Across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Islam is on the march again and Christians are marked for annihilation. In lands once known as the heartland of Christianity, where the Apostles and early missionaries spread their faith, Christianity is a faith under fire and Christians themselves are a dwindling presence.
Nowhere is the Islamic assault against Christians more intense than the killing fields of Syria, where rebel advances by both the al-Qa’eda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated militias of the Syrian Free Army (SFA), inevitably result in pogroms against Christian populations in every town they capture from the Bashar al-Assad regime that previously had protected Syria’s minority Christians.
As Nina Shea wrote recently at National Review Online, the 2,000-year-old Christian Assyrian community in embattled Syria literally faces extinction, as an Islamic “ethno-religious cleansing” targets its defenseless members with kidnappings, murder, rape and threats.
Like Iraq’s Assyrian and Chaldean communities before it (some of whose members had fled to Syria for safety), the Christians of Syria are now fleeing in droves, many to Lebanon, and some even back to Iraq. The Chaldean Catholic bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo, reports that as many as 30,000 Christians have fled that devastated city alone.
Juliana Taimoorazy, the founder and president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, has highlighted the desperate plight of Iraq’s original people, the Assyrians and Chaldeans, descendants of mighty civilizations and Christian since the first century. Since the Council’s founding in 2008, Taimoorazy has made it her mission to document and speak about the devastation wreaked against Iraqi Christian businesses, churches and homes in the years since 2003, when the ouster of Saddam Hussein brought to power the jihadist forces of Shi’ite Islam.
Waves of violence, killing and forced displacement have slashed the pre-2003 number of churches in Iraq from 300 to just 57, and the number of beleaguered Christians from some 1.4 million to perhaps only half a million in 2013.
The situation in Iran is intensifying with a violent regime crackdown against Christians and other religious minorities, as well (especially Baha’is). In the March 2013 Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeld documents the shocking treatment of Christians in Iran, whose constitution describes it as an “Islamic Republic” dedicated to revolution and global jihad.
Christians increasingly are being persecuted, arrested, jailed and mistreated for the “crime” of preaching or even simply practicing Christianity in an Islamic state. The case of American pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been sentenced to eight years in the notorious Evin prison for his alleged work with Iranian Christians, has received quite a bit of media attention and is especially notable because he is a U.S. citizen.
According to Ahmed Shaheed, the UN’s expert on the human rights situation in Iran, there is a “new Islamization in part of the government” in Tehran that Shaheed believes may explain the spike in repression against Christians.
Egyptian Copts, descendants of the original Pharaonic Egyptians, have been Christian since St. Mark, the Apostle and Gospel writer, brought the faith to North Africa in the first century after Christ. Decimated, overrun and subjugated by the 7th century Muslim invasion, the Copts today number a mere 10% of Egypt’s population of some 80 million.
Clare M. Lopez a senior fellow at the Clarion Fund, writes regularly for RadicalIslam.org, and is a strategic policy and intelligence expert with a focus on Middle East, national defense, and counterterrorism issues. Clare lopez is Voice of the Copts’ board member.