Muslim persecution of Christians is at a high tide — and there are grave fears of more sectarian bloodletting as millions of people in Nigeria, which is half Muslim and half Christian, vote for their national leaders next month.
These religious atrocities cry out for media attention and political awareness, said Raymond Ibrahim, author of the monthly report “Muslim Persecution of Christians,” which has chronicled attacks on Christians in dozens of countries since July 2011.
Mainstream media rarely cover attacks on Christians, even though they happen “all around the Islamic world,” Mr. Ibrahim said Tuesday.
Muslim-on-Muslim attacks can get broad attention — such as the April kidnappings of some 230 Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The mass abductions so alarmed the world that first lady Michelle Obama brought attention to the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls.
But from August to October, Boko Haram and its radical Islamist allies destroyed nearly 200 Christian churches as they rampaged through towns and villages in northeastern Nigeria, said Mr. Ibrahim, a fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
His monthly report is published by Gatestone Institute, an international think tank led by John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
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In just four years, he said, Boko Haram has destroyed around 1,000 churches.
The “sheer volume” of the attacks on Christians in Nigeria “makes it one of the worst” places for them, Mr. Ibrahim said.
The peril in Nigeria was driven home Tuesday during a House hearing.
Nigerians are scheduled to vote Feb. 14 from a slate of several presidential candidates, including Christian incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and Muslim challenger Mohammadu Buhari, to lead the nation’s 173 million people. An election for local leadership will be held Feb. 28.
In 2011, Mr. Jonathan’s victory over Mr. Buhari triggered terrible sectarian violence in the Muslim north. More than 700 churches were burned, hundreds of Christians were targeted and killed, and thousands of Christian businesses and homes were torched.
That violence occurred at a time when Boko Haram was waging its “campaign of terror,” human rights lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe said in his testimony Tuesday to the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, global health, global human rights and international organizations.
“Boko Haram has never seen a live Christian male it liked,” Mr. Ogebe said. Depending on the election outcome, Feb. 14 could turn into “a Valentine’s Day massacre for the poor Christians in northern Nigeria.”
“The fear of political explosion is real,” lawyer Jadegoke Badejo said at the hearing.
Just this year, as many as 2,000 people have been killed by Boko Haram in its attack on the town of Baga and nearby villages, said Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and subcommittee chairman. “Clearly, Boko Haram violence is escalating drastically,” he said.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry traveled to Lagos last week to meet with Mr. Jonathan and Mr. Buhari. Mr. Kerry later told reporters that he was assured by both men that they would urge their followers to refrain from postelection violence and to accept the results of the election.
Mr. Kerry also said the elections should take place on time and that the United States would do more to support the fight against Boko Haram if the elections are democratic and peaceful.
“A peaceful and smooth transition is equally essential, so that whoever is elected can quickly turn his focus to confronting and defeating Boko Haram,” Ambassador Robert P. Jackson, acting assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told the House hearing.
“We are appalled by the accelerated pace and brutality of Boko Haram’s attacks. This unchecked killing must stop,” Mr. Jackson said.
Attacks follow a pattern
In terms of persecution of Christians, Mr. Ibrahim is not alone in sounding the alarm: The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, which is part of the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has estimated that 1 million Christians were killed from 2000 to 2010 for their faith, an average of 100,000 martyrs a year.
This month, the Open Doors World Watch List, which surveys religious liberty conditions for Christians, said persecution of Christians had reached “historic levels.” North Korea was rated the most oppressive country for Christians, but “Africa saw the most rapid growth of persecution,” according to the group.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations warn against “Islamophobia,” and Mr. Kerry has cautioned against conflating ultraradical groups such as the Islamic State and Boko Haram with all Muslims.
These militants are “a collection of monsters,” Mr. Kerry told a Jan. 23 World Economic Forum, according to Reuters.
He urged the civilized world to “make clear” that it “will not cower in the face of this violence,” but said “the biggest error that we could make would be to blame Muslims collectively for crimes not committed by Muslims alone.”
Mr. Ibrahim, who is the son of Coptic Christians, said his research makes it clear that Muslim attacks on Christians are not isolated incidents stemming from conflicts over geography or some local grievance, but are “attacks on Christianity itself.” For instance, a primary target for Muslim violence is a Christian church, which may be firebombed or destroyed while people are congregating inside for worship services, Mr. Ibrahim said.
Christians also are punished or killed for perceived acts of blasphemy, evangelizing and even converting from Islam, he said.
Another kind of Muslim persecution is to treat the Christians in primarily Islamic lands as “third-class” citizens, denying them permission to repair or build their churches or hold Bibles in public, and requiring them to live under special rules such as paying a tribute to the Muslim government.
The countries where these abuses happen are all different in many ways, but the “common denominator” is that these are all countries with large Muslim populations, said Mr. Ibrahim, who detailed these issues in his 2013 book, “Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians.”
In an interview with The Washington Times on Tuesday, Mr. Ibrahim said he once thought he wouldn’t be able to continue the “Muslim Persecution of Christians” report because “surely, a month will come” when there would be “only one or two stories” to write about.”
“But lo and behold, every month that’s gone by” has produced even more atrocities, making the report much longer, he said.
• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at email@example.com.
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