The Persecution No One Dares Name
In recent protests over the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood supporters looted, burned and destroyed 58 churches, Christian schools, and other Christian installations. Many members of the Brotherhood have decided to scapegoat the Christians for the downfall of Morsi’s government, even though they had nothing to do with it, and have targeted them ever since. But in fact, as Raymond Ibrahim documents in an important new book, the recent persecution in Egypt is nothing new.
In Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (Regnery), Ibrahim, an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian, reveals why it is such a cruel irony that leftists and Islamic supremacists in the U.S. routinely tar the foes of jihad violence with charges of “bigotry” and “hatred.” In reality, it is they who are fronting for a recrudescence of bigotry and hatred on a grand – indeed, worldwide – scale: the Muslim war on Christians that stretches from Nigeria to Indonesia and involves restrictions on Christians’ freedom and Christian worship, creating a climate of hate in which Christians live on the precarious edge, constantly bracing themselves for a violent Muslim outbreak against them that could come at any time, without warning.
In Egypt, which Ibrahim uses as a paradigmatic example of the plight of Christians in Muslim countries, Coptic Christians have suffered discrimination and harassment for centuries. The recent worsening of their situation didn’t start just with the “Arab Spring.”
Late in 2010, for instance, Muslims in Egypt subjected the Copts to an unprecedented reign of terror. An Islamic jihad-martyrdom suicide bomber murdered twenty-two people and wounded eighty more at the Coptic Christian Church of the Saints in Alexandria, Egypt on New Year’s Eve. Just days later, as Christmas (which Copts celebrate on January 7) 2011 approached, an Islamic website carried this ominous exhortation: “Blow up the churches while they are celebrating Christmas or any other time when the churches are packed.”
Egyptian Catholic spokesman Father Rafic Greische told Vatican Radio in December 2010 that “Muslim fundamentalists… want the Christians to evacuate from the Middle East and leave. And this is what is happening every day.” From Egypt to Nigeria, from Iraq to Pakistan, Christians in majority-Muslim countries face a grimmer present and a more uncertain future than ever, as Islamic jihadists step up their efforts to Islamize, to drive them out of their lands—or to kill them outright.
Moreover, this religious bigotry, hatred, and violence are legitimized by holy writ: the Qur’an and other Islamic texts and teachings. Nowhere else does religious bigotry have such bloody consequences. And yet nowhere else does such religious bigotry take place almost entirely without comment, let alone condemnation, from the human rights community or even from Muslim leaders.
Islamic authorities in Egypt and elsewhere are generally disinclined to discuss the plight of Christians there. When Pope Benedict XVI spoke out in January 2011 against the persecution of Christians in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the world’s most prestigious Sunni Muslim institution, reacted angrily, breaking off dialogue with the Vatican and accusing the pope of interference in internal Egyptian affairs. In a statement, Al-Azhar denounced the pontiff’s “repeated negative references to Islam and his claims that Muslims persecute those living among them in the Middle East.” When Pope Francis succeeded Benedict, Al-Azhar and other Muslim authorities expressed hopes that he would repair relations between Muslims and Christians by not repeating the mistakes of his predecessor – including speaking out about the Muslim persecution of Christians.
In Pakistan, Christians are physically attacked and falsely accused under the nation’s blasphemy laws so frequently that a steady stream of Christians is converting to Islam simply in order to be safe from legal harassment and rampaging Islamist mobs. Blasphemy charges against a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, gained international attention several years ago, and widespread criticism of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. As of this writing in August 2013, Bibi remains in prison. And when the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, spoke out in favor of the repeal of such laws, he was assassinated by an Islamic supremacist who explained that he was acting in defense of the blasphemy laws.
And just as Al-Azhar reacted angrily when the pope spoke out against the persecution of Christians in Egypt, in Pakistan Islamic supremacist groups became enraged when the pontiff called for repeal of the nation’s blasphemy laws: Farid Paracha, the leader of the largest pro-Sharia party in Pakistan, Jamaat-i-Islami, fumed: “The pope’s statement is an insult to Muslims across the world.” Islamic supremacist groups held rallies protesting the pope’s statement as “part of a conspiracy to pit the world’s religions against each other,” in the words of Pakistani parliamentarian Sahibzada Fazal Karim.
The same dispiriting story is repeated all over the Muslim world. In June 2007 Christians in Gaza appealed to the international community for protection after jihadists destroyed a church and a school. In Sudan, the Khartoum regime for years waged a bloody jihad against the Christians in the southern part of the country, killing two million Sudanese Christians and displacing five million more. In Nigeria, Muslim mobs torched numerous churches in 2012 and 2013, and have even at times enforced Sharia codes on Christians, horse-whipping female Christian college students whom they deemed improperly dressed.
All over the Middle East, communities that date back almost two thousand years to the dawn of Christianity have been steadily decreasing in numbers; now the faith is on the verge of disappearing from the area altogether.
Still, as Ibrahim shows in harrowing detail, the world generally continues to avert its eyes. Fearful of offending Muslim sensibilities, the international community has largely ignored this persecution, allowing it to continue under the cover of darkness. Human rights organizations give only perfunctory recognition to these outrages, and world leaders yawn. Christians are not fashionable or politically correct victims. What Justus Reid Weiner, an international human rights lawyer, has stated about Christians in Palestinian areas applies to Christians in the Islamic world in general: “The systematic persecution of Christian Arabs living in Palestinian areas is being met with nearly total silence by the international community, human rights activists, the media and NGOs.” He said that if nothing were done, no Christians would be left there in fifteen years, for “Christian leaders are being forced to abandon their followers to the forces of radical Islam.”
The situation is dire. Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregory III, who lives in Damascus, declared in April 2006 that “after 11 September, there is a plot to eliminate all the Christian minorities from the Arabic world….Our simple existence ruins the equations whereby Arabs can’t be other than Moslems, and Christians but be westerners….If the Chaldeans, the Assyrians, the Orthodox, the Latin Catholics leave, if the Middle East is cleansed of all the Arabic Christians, the Moslem Arab world and a so-called Christian Western world will be left face to face. It will be easier to provoke a clash and justify it with religion. That is why I wrote a letter in July to all the Arab rulers, to explain how important it is that this small presence, 15 million Arab Christian scattered among 260 million Moslems, not be swept away.”
Yet many American Christians and non-Christians are surprised just to discover that there are ancient communities of Christians in Islamic lands at all, and have no idea that Christians in the Islamic world are being persecuted. That’s one reason why Raymond Ibrahim’s Crucified Again is so urgently needed: he sheds light on this persecution that almost no one dares name, and awakens the conscience of an indifferent world community. We can only hope that his prophetic voice will be widely heeded, before it is too late.