Magazine article The Spectator

Church of Martyrs

Magazine article The Spectator

Church of Martyrs

Article excerpt

For most citizens of Iraq, the invasion meant the end of tyranny. For one group, however, it meant a new start: the country's historic Christian community. When the war stopped, persecution by Islamists, held in check by Saddam, started.

At a church in Basra I visited a month after the war ended, the women complained of attacks against them for not wearing the Islamic veil. I saw many Christian-owned shops that had been firebombed, with many of the owners killed for exercising their legal right to sell alcohol. Two years and many church attacks later, Iraq may still be occupied by Christian foreign powers, but the Islamist plan to ethnically cleanse Iraq of its nearly 2,000-year-old Assyrian and Armenian Christian communities is reaching fruition.

There is nothing unusual about the persecution of Iraqi Christians, or the unwillingness of other Christians to help them. Rising nationalism and fundamentalism around the world have meant that Christianity is going back to its roots as the religion of the persecuted. There are now more than 300 million Christians who are either threatened with violence or legally discriminated against simply because of their faith - more than any other religion. Christians are no longer, as far as I am aware, thrown to the lions. But from China, North Korea and Malaysia, through India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, they are subjected to legalised discrimination, violence, imprisonment, relocation and forced conversion. Even in supposedly Christian Europe, Christianity has become the most mocked religion, its followers treated with public suspicion and derision and sometimes - such as the would-be EU commissioner Rocco Buttiglione hounded out of political office.

I am no Christian, but rather a godless atheist whose soul doesn't want to be saved, thank you. I may not believe in the man with the white beard, but I do believe that all persecution is wrong. The trouble is that the trendies who normally champion human rights seem to think persecution is fine, so long as it's only against Christians. While Muslims openly help other Muslims, Christians helping Christians has become as taboo as jingoistic nationalism.

On the face of it, the idea of Christians facing serious persecution seems as farfetched as a carpenter saving humanity. Christianity is the world's most followed religion, with two billion believers, and by far its most powerful. It is the most popular faith in six of the seven continents, and in both of the world's two biggest economies, the US and Europe. Seven of the G8 richest industrial nations are majority Christian, as are four out of five permanent members of the UN security Council. The cheek-turners control the vast majority of the world's weapons of mass destruction.

When I bumped into George Bush in the breakfast room of the US embassy in Brussels last month, standing right behind me were two men in uniform carrying the little black 'nuclear football', containing the codes to enable the world's most powerful Christian to unleash the world's most powerful nuclear arsenal. Christians claiming persecution seem as credible as Bill Gates pleading poverty. But just as Christianmajority armies control Iraq as it ethnically cleanses itself of its Christian community, so the power of Christian countries is of little help to the Christian persecuted where most Christians now live: the Third World.

Across the Islamic world, Christians are systematicaliy discriminated against and persecuted. Saudi Arabia - the global fountain of religious bigotry - bans churches, public Christian worship, the Bible and the sale of Christmas cards, and stops non-Muslims from entering Mecca. Christians are regularly imprisoned and tortured on trumped-up charges of drinking, blaspheming or Bible-bashing, as some British citizens have found. Just last month, furthermore, Saudi Arabia announced that only Muslims can become citizens.

The Copts of Egypt make up half the Christians in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity. …

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