The Trevi fountain is illuminated in red to symbolize the blood of persecuted Christians around the world in a grim makeover for one of Italy's most iconic monuments, on April 29, 2016, in Rome. (Photo: AFP)
A study by the Pew Research Centre in 2016 found that Christians were targeted in 144 countries, a rise from 125 in 2015, making them the most persecuted religious minority today.
The international charity, Open Doors, also revealed in its World Watch list that “about 245 million Christians living in the top 50 countries suffer high levels of persecution, or worse.”
In 2017 there were 736 attacks recorded in India, up from 348, in 2016, published reports show.
Why are Christians persecuted all over the world?
In a discussion as wide-ranging as this, it is helpful to place the question correctly.
It is true that the persecution of Christians worldwide has risen considerably, but this persecution is found mainly in the global South – Asia, Africa and Latin America – where most Christians are poor and in a minority.
But this is not so in the rich countries of Europe and the US, where Christians are a majority. Christians are treated differently here.
Christians in the global South are a ‘soft target’ for criminal governments and terrorist gangs, who use religion as a cloak for their violence or devious politics.
Even worse, the protective systems of the State (e.g. the police and the law courts) are often weak and corrupt themselves.
In many instances, governments cannot even protect their own citizens – let alone those belonging to a powerless minority, as Christians often are. Look at Pakistan, for instance.
In the last century, totalitarian regimes like Communist Russia or Nazi Germany, avowedly atheist, looked on Christian believers as threats to a fully regimented society. They simply killed them.
Something similar happened in Latin America where nominally ‘Christian’ governments killed several Christians and others working for a just and equitable society. Think of Bishop Oscar Romero, the Jesuits of San Salvador, the Maryknoll nuns, and several hundred others.
Much of Europe today is a ‘post-Christian’ society, highly secularized, where the Christian faith is seen as obscurantist, and so despised. The European Union, for instance, has publicly disowned its Christian roots and pursues a materialistic and secular value system.
In EU countries, the pressures against religion are subtle and disguised. However, conflicts do arise when groups of migrants, usually of other faith systems, clash with the secular ethos. A good example is Muslim women wearing the veil.
In many Islamic societies today the Christian faith is seen as an expression of white privilege redolent of an earlier colonial epoch. In India too, the public remarks of politicians often reiterate a similar view.
Most Muslim societies still live in a medieval framework, where faith and politics operate as one whole.
Thus there is little public space for women or for those of another belief system -- not just Christians and Hindus, but even “other Muslims,” like Shias, Ahmediyyas, Bahai and Hazaras!
What is significant however is that one is most likely to be persecuted when one is poor and politically weak. Have you ever heard in recent times of the persecution of the Parsis and the Jains?
Does the idea that 'the West is Christian' aggravate such a situation?
The West (Europe and the USA) is often seen by the rest of the world as “Christian.” This is an erroneous perception, but it may be explained by saying that the “rest of the world” often lives in a medieval ethos where religion and politics operate as one.
So countries are slapped with a religious nomenclature, which is far from the actual reality.
Actually, the West is more correctly called “post-Christian” or ”secular,” in that religious values are not promoted explicitly in public, and governments are motivated more by a sense of realpolitik than by the values of a given religion.
But problems remain. One of these is caused by economic migration, where large groups from the former colonies arrived in the “mother country” for work, and now stay on as permanent citizens with civic rights -- but with a different faith.
The case of Muslims in Europe is perhaps the most tension-ridden.
Muslim migrants usually demand of their Christian host countries, rights and concessions that they would not give to their own Christian minorities living in Muslim countries!
Most Muslim countries are feudal and oligarchic even today when so much of life and practice the world over is shaped by democratic norms.
In recent years, large groups of Muslims from North Africa and West Asia have attempted to force their way into the so-called Christian nations of Europe, claiming domicile.
It’s often asked: Why don’t these same Muslims seek entry into the rich countries of the Muslim world? – into the Gulf emirates, Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Turkey?
In spite of their so-called hatred of the West and its values, why do hordes of Muslims wish to settle there rather than in their own faith societies?
As can be seen, there are many contradictions here, and little desire to resolve them!
Does the 'Christian' West have a duty towards other cultures in view of its colonial past?
Not an easy question to answer at all.
It is true that most Western nations reached their present levels of prosperity through the brutal exploitation of the global South, but even today, there is no willingness to admit responsibility, much less to offer to pay back.
Nations are motivated less by a sense of moral obligation, and more by recurrent self-interest.
Christian religious practices are in decline in Europe, where most public decisions are made on the basis of self-interest, hedonistic appeal and consumer motivation and not on ethical principles.
Besides, almost all nations share a latent racism, and the West is no exception.
Because of recession and unemployment, racism asserts itself aggressively, fed by the populist paranoia that “these foreigners” are out to get “our” jobs.
Hostility to migrants starts here, especially to those who look different, and speak strangely.
Then again, many governments have long memories of colonial exploitation. They see Christianity as a Western religion with Christian communities sharing a different identity and cultural outlook from that of the national majority.
Discrimination and persecution have their source here as well.
Human rights – a platform for the future?
Today rather than enact public laws based on various faith traditions, the appeal to human rights has come to the fore.
It simply means that all peoples, no matter what their background and status, have a right to respect, security, freedom of belief and movement merely on the basis of being human.
Persecution on the basis of belief or race contravenes this right and should be outlawed.
And yet! Many countries, all signatories to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, turn a blind eye to the persecution of religious minorities within their borders.
Their spokespersons lie about the actuality in international fora and censor all reports adverse to national prestige.
Sadly, it's not only Christians who are persecuted. All righteous people, whatever their faith, suffer at the hands of bigots and bureaucrats.
But it is the universal practice of human rights, rather than any faith system, which has become the way to go forward within the comity of nations, where otherwise so little seems to meet with any common agreement.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.