Christians under pressure

Karachi, Pakistan,  Nov. 7, 2014: Protest vigil against the killing of Shahzad  and Shama Masih, a Christian couple burnt alive for allegedly desecrating the Koran (source: dpa)
Karachi, Pakistan, Nov. 7, 2014: Protest vigil against the killing of Shahzad and Shama Masih, a Christian couple burnt alive for allegedly desecrating the Koran (source: dpa)

Is there a war being waged on Christians? In his recent speech to the United Nations, Pope Francis himself warned of Christians being ‘persecuted’ around the globe. There may not be a coordinated plan, but evidently Christians are now the preferred target for various groups and regimes that either massacre, oppress or humiliate them, writes GIS expert, former French Defence Minister and Ambassador to the United Nations, Charles Millon.

In China, the government is so worried by the recent rise of Christianity (mainly evangelical Protestant groups) that it is increasing harassment even against the so-called ‘official’ churches – those that have been recognised and authorised by the regime. Recently, the authorities ordered the removal of 450 crucifixes from various buildings, claiming they were too ostentatious. Some church structures have been brought down.

Following six decades of imposed ‘historical materialism,’ Christian congregations are spreading so fast in the Middle Kingdom that some experts think it could become the leading Protestant country in the world, in terms of number of believers, by 2030. But the regime certainly does not plan to tolerate beliefs that tend to put people beyond its control.

In India, too, Christians are finding life difficult. Hindu fundamentalists have recently taken to persecuting religious minorities in general and Christians in particular. Since last December, six churches have been vandalised in Delhi alone. Christians in the country now fear persecution that, while not explicitly encouraged by the state, strangely goes unpunished by the authorities.

In Pakistan the situation is even more dramatic, as the fate of Asia Bibi – a Christian woman who has been awaiting execution since her 2010 conviction for alleged blasphemy – has demonstrated to the world. In a land where death sentences can be handed down for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, blasphemy is an explosive subject, with Christians often the target.

On November 4, 2014, a Pakistani Christian couple were burned alive, in a brick kiln, by a crowd of Muslims; Shama Masih, 24, and her husband Shahzad, 26, were accused of burning pages from the Koran. In April, a Christian adolescent, 14-year-old Nouman Masih, was drenched in kerosene and burned alive by young Muslims. This tragic series continues, with more incidents taking place in 2015. Pakistani Christians live in constant fear for their lives.

In the Arab-Muslim crescent from Iraq to Libya, the situation for Christians and other religious minorities is appalling. The notable exception is Egypt, where President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has offered strong support to the Copt minority.

In April, a group of about 30 Ethiopian Christians were murdered by Daesh henchmen on a Libyan beach. The repulsive images of their throats being slit have spread across the internet. In early June, it was the turn of another 86 Christians in Ethiopia and Eritrea. In Syria, on the territories of the so-called ‘caliphate’ controlled by Daesh, Christians are made to confirm on camera their new status as ‘dhimmis’ (non-Muslim citizens of Islamic state) and to pay an extra tax in order to be left alone.

In Iraq, such residents have had to flee to the Kurdish-controlled zones or migrate to Western countries. The ‘Islamic State’ continues to expand, laying waste to the plains of Nineveh, capturing Palmyra and besieging Ramadi. This does not offer much hope to Christian communities that have been in these regions since the first centuries AD.

Oddly, anti-Christian acts attract scant attention when they take place in the West, especially in France. In a cemetery in Castres, in the south of the country, 250 Catholic graves were desecrated in April 2015. During 2014, of 807 locations vandalised in France, 673 were Christian.

True, there are as many as 45,000 sites of Catholic worship across the country, but the proportion still is striking. French authorities tend to temper their words when Christian graves are destroyed; the perpetrators are described as ‘mentally disturbed’ and the cemeteries as ‘public.’ No such restraint is on display when Muslim sites or Jewish cemeteries are desecrated.

It is proper for a democracy to worry first about the lot of its minorities. But the state’s refusal to acknowledge that Salafism and radical jihadism are being transplanted to some regions of France – to which the Charlie Hebdo assassinations bore witness – is an alarming trend. This is particularly true for those familiar with the grim reality in the many parts of the world where a jihadist interpretation of Islam has taken root.

Related statements:

Pope Francis' lessons for Europe

Related report:

Ending the conspiracy of silence over global religious persecution

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