The killings of Christians in a Peshawar, Pakistan church last Sunday by Taliban suicide bombers were just the latest in an escalating new trend of attacks against Christians and other religious groups around the world.
The bombers killed at least 85 people at the end of services at Peshawar’s historic All Saints’ Church, more than half of them women and children. Simultaneously, the al-Shabaab terrorist attacks on in a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya continued from the day before, attacks that specifically targeted non-Muslims and killed 72 or more people. Syria’s chaotic civil war increasingly threatens that country’s religious minorities, especially in traditionally Christian towns like Maalula, which Islamist rebels overran this month. In Egypt, Islamic extremists have attacked 58 churches and 160 other Christian-owned buildings in what scholars are calling the worst violence against Egypt’s Christians since the 14th century. Since 2003, persecution has killed or forced out more than a half of Iraq’s Christian community, which once numbered between 800,000 and 1.4 million.
While many in Western democracies celebrated the Arab Spring as the triumph of oppressed peoples over totalitarianism, its dark side has been an accompanying surge in Islamist religious violence throughout the Middle East and South-Central Asia. Together with other killings, these latest attacks in Peshawar point to a disturbing trend in global violence against Christians and other religious minorities that is clearly escalating, especially in Islamic countries.
While most Western leaders, both political and religious, have been surprisingly silent on this matter, a small number of representatives in Congress have sounded the alarm. Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) sponsored and passed legislation in the House last year to create a new office in the State Department, that of a special envoy whose job would be to advocate for religious minorities in these regions. In fact, the legislation has passed twice in the House, both times with broad bipartisan majorities, the second time only last week, landing in the Senate only to be largely ignored.
America already has the International Religious Freedom Act, which formed the US Commission on International Religious and requires both that agency and the State Department to monitor and respond to violations of religious freedom. However, Congressman Wolf, an architect of that law, says it is not enough.
A special envoy, devoted to highlighting these outrages, would likely help compensate for the strange lack of attention given to this growing issue in the Western world. During last month’s surge of violence in Egypt, President Obama’s statement about the situation barely mentioned the religious attacks. Few other politicians in the West have taken to their podiums to call attention to the matter, nor have priests and pastors taken to their pulpits. Confusingly, church leaders in America and elsewhere seem to be maintaining their focus on the same social issues—gay rights, abortion, etc. in the U.S.—that have dominated their sermons and public statements years. Regarding violence against their brethren in the Middle East and elsewhere, it seems Western Christians have little to say.
These attacks may have grown larger and more public, but this trend of persecution has been growing slowly since the September 11 attacks. The Reverend Aftab Gohar, a minister now living in Scotland who lost his mother several family members in the Peshawar church attack, saw the situation escalating first hand.
“Before (2001), we had very good relations with the Muslim community,” Mr. Gohar told the BBC. “We still do in this area, mostly. But there started to be tension in other places and fundamentalism started to get worse. We began to worry, but we never thought something like this could happen.”
It remains to be seen if the Senate will take up the matter of a special envoy, or if church leaders in America will begin to focus their attention on the growing slaughter. In a country where many public figures have referred to America as a “Christian nation”, and where the political right relies on support and donations from a sizeable religious voting bloc, it is difficult to imagine they will continue their silence. However, whether those in power notice this new trend or not, the killings keep escalating in both scale and execution, and the latest Christian deaths in Peshawar are unlikely to be the last.
Written By: Jeremy Forbing
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom