Magazine article The Spectator

Grace under Fire

Magazine article The Spectator

Grace under Fire

Article excerpt

Almost 20 years ago, Samuel Huntingdon forecast a 'clash of civilisations'.

In the past few months, this clash has become outright war.

Christian minorities, who have lived peacefully in Muslim countries for generations, are finding themselves subject to increasingly violent persecution. Churches are being attacked in Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Indonesia and the Philippines. The recent assassination in Pakistan of a Muslim politician who defended a Christian woman sentenced to death for 'insulting' Islam was particularly shocking.

Pakistan has had blasphemy laws since its inception, but never before have they been used to persecute Christians. The Church of England has had a bishop in Lahore since 1877 to minister to Pakistan's three million Christians, but only now has this become a dangerous mission. The victims are not just Christians. In the last two years, the Muslim world has sought to expel most minorities. The Sufis and Ahmadis in Pakistan feel just as anxious as the Christians. The Baha'i in Iran have long been persecuted, while the West turns a blind eye.

What we are witnessing is a growing, violent, worldwide intolerance. Pakistan's steadily more aggressive application of its blasphemy laws has been mirrored by an ominous enthusiasm for religious registration laws in many countries, from Serbia to Uzbekistan. Europe knows only too well what manner of evil can spring from a mania for registration.

President Sarkozy put it succinctly a few weeks ago. 'We are witnessing a wicked kind of religious cleansing, ' he declared.

It's all too easy to imagine what might happen next. Persecution will lead to counter-attacks which could spark a civil war. A civil war will claim far more lives than any straightforward battle between nations.

When communities separate, bloodshed is seldom far behind. One of the most murderous events in postwar history was the partition of India, in which nearly a million lives were lost.

The casualties in any forthcoming conflict will almost certainly be largely Christian. A recent report suggests that Christians now account for three-quarters of the world's persecuted religious minorities.

So what to do about it? The problem is so varied and so widespread that it seems impossible to imagine a political solution. It is not a state but a religion that is threatened, so how to respond? Christians can turn to the police - but in many countries the police have other priorities. Churches can hire security guards; that was the precaution adopted by the Church of Christ in Maiduguri, Nigeria. …

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