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By Michael Carl

Nine of the 10 worst nations for persecution of Christians are run essentially under Islamic law, and the “Arab Spring” across parts of northern African has led to a  surge of repression, according to the new Open Doors “World Watch” list.

The other country in the 10 worst nations is North Korea, led by a fanatical communist regime that has regarded its two previous leaders as gods.

The top 10 in this year’s report are in order, North Korea, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Iran, the Maldives, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Iraq and Pakistan.

The report says the biggest jump in persecution of Christians came in two African nations on the edge of the surging “Arab Spring” movement. Sudan moved up from No. 35 to No. 16, and Nigeria moved up from No. 23 to No. 13.

The results in the report, according to Open Doors USA President Carl Moeller, can be attributed to Islamic extremism.

“The trend is, according to the research we’re doing, Nigeria, Sudan, all across that region in Africa, where the extremism in the north is intent on pressing in on the Christian and animist south,” Moeller said.

“You’re seeing a lot of violence; Nigeria’s a great example of that. The southern part of Nigeria is virtually all Christian, evangelical, Pentecostal, very aggressive in its Christianity,” Moeller said.

Moeller said the northern part of Nigeria is completely different.

“The north is dominated politically and religiously by extremist elements typified by the radical group Boko Haram,” Moeller said.

Boko Haram, a name that comes from the region in Nigeria that has seen the uptick in anti-Christian violence, means “Western education is a sin.”

The rejection of the West seems complete for members of the group, Moeller said.

“Boko Haram, just at Christmastime, bombed five churches in Nigeria, and just yesterday they exploded bombs in Kano where several cities in Nigeria are in a state of emergency right now,” he said.

Moeller believes that most Muslims don’t aspire to be violent.

“That is a huge debate within Islam itself. There are still many comprehensive studies that indicate that the vast majority of Muslims have no violent perspective,” he said.

“That’s in the West and everywhere else. Millions of Muslims are able to live in peace with their neighbors of other religions in the world,” Moeller said.

However, the problem is who happens to be steering the movement.

“The way in which Muslim ideas are propagated around the word, the high ground, if you will, is held by extremists,” Moeller said. “They are the ones who claim fidelity to the teachings of Muhammad and the teachings of the Quran.

“In so doing, they position themselves as the true believers of Islam and that is a very powerful argument to those who want to be faithful to their religious heritage,” Moeller said.

Extremism is growing as a percentage of global Islam.

“We see the nature of the acts of violence becoming more extreme and becoming more widespread,” Moeller said. “A decade or two ago, it was really limited to suicide bombers in the heart of the Middle East and Palestine and other places.

“Today we see suicide bombings in Asia, in Indonesia, in Africa, Nigeria, all over the globe and that is troubling for all Christians who are living in these countries,” Moeller said.

While agreeing with the persecution figures, Atlas Shrugs publisher Pamela Geller contends the issue isn’t extremism.

“What Dr. Moeller is calling, with the best of intentions, ‘extremism’ is actually mainstream Islamic behavior,” Geller said.

“It is sanctioned by and even encouraged by the Quran and Muhammad. The ‘extremists’ are actually those Muslims who dare to be peaceful,” she said.

Moeller said that there is an observable trend that follows an increase in any country’s Muslim population.

“We’ve certainly seen in places where that teaching of Islam is dominant that extremism tends to become more popular,” Moeller said.

“You can look at the revolutions that took place in this past year as an example of that. Knocking off a dictator is wonderful and we resonate with that as Americans in our freedoms,” Moeller said.

“The fact of the matter is that what you replace that dictator with in these contexts is also a big question and right now, it seems as if radical Islam is having the upper hand in every election and every new government formation taking place in North Africa,” Moeller said.

Egypt, for example, could be under the control soon of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization with the goal of creating a worldwide caliphate, or Muslim society.

“In 2012, we may see a turn to government-backed extremism, and that’s a troubling turn as well,” Moeller said.

Jonathan Racho of International Christian Concern, a Christian human rights group, said he agrees with the report’s findings of increased persecution.

“As you can see in the report, the persecution of Christians mostly occurs in Islamic countries,” Racho said. “The persecution of Christians is getting worse and the world must pay attention to this growing problem.”

Nos. 11 through 20 are Eritrea, Laos, Nigeria, Mauritania, Egypt, Sudan, Bhutan, Turkmenistan, Vietnam and Chechnya – also dominated by Muslim interests.

U.S. “allies” who are among the top 50 for their persecution of Christians are China, Kuwait, Turkey and India.

The report notes that in North Korea, Christians estimated at 200,000 to 400,000 remain deeply underground, and another 50,000 to 70,000 are in “ghastly prison camps.”

Moeller said, “How the death of Kim Jong-il last month and the coming to power of his son Kim Jong-Un will affect the status of Christians in North Korea is hard to determine at this early stage. Certainly the situation for believers remains perilous.

“Being a Muslim background believer or ‘Secret believer’ Christian in a Muslim-dominated country is a huge challenge. Christians often face persecution from extremists, the government, their community and even their own families,” said Moeller. “As the 2012 World Watch List reflects, the persecution of Christians in these Muslim countries continues to increase. While many thought the Arab Spring would bring increased freedom, including religious freedom for minorities, that certainly has not been the case so far.”

The report says more than 300 Christians were killed for their faith in Nigeria last year, although the actual number is believed to be double or even triple that.

It says China still has the world’s largest persecuted church of 80 million, but it dropped out of the top 20 this year to No. 21. Last year China ranked No. 16. This is due in large part to the house church pastors learning how to play “cat and mouse” with the government.

The list is based on a questionnaire devised by Open Doors to measure the degree of persecution in over 60 countries. The questionnaires are filled out by Open Doors field personnel working in the countries and cross-checked with independent experts to arrive at a quantitative score per country. Countries are then ranked according to points received.

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