It has become fashionable of late for certain species of Evangelical (and other) Christian polemnists to prominently advertise incidents of oppression and intolerance against Christian minorities by Muslims in unstable countries such as Syria and Egypt. No doubt these do take place and may well be on the increase, but they are by no means specific to Christians nor under the auspices of specifically ‘Muslim’ ethics or government.
In most cases, they have very obvious proximal sociological or economic causes which are easily identified. They are also usually in the context of wider increases in violence within those societies. For example, there is a rebellion taking place in Syria. Lots of people being targeted and dying. Among them are Christians. But the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of those dying are not Christian. Pakistan is a terribly poor country faced with an armed and brutally violent insurgency that is killing many people, sometimes at random and sometimes due to their religion (wrong type of Muslim, non-Muslim etc). Among those dying are Christians. But most of those dying are not. In fact, Christians, even accounting for their minority status, are a minority also of those who have died. Or again, there are many people dying in Nigeria, another chronically impoverished country with weak institutions and a violent terrorist group on the prowl. They are killing Christians. And everyone else they can get their hands on.
Sadly, in these and many other places, such as Burma or even rising powers like India, life is relatively cheap and death easy to come by, both for Christians and others. But to people of a certain persuasion, it seems that life may be cheap for everyone else, but a Christian life must never be allowed to be cheap. So there are a contingent of people making claims that the Christian dead have been targeted for their religion only and emphasising their tragic suffering at the expense of coverage of the fact of wider violence and lawlessness in these societies, most of which simply does not effect Christians but rather members of the alleged persecuting group, i.e the perennially hard – to – sympathise – with (for us in the West) Muslims.
The brutality and violence visited on Christians by Muslims and so-called Muslims is a disgrace and should be rebuked in the harshest terms, but it is used by Evangelicals as a public relations exercise and as a chance to expose the ‘true nature’ of Islam and the alleged heroism of Christians having to put up with living under the heel of these barbarous Muslims. The Crusader imagery is often explicit.
I am afraid this is sheer nonsense and counter productive. In fact, it is probably providing positive feedback and increasing the persecution of Christians. It also is offensive because it prioritises their suffering at the expense of the fact that the majority of violence visited on people in conflict zones in the world today is not on Christians but Muslims. In fact, if we want to be honest, the majority of violence in the 20th century until now has been towards non-Christians (as well as Christian on Christian).
There is also a complete air of unreality about what will happen to native Christian minorities in places such as the Middle East in the wake of interventions by foreign, largely Christian armies like those of say the US or UK. Yet it is obvious that even in countries with First World status and strong laws and institutions, attacks on minorities increase when they are perceived to be ‘in bed with the enemy’ or even just the same skin colour or appearance as them. It is a sad fact, but a true one which everyone knows but Christian advocates pretend not to when trumpeting the cause of persecuted Christians in Muslim territories.
Nor does the often deliberate portrayal of Christian groups in non-European lands as vanguards of European values, civilization and somehow more similar to ‘us’ (a sad holdover from colonialism) help those Christian minorities shake the false accusations by extremists that they are indeed the ‘enemy within’.
It also shows that some Christians who claim to speak for their faith, like many Muslims who do the same, just don’t know how to act and are still playing the game of inciting reprisals by playing the victim.
For example, the majority/many of the American, Polish, German, South Korean and British troops which invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq claimed to be ‘Christians’. But we do not blame Christians as a group or as a religion or the Bible as a book for what happened. We know that although the violence or offence was committed largely by Christians, it was not under the orders of ‘Christianity’. And this despite the fact that if we asked these soldiers, many of them would no doubt reply that they thought they were doing their moral duty and considered it to be religiously licit. Just as their ostensible leader Tony Blair did. But we know they are mistaken, deluded or even lying.
Why can’t the same understanding, namely that not everything bad that a Christian does is due to his being a Christian, Jesus Christ or the Bible, also apply for Muslims?
When recalling the 4 million dead civilians in Vietnam and SE Asia during that conflict, we don’t say that they were killed by Christians nor do we say that Christians ordered the fire-bombing of Tokyo or Dresden at the end of World War II, incinerating most of the civilian population or that Christians dropped two nuclear bombs on the innocent populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (deliberately on a school day no less). And what person would argue that the Nazis were ‘Christians’ just because they were from Germany (and helped by the Church)? We are never reminded of Hitler’s professed Christianity. We know that these were just bad people, and there is a surfeit of those in every community.
Muslims should and largely do know how to differentiate between Christianity as a religion and the actions of many Christians themselves. We know about, say, the Crusades or the atrocities by Christian militias in Lebanon or the behaviour of Serb fascists in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. But we have never attributed them to the teachings of Christ (PBUH) or demonised him and the Bible as many Christians and secularists do with Muhammad (PBUH) and the Quran after the (relatively) small affronts by Muslims. There is, I dare say, a problem with the Christian response to persecution.
Can we picture what would happen if a Muslim militia did what the professedly Orthodox Christian Serbs did in Bosnia and went on a generalised massacre and rape riot of hundreds of thousands of Christians in the heart of Europe (often with the blessings of the clergy)? There is a campaign to outlaw ‘denial’ of an alleged Armenian genocide. Less so the more recent and less contested Bosnian genocide. French intellectuals are often silent on the latter but never tire of reminding Turkey that they will never enter Europe until they acknowledge the former (mind you, we cannot expect much from academics who failed to notice that there is a shrine to a guy who killed up to seventy million people smack bang in the middle of Tienanmen Square. But I guess he didn’t kill white people or Europeans, so never mind…).
9-11 and 7-7 were heinous acts of violence carried out by Muslims, who from the very start were of dubious piety and orthodoxy – for example, we all saw the CCTV footage of the 9/11 bombers enjoying an American strip joint hours before they were allegedly due to cash in their bevy of virgins in the hereafter. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but few questioned the Islamic piety of the individuals and even Al Jazeera said it was part of their ‘cover’, with no evidence for this assertion, as opposed to the fact that they were probably…crap Muslims. These atrocities by Muslims or Muslim claimants led to the eager misrepresentation of an entire religion and even a racial group. When Anders Brevik killed many more people than in the 7/7 London attacks for allegedly ‘Crusader’ causes there was quick attempt by many segments of the media for him to be classed as ‘clinically insane’, an honour not bestowed by the media upon the 7/7 attackers or even the clearly unhinged killers of Lee Rigby – Muslims are apparently eminently lucid when the commit atrocities but other groups usually just wake up with blood on their hands screaming ‘Oh my God what happened?!’. And of course we did not start suspecting Nordic Christians at airports after Brevik (granted though, it was a ‘one off’ incident, not like the repeated antics of Salafist groups, most of whom do indeed have brown skin and beards, sadly lending to legitimate racial profiling).
The story many in the West and some Christian groups wish to portray is that when a Muslim does something bad it must be because of his religion. But when a non – Muslim does something bad it is because of politics, the fog of war or poverty or misinformation or insanity or whatever. Even when Christians openly say their violence is because of their religion, like the Serb fascists in Bosnia and Kosovo and Croatia or Anders Brevik in Norway or even some Nazis, we (rightly) don’t believe them.
The situation has not been helped lately by the Catholic church, claiming that there were ‘100,000’ new Christian martyrs a year, an irresponsible and shameless hoax – worthy of the Catholic Church of the Crusades and the inquisition as opposed to the modern institution it would have us believe – exposed by the BBC here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24864587. The facts have not stopped a profusion of books on the subject, such as the recent ‘Christianophobia’ (which at the outset refuses to acknowledge, in apparent denial of the Inquisition and the Crusades, any specific historical persecution of Muslims by Christians before going on claim that Christians are the most persecuted minorities in the world, an absurd claim). Even the usually sane voice of HRH Prince Charles has been raised in defence of Christians, although much more justifiably than the ramblings of the Catholic church http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25426155
Indeed, he has a point; many Christians in the Middle East are being specifically targeted by Salafist groups and this is a disgrace. But none of this changes the fact that this targeting is in the wider context of violence in these areas, most of which effects Muslims: yes, Copts have died in Egypt, but nowhere near as many as Muslims. Copts have been specifically targeted, but so have Muslim Brotherhood members as well as members of the Army by rebels. Why the ho-hah about the Copts? Because they are a minority? Or is it really because they are Christian and the West feels an affinity for them, or Evangelical groups in the States have a lot of pull with the media (such as Fox News)? The same applies in Syria, where we hear proportionately a lot about the attacks on Christians, where as it should be borne in mind that the overwhelming majority of victims are Muslim, and many of them are targeted by Wahhabis for being the ‘wrong sect’ also. So even the sectarian targeting of Christians is not ‘special’, though abhorrent.
There is also a seeming sense of unreality and disbelief when Christians are targeted: how could this happen and why them of all people. I venture that this is due to over identification with and greater sympathy for, in the West, for Christian victims (or indeed Buddhist ones – look at the support for the Dalai Lama as opposed to the Uyghurs in China) rather than Muslim ones, perhaps due to what Candida Moss called the ‘Myth of Christian Persecution’ in her illuminating book. Instead of insisting that Islam was spread by the sword and trying to spin contemporary conflicts in that light, Evangelicals need to come to terms with the fact that the idea that Christians were being thrown to the lions by Pagans is hugely inflated – most of the time it was the other way around. Europe, Russia, South America (and others such as the Philippines) were Christianised by incredibly brutal and violent means. Some Crusades were even undertaken not to combat Muslims in the Middles East but rather to further the Christianisation of mainland Europe itself and to root out ‘Pagans’ and ‘heretics’. For example the so-called ‘Northern Crusades’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Crusades.
If one is realistic and balanced, perceived affront by any group or minority usually leads to reprisals – take the tragic case of Lee Rigby in the UK – the soldier murdered by two people claiming to be ‘Soldiers of Allah’ led to attacks on Muslims, up to and including attempted bombings of mosques. And this is in a country with a strong government, incorruptible institutions and police. What can one realistically expect in somewhere like Iraq in the wake of an invasion and widespread lawlessness? Or Syria, where there is a civil war? Or Egypt, where the Christians are (often rightly) perceived to be ‘against’ the Brotherhood? How will agitators in the lawless (and more importantly, horribly poor) Muslim countries act when Christians attempt to involve the West by claiming special persecution?
If affronts and political manoeuvring by Muslims and others in the West can lead to violent reprisals, the sad reality is that the same rules apply to Christians everywhere else. American missionaries and Evangelical lobbyists were crucial to the formation of South Sudan (the results have not been good thus far). This fact has not been lost on Salafists and even orthodox Muslims, just as the West would not react well to Muslims trying to dismember largely Christian countries, even if they were failed states like Sudan, least of all for missionary purposes. Shall we try dismembering, say, the sovereign state of Burma to help out the Rohingya or so that Wahhabi missionaries can get a foothold in South East Asia? Sri Lanka maybe to help out the Tamils? Where does it end?
We have no choice but to accept this tragic reality of tit-for-tat victimisation of largely or entirely innocent minorities or even majorities and speak against it, but with balance and perspective and not by treating violence or persecution of Christians as ‘worse’ than that towards any other group. Otherwise we will just be in danger of resurrecting the old colonial mentality where, say, the rape of a ‘white woman’ was to be repaid by a generalised massacre of the ‘natives’.
Al – Qaeda has killed many times more Muslims just in Pakistan (or Iraq or Syria or Yemen) than all of their attacks on the West. But you never hear about that. Even in Southern Thailand, according to none other than the ”United States Institute for Peace’ (essentially a branch of Congress), the violence by ‘Islamic’ insurgents claimed more Muslim lives than Buddhist, mainly those of Imams or village headmen refusing to kowtow to the Wahhabis (and the US explicitly identifies the insurgents as such).
A Christian life is no more special than that of anyone else. They are not our European, civilised vanguard or representatives in the ‘heathen’ lands of Islam or indeed India or anywhere else. If you treat them as such or they portray themselves as such, in all likelihood their lives will become more difficult not easier, as they will be seen as a ‘home front’ or an enemy within, just as some Muslims have been due to terrorist attacks in the West. This will not be a justice to them, nor will it protect them from the real threats they face, along with their fellow countrymen.
It can also be asked that if many Evangelical commentators are genuinely keen to help their co-religionists (as opposed to using them as a political football or a fundraising opportunity), they may do well to concentrate their lobbying efforts not on portrayals of Muhammad and the Quran as cruel inspirations but rather on the reality that most jihadist violence against Christians is sponsored financially or ideologically by interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf: for example, the Syrian rebels are being explicitly funded by them (and others) and many of the most radical madrassas in Pakistan and many of the scholarships to radicalise students from all over the world are offered by these countries which enjoy a special status and exemption from Britain and the United States. The fact that there are thousands of US lives and troops staked on protecting Saudi hegemony in that country and the wider region, while at the same time these countries sponsor terrorism which costs the lives of Christians should be cause for the complainants against Christian ‘martyrdom’ to demand that the US and UK not support regimes which engage in and promote Jihadist violence and ideology. It was always extremely strange when the fact that the overwhelming majority of the 9/11 bombers were Saudis and that Afghanistan was sheltering a Saudi mastermind led to no censure of Saudi Arabia but rather an attack on Afghanistan and later Iraq. Yet Al Qaeda in Iraq and Syria now operates with explicit Saudi, Qatari support, and freedom of religious expression and women’s rights are most proscribed in those states such as Saudi Arabia which enjoy the most support and impunity in the eyes of the US and Britain. This is the height of hypocrisy: The US, a country in thrall to Christian Evangelical fundamentalists supports a Salafist regime in Saudi which in turn sponsors Jihadist ideology and violence against Christians which the Evangelicals in the US then gleefully blame on ‘Islam’. Meanwhile lots more Muslim lives are lost in this bizarre charade.
If there is a Muslim country where Christians are facing violence in isolation from their non-Christian countrymen, lets see the proof. Until then, we do indeed have a modern ‘Myth of Christian Persecution’, and sadly, many Christians who have the luxury of not being in affected areas and from the comfort of their pulpits or studios, love playing the victims as a public relations exersize and to smear their historical rivals the Muslims, to the tragic detriment of their genuinely persecuted brothers.
What would Jesus say?
”The Myth of Persecution…Moss, a leading scholar on Christian history, reveals how the early church exaggerated, invented, and forged stories of Christian martyrs and how the legacy of martyrdom continues to inspire the religious right and today’s conservative cultural warriors.”