Human rights organization Open Doors published its 2014 World Watch List in January, highlighting and ranking the top 50 nations that persecute Christians. The overwhelming majority of countries making the list—and nine of the top-ten worst offenders—are Muslim, and include nations from among America's allies (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait) and its contenders (Iran); from among economically rich nations (Qatar) and poor nations (Somalia and Yemen); from among "Islamic republic" nations (Afghanistan), "democracies" (Iraq), and "moderate" nations (Malaysia and Indonesia).
The report also indicates that every Muslim nation that the U.S. has helped "liberate," including during the "Arab Spring," has become significantly worse for Christians and other minorities. Previously moderate Syria is now ranked the third-worst nation in the world in which to be Christian, Iraq fourth, Afghanistan fifth, and Libya 13th. All four receive the worst designation in the ranking process: "extreme persecution."
Three of these countries—Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya—were "liberated" in part thanks to U.S. forces, while in the fourth, Syria, the U.S. is actively sponsoring "freedom fighters" against the regime. Many of these "freedom fighters" have been responsible for any number of atrocities—including massacres, beheadings, and the crucifixion of Christians, and others.
Despite this track record of interfering in Islamic nations, only for the human rights of minorities to plummet, and despite the fact that Syria has gotten dramatically worse for Christian minorities, Secretary of State John Kerry declared in January that, if only Bashar Assad goes away, "I believe that a peace can protect all of the minorities: Druze, Christian, Isma'ilis, Alawites—all of them can be protected, and you can have a pluralistic Syria, in which minority rights of all people are protected."
The same was predicted of Iraq over a decade ago, yet today, well more than half of the Christians are either dead or have fled, after years of constant attacks on their churches and persons once the Arab dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted.
Libya offers a more recent precedent. Since U.S.-backed "rebels" overthrew Qaddafi, Christians—including Americans—have been tortured and killed (some for refusing to convert), churches bombed, and nuns threatened.
January's roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes (but is not limited to) the following accounts, listed by theme and country in alphabetical order, not necessarily according to severity.
Attacks on Christian Places of Worship
Egypt: Christian churches were severely targeted during the first month of 2014. Among other incidents, during New Year Eve church services, Muslim Brotherhood supporters attacked St. George Church in Ain Shams; one young Coptic man died from a bullet wound to the head. International Christian Concern reports that on Friday, January 3, Muslim Brotherhood supporters also attacked an Evangelical Church in the Gesr El Suez area of Cairo, "pelt[ing] stones on the church and chanting slogans against Christians," in the words of a local. Reports indicate that "there was no security for the church building and that the attackers operated with impunity." On Sunday, January 5, security forces in Suez disrupted a terrorist cell belonging to the "Supporters of Jerusalem," whose members were plotting to attack a nearby church during January 7 Orthodox Christmas celebrations. In the bathroom of the Three Saints Church in the city of Beni Suef, the police found, among other items, a bomb, which was defused by police. On January 10, security forces "arrested a bearded person in possession of four hand grenades in a handbag next to the Church of Two Saints," according to a local Christian. (In 2011, a suicide attack on the same church on New Year's Eve resulted in the killing of over 20 Christian worshippers). On January 24, authorities found explosives inside a car parked behind the Al Malak Church, which was targeted, "to be exploded," sources told International Christian Concern. On January 25, security forces in the city of Ismailia found 26 Molotov Cocktails inside a bag next to the Church of St. Bishoy. Witnesses say that the person in possession of the bag of explosives was sitting in a car next to the church and that "he fled when he saw the policemen." On January 28, "A group of armed men," according to Asia News "attacked the Coptic Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary in the governorate of Giza. Police responded to gunfire and one officer died in the shootout, while two others were injured."
Indonesia: In the province of Aceh, where Sharia law holds sway, Christians, who make up 1.2 percent of the population, continue to be denied permits to build churches. According to Agenzia Fides, "There are only three churches in the provincial capital Banda Aceh (one Catholic and two Protestant), and even though the Christian population in Aceh is increasing, the requirements to obtain permits and the pressures of radical Islamic groups on the civilian authorities have made it extremely difficult for non-Muslims to build new places of worship. Moreover, the current governor of the province, Zaini Abdullah, who was elected in 2012, promotes a declared program of islamization of society." According to Zulfikar Muhammad, coordinator of the Aceh Human Rights Coalition, the laws that appear within Sharia districts "limit the freedom of minorities to practice their faith and are not coherent with the Indonesian Constitution."
Malaysia: An unidentified assailant hurled two firebombs at a shrine fronting the Church of the Assumption. Only one bomb ignited, causing minor damage to the structure. The assault seems to have been the response to Christians using the word "Allah" to refer to the biblical God. "But the incident," said Sky News, "stirred memories of a wave of such attacks on places of worship—mostly churches—four years ago during an earlier bout of divisions over the dispute in the Muslim-majority country.... Conservative Muslims have raised pressure in recent weeks for Malay-speaking Christians to stop using the word 'Allah.'"
Nigeria: On a Friday in the Muslim-majority north, gunmen suspected of being members of the Islamic organization Boko Haram burned down a church and the house of a National Assembly member. Separately, in the midst of several Sunday morning raids by Muslim Fulani herdsmen, at least fifteen Christians were killed.
South Sudan: During clashes between rebel groups and the recently formed government of South Sudan, Catholic and Protestant churches were attacked and priests forced to flee for their lives. The whereabouts of a bishop who disappeared remains unknown. Some 600,000 people, most of them Christian, have also fled their homes amid reports of mass slaughters and ongoing attacks on churches.
Zanzibar: More than 100 Muslims stormed a church following an evening worship service and beat the visiting preacher. According to a church elder, "These rowdy Muslims were shouting and yelling, saying, 'We are looking for the bishop of the church to slaughter him—we are tired of the existence of this church near our mosque and the noise they are making.'" The Islamic mob fled when police arrived—but not before tearing the visiting pastor's coat and shirt, and causing him to suffer multiple injuries requiring treatment. According to another church member, the "congregation has been living in fear for their lives... At the moment we cannot worship freely because we are being threatened. The Muslims are accusing us of making a lot of noise while they themselves make a lot of noise."
Attacks on Christian Freedom: Apostasy, Blasphemy, Proselytism
Algeria: Ali Touahir, a 52-year-old Muslim convert to Christianity, is paying the price for apostasy: his Muslim wife has left him, taking their seven-year-old daughter, and is divorcing him in court. One of his wife's brothers has openly threatened to kill him. According to court documents, the wife's lawyer wrote: "It is not possible that my client [the Muslim wife] still remain under the same roof with a man who has renounced his religion, as he became apostate; and we are not ignorant of the punishment that is due an apostate under sharia [death]."
Israel: Christians in Nazareth were warned against "slandering" Allah. A large billboard was posted in Nazareth featuring a picture of a stop sign, along with Koran 4:171 which reads: "O people of the Scripture [Christians]! Do not exceed the limits of your religion. Say nothing but the truth about Allah (The One True God). The Christ Jesus, Son of Mary, was only a Messenger of God and His word conveyed to Mary and a spirit created by Him. So believe in God and His messengers and do not say: 'Three gods (trinity).' Cease! It will be better for you. Indeed, Allah is the One and the Only God. His Holiness is far above having a son."
Kazakhstan: A court fined two Protestant Christians for possession of Christian publications, which it defined as "extremist material." According to a note sent to Agenzia Fides, a "tough system of religious censorship imposed by the state" prevails in the nation. Earlier, in October, 2013, Bibles and icons in a small shop were seized by police, and the owner indicted for the sale of religious material without the permission of the state. Similarly, a 67-year-old Christian Presbyterian Pastor has been under arrest since May 17, 2013, on charges of distributing "extremist material" -- basic leaflets on the Christian faith.
Lebanon: After allegations of blasphemy, that a decades-old library owned by a Christian and church leader possessed "material deemed insulting to Islam and Muhammad," the building was torched in an arson attack; two-thirds of its 80,000 books and manuscripts were destroyed.
Malaysia: Christians using the word "Allah" for worship were again attacked by Muslim groups. Similarly, a portrait of Fr. Andrew Lawrence, Director of the Catholic Weekly Herald, was burned; threats to his life continue. Msg. Murphy Pakiam, the region's Archbishop Emeritus, in a letter asked that authorities to "take the necessary measures to prevent further provocative acts of intimidation against minorities." He concluded by saying, "Let us not forget to pray for our enemies, who have misunderstood our faith."
Pakistan: Asia Bibi, a Catholic Christian wife and mother who has been on death row for over four years without trial for allegedly blaspheming Islam and/or its prophet Muhammad, sent a message to Pope Francis saying that "only God will be able to free me.... I also hope that every Christian has been able to celebrate the Christmas just past with joy. Like many other prisoners, I also celebrated the birth of the Lord in prison in Multan, here in Pakistan... I would have liked to be in St. Peter's for Christmas to pray with you, but I trust in God's plan for me and hopefully it will be achieved next year."
Dhimmitude and Murder
Bangladesh: Ovidio Marandy, a young Christian and brother of a Catholic priest, was murdered. According to his brother and family, "Muslim radicals wanted to punish the young man, a well-known figure in the local Catholic community, because he had recently organised a demonstration in his village against Islamist violence," and more generally was speaking for Christian rights in the Muslim majority nation. According to the local Christian priest, "We are shocked by what happened. Christians have the right to vote. Why are Islamists attacking us? We want peace."
Buddhists and Christians protest Islamist violence in Bangladesh.
Egypt: Yet another Coptic Christian child was kidnapped in Egypt. Thirteen-year-old Cyril Rif'at Fayiz was abducted in the Minya district by "unknown persons" who later called the child's parents demanding one million Egyptian pounds, the equivalent of nearly $150,000 USD -- an exorbitant sum for Egyptian villagers.
Syria: Two Armenian families were compelled to convert to Islam at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and one young Armenian man, Minas, was killed for refusing. According to iNews, "Minas and his father were held in ISIL's prison for 115 days, according to one activist, and his accusation was that he refused to submit [to Islam; convert]." The same report mentions other Christian Armenians killed, including one who reportedly had "his head chopped off and placed in a biscuit box." Separately, according to Aleteia.org, another Christian man, Fadi, was beheaded and his body stabbed with his own crucifix, which had exposed him as a Christian to "rebels" who had stopped his car.
Turkey: Protests against Christmas and New Year celebrations were described as "unprecedented" by Al-Monitor. The campaign was led by the Anatolian Youth Association (AYA), the youth branch of the pro-Islamic Felicity Party. In one instance, in various Istanbul neighborhoods, members displayed posters picturing a Muslim man punching Santa Claus, with the slogan "No to New Year's and Christmas celebrations." The group also distributed flyers stating, "We are crying out that the New Year's and Christmas celebrations held in our country are wrong and constitute a blow dealt to our Muslim identity." On 26 December at Beyazit Square in Istanbul, the AYA stabbed an inflatable Santa while chanting against Christmas and New Year celebrations. One Christian bishop expressed concerns that the Santa parody was "like a rehearsal" for attacks on real people: "A handful of Christians are left in this country, and such incidents naturally cause fear... The savage murders of missionaries took place in the wake of similar hate campaigns."
About this Series
While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians is expanding. "Muslim Persecution of Christians" was developed to collate some—by no means all—of the instances of persecution that surface each month.
It documents what the mainstream media often fails to report.
It posits that such persecution is not random but systematic, and takes place in all languages ethnicities and locations.
Raymond Ibrahim is author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War in Christians (published by Regnery in cooperation with Gatestone Institute, April 2013).
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