John L Allen Jr has, in his book Global War on Christians, described how 80% of all today’s acts of religious discrimination are directed at Christians. According to the Pew Forum, between 2006 and 2010, Christians faced discrimination in 139 nations, almost three-quarters of all recognised countries. According to the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what the centre calls a “situation of witness” every year for the last ten years.
That’s 11 Christians killed every hour, seven days a week and 365 days a year, because of their faith. Pope Francis recognised this desperate situation in remarks last month.
These are below-the-radar figures hard to grasp even in a country with a history of inter-Christian persecution. The idea of killing, or attacking a stranger, because of religious beliefs is alien in today’s Europe, a core value hardwired into our consciousness by the evil genocides of the last century.
However, more people in Europe and America are prepared to test that principle in the face of indiscriminate attacks like last week’s bombs in Brussels. An escalating refugee crisis feeds into this narrative. Aggressive religious discrimination is one the themes in the campaigns of the two Republican frontrunners in the White House Race. The anti-Muslim hatred expressed by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz epitomise the evils the great libertarian leaders of America did so much to counter half a century ago, yet Trump and Cruz improve their ratings every time they attack Islam. Cruz, an avowed fundamental Christian, has gone as far to promise “to carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion, testing if sand can glow in the dark”. This racism and bigotry is a darkening stain on America’s character. Tragically, this irrational hatred echoes from the other end of the spectrum too.
On Sunday, as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar murdered Christians in Lahore, riots broke out in Islamabad. Supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, hanged for the murder of Punjab’s governor Salman Taseer in 2011, have demanded the execution of Aasiya Bibi, a Christian woman on death row convicted of blasphemy. Qadri, Taseer’s bodyguard, shot him over the governor’s call to reform blasphemy laws and his support for Aasiya Bibi. Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and politician Salmaan Taseer were also murdered for supporting her and opposing the blasphemy laws. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan’s Christians have accused their government of not doing enough to protect them. They are not alone. Christians in India and Burma, in Egypt and Iran, in Nigeria and North Korea, and in many, many more countries, are becoming what John L Allen Jr has called “an entire new generation of Christian martyrs ... The carnage is ... the premier human rights challenge of this era”.
Surely, and despite dire warnings from Tony Blair, humanity can find a way to disagree and live together? The evidence seems to suggest that we cannot, and what a very dark, dispiriting portent that is.