Christians around the globe may be forgiven for feeling somewhat less than festive this Christmas season. Persecution of Christians is becoming an increasingly familiar feature of the global landscape, and shows no signs of letting up.
Terror also looms on a global scale – according to the World Evangelical Alliance, several radical Muslim groups have let it be known that they’re planning attacks around Christmastime this year:
- Tensions are high in Indonesia, where police are guarding over 240 churches in and around Jakarta this Christmas: Jemaah Islamiya, the radical Muslim group that hopes to create an Islamic megastate in Southeast Asia, appears to be planning a coordinated bombing campaign against churches.
- In Iraq, meanwhile, radical Muslims have also threatened major attacks during the Christmas season, leading Christians to celebrate Christmas early and spend the big day hiding at home.
- Even in Italy, the Via della Conciliazione, the road that leads to St. Peter’s Basilica, has been closed for the first time in anyone’s memory in response to threats of Christmas season attacks by Islamic radicals against an unnamed “important symbol of Christianity.”
These threats are just the latest in a long line. A Christmas attack against Christians making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land was headed off in 1999. The next year, 49 bombs were planted outside Indonesian churches just before Christmas – 18 exploded, killing 15 people and wounding almost 100 others. And on Christmas 2002, attackers threw hand-grenades into a Pakistani church, killing three and wounding 14.
All this, moreover, is on top of a grinding discrimination and harassment that Christians face in all too many Muslim countries. Even in relatively tolerant and secular Jordan, a Christian mother has for months now been fighting with her brother for custody of her teenage children. But this is not just a family squabble … it’s a religious freedom issue.
Siham Qandah is a widow who was informed by Jordanian authorities that her late husband had converted to Islam during his stint in the Jordanian military, during which he died in Kosovo. Qandah has no proof of this at all, but since it is recognized as a fact by Muslim officials in Jordan, her children have to have a Muslim guardian. Qandah asked Abdullah al-Muhtadi, her long-estranged brother who had converted to Islam as a teenager, to fill this role. But al-Muhtadi has gone farther, contesting her custody of the children on the grounds she is not raising them as Muslims.
During a chance meeting last week outside a courtroom, al-Muhtadi shouted at Qandah, “I will prove that you are not a good mother. You are trying to make them Christians. But they are Muslims, and they need to be receiving Islamic teaching.” The children have been raised as Christians and have never been Muslims.
In Egypt, meanwhile, last month a mob of 500 radical Muslims attacked Coptic Christian villagers in the village of Gerza-Ayiat-Giza, wounding 11 and setting fire to numerous homes, businesses and even fields and crops. Police denied victims the opportunity to file charges, and made no arrests. This comes in the context of a widespread crackdown on Muslim converts to Christianity.
One such convert, Mariam Girguis Makar, is a 30-year-old woman with two children who is now in prison on charges of falsifying her identity papers and those of other converts. Since these papers list the bearer’s religion – and it is illegal in Egypt for Muslims to change their religious affiliation (although Christians face no such obstacles in converting to Islam) – Christian converts often have no choice but to use falsified papers. Otherwise, they will be considered Muslims under Egyptian law, which would require them to marry Muslims and raise their children as Muslims. But those who are caught falsifying the papers – like Makar – are jailed.
Radical Muslim hostility to Christians has even cost the life of “the Mother Theresa of Africa.” Sr. Annalena Tonneli, an Italian nun who spent 30 years in Somalia. After founding schools and orphanages, she was murdered recently in front of the hospital she founded.
Other Christians in Somalia have also been killed by Islamic radicals following an edict from a Mogadishu-based radical group, Kulanka Culimada. According to the Barnabas Fund, the group declared all Christian Somalis to be “treated as apostates from Islam who ought to be killed.”
The list goes on and on:
- A Christian teenager, Zeeshan Gill, was kidnapped recently in Pakistan. The Barnabas Fund reports he was “taken to an Islamic religious school where he was beaten and forced to become a Muslim.”
- A Muslim mob in Pakistan, last week, interrupted a prayer service inside a church and started beating the Christians in the church while shouting: “You infidels, stop praying and accept Islam!”
- Bombs have been discovered in Christian schools in post-Saddam Iraq. Many Christians there have received threatening messages warning them that they must convert to Islam or face death.
In all this is a lesson for Christians and non-Christians alike: The jihadists’ mistreatment of Christians is simply one manifestation of their violent intolerance of anyone and anything that does not resemble the radical Muslims themselves.
The heightened terror alert of these days is a reminder that the struggle of these Christians around the world has come to our own shores, and it is not simply a struggle between Christians and Muslims, but a war between those who believe in freedom and those who dream of a world cleansed of everyone who challenges their worldview – even moderate Muslims.
For all those who value a pluralistic society, that should be an instructive and sobering Christmas message.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and the author of “Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West” (Regnery Publishing), and “Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter Books).