Nigeria, the African colossus, has become the most dangerous country in the world for Christians despite the fact that half of its more than 200 million inhabitants profess that religion. The massacre carried out in the south in the Catholic church of San Francisco Javier on the last Pentecost holiday, which left 40 dead and dozens wounded, was surprising only for the fact that Islamic State jihadists rarely strike outside Muslim-majority strongholds in the north, at least on such a brutal scale.
the NGO Open Doorsestimates in its latest annual report on religious persecution in the world that around 360 million Christians live in regions where they suffer some type of discrimination for their faith.
In other words, one in seven baptized persons suffers persecution for their religion.
Open Doors estimates that in 2021 an average of 17 Christians a day for reasons of beliefmost victims of jihadist terrorist attacks.
In global terms, and within the framework of the 50 countries with the most religious persecution, the report places Afghanistan in first place, displacing North Korea from that position. The country of the Taliban does not have traditional Christian communities, but the presence of the United States and the West for more than a decade has left converts from Islam living in constant danger of death, the penalty that the Sharia applies to the ‘crime of apostasy’.
The number of Christians who died for their faith went from 4,761 in 2020 to 5,898 in 2021. The vast majority of the victims were registered in Nigeria, the country that has thus become, for Open Doors, the most dangerous in the world for Christians. Christians. Some 79 percent of those killed in Nigeria were victims of terrorist attacks by the three most active jihadist groups: Boko Haram, Islamic State of West Africaand the Muslim militants of the Fulani. The jihadist strategy is simple: eliminate or force Christians to emigrate in the territories they want to turn into a ‘caliphate’.
The persecution of believers is also carried out by less expeditious methods in other Asian countries, such as China or North Korea, where prison is chosen.
On the more mitigating level of discrimination, Open Doors cites the Islamic tradition of ‘dhimmi’ to explain the hardships suffered by Christian minorities in many Muslim-majority countries. The ‘dhimmi’ or People of the Book refer to the Jews and Christians, who in the medieval era – and until the fall of the Turkish empire – paid a special tax to the Muslim authorities as a sign of submission, in exchange for protection. Today these conditions materialize in many Muslim countries in discrimination against Christians when accessing quality education or public jobs. Also in ominous laws, such as the blasphemy law against Islam, which has produced not a few murders of Christians in Pakistan, as well as kidnappings and rape of young Christian women to force them to convert to Islam.
In terms of discrimination and religious freedom, there are levels. From the absolute prohibition of educating in other beliefs, which is practiced by Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, to more tolerant models such as the Pakistani. Years ago, at a meeting in Lahore, the Spanish nun Pilar Vilasanjuán, of the Daughters of Mary, told me about her efforts not to remove the crucifixes from the classrooms of the Catholic school that she directed. Since there were also Muslim students, she could not teach catechism, “only values”. “Instead of telling them the evangelical phrase ‘The truth will make you free’, we say to the girls ‘The truth will make you healthy’, because for women here the term freedom is unknown.”
The other great annual report on religious persecution in the world, the one prepared by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (AIN), coincides with that of Open Doors in pointing out the serious increase in attacks against Christians on the African continent. Many are small-scale attacks that escape the headlines of the Western press, which is more sensitive to the attacks and abuses committed against Muslim ethnic groups in Asia; in particular the persecution of the Chinese communists against the minority of the Iugurs and that of the Buddhists of Myanmar against the Rohingya.
AIN warns that the large jihadist organizations in the Middle East are now fueling the ‘holy war’ in sub-Saharan Africa after their defeats in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. In the Sahel, where there are hardly any Christian communities, jihadism attacks the established power. The large communities of believers are, however, the target of the armed jihadist movements in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Congo and Mozambique.
For its part, in China, Niger, Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan, the persecution rather takes the form of discrimination against Christian minorities. During the first two years of the covid-19 pandemic, Aid to the Church in Need has seen an increase in prejudice against Christians in these countries, which materialized in obstacles to accessing food and medical care.
Not all cases of persecution or discrimination come from the most radical Islam. The pontifical foundation denounces in its latest report the ravages caused by the Hindu and Buddhist nationalism on religious freedom, in the countries where the political groups that herald it have come to power, notably India and Myanmar, the former Burma. That political ideology truffled with religion discriminates against Muslims and Christians alike.
Aid to the Church in Need also confirms the existence of what it qualifies as ‘cyber-caliphate’, which in the West has become a tool to radicalize Muslim migrants and recruit them into their networks. Western police already have services to control and persecute this world on the Internet, in which messages of hatred towards other religions are frequently transmitted.
Along with Islamism and nationalism, AIN denounces another, more subtle source of persecution of Christians. It is what they exercise in Europe and North America radical anti-Christian groups, that promote “aggressions against believers, religious symbols and temples” under cover of a Church-State separation that is actually a militant secularism.
The latest Aid to the Church in Need report also refers to the persecution of some Western governments and political parties against the teaching of the Christian religion, to banish it from the curriculum of Primary and Secondary. AIN notes that the campaign against the subject of Religion is carried out “despite the fact that governments recognize that the study of religions at school reduces radicalization and increases interreligious understanding among young people.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism