By: Danny Eisen and Sheryl Saperia
As the winter holidays wind down for another year, Canadians can reflect on the blessing of their democracy, which enables its citizens to celebrate or ignore such festivities according to the dictates of personal conscience. But tens of millions of Christians across the globe are not granted this basic freedom. For them, Christmas and New Year are synonymous with anti-Christian violence they are relieved to have survived.
Such violence has placed Christmas at the epicentre of a political fault line that has divided our post 9/11 world in two. On one side of the divide, the holidays can be celebrated without fear. On the other, even hidden ceremonies and whispered prayers can invite terror, imprisonment and death. The latter includes parts of the Middle East, Africa and other regions, where the Yuletide destruction of churches and their parishioners is now commonplace.
This year, the specter of seasonal violence visited Baghdad, where three explosions on Christmas Day killed Christians leaving church and purchasing goods for the holiday. It also made stops in Kenya, where bombs were thrown at two Mombasa churches; in Iran, where Christians were arrested for celebrating the holiday; in Somalia, where the government bannedsuch celebrations entirely; and in the Philippines, where grenades were thrown at a church on New Year’s Eve. In Saudi Arabia, where Christian practice is illegal and punishable by severe penalties, there are no churches to bomb, but there were Christians to arrest: 56 people in Rass, mostly foreigners, were arrested on charges of celebrating Christmas.
And even where violence against Christians was successfully deterred by enhanced security, fear and pain still had ready access. In Peshawar, Pakistan, the Christmas liturgy was etched in grief for those in attendance at the All Saints Anglican Church. Bereaved parishioners wept through Mass under the gaze of security personnel and a church clock with hands that remain fixed at 11:43. The clock has been frozen since that moment on September 22, 2013 when Islamist terrorists detonated themselves in the church, killing 87 worshippers and injuring 120.
Christians in Egypt, Lebanon and Indonesia also attended services protected by security forces seeking to prevent the repeat of past Christmas slaughters. In Nigeria, many Christians chose to avoid holiday services after years of consecutive Christmas attacks. In the “blackestChristmas ever” in 2011, Boko Haram members murdered Christians attending services in various churches throughout the country. Recently listed in Canada as a terrorist entity, Boko Haram has established itself as one of the world’s most prolific killers of Christians.
The violence targeting Christmas, Easter, and Sunday observance is emblematic of a broader pandemic of anti-Christian hatred. According to a Pew survey, Christians face restrictions and hostility in 111 countries, but Islamist extremism remains “the worst persecutor of the worldwide church.”Theiranti-Christian animus is often clerically promoted and judicially sanctioned. Islamists have attacked hundreds of Christian institutions; tens of thousands of Christians have been murdered, injured or imprisoned; and many others have been subject to torture, rape and even enslavement.
It would appear that radical Islamists, both Sunni and Shiite, are making good on an old Islamist saying: “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.” The slogan designates Jews and Christians as a hostile alien presence targeted for removal. And despite Pope Francis’ recent declaration that “We will not resign ourselves to imagining a Middle East without Christians,” the Christian depopulation of the region seems inevitable. As noted by Rupert Shortt, religion editor of the Times Literary Supplement, Christianity is “close to extinction” in the region of its origin. The communities of biblical Bethlehem and Ramallah, once heavily or almost exclusively Christian enclaves, are moribund. Istanbul, home to two million Christians in 1920, now hosts only a few thousand believers. Gaza’s community is close to disappearing, while besieged communities in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon are being depleted. Likewise, Egyptian Copts are fleeing the land they have called home for almost two millennia.
British cabinet minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has rightly described the campaign against Christian minorities as a “global crisis.” Like the clock in Peshawar, time has truly run out for many of these “Sunday People” in the Islamic world. And with no Christian counterpart to the Organization of the Islamic Conference to champion this as a Christian issue, the fate of the persecuted churches is now left to the efforts of Prince Charles, Vladimir Putin, the Vatican, Western lawmakers and other advocates seeking to stay the extinction of some of the world’s oldest Christian communities.
Canadian parliamentarians, in all their diversity, should embrace and lead in this effort. Resolutions and legislation targeting the states most complicit in these types of violations should be passed. Resources like Canada’s new Office of Religious Freedom should be fully utilized in coordinating this effort internationally.
For too long, radical Islamists and their state enablers have claimed exclusivity in the hierarchy of victimhood, while victimizing others on an epic scale. And with their assault on Christian minorities, they are once again putting us to the test to see if our commitment to the secular canon of human rights is every bit as tenacious as their determination to destroy it. It is a test we can ill afford to fail.
First appeared in the in The Ottawa Citizen
Danny Eisen is co-founder of the Canadian Coalition Against Terror (C-CAT).
Sheryl Saperia is Director of Policy for Canada at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.