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.

Obama, Romney, and Schieffer Missed Much of the World

On Monday, October 22, 2012, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama squared off in the last of three presidential election debates. The single theme of the last debate was foreign policy. Moderator Bob Schieffer (and the candidates) mostly debated U.S. foreign policy toward North Africa, the Middle East, and Af-Pak, or the core of the Islamic world. There was almost no discussion of Latin America, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, India, Southeast Asia, or Oceania. What a pity. The graphic below is suggestive of the places discussed in the debate. The size of the labels indicates the prominence of these countries and regions in the debate.

A Clash of Civilizations?

Almost 10 years ago, Samuel Huntington published one of the most influential articles of the post-Cold War era. “The clash of civilizations” thesis asserted that broad-based cultural differences – especially between the Islamic world and the West – would define geopolitical competition after the demise of the Soviet Union. The events of last week predictability bring reconsiderations of Huntington’s grand thesis.

While the Osama bin Ladins of the world have sought to generate a clash of civilizations, most have not supported this idea. In many respects, the most difficult conflicts since 1991 have been within states and not between them. Even in the realm of international relations, states have hardly acted in concert as civilizational blocs. Here Exhibit A is the sharp, sustained discord over the 2003 decision to invade Iraq; NATO members were deeply divided in the UN Security Council and beyond. Within the “Islamic civilization,” too, significant divides exist along regional and sectarian lines.

Even so, the “film” Muslim Innocence has sparked intense, sometimes violent protests across most of the Islamic world. Key countries – Sunni majority and Shiite majority – have witnessed protests. These include: Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The geographic scope, and the rapid spread of these protests is indicative of a strong sense of pan-Islamic identity that many Muslims share. Samuel Huntington was not completely shooting from the hip on the idea of an “Islamic civilization.”

That is not to say that the former Harvard professor’s grand thesis has sprung back to life. No, what is arguably most important is the reality of illiberal democracy in many of these majority Muslim countries. Indeed, it is possible to have some level of political competition and accountability without broad-based civil liberties. In recent days, the restrictive views on freedom of speech and religion have been on full display. Though it is uncomfortable, liberal democracies defend the right of fringe groups to make outrageous statements. It is not at all clear that the Arab spring revolutions (or other democratic transitions in the Islamic world) are headed towards liberal democracy. Even if this true, this does not amount to a geopolitical clash of civilizations.

*** 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.