Believers are facing unprecedented levels of violenceby Rachel Halliburton / December 19, 2016 / Leave a comment
The bombing of a chapel adjacent to Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral on 11th December, which killed at least 25 people, marks the latest in a series of violent episodes that threatens the existence of Christianity in the Middle East. The prospect of the extinction of the church in the region where it originated should be one of the dominant stories of our times, yet somehow it is overlooked amid the other tragedies that have followed the Arab Spring. Among the corpses of Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Yazidis, Druze, and Kurds, the bodies of Christians are, for some, just another statistic in the catastrophic breakdown of society.
Yet Christianity is now the most persecuted religion in the world. In 2014, the Pew Report found that Christians were being harassed in 151 countries (Muslims, the next most persecuted group, were oppressed in 135). According to the Christian charity Open Doors, in 2016 North Korea is the worst place to be a Christian, but Iraq ranks second, Syria fifth and Libya tenth. The Middle East has witnessed the most dramatic escalation in atrocities—a fact acknowledged in February when the European Parliament recognised Islamic State’s persecution of Christians and other religious minorities as genocide.
In March, the US House of Representatives followed suit, and in April the House of Commons voted that IS was perpetrating genocide—though the government opposed the motion, arguing the issue should not be prejudged ahead of a possible referral to the International Criminal Court. The excuse sounded hollow in the light of horrific accounts of people being crucified, burned alive, raped or beheaded. In November, the Catholic charity, Aid to the Church In Need (ACN), published a report on persecution in which it described a new form of “Islamic hyper-extremism… unprecedented in its violent expression.”
At the start of the 20th century, Christians made up 25 per cent of the population in the Middle East and now they only represent 5 per cent, most of whom are in Egypt. Anba Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, told Prospect that the Cairo bombing—one of a wave of attacks by militants since 2013—was “sadly expected.” Bishop Angaelos described an “escalation of confidence” among Islamists which is partly due to the advances…