JANUARY 7, 2010
The Wall Street Journal
The world ignores the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world.
In Egypt, seven Coptic Christians were murdered yesterday by a Muslim gunman as they filed out of a midnight mass in the southern town of Nag Hamadi. In Pakistan, more than 100 Christian homes were ransacked by a Muslim mob last July in the village of Bahmaniwala. In Iraq that same month, seven Christian churches were bombed in Baghdad and Mosul in the space of three days.
Such atrocities—and there are scores of other examples—are grim reminders that when it comes to persecution, few groups have suffered as grievously as Christians in Muslim lands. Fewer still have suffered with such little attention paid. Now a new report from the non-profit ministry, Open Doors USA, shines a light on the scale of oppression.
In its annual World Watch List, Open Doors ranks eight Muslim countries among the 10 worst persecutors of Christians. The other two, North Korea (which tops the list) and Laos, are communist states. Of the 50 countries on the list, 35 are majority Muslim.
Take Iran, which this year ranks as the world's second-worst persecutor of Christians. Open Doors reports that in 2009 the Islamic Republic arrested 85 Christians, many of whom were also mistreated in prison. In 2008, some 50 Christians were arrested and one Christian couple was beaten to death by security officials. At least part of the reason for the mistreatment appears to be the result of Muslim conversions to Christianity: Apostasy carries a mandatory death sentence in Iran.
In Saudi Arabia (No. 3), all non-Muslim public worship is forbidden. The state forbids the building of any type of non-Muslim house of worship, and Christian expatriates in the kingdom must practice their faith in private. The same goes in the Maldives, where the report notes that all citizens must be Muslim; "the handful of indigenous Christians are forced to believe in complete secrecy." Similarly in Mauritania, conversion to Christianity or any other religions is formally punishable by death.
Little wonder, then, that once-thriving Christian communities in the Muslim world have now largely voted with their feet by fleeing to safer havens, often in Europe or the United States. That's true even in religiously important communities such as Bethlehem, where the Christian majority has largely fled since the arrival in the 1990s of Yasser Arafat's repressive government and the ascendancy of Islamist groups such as Hamas. By contrast, Christians practice their religion freely and openly in Israel, just a few miles distant.
It might seem natural that at least some attention would be paid in the West to the plight of these Christians. Instead, attention seems endlessly focused on "Islamophobia," not least at the U.N.'s misnamed Human Rights Council. In November, much of Europe went berserk over the Swiss referendum to ban the construction of minarets (though not of mosques). But the West's tolerance for its large Muslim populations stands in sharp contrast to the Muslim world's bigotry and persecution of its own religious minorities. That's a fact that ought to be borne in mind the next time Westerners berate themselves about their own supposed "intolerance."