The danger to Christians in Muslim-controlled countries is growing. The suicide bombing attacks carried out at the All Saints’ church in Peshawar on Sunday signal widespread religious intolerance in the Middle East, capable of triggering a mass exodus of Christians from the region. 85 people were killed and over 100 were injured in the attack carried out by the Jandullah, a group allied with the Taliban. In Egypt, 42 Christian churches were attacked in recent weeks, and in June another suicide bombing in a Christian area of Syria killed four. After the Iraq War, Christians in the country were accused of collaborating with the U.S. military and thousands have been killed or forced to relocate.
The reasons for the increased attacks are deeply rooted in the socio-political history of the region. Christians were once welcome in the Middle East as a protected minority. During colonial times, ties between the forceful spread of Christianity and brutal colonial governments caused a rift between Islamic and Christian groups. The conflict intensified and has reached a breaking point as jihadists in the region paint all conflict as a war between Islam and Christianity.
Peshawar is the capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of the four regions of Pakistan, and is situated at a strategic crossroad between Central and South Asian. It is one of the most culturally diverse cities in Pakistan. When Pakistan became an independent state in 1947, the country was on a trajectory to a peaceful and ethnically diverse future. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was a proponent of a secular state. He understood the importance of all citizen participation in his newly established country and said, “We have many non-Muslims – Hindus, Christians, and Parsis – but they are all Pakistanis.” As terrorist groups in the region push for the exodus of the Christian minority, the stark contrast between the promise the country once showed and the reality is particularly distressing.
Analysts estimate that there are around 10 million Christians living in the Middle East today, making up less than 5 percent of the total population, down from 20 percent a century ago. As violence against Christians in the region mounts, more and more are forced to flee as refugees to neighboring countries. The growing number of displaced communities seeking sanctuary in overcrowded areas is straining resources and economies and overburdening a system of support in more stable regions. Historically, the more ethnically and politically diverse a country is, the better the economy. People are a resource too, and the Middle East is going to ethnically cleanse out any viable minority factions, leaving their own citizens to suffer from the results.
The group responsible for the bombing at the Peshawar church has promised to target Christians in more attacks, citing U.S. drone strikes as the reason for the violence. It is no wonder that some Christians believe that exodus is their only answer. Mano Rumalshah, the bishop emeritus of Peshawar, has stated that it is not safe for Christians in Pakistan. Many others are echoing his sentiment.
Written By: Danyelle C. Overbo