Islam is on the brink of destroying Christianity in the Middle East, according to a study published by UK-based think tank Civitas on December 23. Rupert Shortt writes that “there is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands.”
”It is generally accepted that many faith-based groups face discrimination or persecution to some degree,” he said. “A far less widely grasped fact is that Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers.”
Pope Benedict xvi also drew attention to this in his Christmas Eve address. Benedict called on Catholics to pray that “Christians in those lands where our faith was born may be able to continue living there.”
Shortt’s study charts the treatment of Christians in several nations across the Middle East and Asia. While Christian persecution is a problem in all the countries he examined, he concluded that “the lion’s share of their problems arise in Muslim-majority societies.”
He warns that “the early 21st century has seen a steady rise in the strife endured by Christians.” Half to two thirds of all Christians in the Middle East have been killed or forced to leave, he writes. One of the most dramatic drops in number comes from Iraq. In 1990 there were 1.2 to 1.4 million Christians. By the start of the second Gulf war, that number had plummeted to 500,000 fewer. Now there are under 200,000.
But the crisis has not gained the attention it should have because “[p]arts of the media have been influenced by the logical error that equates criticism of Muslims with racism, and therefore as wrong by definition,” he writes.
Shortt said he isn’t necessarily endorsing “talk about a supposed clash of civilizations.” But he says that many Muslims see it that way. He writes that “many Egyptian Muslims think that Copts are implicated in what they see as a Christian assault on the Muslim world.”
Shortt is also the author of the book Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack, published last month.
Little of Shortt’s report is new information, but it is a timely reminder of one of the great underreported stories of the year: Christian persecution is a regular occurrence. Here’s a smattering of news reports on the subject from the past few days alone.
Only 7 percent of Christians turned out to vote in Eygpt’s constitutional referendum in some areas due to intimidation from Muslims, church officials in Egypt reported. In the city of Assiut, men on horseback armed with swords led 50,000 Islamists through Christian districts. Egypt will be “Islamic, Islamic, despite the Christians,” they chanted. Some in Egypt told the Associated Press that Christians were pelted with stones as they tried to reach polling stations.
In Syria, Christians fear the Islamists who are taking the lead in the fight against President Bashar Assad. “As the fight to overthrow Assad drags on, the rebels’ ranks are becoming dominated by Islamists, raising concerns that the country’s potential new rulers will marginalize them or establish an Islamic state,” the Associated Press wrote on Sunday.
“Al Qaeda-inspired groups have become the most organized fighting units, increasingly leading battles for parts of Aleppo or assaults on military installations outside the city,” it warns.
Shiite Ayatollah Ahmad Al Baghdadi Al Hassani proclaimed a fatwa against Christians on Egyptian television on December 13, Jewish News One and AsiaNews report. Al Baghdadi said Christians must choose “Islam or death.”
“Their women and girls may legitimately be regarded wives of Muslims,” he reportedly said. Al Baghdadi is an Iraqi ayatollah who is currently in Syria supporting the opposition.
Meanwhile, in Nigeria, Christians fear a repeat of last year’s Christmas Day bombing when Islamist terrorists from Boko Haram drove a car full of explosives into a church, killing 44. On Christmas Eve the year before, over 40 were killed in Islamist attacks.
“This Christmas, the police and military are expecting more trouble in the north,” reports Reuters.
“The fear for many is that more Christmas Day attacks could spark the sort of tit-for-tat sectarian violence between the mostly Muslim north and largely Christian south, which has claimed thousands of lives in the past decade,” it writes.
No wonder the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem (part of the Roman Catholic Church) Fouad Twal used his Christmas message to highlight the plight of Christians. He complained that despite “many inter-religious initiatives,” there was still “an increase in a certain religious radicalism.”
“I reiterate my dismay at the desecration of churches, convents, synagogues and cemeteries that offends everyone,” he said. “We must take out the evil at its root by educating our youth in all schools.”
Twal also dedicated a large portion of his speech to “ecumenism,” which to the Catholic Church means gathering all other Christian groups under Rome.
The fact that these stories didn’t feature prominently in the news isn’t the only reason Shortt gave for the lack of awareness about Christian persecution. He wrote that “young Christians in Europe and America do not become ‘radicalized,’ and persecuted Christians tend not to respond with terrorist violence.”
But this patience will not last forever. This world’s Christians aren’t immune to anger and retaliation. In fact, in Nigerian Christians have retaliated to some of the Islamist attacks.
Historically, Christianity has struck back at Islam when provoked. Anciently the Catholic Church led the Crusades, in part based on reports of Islamic brutality against Christians. These Crusades were also a chance for the church’s “ecumenism.” In them, the pope demonstrated that he spoke for and defended most Christians.
A clash of civilizations is brewing. Islamists are fighting it already, persecuting Christians as if they are one common enemy united with the West. As Europe, rather than America, becomes more involved in the Middle East, the Europeans will become closely associated with the Christians.
Geopolitics comes first. Europe is backing the rebels in Syria, while the Christians tend to favor the current regime. But the persecution will force Middle East Christians to seek a strong champion in Catholic Europe.
The persecution will aid the Catholic Church in “radicalizing” Europe. At the moment, Christianity is taking Islam’s attacks lying down. That will soon end. Both history and Bible prophecy tell us the Catholic Church will play a key role in driving Europe to confront radical Islam.
Already Europe is taking the lead in the Middle East. Britain and France persuaded a reluctant America to get involved in Libya. Europe is leading in Syria. Europe wants to send troops into Mali, while America wants to back off and wait.
How different that is to the situation 10 years ago, where America led Europe into Afghanistan and Iraq.
Europe is now very concerned at the threat posed by radical Islam. And while America spends its strength in vain—funneling weapons to Egypt and Saudi Arabia in exchange for very little—Europe, and especially Germany, is far more strategic about its involvement. Its targeted weapons sales and military presence is part of a calculated opposition to radical Islam.
This shift will soon be obvious in Europe’s religion. No longer will Europe tolerate vast Islamic migration. Already right-wing parties have pushed governments to push back against Islam.
The attack against Christians will add an emotional fervor to what is now a calculated opposition to radical Islam.
As the Catholic Church rises in Europe, watch for these attacks to receive more publicity. They are part of the clash between the king of the north and the king of the south.
The worst inter-religious violence the world has ever seen is coming. Catholicism’s response to these attacks may be taking time to build, but when it comes, it will be brutal.
The good news, however, is that this will be the last religious fighting the world will ever see. For more information on what is coming, and the hope beyond, read our free booklet The King of the South. ▪