It's one of today's most compelling news stories, yet it's all but
ignored by most of the international media. I'm talking about the growing
persecution of Christian minorities in the Islamic world.
It briefly made headlines last month when machete-armed Egyptian
fanatics attacked worshipers in three Coptic churches in Alexandria and murdered
one aged man at prayer. Then of course, there was March -- when an Afghan
man escaped a death sentence for the "crime" of converting to Christianity.
But how many people heard about the recent arrest and jailing in Saudi
Arabia of a group of Filipino guest workers for holding Christian prayer services
in the privacy of their home? Or who knows about the three Sunday School
teachers charged in Indonesia last year with the crime of
"Christianization" and summarily sentenced to three years in prison?
The story is similar wherever Sharia -- orthodox Islamic law -- reigns
supreme. From Pakistan to Darfur, Christians have become regular
targets for Islamic gangs who shoot at worshipers, then torch their houses of
Even in Islamic countries not strictly run by Sharia law, pressures
mount on local Christians to leave the homes they've known for centuries. Iraq's
Christian sects, among the oldest Christian communities anywhere in the
world, have been directly targeted by terrorist bombs, and Christians
are now high on the list of those fleeing Iraq's sectarian strife. Thirty
years ago, Lebanon was 60% Christian. Since then, an estimated 3.5 million
Christians have emigrated, reducing the country's Christian population
percentage to barely 25%. And in the Palestinian territories, direct
and indirect pressures have also led to an increasing Christian exodus. One
striking result: Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus and once a
predominantly Christian Arab community now has an overwhelming Muslim majority.
Few people seem prepared to connect the dots. Some American evangelical
groups like the Washington-based International Christian Concern try to
raise the alarm. And America's Copts, especially those based in the New
York area, actively lobby against the legal and social discrimination that
face their Egyptian co-religionists. Yet most mainstream church groups seem
to ignore the threat.
During certain periods, Islamic countries did allow "the peoples of the
book" to live in relative peace among them. But the rise of Islamic
extremism is silencing even voices of limited tolerance. More than
800,000 Jews were forced to flee the Islamic world between 1948 and 1955.
Unless there is an outcry against the new wave of discrimination now facing
Christians, these ancient communities are also doomed to disappear.