In some parts of the world, Christmas is prime time for attacks on Christians.
On Christmas Eve, it was revealed that the Iranian government has once again imprisoned Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who had been sentenced to death on charges of apostasy and who, after international pressure, was released last September.
The worst attacks so far this Christmas appear to have taken place in Nigeria. Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Morning Star News Service (a new, excellent news service on the persecuted church) both report that Boko Haram, the murderous al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militia operating throughout much of Northern Nigeria, attacked churches on Christmas Eve. In Borno state, where Boko Haram is strongest, six Christians were killed at the First Baptist Church in Maiduguri. In Yobe state, suspected Boko Haram gunmen entered an evangelical church in Peri, near Potiskum, and killed six Christians, including a pastor, before setting the church and 20 homes ablaze.
The Jubilee Campaign is spearheading a campaign to have the State Department designate Boko Haram as a terrorist group. But, despite the fact that analysts are exposing the links between Boko Haram and other jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda-linked ones, in the Sahel and the Maghreb, and that the U.S. military, through Africom, is working on disrupting those links, the State Department appears still to label Boko Haram as essentially non-religious or only concerned with local matters.
Certainly, Boko Haram also targets government sites, especially police ones, and well as moderate Muslim leaders, in its efforts to undermine the government. But its anti-Christian ideology and animus is continually and explicitly asserted in its manifestos and its killings. Earlier in December, in Kupwal village in Chibok Local Government Area, suspected Boko Haram militants slit the throats of at least ten people in Christian homes. And this is the third consecutive year of fatal attacks on Christians at Christmas by Boko Haram.
Unless the State Department sheds its secular myopia, in which explicit religious motives, here and elsewhere, are continually discounted in favor of tenuous local material ones, the U.S. is less likely to aid Nigerians, whether Christian or otherwise.
— Paul Marshall is senior fellow at Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and the author, with Nina Shea and Lela Gilbert, of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, to be released by Nelson in March 2013.