At least 65 Christians have been killed in attacks across the Muslim world in recent months, sparking sharp criticism from human rights groups that charge the U.S. government and media aren’t doing nearly enough to speak out against the violence.
A shooting in Egypt last month that killed a Christian man and injured five Christian women was just the latest in the series of attacks, several of which occurred around the holiday season: A New Year’s bombing at a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt, killed 23 people and injured more than 100; Christmas Eve blasts in Nigeria killed at least 32 -- just part of a night of terror across the country that saw three other churches attacked and six worshipers killed; six perished in a Christmas Day Catholic Church bombing on the island of Jolo, in the Philippines; and a string of New Year’s Eve bombings in Iraq left two dead and at least 13 wounded.
The spate of attacks has some saying that not enough is being done. "The lack of a policy response beyond sending condolences each time a church or Christians are targeted in some horrific act of violence like in Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria etc. is absolutely bewildering," Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, told FoxNews.com. "This should be seen as not only a humanitarian issue, but a security issue."
Even the condolence statements have come up short, said Shea. When the Obama administration first noted an Oct. 31 church bombing in Iraq, for example, it sent “a general condolence to Iraqis that didn’t even mention the word Christian or churches -- even though it was a packed Sunday worship service for Christians that was blown up.”
That bombing, claimed by an Al Qaeda-linked organization, left 58 people dead and at least 78 wounded. It was the worst attack ever against Iraq's Christian minority.
Critics have also charged the U.S. media hasn’t done enough to publicize the plight of persecuted Christians.
CBS and ABC aired nothing on the Nigerian attacks, PBS had one "NewsHour” report, while NBC gave the story three briefs mentions on the morning of Dec. 27, according to L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center.
"CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric instead found the protests against a new Islamic Center set to be built near Ground Zero to be more newsworthy, labeling the "seething hatred" against Muslims in America as one of the "most disturbing stories to surface this year" on her New Year's Eve Internet show.
That night, 11 bombs exploded near Christian homes in Baghdad, killing two people and wounding at least 13. And just minutes into the new year, the bombers in Alexandria struck. “ABC aired nothing. CBS and NBC each aired one brief anchor read," according to Bozell.
Not everyone agreed with Bozell. “Christians get massive, massive media coverage, way out of proportion to their importance,” said media analyst T.J. Walker. “This is another case of an interest group developing the media strategy of ‘working the refs’ … No matter how fair or generous your media coverage is, complain bitterly that you are being treated unfairly in the hopes of making reporters give you even more positive coverage just to avoid the headache of dealing with nonsense virulent criticism.”
But Bozell maintained stories of perceived discrimination against Muslims -- like a Florida pastor’s proposition to memorialize the 9/11 attacks with "Burn a Koran Day," or a Seattle-based cartoonist’s decision to protest Comedy Central's decision to censor an episode of "South Park" that depicted Muhammad in a bear costume -- pick up far more coverage by comparison.
"It’s appalling that you’ve got a worldwide assault on Christianity in place, where every week there’s a reported attack on some Christian church somewhere by Muslim fanatics and no one’s covering it," Bozell said. "…but one idiot in Florida threatens to burn a Koran and everyone’s talking about."
Included in that everyone was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths," Clinton said about "Burn a Koran Day" at a Sept. 8 dinner in observance of the Muslim holiday Iftar. "It’s regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Fla., with a church of no more than 50 people can make this outrageous and distressful, disgraceful plan and get the world’s attention," she said the same day, at a Council on Foreign Relations event.
But some argued the Florida pastor did a better job of getting Clinton’s attention than the string of recent attacks against Christians. While State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a statement on December 31 condemning the New Year’s Eve violence in Iraq, and another spokesman, Phillip Crowley, noted the department was "aware of a recent string of attacks against Christians from Iraq to Egypt to Nigeria, Clinton herself did not publicly address the issue.
President Obama did, however, saying the perpetrators of the Egypt attacks "were clearly targeting Christian worshippers" and "must be brought to justice for this barbaric and heinous act." He offered "any necessary assistance to the Government of Egypt in responding to it," as well as to the Government of Nigeria in responding to its attacks.
But Shea argued these governments need pressure, and not assistance. Shea said the U.S., which provides billions of dollars in foreign aid to many of these countries, should push them to protect their Christian communities "through a combination of carrots and sticks, sanctions and incentives."
She pointed to Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who responded to the attacks by calling for the European Union to reduce or cut aid to countries that do not protect their Christian minorities as an example of what the U.S. leaders should be doing. The EU has yet to act on the proposal.
Graeme Bannerman, a scholar at the Middle East Institute and expert on U.S.-Arab relations, said the U.S. may be taking the smarter approach.
“Take Egypt for example. The critics do not believe the government there is doing enough; they haven’t gone after the Muslims enough; they haven’t taken the threat upon the Christian community seriously enough. But there are others who say they may have not reacted rapidly enough, but they’re certainly taking action,” Bannerman told FoxNews.com, pointing to the recent conviction and death sentence for a Muslim man who killed six Christians and a Muslim guard last year outside a Coptic church on Jan. 6, Coptic Christmas Eve.
Shea called the death sentence “unprecedented,” and said she hopes to see similarly strong action in other countries. She also warned against what might happen if these Christians minorities are wiped out.
"Christians are a moderating force in the Middle East. When they are gone, religious diversity and pluralism goes with them,” she said. “…It ultimately means there will be a setback for our own national security interests and the ability of these countries to peacefully coexist with us.”