The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have again brought to the forefront discussions about problems of culture faced by both Europe and the United States. The attacks have complicated western responses to the Syrian refugee crisis, with concerns about the stated intentions of groups like ISIS to smuggle operatives into western nations among the legitimate refugees in order to carry out terror operations. And of course, the questions of the compatibility of Islam with western political and economic values, as well as questions about the will of western nations to defend and uphold those values have returned as well. Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg joined host Al Kresta last Tuesday on Ave Maria Radio’s Kresta in the Afternoon to discuss these important issues; you can listen to the full interview via the audio player below, and be sure to check out Sam’s article “The End of Europe” at Public Discourse.
With persecution of Christians there at an all time high, many have chosen to leave the Middle East. Christianity Today, reporting on the latest Pew Research report, says the number of Christians in the Middle East has dropped from 14 percent of the population to just 4 percent. That translates to less than half a million people in the Middle East who identify as Christians.
The problem turned from bad to worse with the rise of the Islamic State as it intensified the Muslim persecution of Christians and other minorities as part of its campaign of terror in the region, the report said.
Now, “Christianity is under an existential threat,” said Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat in the US House of Representatives and an advocate of Eastern Christians.
With each passing day, the news is inundated with images of murder from the Islamic State. Anyone they target suffers not only death, but often a horrifically slow and tortuous one. What President Obama considered to be a “JV” team proves to consist of professionally trained, competent warriors bent on annihilating their foes. These terrorists attack any opponent who stands in their way, but reserve particular hatred and brutality for Christians. The war they wage is as much of a military conflict as it is an ideological conflict, their end goal being global subjugation to hardline Islamic Law.
What does this mean for Christians? As the secularization of Western culture further isolates Christianity, an open extermination assaults in the Middle East. In the modern era, the entire world seems to wage a relentless war against Christians. However, compared to what our Christian brothers and sisters living under the Islamic State endure, the trials of Western Christians seem trivial. Louis Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch, said in mid 2014 that there “were about 1 million Christians in Iraq and more than half of them have been displaced. Only 400,000 are left while displacement is still rising.” (more…)
Indeed, Christians and Muslims hold radically different notions about the “true faith” and the nature of God. This would have been unquestionably obvious to St. John of Damascus (676-749) who authored the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith and served as a high counselor to Muslim rulers.
Now some of the same Christian communities that date to the era of the Damascene church father — or earlier — have been wiped out or targeted for extinction by Islamic terrorists. Read “Syrian Christian refugees feel fortunate to have fled Islamic State,” an L.A. Times report on the “several thousand Assyrian Christians who fled in late February as the militants advanced into dozens of largely Christian villages along the Khabur River in eastern Syria.” (more…)
Last week was a nightmarish week. Each day brought forth new violence, visited upon men and women of faith.
Attacks against Christians were carried out by both Boko Haram and the Islamic State. Stephen Hicks, a non-believer, shot and killed three young Muslims in North Carolina. Al Qaeda continues to terrorize people in Yemen, and in Copenhagen, a synagogue was the target of a gunman during a bat mitzvah.
In November 2012, then-Pope Benedict XVI spoke to members of INTERPOL regarding crime and terrorism. He said,
Terrorism, one of the most brutal forms of violence, sows hate, death and a desire for revenge. This phenomenon, with subversive strategies typical of some extremist organizations aimed at the destruction of property and at murder, has transformed itself into an obscure web of political complicity, with sophisticated technology, enormous financial resources and planning projects on a vast scale…
Those schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram? Most are still missing. A boys’ school was bombed. Boko Haram says it wasn’t them, but the people don’t believe them.
In Nigeria, for many people, life is about staying one step ahead of Boko Haram, trying to safeguard their children from getting swept up in the claws of this evil entity.
In neighboring Adamawa state, almost 9,500 displaced people now live in a giant camp — one of five for displaced people in the area. They’ve found refuge in what was a youth center outside Yola, the state capital. The buildings are crammed full of residents. Newcomers are being housed in large green tents.
The fight against global terrorism is a battle of ideas as much as brawn, says Robert George, and environments that promote freedom of thought and belief empower moderate ideas and voices to denounce extremist hatred and violence:
Central to this effort is understanding two things. First, extremist groups seek to capitalize on the fact that religion plays a critical role in the lives of billions. Nearly 84 percent of the world’s population has some religious affiliation. In many areas of the world, including the African continent, religion matters greatly.
Second, people across Africa (and elsewhere), Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are rejecting the hijacking of religion by these extremists. For some, this rejection has come from bitter personal experience. Wherever violent religious extremist groups have held sway, be it central Somalia or elsewhere, they have penetrated every nook and cranny of human endeavor, imposing their will on families and communities in horrific ways. In many instances, they have banned routine activities such as listening to music and watching television. They have crushed all forms of religious expression other than their own, even seeking to destroy historic Islamic religious sites. They have imposed barbaric punishments on dissenters, from floggings and stonings to beheadings and amputations.
As a result, especially in places where these forces operate, people want an alternative: They want the right to honor their own beliefs and act peacefully on them. And as a number of scholars in recent years have shown, societies where this right to religious freedom is recognized and protected are more peaceful, prosperous, and free of destabilizing terror.