THE murderous bomb attacks launched against Christian churches in Nigeria by Islamic Boko Haram jihadists are bad enough on their own……
But in the context of what is happening to Christians elsewhere, especially amid the fervour of the Arab Spring, they underline how, as we celebrate Christmas, Christians are under siege. This represents a major challenge to the international community. In our pages yesterday, Khaled Abu Toameh reported on the persecution of Arab Christians in Bethlehem, Christianity’s cradle.
The historic town, once 80 per cent Christian, could soon be left with very few. The flight of despairing Christians is being seen no less starkly elsewhere: 900,000 of Iraq’s 1.4 million Christians have fled since 2003. In that time, 54 churches have been blown up and 1000 Christians killed. This grim anti-Christian backlash is on the rise elsewhere as the Islamic militants emerge emboldened from the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt where the Copts, who make up 10 per cent of the population, are under fearsome attack. Coptic churches have been firebombed and priests murdered while human rights groups estimate 100,000 Copts have fled. Maronite Christians, once a majority in Lebanon, have also become targets for Islamic militants. In Tunisia, Christian priests have been murdered while Christians in Syria fear for their future when, as appears inevitable, President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite regime succumbs to the Sunni majority. There are also Pakistan’s beleaguered Christians, who face constant threats to convert or be killed. The Christmas Day bombings by Boko Haram are part of the same tragic story of spreading religious intolerance. Boko Haram has strong links to al-Qa’ida in the Maghreb and Somalia’s al-Shabaab terrorists. It has powerful backing among the Muslim half of Nigeria’s 156 million people, and is strong in the armed forces. It is fighting for the imposition of sharia law in Africa’s most populous nation, strategically located where majority Muslim North Africa meets largely Christian sub-Saharan Africa.
This spate of attacks on Christians demands unequivocal condemnation, especially by Islamic leaders. Such religiously motivated violence is intolerable, and is as much a test for Nigeria’s democracy as it is for the ideals of freedom and tolerance that are supposed to underpin the Arab Spring.