After yet another bloody weekend, it’s time to speak frankly about who’s killing Christians and why
Wealthy Kenyans and Westerners bustled about Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi on Saturday. Families ate lunch in the food court. A radio station targeting Kenyan Asians was hosting a children’s event on the roof of the parking lot.
Around noon, armed gunmen stormed the mall and exploded grenades. Thousands of terrified people dropped to the floor, fled out of exits and hid in stores. The gunmen began lining people up and shooting some of the five dozen people they would slaughter and 240 people, ages 2 to 78, that they would wound.
Al-Shabaab, which is claiming credit for the attack, is reported to have singled out non-Muslims. “A witness to the attacks at Nairobi’s upscale mall says that gunmen told Muslims to stand up and leave and that non-Muslims would be targeted,” according to the Associated Press.
To weed out the infidels, according to news reports, the terrorists asked people for the name of Muhammad’s mother or to recite a verse from the Quran.
The Washington Post reported that one British mother and her young children survived when captors who shot her allowed her to leave on the condition she immediately convert to Islam. The siege of the mall, which included the taking of hostages, lasted four days. Three floors of the mall collapsed and bodies were buried in the rubble.
And that wasn’t even the worst terrorist attack of the weekend.
The next day, two suicide bombs went off as Christians were leaving Sunday services at All Saints Anglican Church in Peshawar, Pakistan.
“There were blasts and there was hell for all of us,” Nazir John, who was at the church with at least 400 other worshipers, told the Associated Press. “When I got my senses back, I found nothing but smoke, dust, blood and screaming people. I saw severed body parts and blood all around.”
Some 85 Christians were slaughtered and 120 injured, the bloodiest attack on Christians in Pakistan in history. The hospital ran out of beds for the injured and there weren’t enough caskets for the dead.
The situation for Christians in Egypt has also gone from bad to worse. August saw the worst anti-Christian violence in seven centuries. Sam Tadros, a Coptic Christian and author of Motherland Lost, says that there has been nothing like this year’s Muslim Brotherhood anti-Christian pogrom since 1321, when a similar wave of church burnings and persecution caused the decline of the Christian community in Egypt from nearly half of Egypt’s population to its current ten percent.
The violence of just three days in mid-August was staggering. Thirty-eight churches were destroyed, 23 vandalized; 58 homes were burned and looted and 85 shops, 16 pharmacies and 3 hotels were demolished. It was so bad that the Coptic Pope was in hiding, many Sunday services were canceled, and Christians stayed indoors, fearing for their lives. Six Christians were killed in the violence. Seven were kidnapped.
Maalula, Syria, is an ancient Christian town that has been so sheltered for 2,000 years that it’s one of only three villages where people still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Until September 7, when Islamist rebels attacked as part of the civil war ripping through the country.
An eyewitness to the murder of three Christians in Maalula—Mikhael Taalab, his cousin Antoun Taalab, and his grandson Sarkis el Zakhm—reported that the Islamists warned everyone present to convert to Islam. Sarkis answered clearly, Vatican news agency Fides reported: “I am a Christian and if you want to kill me because I am a Christian, do it.”
Sister Carmel, one of the Christians in Damascus who assist Maalula’s many displaced Christians, told Fides, “What Sarkis did is true martyrdom, a death in odium fidei.”
In recent weeks, we have Muslims killing Christians in Kenya, Egypt, Pakistan and Syria. Again.
It’s time to ask an important question that many of us have successfully avoided for far too long:
Can we finally start talking about the global persecution of Christians and other non-Muslims?
A case study in reaction
As Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea write in Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, “Christians are the single most widely persecuted religious group in the world today. This is confirmed in studies by sources as diverse as the Vatican, Open Doors, the Pew Research Center, Commentary, Newsweek and the Economist. According to one estimate, by the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, 75 percent of acts of religious intolerance are directed against Christians.”
How well does the media tell that story? And how did they cover this weekend’s events? As Anglicans and other Christians worldwide grieved the brutal attack in Pakistan, the media… did not. The worst attack on Pakistani Christians in history didn’t make the front page of the New York Times. The Washington Post buried the story on page A7 of Monday’s paper. On the front page of the BBC web site, a small headline “Pakistan church blast kills dozens” was below stories on Angela Merkel and the Emmys. By the next day, the story was nowhere to be found.
British blogger Archbishop Cranmer noted, “Without media coverage we in the West cannot smell the fear of those Christians who are persecuted by Muslims all over the world.”
Even when the media do cover violence against Christians, the religion angle tends to be buried or given short shrift. Part of this is because politicians, who are the primary sources for many of these news stories, don’t have a strong incentive to confront the reality of Muslim violence against non-Muslims (or, to be honest, many other complicated problems). Imran Khan, whose party leads the government in Peshawar, suggested that the church bombing attack wasn’t about religion but, rather, an effort to scuttle peace talks. He also blamed U.S. drone strikes for provoking militants. That’s all all well and good, but violence against Christians goes back even before 2001, when Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles began to be used in Pakistan to assassinate terrorist leaders and their companions. By about 1300 years.
The Christian Science Monitor asked the promising question, “Why did militants attack Pakistani Christians?” and discovered that, well, it was really just a case of militants of unspecified religion looking for a “controversial” target and “more spectacular, attention-grabbing attacks.” Why the church? Certainly not because of any particular animosity towards Christians—it was just that the Christians were “vulnerable.”
Trying to explain the attack in Kenya, Think Progress published an interesting piece headlined “What The Deadly Attack On A Kenya Mall Was Really About.” It talks about the weakness of al Shabaab and the terror group’s efforts to provoke conflict in Kenya. The words Muslim and Islam do not appear in the article. Another article is headlined “Five Things The Kenya Mall Attack Tells Us About Global Terrorism.” Spoiler alert: The Kenya mall attack doesn’t tell us anything about religious violence.
And what about Egypt? Well, as the persecution of Christians has heated up, the press tends to portray the violence against Christians as “sectarian skirmishes” or “clashes” between religious groups. This is about as accurate as describing the Armenian genocide as “clashes” between Turks and Armenians.
“Islam is peace.”
Right after the worst terrorist attack on American soil on September 11, 2001, American leaders from George W. Bush on down rushed to portray Islam as peaceful. While it’s simplistic to characterize any religion or other belief system as being strictly about “violence” or “peace,” the Bush Administration had a compelling political interest in marginalizing Islamist terrorists and assuring Muslims throughout the world that American reprisals weren’t going to be indiscriminately applied to all practitioners of the religion.
Sure, the terrorists clearly and explicitly claimed they were fighting for Islam. But if Americans responded in agreement, the duty of Muslims to fight for their religion could have quickly led to a global conflagration.
Saturday people, Sunday people
We’re talking about Christian persecution by Muslims because of a particularly macabre issue: Jews have already largely been driven out of many Muslim countries.
Lela Gilbert, a journalist who writes about Jewish and Christian persecution, tells of encountering jihadi graffiti in Jerusalem that read “First comes Saturday, then comes Sunday.” She didn’t get the meaning at first. A friend explained that it referred to Jews worshiping on Saturday and Christians on Sunday and, more subtly, about the order that non-Muslims would be targeted.
Gilbert notes that in 1948 there were about 135,000 Jews in Iraq. Now there are fewer than a dozen. In 2003, Iraq had a fairly strong Christian population. Since 2003, more than half of the 800,000 Christians have fled church bombings, rapes, torture, kidnapping, beheading and house eviction.
Or take Egypt. In 1947 there were about 100,000 Jews there. Today there are less than 50, Gilbert says. And Egypt’s Copts — numbering about 8 million — are experiencing the worst anti-Christian pogrom in 700 years. The 30,000 Jews in 1948 Syria are down to less than a dozen. It’s the Christians’ turn.
Read it all.