom. In 2017, the Muslim president commissioned the largest Christian Cathedral in the Middle East as a gift to the Copts. In time for Christmas celebration, The Nativity of the Christ Cathedral held its first mass on Sunday which al-Sisi participated, according to the BBC. The worship center is located near Cairo.
The Cathedral opening coincided with the opening of the new Al-Fattah Al-Aleem Mosque nearby. Both religious facilities are located in a new development serving as the country’s administrative capital.
(AINA) — Kurdish PKK authorities closed an Assyrian (Christian) school in Derbiseye, Syria after Assyrian school officials refused to adopt a Kurdish teaching curriculum. The Kurdish PKK prosecutor in Derik/Malikiye, Syria, issued the order on August 7, which is Assyrian Martyrs Day.
The Syrian government is expected to take control of all schools in the area in the upcoming weeks, but that did not stop PKK officials from attempting to impose the Kurdish curriculum on Assyrians.
The PKK has targeted Assyrian schools in the past. In November, 2015 sixteen Assyrian and Armenian organizations issued a statement protesting Kurdish expropriation of private property in the Hasaka province of Syria. The statement accused the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian wing of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), of human rights violations, expropriation of private property, illegal military conscription and interference in church school curricula.
The Kurdish-language primary school curricula introduced by the PYD-led Kurdish authorities in northern Syria in October, 2015 was heavily criticized for being too ideological and “prioritizing a single view over all others.”
The Assyrian Bishop in Hasaka, Maurice Amsih, denounced the Kurdish curriculum in September, 2016
By Chris Mitchell (CBN) The Church in the Middle East has gone through some dark days in recent years. Some say the lives of believers today reflect the heroes and heroines of the past in the place where Christianity was born.
Across the Middle East, Christians and the Church have suffered terrible persecution. Yet there is tremendous optimism there.
Please pray for strength of faith and trust in the Lord.
Many of Iraq’s Christians celebrated their first Easter since returning to their homes. With the help of local churches and other organisations, people in the country’s largest Christian city, Qaraqosh (also known as Baghdida), have restored their homes and are now attempting to recover the lives they lost when the Islamic State group took over the city nearly four years ago.
The pastor of the Mar Behnam and Sarah Church, located in the centre of Qaraqosh, talks about how the city, which was deserted following IS’s onslaught, is starting to recover.
By Dan Wooding (Assist News) The Roman Colosseum will be illuminated by red lights later this month to draw attention to the persecution of Christians around the world, and especially in Syria and Iraq.
On Saturday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. the Colosseum will be spotlighted in red, to represent the blood of Christians who have been wounded or lost their lives due to religious persecution, according to Crux.
Simultaneously, in Syria and Iraq, prominent churches will be illuminated with red lights. In Aleppo, the St. Elijah Maronite Cathedral will be lit, and in Mosul, the Church of St. Paul, where this past Dec. 24, the first Mass was celebrated after the city’s liberation from ISIS.
The event, sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) — follows a similar initiative last year, which lit-up London’s Parliament building in red, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris and the cathedral in Manila, Philippines. In 2016, the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome was lit.
Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN, told journalists on Feb. 7 that the “illumination [of the Colosseum] will have two symbolic figures: Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian condemned to death for blasphemy and whose umpteenth judgment is expected to revoke the sentence; and Rebecca, a girl kidnapped by Boko Haram along with her two children when she was pregnant with a third.”
“One of the children was killed,” he said, “she lost the baby she was carrying, and then became pregnant after one of the many brutalities she was subjected to by her captors.”
Once she was freed and reunited with her husband, she decided she “could not hate those who caused her so much pain,” Monteduro said. [Read Voice of the Persecuted’s (VOP) report: Held Captive For 2 Years By Boko Haram: Rebecca’s Story and the relief sent to them through VOP’s aid mission, Project 133 Nigeria here.]
Aid to the Church in Need released a biennial report on anti-Christian persecution Oct. 12, 2017, detailing how Christianity is “the world’s most oppressed faith community,” and how anti-Christian persecution in the worst regions has reached “a new peak.”
The report reviewed 13 countries, and concluded that in all but one, the situation for Christians was worse in overall terms for the period 2015-2017 than during the prior two years.
“The one exception is Saudi Arabia, where the situation was already so bad it could scarcely get any worse,” the report said.
China, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria were ranked “extreme” in the scale of anti-Christian persecution. Egypt, India, and Iran were rated “high to extreme,” while Turkey was rated “moderate to high.”
The Middle East was a major focus for the report.
“Governments in the West and the U.N. failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” the report said. “If Christian organizations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.”
The exodus of Christians from Iraq has been “very severe.” Christians in the country now may number as few as 150,000, a decline from 275,000 in mid-2015. By spring 2017 there were some signs of hope, with the defeat of the Islamic State group and the return of some Christians to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.
The departure of Christians from Syria has also threatened the survival of their communities in the country, including historic Christian centers like Aleppo, ACN said. Syrian Christians there suffer threats of forced conversion and extortion. One Chaldean bishop in the country estimates the Christian population to be at 500,000, down from 1.2 million before the war.
Many Christians in the region fear going to official refugee camps, due to concerns about rape and other violence, according to the report.
ACN also discussed the genocide committed in Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State and other militants. While ISIS and other groups have lost their major strongholds, ACN said that many Christian groups are threatened with extinction and would likely not survive another attack.
A spokesperson for Aid to the Church in Need, said, “We invite everyone to attend, either in person or in spirit, on February 24, 2018 at around 6 p.m. in Largo Gaetana Agnesi, Rome.”
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 77, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 55 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan has written numerous books, and his most recent reporting trip for ANS was to Kurdistan in Northern Iraq.
HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED
VOP is on the ground helping persecuted Christian refugees from Nigeria and Pakistan. Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate horrific suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope. Every day, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and to further His Kingdom! As you greatly bless others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!