Persecution of Christians

Asia Bibi an innocent mother of 5 imprisoned for five years simply for enacting kindness.

Persecution of Christians – Where, How Bad, and What Can We Do?

More and more, the persecution of Christians is getting into the mainstream media. We hear of Egyptian Christians lined up and shot or beheaded in Egypt, nearly 150 Christian university students massacred in Kenya, hundreds of Christian girls kidnapped from school or college in Kenya, crucifixions and beheadings of Christians – even children – in Syria, suicide bombs against churches in Pakistan. This year is also the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Over the space of several years, something close to 1.5 million Christians, mostly Armenian, but also Greek and Assyrian, were slaughtered with extreme and unbelievable brutality by the Ottoman Empire (what is now Turkey more or less – a nation that still refuses to acknowledge the incident and attacks those, like the Pope, who publicly recall it, probably partly because they are afraid of claims for the property and wealth that was seized from the victims by surviving descendants, but also because one of the key marks of a genocide is denial – and the Turks currently are participating in the ongoing destruction of Armenians by proxy in Syria). Men were tortured so badly that many burnt themselves alive in prison, and many girls killed themselves after being raped. Children were killed for sport, their heads smashed in, many men were decapitated, and girls were often taken into harems as sex slaves, sold just like ISIS does today in Syrian and Iraq, for a pittance. A number of girls and women were stripped naked and publicly crucified. Eyewitness reports suggest 80,000 Armenians were burned alive, at least 50,000 including women and children were taken out to sea and thrown overboard to drown, and that, in a macabre foretaste of later Nazi practices, Turkish doctors and scientists poisoned and drugged many children and other victims, including deliberately injecting them with Typhoid so that they could falsify the death certificates and say they died of natural causes. The massacres started after the Turks were defeated when they attacked Russian territory in 1914. First, all Armenians were removed from the army, then the able bodied men were slaughtered, and finally the women, children, disabled and elderly were forced into the Syrian desert on death marches or crammed into cattle truck trains (like the Nazi’s, the Turks forced the victims to pay for their own transportation to death). Some women deliberately threw their babies into lakes rather than let the Turks get to them. The relatively few survivors were forced into concentration camps. There were further massacres of many thousands right up until about 1921. About 75% of the entire Armenian population was wiped out, a proportion that equals or exceeds the proportion of Jews killed by the Nazi’s in the Holocaust, and indeed, Hitler took the Armenian genocide as a major inspiration. Whether it is this anniversary, or the somewhat equivalent actions by ISIS and other Islamic groups, many more Christians in the West are waking up to this reality of life for their brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world. Maybe you are one of them. Maybe you have started to research into the issue. What are the causes of this persecution? How bad is it, and where does it happen?
This article aims to be an introduction to persecution of Christians. My name is Nathanael Lewis, and I am a trustee and researcher for the British Pakistani Christian Association, as well as co-author of ‘The Targeting of Minority Others in Pakistan’, (available in the UK here) a seminal work on the situation of minorities of all types in Pakistan. I am also a theologian by training. Naturally, I have most knowledge about Pakistan, but I try and keep up with other areas of the world too.

If you want to know how bad persecution is and where, one of the best places to go to is World Watch list – google it! – which every year ranks the 50 worst nations for Christian persecution according to strict criteria and is externally audited. The worst is always North Korea, where the cult-like leaders have massive control. Almost all people suffer, but there as a Christian you and your entire family can be executed or imprisoned in very harsh conditions in labour camps just for owning a bible, or being a Christian / attending church.

This year – and this is pretty much standard – all of the rest of the top 10 are Muslim countries (or in the case of number 10, a country split fairly evenly, but where the persecution in Muslim areas is horrific – namely Nigeria). In fact, all but about ten of the top 50 countries are Muslim nations or where, like Nigeria, the main driving factor is Islam. These non-Muslim nations are – in descending order of severity; Vietnam (16th worst), India (21), Ethiopia (22 – but even here Islamic extremism is a major factor, unfortunately persecution by other Christians too), Burma / Mynamar (25), Laos (28), China (29), Bhutan (31), Columbia (35), Mexico (38) and Sri Lanka (44).

Of these top 50, the worst three are ranked ‘Absolute Persecution’ – North Korea, Somalia and Iraq. The next level down is ‘extreme persecution’ – 11 nations, all of them Muslim, or with Islam as the main driver of persecution. After that comes severe persecution – 17 nations, all but six of them Muslim nations (all but five if you count Ethiopia as it is mainly Muslim persecution there). Moderate persecution covers the remaining 19; again, all but four are Muslim countries. In other words, Islamic extremism is the most widespread and pervasive cause of Christian suffering, affecting 80% of all the worst nations for Christian persecution.

In the countries where the main cause of persecution is not Islam, the main causes are Communism (North Korea, China, etc), religious nationalism (India, Burma, Sri Lanka, etc), tribal nationalism and corruption / criminality (China, Mexico, Colombia), and aggressive secularism in the case of the two Western hemisphere examples – Mexico and Columbia.

Persecution can range across a whole spectrum of areas that affect Christians in their daily life, from massacres and martyrdom’s and terrible violence, through to discrimination, sexual harassment, slavery of various sorts, denial or restriction of employment, harassment of worship, destruction of churches and the like.

Christians by virtually all standards are the most persecuted religion in the world, with 200 million (about 10% of all Christians) estimated to suffer significant persecution or discrimination for their faith. Religious liberties are most threatened in Muslim countries, by and large (with the obvious exception of North Korea being even worse). But why is this reality so inadequately covered by the Western media? One reason is political correctness and the fear of being labelled ‘racist’ (an oxymoron given Muslims are of every race, like Christianity) or ‘Islamaphobic’. Sometimes this is manifest in their habit (BBC take note!) of labelling violence against Christians as ‘interreligious violence’ or ‘interreligious tensions’ to try and be seen as ‘even-handed’. In virtually every nation and case, this is false – it is Islamic oppression and violence against Christians, with any self-defence that does happen suddenly vaunted by the media to the same moral level as the attackers. There are a couple of exceptions where ‘interreligious violence’ is an appropriate description – the Central African Republic, and occasional retaliations in Nigeria, for example. Sometimes the problem is very crafty or media savvy Islamic perpetrators taking naive western journalists for fools. For example, in the case of Nigeria a year or two back, a number of Western media outlets carried photos of dead Nigerians in a mosque, saying that this was Christian violence and attacks on Muslims in response to the massacres that had been going on. This just perfectly fit the agenda of Western media trying to make out all sides as equally culpable (and in some cases, perhaps an outlet for Christianophobia that is prevalent in some sections of the ‘progressive’ cultural elite? – just a suggestion). The journalists flew in, took the photos, asked questions and flew out. But in fact, it turns out, the Muslim killers had just dragged the bodies of a number of their Christian victims into the mosque and displayed them as evidence of ‘Christian violence’.
How many martyrs?

You will often find wildly varying figures about the number of Christian martyrs in a year, varying from Vatican spokesman and the Centre for Study of Global Christianity quoting a figure of 100,000 a year, to far smaller figures, like only 1,200 from the persecuted Christian NGO ‘Open Doors’ (these figures were all for 2012). That’s one heck of a difference! There is no way these two figures can be reconciled, so how on earth is there such a disparate set of claims. It’s the difference between saying 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust or only about 6000! The answer is – how do you define martyrdom – Christians dying for their faith? It turns out that the larger figures will include those Christians killed in conflict areas where their Christian faith is significant part, but by no means the only part, of the conflict. The Central African Republic is a prime case in point. There is a brutal civil war, surrounding nations as well as Islamic extremist groups meddle in it, it has tribal elements to it, and also religious elements. Or take Nigeria. Muslim villages and tribes regularly raid Christian ones. They might raid cattle or crops. Do we count it as religiously motivated, or just tribal raids on another for resources? Religion has to play a part, but does it make the victims martyrs, or just victims of inter-tribal violence? This factor alone describes a huge part of the difference between the figures. Or take Pakistan. The police are notoriously violent and corrupt. They most certainly do target Christians especially, but potentially any citizen can potentially be arrested, tortured and die as a result. How do you prove that a Christian who died in such circumstances died for his or her faith, or just because of police brutality in general. It is most likely both, but how do you account for it, how do you decide? Or again, in Pakistan, let’s say there is a particularly bad attack on Christians – a couple burnt alive, suicide bombings of churches, and the helpless, frustrated, furious Christian community demonstrates. They block major roads, chanting loudly, or surround police stations to protest an unjust arrest, a few youths throw stones at police or attack Muslim properties with stones. The police or some paramilitary security force are called in, and in the ensuing rubber bullets, baton charges and tear gas, Christian protestors, or even bystanders are killed. Do we count them as martyrs, or victims of heavy handed security?

Even when it is quite clear that Christians are deliberately killed for being Christians per se, by the strictest definitions of martyrdom, they might not count. For instance, when Kenyan Christian students were shot dead earlier this year – nearly 150 of them – by extremist attackers, they were asked their religion before being shot. A really strict view might say we can only really count a death as martyrdom when the Christian is given a chance to recant their faith and refuse to do so. From the accounts I have seen, the Kenyan students weren’t given this option, although Islamic extremists can sometimes demand conversion to Islam first (quite often in the form of letters to communities giving them a few days to convert or face the consequences – a powerful terror weapon). The victims of suicide bombings in churches are not given a chance to abandon their faith. By this strict criteria, martyrdom would even be denied to the victim of an attack whom I just heard died as I write this article. A young Christian teenager called Nouman Masih was stopped outside his place of work and asked his religion by two Muslims. When he said Christian, they started beating him. He ran, and they threw petrol on him and set him alight. He suffered 55% burns, and now I’ve been told he has died a few days after in hospital. In Pakistan, many Christian girls and women are kidnapped and raped and forced to convert and marry their rapists and / or put into the sex trade. Their families never hear from them again in many cases, and it is strongly suspected that some of them are eventually burnt alive, but how can we prove it?

The other issue is that of verification. If you need good evidence, it can sometimes be incredibly hard to come by – whether in extremely dangerous conflict zones like the Central African Republic, or Iraq or Syria, or the incredibly closed nation of North Korea. We know there have to be many many martyrdoms in North Korea, even under the strictest definition, but if you need actual verification, how are you going to actually get it in a place like that?

The example of Pakistan

What is it like to live as a Christian in one of these nations? To answer this, I will use the example of Pakistan, the situation I know best. It ranks as the 8th worst nation according to World Watch list, even higher than Nigeria, which under some strict criteria of martyrdom accounted for nearly ¾ of all martyrs in the last year or so. This is because parts of Nigeria are pretty safe. Not so in Pakistan. It was rated at number 14, but has jumped up after a suicide bombing of a church in 2013, and could go higher as two more churches (in the area deemed the safest – the biggest Christian community in Pakistan) were simultaneously bombed this year (although of course the situation is getting worse in other nations too). Even if we exclude big events like these, Christians are desperately badly treated in Pakistan. They are discriminated against in every field – education, law and order, justice, employment, politics. Many are kept in a cycle of poverty and slavery (whether ‘bonded labour’ in brick kilns’ or the not-quite-slavery of domestic servitude as maids on pitifully low wages). The situation is bad enough in the cities, but in the rural areas it is even worse.

Sherish and Farzana were gang-raped and brutalized for 14 hours.  They are now in the care of the BPCA.  Originally they were completely illiterate now they can read very Basic English and Urdu and work on simple maths questions.

Christian girls and women suffer ongoing and severe sexual harassment and rape – often just to get to a prayer meeting they have to run a gauntlet of local Muslim men and boys who verbally sexually harass and grope them. They are deemed easy, suitable to be made into mistresses and prostitutes, and Muslim pimps frequently locate brothels in Christian slum areas. The rate of rape of Christian women is so high – and underreported in an honour-shame culture like Pakistan even more than it is underreported in Western nations – that we can’t even quantify it. To give but one example, the Christian men of a village a few years back refused to work in the fields of the Muslim villagers at protest at the daily rape and sexual assault of their women who worked in the homes as maids. After three days they had to give up and go back as they were starving. There must be countless villages which have not protested which suffer similar problems, but we don’t know where, how many or how bad. What we do know well enough to quantify, however roughly, is that in cases where Christian girls are kidnapped, raped, forced to marry and convert is averaging about two a day, or about 700 a year. If parents go to the police, they are as likely enough as not to be mocked and beaten and threatened and told ‘You will never see her again. She is a Muslim now’ and even told that you must convert to Islam to ever see her again. Rape is a religious weapon. In at least two cases I am aware of, parents refusing their landlord / employers ‘invite’ to convert to Islam, the Christians two year old daughters have been brutally raped. In other cases, young Christian girls (I’m talking not yet 10 in some cases) are raped by Muslim men who say things like ‘I’m doing you a favour’ or ‘I’ve performed this service for many Christian girls’. In at least one case, the girls were told that the attackers had just been to a Muslim religious conference where they were told that to get the 70 virgins in heaven, they didn’t need to die in jihad, they just needed to marry and / or rape a Christian female. There is also something of a homosexual subculture in parts of Pakistani society, and sometimes boys are attacked. In Karachi, a major southern city, a number of Christian teenagers disappeared, but when they found the body of one in a sewer, with a police bullet in his head, it became clear that they were being raped and killed by a policeman (or men).

Many Christians are locked into a cycle of poverty. The children have to work from a very young age, and can’t get an education and so are locked into the cycle. Christians are often discriminated in employment, locked into menial jobs like maids, street and sewer cleaners, brick kiln workers and the like. They are called Chooras, ‘sweepers’, and treated like India’s untouchables. Some Pakistanis believe that even a Christian’s touch defiles water and food. Thus in the case of Asia Bibi, a village farm worker and mother of five who is on death row for alleged blasphemy, her plight started when she took water for her fellow labourers and it was rejected as polluted because she had drank from it / touched it. In some places you will see drinking points with signs like Muslim only, or with completely separate and lesser drinking points for non-Muslims or ‘Chooras’. It’s not just in the rural areas. In some cases Christians have been badly beaten in offices just for drinking out of the communal water fountain. In other incidents, Christian road sweepers have been murdered simply for not cleaning outside the Muslim’s shops quick enough. The attitude is ‘How dare you Choora speak to me. The success of a non-Muslim is deemed an insult against Islam in many circles, so a prosperous Christian village or businessman is a target for murder, intimidation, economic warfare. They need to be kept poor. Christians are held accountable for the acts, perceived or real, of their family and community – including the actions of Western nations. Burn a Koran in Florida? Bomb a terrorist in Afghanistan? It’s in Punjab and Lahore (and other Muslim nations too) that Christians feel the heat.
I could go on – how the blasphemy laws are used to target Christians. (If you are in a dispute with a Muslim neighbour, he can plant evidence – burnt Koran pages outside your door and accuse you. If you and your Christian neighbours survive the lynch- intent mob, you face years in jail before your trial, conviction in a lower court because Islamic extremists threaten the judge, more years in jail, before a possible appeal, and even if you are acquitted, you face living underground, on the run, because the Islamists will kill you. If you are a bread winner, that leaves your family in even greater destitution and vulnerability. So the mere implied threat of blasphemy in a dispute means it might be better to meekly cave, no matter how unjust the treatment. Muslim landlords have used such tactics to clear out Christians from slums so they can rebuild and get more profitable tenants. It goes on).

Bonded labour – technically illegal in Pakistan, but Christians are in this form of slavery often – they take a loan, have to pay it off, the employer / landlord / loaner rips them off and keeps the family in a cycle of slavery for generations to pay off the debt. If the children are sick, the family has to take another loan. If they have to pay for a wedding… .etc.

Even when Christians have good jobs they are vulnerable. Blasphemy threats and employers might sack you. You might have to pay bribes to get basic jobs. I’ve had Christians desperate for work in the West, help, jobs because they get a job working for, say a mobile phone company, selling phones in shopping malls. They are really good at it, get a large profit for the company, but after a year, they are told – you are really good, but to get promoted you must convert to Islam. When they refused, they were fired. Similarly, Christians in schools face mockery from teachers, pressures to convert from both teachers and fellow classmates, as well as denigration in the textbooks. ‘We really like you, we want to be friends’ girls might say to a Christian girl, but why are you a Christian. Much better you convert to Islam’. In one case, a Christian girl was beaten and expelled from her school and she and her mother forced out of town for ‘blasphemy’ because she made one spelling mistake – a single dot out of place – in a test.

Police brutality, imams whipping up hatred from loud speakers and then forcing their will on Christians and churches in ‘reconciliation meetings’. Death threats and kidnap attempts against church leaders and their families (I’ve had a minister on Facebook telling me the Taliban were outside his home shouting with loudspeakers and firing guns to intimidate him – he’d already had kidnap attempts against him – he leapt from a moving car, against his parents, his children and Taliban death threats to slit his families throats and leave them in the street, as well as a brutal beating of a relative). Churches and Christians monitored, prevented from celebrating Christmas on occasion. Grenade attacks on Christmas services, killing children, and then the parents of the dead blamed. Machine gun attacks on churches. Land owners and corrupt officials seizing Christian lands and properties. Criminals targeting Christians because they are so vulnerable. Muslims’ testimony counting for half of a Muslim’s in court – particularly a problem when it is a case of Christian women being raped and kidnapped – because a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man – so a Christian woman vs a Muslim man – her testimony is a quarter of his. And the victims are being told that if they say they were coerced, their parents will be killed or have blasphemy charges laid against them. They can also be a target for the forced (or tricked) organ donation trade.

And even if they flee the country, they are often in horrific situations as refugees in countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka, discriminated against by Muslim employees of the UN, at risk of being forcibly sent back to Pakistan, as well as persecution by local police and populations. In Thailand, starving, unable to access medical help, they are especially badly suffering. One Christian father walked into a hospital asking if he could sell his kidneys to have the money to pay for treatment for his sick daughter.
And frequently they face problems even if they do get to the West – their asylum claims can be rejected on very spurious or dubious grounds, they can face attacks from Muslims within the asylum system – rapes and violence are far from uncommon. In one case, in the UK, after gaining asylum, within a month, a Pakistani Christian was attacked and falsely accused in exactly the same way he was in Pakistan by his Muslim neighbours. The council had to move the family.

What can we in the West do?

So what can Christians in the West do? Well pray – most persecuted Christians will say they don’t necessarily want prayer for the persecution to stop, but for the strength to endure under it and be a good witness to Jesus. You can educate yourself about it, give money to charities and NGO’s that help persecuted Christians – just make sure it is a reputable one. Unfortunately, in regards to Pakistan at least, there can be scams. A lot of people in Pakistan start NGO’s, and it is difficult sometimes to tell a small one that is real from scam artists, or ones that are sort of somewhere in-between.

Additionally, it might be good to start preparing for greater persecution in the West. In the last year, there have been pogroms in Paris, and many European cities are becoming increasingly Islamicized, with attacks on churches and synagogues on the rise. Many Jews are fleeing because they know what is coming. In addition, the Muslim Brotherhood has severely penetrated the security and intelligence agencies of the United States government – something that has been verified by various sources online and also to a BPCA official in person by people with connections to the UK security services; as well this was tacit acknowledgement to the same official by someone with Top Secret clearance in a UK government department relating to security. In short, great trouble is coming.

The other thing you can do is lobby your political representatives. Many Western countries are notoriously bad at giving Christian asylum seekers a fair chance. For instance, the USA and the UN, as I understand it, are preparing to accept large numbers of Muslim Syrian refugees from Syria, but are not doing the same for Christians because they are not persecuted by the Syrian government. In many countries in the Middle East, persecution of Christians is approaching the level of genocide. The same could be said of Pakistan, where nearly all the required conditions for genocide are in place. In fact, you could say that there is a kind of slow-boiling genocide at the moment. Certainly with ISIS and other extremist groups gaining recruits (ISIS has recruited thousands in Pakistan this year) a future genocide is likely. The danger is that just like before World War 2, when Western nations turned away Jews in large numbers, that the West will not look after the Christian targets of genocide and let them suffer, wash their hands of them. The time to try and stop this happening is now. Here is a sample letter on the issue you can use. We don’t mind you responsibly and respectfully adapting it – for instance if your focus is that of Syria, feel free to put in bits about Syria. Our only requirement and insistence is that since we at the BPCA developed it, that you keep in references to Pakistani Christians as well as your own focus.

If you want specifically to support Pakistani Christians, consider donating to the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) and otherwise supporting their work. Started out as a campaigning group after Christians were burnt alive in their homes by a Muslim mob in 2009 and the media barely covered it, it has now turned much more into an aid NGO. Last year, just shy of 86% of our budget went in direct aid to suffering Pakistani Christians – whether food, medicine, education for orphans of Muslim attacks, provision of safety for rape victims or sanitation projects. We expect this trend in our work to continue and increase. You can sign up to our emails, look at our website, or join our large Facebook group. If you are in the UK, we may be able to come and talk at your church or organization or event. Remember what Jesus said about judgement day in Matthew 25. We will be judged on how we treated the suffering, and in particular the ‘brothers and sisters’ of Jesus, our own brothers and sisters in Christ.

The author of this piece is Nathanael Lewis, a trustee and researcher for British Pakistani Christian Association. He is also a poet, a musician, both composing music and songs and playing improvisational piano. He is also a theologian with a Master of Theology degree from St Andrews University, Scotland’s oldest university, with a special focus on the Jewish background of the New Testament and is the author of ‘Rapture Rupture : The Big Lie Behind Left Behind Exposed’, a thorough refutation of Tim LaHaye over the timing of the rapture, and proving from the New Testament that Jesus and apostles all taught the church would go through the Great Tribulation of the last days. At least 6% of the sale price of each book sold will go to the BPCA or other groups helping persecuted Christians. A limited number of signed copies of the small-run first edition are available through the BPCA for UK buyers.