25 January 2012
A man stands amid debris inside Holy Family Syriac Catholic Church in central Kirkuk, Iraq, north of Baghdad, 2 August 2011. A car bomb and two unexploded bombs targeted three churches in northern Iraq in coordinated attacks that wounded more than 20 people in the ethnically and religiously mixed city. (photo: CNS /Ako Rasheed, Reuters)
A couple weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI turned his attention to the subject of religious freedom. In his annual “State of the World” address, he told a group of diplomats: “In many countries, Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life. In other countries, they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes.”
This prompted John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter to take a closer look at the subject of “anti-Christian persecution.” Specifically, he took on five “myths,” including one that is especially widespread: “It’s all about Islam.”
As Allen writes:
Simply identifying anti-Christian persecution with Islam is misleading. There are compelling examples of collaboration between Christians and Muslims in many parts of the world, which is the basis for Pope Benedict XVI’s vision of an “Alliance of Civilizations.” (One of the major political parties in the Philippines, for instance, is the “Christian Muslim Democrats.”) It also should not be forgotten that the most numerous victims of Muslim extremism are, in fact, other Muslims.
Moreover, radical Islam is hardly the only source of anti-Christian animus. Christians suffer from a slew of other forces, including:
- Ultra-nationalism (as in Turkey, where extreme nationalists tend to be a greater threat than Islamists)
- Totalitarian states, especially of the Communist variety (China, North Korea)
- Hindu radicalism (Anti-Christian aggression has become routine in some regions of India. This week, Hindu radicals armed with sticks and iron bars attacked 20 Pentecostal Christians in a private home near Bangalore, an assault that left the pastor missing a finger on his left hand. When Christians reported similar assaults two weeks ago, a member of the state’s official Commission for Minorities, which is under the control of a nationalist Hindu party, shrugged it off: “If you really knew the teachings of Jesus, Christians should not be complaining,” he reportedly said.)
- Buddhist radicalism (as in Sri Lanka, where, contrary to stereotypes of Buddhist tolerance, mobs led by Buddhist monks attacked Christian churches and other targets across the country in 2009)
- Corporate interests (as in Brazil’s Amazon region, where Christian activists have been killed for protesting injustices by agri-business conglomerates)
- Organized crime, narco-traffickers, and petty thugs (For instance, the 1993 murder of Mexican Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, shot 14 times at the Guadalajara airport by gunmen linked to a drug cartel, or the assassination in the same year of Italian Fr. Giuseppe Puglisi, a bitter critic of the Sicilian mafia.)
- State-imposed security policies (as in Israel, where checkpoints, visa requirements and other restrictions divide Christian families between East Jerusalem and the West Bank and make it virtually impossible for Christians in one location to worship in the other)
- Even, believe it or not, Christian radicalism
If that last entry seems counter-intuitive, consider what happened this past September in the village of San Rafael Tlanalapan, in the Mexican state of Puebla. Seventy local Protestants were forced to flee after a band of traditionalist Catholics issued a chilling ultimatum: Leave immediately or be “crucified or lynched.”
The point is that extremism and intolerance of whatever stripe, not Islam, is the threat.
There are four other “myths” Allen explores — and you might be surprised at what he concludes. Check it out.