Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: From Sri Lanka to North Korea, Christians are being murdered for their beliefs as never before

 

Pakistani Christians hold candles to pay tribute to the Sri Lanka blasts victims during a vigil in Islamabad in April
Pakistani Christians hold candles to pay tribute to the Sri Lanka blasts victims during a vigil in Islamabad in April
Alban Maginness

By Alban Maginness

On Sunday, Menik Glynn, a local lady, originally from Sri Lanka, organised a peace walk and street collection that was supported by Protestants, Catholics, Hindus and Muslims. Together, they walked in solidarity in splendid sunshine through Belfast city centre, to demonstrate their support for those Christians in Sri Lanka who were savagely attacked by Islamic extremists in Colombo and Negombo.

In a series of targeted bomb attacks on Christian churches in Sri Lanka, 253 Christians were slaughtered. These indiscriminate attacks included men, women and children as their innocent victims. It was a highly sophisticated operation, carried out by Islamic extremists to terrorise the small Christian community in that largely Buddhist society.

It sent a shockwave through that long-suffering country, which, despite its terrible civil war, had hitherto been a secure and safe place for Christians to live, work and to follow their religious beliefs in public and private. Sadly, that has now been seriously undermined by these criminal attacks.

But Sri Lanka is not the only country in the world where Christians - be they Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox - have been systematically attacked by Islamic extremists. It is a global phenomenon.

There are sustained attacks in Nigeria, again by Islamic extremists called Boko Haram. They have killed hundreds of Christians living in north-eastern Nigeria.

In the Middle East, there is a huge problem, where ancient Christian communities, founded in apostolic times, are again systematically targeted and are being wiped out in Iraq and Syria.

Even in Egypt there have been horrific attacks on Coptic churches and schools, again by Islamic extremists. There, Christians account for about 10 million of the overall population and, again, have lived there since the foundation of the Christian Church by the Apostles.

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From the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, there has been a steady decline of the Christian population. Before the American invasion, the Christian community was about one-and-a-half million and had co-existed with its Muslim fellow countrymen for many centuries. Now, Christians are a mere 250,000 people and are under continuous threat.

In the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the Archbishop of Irbil, the Rev Bashar Warda, has warned that: "Christianity in Iraq, one of the oldest Churches, if not the oldest Church, in the world, is perilously close to extinction. Those of us who remain must be ready to face martyrdom."

The archbishop believes that there is a culture of political correctness in Britain that has prevented even Christian leaders from speaking out against the ongoing genocide in Iraq or acknowledging that there is a serious problem of persecution.

He believes that even Christian leaders are more concerned with being seen as being Islamaphobic than they are of the religious persecution of Christians currently taking place in Iraq.

Islamic State, he has said, is an "existential threat" because they are determined to blot Christianity from the country by any means necessary.

The Anglican Bishop of Truro, the Rev Philip Mounstephen, who was tasked by the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to carry out an independent review into religious persecution in the world, agrees with this proposition. But he says that this reluctance is borne out of post-colonial guilt.

This is particularly ironic as the Middle Eastern Christian churches precede the European Christian churches by hundreds of years. None of the affected Middle Eastern Christian communities in Iraq, Syria or Egypt is of colonial origin.

In fact, these attacks are so widespread and systematic that the Bishop of Truro's interim report has concluded: "Evidence shows not only the geographic spread of anti-Christian persecution, but also its increasing severity."

The report also stated that: "In some regions, the level and nature of persecution is arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide."

The problem of religious persecution of Christians throughout the world is deeply troubling, whether it be in the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan, China or North Korea. Christian people are being systematically persecuted for being Christian and, in certain countries, are being killed in great numbers because they profess their faith.

This is a deeply troubling problem that is being denied, or ignored, by governments and politicians in the West, probably because this persecution is largely carried out by Islamic extremists and that it is politically unfashionable to say so.

This cannot be an acceptable excuse for governmental inaction, in London, Dublin or elsewhere, as persecution on the current scale poses a real threat to the very existence of some Christian Churches in parts of the world today.

It is not in any sense attacking Islam by identifying the perpetrators as being Muslim extremists. Nor does it do justice to the many millions of peace-loving and faithful Muslims who are deeply opposed to and horrified by violent action against Christians.

Such Christophobia must stop.

Belfast Telegraph

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