Genocide of Christians ‘on the rise’ in Africa and the Middle East

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by Abigail Fryman Rouch
Exile: Iraqi Christians at Mass in St Thomas Cathedral in London, Britain’s first Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, in August. Most are refugees from Mosul and its neighbourhoods
CHRISTIANS have become victims of genocide in Nigeria, Iraq, and Syria, a charity has found.

A report due to be published yesterday, by the Roman Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, found that, in almost all the 13 countries surveyed, “the situation for Christians has declined since 2015 as a result of violence and oppression.” A 36-page executive summary of the report was seen by the Church Times.

The report, Persecuted and Forgotten, found that, in Nigeria, the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, in collusion with Fulani herdsmen, carried out a campaign of butchery, desecration of church buildings, and mass expulsion of Christians. In one diocese alone, Kafanchan, 71 Christian-majority villages were destroyed, and 988 people killed.

Declarations by Western gov­­ernments and institutions that Islamic State (IS) was committing genocide had not been followed by sufficient aid, and they and the UN had thereby failed the Iraqi and Syrian Christians being targeted by the group, the report said. Without support from Christian charities, “the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East,” it said.

The defeat of groups such as IS, however, had offered “the last hope of recovery” to vulnerable Middle Eastern Christian communities.

The government in Pakistan and Indian nationalist politicians were accused of being “part of the problem” of persecution, for fail­ing to curb rising religious intolerance.

The report linked attacks claimed by IS in Asia and Europe to the group’s gradual defeat in Iraq and Syria. It said that, in Europe, a “campaign of destabilisation” was under way.

The report concluded that the result of religious persecution in the Middle East, Asia, and parts of Africa was that “plurality gives way to a monoculture”, which should be of concern to “all those who care about diversity and tolerance”.

Baroness Scotland urged to defend Christians under attack across the Commonwealth. THE Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Scotland, was challenged last week about the protection of Christians who are persecuted in Muslim-majority societies.

Baroness Scotland delivered the 2017 Craigmyle Lecture on Thursday of last week at the University of Notre Dame in England, in London, on “Faith in the Commonwealth”. It was hosted by the Catholic Union Charitable Trust.

She said that the Commonwealth Secretariat had recently established the Commonwealth Countering Violent Extremism Unit to strengthen national efforts to counter violent extremism.

She was challenged during a Q&A by Rupert Shortt, author of Christianophobia: A faith under attack (Rider, 2012), who said: “Islam is a theocratic project, inherently expansionist. Christians are by far the most persecuted faith group on earth numerically, and in the main they are being persecuted in Muslim-majority countries.”

Commonwealth nations where Christians face difficulties include Pakistan and Nigeria, and, to a lesser extent, Bangladesh and Malaysia.

In her reply to Mr Shortt, Baroness Scotland said: “If you look at any of the faiths, at the extreme edges they are really similar. And if you look at the centre of all our faiths, they are really similar, too. . . : 99.9 per cent of the message of the great world faiths is the same.”

She went on: “We have to look first at what joins us before we look at what separates us. Because [then] you are able to better contextualise what separates you . . . but everything you say makes me even more determined to create a space . . . where [Commonwealth states] can disagree well.”

She said that she would always be “brutally frank” about intolerance and bigotry, “and I think that’s what the Commonwealth has to do”.

Afterwards, Mr Shortt said: “This doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. . . Much more needs doing to combat a chronically under-reported problem.”

Responding to a question about how faith could aid social cohesion, Baroness Scotland referred to a visit to Zambia in August, after which President Edgar Lungu dropped a charge of treason against the opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, released him from prison, and agreed to hold talks with him.

“Both leaders were men of faith, and we were able to talk together about . . . what being a follower of Christ meant. And we talked about Solomon and the baby and the two mothers. We didn’t have two mothers: we had two fathers, and the baby was Zambia.

“So were we going to cut this baby in half, or were we going to preserve it and think of others first? . . . We used the joint faith of those leaders to come to a resolution and to come to peace. Our faith in the Other, our faith in God, can be used as a proper bridge to help people to understand the other.”