In the summer of 2012, I interviewed an Evangelical minister and activist on my television show in Canada. I’ve hosted this nightly current affairs program for almost three years now, and I try to discuss the international persecution of Christians, especially within Islamic countries, whenever I can. Tragically, there is never a shortage of newsworthy and timely opportunities.
On this occasion my guest, who had vast experience with the horrors faced by followers of Christ within Muslim majority states, asked me if he could put a Bible on the desk in front of him. I am always reluctant to resemble the host of a Christian television show. I am not criticizing what they do, but it is simply not my mandate and does tend to exclude many potential audience members. I politely told him that I’d rather he didn’t. Gracious and understanding, he said he fully understood. But, he continued, this particular Bible might be of interest to the viewers as he had been given it by an Iraqi Christian who attended Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Baghdad. The church had been attacked during the evening Mass on October 31, 2010 by a Sunni Muslim terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq. At least 58 people were murdered and more than 75 injured in that attack.
The large, heavy book being held in front of me was, I realized, almost beyond reading. Its pages were thick and glued together in lumps, soaked and sticky with the blood of the men, women, and children who had been slaughtered that warm evening in a place of peace, in a city where Christians had lived and flourished before Islam even existed. This was not a holy book to be preached from, but a holy book of martyrdom that preached. Its illegible pages spoke entire volumes, its red turned to brown strains cried out to a still largely indifferent or even hostile world.
I felt guilty that day—ashamed, judgmental, and small. At the end of the interview, the minister showed me some of the shell casings and shrapnel he had picked up from the floor of the church, the grotesque detritus of the pogrom that took place that night. I asked him if I could keep some of them, and he agreed. I have them still, and they are in front of me as I write. Every few words I stop, pick them up, and roll them in my hands as if they were a relic or rosary beads: a tactile reminder, a startling flashback to a scene whose agony I can only imagine.
The 2010 Baghdad attack, however, was just one example of the war on Christianity that has been under way for so very long. An exhaustive list of the individual and collective acts of terror, violence, abuse, and militant discrimination is almost impossible, but it’s so important that we know of the routine, grinding nature of daily life for Christians in the Islamic heartlands.
In November, 2013 the British Conservative politician Lady Warsi, a long-term campaigner against extremism within her own Muslim faith, gave a speech at Georgetown University. She warned of the extinction of Christianity in the Middle East, with an exodus of a “Biblical scale” taking place. This came after repeated attacks on Christians in Syria and Egypt, but also outside of the region in Pakistan; in Peshawar, two months earlier, 85 Christians had been massacred.
“There are parts of the world today,” Warsi wrote in Britain’s Daily Telegraph in a November 2013 article, “where to be a Christian is to put your life in danger. From continent to continent, Christians are facing discrimination, ostracism, torture, even murder, simply for the faith they follow. Christian populations are plummeting and the religion is being driven out of some of its historic heartlands. In Iraq, the Christian community has fallen from 1.2m in 1990 to 200,000 today. In Syria, the horrific bloodshed has masked the hemorrhaging of its Christian population.”
I am currently writing a book for my publisher, Random House, about Islam’s war on Christianity and my editor and I joke that it could be my last for them. Not because they don’t want to continue to publish me but because I may be dead. Gallows humor I suppose, and neither of us seriously believes that anything will happen. Well, we probably don’t believe anything will happen. But it might, because it’s happened before many times. The positive of all this is that an enormous and secular publishing house came to me to write such a book rather than reacting to me approaching them. The truth of Islam’s brutality towards the followers of Christ is becoming common knowledge.
I could write a hundreds columns about this subject and my challenge here is, if anything, to limit my words. The examples of Muslim violence are legion, and what we must emphasize is that this is not a product of contemporary politics or modern struggle, nor is it somehow alien to Islam or an aberration in Muslim history. Put simply, Islam has always been at war with Christianity, has always been intolerant of Christians, and is committed to eliminating the Christian faith. I emphasize that I am not speaking of individual Muslims, millions of whom merely want to live peacefully, but of the Muslim faith itself.
Do not be hoodwinked by those who quote historical examples of positive treatment of Christians in Muslim-majority states or of seemingly benign Quranic statements about the acceptance of followers of Christ. The former are isolated, atypical, and generally the product of rulers and regimes rejecting Islamic orthodoxy. The latter can only be understood if we embrace the concept of abrogation. Within Islam and the understanding of the Quran, later verses and passages always abrogate earlier ones. It is the earlier verses and passages where the Muslim holy book calls for toleration of Christians, and they become increasingly violent and severe as the book progresses.
The Quran, for example, says “Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger and those who acknowledge not Islam as the religion of truth among the people of the Scripture, untilthey pay the Jizyah [religious tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (9:29) Another passage states: “O you who believe! Verily, there are many of the Jewish rabbis and the Christian monks who devour the wealth of mankind in falsehood, and hinder men from the Way of Allah. And those who hoard up gold and silver, and spend it not in the Way of Allah—announce unto them a painful torment” (9:34). And: “O you who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are close to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who are the pious” (9:123).
The list goes on. There is nuance, context, backstory, personalities, politics and culture involved, of course, and there are always exceptions to the rule, as well as acts of courage and sacrifice. But the themes are perennial: Islam is never comfortable with and usually hostile to the presence of a Christian minority within its midst.
We can splash around in the waters of denial and relativism or we can swim in the sea of truth and courage. Only one option, however, will lead to drowning. The choice is up to you.