Easter Sunday’s terrorist attack on a Pakistani park that killed 72—25 of them children—and injured more than 300 was simply the latest incident in what ought to be recognized as an ongoing global pogrom against Christians.
The park in Lahore, which is designed with play equipment for children, is a longtime favorite of the city’s Catholic and Protestant minority, who congregate there with picnic hampers following Easter services. According to the ISIS-affiliated faction of the Pakistani Taliban, which said it sent the suicide bomber wearing a ball-bearing filled explosive vest into the park, it was targeted because the terrorists wanted to murder Christians. They make up 2% of the officially Muslim state’s population and, like minority Shias and Ahmadi, are frequent targets of the homicidal Sunni Islamists among their countrymen.
A day earlier, on Holy Saturday, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, the archbishop of Vienna, confirmed that on Good Friday, ISIS fighters in Yemen, tortured and crucified an Indian-born priest, Father Tom Uzhunnalil. The Servite cleric was kidnapped March 2, when the Islamists attacked a hospital for the elderly operated in Aden by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. During the course of that attack four of the nuns were murdered—tied to trees, shot and their skulls crushed. Two were from India, two from Africa, women who had voluntarily elected a life of poverty and renunciation and left their homes to care for the poorest of the poor, people not of their faith in a country not their own.
Ten years ago, there were 1.25 Catholic and Orthodox Christians in Iraq; today, there are barely 300,000 and that number is declining by the month.
All over the Mideast, Central Asia, the sub-Continent and in Asian nations with Muslim majorities events like these have become such regular occurrences that they’re mostly shrugged off as facts of life in those parts of the world. Christianity was born in the Mideast and, for centuries, the great and erudite churches of the east were among the faith’s largest and most accomplished. It was in the Syrian city of Antioch that the noun “Christian” first was applied to followers of the young Jewish teacher from Nazareth. No one knows how many of the once numerous Syrian Christians remain in that tormented country, where 400 of their churches and monasteries have been destroyed, but by most estimates, if the civil war there continues few, if any will be left. Iraq once was home to the greatest of the late classical and early medieval Christian academies. There are none now, and ISIS has destroyed hundreds of historic churches and shrines, including the oldest monastery in the Mideast.
Ten years ago, there were 1.25 Catholic and Orthodox Christians in Iraq; today, there are barely 300,000 and that number is declining by the month. The historic Eritrean Orthodox community is being persecuted out of existence and accounts for many of the refugees from that country desperately trying to make their way into Europe. Even Egypt’s Coptic minority, largest remaining in the Arab world, faces increasing pressures and growing immigration. More than 80 Coptic churches have been attacked and destroyed since the current Sisi government took power from the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood regime.
The only country in the Mideast, where the Arab Christian population is growing is the Jewish state of Israel, though few in the self-righteous, but generally impotent international “human rights community” are willing to acknowledge that.
John Allen, the Catholic journalist who currently edits the Crux website and has studied global persecution of Christians of every denomination more systematically than almost anyone else, believes that, in any given year, somewhere between 7,000 and 100,000 Christians are killed for their faith around the world.
In the Mideast, we are witnessing a recapitulation of another genocidal pogrom the world stood by and silently ignored. Most of the countries of the Arab world once were homes to some of the world’s most ancient Jewish communities. In the years after Israel’s establishment in 1948, all of them either killed or forced to immigrate. Morocco, which once provided a refuge to Maimonides, is now all but empty of Jews. So, too, Tunisia and Egypt, Syria and Iraq, where the greatest of Talmudic academies once flourished along the Euphrates. Yemen had a vibrant Jewish community before Mohammad was born. Today, there are barely 50 Jews hanging on in a single walled enclosure.
To borrow the hateful word of the arch-killers, the Muslim nations of the Mideast now are Judenfrei—and nobody spoke a word of protest, let alone acted to protect the persecuted. If we bother to wonder why the Islamist extremists feel free to act with impunity, there’s answers to be found in precedent.
Secretary of State John Kerry recently asserted during a Washington news conference that in his “judgment, (ISIS) is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims.” Kerry recalled that in 2014, ISIS trapped Yazidis, killed them, enslaved thousands of Yazidi women and girls, “selling them at auction, raping them at will and destroying the communities in which they had lived for countless generations.” The jihadis, he said, have executed Christians “solely for their faith” and also “forced Christian women and girls into slavery.”
“Without our intervention, it is clear that those people would have been slaughtered,” he said.
True, but the atrocities, the persecution and the murders go on and our one-time intervention is not enough. We need to be frank in our rhetoric and proactive in our policies, and both our intellectual and political focus ought to be on the fountainhead of global Islamic extremism—the Salafism promoted and paid for by Saudi Arabia.
To an extend too seldom admitted, the Salafist crisis we now confront from San Bernardino to Paris and from Brussels to Lahore is the product of a series of corrupt bargains struck by and with Riyadh. First among these is the deal the rapacious and depraved House of Saud struck with the fundamentalist obscurantists in the Wahhabi religious establishment: The religious leaders would through their support to the Sauds’ rule and would, in return, be given total control of the kingdom’s moral and social life. (Recall, that these are people whose leading Koranic academy taught that the world is flat until the 1950’s and, as recently as the late 1990’s held that anyone who did not believe that sun moves around the earth is apostate.) After a cadre of homegrown radicals seized Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 1979, the Sauds went further and began subsidizing Wahhabi/Salafist mosques around the world staffed with Saudi-trained clerics and distributing fundamentalist supervised translations of the Koran. In country after country, these places have become academies of jihad.
Meanwhile, the West and, particularly the United States, have struck a corrupt bargain with the House of Saud: They get to enrich themselves beyond imagination by selling us oil and, in return, we turn a blind eye not only to their subversive missionary activities everywhere from San Diego to Chechnya, but also to the fact that theirs is one of the most intolerant and repressive countries in the world. Jews and Christians cannot practice their faith in Saudi Arabia and, in many cases, can’t even enter. Women are oppressed in unspeakable ways, even the mildest dissent is crushed. We bemoan—with good reason–ISIS’ destruction of parts of Palmyra and other irreplaceable historic sites and yet ignore the fact that the Saudis have systematically destroyed not only the great Sufic shrines and tombs, but also those linked to Mohammad’s family and his earliest followers. They recently knocked own and paved over the house of the prophet in Mecca. Nothing of that city’s important physical history now remains. (Imagine the howls of international outrage if the Israelis dropped a gum wrapper on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.) Nothing of historic Mecca or Medina now remains and gone with those antiquities is the chance for future generations of scholars to study the origins of Islam, as they have those of Judaism and Christianity.
The poison of Islamic intolerance is rooted in Saudi Arabia and it will persist until it is dealt with at the source. Until then, there will be more Lahore’s and the world will have to content itself with its shrugs of weary indifference.