In all the reviews and lists of the most important events of 2010, one story of devastating importance was scarcely mentioned: that of the persecution of Christians throughout the world, particularly in majority Muslim countries.
Christian persecution has been on the rise for years, but it seemed to reach a new level of intensity in 2010. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that Christians in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt now confront the prospect of extinction at the hands of radical Islam.
When Pope Benedict XVI recently said,”At present, Christians are the religious group which suffers most from persecution on account of its faith,” many in the Western media rolled their eyes. But various governmental and non-governmental groups (most recently the Vatican) have released reports documenting the breadth and depth of abuse against Christians the world over.
A comprehensive Pew Forum report earlier this year found that 70 percent of the world’s people live in countries where religious freedom is severely restricted, and that a disproportionate share of religious persecution happens in Muslim-majority countries.
Many countries make the practice of Christianity, or conversion to it, punishable by death, while others merely treat their Christians as second-class citizens.
The catalog of atrocities against Christians grows literally by the day. A Christian pastor in Iran is scheduled to be executed for converting to Christianity. In Somalia, Christian children are being murdered in a campaign, waged by Al Shabaab, an insurgent Muslim group that controls large parts of central Somalia, to eradicate the underground Christian church there.
In Egypt, 130 Christians spent Christmas in prison after being arrested in late November for trying to turn a Christian center into a church. And in Nigeria, at least 38 people were killed in attacks during the first four days of Christmas that included assaults on two Christian churches. Local police suspect that a radical Muslim group with a history of deadly violence is responsible.
Nowhere are Christians suffering more than in Iraq. The worst attack since the war’s inception took place in late October when an al Qaeda-affiliated group invaded a Catholic church during Mass, killing 58 people and injuring scores more.
Since then, hundreds of worshipers have been targeted in churches and elsewhere. Christmas services were canceled in churches across Iraq because of fear and threats of violence.
The American-backed Iraqi government has done little to combat the violence. U.S. forces have been reluctant to help, too, not wanting to reinforce many Iraqis’ belief that the war is a Christian crusade against Islam. Our government even helped the Iraqis write Sharia law into their new constitution.
Clearly, as Chaldean Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Wardana said last March, “The life of Christians in this nation does not appear to be among the priorities.”
But the plight of Iraq’s Christians does not appear to be a priority for America’s media and political elites either. The Obama administration hasn’t exactly placed the protection of religious freedom at the top of its To Do list.
It took the president a year-and-a-half even to nominate an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Human rights and religious freedom have taken a back seat in the Obama administration to everything from climate change and advancing gay rights to “outreach” to the “Muslim world,” a false term applied to a region in which Christianity predates Islam by hundreds of years.
Congress has been pressing Obama to act on the growing violence against Iraq’s Christians. Kudos to Congressmen like Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who have done so much to draw attention to the plight of religious minorities, including Christians and Jews, across the Middle East.
In November, Smith introduced a congressional resolution with 37 cosponsors that condemned the continuing carnage in Iraq and called on Washington to help develop a comprehensive security plan and encourage quick resettlement of Iraqis fleeing religious persecution.
According to The Hill newspaper, in late December Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill sent a letter to the President warning that the current situation “promises more innocent Christian blood in Iraq, more turmoil in that country and more shame for America.”
Sad to say, such calls to action continue to fall on deaf ears. In an interview with The Hill, Wolf said he and other Members of Congress regularly send letters to the White House encouraging action to combat religious persecution abroad. But, he lamented, “We very seldom get answers back. To write the White House, it’s like there’s no one home: no response, no one calls.”
It is a failure of Obama’s Administration that it stands silent in the face of such obvious suffering. And it is particularly painful to note such apathy at the close of the Christmas season when the birth of Christ is celebrated worldwide even as many Christians are being persecuted for their faith.
America was founded on the grand ideals of religious freedom and freedom from religious persecution. In that light, I have a prediction to make: If the Obama Administration continues to be unwilling to be a voice for the weak and defenseless around the world, it will be replaced by those who will.