Persecution of Christians Hits Radar
A recurrent theme of Christmas messages by senior church leaders was the beleaguered state of Christian communities in countries with Muslim majorities or Muslim populated regions. These concerns were further punctuated by attacks in Jos, a state in central Nigeria, scene of conflict between the Christian south and the Muslim north in that country. Christians were also attacked on Muslim populated Jolo island in the Philippines.
The major concern has been Iraq, where the Christian population has declined from 1,400,000 on the eve of the 2003 invasion to 500,000 today. The October 31 attack on a Christian church, Our Lady of Salvation, in Baghdad by Al-Qaeda resulting in the massacre of 58 worshippers drew the attention of the Pope who said that those living in Iraq needed comfort from their pain after deadly attacks.
Even the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who has been accused of being too conciliatory to Islam as in his 2008 remarks where he implied that Sharia law should have a place in the legal system, was on the same page. He specifically mentioned Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian who is facing the threat of a death sentence for blasphemy. Williams claimed that Christians who are suffering because of their beliefs would be helped through the knowledge they have not been forgotten.
The outrages go beyond attacks by Muslim fundamentalists. Christian groups currently charge that government collusion encourages these atrocities. The Christian Association of Nigeria said that for explosives to find their way into Jos despite the high security presence is suspect. "That it went ‘undetected’ means that there is some collusion between the security agents and the perpetrators... these explosions must be investigated and the culprits brought to book no matter how lowly or highly placed they may be". Similarly Christians in Iraq have claimed that it is not only Al-Qaeda and its offshoots who have targeted the Christians but also elements in the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government.
Lately the plight of Christians under Islam is getting noticed both by the media and political leaders. Stanford journalism professor and former New York Times correspondent Joel Brinkley authored an article on the sweeping Christianophobia summing up the contemporary persecution of Christianity. Tim Rutten wrote an article in the LA Times observing that what is currently being perpetrated upon Iraqi Christians was perpetrated previously against Iraqi Jews. This theme was taken up by the Orange County Register in an editorial on December 16.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), an Assyrian Christian member of Congress told The Hill that "history is repeating itself" and the same persecutions that her grandparents spoke of were recurring. Eshoo and , Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.),want the administration to secure the welfare of Iraqi Christians prior to the planned American withdrawal from that country. Perhaps, suggests Wolf to The Hill, it can be done by carving out an autonomous region similar to Kurdistan where Christians will feel protected.
President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek said it was time for the Iraqi government to make sure Christians in Iraq enjoy the same protection and status as Shiites and Sunnis.
"The European Parliament is very concerned about these developments and is a strong defender of human rights, including freedom of religion" he said in his statement. "We monitor the situation closely and have adopted a number of resolutions to try to draw international attention to the plight of Christian minorities."