ICYMI: Fortress Europe: As Islam Expands, Should the US Imitate the ‘Christian’ Continent

Interesting discussion among European evangelicals along with related issues:

Within three decades, Muslims may comprise 14 percent of Europe.

The face of the historically Christian continent, tallied at 5 percent Muslim in 2016, may dramatically change by 2050 if high migration patterns hold.

And as Muslim families have a birth rate one child higher than the rest of the continent, the Pew Research Center projects nearly 1 in 5 people will be Muslim in the United Kingdom (17%), France (18%), and Germany (20%). Sweden is projected to become 30 percent Muslim.

And Austria, with its 20 percent projection, is on guard. The majority-Catholic nation recently published an online Islam Map, to identify mosques and other centers of politicized religion.

According to European religion experts, however, one-third of European Muslims do not practice their faith.

Conversely, this suggests that two-thirds of Muslims believe in and practice Islam. Contrast this with the 22 percent of Western European Christians who attend church at least once monthly and the 27 percent who believe in God according to the Bible.

Could the fear of some European Christians be plausible: an eventual Eurabia?

Or is it Islamophobia to say so?

Or, to the contrary, should Americans look across the ocean and consider French separatism laws and Swiss burqa bans in pursuit of a shared secularism?

For concerned evangelicals, Bert de Ruiter has his own questions—about their own faith.

“If Islam is taking over Europe, is that a problem?” asked the European Evangelical Alliance’s consultant on Muslim-Christian relations. “Will God suddenly be in a panic?”

Muslims will not take over the continent, he believes, noting Pew’s other 2050 Muslim population estimates of 7 percent if “zero” migration and 11 percent if “medium” migration.

But more important is that under any scenario, God will be faithful to his church, says de Ruiter. Once chairman of a Dutch political party, he has a “passion for Muslims, to reach out with the love of Christ.”

Yet too many European Christians, he said, act instead like politicians. Worse, they betray the love of Christ for neighbor.

According to statistics collected in the 2019 European Islamophobia Report (EIR), 37 percent of Europeans have negative views of Muslims, while 29 percent would not feel comfortable working with Muslims. And in Denmark, 28 percent at least partially agreed with the idea that Muslims should be deported.

But again, flip the statistics, and substantial majorities treat Muslims just fine.

Farid Hafez, coeditor of the EIR report, said that among the main drivers of Islamophobia is propaganda pushed by far-right networks seeking to create a scapegoat. Amplified by politicians and aided by counterterrorism narratives, perception then creates the reality.

“The more hostility people go through, the more they feel attached to their religious community,” said Hafez, also a lecturer at the university of Salzburg in Austria. “But I don’t see the problem that others do; Muslims are a part of society.”

Labels like “no-go zones” and “parallel societies,” he said, reflect Europe’s inability to adopt an American mentality that accepts multiple identities. And the relationship with Muslims is not fixed but boils down to a collective choice.

“Austria once suffered the siege of Vienna, but it also allied with the Ottoman Empire,” said Hafez. “History provides many options for how to tell your story. So will we choose a narrative of cooperation or conflict?”

In his column for Evangelical Focus, an online news site focused on Europe, de Ruiter said there are many actors trying to shape the narrative.

Among them are majority-Muslim nations such as Turkey and Morocco that build mosques and supply imams. Transnational networks such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Sufi orders compete to gain adherents and to define Islam. Wahhabi preachers on the internet break down traditional lines of authority. And state-linked Muslim councils strive for integration within secular society.

Muslims came to Europe largely as invited migrant labor in the 1950s, following the destruction of World War II. Over time, they brought their families, married, and had children. Initially isolated because of language, increasingly they put their stamp on society, building mosques and opening schools.

A European society that once welcomed them began to grow uncomfortable.

“We invited guest workers,” said de Ruiter, quoting a frequent saying. “But it turned out they were actually people.”

People created in the image of God.

Therefore, the task for Christians, he recently wrote in an analysis for Evangelical Focus, is fourfold:

  • Research: Matthew 10 speaks of finding the worthy person in a village you come to. Likewise, Christians must learn the real situation of actual Muslims, not media-driven images.
  • Reflect: Psalm 139 invites God to search our hearts. Anti-Muslim prejudice is often unconsciously ingrained, and with humility Christians can repent and develop attitudes of compassion.
  • Relate: In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul describes how he shared his life with those he was trying to reach. Christians must develop relationships with Muslims, in hope of also sharing the gospel.
  • Relax: In Psalm 46, the Lord reminds believers to “be still, and know that I am God.” Whatever changes happen in Europe are according to God’s sovereignty, and he will be exalted among the nations.

In America, Warren Larson adds a fifth R: represent.

“As Christians, we must speak up in defense of persecuted Muslims,” said the senior research fellow and professor at the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies at Columbia International University.

“We must take the initiative through acts of kindness, warmth, and generosity to Muslims, in our midst and around the world.”

A former missionary to Pakistan, Larson said his life was spared when Muslims defended his family against a mob that believed America was conspiring to undermine Islam. Today, he highlights the genocide underway against the Uighur Muslims in China’s northwest Xinjiang province.

But Larson has noticed something curious in his mentorship of Chinese Christians. Many are unaware of the atrocities or, like their government, deny them altogether. Some of it may be fear, he said, as China uses sophisticated technology to surveil its diaspora around the world.

But there may also be a parallel to Islamophobia in Europe and the United States. Chinese Christians from the mainland, he has noticed, speak out in defense of Hong Kong but not Xinjiang.

“One missionary to the Uighurs even said China was only dealing with terrorism,” said Larson. “Is it possible that she, along with most Chinese, fears what the Uighurs might do?”

Citing ethnic violence and acts of terrorism in Xinjiang that began in 2009, the Chinese media campaign against the Uighurs has been relentless. The United Nations has recognized a similar, though not state-run, pattern against Muslims in Europe.

A European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance report found that in the Netherlands, media descriptions most frequently call Dutch people “average,” even “beautiful.” Muslims, however, are predominantly described as “radical” and “terrorist.”

And in Switzerland, a federal commission found that news reports on Muslims focused on their failure to integrate, while only 2 percent of media coverage was of their normal lives and successful examples of integration.

In a statement supporting the UN report on Islamophobia, issued in March, the World Evangelical Alliance praised its Swiss branch for condemning an arson attack on a mosque and contributing financially to its repair. Similar efforts at solidarity were praised in India, Sri Lanka, and the Central African Republic.

“We reaffirm the unique value of each and every member of the human family,” it stated. “We believe each one of us is created in the image of God.”

But of Muslims, said Asma Uddin, there is a different image.

“Many evangelicals view Islam as a satanic deception, fundamentally violent and evil,” said the Muslim author of The Politics of Vulnerability: How to Heal Muslim-Christian Relations in a Post-Christian America. “They then mistake standing up for Muslims as standing up for a religion they despise or distrust.”

Evangelical advocates she has worked with are devoted, she said, but “outliers.”

Nearly 2 in 3 white evangelicals (63%) said Islam encourages violence more than other faiths, according to a 2017 Pew survey. This was the highest level among religious groups.

But the issue is also partisan.

Over half (56%) of Republicans said there was at least a “fair” amount of extremism among US Muslims. Only 22 percent of Democrats said the same.

Since liberals are associated with defending the rights of Muslims, Uddin said, political tribalism leads many conservatives to dismiss the severity of discrimination.

The setting is different in Europe, according to Hafez.

While Muslims in the UK are well represented in academia and politics, they also represent a disproportionate 16 percent of the prison population. Germany continues to have issues integrating its large migrant community.

And France’s vision of secularism separates not just church and state but also religion and society. Combined with a lingering colonial superiority, Hafez ranks the nation as Europe’s worst for Muslim communities.

But Islamophobia, he emphasizes, is not about anti-Muslim cartoons. Neither is it the critique of Islam or the criticism of Muhammad. It is the construction of a scapegoat with a generalized identity, which is then excluded from the rights afforded to all.

Protestants in Europe, he said, often feel it also. In Austria, only since 1861 were they allowed to build a steeple. Today, many of them sympathize when Muslims want a minaret.

And similarly, many are troubled by the publication of the Islam Map.

Michael Chalupka, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Austria, said he would not accept this for his own community, joining the calls to take it down.

“When you are weak, you stand by the weak,” said Hafez, a Muslim. “Jesus also stood with the weak, and in Europe, Muslims are among the weakest.”

De Ruiter finds greater solidarity with Muslims on moral issues than he does with the secular Dutch. And he too knows the pain of generalization. Preaching once in Russia, he was queried repeatedly not about his sermon but about Holland’s lax laws on drugs and prostitution.

The state, he told CT, has a biblical obligation to provide security, justice, and human rights. But the believer is to welcome the stranger and love the neighbor. If the Christian values that shaped Europe are taken advantage of, the Christian cannot retreat.

After all, Jesus was crucified.

For this message, de Ruiter is often accused angrily: “Don’t you care to preserve what your grandfathers built?”

But the values they cherish, he said, usually center around materialism, identity, and place in society. If they desire instead to reverse the losses suffered in a post-Christian society, there is a better way than fearmongering of Muslims.

That fight employs the weapons of the world, and must be rejected.

It will lose the gospel, for all.

“If we want things to change, Muslims will have to see something real in us,” said de Ruiter. “But they cannot if we shut the door.”

Source: Fortress Europe: As Islam Expands, Should the US Imitate the ‘Christian’ Continent? | News & Reporting

If Amy Coney Barrett Were Muslim

Relevant and pertinent thought experiment:

Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, has faced immense scrutiny of her religious beliefs, and we need to be vigilant against any religious bias or discrimination.

But I marvel at the hypocrisy of Republicans who are expressing shock and outrage over this, after the way the right has treated Muslims. President Trump responded to the alarm over Judge Barrett’s nomination by accusing Democrats of bias against Catholics and “basically fighting a major religion in our country.” This is rich from the man who is running against Joe Biden, a Catholic; who promoted a Muslim ban; and who told America, “I think Islam hates us.”

On Monday, the first day of the Senate hearings on Judge Barrett’s nomination, Josh Hawley of Missouri accused his Democratic colleagues on the Judiciary Committee of attacking Judge Barrett for being “too Catholic to be on the bench.” He is apparently living in the Twilight Zone, because this didn’t actually happen. Mr. Biden went out of his way to say Judge Barrett’s faith shouldn’t be considered a factor in her hearing.

I can’t help wondering: How would Republicans behave if Judge Barrett were a Democrat whose strongly held religious beliefs came from Islam instead of Catholicism?

We all know how it would go.

Republicans would demand she prove that she was not “working with our enemies.” That’s what Glenn Beck, the conservative radio host and conspiracy theorist, called for when Keith Ellison was elected as the first Muslim to Congress.

They’d probably use her faith to accuse her of hoping to create a “Shariah state” through judicial activism. That what conservative bloggers did in 2011 when Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey nominated Sohail Mohammed, a Muslim originally from India, for a seat on the Superior Court of Passaic County.

If Judge Barrett wore a hijab, Jeanine Pirro, the Fox News host, would question whether her religious beliefs were in opposition to the Constitution. That’s the ugly accusation Ms. Pirro levied against Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota in 2019.

The scrutiny of Judge Barrett’ connections to the People of Praise religious community — which opposes abortion, gay rights and marriage equality, and which believes that men are leaders of their families — has been intense. It’s fair to debate whether that kind of scrutiny is reasonable, and concerns that Judge Barrett has faced bias because of her religious beliefs are understandable.

What is clear, though, is that if a little-known Muslim group made headlines in connection with the nomination of a justice, Republicans wouldn’t have the same concerns about religious bigotry.

For example, former People of Praise members told The Associated Press that women in the group are expected to obey their husbands and provide sex on demand (the group said in a recent statement that “husbands should not be domineering nor should wives be servile”). If Judge Barrett were Muslim, these former members would probably be invited to appear on “Fox & Friends” to give voice to their concerns about the judge’s regressive stances.

Judge Barrett co-wrote a 1998 law review article about the moral and legal “bind” that death penalty cases might present Catholic judges. What if she had been Muslim and had written about Muslim judges instead? Would Ben Carson call her “schizophrenic?” In 2016, that’s how he described Muslims who embrace American values like democracy and the separation of church and state.

Earlier, in 2015, Mr. Carson wrote in a Facebook post, “I could never support a candidate for president of the United States that was Muslim and had not renounced the central tenant of Islam: Shariah law.”

That happens to be the same year Judge Barrett signed an open letter to Catholic bishops saying, “We give witness that the church’s teachings — on the dignity of the human person and the value of human life from conception to natural death; on the meaning of human sexuality, the significance of sexual difference and the complementarity of men and women; on openness to life and the gift of motherhood; and on marriage and family founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman — provide a sure guide to the Christian life, promote women’s flourishing, and serve to protect the poor and most vulnerable among us.”

If she were Muslim and had made these statements, Republicans would no doubt smear her as a woman oppressed by a barbaric Islamic culture that promotes misogyny.

It’s easy to imagine all of this, because it all comes from the playbook that has been used to attack Muslim elected officials, many of whom are in fact archetypes of moderation and secularism compared with Judge Barrett.

I am not critical of Judge Barrett’s nomination because of her Catholicism. I am deeply sensitive to religious bigotry and stereotypes. I’m a practicing Muslim living through an administration that campaigned for a Muslim ban. My community has endured two decades of hazing after the Sept. 11 attacks, and our loyalty is still deemed suspect. I would never wish that kind of judgment on a person of another faith.

Like most Americans, I am worried that Judge Barrett will use her seat to advance an extreme agenda that will be detrimental to the interests of a majority of people in this country. We fear that, if confirmed, she’ll help the religious right drag equal rights and progress back 50 years.

One thing is certain: If the Notre Dame law professor and darling of the religious right were Muslim, she would have had a much harder time becoming a judge, let alone a Supreme Court justice.

Wajahat Ali is a playwright, a lawyer and a contributing opinion writer.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/13/opinion/amy-coney-barrett-religion.html

Coren: Persecuted Christians in Asia, Africa and Middle East need ‘help and solidarity’

A reminder:

The mass murder of Christians in Sri Lanka stunned many observers, not only because of the obvious barbarism of the act but because the prime target was Christians, and during Easter and in church. For those of us who have been writing and broadcasting for decades about the persecution of Christians, however, this obscenity came as little surprise.

Back in 2012, I was hosting a nightly television show and on one occasion my guest was a Christian minister from the Middle East. He asked me if he could put a Bible on the desk in front of him during the interview. I politely told him that I’d rather he didn’t, because it might look like proselytizing. He replied that he understood, but that this particular Bible might be of interest to the viewers. It had been in Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic cathedral in Baghdad on October 31, 2010 when a Sunni Muslim terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq attacked the church, murdering 58 people and wounding more than 75.

The book being held in front of me was almost beyond reading, as its pages were glued together in purple lumps, sticky with the blood of the men, women and children who had been slaughtered that warm evening in a place of peace, in a city where Christians had lived and flourished for almost 2000 years. This was not a holy book to be preached from, but a holy book of martyrdom that preached. Its hardly legible pages spoke entire volumes, its red-turned-to-brown stains cried out to a still largely indifferent world.

The Baghdad attack, however, was merely one example of the war on Christianity. Even Pope Francis, hardly militant in these areas, told a group of 40 Jewish leaders, including the then head of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, “First it was your turn and now it is our turn.” In February, 2014, U.S. representative Chris Smith, chairman of the congressional panel that oversees international human rights issues, told a congressional subcommittee that discussion of “anti-Christian persecution is not meant to minimize the suffering of other religious minorities who are imprisoned or killed for their beliefs” but to make it clear that Christians “remain the most persecuted religious group the world over.”

More than 300-million Christians are threatened with violence or face legal discrimination, forced conversion, and daily threats. In countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Nigeria, and elsewhere they are frequently imprisoned and tortured on false charges of drinking and blasphemy, and in Iraq the exodus of Christians has been so great that the faith may even cease to exist in any meaningful sense in years to come.

But this is a good example of why we have to be very selective and informed in how and what we judge. Saddam Hussein was a brute, but he didn’t persecute Christians. It was the western invasion of Iraq that smashed the stability of the place, empowering Islamist groups and leading to the full-scale attack on the Christian minority. Similarly in Syria, Christians are generally protected, and in Palestine the national conversation was traditionally shaped by Greek Orthodox Christians. In Egypt the story is sadly different, in Turkey there is hardly even a concept of a “Turkish Christian,” and in Pakistan the once respected Christian minority is now intimidated and frightened.

This is not an issue of Islam refusing to accept Christianity, but of radicalized Islam and of ignorant, sadistic fanatics not accepting anybody but their own – they also slaughter Muslims who refuse to adopt their gruesome twisting of the Muslim faith. Yet Christians are without doubt the main victims of this systemic persecution and violence, and the western world says relatively little.

The reasons are complex, but one of the causes is that conservative Christians in North America and Europe so frequently claim victimhood, usually when they show intolerance towards LGBTQ people. This absurd boast of martyrdom leads to cynicism about the very real horrors experienced by Christians in other parts of the world. On a grander scale, when George W. Bush launched imperial campaigns in majority-Muslim areas and spoke of a Christian motive there was an understandable if misplaced anger. If Bush and his people were Christian, how could Christians be vulnerable and persecuted?

Then there is sheer ignorance, with the political and media class having so little experience of peoples outside of their comfort zone. There’s an assumption that Christians are somehow like them, are white and secure, powerful and prosperous, and thus not the correct demographic at all for sympathy. The middle-class solipsism of all this is nauseating.

The inescapable fact is that Christians are indeed a highly persecuted group in large parts of the world, and that Christianity even faces disappearance in the places where it was born. It is not a western faith but one rooted deeply in the Middle East, and its adherents in much of that region, and in Asia and Africa, demand our help and solidarity. If we choose between marginalized groups, and ignore one for whatever reason we conjure, we are failing in our intelligence, compassion, and humanity.

Source: Persecuted Christians in Asia, Africa and Middle East need ‘help and solidarity’

How Caste Underpins the Blasphemy Crisis in Pakistan

Interesting and revealing context for Asia Bibi and anti-Christian sentiment in general:

On June 14, 2009, Asia Bibi, a poor Christian woman, was picking fruit in the field of Itan Wali village in Pakistan, about 30 miles from the city of Lahore. On the landowner’s order, Bibi fetched drinking water for her co-workers, but three Muslim women among them accused her of contaminating the water by touching the bowl. An argument followed.

Later, the Muslim women accused Bibi of making blasphemous statements against the Prophet Muhammad — a charge punishable by death under Pakistani law. Despite little evidence, Bibi spent nine years in prison — eight in solitary confinement on death row — till she was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in late October.

Pakistan’s religious right has violently protested her acquittal and Bibi is being held in an undisclosed location to keep her safe. The initial accusation against her was not about religion but caste. Her handling of a drinking vessel was seen to pollute the water inside because she belonged to an “untouchable” Hindu caste that had converted to Christianity.

When this offense turned into the charge of blasphemy, the shift signaled the simultaneous disavowal and internalization of caste discrimination by Muslims who otherwise attribute the practice to Hindus in India. Caste discrimination in Pakistan often involves its non-Muslim population and its Hindu past, and allows Muslims to minimize their own caste differences by projecting discrimination outward.

When Pakistan was created after the partition of colonial India, upper-caste Hindus and Sikhs fled or were forced to leave for India, leaving their poorer and less mobile lower-caste coreligionists behind.

In the southern province of Sindh, some upper-caste landowners stayed, while low-caste Hindus took the religion, its temples and practices into their hands in a startling departure from Hindu tradition that has no Indian counterpart. In Punjab Province, former “untouchables” accelerated their conversion to Christianity, taking given names common among their Muslim neighbors while replacing the caste surnames with appellations like “Masih,” the Urdu word for Jesus in his role as Messiah.

Discrimination and ethnic cleansing reduced the population of non-Muslims in Pakistan from about 30 percent at its creation in 1947 to less than 5 percent now. Yet the nearly absolute majority of Muslims in the country has not reduced religious conflict, but rather displaced, increased and internalized it among Muslims.

It is now Muslims, especially in Punjab, who maintain a caste hierarchy. And since Islamic beliefs don’t include a caste system, the discrimination cannot be defined in terms of caste and is labeled religious. This shift was illustrated by turning Bibi’s quarrel over sharing water into blasphemy.

Perhaps Asia Bibi mentioned to her three accusers how the Muslim prophet and religion did not permit such discrimination. But in Pakistan, neither the Christians, who are understood to have been low-caste Hindus, nor the Muslims, who have adopted the role of their high-caste coreligionists, can refer to the vanished past that mediates their relations.

The increasing refusal of Muslims to share water or food with Christians suggests an inability to come to terms with a past that defies the religious identifications meant to structure all of Pakistan’s social relations.

The debate about blasphemy is also tied to cultural issues assuming unprecedented importance with the emergence of a technologically mediated global arena after the Cold War. But such protests and violence over depictions of Islam’s prophet began during the middle of the 19th century in colonial India, where they had to do with urban politics and competition in newly capitalist societies.

These controversies are about struggles over representation in a public space. What defines Muslim outrage is never the traumatic encounter of the believers with the images of the prophet or his representation, but merely the rumor of circulation of his images and his representation beyond their control.

When controversies over insults to the Prophet Muhammad first arose in colonial India, the cases arising from them were dealt with under the Indian Penal Code written by the British politician Thomas Babington Macaulay, who criminalized the injury of religious and other sentiments in secular rather than theological terms by treating it the same way as defamation, libel and other such offenses.

In post-colonial India and Pakistan, religious offense among Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians continues to deploy the secular language of hurt sentiments rather than the theological category of blasphemy. In Pakistan, Lord Macaulay’s equal-opportunity conception of injury was done away with, and insulting the Prophet Muhammad was made into a specific crime above all others.

In the early years of Pakistan, a group called the Ahmadis, who are accused of not accepting Muhammad as the last prophet, were the first to be charged with blasphemy. But the charge of blasphemy was soon being leveled by even the most acceptable of Muslims against one another, often for petty and personal reasons. Such accusations are ways of legitimizing the individual motives of those who make them, whether these are concerned with quarrels over money, property or marriage.

But the accusations of blasphemy are also related to anxieties about the Muslim prophet’s vulnerability to insult, which have emerged from profound shifts in the life of Muslim societies.

These include efforts by Muslims to create a “modern” Islam by ridding it of “superstitions” like attributing superhuman powers to the prophet. But by becoming more human, Muhammad has also become more vulnerable to insult, and as a result requires the protection of his followers in an ironically secular way.

In contrast to these global concerns, Ms. Bibi’s case is resolutely local and has led to no Muslim agitation outside Pakistan. This is because it emerges from the Muslim disavowal of caste and refusal to acknowledge Pakistan’s ethnic cleansing of the Hindus who are seen to represent it. Just as Muslims take on the character of their vanished Hindu enemies by persecuting low-caste Christians if only in the name of religion, so do Hindu militants in India lynch Muslims by acting the part of medieval invaders who happened to be their coreligionists.

Familiar across the subcontinent, such playacting involves practices such as caste restrictions, forcible conversion and other, more grotesque forms of bodily violence in which a community takes on the role it attributes to its enemies.

Implying a relationship of perverse intimacy with one’s foes, this impersonation also distances perpetrators from their own brutality by turning it into a piece of theater. In all cases it involves the impossible and infinite desire for vengeance against an enemy who has vanished in time, like India’s Muslim invaders of a thousand years ago, or in space, like the Hindus and Sikhs who left Pakistan.

In Pakistan, both the discrimination of caste and the history of religious difference are officially proscribed and forgotten. But for this very reason they continue to haunt the present in disavowed ways that include the charge of blasphemy against Ms. Bibi. In this sense, the passionate defense of their prophet represents a kind of traumatic memory, one that only allows Muslims to obscure a reality that remains unrecognized and therefore unresolved.

Faisal Devji is a professor of Indian history at the University of Oxford.

Source: How Caste Underpins the Blasphemy Crisis in Pakistan

Report Shows It’s Increasingly Dangerous To Be A Christian In Many Countries : NPR

While written from an evangelical perspective, and thus I find some of the relative rankings questionable, nevertheless the report captures worrisome trends in some countries:

Doors USA released its annual list of the most dangerous countries for Christians. Among those where anti-Christian hostility has grown are India and Turkey, two important U.S. allies.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

To be a Christian in certain countries can be dangerous. That’s the conclusion from a group that tracks Christian persecution around the world. NPR’s Tom Gjelten says some of these countries are close allies of the U.S.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Among the 50 countries on this watch list are ones you’d expect. North Korea is the worst place to be a Christian. Afghanistan is a close second. Most are countries where Islamist radicals target non-Muslims. The list was prepared by Open Doors, a faith-based group that serves beleaguered Christians abroad. David Curry, the group’s CEO, says persecution in Muslim countries has gotten worse over the past year.

DAVID CURRY: Nine of the top 10 on the World Watch List this year and the massive majority on the top 50 have the driver of Islamic extremism. This isn’t to taint all of Islam, but we have to be clear that there is an Islamic extremist element which must be addressed.

GJELTEN: What’s notable is where extremism is growing. Turkey, whose autocratic leader President Trump has cheered, is among the half-dozen countries where Christian persecution has increased the most. Egypt and India are two more U.S. allies where conditions have rapidly deteriorated. In India, it’s not Islamist extremism but Hindu nationalism that’s a problem. Curry opened his presentation this week with the story of a nun in India who was raped by Hindu extremists only to have evidence of the attack destroyed and the attackers acquitted.

CURRY: That’s what justice is like in India today.

GJELTEN: Trump counts Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a friend, but Curry holds Modi personally responsible for the growing anti-Christian sentiment in India. He suggests the United States could use economic leverage to support Christians in India, a country, he points out, with which the United States has massive commerce

CURRY: And yet they’re number 11 on the World Watch List. Twenty-two languages, 720 dialects in India, yet Modi wants to have one religion.

GJELTEN: It’s not only Christians who are targeted in India of course. Hindu nationalists there have repeatedly attacked the Muslim minority. Curry says his organization’s country report card offers a to-do list for where governments should focus their human rights interventions. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

via Report Shows It’s Increasingly Dangerous To Be A Christian In Many Countries : NPR

Not enough being doing to halt persecution of Christians [in Mid-East]: Marmur

Valid points:

“Neither the horror of what Christians go through at the hands of Islamists and others, nor the scale of the crisis of Christian populations in the Middle East especially, appears to be widely known, let alone the subject of public concern.” So wrote Peter D. Williams, the Catholic social and political commentator in the online journal Spiked.

His article was published at the end of last May, days after 28 Coptic Christians were killed and many more wounded on their way to a monastery in Egypt. The same week, Williams reported, there were also two attacks on Christians in the Philippines.

His conclusion is that “it’s hard not to suspect that the reason why the persecution of Christians is not being reported widely across the globe is not merely due to over-familiarity, but because of active disinterest.” He suggests that “more could and would be done if the Western media gave Christians subjected to the cruellest and filthiest forms of tortuous hate the attention and concern their situation truly deserves.”

As a result, according to Prof. Jonathan Adelman of the University of Denver writing in The World Post, the Christian population in the Middle East has dropped from 20 per cent in 1900 to 4 per cent today. It’s likely to drop another per cent by 2050.

The only exception is the Jewish State of Israel where, according to Adelman, “the 160,000 Israeli Christians live as citizens in a democratic First World country with freedom of religion, rule of law and open elections.” They can move anywhere, their holy places are secure and their churches own much land in Jerusalem.

Adelman isn’t blind to problems that the Christian minority is facing also in Israel, mostly by the hands of bureaucrats and some Jewish fanatics. Yet, he insists, “Israel is the only place in the Middle East where the Christians are growing in number. They are excelling in education, doing well in business and feeling relatively safe from their radical tormentors.”

Jews have known for much of their history the lethal power of religious prejudice, much of it manifest as Christian anti-Semitism. It’s therefore gratifying to know that, despite the past, Jews are now providing a safe haven for Christians.

But Israel isn’t in a position to solve the global problem. Collectively, however, the Western world — where most Christians reside and many still greatly influence public discourse and policy — could and should do very much more than they seem to be doing.

That was ostensibly the purpose of the World Summit in Defence of Persecuted Christians held In Washington in early May. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence made the promising declaration that “protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.”

Though he assured the audience they “have the prayers of the president of the United States” and that “the suffering of Christians in the Middle East has stirred Americans to action,” it’s not clear if this will go beyond rhetoric and result in tangible deeds.

Having experienced Catholic-laced anti-Semitism as a child in Poland after the horrors of the Holocaust, I identify with the millions of Christians around the world who’re now facing extinction. I’m astounded that the very resourceful churches here and elsewhere don’t seem to be doing enough to protect them. Some, particularly ostensibly liberal Christians, appear to be much keener to find faults with Israel’s treatment of Muslims than to actively support Christians in Muslim lands.

Even if they may not be able to defeat extremism, they should seek measures to protect Christian minorities in ways that go far beyond President Trump’s prayers.

Source: Not enough being doing to halt persecution of Christians: Marmur | Toronto Star

Des radicaux aussi chez les catholiques | Le Devoir

Indeed. Extremism and fundamentalism is not unique to any one religion:

« En ce qui concerne les morts, c’est 6 à 2 pour les intégristes catholiques », lance le sociologue Martin Geoffroy. C’est un drôle de décompte, convient ce professeur au cégep Édouard-Montpetit et directeur du Centre d’expertise et de formation sur les intégrismes religieux et la radicalisation (CEFIR). Mais il illustre bien que, malgré le fait que l’attentat de la mosquée de Québec a fait six morts, ceux reliés à l’islam radical jouissent encore d’une attention disproportionnée dans les médias et l’esprit des Québécois. « On n’hésite pas à associer les attentats terroristes au groupe État islamique et à l’intégrisme religieux, mais quand ça émane de notre propre culture, c’est plus difficile à reconnaître. »

Il rappelle que seulement deux attentats djihadistes, celui de Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu et celui au parlement d’Ottawa, qui ont fait en tout deux morts, ont été perpétrés chez nous. Le fameux complot des Toronto 18 planifié en 2006 a quant à lui été déjoué, et les liens de ces terroristes avec al-Qaïda ne seraient pas prouvés.

Fort de 20 ans de recherche sur l’extrême droite, son postulat se confirme. « C’est toujours plus facile de blâmer la culture de l’autre plutôt que de regarder notre propre culture. Mais l’intégrisme catholique, tout comme l’intégrisme islamique, a aussi un rôle à jouer dans le terrorisme », dit M. Geoffroy, reconnaissant qu’il y a d’autres facteurs, notamment psychologiques, pour expliquer cette violence extrême.

Dans une conférence qu’il donnera dans le cadre du colloque international du Centre de recherche Société, Droit et Religions de l’Université de Sherbrooke (SoDRUS) sur le thème « Les racines religieuses de la radicalisation : fait ou fiction » (les 4, 5 et 6 mai), il défendra la thèse voulant qu’au Québec, les deux formes les plus habituelles d’intransigeance religieuse sont l’intégrisme catholique et le fondamentalisme protestant. Mieux ancrés dans notre société, ces intégrismes bien de chez nous passent sous le radar des médias alors qu’ils vont pourtant à l’encontre des valeurs de la société moderne. « La radicalisation des jeunes et le djihadisme sont dangereux, je ne veux pas le minimiser. Mais cela étant dit, il faut se préoccuper de nos propres affaires. Et il semble plus difficile de regarder le côté sombre de la force de notre propre culture. »

Intégrisme catholique

Martin Geoffroy se heurte d’ailleurs souvent à des regards surpris lorsqu’il rappelle qu’il existe encore plusieurs sectes catholiques, antisémites, anti-islam, anti-immigration. Ses plus récentes recherches l’amènent à conclure que ces groupes sont « complotistes, à base d’intégrisme religieux ou les deux », soutient le chercheur, qui rappelle que des députés conservateurs avaient des liens avec l’Opus dei et la Fraternité sacerdotale Saint-Pie-X. Cette société controversée de prêtres catholiques traditionalistes fondée en Europe, qui a des ramifications au Québec, avait été vue comme trop d’extrême droite par l’Église, qui avait notamment excommunié son fondateur, Mgr Marcel Lefebvre, en 1988.

La fraternité Saint-Pie-X est aussi dans la mire d’Atalante, a-t-il remarqué grâce à une veille de ces groupes sur Internet et les réseaux sociaux, où des vidéos ont clairement établi ces liens. La dimension religieuse, à tout le moins sacrée, est également présente chez les Soldats d’Odin, un groupe d’extrême droite d’origine finlandaise qui a rapidement pris de l’ampleur au Canada. « Dans les groupes suprémacistes blancs, il y a une adoration des dieux vikings, car ils sont blonds, etc. Et Odin, c’est le dieu principal de la mythologie nordique », rappelle le chercheur, qui entamera sous peu une collaboration avec le sociologue français Gérald Bronner, pour comparer les initiatives contre la radicalisation.

Le colloque du SoDRUS fera la part belle aux présentations sur la radicalisation au sein d’autres groupes religieux (bouddhistes, sikhs, anabaptistes, etc.). Martin Geoffroy s’étonne que certains doutent encore du lien entre la religion et l’extrême droite. La radicalisation et les actes terroristes des djihadistes sont automatiquement associés à la religion, alors que la majorité des djihadistes ne sont pas pratiquants mais plutôt convertis « à la version intégriste de l’islam, un islam pour les nuls », dit-il, pointant la thèse du politologue français Olivier Roi sur la déculturation du religieux. « Mais quand on parle de l’extrême droite chez nous, on ne parle pas nécessairement de la religion catholique. On dit que ça n’a pas de rapport, comme si on voulait déconnecter l’extrême droite de notre culture », dit-il. Or ce n’est pas parce que les gens ne sont pas pratiquants qu’ils ne sont pas croyants, rappelle-t-il, précisant que le taux de catholiques pratiquants (15-17 %) est presque aussi élevé que pour les musulmans (20 %).

Source: Des radicaux aussi chez les catholiques | Le Devoir

Christian leaders from Middle East ask for Canada’s help

Will be interesting to see if this is picked up more widely:

A trio of Christian leaders from the Middle East are calling on Canada’s government to provide direct aid to Christians being persecuted in that region.

The three church leaders — one from war-torn Syria, one from Iraq and one from Lebanon — were in Toronto Wednesday as part of the Knights of Columbus’ annual Supreme Convention gathering.

All three spoke of the persecution of Christians in Middle Eastern hotspots by radical Muslim groups, such as the Islamic State (ISIS).

Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, says Canada — like the U.S. — has a “moral responsibility” to help.

“The Canadian people have a long tradition of helping and supporting the persecuted and marginalized people around the world,” said Warda, using Canada’s 1994 peacekeeping mission in Rwanda — albeit a doomed one — as an example. “Canadians were there. We’re not asking some extra efforts here. It is just the commitment of the Canadian people and the Canadian nation, that they would be always defending the marginalized and the (victimized) around the world. Here, there is a clear case … there are people being persecuted because of their faith, because of their way of life.”

The problem, says Warda, is that Canada’s government does not deal with church-affiliated organizations directly, but funnels aid money through various “institutions.”

“How much of this … (has reached) the Christian … refugees? … It is a very small amount,” he said.

Source: Christian leaders from Middle East ask for Canada’s help | Canada | News | Toron

A leap forward in Catholic-Jewish relations: Marmur

Dov Murmur on both current developments and the historical context:

In order to explain and strengthen the relationship between Catholics and Jews the Vatican has followed up its historic document Nostra Aetate that initiated the dramatic shift half a century ago and about which I wrote last October. Over the years the Church has issued statements which amplify its stance. Five aspects are particularly significant.

  • The Church no longer sees itself as having superseded Judaism. It now speaks of Jews as elder brothers and sisters. It maintains that God’s covenant with the Jews has not been abrogated by Christianity.
  • The accusation that the Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus has been revoked. The possibility that his contemporaries were involved in the crucifixion in no way puts the burden on their descendants.
  • Christian anti-Semitism that has been the cause of persecution and extermination of Jews to this day has been repudiated in the light of what had befallen the Jews by the hands of believing Christians and subsequent secular imitators.
  • Affirming incontrovertible historic facts about the roots of Judaism in the Land of Israel, the legitimacy of re-establishing a Jewish homeland there has been affirmed. The Vatican maintains diplomatic relations with the State of Israel. The fact that Christianity was born in that land is being celebrated by Christians without in any way denying Jewish rights.

As a result, as David Berger put it in the online journal Tablet, “No longer could a loyal Catholic assert that Jewish dispossession from the land resulted from sin of the crucifixion and that unrepentant Jewry must remain in its exile.”

Berger also reminds readers that the Catholic Church has come to occupy the middle ground between most evangelicals’ unconditional support of Israel, including the policies of the current government, and at the other end of the wide spectrum, the stance of many Protestant denominations that tend to repudiate virtually everything Israel does, at times perhaps even questioning its right to exist.

  • The latest Vatican elucidation of Nostra Aetate came last month. It states that the Church “neither conducts nor supports” any institutional missionary initiative directed toward Jews. Not only has the legitimacy of Judaism been affirmed, the accusation of deicide withdrawn, the concomitant persecution of Jews repudiated, but now also attempts to make Jews “see the light” and embrace Christianity have been removed from the Church’s agenda.

Source: A leap forward in Catholic-Jewish relations: Marmur | Toronto Star

Jews can show Christians how to live as a minority: Marmur

Interesting reflections:

I thought of that encounter recently when I read an article in the American-Jewish online journal Mosaic by Bruce Abramson under the title, “How Jews can help Christians learn to succeed as a minority.” What the Canadian clergy group anticipated long ago has become commonplace today in the United States and in many other countries.

Though Abramson’s interest is in law and public policy, not theology, his insights will be helpful to all who wish to understand what’s happening to mainstream Christianity. In his words, Christians are now facing the reality of being “but one more of America’s many minority groups.” As a result, “the sudden need for an effective defence will take them into terrain that Jews have occupied most of American history.”

Abramson distinguishes between “the classical liberal preference for freedom and the rule of law” and “the progressive preference for equality and justice.” Though the two don’t seem to be mutually exclusive, he appears to opt for the traditional liberal American opposition to government infringing on individual rights over “the progressive preference for ‘positive’ rights like housing, food and health care that someone must provide.” Most Europeans and Canadians are likely to advocate the latter way because it cares for people least able to fend for themselves.

Though the “liberal” stress on individual rights is essential for their survival in the Diaspora, Jews are nowadays also seeking allies to champion “progressive” government programs that provide basic needs for citizens. Theological differences are often set aside in favour of social action advocacy that brings together different religious groups. These groups live their faith as interfaith despite their divergent theologies and join forces to be effective despite their minority status.

When I spoke to the Canadian clergy group I suggested that being a minority shouldn’t alarm them: it may be bad for wielding power but it’s good for practicing religion. Think of the havoc caused by the might of the Church for much of its history, say in persecuting minorities such as Jews, or the devastating effect today in countries where all-powerful Islamic clerics have the last word.

Ironically, contemporary Judaism in Israel is now also struggling with the quest for power by some of its exponents. Orthodoxy that mixes utopian Messianism with radical nationalism is endangering Judaism in the Jewish state. Faith is the foundation of Judaism, but fanaticism is its sworn enemy. Hence the laudable attempts by “liberal” and “progressive” minorities in Israel to champion the separation of religion and state for the sake of the integrity of both.

Seen in this light, the loss of power by religious bodies is the great opportunity for exponents of genuine faith to act as true witnesses to God’s redeeming power. The weakening of ephemeral institutional clout that to some seems so alarming is really religion’s great opportunity to advance the sovereignty of the Kingdom of God on Earth.