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“It’s the most significant country in the region for obvious historical reasons and simple statistical fact,” Mr. Shortt said.

Hundreds of Egyptian Christians, mainly Copts, are killed and injured in attacks on churches each year. Thirteen people were killed leaving St. George’s Church in Nag Hammadi in 2010; on New Year’s Eve the same year, 20 worshippers were slain and 70 more wounded in a bombing at Two Saints’ Church in Alexandria. The second attack allegedly was prompted by a rumor that the church was holding two converts to Islam against their will.

Isolated examples cannot give a full picture of the danger, but these dozens of deaths, when taken together, serve to illustrate the scope of the danger Christians face daily around the world.

The region has become even more important since the Arab Spring began two years ago in Tunisia. Though there were legitimate reasons for hope when revolutionaries called for democracy, Mr. Shortt said, that hope turned to concern when Mohammed Morsi ascended to the presidency of Egypt, opening the door to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist group harbors many extremists whose push to enshrine Shariah law in the country’s constitution will prove dangerous for Christians, he said.

The close connection between political instability and religious persecution helps explain why the Christian community faces such oppression in the Middle East. Many strains of Islam don’t distinguish between religion and politics, Mr. Shortt explained. When the West challenges the Muslim world, Christians often face the backlash.

This motivation is often behind Islamist attacks responding to perceived Western threats to their Shariah-based culture, Mr. Shortt said. Citing Nigerian church leader Benjamin Kwashi, whose home and family have been attacked multiple times, Mr. Shortt writes:

“He [Kwashi] ascribes such violence to the rising popularity of Christians, seeing a proxy conflict between Islam and the West playing itself in Africa: ‘The Islamic world wants to conquer the Christian West. They don’t understand that Christianity isn’t the West. The church is just a scapegoat for the West, and no one wants to come to its help.’ ”

Persecution is widespread in Archbishop Kwashi’s home country of Nigeria, where an estimated 60,000 non-Muslims, many of them Christians, have been killed because of the expansion of Shariah law, according to Mr. Shortt. In 2009 alone, pro-Shariah militant group Boko Haram is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of more than 2,000 people and the damage or destruction of 26 churches, he writes.

Boko Haram has continued to target Christian churches and their congregations. Last Christmas the group claimed responsibility for a wave of Christmas Day bombings that killed dozens of worshippers across the country. In October this year, 30 Christian students were slain at a Nigerian university.

In Iran, several cases of Christian pastors being imprisoned for church work have drawn international attention in the past two years. Last week, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen was pulled off a bus and thrown in jail for Christian church work he did there before he emigrated to the United States.

In 2010, the imprisonment of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani drew international attention when he was sentenced to death by the Iranian Supreme Court for apostasy. Mr. Nadarkhani was acquitted and released this year amid international pressure, but not before the court charged him with the crime of evangelizing Muslims. 

Dozens of Iranian Christians are imprisoned or killed each year, Mr. Shortt writes in his chapter on Iran. The tense relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims there has been called “religious apartheid.” Religious and ethnic minorities face imprisonment, state-sanctioned discrimination and even death. The hardline government of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has maintained a disregard for the  freedom of ethnic and religious minorities, according to Mr. Shortt

“The clerical establishment retains its grip through a terror network — torture, arbitrary detention, disappearance, summary trial, and frequent use of the death penalty,” Mr. Shortt writes. “The past few years have seen a renewed crackdown on non-Muslims, especially Bahai’s and converts to Christianity.”

Muslims are not the only group to persecute Christians, a point Mr. Shortt emphasizes in his book. Hindus, Buddhists and communists have unleashed similar campaigns against Christian minorities to diminish their political and cultural influence.

However, the intensity of the Islamist campaign against Christianity cannot be ignored. The political unrest in the Middle East will have a significant bearing on the fate of Christians in the region. The watching world optimistically hoped the Arab Spring would lead to democracy and greater freedom for all citizens, but those countries are systematically installing Islamist governments that do not bode well for individual liberty.

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