A Shame Indeed: The Persecution of Christians Considered

The predictable and vile business of the Christmas attack has produced a renewal of concern with worldwide persecution of Christians. An idea now tendered is that these acts are outcomes of the Iraq war. Accept at your own risk this counterfeit of history, which requires you to believe nothing like this could have occurred eight years ago. Religious persecution is an old habit of our species, a primal barbarism which establishes the enduring threat and generalized impediment to our evolution.

Consider the attacks upon Christians in Jos and Maiduguri, Nigeria, which appear to have been the work of an unknown group, Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihadof, and of anti-science and anti-secular degenerates, Boko Haram. Although these Islamic militants are sometimes remarked for their refusal to mix among the infidel, the phrase Boko Haram is itself a mixing of Western-Hausa and Arabic elements, and may be translated “Secular Education is Forbidden.” (If this slogan sounds distinctly familiar, you will appreciate that Boko Haram chose “Afghanistan” as the name for its Kanamma base of operations.) Boko is the term for the Latin-based writing system introduced to Nigeria by Europeans, so that the word constitutes a synecdoche, or holding bag, for all that is of the West. Haram, the opposite of Halal, designates all that is forbidden by Allah, and you will hear the word used both in casual Arabic and Hebrew conversation to mean “that’s a shame.”

A rise in persecutions of Christians has been recorded over the past decade in India, with most attacks occurring in the regions of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. Here the barbarisms are principally the boasted achievements of right-wing Hindu nationalists. While militant Hindu nationalism threatens Muslim and Christian alike, it is India’s multi-religious, multi-ethnic character which is above all the enemy. Behind any specific Hindutva-chauvinist grievance, one will always find a festering hatred of secularism and democracy. The same of course can be said of all religious zealots.

The  post-war exodus of Assyrian Christians from Iraq, now several years underway, has brought forth a call to establish an autonomous northern Christian province, presumably a sort of Ninevite Kurdistan. This is an interesting proposal, though lacking as such proposals typically do the necessary political will. Asia Bibi’s death sentence, for blasphemy against the Prophet, discloses not only the specific sufferings of Pakistani Christians, under the Musharraf Joint Electorate (which  in 2002 assigned the appointment of Christian Parliamentary representatives to Muslims), but also the broad and cynical attacks upon democratic principle which commonly occur in that country.

The attack of a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt and the trial of Islamic Defenders Front vigilantes, in Indonesia, have as their common background deeply dysfunctional governments and a clear movement away from open, pluralistic society. It is convenient of the election-fixing Hosni Mubarak to rail against foreigners, but the threats to Egypt’s secular-democratic character have all been domestic, the rot having begun with Mubarak himself. His pledge to “cut off the hand of terrorism” rather tips one off: it has exactly the stench of Stone Age clerical fanaticism.

The mental disease and habits of the religious bigots lead only by accident to now-and-again battles against the enemy of the moment. Against the perennial enemy, human emancipation, their retrograde battle has no end but The End. These recent attacks on Christians are attacks on religious freedom, peaceful co-existence, human dignity, and above all democratic secularism. If any of these things matter to you, then in these past days you have been attacked also.

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