Christians: The world's most persecuted people

The former Chief Rabbi is appalled at the lack of protest about the treatment of Christians round the globe, and so should we be

Share

One woman, at least, is safe. Throughout much of her pregnancy, she had been in prison in Khartoum, capital of the Republic Sudan, living with the dread expectation that she would be hanged once her baby was born. Her crime was that she had married a Christian and been accused by the authorities of apostasy, renouncing her faith, even though she maintained she had never been a Muslim in the first place. On Thursday, Meriam Ibrahim's eight-month ordeal finally ended when she was flown out of the country to Rome where she, and her new baby daughter, met the Pope in the Vatican.

But it has been a different story for the 3,000 Christians of Mosul who were driven from their homes in northern Iraq last week by Islamist fanatics who broadcast a fatwa from the loudspeakers of the city's mosques ordering them to convert to Islam, submit to its rule and pay a religious levy, or be put to death if they stayed. The last to leave was a disabled woman who could not travel. The fanatics arrived at her home and told her they would cut off her head with a sword.

Most people in the West would be surprised by the answer to the question: who are the most persecuted people in the world? According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular group with members in 38 states worldwide, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.

The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States estimates that 100,000 Christians now die every year, targeted because of their faith – that is 11 every hour. The Pew Research Center says that hostility to religion reached a new high in 2012, when Christians faced some form of discrimination in 139 countries, almost three-quarters of the world's nations.

All this seems counter-intuitive here in the West where the history of Christianity has been one of cultural dominance and control ever since the Emperor Constantine converted and made the Roman Empire Christian in the 4th century AD.

Yet the plain fact is that Christians are languishing in jail for blasphemy in Pakistan, and churches are burned and worshippers regularly slaughtered in Nigeria and Egypt, which has recently seen its worst anti-Christian violence in seven centuries.

The most violent anti-Christian pogrom of the early 21st century saw as many as 500 Christians hacked to death by machete-wielding Hindu radicals in Orissa, India, with thousands more injured and 50,000 made homeless. In Burma, Chin and Karen Christians are routinely subjected to imprisonment, torture, forced labour and murder.

Persecution is increasing in China; and in North Korea a quarter of the country's Christians live in forced labour camps after refusing to join the national cult of the state's founder, Kim Il-Sung. Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Maldives all feature in the 10 worst places to be a Christian.

A few voices have been raised in the West about all this. The religious historian Rupert Shortt has written a book called Christianophobia. America's most prominent religious journalist, John L Allen Jnr, has just published The Global War on Christians. The former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks told the House of Lords recently that the suffering of Middle East Christians is "one of the crimes against humanity of our time". He compared it with Jewish pogroms in Europe and said he was "appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked".

Why is this in a culture that is happy to make public protest against the ferocity of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza or the behaviour of Russia in Ukraine?

In part, it is because our intelligentsia are locked into old ways of thinking about Christianity as the dominant force in Western historic hegemony. The church has not helped in this, with its fixation on pious religiosity and on cultural issues that it falsely regards as totemic – issues such as gay marriage and women bishops.

A bogus dichotomy between religion and equality has been set up, resulting in a succession of comparatively trivial new stories about receptionists being banned from wearing religious jewellery or nurses being suspended for offering to pray for patients' recovery. Adopting the rhetoric of persecution on such matters obscures the very real persecution of Christians being killed or driven from their homes elsewhere in the globe.

Most of the world's Christians are not engaged in stand-offs with intolerant secularists over such small matters. In the West, Christianity may have increasingly become embraced by the middle class and abandoned by the working class. But elsewhere the vast majority of Christians are poor, many of them struggling against antagonistic majority cultures, and have different priorities in life.

The paradox this produces is that, as Allen points out, the world's Christians fall through the cracks of the left-right divide – they are too religious for liberals and too foreign for conservatives.

In the UK, it is socially respectable among the secular elite to regard Christianity as weird and permissible to bully its followers a little. This produces the surreal political reality in which President Obama visits Saudi Arabia and "does not get the time" to raise the suppression of Christianity in the oil-rich nation; and in which Prime Minister Cameron gets a broadside from illiberal secularists for the historically unquestionable assertion that Britain's culture is formed by Christian values.

The reality of being a Christian in most of the world today is very different. It only adds to their tragedy that the West fails to understand that – or to heed the plea of men such as the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal when he asks: "Does anybody hear our cry? How many atrocities must we endure before somebody, somewhere, comes to our aid?"

Paul Vallely is visiting professor of public ethics at Chester Univeristy

READ NEXT:
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger, dying out - a majestic animal on its knees
What if 35 Palestinians had died, and 800 Israelis?
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts  

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links