Published September 24, 2013
Attacks on Christians and other minorities in the Muslim-majority world are increasing and an already terrible situation is worsening.
The most recent attack was Sunday in Peshawar in Pakistan, where the historic All Saints Church was attacked by two suicide bombers, an attack for which the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.
The explosions were triggered to cause the maximum number of deaths and maimings-- when the congregation left the morning service in the city's Kohati Gate district to receive a free meal of rice. The latest toll is 85 dead and over 140 wounded, but both these numbers have been rising as rescuers search through the rubble.
This is probably the most deadly attack on Christians in Pakistan’s entire history. There have been ongoing deadly mob attacks on Christians and Christians and Ahmadis have suffered disproportionately from Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, but there have been few attacks on churches and other Christian sites since a spate of bombings a decade ago.
In the last ten years the major Taliban suicide-attack targets have been Shiite and Ahmadi mosques.
The Taliban say the bombing was retaliation for ongoing U.S. drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan. But the bombers did not target Americans but their fellow Pakistanis.
For the Taliban and like-minded groups, the key factor is religion. The connections they make are not national, or ethnic, or geographic, but religious. Hence, since they regard America as Christian, they kill Christians.
The same dynamic shows in the weekend’s other major attack: the shootings and grenade attacks by the Somali-based Al-Shebaab group at a Kenyan shopping mall in Nairobi on Saturday --with some 62 dead, 200 wounded and 63 missing. While the mall is reportedly Israeli-owned, and while Kenyan forces are at the core of the African Union forces fighting al-Shabab within Somalia, this was not an attack simply on Kenyans or westerners.
The attackers very specifically targeted non-Muslims and they identified them by asking their captives either to name Muhammad’s mother or to recite the shehada, the Muslim profession of faith.
Those who could do so, Kenyan or not, were released; those who could not were killed—there are Chinese and Indians amongst the dead.
This comes against the background of one of the most under-reported stories in the world—al-Shabab’s systematic effort to kill every Christian Somali that they can, even those in Kenya, on the grounds that they are converts from Islam. Like the Taliban, they try to identify their opponents by religion.
Even leaving aside the attacks on minorities in Syria and Iraq, and the massive killings in Nigeria, Christians in Egypt have recently suffered what my colleague Sam Tadros regards as the worst violence since 1321, under the Mamluks.
On August 14-16 over a hundred Christian sites were attacked by followers of ousted President Morsi: forty-two churches were utterly razed.
In the south of Egypt, the town of Delga was occupied by Muslim Brotherhood supporters for 34 days and its Christian population brutalized.
The situation is so serious that English historian Tom Holland fears that we are now seeing the extinction of Christianity and other minority faiths from the Middle East.
Meanwhile, our politicians are largely silent and, when there is expressed concern, it is nowadays more likely to come from Europe than from America.
The Christian community is also largely silent. Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth has compared Christians’ fate with that of Jews in Europe, and, like many others in these days, quotes Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’