Breaking through the silence on the plight of Middle Eastern Christians
Jan 15, 2013 | Ahron Shapiro
Up to 100 million Christians are facing persecution globally, mostly by Islamic extremists, and especially in the Middle East and African regions, according to a new report by the Christian NGO Open Doors.
According to the organization, of the top 10 countries on their list – North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen and Eritrea – eight are majority Muslim states threatened by Islamic extremism, with North Korea and Eritrea being the sole exceptions.
The report puts a spotlight on the underreported plight of minority Christians worldwide, particularly in the Islamist-dominated Middle East, where the number of Christians relative to the global Christian population has plunged to less than one percent. This is in contrast to a century ago, when the Middle East was home to 20 percent of the world’s Christians.
This past Christmas season, a spate of news stories and commentary has broken the relative media silence about Christian persecution, especially in the Middle East region, the cradle of Christianity and the nexus for extremist Muslim attacks against Christians today.
In one example, under international pressure Iran last week released a Persian pastor who was arrested on Christmas and held for 14 days on charges related to his Christian beliefs and practices. It was his second imprisonment on faith-related charges.
Meanwhile Egypt’s Coptic Christian community, which has suffered from the rise of political Islam in the aftermath of the uprisings which overthrew Hosni Mubarak two years ago, remains under threat.
One prominent Egyptian Islamic preacher recently called for genocide against Coptic Christians, which he branded as “Crusaders”, while the Associated Press moved a story last week revealing the undiminished level of fear and worry facing the Copts heading into 2013.
The ongoing plight of Middle East Christians has also been a focus of Israeli expert commentators.
Professor Yossi Shain, head of Tel Aviv University’s Abba Eban Program of Diplomacy wrote in Yediot Aharonot earlier this month that it would be fair to compare the situation for Middle East Christians to that of today’s Jews of Europe.
The Christians’ difficult situation in the Middle East is somewhat similar to the situation of the Jews in Europe. The world’s relative silence in the face of their plight serves as another warning sign to those who believe the enlightened world is willing to lend a hand at times of crisis.
Immediately following Christmas, Israel Hayom published an article by Nadav Shragai focusing on the dwindling Christian community of Bethlehem, drawing heavily on insights from Dr. Amnon Ramon of Hebrew University, who recently published his book “Christians and Christianity in the Jewish State.”
According to Shragai, not only Jews have been openly threatened by Muslim religious figures in Bethlehem, but Christians as well.
Recently, a muezzin (the person at a mosque who calls the people to prayers) was heard saying something that was considered unacceptable even in the rapidly Islamizing Bethlehem: “After Saturday comes Sunday” – which is to say that after they’re done with the Jews, they’ll be coming after the Christians.
Over in the Jerusalem Post Magazine, Michael Teplitsky opined over the lessons of the Open Doors report (subscription required), urging European governments to wake up to the problem of Christian oppression by Islamic extremists, at home as well as in the Middle East, and support Israel as a protector of religious freedom.
Considering recent publications on the condition of Christian communities around the world, the efforts of the European governments should focus on self-survival and supporting Israel. It is the only country in the Middle East that remains a safe haven for the Christian community.
Finally, this sentiment has been echoed in a year-end report on the plight of Middle East Christians by the Jerusalem Post‘s reporter on Christian affairs, Benjamin Weinthal.
In that article, Clifford D. May, president of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies said the rise in the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world “may be the most significant – and under-reported – story in the world today,” but also drew a contrast with the situation for Christians in Israel.
“There is only one place in the broader Middle East where Christians are free and unafraid – and their population is growing,” [May] said.
“That place is Israel. Many people don’t know that. And even many of those who do know it fail to perceive the significance.”