The persecution of Christians in Muslim countries is one of the most under-reported stories out there. It’s widespread and constant, carried out by terrorist undergrounds when it’s not condoned or indulged by the local government. When Islam gains power, it often develops serious “co-existence” problems. The global media really hates to discuss it for ideological reasons, but sometimes it’s impossible to ignore. From the Associated Press:
Militants in Iraq targeted Christians in three separate Christmas Day bombings in Baghdad, killing at least 37 people, officials said Wednesday.
In one attack, a car bomb went off near a church in the capital’s southern Dora neighborhood, killing at least 26 people and wounding 38, a police officer said.
Earlier, two bombs ripped through a nearby outdoor market simultaneously in the Christian section of Athorien, killing 11 people and wounding 21, the officer said.
The Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Louis Sako, said the parked car bomb exploded after Christmas Mass and that none of the worshippers were hurt. Sako said he didn’t believe the church was the target.
There were well over a million Christians in Iraq 20 years ago; it’s down to less than half that number today, and maybe closer to a third, depending on which estimates of the current population are most reliable. The usual factional violence and government-toppling insurgent agenda was also in play:
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad condemned the attacks in a statement.
“The Christian community in Iraq has suffered deliberate and senseless targeting by terrorists for many years, as have many other innocent Iraqis,” the statement read. “The United States abhors all such attacks and is committed to its partnership with the government of Iraq to combat the scourge of terrorism.”
Along with Christians, other targets include civilians in restaurants, cafes or crowded public areas, as well as Shiites and members of the Iraqi security forces, attacked in an attempt to undermine confidence in the Shiite-led government and stir up Iraq’s already simmering sectarian tensions.
Reuters reports that Pope Francis issued a statement condemning violence and discrimination against Christians on Thursday, and he wasn’t just talking about purges and bombings:
The 77-year-old Argentine pope asked the crowd for a moment of silent prayer for “Christians who are unjustly accused and are subjected to every type of violence”.
Francis, celebrating his first Christmas season as pope, said “limitations and discrimination” against Christians was taking place not only in countries that do not grant full religious freedom but also where “on paper, freedom and human rights are protected”.
“This injustice should be denounced and eliminated…,” he said.
Francis did not name any countries but the Vatican has long urged Saudi Arabia, the site of Islam’s holiest places, to lift a ban on Christians worshiping in public.
This year there have been a number of incidents of intolerance and attacks against minority Christians in Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria and other countries where their rights are guaranteed by law.
Francis, departing from his prepared text, said he was sure that Christians suffering from either discrimination or violence were “more numerous today than in the early times of the Church”.
In the past, the Vatican has also expressed concern over what former Pope Benedict called “sophisticated forms of hostility” against Christians in rich countries, such as restricting use of religious symbols in public places.
If Pope Francis takes up Benedict’s critique of those “sophisticated forms of hostility,” the Strange New Respect he’s been getting from all the groupies he suddenly acquired among the Western Left by using their lingo to criticize capitalism will be sorely tested.
This Christmas also brought renewed attention to the persecution of Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran, an American imprisoned for the “crime” of Christianity who somehow didn’t come up during all those secret negotiations between the mullahs and the Obama Administration. These have also been dark days for Christians in Syria, where there is certainly plenty of murder to go around for everyone, but the Islamist rebels have been particularly rough with Christians seen as allies of the Assad regime.
It’s foolish, and dangerous, to pretend that Islam doesn’t have a co-existence problem, but it would also be unfair to dismiss such hopeful signs as Muslims who stood up for their Coptic Christian neighbors during the unrest in Egypt. An often violent struggle within the Islamic world continues, and there are some genuine reformers mixed up in the scrum.
Speaking of Egypt, the current government just declared the crew that ran the previous government to be an outlaw terrorist organization, as reported by CNN:
Hossam Issa, the interim minister of higher education and a deputy prime minister, announced the Cabinet’s decision on state-run al-Masriaya television.
“The government reiterates that there will be no return to the past under any circumstances and Egypt, the state and the people, will never succumb to the terrorism of the Muslim Brotherhood whose crimes have gone far beyond all moral, religious and human limits,” he said.
The government also will punish anyone giving the group financial support, Issa added.
Hundreds of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood took to the streets in towns and cities across Egypt after the announcement.
In Alexandria, some protesters threw fireworks at authorities and set fire to police cars as young people marched through the streets chanting “Sisi is a traitor,” according to the official Facebook page of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. “Sisi” refers to Egypt’s new leader, Gen. Abdel Fatah El Sisi.
The last straw for the Brotherhood was a bombing attack against security forces that killed 16 people and wounded 130, although a different terrorist organization, Ansar Jerusalem, claimed responsibility. The Obama Administration is officially unhappy with the Egyptian government for outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood:
“We think it is essential for Egypt to have an inclusive political process; it is the best means of restoring the stability that the Egyptian people want and that is necessary to the country’s economic recovery,” said Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department. “There needs to be dialogue and political participation across the political spectrum.”
She repeated the United States’ condemnation of the bombings, noting the Muslim Brotherhood denounced the bombing and Ansar Jerusalem, in Arabic called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, had taken credit for the attack. She said the United States has designated Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis as a terrorist group.
“We are concerned about the current atmosphere and its potential effects on a democratic transition in Egypt,” she said.
Egypt is far from the only part of the Islamic world where the atmosphere is a matter of grave concern.
Update: Somalia has just about finished purging the last of its Christian population. The government, propped up by $1.5 billion in American aid, literally banned Christmas this year.