Report: Number of churches attacked, Christians killed rose dramatically in 2015

35 of the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians are either controlled by or under siege by radical Islamic groups

The most recent (Jan. 14th) newsletter from Dr. Robert Moynihan, editor of Inside the Vatican, had a note about the just posted statement by the bishops of the Holy Land Coordination to “vulnerable Christians in the Middle East”. At the end of his note, Moynihan states:

(I note in passing, with perplexity, that, of the millions of refugees from Iraq and Syria, it seems that almost none have been given refuge in the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia. Millions have gone to Turkey and Lebanon, and hundreds of thousands to Europe. Few or none have gone to the Gulf States.)

I’m not sure why he is perplexed. Saudi Arabia and Yemen are consistently rated by World Watch Monitor as two of the top twenty most dangerous countries for Christians. The reason is quite simple: radical Islam. While North Korea has topped the list for 14 straight years, most of the other countries are either under some sort of Islamic control or are being invaded by ISIS and similar groups, including Iraq, Syria, Somolia, Sudan, and Libya, among many others. The number of attacks on Christians and churches, not surprisingly, have risen—quite dramatically, in fact:

The 12-month reporting period ending 31 Oct., 2015 shows an overall increase in the numbers of Christians killed for faith-related reasons and churches attacked, in comparison to last year. The 2015 World Watch List reported 4,344 Christians killed for faith-related reasons and 1,062 churches attacked. The 2016 list documents 7,106 killed and 2,425 churches attacked.

The report states:

Evidence exists that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have financed Islamic State, primarily as a means of curbing Iranian expansion, and it has long been known that the Pakistani intelligence service bankrolls factions of the Taliban in Afghanistan to maintain a strategic interest in its neighbour. Islamic State, too, sells oil to the Turks, the Syrian Government and even Kurdish elements, though Western bombing may change this. But extremist movements are adept at raising funds from organised corruption and crime.

Three of the report’s four notable global trends have to do with Islam:

1. Islamic extremist self-styled caliphates have expanded their spheres of operation across international borders. Islamic State has declared that it is waging war on the West, with sickening consequences in Paris, and is also preparing the town of Sirte in Libya as a possible new headquarters should Raqqa prove impossible to inhabit due to Western bombing raids. Other extremist insurgencies, such as Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria, declared themselves part of IS. Boko Haram proceeded to expand its reign of terror to neighbouring Niger and Chad. Al-Shabaab, though there was a faction of it that pledged allegiance to IS, is still an al-Qaeda affiliate in the Horn of Africa, and not only terrorised Somalia but also neighbouring Kenya. Kenya saw its worst act of terrorism in 15 years, when extremists held 700 students hostage on 2 April 2015 at Garissa University College and slaughtered 148 Christians, after carefully separating them from Muslims. All three of these self-described caliphates drive persecution in four of the top 10 countries on the World Watch List (Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Libya), and, significantly now in the fifth, Afghanistan, and many more extremist movements are seeking to establish caliphates reaching as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Open Doors observer said: “For a lot of extremists, Islamic State seems to have God on their side, since they are so successful at taking and holding territory, and their propaganda is so seductive, so it is no surprise so many want to become part of their ‘brand’ ”. 

2. Governments became more fearful of Islamic extremism and responded by either (a) boosting nationalism as a counter force or (b) tightening regulations and increasing surveillance over all religious expression. In the post-communist states of Central Asia – all of whom have seen a rise in points – governments have expanded intrusive surveillance into all aspects of church life. Myanmar passed no fewer than four discriminatory bills in 2015, including a religious conversion law that gives the state new powers to penalise Christians who convert from Buddhism.  Even in China, the situation continues to tighten as the government continues to view Christianity as dangerously “foreign” and to rip crosses down from church buildings.

3. Muslims the world over are becoming more Islamic out of fear that extremists may take over their areas and that IS sleeper cells may wake. In other cases it might be out of opportunism or religious conviction. In the Middle East especially, Muslims are, outwardly at least, becoming more fundamentalist. Islamic State is radicalising the population, even in countries where it has no presence, but especially where it is nearby. This radicalisation is occurring even in places like Iraqi Kurdistan, normally a beacon of freedom. However, there is a counter-trend, as many Muslims search for a new identity as they turn away in disgust from extremism. As an Egyptian journalist said earlier this year, “We woke up and looked into the mirror, and we saw the face of the Taliban instead of ourselves.” Many are entertaining Christianity as a faith option. 

But even while some Muslims will turn to Christianity, the overall trend is disheartening, as Islamic extremism is “the primary driving factor in 35 out of the top 50 states.” The closely related issue is that of migration and refugees:

Fears were not allayed, either, with uncontrolled migration flows, as over 1 million migrants took the hazardous route to Europe from the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees gave up on the possibility of ever returning to their war-torn homeland. Their influx has caused fear to mushroom among European nations that the numbers may be too high to handle or their cultures may be forever altered by the influx of mostly non-Christian peoples. 

The most desperate situation among many is found in Syria, as over half the “pre-war Syrian population of 22 million have left their homes; 7.6 million are internally displaced within the country, and four million are refugees outside it. It is impossible to know how many of the 1.8 million Christians that were in Syria at the start of the civil war are among this group, but estimates are that between 600,000 and 900,000 remain in the country.” The city of Aleppo once had a quarter million Christians; it now has less than 40,000.

Pope Francis has just released his “Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees”, which makes reference to “the victims of violence and poverty” and the problem of “a lack of clear and practical policies regulating the acceptance of migrants and providing for short or long term programmes of integration respectful of the rights and duties of all.” The Holy Father laments “the outbreak of unacceptable humanitarian crises in different parts of the world” and denounces “indifference and silence” when faced with those who “are dying of suffocation, starvation, violence and shipwreck…” Radical Islam, ISIS, terrorism, and related matters are not mentioned. Francis does point out the “danger of discrimination, racism, extreme nationalism or xenophobia”—but only from the perspective of countries to which people are migrating. He does say, in closing, “it is necessary to avert, if possible at the earliest stages, the flight of refugees and departures as a result of poverty, violence and persecution.”

What is the source of this poverty? The cause of this violence? The ideology and purpose behind the persecution? Yes, let’s welcome those who deserve to be welcomed and protected. But we should also welcome some clarity and directness about what is going on in the world, instead of reading endless texts that speak in such generalities and abstractions that one might think that “poverty, violence and persecution” are the product of impersonal cosmic forces that no mortal is equipped to understand or analyze. Thankfully, groups such as World Watch Monitor provide specifics and details that are much needed, even if they present a picture both bleak and daunting. 


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About Carl E. Olson 1122 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications.