By Nadia Cassim
When Former Chief Rabbi Paul Vallely wrote an article for The Independent¹ earlier this year in which he stated that Christians are the world’s most persecuted people, with an emphasis on the much celebrated story of a Christian woman living in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan- who was sentenced to death for marrying a Christian man- and who was flown to safety to meet the Pope in the Vatican- millions of heads around the world nodded in agreement with him. Vallely went on to further justify his viewpoint by talking about the 3000 Christians of Mosul who were driven out of their homes in Northern Iraq by fanatics who announced from the loud speakers of mosques, that they must convert to Islam, pay a tax, or face death. His argument became more credible when he quoted stats by Secular group, International Society for Human Rights, who claim that 80% of “all religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians”. He also highlighted how Churches were burned to the ground and large scale slaughtering has occurred in areas such as Nigeria, Egypt, China and India.
Paul Vallely wasn’t alone in his assumptions. David Cameron made a public statement in April 2014 echoing these same sentiments. He was backed up by Pope Benedict XVI, Prince Charles and Angela Merkel² who all added to the list of atrocities committed against Christian groups in North Korea and Pakistan. Backing these statements was US Catholic journalist John Allen who wrote in an article that, “the world is witnessing the rise of an entire new generation of Christian martyrs. The carnage is occurring on such a vast scale that it represents not only the most dramatic Christian story of our time, but arguably the premier human rights challenge of this era as well” adding to the sentiments felt by many Christians, and understandably so, all over the globe.
Rupert Shortt, British Author of the recent book Christianophobia: A Faith under Attack, also went on to say there is scarcely a single country, in a vast belt of land from Morocco to Pakistan, in which Christians can worship freely, without the fear of harassment². He also boldly criticizes the West by accusing them of having a “liberal Blind Spot”. He deems western countries overly-cautious when it comes to the persecution of Christians abroad, mostly a result of guilt of colonialism and being over-sensitive to the perceived sufferings of Muslims.
All the above doesn’t seem so unrealistic when taking into consideration statistics presented by the Pew Research Forum earlier this year³. Nelson Jones, columnist for the New Statesman Magazine in his article titled Are Christians Really the World’s most persecuted religious Group, cautions the public when making bold statements about persecution. He asks readers to bear in mind that statistics have proven that there is “abuse of religious minorities by private individuals or groups in society for acts perceived as offensive or threatening to the majority faith of the country”⁴ He goes on to say that the term ’persecution’ may not be a helpful word to describe what is really happening on the social and political front. He also asserts that it is important to note that all over the world, people belonging to various religious groups have been harassed. This is based on the Pews Research Forum’s statement claiming that “during the latest year studied, there also was an increase in the level of harassment or intimidation of particular religious groups. Indeed, two of the seven major religious groups monitored by the study – Muslims and Jews – experienced six-year highs in the number of countries in which they were harassed by national, provincial or local governments, or by individuals or groups in society. As in previous years, Christians and Muslims – who together make up more than half of the global population – were harassed in the largest number of countries”
Taking the above into consideration, one may have a look at the atrocities also facing Muslims around the world as validation of this phenomenon. In an article published in June 2014 by the International Business Times UK⁵, Muslims are being persecuted in Myanmar by Buddhist extremists. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group living in the area and have been confined to quasi-concentration camps. In the Central African Republic, there is fighting between the Muslim and Christian forces since Francois Mozize, a Christian, was overthrown by Muslim Michel Djotadia in 2012. Ever since, Muslims have fled the Christian majority areas and fighting has resulted in more than 2000 deaths and 100 000’s of displacements.
In China, the Uyghur people are a Turkic Muslim minority living in the Xinjiang Region (East Turkestan) and are subjected to religious discrimination by the Chinese government who have accused, rather by exaggeration, that this minority wish to establish an Islamic state. The levels of intolerance towards Muslims in India by Hindus have escalated since 1948 in which 50 000-200 000 Muslims were believed to have been killed. Despite the government being committed to secularism, there has still been large scale violence. In May 2014 Narenda Modi was sworn in as India’s new Prime Minister with his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots killing 2000 Muslims still in question. Just over a year ago in Angola, there was a shutdown of all mosques and Islam was declared illegal. Muslims make up 1% of the population in that country.
Moreover, the world is not new to the recent historical persecution of Muslims:
– Between 1992-1995 Serbian forces carried out an ethnic cleansing of approximately 7000-8000 killings of Muslim civilians
– In Chechnya in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian troops were accused of war crimes against Chechen Muslims
Taking the above into consideration, one may understand why Nelson Jones rounds up his argument, aptly so, by stating the following:
If Christians are persecuted in many parts of the world, so are Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Buddhists and Jews. If Christians are persecutors in other (or sometimes the same) parts of the world: as are Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Buddhists and Jews. The fact that such a list of persecutors can include Buddhists, probably the faith least renowned for its zeal or intolerance, is a strong indication that by and large we are dealing with group rivalries, hatred of minorities, political struggles and only rarely a persecution based in the specifics of Christian (religious) theology.