Perhaps the gravest under-publicized atrocity in the world is the persecution of Christians. A comprehensive Pew Forum study last year found that Christians are persecuted in 131 countries containing 70 percent of the world’s population, out of 197 countries in the world (if Palestine, Taiwan, South Sudan, and the Vatican are included). Best estimates are that about 200 million Christians are in communities where they are persecuted. There is not the slightest question of the scale and barbarity of this persecution, and a little of it is adequately publicized. But this highlights the second half of the atrocity: the passivity and blasé indifference of most of the West’s media and governments.
It is not generally appreciated that over 100,000 Christians a year are murdered because of their faith. Because Christianity is, by a wide margin, the world’s largest religion, the leading religion in the traditionally most advanced areas of the world, and, despite its many fissures, the best organized, largely because of the relatively tight and authoritarian structure of the Roman Catholic Church, the West is not accustomed to thinking of Christians as a minority, much less a persecuted one.
The ratings of offending countries always put North Korea as the worst, followed by Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the Maldives, Yemen, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Laos, Pakistan, Sudan, and, farther back but still prominently odious, Libya, Syria, Oman, Egypt, Kuwait, the Palestinian Authority, Vietnam, Cuba, and China. While there is no shortage of incidents in India, where there is serious religious friction between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs as well, most offending countries are Islamic or Communist.
The reluctance of the leading predominantly Christian countries to speak out against these outrages is remarkable. Many of the delinquent countries are ostensible allies such as Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Oman, Egypt, and Kuwait. Obviously, some countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, etc.) are in too chaotic a condition to be expected to maintain religious liberties, but Saudi Arabia is a tightly controlled state that in many respects cooperates closely with the United States. It is a joint government of the royal House of Saud with the leadership of the extremist Wahhabi Islamist sect, and while the Saudi government is a functioning ally, especially against any extension of Iranian influence among Shiites in Sunni-led countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia also pays for 95 percent of externally financed Islamist institutions across the Muslim world. And these are overwhelmingly fundamentalist and virulently hostile to the West and to all non-Islamic religions. Official Saudi media regularly condemn and incite violence against Christians and Jews.
The recent Muslim attacks on Egypt’s Christian Copts caused the military to intervene against the Christians, killing dozens of them, which action the military government then blamed on the “inexperience” of the soldiers involved. (Unlimited experience is not required to foretell the consequences of firing automatic weapons and rifles at unarmed demonstrators at point-blank range.)
Many of the outrages are perpetrated by groups the West is conditioned to thinking of as minorities, especially Muslims in general. But the response of the Western secular leaders to these monstrous events has been achingly slow. British prime minister David Cameron did recently promise that there would be no British aid to countries that mistreated religious minorities. But it has become almost a cliché for shabby leaders of underdeveloped countries to attack Christian minorities. Zimbabwe under the infamous Robert Mugabe is one of the latest regimes routinely to attack Christian institutions because of Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Evangelical criticism of the violence and corruption of his governing ZANU party. South Sudan was the scene of perhaps the vilest and most widespread abuse, as the Muslim Sudanese government killed approximately a million South Sudanese Christians and animists over the last decade or so. (Unfortunately, tribalism in South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, has partly replaced the oppression of the Muslim north.) The Palestinians, despite their generations-old and very effective portrayal of themselves as a dispossessed and brutally abused minority, discriminate scandalously against Christians, even though the local Roman Catholic authority for many years, Michael Sabah, was obsequiously deferential to the terrorist Arafat regime. And the anti-Christian violence in Nigeria has flared up dangerously, though in that country the Christians are almost as numerous as, and more prosperous than, the Muslims, and the frictions are largely on tribal, geographic, and economic as well as sectarian lines.