Persecuted Christians

I am a Christian. And I identify and sympathize with the tens of millions of Christ followers who face intense hostility and persecution in their daily lives. During this Christmas season, I think it is appropriate to call attention to the plight of persecuted Christians, even as we recognize that those from other faiths also face indignity and repression because of their spiritual beliefs.

Lest I quickly lose all of my non-Christian readers, let us begin with some other notable examples of religious persecution in today’s world. And, given their global influence, let us focus on Muslims.

In India, the Muslim minority (approximately 15 percent of the total population) has long faced discrimination with respect to employment, housing, and construction of mosques. At times, Indian Muslims (and Christians) have endured extreme episodes of communal violence, sometimes abetted by local public officials.

In Europe, the growing Muslim community faces more subtle, but still meaningful discrimination. In particular, Europeans have a long record of placing constraints and bans on mosque construction. In many Europeans countries – past and present – Muslims are forced to worship in “garage mosques” and other concealed worship spaces due to limitations of religious freedom. And, of course, some of these same restrictions are appearing in many localities in the United States, as the Muslim population in America grows.

That said, Christians are uniquely vulnerable to global persecution. And that persecution is particularly common and forceful in parts of Africa and Asia, including in some of the weak and failed states that are frequently covered by this blog.

An excellent source of information about persecuted Christians is The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM). VOM particularly focuses on a few dozen countries that are “restricted” or “hostile” to Christianity. Restricted countries are those that have formal laws or government practices that actively repress Christians (and usually other religious groups). Hostile countries are those such as Nigeria and India, in which Christians are routinely subjected to attacks or severe discrimination despite government attempts to prevent such persecution.

Jos, Nigeria Christians

The city of Jos is part of Nigeria’s religiously volatile “Middle Belt” zone. Pictured are members of the Evangelical Church of West Africa at a groundbreaking ceremony in Jos. Photo credit: Mike Blyth (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

The politically difficult reality is that majority Muslim states compose the overwhelming majority of restricted and hostile states. And the vast majority of all majority Muslim states are “restricted.” Of the more significant majority Muslim states, Turkey, Jordan, Mali, and Indonesia are merely “hostile” environments, according to VOM. (The other key restricted states are China, North Korea, Burma, Vietnam, and Cuba.)

I am a Christian. But it is my divinely-given responsibility to seek peace with all people, including Muslims. It is also a fact that Muslim majority countries are some of the most difficult places for Christians in today’s world. During this Christmas season, Christians in safe environments would do well to not forget those in persistently difficult places.

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The Geopolitics of Sectarianism (Syria, Iraq, and Regional Contagions)

Nine months after the full withdrawal of American soldiers, Iraq is being squeezed on many fronts. Internally, a Sunni-based insurgency persists. Troubles remain in part of the northern Kurdish region, leading to Turkish military incursions. Tensions between neighboring Iran and much of the world remain high. Oh, and there is Syria. The problems in Syria are a potent reminder of just how unstable sectarian politics can be, particularly given the cultural geography of the Middle East.

Though Iraq’s leaders profess to be democrats, they seem to be moving in a direction of greater support for the decidedly un-democratic Assad government in Syria. Planes delivering weapons to Assad have been transiting Iraqi air space from Iran, despite the efforts of U.S. and other diplomats to halt the flow. Established democracies (in the West) also support authoritarian governments at times, out of geopolitical realism. Given his recent tactics, though, Bashar al-Assad is no longer a run-of-the-mill dictator.

The bigger picture is about much more than the fate of a political dynasty in Syria. As others have noted over the last year, the Syrian uprising – unlike those in North Africa – has the potential to instigate a catastrophic regional contagion. Syria’s marginalized Sunni majority is the core of the anti-Assad forces. In neighboring Iraq, the Sunni minority remains uneasy after the upheaval that began in 2003. Elsewhere – in places like Bahrain and Yemen – Sunni-Shiite tensions are palpable.

It is easy for outsiders and Westerners to recognize the flaws of sectarian politics in the Middle East. For many Muslims, though, the sectarian contest is the fundamental dimension of domestic political life. And, if one does not accept some level of separation between mosque and state, there is little space for democratic compromise.

The rest of the world will soon find out whether the Syrian conflict can be contained. Even if it is, the specter of sectarianism will persist in the region.

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.