‘Persecuted and Forgotten?’ is the name of the latest report by Aid to the Church in Need. Unfortunately, there is no need for that question mark in the title. Both the persecution and the oblivion are facts. Christians have been victims of the genocide in Isis-controlled parts of Iraq and Syria. In 2011, there were 150,000 Christians in Aleppo and now there are 35,000. Persecution rises in other Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Sudan and Iran. In Nigeria, 1.8 million people have been displaced by Boko Haram. In India, there is much more harassment of Christians since Narendra Modi came to power in 2015. In China, there are now thought to be 127 million Christians. This upsets President Xi Jinping, who sees Christianity as a form of ‘foreign infiltration’ and seeks to ‘sinicise’ it. When the American student Otto Warmbier died after returning to America in a coma following his incarceration in North Korea, the Communist government blamed his allegedly subversive behaviour on the Friendship United Methodist Church, even though Mr Warmbier was Jewish: Christians are seen as spies. Almost everywhere, the trends worsen. In the opinion of the report’s author, John Pontifex, ‘it is clear that the persecution of Christians is worse than at any time in history’.
I doubt if this can quite be true — if one includes, as one should, the history of persecutions of Christians by other Christians — but it remains a terrible story. Why is this happening? The rise of Islamist extremism is the most important single factor, but a fairly new element is indifference among western politicians and media. If persecution is what you enjoy, you are nowadays probably safer persecuting Christians than any other major group. Post-Christian, multicultural societies are frightened of seeming to favour Christians, and so they ignore them. We are mimicking a pattern of anti-Semitism, which is that people who are not themselves virulently anti-Semitic in effect collude with those who are by deciding that Jews are a nuisance. If only Jews weren’t around, they come to think, there wouldn’t be all this trouble. Now they think the same of Christians: why don’t these tiresome minorities with their weird superstitions clear out of places where they aren’t wanted, and then life will be more peaceful? Soon Christians will be made to feel unwelcome in Europe itself.