The most persecuted people on earth
Here’s a stark statistic. Eighty per cent of all acts of religious discrimination across the globe are against Christians. Contrary to popular belief, Christians are also the most persecuted religious group in the world.
According to John Allen Jr. in his valuable book The Global War on Christians, anti-Christian persecution can and should be classed as a global war. This is in spite of the term ‘war’ being seen by many as over-inflammatory and a provocative call to arms. This is not how Allen uses it.
In some places the Christians concerned are not being persecuted directly, but find themselves displaced and impoverished as a result of being driven out of their homes by another religious community.
Allen’s statistics are alarming. He believes that 100 million Christians currently face interrogation, arrest, torture or death because of their faith. These are in countries in places as diverse as Asia and the Middle East. There has been a seven-fold increase in persecution globally in the last 10 years.
In 1991 Iraq had 1.5 million Christians, but in the last 25 years that has dropped to around 250,000. Of the 65 churches in Baghdad, 40 have been bombed at least once between 2003 and 2013.
More than 20 years ago I published a book by the veteran human rights activist, Emma Nicholson, now a peer in the House of Lords. The title of the book was ‘Why Does the West Forget?’ and it described the early days of the brutal regime of Saddam Hussain in Iraq.
The question Baroness Nicholson posed remains unanswered today. It’s not that we don’t know what is going on in these medieval, and often collapsing, nation states. We see daily the latest atrocities and war crimes committed against vulnerable people.
Where once it was the plight of millions that caught the headlines, now it is the threat to World Heritage Sites that prompt the outrage in ouro news media. Yet widespread knowledge about what is happening right in front of us has stimulated a woefully insubstantial response. Why is this? One reason is the concern of some that we should not provoke a conflict with Islam. This may be a noble motive, but if it disguises the facts of the genocide then should we review our stance on this?
In any case, all the persecution is not about Islam. Threats come from multiple places, including ultranationalists, totalitarian states, radical Hindus and Buddhists, criminal syndicates, state security polices, secular hostility and, even, radical Christians.
The other reason why the West forgets is that, according to one commentator, they are too Christian to excite the left and too foreign to excite the right. This may be unfair, but there might be a grain of truth in it as a diagnosis.
Such horrors committed in our ‘civilised age’ should stir us to make two responses. One is to reject the bandwagon of saying that persecution against Christians is widespread in Britain today. Such a claim only trivialises the grim reality for so many around the world. There is simply no moral equivalence between the two experiences.
The other response should be to pledge, with deep sincerity of heart, never to forget what our Christian brothers and sisters are facing. This is what they tell us they need most, to be remembered.
Such is the power of prayer that, to the one praying, can seem so inadequate. Yet it remains a powerful force in the world and huge comfort to those in need. In our churches we can devote ourselves to prayer and support all efforts to free the brethren, and to heal their wounds.
Our part can be to tell and retell the stories of those worst affected. Charities like Bible Society are working in some of the most persecuted places in the world. Our staff can testify that this is not an isolated problem that is likely to go away any time soon. Lest we forget.