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The Silent Spectre of Religious Cleansing

Christian persecution is certainly nothing new. The rise of Islamic extremism is putting increasing pressure on Christians in Muslim countries, where they are routinely victims of murder, violence, and discrimination. Christians are now considered the most persecuted religious group around the world. To say that in recent months and years the number of attacks on Christians — their homes, churches, convents, schools, and orphanages — in certain parts of the world is alarming would be an understatement.

In some cases the incidents were politically motivated. In Iraq, the weeks leading up to the March 7 general elections were marked by a spate of anti-Christian attacks. Bombings and shootings were recorded almost daily in the northern city of Mosul, home to the longstanding struggle for territory and power between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. The minority Christians’ vote was thought to be the primary motivating factor in this particular case. The United Nations reported that more than 680 Christian families have fled Mosul due to the recent attacks. Nevertheless, the persecution of Iraqi Christians is more often religiously motivated. The general message to Christians: Leave Mosul or convert to Islam. In fact, in recent years most Christian families have left Mosul and live as refugees in other parts of the country or in Syria.

Elsewhere, as in Iraq, politics is seldom the primary motivating factor. Typically, we’re talking about religious persecution in predominantly Muslim countries. Anti-Christian violence in Pakistan makes headlines every week — at least in the Asian press. Last year, for example, 125 Christians were charged with “blasphemy” in Pakistan. Many of those already sentenced are on death row. Their only crime: Saying or doing something perceived to be an insult to Islam. In March, a Christian couple was sentenced to 25 years in prison under the blasphemy law for allegedly touching the Koran without first washing their hands (AsiaNews.it, Mar. 3), a dubious charge that the Catholic Church in Pakistan disputes.

Aside from state-sanctioned anti-Christian persecution, anti-Christian hate crimes often go unpunished. In late February, for example, 150 Muslims stormed the streets of Karachi, attacking Christian churches, shops, and homes in the city’s only predominantly Christian neighborhood. The result: Forty Christians were accused groundlessly of beating Muslim men, abusing Muslim women and girls, and ransacking and looting Muslim homes. Many of these innocent Christians were arrested for one reason alone: to intimidate the Christian community. Also in February, Pakistani Christians protested the release of a Muslim lawyer accused of raping, torturing, and killing a 12-year-old Catholic girl employed in his household as a domestic worker. Such cases in Pakistan are de rigueur.

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