- Special to The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2012

As Christians around the world gather to celebrate Christmas, thousands will be taking their lives in their own hands when they go to their places of worship.

Recent news reports have drawn attention to church bombings in Nigeria and arrests of Christians in Iran. Behind these cases is a dark and startling trend: Millions of Christians today are being persecuted for their faith.

In fact, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world, according to religion writer Rupert Shortt, author of a new book called “Christianophobia” (Rider Books, $32) that builds on three years of research to detail the persecution most of the West never hears about.

About 200 million of the world’s Christians face violence and discrimination daily because of their faith, according to Mr. Shortt.

“It’s been building up in the Islamic world for a good 30 years now,” Mr. Shortt told Times247 in a recent interview.

After Sept. 11, 2001, he said, polarization of the Middle East accelerated, increasing politically motivated attacks against Christians and driving them from their homes.

There were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than the previous 19 centuries combined, according to Mr. Shortt.

“It’s not very fashionable to be a persecuted Christian,” he said, explaining why the persecution of other religious groups tends to draw much more attention. His book is an attempt to uncover the atrocities mainstream media have been silent about.

Mr. Shortt explains further in “Christianophobia” why the most widespread persecution in the world is also the most underreported:

First, most Christians do not become “radicalized” and persecuted Christians do not usually respond with violence.

Second, he writes, “Parts of the media have been influenced by the logical error that equates criticism of Muslims with racism, and therefore as wrong by definition.”

Christianity’s roots go deep into Middle Eastern history, dating back hundreds of years before Islam began, but Mr. Shortt says the faith could soon be eradicated from its Biblical homeland. In some countries, this is no accident.

“As I write, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Amdullah, has officially declared that ‘it is necessary to destroy all the churches’ on the Arabian Peninsula,” Mr. Shortt writes.

Mr. Shortt’s tour of countries most hostile to Christians begins in Egypt — and for good reasons, he told Times247.

Egypt, home to the largest Christian community in the Middle East, has seen an exodus of 600,000 Christians in the past 30 years. In the 1950s the Christian community comprised almost 20 percent of Egypt’s population; today, emigration and attrition have whittled that number down to 12 percent.

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