The disputes over religious freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas have some American Christians complaining of persecution. In other parts of the world, Christians might wish that baking wedding cakes for gay marriages were the worst thing they faced.
Real persecution looks like what happened Thursday in Kenya.
There, Islamist terrorists from the al-Shabab militia carried out a carefully orchestrated attack on Garissa University College. For 11 hours, they worked their way methodically through the dormitories, demanding that students declare themselves Muslim or Christian. They shot the Christians, killing 142 young men and women.
Only the body count made this an anomaly. Across a broad region stretching from Africa through the Middle East to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Christians increasingly have been subjected to torture, rape and murder.
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In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has practiced anti-Christian genocide on a massive scale. When they’re feeling magnanimous, these jihadists merely drive Assyrian Catholics and other believers from their homes and homelands and blow up their churches. On other occasions they massacre Christian communities and enslave Christian women. Two months ago, a Libyan affiliate group beheaded 21 kidnapped Egyptian Copts and released a video of the atrocity.
Christians are hardly the only religious targets of jihadists; the Islamic State and other radical Islamists also massacre moderate and secular Muslims. Sunni radicals target Shiites; Shiite radicals target Sunnis.
But anti-Christian violence has been a constant in most of the nations where jihadists are battling for political supremacy. In territory held by the Islamic State, Christian communities that existed centuries before the birth of Muhammad – that trace their beginnings to apostolic times – are facing extinction.
The besieged Christians of Asia and Africa have gotten surprisingly little sympathy in the West. Pope Francis has sometimes seemed a lone voice in calling attention to their fate.
Francis has condemned “complicit silence” in the persecution and murder of Christians.
“I hope that the international community doesn’t stand mute and inert before such unacceptable crimes, which constitute a worrisome erosion of the most elementary human rights,” he said Monday. “I truly hope that the international community doesn’t look the other way.”
He noted – accurately – that more Christians are being killed for their beliefs today than were ever martyred in ancient Rome.
There’s no gentle way to put this: The vast majority of countries where Christians are under serious attack are predominately Muslim. Violent jihadists tend to have the deepest roots in those nations; for them, eradicating Christianity is part of a “cleansing” that also involves eradicating the more generous forms of Islam that most Muslims adhere to.
The very existence of large Christian communities in places like Iraq and Syria testifies to the relative tolerance of past Islamic rulers. Muhammad and his successors permitted Christians and Jews to continue practicing their faith, although with second-class status.
Yet today, while claiming the sanction of the Quran, Islamist radicals are perpetrating 21st-century atrocities that Muhammad would have found horrifying in the seventh century.
Pope Francis is right: The world should start paying attention. Like Islam, Christianity was born in the Middle East. It would be a historic tragedy if it were to die there, too.