As I write this, I stop typing every few minutes to roll in my hand some small objects, rather like rust-colored, metal rosary beads. They serve a similar purpose, to remind me of the eternal, the important, the holy. In ways, this is profoundly jarring, in that they are spent bullets and small pieces of shrapnel, gathered at Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad after the evening Mass on October 31, 2010.
That was when a Sunni Muslim terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS), launched a concerted attack on the church, murdering at least fifty-eight people and wounding more than seventy-five. My brothers and sisters in Christ were slaughtered that night, and the floor of the church was still bloody when the bullets from the sub-machine guns and the shrapnel from the anti-personnel grenades were gathered and preserved.
I mention this because my new book, Hatred: Islam’s War on Christianity has just been published and it may well be the most important thing I have ever written. It is not hyperbole, not rhetoric, not drama or bombast or exaggeration to say that what Christians are facing in most Muslim-majority countries at the moment is the most pernicious example of religious persecution since the Holocaust.
Many of these countries, particularly in the Middle East, where Christianity began and is the homeland and heartland of the Church, may be entirely without Christians within our lifetimes. Tragically, but perhaps not surprisingly, the world is doing relatively little to stop all this.
The campaign of persecution is international. In the sharia-dominated states of northern Nigeria, in the cities and villages of Pakistan, in the towns of Egypt, in many of the islands of Indonesia, in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Sudan, post-Saddam Iraq, those areas of Syria not under government control, even the Maldives, Christians are tortured, raped, beaten, arrested, forcibly converted, crucified, exiled, murdered.
At times when I was writing the book, I felt like giving the project up, surrendering to the despair and pain of having to chronicle so many attacks and so much barbarism – all the time knowing that to many outsiders the idea of persecuted Christians was something of history and legend and surely couldn’t be a modern reality.
In fact Christians are the most persecuted identifiable group in the world, and while two of the twenty most oppressive countries for Christians are non-Muslim – one is, obviously, North Korea where everybody lives in a metaphorical prison – the overwhelming dynamic is one of Islamic subjugation of the Christian minority.
Even those commentators who admit this is the case tend to argue that this is a contemporary malaise within an otherwise tolerant Islam. But that isn’t the case. While there are lyrical, poetic, gentle and tolerant verses in the Koran, there are also violent, oppressive, absolutist, and vehemently intolerant ones as well.
Due to the law of abrogation, those verses written later in Mohammad’s life take precedence over those written earlier, and unless we understand this we can be deceived. Like it or not, accept it or not, Islam does not call for equal co-existence with other faiths.
In its purest form, the Koran commands that people of the book, which includes Christians, will be treated with respect as long as they pay a head tax, never preach publicly about their faith or try to convert people, ask permission to build churches or repair old ones, not ride a horse for fear they will be higher than a Muslim, and generally lead a life of subservience.
At various times during Islamic history, Christians minorities have survived and even prospered. But the inescapable fact is that the more secular and less Islamic the state – the Shah’s Iran, Turkey before the current regime, Ba’athist Iraq and Syria – the better Christians were treated. Saddam was a brute, Assad a dictator, but both were enemies of Islamic fundamentalism and both protected their Christian minorities to lesser or greater degrees.
As for the future, let’s not pretend that it is encouraging. One of the people I interviewed for the book was the courageous Canadian/Pakistani author Farzana Hassan, who told me:
I think it is largely for political reasons that the West is cowering under pressure from the bullies in the Islamic world. The West is not able to preserve its own cherished values like freedom of speech due to rioting and pressure from the Islamic world, how can one expect it to influence policies in Islamic countries? The West, in my view should take a more pro-active stance in protecting the rights of Christians in Islamic countries. This can be done in the form of sanctions, or boycotts. The West can also open its doors to beleaguered Christian communities of Pakistan and Nigeria. But the West is economically dependent on the Middle East and has strategic interests in many other parts of the Islamic world, which it does not want to jeopardize. The Islamic world will go through a series of convulsions before it can tread the path of progress, prosperity and tolerance. As long as Al Qaedah and Taliban types are running the show, (and they are in several Islamic lands,) Christian minorities will continue to suffer. Anyone who even tries to defend them is targeted. Intolerance toward religious minorities is endemic to the Islamic world. It is inculcated in Muslims from a very early age.
Yet while many Christians in the west argue about relatively cosmetic issues and even believe – how dare they – that they face persecution, this saga of atrocities continues. By the way, if anyone is wondering if I have received death threats because I have written this book, the answer is: yes, of course I have, but I live in a civilized nation where the rule of law still applies and religious freedoms are sacrosanct. At least for now.
This is far from the case for many Christians. And it behooves us to defend them because their fate is our own.